Community Casting

I am just back from DigitalHollywood show. There was one question I heard more loudly than any other no matter which session I attended; “How do we monetize content?” The question now takes on an urgent tone as more and more traditional media struggle to answer that question before it’s too late.

And coincidentally, the dialogue at DigitalHollywood seemed a real world extension of the Ad Age article I had written that just was just published; Why Charging for Online Content (Mostly) Won’t Work. The article outlined why trying to monetize content is really hard and the better approach is to create unique user experiences, like a robust community, that then lets you create upsell opportunities. By the kinds of responses I got on the article, I seem to have hit a note. Many people wrote extensively about how current models don’t work.

And as in my article, the conference betrayed a gnawing sense of angst since no one anymore doubted that the old model was broken, but no one was clear about what will replace it.

We all knew we were on the precipice of something big, new, unknown and undefined. We were excited, inspired, and cautious.

We also knew we were all making it up as we go.

Yet even from within the doubts, one could see innovation all around. There are a lot of great tech companies offering lots of versions of video streaming platforms … from PPV to satellite to distributed networks. There were other great companies who had really interesting audience engagement models from the citizen journalists of AllVoices to MomTV who look to create meaningful interactions with Moms. Despite the cool technology we all saw at the conference, the chase for the content monetization answer trumped most others.

The Ad Age article seemed prescient to the conference’s theme because I actually answered that question directly by drawing on the experience of Paltalk, a profitable web 2.0 company. Paltalk’s monetization engine uses content to attract audiences but then creates end user value in offering real time, interactive video visitor engagement within our communities. Once the user is committed to a community, then there are interesting upsell opportunities possible.

This is what “community casting” is about. It is about creating and nurturing a community with real time community interaction with video and chat.  This is what will emerge as the new content monetization engine.

It is, in fact, already working now. Watch this space.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

What do Ninja Turtles, Facebook, Hush Puppies and Pokémon all have in common?

The answer reveals the secrets to creating a viral marketing machine.

Back when I worked on the Hawaiian Punch business for P&G, we spent a fair amount of time analyzing how “fads” became popular with kids. We tried to understand what ignited meteoric “viral” success. We learned some ingredients of viral campaigns –  ease of acquisition, transmission and novelty –  but we never really cracked the code of how to predictably recreate a viral marketing engine.

For the last few years, there have been a host of books presenting research on how to create a viral marketing engine. These texts add insight into the dynamics of viral marketing, but they fail to define how to execute viral marketing well. How, for instance, do you realistically and reliably identify influencers or content creators or mavens?

Then, just as these concepts were making their way into marketing models, newer work by Duncan Watts seems to suggest that many previous models are not, scientifically speaking, valid. He argues that influencers are not all that influential after all. For something to go viral, he believes, is a function of among other things – “right time and right place,” he says.

How then can marketers effectively utilize this seemingly arbitrary dynamic? While researchers like Watts are still experimenting with new models, I’ll offer my own. My model lacks any published scientific study, but it is a theory grounded in understanding that breakthroughs happen when we blend science with human nature. So here goes.

When we think about wildly popular trends, from Pokémon to Facebook, they have a few things in common. They were all easy to share, they all presented a novel experience and the activity was largely democratic – easy for most people to participate.  But they also share one other, very important ingredient – they all powerfully satisfy our insatiable human need for “fun”. Yep, that’s it.

Now before you reject “fun” as being too lightweight in strategic value to drive business, it will be instructive to look at the iconic viral success stories for answers.

Let’s start with Ninja Turtles or Pokémon. Their success was grounded in the fact that their fun was incredibly engaging on many levels. They provided different modes of play (cards, video games etc), the fun was easy to transport and play could last hours. “Fun” explains the venerable viral success story of Hush Puppies because Hush Puppies reminded us of when we were kids and fun ruled. Fun by association works as well.

Now let’s look at, arguably the most successful viral engine ever – Facebook. When we apply the “fun” filter we see they carefully baked “fun” into every crevice of the user lifecycle – from encouraging friends to find each other and once found, to the plethora of fun ways for the friends to remain connected.

With this new understanding of balancing the latest scientific thinking with the human element of fun, here’s what a workable viral marketing engine might look like:

  • Enable easy content distribution.
    • Bake in the “6 degrees of distribution” as Watts demonstrated to ensure that messages can be easily transmitted.
  • Elevate “fun” to a strategic initiative in customer lifecycle management strategies.
    • Concentrate on creating a fun experience throughout users’ experience – from the moment you try to acquire them through every interaction with you.
  • Promote as broadly as possible.
    • Duncan Watts advocates for mass reach in digital campaigns because without enough reach, you may not have enough “fun distributors” to get the job done.  Tonnage is one of the secrets of viral success (counter intuitive as that sounds).
  • Timing can improve the odds of viral success.
    • Until the day that some clever researcher can scientifically figure out how to time “fads” (and maybe the stock markets too), this is probably the most challenging element in this model to execute. To stack the “timing” odds in your favor, troll the edgy blogs to see what’s percolating.
  • Create community to extend the fun.
    • Create an opportunity for people to relive the fun via community building programs, whether this is a Facebook group or a formal community. Done well, it is a powerful brand extender.

So there you have it – the new viral marketing engine based on the dual foundation of scientific research coupled with the pure joy of delivering fun. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Facebook people. They made “friend requests” fun and built an empire.

Reprinted from a MediaPost article on October 13, 2009

Judy Shapiro

What might Twitter and Facebook teach Google Wave about market success?

It’s not what you think but you’ll have to “pull” the answer out of me.

Recently, I have become fascinated with the new academic work around the paradigm shift to the “pull” form of corporate management from the more established “push” business models. This notion, which has been kicking around for a few years as far as I know, has recently become quite popular, probably helped along by recent work on the subject. One excellent white paper entitled; “From Push to Pull; emerging models for mobilizing resources” from Deloitte, authored by Hagel and Brown provides a solid conceptual basis for the clear differences in these two principles.

Here’s a brief excerpt (but I encourage a read of the whole 23 pages):

The signs are around us. We are on the cusp of a shift to a new … model that will re-shape many facets of our life, including how we identify ourselves, participate with others, connect with others, mobilize resources and learn.

Over the past century, we have been perfecting highly efficient approaches to mobilizing resources. These approaches … share a common foundation. They are all designed to “push” resources in advance to areas of highest anticipated need.

This new approach, {however} focuses on “pull” – creating platforms that help people to mobilize appropriate resources when the need arises

The white paper goes onto to describe how when resources are tight, corporate “push” models dominate because they can control and optimize precious resource consumption. But with abundant resources, comes a different model – a “pull” model where users drive the rate of consumption of resources. I’ll also point your attention to the fact that this model is grounded in our very human need for “connectivity” as I will return to this theme shortly.

Now this is heady stuff because a pull model is nothing less than a 180 degree turn on how we think about the way to run businesses today. But what’s that to do with Twitter, Facebook and Google Wave? And what in heaven’s name has that got to do with corporate management theory?

Ah – not so fast – I said you would have to pull it out of me. In fact, I may stretch your patience even further by suggesting we go on a treasure hunt and the treasure we seek is nothing less than understanding why certain technologies succeed while others fail.

Our treasure hunt begins as most do with orienting ourselves on our treasure map. In this case, our orientation lies in having a compass to help us understand that technology breakthroughs rarely happen to the company with the best idea or the smartest technology or even the most deserving goals. Nope. Most often it happens in one definable moment – when the technologically breakthrough is symbiotically coupled to fulfilling a fundamental dimension of our humanity. Technology by itself is sterile.

Ok, now that we have our bearings, let’s follow our map to uncover our buried treasure.

If we follow the Internet’s evolution in the past 10 years, no one doubts that the Internet has become a highly dependent technology for people and business world over. It enables powerful communications and connectivity capabilities, but in its current iteration, the Internet lacks the basic building blocks for meaningful connectivity — like the technological ability to establish trust. (Tangentially, the issues of trust on the Internet are complex and well articulated by  Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall in their September 2008 paper;  “Trust on the Web: Some Web Science Research Challenges”; (http://www.uoc.edu/uocpapers/7/dt/eng/ohara_hall.pdf.)

So users started to “pull” trust into their Internet experiences partly through the creation of trusted communities like forums, blogs, review sites and the like. That trusted community concept was quickly embraced by the public so that now almost all of us engage in some digital social community or other (see Pew Institute research on the subject). The initial pull, to create trust in online interactions, spawned the great social networking revolution we are experiencing right now. I bet some future historian will pinpoint this moment as perhaps the tipping point moment propelling other “pull” corporate models.

Returning to our treasure hunt, though, let’s see where our map has led us so far. The Internet grew so fast because it expanded personal connectivity, which then created the need for trust within this new level of connectedness which then resulted in all forms (and variations) of “trusted” communities that were only possible because the new “pull” tech platforms let people utilize technology when they need it.

Still with me?

Ok – good and now your patience will be rewarded because here is where “X” marks the spot. The treasure we have been seeking is revealed in appreciating  that when technology truly serves humanity by fulfilling some basic human need or desire (like wanting to connect), it can become a powerful force that can move fast within the ecosystem, helped along by the emerging “pull” mechanism discussed above.

This is what Twitter and Facebook can teach Google Wave. They understood how to use “technology” to satisfy our very human need to be connected within a “trusted” community. In the case of Twitter, they innovated so anyone can have a “feed” to “their” network (a.k.a. community) and in the case of Facebook, they created a way for people to create their own trusted community. In both cases, (and many others too), we see that when technology is intrinsically woven in with satisfying a fundamental human need, like the deep need to be part of a trusted community,  with an effective dispersion model like our “pull” model, you have the ingredients for success.

Now I think Google Wave has the potential to be a technological milestone because it merges unified collaboration and communications (not new) within the fertile soil of a trusted community (this is new). “Pull” models coming online now enable this combination of dynamics to “gel” into a platform that can be vibrant and paradigm shifting. From anyone I talked to who has actually used the product, (I have not received an invitation yet, but I am a patient woman) there is an expectant hope for it – much like the expectation one might have at a party hyped to be cool but that just got started.

I hope Google Wave recognizes that people want to technology to power their trusted digital communities – and not so much their “communications and collaboration” (sounds pretty sterile doesn’t it?). I can see how this technology has the potential to truly expand our comprehension of what a trusted community can become.

The power of these converging trends – Internet, “pull’ models, trust and community – is the treasure any tech business can capture for themselves. I suspect that if anyone will know how to use this treasure it will be Google. I am rooting for them.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

What does …”But I am not in marketing means” really mean?

If you’re in marketing, I know you’ve heard it. You’re in a meeting, and the CFO or the technology person prefaces a marketing idea with that phrase, “but I’m not in marketing”. It can mean a few things depending on who is saying it. It can mean; “Don’t blame me if this is a stupid idea – after all I am not in marketing.” Or it can mean, “Even I, who do not work in marketing, can figure this problem out.”

Either way, the implication is clear – don’t attach any stigma to them in the high likelihood that the idea fails. It is, in other words, their disclaimer and they are throwing you under the bus.

That’s not so unexpected given the fate of marketing as the corporate sacrificial lamb. But the perpetuation of that type of thinking is entirely misguided because modern marketing should not be thought of as just a functional organization. It should be thought of as a company wide discipline inclusive of everyone that touches any part of the customer experience. That probably covers most people in most companies.

So once that new type of marketing thinking is adopted, let’s turn our attention to understanding what people really mean when they say it (beyond the obvious CYA dimension of the expression).

The answer lies in why Judy Consumer was born, back in the halls of the Bell Labs New Venture Group of Lucent Technology on this very day about a decade ago.  Judy Consumer I was in marketing then and my job was to help developers determine what (if any) market value their innovations may have. I had to thread lightly – after all each technology was the personal creation of a developer. I had to understand a technology clearly before I could give the developer the news about whether their technology “baby” could have market value or not.

But getting a good understanding of a technology proved to be more of a challenge than you might think. Developers, as brilliant as they are, tend to be quite esoteric when describing the benefits of a technology. In other words, more often than not, when a developer explained a certain technology to me, I had no idea why anyone would use it.

It was then that Judy Consumer made her debut. I was working on a cool audio technology (5 point surround sound delivered with just 2 speakers), but the developer would speak in terms of decibel and sound perimeter and so forth. I understood the basics, but not the real benefit.

Then, in a moment of inspiration (or frustration – who knows), I told the developer, “Talk to me like I am Judy Consumer and not an employee here. Pretend you are explaining this technology to a friend in a coffee shop”. Then, I could see the light in his eyes and he started to describe why Judy Consumer would love this innovation.

It was then that I began to use the notion of Judy Consumer to help me get developers in the right frame of mind. I needed Judy Consumer to take these clever developers out of their technical world and into the real world where Judy Consumers really live.

But as I continued to use Judy Consumer over the years she helped me understand the phrase, “But I’m not in marketing” better. She helped me realize that what people really mean to say is that they don’t believe they could put themselves in the shoes of a Judy Consumer and see the world through her eyes. They lacked confidence that they had the imagination to get it right.

This is what people mean when they say they are not in marketing. And to some degree they are right. The ability to understand how someone else will respond to technology is what often separates the “marketing pro’s” from the hacks. But that does not let everyone else off the hook. Great marketers learn how to train their corporate and technology partners into seeing the world from the perspective of Judy Consumer.

That’s why I have become so attached to her. She helps me teach everyone in a company that they too are in marketing and Judy Consumer likes the company.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

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