Web 2.0 discoveries

Had some training on content managment systems (CMS) today. It just looks like one big blog! CMS is a platform to build websites, which allows non technical people to publish content on their websites. Kinda like a blog, it does all the coding & other computer magic for you, and all you do as a user is type words!

You can restrict user access only to certain pages, upload images into a central library and insert them in. You can also design templates that cascade over the entire website using CSS computer language (cascading style sheets). In short, its a brilliant tool allowing ordinary people to run their own websites, and to devolve control of a webpage throughout the organisation. Marketing people can be in control and update their own sections, finance people can edit the finance section, etc…

It’s very easy to use, and for someone like me that has had a lot of experience using blogs and mailout products, its makes perfect sense. It seems like everything is moving to WSYWIG (What you see is what you get) editors. Reminds me of how when I was studying law, they were trying to remove all the legalese (i.e old english language) and bring in plain english.

For more info read this guide on what is CMS and how to evaluate CMS.

I’ve also signed up lately for Google Reader to stream me all my RSS, in addition to my already existing igoogle portal. There’s also other readers out there like newsgator, etc.. If you dont know what it is, RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, and basically allows you to recieve new content from websites immediately! So instead of going to my favourite websites, they send stuff to me! Whenever I log into my igoogle portal or reader, I get summaries of all the new articles from various websites. I’m getting dynamic updated content – its user driven. Kinda like making my own website!

I’m also using del.ico.us a lot more frequently, its brilliant! And to try out another product, I’ve signed up to StumbleUpon, another social bookmark product. I haven’t figured out how to fully use it. But basically, if you come across a good website, you bookmark it in StumbleUpon saiving it to your profile, similar to del.ico.us. The difference I found with delicious is that you can just “stumble upon” other websites after you select your profile. So you choose things your interested in like “sports”, “writing”, “movies”, etc…, and it will give you interesting websites related to your choices, bookmarked by similar like minded people!

Last week, my company held an industry presentation featuring a guest speaker, Brett Jackson from Altassian, who was former head of product development there. It’s a very exciting IT company selling collaboration software using NO SALES FORCE!. It’s an open source product, meaning the software code is available for people to use freely and update.

The thing that interested me the most was the new web 2.0 methods they were using. Employees had their own blogs, wikipedias were used to dissminate and aggregate information, the staff were monitoring social media like using icerocket to check on blog feedback, twitter, friendfeeds, etc.. for comments about their software and responding to them. They were holding competitions for people to build the best applications for the software and giving those people contract work. I can’t remember what else, but it was a very cutting edge company. The speaker mentioned Friendfeed, so I knew I had to join!

Friendfeed allows you to get updates from your social media like blogs, RSS, del.ico.us, etc… and display it on applications like facebook, myspace, etc.. Its a brilliant mashup tools actually. In fact, I came across the top 10 mashup tools recently, including this music search tool called Music Mesh. It displays music videos from youtube for each of your favourite albums! The best part is that for each artist it displays their albums through a spoke wheel link, and when you click on it, it displays more connections to other artists and their albums. You should definently check it out – kinda like a mix of stumbleupon meets youtube @ MTV awards!

Last but not least, check out how Barack Obama is using web 2.0 in his battle to win the U.S election! He’s collabed with the maker of facebook to create his own social networking tool, called my.barackobama.com.

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Stuff I’m reading

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading about email marketing. It’s one of the main areas I work in, so I believe its beneficial for me to read up on it. From what I’ve read and just my own thoughts, email campaigns are pretty important since its the second highest expenditure of internet advertising after search engine marketing. However, the key is to not look at any of these things in isolation.

Email is one of the main forms of communication these days. I was talking to someone about it today, rarely do we send business documents or correspondence through physical mail – its all email these days. I talk to everyone in my office and my clients, my friends, via email because of the speed of communicating. the key with email marketing is to send relevant content to people at the right time.

You’v got to communicate with customers and potential customers with stuff they are interested in. You are only allowed to send email communcation to people that have opted in to recieve the content. Once someone has opted in (i.e. given you permission), they’ve explicity told you that they are happy to recieve things from you. They are more likely to open the email, engage with the content and transact, forward it on, etc…Providing relevant content is the key.

The best digital marketers will look at how all these things are fit together – how search engine, email, social networking, landing pages, portals, blogs, internet ads, etc… complement each other. I’m fortunate to be working at a place that has an integrated approach – we do end to end digital marketing i.e we look at everything. Having said that, you also need to understand how digital marketing fits within the overrall marketing plan and also with the business goals.

So far I’ve discovered a couple of email service providers – companies that provide bulk email service. They allow you to manage a list of people to send to, and the ability to send to large numbers of people, and provide reporting functions on the emails sent. The main competitors I’ve found overseas are Bronto, i-contact, Constant Contact. In Australia, its Campaign Master. I’ve been reading up on the white papers in Bronto (half the stuff is promoting itself) but its got some useful tips in there.

On another note, I’ve also signed up for del.ico.us. its a social bookmarking site. I had some idea what it was, and I always saw it at the bottom of a lot of articles i read online. So I decided to join! Social bookmarking sites allow you to bookmark webpages and store the links online. its quite handy, because you can access the links whereever you are online – i.e. its not stored on your computer but rather in cyberspace. Plus you can also give websites a tag (a keyword description) and longer descriptions, group links together, and share them with your friends.

You can also search for stuff within social bookmarking webpages and some argue it leads to better search results as well. the user is more engaged with the content and will read the article/webpage. however, peopel use different types of descriptors as tags. I might read a article about michael jordan playing basketball. I might tag it as “basketball”, “jordan”, “Air” and “Bulls”. Someone else might use “23”, “chicago”, “MJ”, etc…. This is because there are no rules in tagging – you can put whatever you want and the user is more subjective with the content, as opposed to a cold heartless, objective search engine.   

Lastly, I’ve also been reading up about the semantic web, Web 3.0, content publishing, and checking out some search engine data (see below).

Looks like taking quite the digital slant aren’t I? I read somewhere that you can be an expert in this area in a couple of years. I’ve only spent about 3 months in this area, but if i stay interested in keep progressing and learning more, I could be well on my way! In other good news, I got a distinction in my advertising subject “media planning and buying”….78% baby! I scored 91% in the actual exam!!!! And to think that I knew nothing about advertising or media buying/planning before I even took the course, nor did I even work in the area.

I’m out like bookmarks,

Matt Ho.

In Search of…..

Originally written on 9 May 2008.
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In a world of discovery, we are all searching for something

We look to find ourselves, to find other people like us, and to find the answer to life’s greatest mysteries. We believe the answer to most things lies somewhere……. out there. In our search for answers, often the first point of call is not religion, the trusty encyclopedia, the dictionary or the wise old sage.

Instead we turn to mankind’s answer to all things: the search engine.

What is the capital of Kazakhstan? Obama or Hillary? What should I study? The Celtics or the Lakers? How do I fly there? Why are people protesting about Tibet?

Millions of these kind of queries are fed into search engines each day. The search engines never sleep. It never fails. It always computes.

More than a decade ago, when we were still using Altavista and living in a pre-IPOD world, it was thought that it was all about internet portals. The idea was that you had to keep the user there as long as possible on the search engine page. More content they screamed! They did not want you to leave to find your search results. Refining and gathering the most relevant answers to our queries was not as important.

Internet companies had also not figured out how to make money from search. A voice in the distance cried out “Sell the keywords!”. Someone had come up with the idea that advertisers could be charged for buying the keywords and having their ads displayed with relevant results. That voice was Bill Gross of Idea Labs, a serial entrepreneur. He decided that advertisers could bid for the keywords in an auction style system, paying differing amounts according to the clicks they generated. Thus this was a way to monetise search engines.

When he told the world (i.e. Silicon Valley), they laughed at him and declared him crazy. Clearly, a man before his time. His company, Overture would later be sold to Yahoo to run the advertising on their search engines for billions (Interestingly enough, Yahoo has been the subject of a failed takeover bid by Microsoft in an move to compete with Google)

At the same time, two Stanford PHD students had begun working on the worlds most audacious search project – Google . Two other Stanford PHD students had co-founded Yahoo. These guys were developing something special, but they just could not figure out how to make money from the internet and looked around for a solution. They saw the Overture model, liked it and took it. When they told the world in 2002 about this idea to auction off the keywords, they were hailed as kings. Later Google, would settle out of court with Overture but it was too late – Google was already too dominant in the world of Search.

Google’s secret sauce lies in its PageRank methodology. The heart of it lies in something known as backlinks. The two academics, Larry Page and Sergey Brin looked at the concept of academic research – how a thesis is considered more authoritative the more times it is citied. They applied this concept to the world of search and analysed the links linking back to a website. It is the equivalent of hitting the back button on the internet browser and figuring out how many times it is linked. Using this method, they could measure how relevant a website is. A crude but effective measure. The PageRank formula also looks at a million other variables, but that is the core of it.

In a world of search, ideally you want your website to appear in the first three results on the first page of the search results. There is no benefit being on page 10. You want to be considered relevant. There are ways to optimize your website by putting more of a particular keyword in the headings, in bold, using it more times on a page, etc…This is a practice known as search engine optimization.

Another practice is known as search engine marketing (aka paid search). These are the results that turn up on the right hand side of Google’s search results as if someone had magically put them there. But no, someone is going to pay money for that. The amount an advertiser pays is worked out in one of two methods. You can pay only if someone clicks on the website, and nothing if they do not click – a practice known as cost per click (CPC’s). The other method is on a views basis i.e. the number of times your page has been viewed. This is known as cost per impression (CPM) and is based on 1,000 views.

Most advertisers would prefer the CPC basis because they only pay is someone clicks. However, there are times where advertisers would prefer a CPM basis as it is more predictable and the budget can be forecasted better.

Different advertisers will pay varying amounts depending on click through rates (CTR’s) and who they are. A search engine ideally wants the most relevant ad to be placed next to relevant results for a particular keyword. They would prefer a good advertiser and can ban someone from advertising if it may cause more harm, even though they are prepared to pay more for that keyword.

As an advertiser it is important to understand what kind of words a user will be entering into a search engine to find a particular product / service. For example, a business selling mobile phone will want to buy the following keywords: phone, mobile, 3G, handset, nokia, network, Telstra, call, SMS, etc…

Ah, the world of search, where you can discover anything and pay to be discovered.

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If you want to read more, I can recommend “The Search” by John Batelle and the Googlepedia (a brief encyclopedia) about Google.

Or maybe you could just search for it?

Face/off on Face/book

Originally written on 20 March, 2008.

A vast amount of our time is spent in the virtual world. Our lives are dotted in cyberspace. We search it for careers, for friendship and for love. It answers our questions on the weather, directions, places to eat, places to sleep. Before you asked your friends for answers, now you ask Google. Now everyone is an expert via Wikipedia. The internet has become an online juke box and a Blockbuster. Everything is now on demand and we expect nothing less.

We are shifting away from traditional mediums and creating new ones. We used to read books, now we download audio versions on to our iPods. Comics are now uploaded page by page online. Radio is a dying format, as we can now broadcast online via podcasts, ensuring that you have not missed a beat.

Newspapers used to get old by the day, now it gets old by the minute. With RSS (Real Simple Syndication), our news is updated and feed to us every time we log online. We have dynamic content and it is tailored to our needs. Relevance has suddenly hit a new meaning.

We connect with our friends through online platforms such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Friendster or one of the other networking sites. Social networking has become the buzz word for the last year or so. We document our lives on blogs, we share our videos on YouTube, we play games on Facebook and we listen to new music on MySpace.

Each of these online platforms has unique and tailored content created by each user. These webpages we create are our online space. A space that we carve out on the world wide web. It is personal to each user. And that is the beauty of it – it is your space, your voice to the world. A place were you can broadcast, chat with friends, and share photos.

Earlier tonite, I attended a seminar titled “Building brands on Facebook and Web 2.0” held by the Australian Marketing Institute. It claimed that traditional advertising was a one way street. Advertising was directed one way, from the marketer to the consumer. Now, using Web 2.0 through online platforms such as MySpace, blogs or Facebook, the user tells the public what they are interested in. It creates niche markets and thus offers boundless opportunities to deliver advertising tailored to each user. Marketers, advertisers and corporations salivate at these opportunities now available to them.

But will this form of advertising work? Will users of Web 2.0 fight back and refuse to respond to these ads?

We look at most of these online platforms and we see that the mentality of the people running them has changed. They originally had social and interactive purposes. Then they were sold. Google bought YouTube for $1.65bn. Newscorp bought MySpace for $580m. Microsoft bought a 1.6% strategic stake in Facebook for $240m, effectively valuing Facebook at $16bn. Have these networking sites been corporatized? Have new vested interests changed these websites?

One would have to say yes. These conglomerates did not buy them to keep them as they are. They bought them with the sole intent of advertising on them and leveraging the details and the content of the users. So much of our lives are documented on social networking websites. Our favourite music, our marital status, our interests, our friends, and the charities we support. Marketers have found the pot of gold for demographics and consumer preferences. And these companies want a return on their investments.

However, this is bad news. We did not sign up for this. We signed up to share our lives with our friends, not corporations. It is both invasive and intrusive. We made YouTube what it is today. We put our original content on there. Now, if you look at the YouTube website, when you watch a video, there is a list of ads on the right hand side tailored to each video. Who knows what they might do next? Put advertisements in front of our videos? Recommend movies to us based on the videos?

Advertising is encroaching too far into our personal lives. MySpace is what it says it is “MY SPACE”. Not Coca-Cola’s space. Not Commonwealth Bank. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to advertise on my page. I do not appreciate Facebook ads on my homepage. If I write about travel or a post a picture of my travels, do I want to see an advertisement for flights? Hell no. But that is what is happening. Increasingly, we are starting to see more and more tailored ads filter into our Facebook pages. Users of Facebook like myself simply ignore this. Advertising has always been like this – we can choose to ignore or we choose to take in what is relevant.

Online advertising has become really annoying these days. I can’t go to my sports favourite site ESPN.com without some dreaded POP UP Ad suddenly appearing on the page. I don’t even see the purpose of pop up ads. That is why I installed a pop up blocker program to get rid of these monstrosities. And if it does get past my filter, I simply delete the ad anyway.

Another thing that annoys me, is that there was as case study in the seminar about how they were promoting these period pain medication. One of their subtle techniques they used was to send free samples to the top 100 women bloggers in Australia, because this would help promote the product amongst influential bloggers. The idea is that women would read about the products on the blog and this would create brand awareness and then prompt them to purchase the product.

To me this is akin to bribery. I believe I am qualified to state my opinion, as I have been blogging for almost 4 years. This is BS. I can’t believe marketers would stoop to this. Blogs are popular because they represent what real people think. They are our raw thoughts, our emotions, what we as individuals think. Bloggers are independent writers and should not be influenced by these kinds of marketing techniques. Sure, marketers have been giving away product samples for centuries. However, any blogger in their right mind, would never promote this product. Corporate blogs don’t work for this reason because they are sanitized and are fake. If I knew a blogger was given a product sample or some kind of inducement, and then promoted the product, it would ruin their reputation in my eyes.

One of the best examples of these subtle advertising is GMAIL. The controversy with GMAIL when we first signed up was that Google would filter through our email and deliver advertising to us based on what was in our emails. To this very day, I have ignored all the advertising that Google has bombarded me with. It simply doesn’t work. In fact, I have never clicked on any ad displayed by Google on its search results page. For me, as a consumer, I would rather find the website for myself with a bit of exploring.

It’s the same reason that I don’t click on any recommended item on Amazon.com. I might select a DVD or a CD, then Amazon will recommend an item based on what past buyers also bought or looked at. It tries to work me out based on mathematical algorithms, using customer purchase patterns. I feel that this is what will happen with Facebook and MySpace. I don’t respond to this type of advertising because it tries to work me out – it tries to homogenize me into a commodity. If I like a Jay-Z CD, does that mean I will also consider buy a recommended Kanye West CD?

Online advertising on social networks has its place. But marketers have to be very careful that they do not encroach on a user’s space. Each space is personal to each user. It is a very fine line that needs to be balanced between commerciality and social function. If we become bombarded with ads and we see that these sites no longer serve the purpose of what we signed up for, then we will rebel. We will leave you with nothing but a billion dollar lemon.

Enjoy.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Vending Machine

I saw this a while back, but its an intriguing stunt to build up hype for the Onitsuka Tiger Shoe in London. They put the shoe in a vending machine, and you put money in it for a chance to win the shoe. Love the originality of the idea. Vending machines are not new but its the way it is used to advertise a shoe brand. Something unique and to catch the attention of people passing by.

Tiger is actually a real popular casual shoe brand now. It was huge in the 70’s and 80’s, and has made a real resurgency in the past few years. the problem with advertising these days, is that there is so much clutter.

The average person is exposed to so many ads a day – something like 3,000! Advertisers talk about “cut through” – one of the biggest jargon words I have ever heard in marketing. its the ability for an ad or a campaign to shine amongst all the crap out there – so you will recognise and remember that particular ad or brand.

I saw this ad concept in the toilet at my advertising school a few months ago, and I still remember it. That’s pretty powerful. Because there’s so many ads out there, you just have to be even more innovative and original. More daring, more risk.

Not only that, but you have to be advertising at the right moment, in the right environments, at the right place. For example, the best time to advertise breakfast food is in the morning, as you are eating breakfast. fast food? Late night, when you get the munchies. I noticed that the KFC ads come on around midnight.

You have to think about when the potential consumer is most receptive to an idea. Continuing with the food theme, let’s say your target customer is “non- working mums”. When are they thinking about meal ideas? You have to work out their typical day, profiling them. Typically, it is around 12pm – 2pm that they will think about that night’s dinner and what they will prepare. So you have to hit them up with ads, at precisely that time. That is when they are most receptive to the idea.

I’ve heard that that particular products such as bread brands who target non-working mums, will buy the ad space on buses along school bus routes. Think about it. The typical mum drops off the school kids, waits with them at the bus stop for the bus to arrive. Bus stops tempoarily, kids hop on, mum waves to kids. At the moment she sees that side of the bus, she is exposed to that ad. Every morning, that ad is reinforced when she takes her kids to the bus stop. In the back of her mind, she is associating school kids with this particular product. She may also be exposed to ads at lunch time (between 12pm-2pm) on radio, tv.

When she goes to the shopping aisle, and is thinking about making a purchase of bread brand for the family, that brand or product is somewhere deep in her mind and may prompt her to buy that product. All these little things are necessary to prompt someone to buy a product or brand.