PointAbout sponsored the Social Media Outlook event held today at the Ritz Carlton in McLean, VA. The event was created by the Potomac Tech Wire, a great email-based newsletter & business intelligence service in the DC/VA/MD area.
Rohit Bhargava, SVP, Strategy & Planning, Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence
Shonali Burke, founder, Shonali Burke Consulting
Adam Lehman, COO, Lotame
Geoff Livingston, SVP, Social Media at CRT/tanaka; author "Now is Gone"
Jake Maas, CFO, LivingSocial
Moderator - Paul Sherman, Editor, Potomac Tech Wire
Here is a transcript of the event:
Social Media Outlook by Potomac Tech Wire
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Legend: Speakers were:
RB: Rohit Bhargava, SVP, Strategy & Planning, Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence
(Shonali Burke, founder, Shonali Burke Consulting) Absent
AL: Adam Lehman, COO, Lotame
GL: Geoff Livingston, SVP, Social Media at CRT/tanaka; author "Now is Gone"
JM: Jake Maas, CFO, LivingSocial
PS: Moderator - Paul Sherman, Editor, Potomac Tech Wire
US: Unidentified Speaker
BB: Bill Boyle
AC: Ann Connolly
DH: David Hubber
PS: Great, I want to thank everyone for coming out today; we have a great turnout and a great panel; if I could have everyone's attention. Since this is a Social Media Panel, the first order of business is the Twitter hash code for this; we'll go with a hash code, 'SMO' for Social Media Outlook 2009. So, 'hash mark SMO 2009', please, in the past events we had some good conversations after the events, so if you weren't doing it here, please feel free to speak up after the event, as well. Hash code -'SMO 2009.'
Just a couple pieces of housekeeping before we get started:
* I want to remind you that we're Potomac Tech Wire; we're going to have out next interactive marketing outlook, a breakfast roundtable, similar on style to this one. It's going to be on November 17th - there're flyers on everyone's table for that.
* In addition, Tech Wire is the sponsor of the One Party, which will be in December, and it's an annual get-together for the marketing and advertising community. Hank Dierdan is with One Party, and if you're interested, he's holding up some information there, please contact Hank about sponsorship.
I want to thank our sponsors who really made this possible today. This is the first time we've had an exhibit zone, and we had some fantastic sponsors come on board. First, our top sponsor for the last year who's sponsored all our events, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, I want to thank them; Susqutech, they've come on with a great exhibit table here, and also some information; Internet Summit, which is going to be a fantastic event, there's a card on everyone's table, in Raleigh, North Carolina, we encourage people to definitely take a look at that and consider making the trip to Raleigh for that. Mike Smith, Public Affairs, I think a lot of you know Mike, one of the leading lights in social media, and marketing community here; and, PointAbout, also, one of the leading lights in iPhone applications and mobile internet here, in Washington, D.C. So, I want to thank all our sponsors for coming on board. If you're interested in sponsoring and having an exhibit in a future event, you can check the flyer here.
One of the people, a piece of housekeeping, Shonali, unfortunately, as you can see, there are only four of us; we were hoping to have five. She called last night, and her husband has come down with the H1N1 virus. And, I was talking to her last night, I said, "When I tell people that you aren't going to be here; how should I say it? Should I just say your husband's sick, or is that going to concern people?" And, she said, "Don't worry; you can say he had H1N1, I've already put it on Twitter, so everyone knows." [Laughter]
And, sure enough, this morning a couple of people said, "Ah, I heard, I hope Shonali's husband's doing fine." So, hopefully he's going to be doing fine in a couple of days, but, she just didn't want to come because of his condition.
Finally, we have two authors on the panel, and, at the end, when we start doing Q&A, we'll be having some raffles of their books, so please stay for the Q&A, and we will raffle this based on the list of the registrants.
With that, let's go ahead and get started. Will each panelist just take 30 seconds, we'll start with Adam, and make a way down; introduce yourself, we have the full bios on everyone's seat, but, if you would just introduce yourself and your firm.
AL: Yeah, I'm Adam Lehman; I'm the Chief Operating Officer of Lotame Solutions. We're backed by Value Ventures and Merchants Capital Partners, and, what we do is leverage social activity data - what people do in social media environments, match that together with demographic data, and interest data to help produce better ads for our marketing partners through very sophisticated ad targeting, and on the flipside, that is the way for us to help our publisher partners, most of who are social media sites increase the value of what they're doing.
RB: MY name is Rohit Bhargava, I'm a founding member of the group at Ogilvy Public Relations called, 360 Digital Influence, and it's been around for about five years, [...] when I say a relatively longstanding social media space. I'm a market blogger, my blog is, 'Influential Marketing'; I also teach marketing and global communications at Georgetown [...] here. And, I have a book which [...].
PS: Yep, here's Rohit's book and, I put some flyers on the book in the middle of each table, so if you're interested, please take one of those. Geoff?
GL: My name is Geoff Livingston; I'm a blogger and a communicator. I work at CRT/tanaka, I have a social media [....] earlier this year, I wrote that book, "Now is Gone", down there, and, I also am the organizer of [...].
JM: I'm Jake Mass. I'm the CFO of LivingSocial for a Washington, D.C.-based start-up. I've been around about three years; we're backed by Pro Tech Ventures and C.E. Case [?]. We build consumer-basing applications, and products and services that tap on the big social networks like Facebook. We've grown now over the last few years about 70M global registered users, and monetizers, users through a variety of ways including advertising and social conferencing.
PS: We definitely want to jump right into the panel. What I've noticed with the attendees is there's kind of a split; I would say about half the attendees here are with traditional technology companies, not necessarily marketing; and in talking to them, it seems like what they want to get out is sort of how can they use and deploy social media. And the other half, are really [...] than social media, in social media start-ups, are already using it, really kind of at the cutting edge of social media. So, I want to kind of balance those two sides, both how to use social media, but also, dig into social media, the nuts and bolts, what's working, talk a little bit about start-ups, and project forward; so, we kind of hit both of those target areas.
For starters, just for all the panelists, what would you say are the two or three biggest misconceptions you hear from companies or organization when they come to you or they say, "We want to go into social media." And, maybe they don't have experience in social media. What are those two or three biggest misconceptions?
AL: Just to start us off, I've run into a lot of companies who view it as, "Wow, this is a free marketing channel. Social is great. I can acquire customers, I can build my brand, I can do all that, and I don't have to pay anything, because it's social", by your own marketing. And, for my purposes and what I've seen through the other companies that have been involved, and simply through Lotame, is social is a critical platform in a marketing level, but, it's not one where you should count on the fact that you're going to throw something out there, whether it be through one platform or many platforms, and expect to get a predictable return on that. You really have to make investment in terms of your strategy, in terms of your commitment to those different platforms, and build over time your presence in social the way you're part of the conversation in social, and you have to invest. There are lots of different ways to deploy capital and people to get a return in social, but the idea that, "Hey, I'm just going to have to throw a video out, or I'm going to create a bunch of accounts and ignore them for six months", that tends to be a misconception that I've run into.
RB: So, just to get a level set, before I answer, if you work for an organization that's doing something with social media, and you have a blogger, he's at YouTube or here. OK, so, or any of the different platforms, can you raise your hand? OK. So, it seems that most people have gotten a start, and need some sense; if you're here today then you're probably, at least considering it, getting started, hopefully, this week. One of the things that I hear a lot in terms of misperception, is just that the level of dedication and fear factor that goes into social media, and there are a lot of times before you start, you hear all this advice about how you need to be in it for the long haul, and see people who might be considered social media gurus spending 24 hours a day on Twitter.
And the fear is, I think, with social media, not so much about, "Oh my God, I might have to spend a million dollars on it." The fear is that I've already got a fulltime job, and, now, this is something else that I need to either manage, or get somebody to help me manage, and how am I going to find the time to do all these things; because, I think there's an overall perception that it needs a lot of time. So, the one thing that I spend a lot of time doing is focusing companies on how to start a social media without starting big, right? Nobody starts running by running marathons; they start with only small ones. So, one of the misperception drawbacks is the only way to do social media, is to do something that will last forever. And, one of the ways that I've managed to find to get companies living outside of that is to think about social media in relation to live events; that they're either already doing, or hosting, or participating in.
Because, if you have a conference that you host for your customers, for example, you do a blog around the conference, you can have a blog for two months, you can have a 30-day event, and then you can have it on line as archives. And, I don't think we use the word, 'archive' often enough when it comes to social media, because you think about blog, and it feels like something that you gotta keep going through years, and it feels like it's a huge undertaking, when actually, maybe the way to start is by taking the blog around the live event and you can go for two months, and, it's very clearly stated that it's going to end after those two months. So, you get a chance to get your feet wet, and do something, but you won't have to commit to it forever. Because, everybody, not just guys, are afraid of commitment, right, when it comes to social media. So, start smaller, and I think this is my big takeaway from that.
GL: First off, I want to say hi to all my friends who are here, [...] we'll discuss, because this is my community from 10 years ago, or [...]. And, everybody is still coming to these events. I think the first misconception I would point out is publishing versus search. I think most organizations believe that they even publish - we need to publish social media [?], we need to publish blogs, we need to publish a Facebook page, when in actuality [...] is people. What's much more important is to figure out how to provoke links, in-bound links to whatever you're doing, or even the static [...] say, get people talking about you.
And, the second thing is control, that is really old this year, but it's the same issue, over and over again. It doesn't matter how sophisticated an organization is, it seems control comes up; how do we control our message, how do we stop people from texting we don't like, how do we control our people, how do we know which ones are worth commenting for, and I think that's the wrong [...] again, right off the bat. Again, it's about people, any organization is just one voice of many in the larger conversation; it's a [...] community, if you would, or it's a community about mainframes, or a community about childhood cancer. So, whatever it is, you have to focus on where the community hears [...], and stop trying to control [...] traditional public relations [...].
JM: I think that it's an obvious point, but we talk a lot about who's out there, people assume that everyone on social media is still sort of age 16 and 17; and, it's just not the case. [...] users, the vast majority of those folks are over 21 [...]. So, there is a huge critical mass audience out there, and it's likely that whatever your age you're targeting, there's this huge critical mass of those folks participating in the [...]. And, the second thing is that we just hear about that it's some of these platforms, everything is changing so quickly, and you don't know where to start - it's Facebook today, and it's going to be something else tomorrow. I think a lot of these major players that build ecosystems are going to be around, Twitter and Facebook, they're not going anywhere - Facebook is at 300 million, a [...] goal, [...] has get a 100 million in the U.S. These are platforms that are going to be around, and I think it's worth people's time and investment to figure out how it's happening.
PS: Does anyone else have any misconceptions? OK, now, going from misconceptions, we want to go to what's working. If each of the panelists could give us an example on the last year or two of social media campaign, whether if it's for a company, a non-profit organization, something that's really working. And, as much as possible, tell us kind of nuts and bolts, what do they do, what do they want to do, why do they work? Who wants to, Rohit, do you want to start?
RB: Yeah, so how many people try to be number one for the turn for their business name on Google? How many people try to do that at some point? And how many people think that your Google ranking matters for business? Alright, a lot more people than that, I believe. One of the things that I've seen a lot is somebody is focusing on getting to number one for their turn. Everyone wants to be number one, and what people forget is that when you look at data for what people actually click on, when it comes to Google searches, they rarely go past the first page, so they very often click links that aren't number one, but, you would need the first ten results. And, so the real question is, and sometimes I try to focus clients on is not whether you should be number one, or not; obviously, everybody wants to be [...] it's who's numbers to protect, and can you be number one through ten? And, so the example that I'd like to share is certainly an unexpected one, but I think probably, in any social media event that I've gone to, I've never heard it brought up as a positive example, because it's an airline, and it's not Southwest. [Laughter]
And if you think about the airlines that most people search for online, you know there's a lot of negativity; everybody's had some sort of negatives, domestic U.S. airlines. Everybody's had some sort of negative experience. And so, the problem for airlines, from a public relations point of view, is that if you type in the airline name, if you type in United and blog - that's two keyword terms, you get ten results talking about how people broke their guitar, how people messed up their flights, how they got stranded on an airplane, that's what's in the top ten. And, it's very difficult to displace that stuff because all they have is corporate messages to go against it, and, if you don't know by now, you'll take away from this - that social media content is hugely search optimized naturally, because it's updated frequently, it has lots of keywords, and it has lots of links - these are all things that Google loves, right?
That's why blogs rank so highly for any term; that's why social media content, that's why if you Google your own name and checked it already, if you have a Linkedin account, that'll come up. Unless you have a really common name, and somebody else's Linkedin account will come up. But, either way, that is highly optimized, and so it comes up. And, the reason why, I think, the airline industry is an interesting one is because there is so much negativity, social media is a perfect way of countering that. Because, if you search for United and blog, you'll get 10 results talking about how bad United is. If you search for Delta and blog, half of those results will be from the Delta official company blog talking about Delta official company stuff. Now, I would see that as a huge social media success, because they're countering some of the negativity out there; and they're at least, owning half of the links that are out there talking about Delta. Now, are they perfect? No. Do their flights always leave on time, do they always get everybody back here on time; of course not. But, here's an example of Delta versus United, where one company is using social media, and therefore, they're helping to change their reputation online in terms of what people see, and, another company isn't, so I would see that's a reason why we should keep that.
GL: My favorite social media case study de jour right now is the Livestrong campaign; is everybody familiar with Lance Armstrong? How cool was it watching him bike through that; that was awesome. I think that campaign is phenomenal in the sense that they've done a masterful job of engaging their community. When you check out their Facebook Fan Page, they've got 600,000 plus people. They have a relatively decent size Twitter account, but, I don't believe even that's their focus. What their focus seems to be is engaging the community and inspiring them to do things online to promote Livestrong, that's very good. So, anybody that's on Twitter, have you seen the avatar version with the little yellow band on them? Anybody? Dior? [Laughter] Boy, that is so [?] [Laughter]
Boy, you'll see a lot of Twitter [...] with big yellow bands on them, and they've adapted the Livestrong brand and they put that arm band, if you will the wristband onto their handle. On the Facebook page you see people uploading pictures of tattoos, tattoos with Livestrong written on it. They turned, "What is a Chariot?" - a foundation that's fighting cancer into a movement. It's neat, that's success. They have a highly, highly engaged community, and they do it by my [?] people talk about their brand, I think, for example, also, you go on the Facebook Fan Page, and there are a lot of companies and organizations split the page, so they have their feed, and they the fans' feed on a separate tab. Livestrong is all one feed, and people are writing all over the wall, all the time. Check it out; it's really a great way to engage community and people.
JM: So, I'll give an example [...] a campaign we've actually done with one of our customers. So, we are a very large book community, people that are cataloging all the books that they've read, explain them, sharing them with their friends, organizing around authors that they like. And, so we work with a lot of publishers out there, we recently did a campaign with Simon and Schuster, and we work with publishers. The key for them is not so much to tap in to just our book community, which is big, and robust and very active, but it really excites them is the ability to tap into our community's friend network, which is a hundred X times our audience, because most people have on average, I think, 130 or so Facebook friends.
So, we did a campaign where there was an offer that read a series of books, and using the third series of book, and there the level was the only people they could get to read that third series of book were the people who read the first two books. So, they wanted to try to expand that audience. So, what we did, was that we worked with them to: 1) target people who enjoyed similar authors to that particular author's book, and people who had read the author's previous works; we reached out to them through Facebook verifications and, the first communication [...] that we had, and we offered all of them the first chapter of that book, or the first book in that series for free. [...] social, so you could go there, you could get the book, you could download it, you could read the first book of the series for free; obviously, the hope that if you read the first book you were going to get hooked, and want to read the second and third book.
And, we made that campaign viral by encouraging all those people who downloaded the book to invite all their friends that they had on Facebook to access the book, as well. It was a value added thing, all the folks that follow me on Twitter, or [...] all my Facebook friends, go here, click here, and you can get this first chapter, this really great author, you might enjoy it, and get their first book for free. And so, the first order of back to that campaign was we got about 10,000 or so people, [...] go, and actually surprised people were willing to read the book online. And, then the second order of that was we got about four to five X times as many of those people's friends to come on, and, also engage the author, and read the book. So, it was a very successful campaign, but, for Simon and Schuster, but it kind of speaks to the point where you're working with a lot of social media companies, it's not just about tapping into an existing audience, but it's turning those books and [...] from your product and your service, and having them advertise on your behalf, to a much broader social community that exists out there.
AL: Yeah, the one I point to is the 'Whopper Sacrifice Campaign' from Burger King. Can you raise your hand, who either remembers that, OK? Did anyone actually participate in it? Any hands? Yeah. So, this was campaign that Burger King ran, I guess, maybe a year ago, or so, where on Facebook they said, "If you will de-friend 10 friends, so, you have to pick 10 friends and knock them off your friend list, we will give a coupon for a Whopper", right? And, it was short-lived campaign, [laughter] because Facebook decided that it was not in their interest and didn't meet their terms of service. So, Burger King got knocked off, in terms of that campaign: prior to getting knocked off, there were actually more than 250,000 people who were de-friended, [laughter] and, those 250,000 people all received notification as part of that campaign that they had been de-friended for like a 35 cent benefit to the person who did the de-friending. [Laughter]
So, why do I think it's successful? For me, that was very successful, because number one, it leveraged what social's so great at which is engagement; and it really engaged the social community, in this case, Facebook. It had a big afterlife in terms of free press, and PR for Burger King, even as the campaign got pulled down. And in terms of what Burger King did that I think was so successful to make it work, number one, they marketed in a social way which is really key - you gotta understand you're in a social environment, so, as one of the other panelists said, just treat it like a traditional PR channel or message channel, treat it as a social channel. This was, inherently, interactive tied into the Facebook platform tied into the notion of friending and de-friending. And, then on top of that, something that's often overlooked in term s of what's successful, it was fun, it was playful, it was a little devious, in terms of the whole design of it, but if you look at social media and what works in social, people are looking for entertainment, they're looking for fun and engagement. So, that would be my example.
PS: I want to talk a little bit about platforms. For first, the obvious one we have to talk about is Twitter. There's been a lot of debate; although I think the now the debate's sort of subsided. Twitter is going to be here for a long time. Where do you all come down, in five years from now, what will Twitter look like?
GL: I'm going to go contrary just a little; I don't think Twitter really is all that powerful. In fact, I would say Twitter doesn't scale well. And, as of work, and I work a lot with organizations and I do a lot of campaign work, and I get called in, on account I'm a firefighter now, "It's not going well, please come in." [Laughter] So, I get to see a lot of large accounts, large Twitter accounts with hundred of thousands of people, tens of thousands of people, and increasingly as Twitter's become popular in the last few months, the quick Twitters [?], the amount of interactivity with stakeholders have gone down. And, so, we're finding it to be less effective, and we find other channels and integrating and traditional communications has become much, much, more critical to make a social media campaign goal [?]. It has to be multichannel, multichannel and social, multichannel across traditional media.
So, I think Twitter's at a point where it levels off at some point soon, in the near future. As far as what it's going to look like in five years, if it survives, because there's still no [...] model associated with it, and it's interesting about why. There's just a big New York Times story on Twitter, and how we're trying to sell links to Google or Microsoft for advertising purposes [...], it was written by Marshall Kirkpatrick and Ray [...]. As it turns out Google and Microsoft don't value Twitter very much, because there's only three or four million active links going around every day in Twitter. Those people are very passive, there are only a few content Tweeters. So, for the search perspective, which we understand as the underpinning of the social lab, it's not that hard for me. Anyway, long story short, if Twitter were to be successful in five years, it would be much more Bubble. The reality is that we're [...] towards the Bubble Social Web, you look at all the HotBot [...] servers developing right now from Posterous to Foursquare to the new embedded or reinvented Brightkite, it's all going mobile, and I think Twitter, although it is highly successful for a lot of the apps that you can find on Blackberry and iPhone; it still needs to become more fluid.
PS: Do people agree?
RM: Yeah, I would say, just because Voice over IP came, it didn't mean people would stop using the telephone; it just changed how they use it. And, I think that the underlying trend of Twitter is that now you have a format where people can publish a microblog, right, that's essentially what Twitter is, to as many people as they have following them. And this idea of publishing in the short format to make it simpler, I think is the real reason why Twitter has gotten so much attention, because people who would ordinarily not have time or the inclination to write a blog - people like Shaquille O'Neal, people like all these celebrities or politicians, or individuals who have taken onto Twitter, the reason why they've done that is because it's easy; it's only 140 characters, it's one sentence, you can tell someone to do it, you can type into a Blackberry and press a button, and you can upload it, right, you don't need to do any sort of complicated stuff; it's as easy as sending an SMS text message.
And, so the real question is, "Is the behavior that people who are actively using Twitter, is that going to go away if Twitter were to disappear?" And, I think the answer is no. And, so it doesn't really matter if Twitter is around in five years, actually, I think it would be a great thing if Twitter folded, because right now, you've got, I don't really know how many million accounts on Twitter, and more than half of them, probably a per cent of them are dormant, or just kind of robot-created accounts. That's the general percentage [...] do, so, there's usually a small percentage of people who are using it. If Twitter were to fold, those accounts would be wiped out, and only the people who were actively using Twitter would move to whatever the next thing is, right?
A lot of you are sitting in this crowd and you're entrepreneurs. If Twitter were to fold and you knew that there was an audience out there of millions of people who were used to microblogging that didn't have a platform to do it anymore, it's not going to be a long time before somebody comes up with something else that everybody moves over to and tells their friends about it, right? We all know that, that's the way that social networks work [?], one thing dies and something else takes its place, and that's the way it works. And, so the real question is that the behavior that people have adopted of using Twitter to do things like sharing links easily, to shorten links so that it's not these huge long links so that they can send something back and forth. One of the things we're seeing is, we used to do a lot of stuff to try and get bloggers to engage with some sort of campaign, and then find it valuable enough to write it out and share with their readers. And, now what we find is that there is a different level of standard that comes with Twitter versus the blog, right?
I have a Twitter account and I write a blog, and there are certain things that I find interesting enough to Tweet about and share a link of, but, I wouldn't necessarily do an entire blogpost about. But, now there is a way for me to share an interesting link that doesn't require me to write a couple of paragraphs, and have a point of view. It's just that, "Hey, this is an interesting survey", link - sent, and that's it. And, as marketers I think that's really powerful because sometimes you have something that's interesting enough to share, but not interesting enough to write about. And, that's OK. You don't always have to have something that's huge news that is worth writing an entire blogpost of the time. I think Twitter gives you a way of asking for something less fro someone, because it doesn't cost someone as much time or effort to do a Tweet, as it does to do a blogpost. And so, I think it's a huge opportunity for marketers. I agree with Geoff that there's this huge flood, and sometimes this stuff won't get out, but the real power of Twitter isn't in the Tweet, it's in the Retweet, because essentially once you get something useful out there, people start sharing it, that's the viral effect that you can have, and very, very quickly and very easily.
PS: Adam, and then Jake.
AL: Yeah, boy, I thought I was going to be the contrarian on talking about Twitter, but, I just felt the, on the flipside. I think Twitter is very much for real. I don't think Twitter is going anywhere. I think people can underestimate the power of network effect and having established the scope they have, number one; and, number two, just the behavior they've created which, really pointed out, but I don't think businesses of Twitter's kind of scale, an ecosystem at this point, just disappears. So, I don't anticipate that happening, and again, I'll underscore the ecosystem part. Twitter's already spawned numerous other platforms and related businesses, and that's really important to look at. When you look at Facebook and Facebook's success, one of the critical parts from my point of view, why they have had this staying power and growth curve they've had was opening the API up and creating Facebook apps, and there are people like Jake's company, and may others that have built real businesses around that.
So, my contrarian point with Twitter still remains, which is on the five year point, I don't think they will be an independent company, I think they'll have a trajectory much more like a YouTube where you get increasing consumer traction, you don't have immediate monetization; and so, rather than being able to support an IPO, we'll see an acquisition from Google or someone else to pick that up and plug it in. But, again, it's interesting to me that you're telling me and the other panelists in terms of the view that Twitter may actually not have legs, so, that's kind of fascinating.
JM: So, if I had one thing to [...], it sounds like I do, I would actually say, Twitter probably gets acquired by Facebook within five years. So, I kind of agree that [...] probably [...] on the path [...] be acquired [...].
I do think that Twitter, more importantly than the actual company, represents a fundamental sort of a trend in paradigm shift in how people communicate, but, probably more importantly how people consume content information. I would argue that it's as important of an evolution as Eego was, and probably more important than ATS machines was. The interesting thing about, say, [...] represent is what I would call kind of a real-time sort of stream. So, you're getting information in a real-time way from a large volume people, primarily to one of many forms of communication. And, Facebook News Feed is another sort of, they basically copy Twitter; and that's another form of a real-time stream, and there are other businesses out there doing something similar.
And, I think the interesting thing about that real-time stream, I suppose an email; but every time you get an email, there's always the sense of obligation that you have to respond to each and every email that you get. The great thing about Twitter and the Facebook News Feed is you have no obligation, no one expects you to, you're [?] the people who are sending it to you, expect you to respond. They only expect people to comment and respond; they're interested in what you have to say. So, you send out these maps [?], sort of things, and there's a very low sort of commitment level on behalf of the reader. You don't really need to check it everyday, you only need to check to it when you feel like it, and when you do check, you only really need to respond or engage those messages that you find interesting.
So, I think that for that way of sort of consuming, not just information from friends and people you know, but information from celebrities, from corporations, from media companies, and, I think people are getting increasingly, choose that as a mechanism of the passive form of consumption that rivals a lot of what we've seen historically, just sort of 'let people know circles', and other forms of communication, like email. So, I think that phenomenon, how people use Twitter and Facebook is the indication that it's more importantly how people enjoy using them as a way to consume information is here to stay, and I think that companies that figure out how to tap into that and use it effectively are very much living at the end of the curve, as I think that platform is a fundamental paradigm shift, just in communications.
PS: Real quick for the entire panel. Geoff, you mentioned some emerging platforms, the new Brightkite, High-Five, [...]. What's on your radar screens right now, what should people know in terms of everyone knows Linkedin, Facebook, we won't even go into MySpace right now, but, what's emerging, what's on your radar careen in terms of a platform that may be big, may be worth looking beyond sort of those standard ones that we all know. Geoff, do want to just touch on yours real quick, and then...
GL: Sure. I'm definitely following Google Wave right now. I think Google Wave has actually got a lot of potential in the sense that if you've played with your Google dashboard all over the past couple of years, you see it become much more interactive than integrated chaff, and a lot of social elements. So, they're really turning the Google homepage into a social network quietly, and in a kind of stealth mode. I think Google Wave has a lot of problems right now; but it's early in its life; and to me, I think that that's probably the next big social network. Because, the reality of Google has already conquered social, they've done it internationally with Orca. They just have not penetrated this market. And, so I think that's Google's Holy Grail.
JM: Yeah, I would speculate that there are going to be a number of more niches, sort of vertical social networks that are going to focus on different communities. They're going to be very huge sort of platform players like Facebook that are going to emerge, I already named one, MySpace is lost. And, they're a big predominant mass of skill, they're certainly in the U.S., and potentially globally, there is going to be plenty of room for people that specialize and focus on particular areas to emerge, and build special products optimized for them. In terms of Facebook, I also share in that more important than Facebook itself, it's a destination site as Facebook can act, which I think is a platform that allows people to sign on to any website, they're usually on Facebook or ADjewel. So, if you go to the washingtonpost.com, you don't mind [...] information, and you want to log in using your Facebook information, you can do that, and that allows the Washington Post to serve up information that you give to Facebook, such as knowing who your friends are. And I think that actually that platform has continued to grow, a really, really sort of powerful force out there. A lot of the companies we talked with, you need to have a presence on Facebook maybe not, a much easier approach is to do something with Facebook Nap[?] which I think is going to continue to get very, very [...].
PS: OK, Rohit, real quick, we'll send you a radar screen.
RB: I think two things: one, is there's a reason why Facebook has stood out among the social networks, and I think it's sort of the analogy of that wanting to be the shopping cart instead of the product. Because, now you can take all these different sites that you're on, and you can put them all into your Facebook account. And, you can then be up wind, to some degree, from Facebook. And, that's really powerful, because if you live a digital sort of life, or you're headed in that direction, maybe start living in Facebook, or maybe like a YouView, spend the time when you're stuck on a conference call that you don't really want to be on registering for these sites, which I do a lot. So, I'm on lots of different sites because it's part of my job to see who's out there. And, when you're on all these different sites it becomes very tough, because people choose to interact with you on different sites, then you can't really keep up with that many places. So, one of the things that I do often, is tell people whenever I go to speak somewhere that the sites that I choose to spend most of my time and driving on are Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. So, at least they know that these are the places where I actually am on more frequently, and they can contact me there, but, I have accounts on all these other places.
So, I think that's one piece. The other piece is that a growing number of people are becoming content creators. And, whatever you expect that term to be, whether it's blogging or Tweeting, or creating video, or posting images online, these things are all easy, nobody needs a technical degree in order to do it anymore. And so, I think as more and more people do them, the challenge becomes, how do you streamline that across all of your different properties? If I posted an image on Flickr, I'd want to share that with my Facebook friends, I'd want to share that with people who follow me on Twitter. Those people are different, right, so, it might be connected to on Twitter, some of you might be Facebook friends; it might matter to me, right, I might have personal friends on Facebook, and Twitter I might use it more of a boarder thing.
So, the challenge is, how do you keep all of these things together. So, Posterous that you mentioned is one site that allows you to multipost, so you post once, and then it goes to all these different places, and they try to make it easy. You still need to be a little bit more technical in order to know how to set it up and use it, because it could mean, there's a lot of configuration when you do it, so, it's not super-dead easy yet, but this idea of somebody like me who can sit up here and take my Blackberry and take a photo of the audience, and press one button, and publish that photo to Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr at all once.
You can see the power of that for me, because those are the places where I choose to interact. So, I think the future is going to be the tools that allow people to start to do that easily, because there's only two ways that that will happen: one is that there's a tool that makes all these things that allows you to multipost; the other is that one big company just acquires everyone, and that way it's all integrated. And, I think that in the short term you will see not one big company emerging and acquiring everyone, it's going to be the tools that allow you, because all these sites are open, so you can link into any one of these sites, so that will start happening.
AL: Yeah, very quickly. I agree, number one, with what Jake said, and at Lotame we work with a lot of vertical niche social media players, and, I think that will be the sweet spot in terms of new and [...] platforms. I also agree with Rohit in that we'll see some unifiers from unified messaging, publishing, connecting more bidirectional platforms, as well; and a final thought, it's mobile. And, I do think there's going to be one new mega platform that emerges, it's going to come out of mobile, it'll be someone who really builds from specifically, for, and overhead mobile.
PS: A question on start-ups, and I guess for Jake and Adam, first. What advice do you have, both of your companies have been hugely successful; if you can tell us a little bit about your venture capital race, what advice so you have for entrepreneurs going out right now either trying to raise capital or just doing it, bootstrapping it on their own.
For Rohit and Geoff, if you could kind of take the other side, what advice do you need, I'm sure you have all sorts of start-ups coming to you all the time saying try our new product, this is going to do this, can you get it?; trying to get that chicken and the egg thing going, trying to get you involved. What advice do you have for all those start-ups that have the next big thing, kind of war stories from the other side of the fence, we'll say? Jake, do you want to start?
JM: Sure. So, we raised our round of PC money in June of last year, so, since June of '08. So, there was a politically different environment, it was kind of right before the downturn. But, I think that probably the principals there.
PS: And, how much was this, and, who were your investors?
JM: Yeah, it was a $5M round; there were two principal investors, Pro Tech Ventures and Steve Gates, who, myself, and fellow founders who worked with previously at Revolution Health, and some of the folks at AOL, as well. So, those were our two principal investors. I think that it's easy to say, but, obviously, with a lot of these platforms there's a course for revenge. And, those folks that can get in early, get in before the clutter; it's a lot easier to break through on the achieves [?], or the [...] scale in a very short period of time, and so I think certainly, for our investors, we were building a company that was also aligned with the emerging trend, which was Facebook was opening up its platform to allow people to build off of it, and build into it. So, I think we were doing some interesting, very tangible things around, we actually started with books, a books meeting which I mentioned, and had a sense of standing [?] was a very tangible product, although it was taking advantage of what people thought was a much larger way to answer fee [?] that had potential to grow something big. So, that's obviously what most PCs are looking for is, you have an opportunity to become a very big company some day.
So, my advice would be don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole if you're thinking about leveraging some of these various platforms. So, you're coming up with your idea and product and you're in your development phase, you need to do it in conjunction and parallel with sort of the strengths and weaknesses of the platform that you're trying to manage. To the extent that you're taking advantage of features like Facebook used to be, that allowed things to become extraordinarily viral, you're going to be more successful. If you build the product and then try to squeeze it into these various platforms is just a lot harder, because the things that do well are things, like anything, fit within the natural flow user experience wherever it is where your users are, are interactive; and, if you can do that in a seamless way, you have an opportunity to grow really, really quickly in a really, really short period of time. The ability to achieve scale is pretty, pretty amazing with these new platforms.
And the second piece of advice I would give is, I am engaged, so the background there is to put a lot strategic thought, really plot things out, you figure out your strategy and then you launch it. The things that are best for us, we have some ideas that take advantage of certain things; we try out 10 things, we figure out which one works, and we pour fuel on the fire. And, we live in a world now where feedback is such real-time. It's interesting, you launch something, it doesn't really take three months or a year to figure out if it's going to work; we pretty much know the next day or certainly within a week. So, you get this really, really contiguous feedback, and you can use that to your advantage in an experimental way, obviously you don't want to be haphazard, but, try to prevent that [...] with a broader strategy, figure out what works and what doesn't work, and then when you figure out what works, put the gas on.
AL: Yeah, and I'm going to speak from two perspectives: one, Lotame Solutions, and I'll tell you about our funding events, but also, previous to that I managed to seed an investment group called Rock Ridge Ventures, and was involved in co-founding five social media marketing companies, so, I see it from both angles. With Lotame we raised $23M last year as I mentioned from [...] Ventures and Merchants Capital Partners; we also had two earlier investors, Beta Works out of New York, and a private investor in New Hampshire, Hillcrest. The other five companies were principally Angel funded, some institutional, as well. My main points of advice from all these different experiences, if you're starting out with a social media or social marketing company; is don't try and raise money from anyone institutional, and I'll say it again, don't try to raise money.
The beautiful part of social, as Jake pointed out is you have immediate feedback and you can figure out if it's going to work or not work. I've seen so many people shop plans of why their great use of social application is going to change the world, and why they need to raise $2M, $5M, $10M, $20M - a waste of time. Because, only knowledgeable investor at this point is going to say, "Show me!" It's easy to get it out there, we all live in a low capital requirements environment, in terms of starting these businesses and growing them, so, again, don't waste the cycles, go ahead, do the 'friends, families, and fools', and the three 'Fs' in terms of raising a little money up front, get it rolling, and, as Jake said, see if you can grow quickly and get big, and then that's the point you go on. You actually have an asset to raise money against, and then everyone's going to be very happy to talk to you and want to invest, and probably at decent valuations.
Two related points that, one, if you start down that path, and you're trying to get big, and get big fast, and you're successful, boy, please give me call because I'd love to invest. But, when you get big that way, stay away from monetization; I've got a friend who has the expression, "Revenue kills the dream", revenue does, in fact, kill the dream. You look at the most recent Twitter evaluation and investment round, and I think that's the case in point. Number two, if you try to get big and it doesn't quite work out, find your niche. A couple of the companies that Echo founded, we were able to find our niche and then you do the reverse, you get right to monetization, and get yourself into as to close to a self-sustaining or cash flow positive position as you can. With the companies that I'm thinking of, we were able to do that, and then that also creates, in both cases, great new funding alternatives, because you're not desperate when you're getting out there and trying to raise money.
PS: So, stay away from monetization, that's if you want to shoot for the fences, but, it seems like you're contradictory is that if you don't want to go institutional, you really do need to start thinking about monetization. How do you balance those?
AL: To me it's sequential. I think most entrepreneurs can and should start out swinging for the fences, and hoping to be the next Facebook, or even a limited social with 70 million registered users, so sequentially, it's a great place to start, you do get quick feedback, so within six to 12 months, and hopefully you can bootstrap your way through that period, then you pick your path. And, at that point you figure out, either 'yeah', I hit it, and again you're going to have lots of funding alternatives available institutionally, or you haven't, at which point you've got to focus that much more on monetization up front. And, by the way, if you want to build, there are lots of great businesses that get built outside of the world of venture funding where you do start from day one with a plan for how are you going to monetize, and get the cash deposited quickly, and that's great, too, but then that's not relevant to the question in terms of going in and getting funding.
PS: So, you're getting I'm sure, you get a lot of requests for 'beta usage', 'Be one of our first 100 users', 'Can you leverage ours for your clients?', what do you think when you hear these pitches, and what advice do you have to sum up you have something they want to get out there, and they're coming to you?
RB: Everybody talks about the power of your network, your social network, right? Then, it's about who you know, and I think that actually, it's about who knows you. And, so I when get a pitch from someone that is so out of the blue and I have no association with them, I'm much less likely to follow them. It's got to be something really compelling for me to actually want to go there, but one of the things that I talked a lot about and wrote an entire book on, was the power of personality. And, one of the reasons why I think that's so important is because with social media value being having an organization have a personality, and when it comes to reaching to people or influencers in your business, in your space, that you need to get to prove something, and were to endorse something, that becomes really powerful, because it's that relationship that gets you past the door.
When I got Guy Kawasaki to do the forward for my book it was because I had entered a contest six months earlier, that it was about the 'World's Best Presentation'", because I wanted to be on his radar, so when I went to him and said, "Hey, I've got this book, and even though you've never heard of me, I'd like for you to write a forward for it"; it wasn't going to be out of the blue, he wouldn't know of me, and what I did and who I was. And, I think that's something a lot of times companies that are in the starting phase forget because you're so head down and focused on getting your thing out, that when it comes to building the network that you're eventually going to need when you start to promote it and push it out there, that way when something that happens six months later, when actually you need to lay the seeds for that right in the beginning, because that's when you're starting to get those associations.
So, I think that one of the things that really is a powerful testament to that is that everyone in the medical industry, doctors, in particular, knows that there's statistical proof of this fact that people don't sue doctors that they like. And, if you think about that, it really focuses on, in the medical industry, at least, not making errors, right; the last thing you want to do is make a mistake. But, when it comes to what people say when they actually choose to sue a doctor or not over a mistake, it always comes down to, "How much time did doctors spend with me, did they explain the process properly, did I feel that they actually cared?" And, the doctors that get sued are the ones that didn't spend time, didn't seem like they cared, and so they get sued.
Now, obviously in that case it's not invalid whether you made a mistake or not. I think that when you relate that to the business world, to some degree, it also comes down to that when you launch something and you start reaching out to people, which is, do you know that person, do they actually like you enough to Tweet something out, or to share something, because in some cases we have something that's really powerful that doesn't matter, right? If everything you want is the iPhone, then you can be as arrogant as you want, and [...] still buy it, right? But, not everything everyone launches is the end zone, and in most cases what you're doing is you're watching something and you've got competitors and they're launching something, as well, and hopefully you have a differentiator, right, you're not launching the exact same thing, but, what you really need is for somebody to help you promote your thing, because it could be the iPhone, but maybe today it isn't, and to your point, maybe as it evolves, you find what that thing is, but if you don't get that chance, if you don't get to survive for six months or 12 months, then you won't make it there.
PS: Geoff, really quickly.
GL: It's really hard to get me to write about you [?], in fact, it's pretty much impossible. It's because I've worked in PR too long, and I really trust competition [?]. [Laughter] That's my experience, and what I do is trust my community, like Rohit had said, and I trust what people are using, and I follow what I see is going on in Facebook and what my colleagues are doing for the folks I respect. And, so, that actually supports the theory in communications called the 'magic middle' which is that you don't target top tier bloggers. I'm not saying I'm a top blogger, but within the sector that I'm participating in, at least within my niche, I am. And, what I would do is I would target people in the middle, because I'm reading those guys, I trust them, and if they're starting to really talk about something, for example, in Google Wave, that's how that ended up on my radar screen, then I'm going to start paying attention, because I need to.
And, I think with movements, where it's within a very small niche or a very horizontal kind of product, you're really, really wanting to start a ground swell; and it's hard to get top tier bloggers or influencers to write about you. By the way, if you're looking at all the influencers on Twitter, they're all bloggers with people who do something, for the most part. Very rarely do you find people to get to do the 'Pistachio Deck' [?] where they become very famous on Twitter [...]. They're either Lance Armstrong, or they run an event, or they're a blogger. So, you get these top tier influencers to write about you is really, really tough; you have to have a relationship, or you have to hit their community, and I definitely believe in seeding the community.
PS: With that I want to go to questions from the audience, then I want to come back with one final question about predictions going forward, and also what you consider to be the most overhyped favorites, it can be Twitter from certain cases, but the most overhyped aspect of social media right now. So, we'll come back with predictions, but, some questions from the audience, if you can stand up and speak loud so people in the back can, yup.
BB: Yes, hi, my name is Bill Boyle, from Fiber Geek, and I'm wondering how the bandwidth [...] affects the social network computer of today, and what you see in the future.
PS: How bandwidth affects social media development in community?
RB: Yeah, I can start with that. I think that certainly having better bandwidth enables a growing part of social media which is video, and it's the most [...] intensive form of social media, but, I think that people are finding ways of using social media that don't necessarily rely on having amazing broadband, but it does make life a whole lot easier. And, for people who are digitally needive [?], I heard that term from [...], and it makes a huge difference because it's an expectation that people have. So, I'm not sure that gets to your question.
GL: Actually it came out of telecom, and I was a wireless reporter for a long time. Bandwidth and computing power will continue to drive social media [...], really what's going to be called internet; [...] I don't foresee it being called social for too much longer; we kind of look at that .com, went to [...] phase with it, where it's really, really a nice term that's doesn't mean much anymore. That being said, do you remember back when were talking about the information superhighway in the mid-90s, and everybody was talking about virtual reality, and all that stuff; the reason why virtual reality doesn't predominantly exist is because the bandwidth, there is not enough bandwidth, there is not enough computing power and programs involved for it. But, the reality is, tactilely [?] put, and if programming was up to speed with bandwidth, we would definitely have virtual reality today. If it was easy to use like the iPhone is, we would definitely have virtual reality, [...] for a second life, in concept it was kind of interesting, but it didn't take off. So, I see bandwidth and computing power completely driving evolution, and we will move from text into more interactive types of environments.
PS: Quick question, how many of you have the iPhone and use it as your main phone? How about from the audience, how many people have iPhone and use it as your main phone? 20-25 percent? OK.
RB: So, how many like the Blackberry? OK, now about that group, how many people focus on creating an iPhone app instead of a Blackberry app? Right. Maybe Blackberry apps should take over [?].
PS: Any Android users out there? Other questions? Dave.
DH: Yes, I'm David Hubber from Washington Technology Magazine. I just want to change the focus slightly, if I may for a minute, because we're talking about social media, and I'm just wondering if we turn that to 'social good' for a second. I know, I was talking to Geoff about this, and again, I'm changing the focus slightly. Is there a role for government to use social media for social good, considering how much opposition, fear there is out there of government intrusion in our lives, of intrusion in our processes. Is there a role for the federal government in turning social media to social good?
PS: The people in the back hear the question? The question is, is there a role for government using social media for a 'social good'?
AL: A couple of quick answers on this. One - absolutely yes, but there will be a cost which is privacy; and, it's the irony o
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