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Age of Conversation 3: It’s time to get busy!

I’m happy to report that the Age of Conversation 3 is available now on Amazon, and in other outlets! I am a contributor to the section on Innovation and social media along with quite a few other really smart folks (full list of authors follows below). I’m really excited the book is finally out, with the social space maturing, going beyond the standard “101″ type information will be important for business looking to tap into the social web smartly. If you pick it up please let me know what you think!


Adam Joseph Priyanka Sachar Mark Earls
Cory Coley-Christakos Stefan Erschwendner Paul Hebert
Jeff De Cagna Thomas Clifford Phil Gerbyshak
Jon Burg Toby Bloomberg Shambhu Neil Vineberg
Joseph Jaffe Uwe Hook Steve Roesler
Michael E. Rubin anibal casso Steve Woodruff
Steve Sponder Becky Carroll Tim Tyler
Chris Wilson Beth Harte Tinu Abayomi-Paul
Dan Schawbel Carol Bodensteiner Trey Pennington
David Weinfeld Dan Sitter Vanessa DiMauro
Ed Brenegar David Zinger Brett T. T. Macfarlane
Efrain Mendicuti Deb Brown Brian Reich
Gaurav Mishra Dennis Deery C.B. Whittemore
Gordon Whitehead Heather Rast Cam Beck
Hajj E. Flemings Joan Endicott Cathryn Hrudicka
Jeroen Verkroost Karen D. Swim Christopher Morris
Joe Pulizzi Leah Otto Corentin Monot
Karalee Evans Leigh Durst David Berkowitz
Kevin Jessop Lesley Lambert Duane Brown
Peter Korchnak Mark Price Dustin Jacobsen
Piet Wulleman Mike Maddaloni Ernie Mosteller
Scott Townsend Nick Burcher Frank Stiefler
Steve Olenski Rich Nadworny John Rosen
Tim Jackson Suzanne Hull Len Kendall
Amber Naslund Wayne Buckhanan Mark McGuinness
Caroline Melberg Andy Drish Oleksandr Skorokhod
Claire Grinton Angela Maiers Paul Williams
Gary Cohen Armando Alves Sam Ismail
Gautam Ramdurai B.J. Smith Tamera Kremer
Eaon Pritchard Brendan Tripp Adelino de Almeida
Jacob Morgan Casey Hibbard Andy Hunter
Julian Cole Debra Helwig Anjali Ramachandran
Jye Smith Drew McLellan Craig Wilson
Karin Hermans Emily Reed David Petherick
Katie Harris Gavin Heaton Dennis Price
Mark Levy George Jenkins Doug Mitchell
Mark W. Schaefer Helge Tenno Douglas Hanna
Marshall Sponder James Stevens Ian Lurie
Ryan Hanser Jenny Meade Jeff Larche
Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher David Svet Jessica Hagy
Simon Payn Joanne Austin-Olsen Mark Avnet
Stanley Johnson Marilyn Pratt Mark Hancock
Steve Kellogg Michelle Beckham-Corbin Michelle Chmielewski
Amy Mengel Veronique Rabuteau Peter Komendowski
Andrea Vascellari Timothy L Johnson Phil Osborne
Beth Wampler Amy Jussel Rick Liebling
Eric Brody Arun Rajagopal Dr Letitia Wright
Hugh de Winton David Koopmans Aki Spicer
Jeff Wallace Don Frederiksen Charles Sipe
Katie McIntyre James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw David Reich
Lynae Johnson Jasmin Tragas Deborah Chaddock Brown
Mike O’Toole Jeanne Dininni Iqbal Mohammed
Morriss M. Partee Katie Chatfield Jeff Cutler
Pete Jones Riku Vassinen Jeff Garrison
Kevin Dugan Tiphereth Gloria Mike Sansone
Lori Magno Valerie Simon Nettie Hartsock
Mark Goren Peter Salvitti
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Is the social web about merit or is it morphing into the same old?

Spinning Web 2.0

As I browse my RSS feeds and listen in on conversations on Twitter I am seeing a theme emerge where what appears to be rewarded is the same old school connections, packaged in a new media ribbon. The social web was supposed to break down the gates and allow new voices (and genders or colours) to emerge based solely on merit, but if you look closely at conference line ups, those participating on certain blogs, and who gets responses to which conversations it is easy to see where this promise is failing. The same voices are dominant no matter what they are discussing and rarely are they seriously challenged by those outside their close knit circle lest one fall out of favour with the “in club”.

People clamor to be invited to the hip new launch and, as evidenced by the recent New York Times piece: Spinning the Web, it’s not necessarily about the value of a product but who your connections are and how big of a party you can throw, what clubs you belong to, how many names you can drop, or how many times you can send someone a gift to remain top-of-mind. Having been around the Web 1.0 bubble where money and good times were thrown around without regard to business model I fear for where this is all heading. Also having worked at an ad agency where it was forbidden to “buy your clients affection” I know business can be done without constantly throwing money around. There is nothing inherently classy about trying to secure business by attempting to purchase it vs. earning it based on your ideas. Of course people like getting the special treatment, it makes them feel good, and important. Although this is human nature, it’s nothing to be proud of in the grand scheme of things.

The beauty of the social sphere for me is precisely to find and cultivate genuine relationships with people who aren’t trying to buy their way in, but are sharing their ideas and their unique perspectives. I want to hear from people who disagree with me, regardless of how many (or who) follow me on Twitter and what my perceived influence is. Of course I like hearing from people who agree with me as well, but no one should feel they *have* to agree with me or host lavish parties to earn my respect. In fact there is no quicker way to lose my respect than to contribute nothing of substance or continuous empty platitudes.

How about you? What is the value of the social web to you? Is it about fame and fortune or bringing new perspectives into your life?

[photo credit: ViaMoi via Flickr]

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What’s so ’social’ about product pitches?

Or when did social media become all about online PR?

As things have evolved these last two+ years in the digital social space one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there is far too much focus on blogger relations (aka product pitches direct to consumer) and focusing on alleged “influencers”. The echo chamber has been filled with arguments about how to best “reach out to bloggers” (which means how to best get them to write about your product at the end of the day) and the alleged “social media” press releases. I’m going to throw my wet blanket onto this because frankly I see it doing a real disservice to the potential of the space and leading companies down a path that skirts the outsides of the promise of what Web 2.0 communication tools can really bring to marketing communications.

Let me say this at the start: Web 2.0 is not about YOU. No really, it’s not.

That may sound dogmatic and counter-intuitive, but allow me to explain… It never was about you to begin with, it’s always been about filling a need for the people buying (or looking to buy) your products or services and providing them with *information* where they are seeking it, listening to their feedback, and interacting when *they* want to… not spin or hype. It’s about facilitating their interactions, not yours. It’s not about shiny new toys, or 80 million different channels to push your message out.

Most average folks really don’t care, or have the time, to have a “relationship” with a brand. The majority don’t have blogs where they want to review products. Most people aren’t paid to do so as the plethora of social media consultants are. If we step outside of the echo chamber of PR bloggers, social media evangelists, and tech start-ups, the majority of people just want the product they bought to work as advertised, to be able to find out real information about it, to be able to provide feedback when they feel the need, and a real person (who is empowered to do more than say “thems the rules”) to interact with them painlessly when they do – online or offline. Oh, and the ability to find out quickly what their peers are saying about it – with biases clearly spelt out.

For a company, web 2.0 tools have the potential to expand the reach of their messaging if approached strategically and with fundamental marketing principles in play. They can be used to facilitate content distribution & development; intelligence gathering to inform your marketing and product development; customer service (online & offline); search engine optimization; internal communications; usability and user experiences; expanding the brand essence, etc.

Where does “please send me links to your press release via email” come into play?

Let’s be realistic and clear — Social Media Press Releases are micro-sites for a product or announcement. This isn’t “game changing”, it’s just borrowing from what interactive advertising was doing 7 years ago and adding RSS and API feeds and using it as a landing page to direct bloggers and journalists to. That’s hardly something that deserves the amount of air-time it’s been getting if we are being honest (and doing more than patting each other on the back within the echo chamber). And it’s something that companies are spending a ton of money on for a highly niche audience, which may or may not be the right strategy for their brand.

Where’s the “pull” in product pitches?

/end rant (for now).

[Photo Credit: FelipeArte via Flickr]

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WOM vs Advertising, or, it’s always been about integration

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As was only a matter of time, a debunker has arisen from the marketing world to take on the "Influencer" theory, which was brought to mainstream consciousness with Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and is a foundation of current word of mouth marketing. Not surprisingly, there are immediate (and invested) detractors and a lively debate will most likely ensue. I’ve been away from the blog for a bit and had a post started and saved entitled "Apple’s billion dollar WOM success story" in response to a lot of the assertions following MacWorld as to the truly organic nature of the Apple brand story. Needless to say, it seems it’s appropriate to now merge it into this one!

In Sean’s post in response to Watt’s Fast Company article, he says:

Well I’ll be darned. Watts believe that companies can’t will a trend that grows small and spreads large into existence. If Watts then, can explain to be the growth of Facebook, MySpace, Wii, Prius, Starbucks, eBay, Apple, Burton, Jones Soda, Maker’s Mark, Innocent Drinks, Harley Davidson, lululemon and a host of other products that have eschewed mass media and have galvanized a brand community through grassroots experiences and targeting fans, ambassadors and influencers, then I guess I’ll reject most of what I’ve written about in my last 400 posts.

I hate to be a wet blanket on the theories that all the ‘cool, hip’ brands eschewed mass media and are the pure products of influencer word-of-mouth, but, for most of these brands, traditional marketing and advertising was the way they reached critical mass, established their brand identity, and the blended approach they are currently using, in the case of Apple specifically, continues to drive their growth.

In other words:

Influencer cultivation and communication builds long-term and sustainable product loyalty and evangelism.

Brand marketing brings out the over-arching brand essence, reaches a large and diverse audience, and helps discover new influencers.

And the cycle continues.

Let’s take Apple as the classic example of the viral success story… I absolutely agree that a lot of their early success was driven by their niche customer base and that these graphic designers, etc. were evangelists. Absolutely true. But Apple did a lot of TV, print, online, and radio advertising to support their product, because, as a niche product without a wider reaching customer base, it was in trouble. In 1997, Apple, struggling with 3% of the market, received a cash infusion from Microsoft. In a landmark moment Steve Jobs stood on stage at MacWorld, with Bill Gates on the video screen behind him, and said the following:

The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over, as far as I’m concerned. This is about getting Apple healthy, and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry to get healthy and prosper again.

What a difference 10 years make and a carefully re-crafted brand image and massive amounts of dollars spent in traditional advertising to support the product launches.

When I was in Los Angeles in 1997 – 2001 I distinctly remember the Think Different campaign… it was omnipresent: billboards, posters, TV, Internet… everywhere. And that type of ad spend was replicated in cities across the US and the world. Apple hasn’t stopped using traditional channels since… Mac vs. PC commercials are the latest incarnation and they aren’t only available on YouTube. EarthLink, while I was working there, played off of the edginess of Think Different with their own campaign… they wanted to be the Apple to AOL’s Microsoft. Unfortunately, then Microsoft got in the ISP game and the rest is history.

But I digress…

Even the pure internet (and now name brand) companies advertised through mass channels when they launched, throughout the 90’s and ’00’s – Yahoo! was all over TV and radio with the annoying cowboy spots; eTrade on the SuperBowl, OOH, DM, print; Google out of home ads everywhere; MySpace 100M blast email campaign; eBay was launched with print and radio and added in TV in 2000… and the list goes on. And in so far as Prius goes, sure the celebrities riding around in them gives the campaign cachet, but the classic automaker TV, print, web, OOH, and event marketing certainly helps build the awareness over the long term. I also think I may have seen a few Wii TV spots before the holidays?

Now, all of this being said, word-of-mouth cultivation and, more recently, social media strategies, are hugely important, and are needed to elevate the brand into a true dialogue and value exchange with customers, but it’s not the messiah. It’s about integration and understanding who your brand speaks to, builds products for, and respectfully letting them know about you and finding out how you can help them in their daily lives. It’s about telling a story that is meaningful, making people stand up and take notice, and providing a solid reason for them to do so.

Sometimes that means convincing the high school design geek that Mac’s are cool 20 years ago, only to see him grow up to be Tim Burton and become an influencer to a mass audience.

In the end: Branding still matters. Brand promises still matter. Products always matter. And the influencers and evangelists matter. The lifecycle matters and the integration matters. To do anything in a vacuum, and without understanding the symbiotic relationship between brand and consumer, is a recipe for disaster.

[Photo credit: Paranoid Black Jack via Flickr]

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Did Pavlov expect this?

contextually relevant ads in phone calls

From the NY Times comes the, well, concerning news about a company who has developed a VOIP program that analyzes your phone calls and delivers contextually relevant ads based on the conversation you are having in exchange for using the service for free. Of even more, well, concern is buried at the end of the article in a quote from the CEO:

“The conversation was actually changing based on what was on the screen,” he said. “Our ability to influence the conversation was remarkable.”

Is that a good path for advertisers to head down? How much backlash should companies who participate anticipate? Or will consumers use the service at all (so far the company is in private beta and not releasing numbers)?

This also begs the question as to how far into our private lives will people allow companies to go in exchange for a ‘freemium’? Ariel Maislos, the CEO of Pudding Media (interesting choice of brand name – does that imply our brains are mush?) notes that Gen-Y doesn’t appear to be as concerned with privacy as the older generations, citing Gmail as an example of a company scanning private correspondence and delivering ads based on the content, but I wonder if there are limits on how far into someone’s private life that extends? Personally, I’m not looking for that level of personalization.

What do you think?

H/T РSlashdot 

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