Microblogging represents a significant change in the way we communicate.

South by Southwest 2007Each year thousands of technology enthusiasts, bloggers and business entrepreneurs flock to Austin, Texas to attend the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference hoping to get the first glance at new and emerging digital technologies that year. SXSW has earned a reputation as the breeding ground for cutting-edge innovations but in 2007 no one expected that a group of young entrepreneurs would revolutionize modern day communication.

The small group representing a startup company called Obvious Corporation set up two large plasma screens at the conference that streamed real-time messages that were posted by attendees of the SXSW conference from remote locations. These short messages of 140 characters or less called ‘tweets’ enabled hundreds of conference-goers to communicate, share information and keep a tab on each other during the week long conference. Twitter soon become the most talked about app at SXSW in 2007 and it’s usage tripled from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000 during the conference. Moreover it provided the framework to a groundbreaking form of communication called microblogging.

Microblogging is a simple and spontaneous way for people to share information using short messages. By nature microblogging is a social form of communication that appeals to our inherently inquisitive human nature. New media theorists and software developers would argue that microblogging is not a new phenomenon at all.  Elements of microblogging have existed for decades but applications such as Twitter or Tumblr have successfully managed to consolidate the elements required to communicate via short messages. Twitter for example, combined three fundamental components of microblogging: Internet Relay Chat (IRC), instant status messaging and mobile communication. Since it’s launch in 2006, Twitter has experienced exponential growth averaging nearly 65 million tweets per day from over 200 million registered users worldwide. Similarly Tumblr recently surpassed 20 million blogs overtaking its competitor WordPress. Even traditional social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Bebo have integrated microblogging into their architecture through the status update feature.

Microblogging has not only become the preferred mode of communication between friends and family but has also become a powerful tool for news reporters, advertisers, marketers and politicians. Some of the early adopters of Twitter include Barack Obama and U.S. Senator John Edwards.  In fact several Pakistani politicians like Imran Khan, Senator Rehman Malik and Shahbaz Sharif have also jumped on the microblogging bandwagon and have made themselves accessible to the general public on Twitter.

Twitter has also had a profound impact on media and journalism. It has severely threatened the traditional mode of receiving news stories, especially breaking news. Many news organizations like the CNN, NBC News and BBC have embraced microblogging as a quick and easy way of reporting breaking news. Similarly microblogging can provide businesses a quick and easy way to promote their brands online. However it will only pay dividends for marketers who use microblogging as a tool of engagement rather than a cheap advertising solution.  For example Starbucks coffee’s has been able to develop an extremely intimate relationship with its customers on Twitter.  The company’s social media team routinely responds to questions and queries from its customers. This personal approach has not only made Starbucks the most successful brand on Twitter but also one of the most respected brands online.

However, the sheer volume of content and information that is fed through microblogging services like Twitter can not only be unnerving but also misleading at times. Unlike centralized forms of communication like print media, microblogging services thrive on the premise of open source and decentralized communication. This nature of microblogging services often results in inaccurate or false information being fed to it’s users. It is therefore important to have a general idea about what you are looking for before indulging into microblogs. Thankfully Twitter’s open API enables third party developers to create apps like TweetDeck that allow users to sort, organize and search for selective content.

Another key cause of concern with microblogging services is the issue of security and privacy. Microblogging services like Twitter thrive on open network structures and offer limited privacy options to its users. Twitter encourages users to share information freely using features like ‘retweet’. The recent Twitter scandal involving Rep. Anthony Weiner can serve as an important lesson about the risks of sharing personal or sensitive information on an open network. It is therefore important to remember a simple rule of engagement when posting content on microblogs: be sensible.

Although it is hard to predict the future of microblogging services such as Twitter, Jaiku or Tumblr I am confident that microblogging as a form of communication is here to stay.  The success and future of microblogging is not just attributed to technological convergence but a fundamental cultural shift in the way we communicate.

This article is featured in Slogan Magazine August 2011 Edition

The benefits of promoting brands through web-based videos.

With the growing popularity of online video websites such as YouTube and Hulu, web video has become a highly influential medium of communication. Although babies, cats, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga top the charts of most viewed and liked videos on YouTube, web video also provides a powerful medium for businesses to market themselves and extend the reach of their brands. In fact, brands like Nike and Old Spice have been rewarded handsomely for their online video marketing campaigns in 2010.

“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign launched by Old Spice consistently received over 5 million views per video while the original video received over 30 million views on YouTube alone. Old Spice also experienced a dramatic increase in sales of over 30% through their campaign according to SymphonyIRI, a credible market research company based in the US. This tremendously successful web video campaign is a testament to the fact that web video is a very influential way for companies to advertise. Moreover, it also provides evidence that web video can surpass the reach and impact of traditional broadcast or print advertising.

Similarly Nike’s “Write The Future” campaign is another example of how effective an exclusively web video-based campaign can be. The video that has received over 21 million views was initially unlisted on YouTube and wasn’t even visible by search engines. It was made popular via social media, blogs and word of mouth.

Although there is certainly an element of unpredictability that revolves around viral videos, both Nike and Old Spice’s success comes as no surprise. Not only were these campaigns innovative, they also put a smile on our face and made us laugh. They started conversations and got people talking about the brands like never before. Unfortunately for most businesses, doing what Nike and Old Spice did last year may not be good enough or effective anymore. Although these campaigns dominated online video marketing in 2010, the web video landscape has become significantly different than what it was just a year ago. Companies must understand, accept and embrace this ever-changing nature of the web in order to stand a chance against brands like Nike, Old Spice, GEICO and Doritos that dominated the web video arena last year.

2011 will introduce a new challenge of creating interactive web video campaigns rather than more traditional commercial spots and pop-up advertisements. The role of analytics and targeted advertising will play a crucial part in separating the good from the bad. Companies must find ways to interact with their web-savvy customers through clickable videos, YouTube annotations, HTML5 videos and online discount coupons. Companies such as Innovid, a new media advertising agency, are already providing solutions for brands to create interactive ads for better engagement with their consumers.

Also, as more and more video campaigns populate the web, video analytics will play an increasingly important role in deciphering key information about what is separating successful campaigns from the rest. Analytics will not only allow businesses to understand how many views they are getting but also how they are getting them. Therefore, metrics such as age demographics, geographical location and traffic sources will become far more important than view counts.

However, the success of brands such as Nike and Old Spice in 2010 has taught us something. Firstly if companies want to stand a chance of their campaigns going viral, they must have fun with them. Sure, most businesses will create interactive ads, install metrics and utilize the public domain to launch web video campaigns but only businesses that build a unique experience for their customers while creating funny and thought-provoking videos will stand out,.

Viral video trends clearly indicate that funny, humorous and thought-provoking videos have a far greater chance of going viral than traditional marketing and promotional spots. Secondly, it is very important that brands be themselves. Imitating others’ ideas or concepts will certainly not make the cut anymore. Brands must embrace their identity and gain the trust of their customers in order to allow people to relate to them on a more personal level.

This article is featured in Slogan Magazine May 2011 Edition

Understanding the need for social media strategies to penetrate successfully into the market

Social Media StrategyAccording to a recent report published by Econsultancy, a leading social media think tank, 86% of the 800 companies they surveyed spent more money on social media marketing in 2010 than ever before. The majority of these companies plan to spend even larger portions of their budget on social media marketing in 2011. This increase in spending on social media should come as no surprise. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest nation in the world. Currently Facebook have over 500 million active users and has surpassed Google as the most visited website of 2010. In fact the average user spends more time on Facebook than on Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Wikipedia and Amazon combined. Similarly Twitter has grown by nearly 80% over the last year and has a staggering 24 million unique visitors daily in the United States alone.

Despite the countless efforts by companies to tap into these vast social media markets, just a handful have been able to gain any tangible value from social media marketing. Only one-fourth of the companies surveyed by Econsultancy conceded that they have gained real value from social media. So what are most companies doing wrong? What should they do differently in 2011 to have more success in the social media territory?

One of the most shocking findings in the Econsultancy report was that nearly half of the 800 companies surveyed had no written policy or guidelines for the use of social media. This is one of the primary reasons businesses are unable to effectively use social media to market their products. A written set of guidelines and policies is the basic groundwork that a company must lay down before venturing into social media. A soccer team without any kind of game plan or management amongst its player is much less likely to score a goal than a team that has a well-planned strategy. A thoroughly researched social media policy must serve as the primary document that governs not only the company’s behavior but also the behavior of its employee. Although it may be a daunting task to create and write a social media policy from scratch, it is fundamental to the success of a business or brand online. Companies like Dell and Coca Cola, that have had seen tangible results from their social media campaigns, have written social media policies and guidelines. From a marketing standpoint, the need for a social media policy will become even more critical in 2011 as companies face the challenges of integrated communication and the unification of social media, mobile and television.

Similarly, several studies have indicated that companies are uncertain about how to demonstrate the value that social media adds to their organization. This has also been one of the biggest barriers of entry for businesses to jump on the social media bandwagon. Measuring social media return on investment (ROI) is indeed difficult, but certainly not impossible. According to studies conducted by Mzinga & Babson in 2010, only 16% of the companies they surveyed measured social media ROI. Although this percentage has increased since 2009, most companies still only measure basic metrics like direct traffic. Although direct traffic and page views are key metrics, companies must dig deeper to get a better picture of their performance on social media. Online marketing and web analytics companies like Omniture and Google Analytics not only provide tools to measure traffic but also ways to transcribe this raw data into useful information about consumer retention and sales. Omniture even offers free consultation and workbooks to businesses that are interested in monitoring and measuring their social media ROI.

In the year 2011, monitoring social media and accurately measuring ROI will be even more critical. As more businesses launch social media campaigns and clog social media networks, only those companies that are able to maintain relevant engagement and communication with their customers will benefit from social networks. It is therefore critical that businesses not only define their goals and principles of communication on social media, but also monitor their behavior in order to determine their successes and failures.

This article is featured in Slogan Magazine Feb 2011 Edition

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