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Archive for the category “Social Networking”

When technology fills in for human connection

Sharin visited your path, my phone alerted me the other day. For all the things Path does, this feature is a killer. In a real world context the alert could mean many things. Sharin came home. You bumped into Sharin on the street. You met Sharin for coffee. Except that you didn’t.

If you have not already, you must try Path. It’s an app for the iPhone and Android devices. Share Life says this video that advertises Path. While it does many things that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare do, there is a little bit more. A nuance that makes a new kind of connection.

While Path is the new shiny, and this story is not specifically about Path, but about technology beginning to make a human connection. Not just for the shy and the socially inept. “If I have been to sleep and don’t have at least four messages when I wake up, I feel no one loves me” said this quote from this study of 2005. The world has moved on, and for many of us checking our phone for email or SMS messages is the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning.

We are the first generation of humans touched by technology.

What started in analog with telephone answering machine has been converted into bits and bytes and is coursing the veins of the digital nervous system we call the world-wide web. Soon we will be hearing about the Internet of things, like how we did, Web 2.0 a few years ago. And as it unfolds, more things will be connected to the Internet. Objects like the streets of Tokyo or if you can call cows objects, like in this experiment in Holland where a startup, Sparked, is connecting animals to keep track of their health.

It is easy to understand how we can build bridges between objects and the Internet. Haven’t we have heard of concepts like connected refrigerators that could order for fresh stocks of milk and eggs or cars that could made SOS calls when in an emergency, since the early days of the internet? Many of these ideas are not just concepts anymore and as this video from IBM tells us there are more things connected to the internet than there are people.

However what makes my experience with Path a little different is that unlike objects that have an IP address and make dumb connections, Path can play with human emotion. What did Sharin find out about me when she dropped by my path unannounced.

There are others. Take Availabot, one of the early examples of an Internet connected object that could play with us. A USB device that would wake up when a friend of mine logged on to IM. Made me smile. Or Mingling Mii, a virtual Nintendo Wii avatar that, if connected to the internet could popup in the audience as my friends played virtual games no matter where they were.

We are going further as this breathtaking idea from Interaction Design shows us. With PillowTalk you can sleep next to your loved one even when you are far, far away. Wish I had thought of that.

As we move into a world with omnipresent Wi-Fi and 3G networks, RFID and NFC chips, QR codes and augmented reality overlays. Of connected databases that know us, our friends and our preferences better we will see more richness, more meaning being built around us. Ideas that can change our moods, play with our feelings and mind states.

The reason why this fascinates us is because we are the first generation of humans who have been touched by technology, as this baby born into a home with an iPad thought that a magazine is an iPad that does not work.

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Eight lessons marketing professionals can learn from Kolaveri

The digital world has so disrupted the business models of newspapers, radio, television, music and even Hollywood that the yin and yang of mass media and mass marketing are flying apart. We are in the midst of total collapse of the media infrastructure we have taken for granted for 400 years.

– Bob Garfield Advertising Age Columnist in The Chaos Scenario, 13 April 2005

Aye, have you heard this weird song. Kolaveri, Kolaveri? Is got close to a million views on YouTube. Is it Malu or what? What does Kolaveri mean?

– Digital Dude Aged 24, 17 November 2011

Screen grab from Youtube

Six years after Bob Garfield provoked the marketing and advertising industry with his seminal piece in Advertising Age, Digital Dude (quoted above) discovers that Kolaveri Di has gone viral on YouTube. Dude does not know Bob Garfield nor has he read The Chaos Scenario. But he is among the millions who have given Kolaveri another view, helping to further shoot the video on to the centre stage of India’s pop culture and unwittingly endorsing the premise of Bob’s book.
Now clients want agencies to do a Kolaveri like video for their brands. Yes we got two briefs in the last two days and are struggling to explain why we cannot do a Kolaveri. What we do have are some lessons from the said video and similar memes.

Lesson 1. You don’t make a Kolaveri. It happens. Amen. Here are, one, two stories from the guys at Jack in the Box, the digital agency behind the viral on how it happened.

Lesson 2. You can’t separate marketing and PR from the agency anymore. Being a movie based video Kolaveri has an advantage over traditional marketing content. Yet reading the agency’s POV on this, PR was strategically used to give the video the traction.  Starting now we need to create all kinds of synergies to get people’s attention. Marketing, PR, HR, sales, service working together, in tandem…

Lesson 3.  Speed is the new element in a marketing person’s arsenal. To read Dhanush’s interview post the success of the song and to believe that the song was written in some 6 minutes. Well that’s as much time it takes to find an empty conference room these days. Speed was on display when W+K decided to bring on the OldSpice Man on to Twitter and YouTube. 180+ videos created in two days. Wow!

Lesson 4. YouTube is the TV channel for urban Indian youth. Mahesh Murthy (look up his 20 new rules of marketing here) and Reem Syed are some of the prominent voices in India who believe how lopsided marketing budgets are with respect to digital media. The impact of Kolaveri Di should put an end to that discussion. In fact this Google Trends comparison between two recent hits, Airtel’s Har Friend Zaroori Hota Hai and Kolaveri shows you that without a dime spent on TV, Kolaveri has blown past an ad that was heavily promoted on all channels, online included. Even in places like Ludhiana and Chandigarh,  Kolaveri beat out the Airtel ad.

Lesson 5. In a low friction world,  we learnt a great idea will have imitators like in the case of Cadbury’s s Gorilla. In India we have struggled to get people to create interesting content that feeds off a rage. Kolaveri is showing us that good ideas will be copied and remixed in real time. What are we agencies and marketers doing to create memes that can be remixed?

Lesson 6. Hum-ability counts, not meaning. Cartoonist Hugh McLeod had something fundamental to say  in this cartoon. Most marketing messages are so overloaded that they lose any humanity whatsoever. The lyrics in Kolaveri are so nonlinear that they start a conversation and further its spread.  RIP Link Test?

Lesson 7. Ideas like these can spawn real time marketing opportunities. Pepsico’s Digital Marketing Head talks about how the best marketing in the future will need to grab real time opportunities that could come by. A viral the scale of Kolaveri could have spawned many opportunities. A line of Kolaveri Di Tshirts. A promo around the song. A smart entrepreneur could have started a Kolaveri Di FAQs page and made some money from placing Ads on the page. Missed opportunities.

Lesson 8. The long tail brings interesting content back into circulation. This one has nothing to do with Kolaveri. But another video that’s been doing the rounds recently, the  flash mob in Mumbai Central has been doing the rounds. The Youtube video has already notched up an impressive 200,000+ views in two days. On the back of this, an older, forgotten one from May this year is getting a second life, for free. The Internet never forgets, but no ad that’s shown on TV can ever have a second coming without the advertiser wanting to rerun it.

Backing up your brain. One little app at a time.

A few weeks ago I celebrated by birthday. While I am not an 8 year old anymore to care about birthdays, what struck me most was the number of good wishes I received. From a dozen or so greetings a few years ago, I received hundreds, perhaps a thousand messages this time.

So what has changed? Facebook, obviously. Those useful little notifications that appear on the right top of our streams. Sure. But that’s missing a broader trend.

Einstein’s telephone number. The story goes that when someone asked Albert Einstein his phone number, Einstein replied that he didn’t remember it. This startled the man who was well aware of Einstein’s genius. Mr Relativity had to then clarify that when his phone number was easily available in a telephone directory, there was no point of him remembering it and crowding up his memory,

Remembering to forget. Starting with a telephone directory to new digital platforms like Facebook, Google and Outlook calendar, apps like Rememeberthemilk and programs like Basecamp we have started to slowly outsource our brain. By setting up alerts and reminders we are using technology to help us forget days, times and activities that would have otherwise added noise to our already overwhelmed brains.

I don’t bother to remember to pay my utility bills anymore as I have set them all up in the automated system that my bank provides. With SMS messages that arrive month after month, I only keep a notional track of bills that have come in and have automatically been paid out.

I have gone further, with tools like CarLocator that helps me remember where I parked my car in a busy parking lot.  Or whosthat?, an app that I, err, use discreetly, to help me remember names of people who I have met, and may have forgotten, and therefore avoid real world social embarrassments.

Carbon meets silicone. The brain outsourcing business is still in its infancy with simple apps that need our intervention to take over things we want them to. But this could soon change, with scientists finding ways to connect carbon based humans and silicon based computers seamlessly. British Scientist Kevin Warwick has been working on wiring silicon based interfaces that can send signals between a human body and a computer. In fact he has had a chip implanted in his own arm more than a decade ago and has been experimenting with ways to turn analog signals from his body into little pieces of digital software that once activated on a computer will be able to create a reaction in his body.

Others believe we can take it further. With inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil foreseeing that we will, in our own lifetimes, be able to download our memories, thoughts, emotions and consciousness into a hard drive. He has written several books on the subject and at 63 is working towards being one of the first humans to be able to seamlessly move from being a man to a machine. Computers are already better than humans at logic, he says and it is just a matter of time when we will be able to transfer our emotional intelligence into a computer.

There are others too who agree with the Kurzweil line of thinking. Ian Pearson, head of the futurology at British Telecom has put a date to when we will be able to seamlessly download minds into a machine. 2050, he says, if you are rich enough, add another 25 years for poor guys like me.

I have seen heaven. So what does happy birthday alerts and online bill payment systems tell us about longevity and immortality? That, unbeknownst to us, we have started our journey from being creatures of carbon, to having our memory and our consciousness preserved in a server farm somewhere. With Apple launching iOS 5 sometime in October, and the promise of free or low cost digital storage on iCloud and elsewhere, we are slowly and steadily uploading our lives onto silicon. With his ongoing battle with cancer, Steve Jobs may not make it. But his vision could help me live forever, in silicon heaven, on a cloud somewhere.

This story appeared in FirstPost. You can read it here 

Is Social Networking Building Internet’s Caste System?

Ah! To be an internet user in the 90s. When modern browsers introduced us to webpages and hyperlinks.  Click, click click and you were away, connecting random things. Girlie pictures, right click to download. Football scores I know the address. Email, done in minutes.

No pressure really. If you could log on, you could be online. No one knew who you were, and really no one cared.

How could the net just meander along like this, asked the Internet gods? Soon people will get bored. Let’s throw in some complexity, they said. And Google was born. Out of a paper that Larry Page wrote. With Page Rank, Google’s algorithm for ranking pages, we started to see changes in the way we consumed the web. We moved away from individual web pages and started visiting to the Google home page. Search for something and out came a bunch of results. Simple we thought, yet complex it was. Who decides which result should come up tops? Not Google surely. No.

Thus was born the origins of Internet’s caste system.

I have more heads of cattle then you have; if you are a villager living on the Serengeti plains of Africa. I rank higher up in Google search results than you do, if you’ve decided to make the Cyberspace your playground.

Thus was created a new generation of narcissists. Googling their names to find where they stood when compared to their peers and namesakes. I have done it myself secretly, I must admit.

What Google started didn’t end there. When platforms like Blogger, Typepad, WordPress and others gave anyone online the opportunity to create, it also started to create a pecking order of sorts. Arianna Huffington, Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington. India’s own Amit Agarwal, Rashmi Bansal, soon became the Brahmins of the web. Six figure speaking assignments, insider tips, first looks at new stuff, publishing contracts.

The social media curation business was in full flow, creating clear class systems with award shows, lists and more. Bloggies. AdAge’s ranking of top marketing bloggers. Indiblogger complied India’s own list. I saw your blog, chipped in an enthusiastic intern who dropped by my office. I have one too, he said, has an Indirank of 67. Crash! My world went down. With a score languishing in the 20s. Woe to ye writer for a blog few care to read.

It wouldn’t end there. Nike+, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more. Some of us were just better at doing stuff and the world could know. I just ran 18 Kms a friend’s Nike+ status update mocked at me. The last I ran for exercise was 18 years ago.

NigaHiga has 4 million YouTube subscribers my son told me the other day. I looked up mine. Four. As if the zeroes really didn’t matter.

Facebook fans and friends, Twitter and Instagram follower lists – I wasn’t making a mark. Falling away in the social media leaderboard.

And then came the rating guys. Standard & Poor’s of the internet, as it were. Size does matter, they say, knowing my abysmal record so far, I wasn’t sure how I would measure up.

The big name around in this nascent business is Klout, as the name suggests measures your clout, online.  Klout, the standard of influence they claim, 80 million people have apparently compared themselves using the algorithm. Justin Bieber scores a 100 on 100. Unless you are a movie star or someone such, I urge you to stay away. With a score in the low 50s and my activity across various social networks I am classified a specialist. If it were like India’s multilayered caste system I would be a barber, probably. Nice hair! Oh go away now.

There are others out there waiting to divide us. Each one with a proprietary method. Peer Index, inviting you to understand your online social capital. One that groups you basis your activity, authority and your network.  There’s Twenty Feet described an ego tracking service. Carl Jung has met his match. The Times UK has another The Social List, a system set up to measure your social wealth. Could a bribe help, I wonder?

So why these class systems you may ask. We are seeing some answers already. Klout has introduced Klout Perks, a system to reward people basis their social influence. They worked with Facebook and Audi to deliver different experiences to people depending on their Klout scores. Stephen King recently gave away his new book Mile 81 free to select members of Klout.

Looks like I am falling short in the ranking game, with middling numbers across the board. Wish I could go back to the simpler days of the Internet. Or maybe I need to move on.

Gardening, anybody?   

Unfriending: the new friending

I almost missed the one line status update as it trickled down my wall “spring cleaning my friend list”. Even when I saw it, I was sure I wouldn’t be among the ones cleaned out so I didn’t bother to check.

As days and weeks went by, I started to miss those updates. Auto posts from her subscriptions to astrology sites, odd pictures from late night parties, Farmville notifications. Nothing profound or insightful, yet enough to tell me we were still friends.

I have to admit I have been a lurker, a virtual fly on her virtual wall. Sent her birthday messages every year, early in the morning, without fail. Liked the odd post now and then, just so she knew I am around.Her pictures. Looked them up all, many times over.

And this is what I get in return. A virtual dumping!

Did she think I wouldn’t know? Hey I do now. Don’t know how long ago I was nixed. It hurts OK! It does, even now.

Is unfriending the new friending? Spring cleaning my friend list. Is there a meme of sorts out there that I missed out on?

I remember reading a month or so ago that Facebook was losing users in the US. It was later retracted though. How did she get to that. GigaOm? She doesn’t read that.

New evidence popped up again yesterday that the Facebook juggernaut maybe beginning to slow down. This time from Hitwise in the UK. Refuted again! Lies, damned lies and web statistics as Jemima Kiss wrote in her Guardian Blog.

So what happened to me? Has she been so unemployed recently to manicure their friend lists? Are there new taxes for having too many friends on a FB account? Has the monsoon brought in a new virus? Unfrienditis?

I Googled frantically. Nothing!

And then I noticed this little maroon button gleaming “1” on my Google+ toolbar. Intrigued, I clicked.

It was a notification from her. XYZ has added you in a circle.

Mum’s on Twitter. #Help

She’s 72, mom is, and she has a new toy. Hashtags. Unleashing her fury on the village fishmonger. Pomfret not fresh #eipcfail. Auto drivers, vegetable vendors, the weatherman and now the fishmonger, all at the receiving end of her recent and often generous use of hashtags.

She DMs (direct messages) me often. “r u in del?” Checking on my recently busy travel schedule. “Feeling g8”, giving me feedback after her 5K morning walk. Were’s da cheq?? Asking when the cheque I promised her will reach. I respond promptly, avoiding #epicfail(s) and #nasty(s) as she plays around with the grammar of another tool she’s just discovered.

Mum’s been a learner all her life. Over a decade ago she enrolled for Literacy Mission’s evening classes – to learn Kannada- when she moved to Bangalore. She attended every class, the certificate she received now adorns her mantel shelf.

I wonder if she’s heard of Google+ yet. There’s been so much talk about it recently that the local news channel must have reported something. Mum hasn’t sent me a DM yet via Twitter, “where’s my Google+”, not yet. Knowing mum it could come in anytime.

I wish the world had a bit of mum’s spirit. Plunging headlong and trying out new and unknown things. In the digital world, registering and using emerging tools and technology platforms.

Now I can foresee smart one liners coming my way. But hold on a minute.

Despite all our early cribs and complaints about not wanting to let the world know about when we burped or farted via our status alerts, hasn’t Facebook become our fireplace on the web? Come on now. Aren’t we almost unconsciously clicking on and reading the odd Twitter link or enjoying juvenile cat videos posted on YouTube?

So how come we get into these discussions on the need for another platform? When we don’t even know how useful it might turn out when a million of your friends sign up to it. How useful and serendipitous Foursquare could be if we bumped into an old flame at an airport when checking in becomes a new favourite game. When an Instagram you posted get 20 “loves” from people who we’ve never ever met.

I am not a new platform junkie as many of my friends think I am. No I’m not. Trawling Mashable and GigaOm to see when new digital toy is signing up alpha users. This is not a manifesto for that sort of thing. But I do have my ears on the ground; discovering, using and trying to understand the next tool that could change people’s behaviours and effect the way we live. I am a sucker for that. About being where people are, and knowing why we do what we do. A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools – it happens when society adopts new behaviours declared Clay Shirky. Wonder when mum will RT that.

Sleuthing through the recent Facebook shutdowns

There’s been fear and loathing in social media land recently. As some of India’s most visible Facebook fan communities started to go missing. It all began early this month when the Pizza Hut India page was shut down. The news was important enough to feature in mainstream media and on digital blogs. While the Pizza Hut page came back up, two other Indian properties, FCUK India and Cadbury Bournville, went down too. Both the pages are back up after the blip. Check out this interesting inflection of the FCUK India page on Wildfire Social Media Monitoring App.

So what’s happening in social media land? Is the promise of limitless, free consumer engagement is beginning to evaporate even before we have started? What are the future challenges that brands and social media managers will have to keep in mind to ensure that their carefully built properties do not disappear?

The simple answer. Adhere to Facebook terms of service. Live by the rule book, they are straightforward, and everything will be fine. No problem.

In reality things are a bit different. Most brands want to grow their fan pages exponentially, And Pizza Hut India has had some success as this report from December points out. A good promo can do wonders to your page and your confidence, terms of service or no terms of service.

These takedowns are widespread. Allfacebook reports that there has been a slew of app take downs around the world where one of Facebook engineer tried to explain “We’ve been getting a lot of user feedback recently, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. We turned on a new enforcement system yesterday that took user feedback much more heavily into account.”  Apologies and a form on a disabled application appeal page continued in the engineers post.

Spam and blackhat stuff aside, what can legit brands and social media companies do to avoid seeing their efforts and nascent fan pages go down? Once again, play by the rules. There’s no escaping that. Don’t misuse the “like” button, don’t try to induce fans to comment, tag or post.

If you have been managing a Facebook community, you may have received mails from Facebook staff urging you to remove apps and promotions that violate Facebook’s terms. We have received a few and  have been proactive in working to ensure compliance.

We think the problem arises when you don’t respond.

The Facebook platform has been written to record every action that a person makes on a page. Dig around the code and even you will know who commented, who posted, who shared something on any page. So it is easy for Facebook to track admins and what they do, the promos and apps they post etc. And if they find an offending app or promotion on a page they write to the specific admin who posted it.  Now this could be the reason why some pages are being taken down and others narrowly missing the cut. The admin who posted the app or the violating promo has moved on and is still the page admin, or has not checked his Facebook designated mail in time. Our experience is that Facebook does warn offending admins and if they respond and take necessary action then the page stays on. Simple.

So going forward. Stay within the limits of what Facebook allows. Ensure that the admins you have on the page are people who are actively managing the page. And three, and this is a tricky one. If you are an admin look thru every one of your Facebook mails, yes, you get a lot many of them from your friends, fans and the community. Read through them, lest one of them happens to be a mail that warns you about an offending item and the future of your million fan social media community.

Anna Hazare and lazy protests in a frictionless world.

I just signed up an Avaaz petition supporting Anna Hazare. Took me one click and a five field form. In fact my form was incomplete, saved my mobile number from getting into yet another database.

In less than 30 seconds I had posted my contribution on my wall for my friends and their networks to view and participate. Felt good that I did my bit in helping weed out corruption in India.

I am an armchair protester you see, sitting in an air conditioned room, connected to broadband wifi, clicking away. Ah my bit. The world is in safe hands.

This is not a post about us armcharists. But about how easy it is to rustle up a group these days.

I counted and then lost count of the number of groups there are on Facebook goading us to to support the noble man. My search showed me 183 pages. There were more, but I gave up. Hard work Nishad. I am sure you understand my pain. Social networks make it easy. Click on a button and you are done. No money either.

There are online petitions, Facebook apps, Twitter widgets, what-have-yous. And there are millions of us taking the easy way out. Clicking on the create a group tab on Facebook without even looking if someone else has created one. Mind you there’s a search box on top of the page. And it is easier to join a group than to make one.

Would my contribution be good enough if I didn’t create my own thing? I am a geek you see. The guy who does cool things. Clicking a button is for others.

Maybe I should have started a group that protested the formation of so many groups supporting the Lokpal movement. Would have been quicker. Damn I spent half hour writing this…

We need to save digital from the IT department

A few weeks ago we got a very strange request. Could you please make our IT guys the admins on our social media properties? The mail was innocuous in its tone. A simple request you could accede to you’d think. A little digging revealed what was coming. There were multiple names in the mail, and each one of them had to be made admins.

Our team promptly set about working on the request. Looking for the said individuals on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.  And when we could not find them, we wrote back asking for handles and URLs. Promptly the response came. What is a Facebook URL? Why do you need a Twitter handle to access an account? While yes in the case of Twitter, many people can use the same log in credentials, in the case of Facebook, you need to have an account, we replied.

We don’t want to be on Facebook, we just want backend access, our client pleaded.

I hope you are getting the drift. People who had never used Facebook or Twitter, never understood a platform like Linkedin now want to be choreographers of the space. Ah. Make that an effing Ah!

Can you please tell me what I should do with this button that has like written on it? I am getting emails from people I knew from long ago who want to be my friend now…

See I have nothing against IT guys. But for companies who still have policies like “all IT related services should be managed by the IT department” guys you need a relook.

Digital is not about IT, they are about people and social is not so much about media, but about behavior (I borrowed this from @metaxas). Users have never had to worry about the IT behind the digital platforms that are so part of our lives today. Which is why my Mom DMs me these days rather than call me. She has done a cost benefit analysis of the two platforms and figured it out.

If I could give IT guys some advice, learn up as much about people and behavior as you know about hardware and software. Play around on the platforms you want to manage and control. Lean to give up control rather than put locks and admins. You guys could be the most sought after people on this planet, or you could work for Mom.

And the TV Commercial Came in Last

Anyone who’s been following the incredible story of Tony Williams (Adam Schweigert has a detailed post on how the story unfolded) the homeless man with a golden voice from Columbus Ohio will notice how sluggish brands and agencies have been in responding to the story. The moot question here could be; should brands and agencies really react to such a thing at all? But now that Kraft has, well this post…

The story began, as Adam writes, on January 3rd when The Columbus Dispatch posted a video on their website. This video was later reposted on YouTube by an anonymous user, which then blew up the internets and in a day raked up over 6 million views.

Adam goes on from being a homeless man to a national and now an international celebrity that once again demonstrates the power of the net, word-of-mouth marketing and social media.

Somewhere in this all, came Kraft. Who had this TV commercial in production perhaps, and thought why not ride the viral and get some buzz for itself. The funny thing is that due to the nature of how traditional TV works, the actual made-for-TV commercial will only go on air later today. While the story developed on the internet and is now beginning to die out, the Kraft ad will go on air as a paid for advertisement. In fact the YouTube posting of the ad has already notched up some 300,000 views from around the world. The Kraft ad, dad in the doghouse has nothing to do with the man and the voice himself, and is at best a corny attempt to ride the wave of sympathy that Tony Adams is getting at the moment.

In a world of breaking news, reality television, and more importantly trending topics, how can brands be more inventive in taking advantage of the moment, in more unique and original ways?

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