Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Advertisers: All signs point to the Web

posted by Andy Leff
Tech entrepreneur David Pitlyuk is learning the lessons of advertising the hard way -- by starting with newspaper ads.

He got zero leads from a $200 ad he placed in a few local Maryland papers. I'm not surprised. This approach only reaches local readers who happen to turn to that page of the paper. Plus, consumers don't really read the newspaper to research businesses and products.

Both challenges can be solved with -- you guessed it -- an online presence and online advertising. When people are looking for a product or service, the Web is by far the first place consumers hit, and for one simple reason: It puts a world of information at their fingertips.

Consumers can quickly and easily find what they're looking for with a few key stokes and mouse clicks. They can also complete the commerce cycle in one sitting -- research businesses, learn more about their products or services, select one, and make a purchase.

Plus, with online advertising tools such as pay-per-click and pay-per-call, the Web offers some of the most powerful and efficient ways to attract consumers to your business and Web site (as we've discussed before).

So my recommendation for Pitlyuk and any other businessperson looking to spread the word about their company: Refresh yourself on our words of wisdom, take to the Web, and let the cash register ring.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Put some fun in your features

posted by Andy Leff
I'm always talking about the ways Web 2.0 can help businesses. Well, the Miami Herald agrees with me, and backs it up with some pretty impressive numbers.

The article pulls examples from two major companies, Carnival Cruise Lines and Burger King. Both have zeroed in on Web 2.0 to reel in customers.

Side note: While these are examples from large corporations, you can certainly use similar Web 2.0 strategies on a smaller scale to reach your customers. Ok, now back to the juicy stuff!

Let's start with Carnival. After only two weeks, its Web site's new interactive features are already the company's strongest marketing tools.

One of the features, Funship Island, lets browsers get an up-close and personal tour of a Carnival cruise ship. It offers everything from a walk on the cruise deck -- realistic enough to make you seasick -- to a dizzying trip down the water slide.

The day it launched, Funship Island attracted more than 200,000 unique visitors, with many of them spending more than an hour on the site.

In addition, the new Carnival Connections page helps visitors plan a cruise for every event, from birthday parties to weddings. Carnival also set up a blog, which became so popular they scheduled a cruise exclusively for fans of the blog -- all 1 million of them.

But interactive Web 2.0 isn't just for luxury vacationers. Burger King created an interactive Web site feature that lets customers scan a picture and "Simpsonize" themselves. This shows them what they would look like as cartoon characters, and then helps them share their images with the social networking sphere.

In the first three days of Simpsonizeme.com's launch, the site received more than 16 million hits, and more than 700,000 photo uploads. In fact, visitors were uploading an average of three photos each, and spending about 12 minutes on the site at a time.

The bottom line: Entertaining Web 2.0 features -- from elaborate, interactive video demonstrations, to clean, simple blogs -- draw more eyes to your company's site, and engage people with your company name. It's a surefire way to ignite word of mouth, and encourage repeat visits.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What dotcom bust?

posted by Andy Leff
Great news for start-ups' bean counters: The Financial Times reported yesterday that U.S. venture capitalists invested more in the second quarter of this year than in any three-month period since 2001.

And the news gets better for Web 2.0 start-ups: Total investment in information services companies reached nearly $1 billion for the first time since the dotcom implosion. This includes Internet companies that focus on social networks, blogs, and wikis.

So people can talk about their cool MySpace pages all they want, but the real proof of social networking's strength is its increasing cash flow. Savvy venture capitalists wouldn't put their money into Web 2.0 coffers if they didn't think the investment would pay off big.

But how big? And when? More 2.0 companies are born every day, and most are clamoring for spare change from these forward-thinking VCs. The wallets are bound to dry up at some point. Favor will shift. Other sectors will get the goods. And late-to-the-game start-ups will be left with empty palms and evaporating business plans.

All the more reason to develop your own Web 2.0 business practices now, and make the most of a favorable investment climate.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Four pillars make a sturdy network

posted by Andy Leff
What makes certain social networking sites fly, and others flop?

Web 2.0 and social computing expert Dion Hinchcliffe has the answer. He analyzed the components of successful social networking sites, and distilled them into four simple methods -- the pillars of social networking.

You can read Dion's full explanation in Social Computing Magazine, or you can enjoy the Cliff Notes version here:

Establish handles. Pure anonymity in the social networking sphere is often a direct path to a chaotic and inefficient site. Require participants to use handles, or user names. It will help you track who said what, and ensure people use your site properly. Handles also let users find each other and form groups within the social networking site, which builds community.

Allow for members in good standing. This is a fancy way of saying "lead by example." Create a connection between handles and their social behavior, and it will show other users what is and is not permitted. It also helps you recognize users who contribute positively to the site.

Build barriers to participation. Controlling who can and cannot participate on your site gives the site greater focus and credibility -- and gives you greater control. Basically, it's another layer of protection against chaos, and builds a social order without stifling the conversation.

Protect conversations from scale. Most Web conversations are two-way communications. So when you have hundreds or even thousands of users, tracking conversations and participating becomes nearly impossible. Create a method for users to organize themselves into smaller, more manageable groups. It will increase their involvement, and build your community.

As Dion says, "the exciting part of the Web is that it's made of people." That means YOUR challenge is to make the experience exciting for your audience, and useful for your business.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tagging: You're not it

posted by Andy Leff
Who's doing what online? The answer's in a recent BusinessWeek chart based on Forrester Research about social networking users and usage.

The first takeaway: The age of the medium directly reflects the age of its core audience. The Web is twenty-something years old. So are the vast majority of its users. And I bet if you researched who watched the most television -- a 60-year-old medium -- you'd see older boomers and seniors glued to the tube.

The second takeaway: Collecting ain't all it's cracked up to be. Collectors number less than 20 percent, no matter their age. This means RSS feeds and post-share-vote sites like Digg and Reddit have barely made a dent in the social networking landscape, despite the persistent buzz.

To be honest, I'm not sure why RSS is doing so poorly. It's a useful tool that helps you scan information quickly, and saves you the trouble of revisiting sites for updates -- a terrific innovation for a time-starved era.

Conversely, no wonder tagging services are tanking. They add steps by asking people to post and vote. If folks really want to share interesting stories, they can simply e-mail them, and move on to the next thing.

In any event, being a creator, critic, joiner, or spectator is where it's at in social networking. That's why multi-faceted sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube dominate the market: They offer all these functions to any taker. And in doing so, they grab the repeat visitors, the eyeballs, and the ad revenue.

Keep this in mind as you craft personal or corporate social networking strategies. Put your resources where they will reap the greatest reward -- into building a community, developing content, and inviting participation in the medium that matches your audience.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I want my Web 2.0 -- at work

posted by Andy Leff
Want to use Web 2.0 tools at your company to change the way you interact with customers? Then skip the CFO and middle managers, and ask your CEO. Oh, and bring a cost/benefit analysis with you, too.

That's according to “Serious business: Web 2.0 goes corporate,” a study released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and sponsored by FAST. The report examines how large corporations around the world apply Web 2.0 to their business practices.

The overarching result: 79 percent of respondents see Web 2.0 as a way to boost revenues, and cut costs. Drilling down, 85 percent of C-suite executives view Web 2.0's collaboration functions as an opportunity to increase revenue and/or margins.

These top-level execs are also more inclined to think Web 2.0 is 'transformative' (35 percent vs. 28 percent), and can significantly impact the company's business model (41 percent vs. 22 percent).

Just don't ask your CFOs first. They're the most skeptical about Web 2.0's benefits, and are less likely than other C-level execs to understand or support it.

And even though middle management is pro-2.0 at 75 percent, there seems to be a disconnect between the boardroom and the cubicle about best practices for actually implementing the tools.

Still, leery CFOs and hog-tied managers must not be getting too much in the way of progress, because nearly 60 percent of the companies say they are inviting customers to contribute content that helps develop and support products.

Here's where the bottom line boost comes in, according to the report. Most companies said that Web 2.0 makes acquiring and supporting customers much easier, which then increases revenue. It also cuts costs for customer support, advertising, PR, and product/service innovation.

And early adopters are cropping up all over the world. This includes the United States, Germany, China, India, and the United Kingdom. The top industries: entertainment and media, technology, travel and tourism, and professional services.

So where does your company fall on this Web 2.0 adoption spectrum? How have your managers and leaders responded to the technology? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

James Kotecki rides our airwaves

posted by Andy Leff
We couldn't resist. It wasn't enough to blog about James Kotecki's political YouTube channel. We had to invite him for a podcast, too.

But we didn't talk about politics. Instead, we grilled James about how he creates his videos, connects with his subjects and audience, and works across social media and traditional media platforms.

He also gazed into his crystal ball for the next big social media innovation, and predicted his own place in the media landscape come 2008.

Considering he started his video blog in January -- and it's already garnered enough attention to land him on CNN, NPR, Fox, and others -- James's story is worth a listen for anyone aspiring to market themselves or their business through the online airwaves.

So play it here, download for later, and share with 1,000 of your closest friends.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bringing the customer closer

posted by Andy Leff
Business isn't what it used to be. Past generations of customers didn't have many choices. Shopping was usually done in the town where they lived. So if the shoe store didn't have the color sneakers someone wanted, too bad.

But in today's world, customers have all the power. They can now shop online to find the products they want, and search from Tennessee to Tokyo.

So how do you connect to this new breed of customers across the country and around the world? Businesses used to build reputations through personal contact, but the detached nature of the Internet makes cultivating relationships tricky -- unless you know the tricks of the trade.

Social Computing Magazine tells all with a list of the Top 10 Web 2.0 Technologies for Getting Closer to Your Customers. The takeaway: Communication between companies and patrons has never been easier, even though many customer service departments might never see a customer's face.

I've often discussed the importance of social networking, blogging, and podcasting here , but that's only the tip of the iceberg. As the list shows, there are plenty of methods to try. My recommendations:

* RSS feeds. This keeps customers and partners automatically updated about changes in your company or services.

* Search engine optimization. You can include key copy in your Web site that makes sure search engines send relevant queries right to it.

* Tagging. Customers can rate the usefulness of answers and information provided. And with each rating, merchants gain important feedback they can use to improve customer service and effectiveness.

In the end, personalizing a customer's experience in a largely impersonal technological realm can make a world of difference in repeat business and sales.

The secret is to foster conversation between customer and company, and build a strong user community, in whichever Web 2.0 medium works best for your biz.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

YouTube for me, EUTube for you

posted by Andy Leff
It's no secret that YouTube has rapidly become a leading form of advertising for businesses and publicity for public figures. Now, it's adding government information sharing to that list, thanks to the EU.

The European Commission just launched its own YouTube channel to make its audiovisual content more available to the global public. The clever moniker: EUTube.

EUTube's video content ranges from documentaries about EU activities and history, to interviews with European commissioners. Hot button issues such as climate change, energy, and immigration are also covered and available on the channel.

Interestingly, the green for the scheme is coming from citizens' tax dollars, which has generated a flurry of mixed reactions. Publicly published comments vary from "Great initiative," to "This site shows very well how European Commission spends stupidly our money. Before to through (sic) out away our money, you should ask us first our autorization (sic). We work hard to make this money and it's a very bad idea to waste it on useless politics."

Hmm. Do 'useless politics' include environmental protection, working for a smoke-free Europe, and expanding diversity? If so, then color me surprised. I see nothing but good in this technological advancement, which gives European citizens immediate access to pertinent information.

In fact, the U.S. should learn from the EU's info outreach, and start making reliable, accurate, and comprehensive resources available online in digestible AV formats. The technology is ready, the world is shrinking, and the audience is thirsty -- the perfect storm for any Web-savvy nation.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Election 2.1: Dorm room as campaign stop

posted by Andy Leff
Breaking news: Key primaries for 2008 will be held in New Hampshire, Iowa, California, and the YouTube nation.

That's because blogging apparently isn't enough for current candidates. Their social media outreach is extending further -- and their influence, wider -- thanks to Georgetown student James Kotecki.

Armed with a video camera, a blog, and pictures on pencils, James interviews politicians right in his dorm room, and posts the segments online. He also critiques and analyzes the use of online video as part of campaign strategies.

James' meteoric rise as political commentator makes him a great outlet for candidates to get in front of, and dialogue with, a wired generation. (Check out Dennis Kucinich's video response.)

But beyond politics, James exemplifies the power of social media optimization. He embeds videos on his blog, posts his media hits, invites comments, and links to his MySpace and Facebook pages -- all in a single, clean, readable site.

It's cross-pollination at its best, maintaining a single unified message across all media platforms. Politicians -- and businesses -- would do well to go back to school themselves, and learn a thing or two from the kid with the pencil puppets. He's doing the right thing, the right way, and enjoying phenomenal results.

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Election 2.0

posted by Andy Leff
Note to 2008 candidates: Blog smart, or get flogged.

So says a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Titled “The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0,” the report aims to help public officials incorporate blogging into their communications campaigns.

That way, they can enjoy the benefits of blogging's direct outreach, without getting burned by the lack of filter (a la George Allen). The top recommendations, according to FCW.com:

1. Define yourself and your purpose.
2. Write the blog yourself.
3. Be sure to dedicate the necessary time to the blog.
4. Post updates regularly and respond to comments.
5. Don’t use the blog for self-promotion.
6. Accept criticism.
7. Run spell-check.
8. Don’t give the reader too much information.
9. Make the blog easy to use and try adding multimedia features.
10. Become a student of blogging and learn from others.

Hmm. Sound familiar? Oh, that's right -- these are the best practices for ANY blog, be it personal, professional, or political.

Granted, public officials operate largely in the public eye, so they must tread carefully with their words and messages. But they are people first, which can be their greatest asset if they know how to use it.

Indeed, a little humility in one's humanity goes a long way in the blogosphere. It keeps content honest, genuine, and accessible, and helps the audience identify more closely with the reader.

And isn't that the entire purpose of campaigning -- to win others' hearts and minds to a political agenda? Again, it's not terribly different from a business blog, where an organization aims to win hearts and minds to the product.

If done right, candidate blogging will open up stumping beyond the standard talking points, and make a refreshing addition to pressing palms and kissing babies. I'll be curious to see how this plays out in the 2008 election. Have a prediction? Leave it here, and we'll check back throughout the year.

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