Newspaper Online Video Surges on Consumer Demand
Today at the Newspaper Association of America conference in San Diego, publishers from across the country have convened to discuss the future of the newspaper industry. Once a strong print business sector, newspapers are now struggling with declining circulation, shrinking classified advertising dollars, and a proliferation of competitive online news sources.
While there's no question that newspapers face significant challenges, the industry also finds itself at a crossroads that presents a significant opportunity for these businesses to evolve and grow.
Brightcove has a unique perspective on the newspaper media sector. Brightcove works with more than 30 major newspaper publishers across North America, Europe and Asia. In the United States, Brightcove newspaper customers include Cox Newspapers, Freedom Communications, Hearst Communications, Media News Group, New York Times Co. and New York Times Regional Newspapers, Tribune Total Media, Washington Post, among others.
Over the past two years, we have seen a number of interesting trends emerge, one of the most significant being the recent surge in Brightcove platform usage by our newspaper customer segment. While there's retrenchment in some parts of newspaper organizations, other parts are growing, especially in digital media publishing and online monetization. Despite the lowered forecasts, eMarketer is still predicting upwards of five percent growth in digital media advertising this year. This number is closer to 45 percent for online video advertising. Newspapers recognize the opportunity and continue to invest in growth.
In fact, newsrooms are training staffers in videography, hiring ex-television producers to boost the production value of their video products, and delivering full-screen, HD-quality content through their websites.
Looking at just our US newspaper customers, we analyzed data from 187 newspaper websites to get a better handle on how this industry segment is evolving and taking advantage of digital media. Here's what we found:
Newspapers are producing more video: The number of videos uploaded by each newspaper into the Brightcove platform grew from an average of 186 videos per month in 2007 to an average of 638 videos per month in 2008. For the year, the total number of uploaded videos grew by nearly 1500 percent in 2008.
Newspapers are distributing more video on more webpages: In 2007, the number of Brightcove-powered video player-loads on each newspaper website in our sample jumped from an average of 169,093 per month to an average of 964,144 per month in 2008. In 2008, the total video player loads on newspaper websites grew by more than 700 percent.
Consumers are watching more video on newspaper websites: Video streams from our newspaper customers are growing an average of more than 35 percent quarter over quarter. Last quarter, Brightcove’s newspaper customers did 42,777,231 video streams, compared to 15,311,542 video streams the same quarter last year. In 2008, we saw 365 percent growth in total video streams among newspaper customers.
Newspapers are monetizing video distribution: Nearly 100 percent of our newspaper customers have enabled advertising for their online video content. The dominant ad format is the 30 second pre-roll video ads with 300x250 companion banners and an increasing number of these customers are partnering with third-party ad networks to help sell and optimization yield on their video inventory.
This growth is being driven by a number of factors. Lower video production costs, higher-quality video delivery, the availability of on-demand platforms like Brightcove versus building in-house solutions, the influx of ad dollars to the Web, and the ongoing migration of consumers from traditional print and broadcast and online media outlets.
There are also a number of best practices and innovations that are helping to accelerate this growth especially over the past year.
Newspapers are producing more video in conjunction with their reporting, and consumers now expect to see a mix of media (text, images, audio, video) woven together in the context of almost every website experience. Therefore, videos are increasingly embedded in a wider range of editorial features on newspaper websites.
In 2008, Brightcove introduced a series of innovations that enable online video publishers to optimize Flash video for discovery through standard text-based search engines, which drives consumer traffic to webpages with video players. The Brightcove platform features also enable newspapers to connect video experiences to other website features, such as social media applications that help build community and drive traffic.
An increasing number of newspapers are taking advantage of online video syndication capabilities which enable them to distribute promotional content to third-party websites, blogs, social networks, and portals in an effort to drive traffic back to newspaper websites and video players.
While the data and trends point to many positive signs, the question remains whether newspaper publishers will be able to ramp their digital initiatives and evolve their operations in time to save their businesses and ensure a growth position when they come out on the other side of the current recession. Based on what we're seeing among our newspaper customers, we're confident online video and digital media will be a driving force in the necessary transformation of the industry and hold the potential for a bright future.
Soft Sell in a Recession?
There's no shortage of ink being spilled these days with advise about marketing during the economic downturn. But one of the more interesting perspectives to surface recently is offered by agency veterans and authors Hamish Pringle and Peter Field. In a piece written for AdAge's CMO Strategy, they propose a very counter intuitive recession strategy: Instead of relying on marketing campaigns that highlight discounts, hard-sell comparisons and rational arguments, they recommend tugging on the heartstrings and going for emotional appeals.
In an analysis of more than 800 marketing campaign case studies that span two recessions, they find that emotional campaigns are almost twice as likely to generate large profit gains than rational ones.
How does this work? According ot the authors, the most important impact of soft-sell emotional campaigns is that they tend to reduce price sensitivity and strengthen the ability of brands to secure a premium in the marketplace (or in a recession, hold firm on pricing). Most importantly, these campaigns have a long-term effect on differentiation for the brand that lasts well beyond the lifespan of the campaign or competitive maneuvering.
Good food for thought, but it needs a grain of salt. Emotion and rationality aren't so neatly bifurcated in the mind's eye of the consumer. It turns out that loads of psych research point to a different kind of information processing especially as it relates to marketing campaigns. In fact, emotional engagement oftentimes determines how consumers will engage with rational arguments and data.
There are essentially two paths for processing information. One is sometimes refered to as "central" processing, the other "peripheral." Central processing is associated with attention to facts, figures and rational arguments. If there isn't a motivation to engage at that level, consumers engage in peripheral processing, skim over the details and rely on cues, heuristics and predispositions to form judgments that inform purchasing behavior. In other worlds, the case presented in a hard sell might be lost on the consumer that doesn't have the motivation to pay attention to the details - the price tag, the comparison, the argument.
So what determines the path consumers take to process information about brands, products and services? More often than not, it's the emotional response elicited by exposure to the brand communication.
The proposal offered by Pringle and Field still rings true, but I would advocate a slightly different model that recognizes the inherent interplay between emotion and cognition. It might be useful to think about marketing campaigns, (especially in a recession where brands are engaged in daily combat for survivial), as influencing a information processing sequence for the consumer. First, engage the consumer with enough of an emotional appeal to trigger motivation to pay attention. Second, present the hard sell information when consumers are ready to receive it. Marketing campaigns that embody this combination may actually be the most impactful when it comes to influencing purchasing behavior.
Maybe the best marketing campaign during a recession is really a soft hard sell.
Is this the year agencies get smart about platforms?
Not too long ago, I had a meeting at an advertising agency in Minneapolis to discuss the benefits of using a SaaS platform for online video campaigns instead of building one-off solutions for every client. The agency's interactive lead explained to me that he has a room full of Flash designers and programmers he needs to keep busy, he has all the CDNs offering deals of broadband delivery, so why not bill for the time and create their own video players etc?
I have run into this point of view at more than a few agencies. The idea is that creative on the Web should be like TV and the goal is to create online video that's funny enough to get passed around and embedded in social networks. For the interactive teams charged with executing this vision, it means you stick video clips on websites and make sure the streams are reliable and measurable.
Is this really how agencies should approach online video? Is this the best use of Flash designers and programmers? Does this really move the needle for brands?
Earlier this week, Brian Morrissey blogged about how creative on the Web can be much more than an imitation of TV. He asks "what if it's a blend of design, utility and technology... digital creativity might look more like software than TV spots."
When it comes to video on the Web, I think there are two trends that bode well for Morrissey's view. First, video is becoming as ubiquitous as text on the Web. As a basic elements of almost every professional website these days, this means that video will be increasingly integrated into wide-ranging online experiences (e.g., social media, editorial copy, rich Internet applications). Instead of a "video clip," video is becoming a common element weaved into almost every online media experience.
The second trend is the increasingly open architecture of online video platforms. On-demand Web services for video publishing and distribution now provide APIs and SDKs that enable designers and programmers to build almost any kind of interactive feature on top of video, extending the experience and providing consumers with far greater value than simply watching a funny video clip. What's more, online video platforms have spawned a fast growing ecosystem of technology companies (widgets, social media applications, etc.) that are pre-integrated and give agencies out-of-the-box opportunities to turn website videos into rich applications that engage consumer and build community around brands.
I don't want to suggest that agencies have missed the boat. There are a lot of interactive teams at creative agencies taking advantage of platforms and their efficiencies, which let them focus resources on building experiences instead of backend publishing tools. But it has been a long road to get here and platform adoption in agencies is just starting to take off. I think this might be the year and hopefully online creative will be the better for it.
Will "The Pool" finally settle the standards debate for online video advertising?
Picking up where the IAB left off last year, a new group has formed to lead the charge for online video advertising standards. At the helm is Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest, the media buying powerhouse responsible for more than $16 billion in annual advertising. Suzanne Vranica at the Wall Street Journal interviewed the folks at Publicis Groupe's VivaKi who said the standards initiative will help make online video media buying easier and more efficient, which will be increasingly important as marketing budgets retrench and buyers go with more-established, tried-and-true media. (I'm actually not sure how much retrenchment will happen in the relatively small / nascent online video advertising market, which even by the most conservative estimates will grow by 45 percent this year to more than $850 million) Media buyers, advertisers and media businesses all have a vested interest in efforts to help accelerate growth in the online video market and successful online video advertising formats. This is especially true considering that audiences continue to fragment and go online for media / brand experiences, which are increasingly self-selected and controlled by the consumers themselves. At Brightcove, we sit in a unique position as one of the most widely-used platforms for ad-supported online video businesses. We continue to see a handful of advertising formats drive the majority ad-supported business growth for our customers. But it's also clear that advertisers have an appetite to experiment with formats that drive deeper engagement with consumers. And media companies are on the lookout for less intrusive advertising formats that at the same time command higher CPMs. It will be very interesting to see what kind of formats rise to the top in The Pool's focus groups. Vranica's story says the initiative whittled down 30 ad formats and will use focus groups to test five. Starcom MediaVest and their partners will promote the two most successful formats to the market. The story doesn't get into the criteria for success, a timetable for recommendations, or their go-to-market strategy. -- Josh Hawkins
Picking up where the IAB left off last year, a new group has formed to lead the charge for online video advertising standards. At the helm is Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest, the media buying powerhouse responsible for more than $16 billion in annual advertising.
Suzanne Vranica at the Wall Street Journal interviewed the folks at Publicis Groupe's VivaKi who said the standards initiative will help make online video media buying easier and more efficient, which will be increasingly important as marketing budgets retrench and buyers go with more-established, tried-and-true media. (I'm actually not sure how much retrenchment will happen in the relatively small / nascent online video advertising market, which even by the most conservative estimates will grow by 45 percent this year to more than $850 million)
Media buyers, advertisers and media businesses all have a vested interest in efforts to help accelerate growth in the online video market and successful online video advertising formats. This is especially true considering that audiences continue to fragment and go online for media / brand experiences, which are increasingly self-selected and controlled by the consumers themselves.
At Brightcove, we sit in a unique position as one of the most widely-used platforms for ad-supported online video businesses. We continue to see a handful of advertising formats drive the majority ad-supported business growth for our customers. But it's also clear that advertisers have an appetite to experiment with formats that drive deeper engagement with consumers. And media companies are on the lookout for less intrusive advertising formats that at the same time command higher CPMs. It will be very interesting to see what kind of formats rise to the top in The Pool's focus groups.
Vranica's story says the initiative whittled down 30 ad formats and will use focus groups to test five. Starcom MediaVest and their partners will promote the two most successful formats to the market. The story doesn't get into the criteria for success, a timetable for recommendations, or their go-to-market strategy.
-- Josh Hawkins
Can Social Media Boost Click-Through Rates for Banner Advertising?
For years, Eyeblaster and others have reported that click-through rates for traditional banner advertising have been plummeting (averaging now only around 0.2%). Marketers have answered this downward trend by applying increasingly sophisticated targeting schemes as a way to deliver more relevant advertising experiences and produce higher levels of engagement. Avenue A | Razorfish and Pluck have teamed up to take a decidedly different approach to banner advertising, an approach they hope will boost click-throughs and breath new life into the widely-embraced yet under-performing banners.
Last week, the two companies unveiled "AdLife," a new ad format that will incorporate social media features, such as reviews, comments, ratings, and user-generated video, into IAB standard banner advertising units. The impact of social media on attitudes towards brands and buying decisions is well documented. AdLife will attempt to bring this dynamic to display advertising and offer website visitors "creative" that is packaged content submitted by other consumers. Using social media features and content may not only provide website visitors with a new kind of experience that sparks attention, but may also entice consumers to engage directly in the conversation about the brand, product or service.
Global Social Media VP at Avenue A | Razorfish, Shiv Singh, says "It's clear that consumer want a strong voice in the conversation with the marketer... AdLife will enable consumer participation and social influence inside the billions of impressions received by traditional digital ad units like banner ads."
While an interesting idea and an ambitious experiment, AdLife undoubtedly faces some challenges.
- Social media is a phenomenon that is usually a byproduct of online gathering places, communities, where consumers congregate and feel part of something - a website, a social network, a widget application connected to other users, etc. To abstract this social behavior and try to replicate in the context of website real estate consumers are conditioned to avoid may be very difficult.
- Social media requires a degree of authenticity and transparency that might not be palatable to the brand paying for the ad placement. If consumer reviews, ratings and comments have any chance of engaging website visitors, they much be perceived as the real deal. It will be very interesting to see how AdLife walks this line.
Despite these obvious challenges, it is crystal clear that consumer expectations have shifted and there is a need to develop new marketing tactics that facilitate conversations between consumers and brands. The folks at Avenue A | Razorfish and Pluck seem to be headed in the right direction.
BMW Mockumentary: Walking the Line, or Much Ado About Nothing?
Has BMW gone too far with a recent viral market stunt to promote the BMW 1 Series?
Despite a chilly response from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMA), the campaign has succeeded on several fronts: positive coverage in the auto biz trade press, blogosphere chatter, viral distribution among a younger demographic.
The campaign centered on an online video mockumentary (produced by GSD&M Idea City) that chronicles the adventures of a small Bavarian town attempting to use a giant ramp to literally launch the new BMW from Germany to the U.S.
The controversy, if there is one, stems from a BMW corporate decision to let the campaign run for several weeks without acknowledging that the video was created by BMW. According to WOMMA, the number one rule for marketers engaged in guerrilla tactics is to be upfront and transparent about the identity and the origin of any campaign communications. The danger in not being up front is the risk of damaging trust and tarnishing the brand reputation, even the possibility of instigating a consumer backlash.
The BMW campaign was so obviously a spoof that the risks in staying mum for a few weeks were very low. But it does raise an interesting question about the nature of guerrilla marketing and the responsibilities that fall on the brand to be transparent. The very nature of guerrilla marketing requires tactics that result in the unexpected, surprise, a certain degree of under-the-radar planning and execution.
How transparent do you need to be when it comes to guerrilla marketing? When BMW was called out and questioned directly about their involvement of the campaign, should they have come clean? Probably. But the next question has to be would the BMW campaign have been less successful if the video included a corporate logo watermark or "sponsored by" disclaimer? What's the threshold standard for transparency? I think it's obvious that applying the strictest standard for transparency would have taken something away from the impact and humor of the creative.
Standards and ethics are critically important, especially as word of mouth marketing tactics becomes more commonly used by brands trying to reach audiences through a hyper-fragmented media environment. But it's also important to acknowledge that there's definitely some gray area that needs to be explored to extend these standards to allow for creative marketing campaigns that are successful exactly because they catch people off guard, defy expectations, and get people talking.
You can read more about the campaign from Stephanie Kang's article in the Wall Street Journal.
The Widget Bell Curve
No matter how you slice it, the numbers are compelling. MySpace now has over 110 million users and Facebook just passed 65 million. And the demographic profile is prime with the majority of users falling into the 18-35 bucket.
Not surprisingly, brand marketers are taking notice and scrambling to figure out the best way to take advantage of social networks. They are already dumping $1.6 billion a year into display advertising through these sites. But, as a new report in BusinessWeek illustrates, widgets are clearly the new black for social networks and advertisers are placing bets that they can crack the viral channel.
Widgets come in all shapes and sizes. Most are created by developers who use open APIs (Application Programming Interface) which social networks provide to encourage platform growth, commerce and ecosystem development. These mini-applications are interactive, customizable, can be added to users profiles in social networks, and most importantly, shared with friends, family, schoolmates, and work colleagues. These range from personality quizzes to music jukeboxes to dating services to stock tickers. And increasingly, these widgets come from brand marketers and are tied into broader advertising campaigns.
While there is a rapid proliferation of social network widgets, only a very small fraction ever go viral. For example, of the 17,000 widgets available to Facebook users, the number that have achieved over 1 million users ranges in the hundreds. BusinessWeek reporter, Rachael King, explains that the adoption of widgets through social networks looks like a steep bell curve where initial rapid adoption tends to drops off quick after the enthusiasm dies down.
So what kind of widgets go viral? It seems to me that the answer is a function of awareness, motivation, and ease of use. Sure there are widgets that are so funny or utilitarian that they catch fire with little or no strategic effort. But from a brand marketer perspective, careful attention to these factors is critical is you're going to have a shot at success.
- The right users need to be aware of the widget. A mix of marketing communications needs to be used to raise the awareness of the widget among key influencers or "connectors" who will use it and promote it through social networks. The widget obviously needs to resonate with these targets, but getting a handful of advocates on board will help stack the deck in your favor.
- The widget needs to answer basic motivations. The act of sharing a widget seems to be rooted in one of two motivations: 1) Users want peers to experience what they experienced through the widget, which results in approval, praise or positive recognition; and 2) Sharing the widget either directly results in, or improves the user's chances of, some kind of tangible material benefit.
- Sharing the widget needs to be easy. Regardless of the motivation, cracking the viral channel requires that barriers to entry are extremely low. Ideally, widgets should be directly tied into a communication feature that leverages the friends/contacts database associated with the social network profile. This makes sharing the widget a click away.
It turns out that launching a widget that takes advantage of these considerations is incredibly difficult. But widget campaigns that take off really represent the gold standard for brand markers signaling active engagement, evangelism, and market dialog.
New agencies are popping up to help brand marketers develop and launch widget campaigns through social networks. Former SVP of Arnold Worldwide and a founding member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, Jamie Tedford, has a new startup, Brand Networks Inc., which focuses on a combination of strategic consulting, widget development, and "Tokns," their redeemable social network currency. Tedford has already signed up clients such as Puma, Monster, and Houlihan's, reflecting a broader trend among brand marketers looking for innovative new approaches to tap into social networks.
While eMarketer reports that widget ad spending will only reach $40 million this year, it's clearly just the tip of the iceberg.
B2B Public Relations & Blogs: Policy, Resources, Process & Promotion
A recent survey of business reporters shows that over 80 percent say they use, or would use, blogs as a primary or secondary source of information for news stories. This is a pretty serious wakeup call for anyone doing B2B PR. If you don't already have a social media program in place, it's time to get started. But while the mechanics of launching a blog are straightforward, there are a number of questions to ask and strategic decisions you need to make in order to ensure a successful blog initiative.
Blogs have now become a regular part of the communications mix for both small businesses and major corporations. There's even a Blog Council that launched last week to promote best practices in corporate blogging. Charter members include AccuQuote, Cisco Systems, The Coca-Cola Company, Dell, Gemstar-TV Guide, General Motors, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, and Wells Fargo.
Corporate blogs come in many different flavors and typically vary across a few dimensions: 1) the degree of legal / corp comm control, oversight, and review associated with the blog posts; and 2) the level of involvement from executives / employees. For example, will it focus on C-level communication, like GM's Fastlane, or will it aim for a broader set of employee perspectives like HP Blogs or Microsoft's Channel 9? Where you fall on these dimensions depends on your organization, culture, resources and commitment to the initiative.
At the most basic level, adding a blog to your website provides an outlet for distributing company news, but in a way that invites a two-way conversation and deepens community engagement with your brand. At a slightly broader level, the goals of corporate blogs can be to: 1) provide a new venue for participating in broader industry dialog and debate over key trends and innovations; 2) elevate the visibility of key executives and bolster their thought leadership position; and 3) encourage an authentic conversation with other "influentials" in the space about market developments.
The mechanics of launching a blog are straightforward and there are a number of on-demand services you can use to design and publish a blog in a very short amount of time (e.g., Typepad, Blogger). But each of these services comes with a wide array of community features you can turn on or off that dictate the extent to which you will enable public dialog and debate about your products and services. The options you choose will require different levels of involvement and attention across your organization. And here's where the heavy lifting comes in. The hardest part of launching a blog is setting policy, identifying resources, determining process and promotion.
I've put together a few notes based on questions I've received from Splintered Channels readers. The recommendations below are by no means comprehensive or exhaustive, but I think they provide some good questions you should ask yourself before you get started with a new blogging program.
There are several questions you should ask yourself to help develop a set of policies for your blog initiative. And don't feel like you have to do all this on your own. The earlier you involve a broad set of stakeholders in this planning, the more successful you will be in mobilizing support for the initiative (e.g., HR, legal, corp comm, PR, product marketing).
Transparency & Disclaimers: Whether you have a single corporate blog or a series of employee blogs, whether the blog resides within a corporate website or as a stand alone experience with its own identity and domain, it's important that you be as upfront and transparent as possible with your readers. Make sure to develop a standard disclaimer you can display on your blog(s) which indicates the nature of the blog - namely, who is writing the blog, does it provide official corporate position, are comments moderated, do you allow trackbacks, will you publicly respond to comments?
Code of Conduct: Employee blogs will naturally include a blend of content with commentary and personal reflections, as well as industry observations and references to various corporate developments. Given the sensitivity associated with information available to employees and the viral nature of communication in the blogosphere, it's important to develop a simple code of conduct that employees agree to before blogging. This list is not exhaustive, but it should include at least the following: 1) avoid topics that might compromise trade secrets, intellectual property, management issues and lawsuits; 2) disclose conflicts of interest; 3) if blog posts include inaccuracies, corrections should be posted in amendments or new blog entries, instead of deleting prior comments, etc.; 4) cite appropriate references and provide links to sources; 5) monitor comments and trackbacks on a regular basis, respond and delete SPAM; 6) blogging should not interfere with other job responsibilities.
Rules of Engagement: Another important policy to settle on before launching a blog is how to engage with readers. There needs to be an upfront commitment to monitor reader comments and trackbacks. You will need to determine whether you will automatically accept and publish comments and trackbacks, or if you will review and approve each new submission before they included in your blog entries. Along with reviewing comments and blogger trackbacks, a policy needs to be established that makes readers aware that you reserve the right to not publish comments or accept comments based on the appropriateness of the content. These policies on comments, trackbacks and the right to refuse to publish comments that include inappropriate, profane or defamatory language, should be stated upfront along with any disclaimers.
Launching and maintain a blog is no trivial undertaking. It requires a dedicated and ongoing resource commitment to develop a blogging program that can help achieve corporate communications objectives. The level of commitment will obviously depend on the type of blog you're launching and these map to your objectives. As described above, there are a number of different kinds of blogs you can launch - e.g., an outlet for distributing press announcements and corporate news, a way to open a new line of communication enabling key business leaders to participate in broader market dialog and debate, a means for the organization to be more responsive to customers, a way to nurture online communities and brand evangelists.
The type of blog initiative you undertake will determine the level of commitment and involvement required of various parts of a business organization. But regardless of the resources you tap for the blog initiative, it is absolutely essential that there is a lead advocate that can enlist support and command accountability associated with the tasks needed to launch and maintain a blog. It's also important that the advocate maintain a schedule for the delivery of blogging tasks.
If the blog is designed to be an additional distribution outlet for press announcements, the responsibilities of maintenance, review and comments should fall on the lap of the PR agency or corporate communications desk in charge of traditional media and analyst relations. If the blog is designed to be an outlet for executives to bolster their thought leadership position, it also helpful to involve your PR agency or corporate communications personnel, as well as get buy-in from the legal department - in some cases this may require a process that gives the legal team an opportunity to eyeball posts before they are published.
If your blogging initiative is focused on growing an online community of brand evangelists, it's a good idea to seek out individuals from product marketing and direct customer service who would be interested in participating. You should consider a process whereby individuals rotate through responsibilities for posting to the blog and responding to comments. Weekly or bi-weekly editorial meetings with employee blogers can be helpful to brainstorm ideas and identify who will be writing what for the week or month, depending on your schedule.
Again, these responsibilities should be executed with the oversight of an internal advocate, or lead, with a set timetable, expectations and accountability, typically originating from the marketing communications department.
Does having regimented resources and formalized process detract from the authenticity or the social, interactive nature of blogging? Not necessarily. Actually, being upfront about the "owners" - those responsibility for delivery and execution - and the resources, expectations and degree of interaction with your readers will all free you up to be a better blogger and help you achieve corporate communications objectives with this channel.
When identifying resources, you should go in with a set of expectations with regard to process. Process is determined in large part by the policies you settle on and the resources you identify. Once these steps are completed, ask yourself 1) who will be posting to the blog and when; 3) what kind of review will be required (if any) and how will the parties in charge of the oversight execute their responsibility; 4) who is the ultimate business owner for the initiative?
While this may seem an unnecessary amount of formalism for a social media initiative, settling on process before you get started will help ensure a much smoother launch for your new blog initiative. That said, it's also important to be flexible and adaptive, constantly striving to make improvements to become more responsive and efficient.
From an editorial perspective, corporate blogs generate three broad buckets of content: 1) news about the business; 2) reflections on broader industry trends and developments; 3) aggregated links / references from other industry sources, with some context and editorial perspectives. The best corporate and employee blogs maintain a fairly regular schedule. Blogs don't need to be updated every day or even every week to generate a significant following. But there should be a regular drumbeat of blog posts, whether that's weekly or monthly.
Nothing says the responsibilities associated with blogging need to originate from one or two individuals. Actually, the most successful blogs I have seen are actually the result of a distribution of labor. Sometimes the labor is divided up between research, writing, and posting. Other times, it's simply a matter of rotation among several individuals who have their pulse of developments within the company as well as a good sense for broader industry trends which provide for editorial context that make corporate news interesting and relevant to more people.
I have also found that the best corporate and employee blogs, which develop a following, tend to have personality. The editorial content doesn't have to be snarky or confrontational, but some voice, tone and style needs to shine through. I believe this needs to be part of the "process" you identify for your blog initiative because you can establish a rotation of formal business news, personal reflection, anecdotes and passing observations, which may or may not directly align with corporate communications objective, but nonetheless introduce readers to perspectives that make the dialog more human.
When launching a new blog program, I recommend not focusing too much on "promotion" as much as on the quality of the content and developing a process that produces a regular rotation of new blog posts. Building a following and generating new traffic is a fairly organic process and it takes time. You should set expectations on the order of at least four to six months for generating traffic. That said, if you follow some basic guidelines, you will have a good shot at building a significant volume of new and return traffic.
If your blog is primarily designed to be an channel for communicating with businesses reporters, it should be prominently featured in the corporate news area of your website (the same survey referenced above also indicates that 74% of business reporters look to corporate websites for story ideas).
Reporters are also likely to enter your company's name into search engine queries. And, as you're well aware, your corporate website will not be the only hit in the search results page. You should make it a practice to check in on your website's search performance. Luckily, social media channels, like blogs, are fantastic optimizers when it comes to search engine results. They embody all the key characteristics that determine ranking in search results. 1) blog posts are saturated with relevant keywords, 2) they include links to and from relevant sources; and 3) blogs include frequently updated content.
When you think about promotional strategies, think about your audience in terms of niche communities (e.g., reporters, analysts, industry leaders, prospects and customers - even subsegments within your customer base). Think about the vernacular used by these communities - what's the language used to describe relevant products and services? These considerations should dictate the topics of your blog posts and the terms and phrases that make their way into your blog posts.
Aside from promoting your blog through your corporate website and through search engines, the single best way to gain readers is to participate and engage in a dialog with other bloggers, news sites, and online communities that are similarly focused on your industry and relevant market trends. Specifically, develop a "blog roll," a list of favorite blogs and sites that your read on a regular basis. But don't just read these blogs. You need to post comments to these sites with perspective and context that brings value and insights to the online community that has grown around these outlets. Feel free to reference your blog in these comments, but avoid blatant self promotion. Keep your eye on the ball and make sure you're focused on the conversation and broader market dialog. Are you adding something valuable to the conversation?
If you decide to base a blog on a post or news item you have read at another site, sometimes you can take advantage of a trackback, which is a feature of blogs that enables you to add a link to your blog from a post on another site you're referencing. Again, use the feature judiciously and make sure you're adding something to the conversation and bringing something to the table for the online community.
When members of various niche communities read the comments to blog posts that you have submitted, or when they follow a trackback from a popular blog back to a post you have added to your blog, you will begin to generate traffic. If your blog has high-quality, relevant content, you will generate return readers - readers who may also submit comments to your blog posts or trackbacks to your blog based on their reactions to your commentary and perspectives.
Eric Schwartzman, of Schwartzman & Associates, says that everything you need to know about blogging etiquette you learned in preschool. And I completely agree. If you want people to play nice with you, you need to play nice with them. Again, the best way to generate readers for your own blog is to read other blogs, contribute, engage, and interact with the online community.
You can also take advantage of blog search engines, like Technorati (and notification services like Pingomatic), as well as social bookmarks, like del.icio.us, to flag your content for relevant communities. And it's also critical you make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog's RSS feed using built in features of your blog platform (e.g., Typepad) or services like Feedburner. But these are all really secondary to the primary and most effective promotional tool at your disposal - participation and engagement in the online community.
If you're going to put all this up front work into your new blog initiative, you'll obviously want people to read it, especially the business reporters you're targeting to get the word out about your products and services. Blogs are all about authenticity and dialog. The social media landscape, however, necessitates a strategic perspective. For marketing professionals new to blogging, I hope some of these notes are helpful as you embark on new social media programs.
Total Recall: Measuring the Impact of Online Advertising Beyond the Click-Through
How should we measure the impact of online advertising? A good question considering the ubiquity of contextual and search advertising, increasingly rich display ads, and rapidly expanding use of video pre-rolls, which together will total close to $19.5 billion in 2007. According to Professor Chan Yun Yoo, at Kentucky's School of Journalism, it's really a question of memory, recall and brand building, as opposed to a simple "click-through" measurement exercise.
In a recent round of research, Yoo suggests that marketers using online advertising should look at two distinct memory models when answering this question: "explicit" and "implicit" memory. Explicit memory involves retention of specific information contained in advertising, such as product features, endorsements and tag lines. Implicit memory, on the other hand, is a summary impression that is only evoked during subsequent encounters with the brand. What he finds is that regardless of whether a consumer pays attention to an online ad or clicks on it, the ad has a significant impact of implicit memory and subsequent brand judgments. Therefore, impressions based on exposure to online ads can be just as important as click-through if marketers expand their ROI expectations to include brand building.
The brand building impact of online advertising is given a lot of lip service, but there have been few attempts to develop a framework to analyze this dimension of interactive marketing. With his research, Yoo concludes that advertisers and marketers should use impression-based metrics in conjunction with performance indicators like click-throughs to determine the effectiveness of online advertising.
But this line of thinking begs several important questions for marketing professionals. For example, how should we go about measuring "brand building" that results from exposure to online advertising? Which form of recall based on these different memory constructs has the strongest impact on behavioral intentions, which is at the end of the day what we really care about. And, if one form of memory is a more powerful predictor of purchasing behavior over the other, can we manipulate it?
On the first question, the first step should be to clarify what we're talking about when it comes to branding - a notoriously squishy concept. Most often when we talk about branding we really mean brand association, e.g., traits, attributes, features, solutions we associate with a particular brand. There are several measurement approaches available to get at the the brand building effects of exposure to online ads. Analytics packages and various ad tracking services (e.g., AdIndex) can be used to segment website traffic into different groups, one exposed to online advertising, another control group that isn't exposed. With this technique, a sample from each group is intercepted with a survey as visitors leave the site. The survey uses a battery of questions to measure brand association and simple means tests are applied to look for significant differences between the groups. Selection bias and other measurement problems aside, marketers can gain access to general information about brand impressions and add a new ROI metric for online advertising beyond the common ratio of impressions to click-through.
The other questions are more complicated and harder to get at. It's unclear from Yoo's research which memory model is more important for determining behavior, or how the two interact to shape, for example, purchasing decisions. However, there is some research from related fields that suggests more focused attention and recall of specific brand information is more likely to result in behavior. And attention motivation is typically associated with personal self-interest or a trusted or socially important reference group. This obviously supports word-of-mouth marketing strategies. And by extension of Yoo's research, exposure to online advertising could condition subsequent brand exposure via recommendations and endorsements. The most powerful ROI for online advertising may actually be to prime the pump for word-of-mouth brand communications - a good question for future research by Yoo and his grad students
The State of Pre-Roll Advertising
Earlier this week, Google announced that it would start running "overlay ads" on some of its YouTube video content. Overlays are an ad format that essentially provide a clickable layer of ad creative on top of a portion of the real estate of a video player screen. While there is some debate over the origins the format, it's clear that the ad product innovation is gaining momentum and adoption among broadband video publishers and advertisers. Google's announcement will undoubtedly drive broader acceptance of the ad format in the quest for less obtrusive advertising with higher conversion rates. But does this development signal the twilight of pre-roll advertising?
Not anytime soon. Pre-rolls are working, despite the many shortcomings they embody from an end user perspective. They provide a very easy way for traditional advertisers to get in the broadband game, while at the same time giving publishers the ability to capture premium ad dollars. Several developments advocated by industry leaders are helping to alleviate some of the problems associated with pre-roll implementation, such as time-based rotations for ad insertions. That said, formats like overlays will continue to gain steam and adoption, providing exciting new opportunities for marketers to engage with targeted online communities.
Earlier this week, I was asked by Shoot Magazine to contribute to a round up article on the state of pre-roll advertising. Here's my take:
Over the past several years, the dominant 15 to 30 second pre-rolls with companion banners have provided an easy on-ramp for brand marketers to expand the reach of ad campaigns through broadband media distribution. However, this format has a number of shortcomings. Insufficient inventory has resulted in "creative fatigue." Media buyers often snatch up all the available inventory on a video site or channel for entire 60 day runs where the same ad creative shows up every other clip. As consumers sample, or "snack," from clips on these sites, saturated ad rotations can result in brand overexposure and audience attrition. Another problem is that the economics of pre-roll advertising are ill-suited for increasingly popular mid to long-form content, such as broadcast and primetime network programming.
Brightcove has responded by developing policy solutions and innovative ad formats that address these shortcomings. For example, implementing time-based ad insertions versus pre-rolls on every other clip avoids the problem of creative fatigue. Here, end-users only receive an ad unit after watching a certain number of minutes of video content, regardless of how many separate clips they access. It will also become increasingly important for buyers to agree to provide multiple ad creatives with their campaigns to ensure a fresh rotation of advertising against broadband inventory. In some cases, programmers should also provide "carve outs" of their inventory for ad networks to place additional rotations of advertising within their broadband content.
Brightcove is also introducing a number of new, less obtrusive contextual ad units that complement longer form broadband content. These include clickable "overlay units," which appear for a few seconds during a video stream in the lower third of the video screen. We are experimenting with other Flash ad units that appear in the context of the video player experience which can be triggered by cue points during the video stream. Introducing new Flash-based, interactive ads into the viewing experience provides new opportunities for deeper sponsorship integration and audience engagement.
Click here for the full article. Other contributors include Alan Schulman from imc2, Tracey Scheppach from Starcom, and Tod Sacerdoti from BrightRoll, among others.
Blended Distribution Strategies & New Marketing Opportunities
Last week, Phil Leigh, host of the video blog "Digital Media Thought Leaders," posted a two part interview I did on broadband media distribution and marketing. In the interview, I touch on a number of strategies I believe are necessary for content owners to run a successful broadband video business and for marketers to take advantage of the fast-changing and self-selecting consumer media behavior.
- Expand distribution of video content beyond branded destination sites. There are a number of technologies available to content owners which can be used to enable bloggers, MySpace page owners and Facebook account holders to embed single title video players into their webpages. Viral distribution like this can quickly expand distribution through communities of interest and word of mouth promotion. Centrally managed viral distribution strategies offer a powerful opportunity to blast performance-based advertising through micro channels and niche communities.
- Package premium content and provide select video lineups to approved affiliates. Building a premium affiliate network for content distribution provides a brand-safe context for more traditional forms of advertising, such as targeted, genre-based pre-rolls, which are part of larger, integrated campaign runs.
- Embrace industry standards. There's an enormous number of exciting new ad products hitting the broadband video space. But without consistent industry standards, an already complex process becomes unmanageable. Remember, for broadband advertising to work, all of the following parties need to be working seamlessly together: a) publisher/programmer; b) ad operations; c) creative agency / media buyers; d) ad serving platforms; and e) broadband media distributor. At this very early stage in the development of broadband media sector, it's important to make it as easy as possible for cross-purpose creative and IAB-endorsed ad formats to be used, enabling marketers to participate in the distribution of broadband video and tap new avenues to reach online communities.
- Support your community. Whenever possible, solicit, capture, package and distribute consumer-generated media. This is an old Splintered Channels theme, but worth stating again. Instead of sending your community to YouTube to contribute content around a campaign, harness the power of community to generate new, exciting, and authentic experiences for your own online properties. And, I argue that mixing professional and amateur media content provides a compelling new form of editorial content and venue for advertising.
Government Agency Uses Blog for Critical Public Health Initiative
In May of 2007, the US Department of Health & Human Services launched an unprecedented public health initiative focused on helping citizens prepare for a possible influenza pandemic. Notoriously complicated and prone to strong political and public reactions, the government agency enlisted the help of Ogilvy Public Relations to develop a strategy to raise awareness and encourage a dialog over this critical public health issue.
Spearheaded by Ogilvy strategists Alison Byrne Fields and Rohit Bhargava, the public health initiative took advantage of "live blogging" as a way to increase the transparency of health policy discussions between public, private and government sector leaders, and invite citizen participation in the dialog.
I believe this is a first of its kind for a large-scale government communications program, but it will inevitably serve as a model for public participation in important government policy initiatives that span a number of issues from public health to national security to environmental regulation. You can visit the archived content from the Health & Human Services initiative at the Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog.
Ogilvy's use of blogging for the public health initiative obviously reflects the broader trend over the past few years towards increased transparency and dialog in marketing communications. But, blogging in the government sector raises a number of interesting considerations and tactical questions.
For a relatively niche community interested in the subject matter, how do you mobilize public participation? And, what should the goals of a blog like this be with regard to participation? Finally, why "live blogging" - which implies blogging around a particular event, rather than setting up a blog for an ongoing dialog which isn't time bound?
I put these questions to Ogilvy's Alison Byrne Fields and here are some of her responses:
"The ultimate goal is for the broader public to prepare for pandemic flu. At this stage in the program, HHS is engaging leaders from health care, community and faith-based groups and employers to communicate to their patients, communities, congregants and employees about the importance of individual and family preparedness. It is worth noting that the work we are doing within social media is just a part of a much larger initiative. One of the most interesting things about this project has been the discovery of a very large and vibrant (and knowledgeable) online community of people who are building a grassroots movement to encourage pandemic flu preparedness. (It’s call flublogia and they refer to themselves as flubies)."
"We did market the blog and, inevitably (and thankfully), there was some organic word of mouth that occurred. Our outreach was targeted at online “influencers” within the four sectors that I identified above: the blogs and sites that those people read regularly and whom they trust."
"[T]he purpose of the live blogging was to let people who were not in attendance to know what happened. As far as the life of the blog, it will be closed to comments on the 27th and archived on http://pandemicflu.gov, the government’s web site for all things pandemic flu. There is talk about future blogs (or a different version of this blog), but there are no definitive plans at this point."
Overall, this is a very exciting development in government and advocacy communications. However, it's a shame that this blogging initiative is constrained to a particular "PR campaign," and not the launch of an ongoing and supported communications platform for dialog and policy innovation.
Social Search vs. Guided Search
Over the past year or so, a number of new people-guided search engines have launched, most recently Mahalo (see a good round up at Mashable). In the tradition of About.com, these new search engines attempt to augment machine-driven search results with reviewers, guides, experts and social networks. At the same time, the major search engines, in particular, Yahoo!, continue to advance social search initiatives through acquisitions (e.g., del.icio.us, Flickr) and integrations of search results with social media inputs.
It seems to me that a key opportunity continues to elude both established search engines and startups. This opportunity sits at the nexus of geographically oriented social networking services (think Yelp, Vox), mobile tagging of localized information, community-ordained expertise (think Squidoo's lens masters). Keep a lookout for killer social media mashups that leverage Google and Ask APIs to blend these elements with street-level maps and search.
From a marketing perspective, this form of localized, community intelligence mixed with social search will truly turn a page in the evolution of paid search advertising. Whoever cracks this nut will set the stage for a tremendous advancement in commercial applications for social media and consumer search behavior.
Steve Jobs & Bill Gates Video from D: All Things Digital
Never thought I'd see the day. Great fun watching Steve Jobs and Bill Gates chat with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher from the Wall Street Journal. Check it out on the Brightcove player:
There was a time not too long ago when "CGM" and "UGC" were terms used to describe a broad category of digital communication originating with consumers about products and services. From discussion forums and review sites to blogs and social bookmarks, CGM represented a market dialog over brand reputations. At about the same time that these terms gained popularity (2H '05?), a kinder and gentler marketing sensibility started to take hold - one based on the idea that marketing departments need to listen, participate, become more transparent, take some lumps, and work hard to bring the market dialog into alignment with product development and brand marketing.
In the post-YouTube era, however, these terms have become much more narrowly focused to represent short, amateur video clips (pirated or otherwise) shared through ad-supported hosting services. And in a perfect storm of marketing dollars looking for opportunities to aggregate fragmented audiences, an overly exuberant market, and consumer hobbyists enjoying easier and higher quality video technologies, Madison Avenue has taken notice. Now associations for advertising professionals are hosting conferences on CGM and "creative shops" around the world are pitching contests to motivate consumers to submit video content that mention a product or service.
And now with exquisite predictability reporters on the beat are churning out story after story calling into question the wisdom of brand marketers who are launching CGM campaigns and getting scoops about how hard and expensive it is to harness the power of UGC for marketing objectives. The coverage in the major dailies over the past two weeks is impressive, not to mention all the writing in the trades.
It seems to me that we have traded in what was once so compelling and powerful about CGM-driven marketing strategies - a model rooted in at least a modicum of authenticity which empowered customers to articulate and repackage value propositions based on real experiences and in a vernacular much more resonant than a piece of high-production advertising or marketing collateral. Now, for brand marketers, CGM is a hammer and every marketing objective is a nail - in particular, reach objectives. Unfortunately, CGM does not equal viral distribution. And under the dominant paradigm it rarely even involves message.
Last week I had a conversation with a leading market research firm and the person I was talking to mentioned that they had recently been commissioned by a professional association to conduct a research program to determine if the explosion in CGM-driven brand marketing campaigns would siphon advertising dollars away from creative agencies because of the "low cost of production." We sure have come a long way in the last couple years.