Archive for March, 2009

Future of PR: When Agencies Represent Communities –Not Brands


We continue to see that communities will continue to gain more and more power as they lean on each other to make decisions, support each other, and share their lifestyle. What happens to agencies that traditionally serve brands?

Seem far fetched? Not really. We’re already starting to see bits of this: I’ve seen user innovation in car forums, Facebook groups, and networks of mommy bloggers. Or take for example UserVoice , GetSatisfaction or Ideastorms that allow communities to define what features they want with products.

Imagine for a second that these communities, say bike-enthusiasts, or young mothers, or even home-theater-fans could start to define using organized innovation tools what products and features they want. What if Doc Searls vision for Vendor Relationship Management systems (where consumers define what products they want –brands bid for them) takes off?

With communities in the driver seat over product, a shift will happen as communities can define the spec of future products and therefore multiple brands will bid for their business. As a result, we should expect the agency model to flip over, where PR agencies start to represent communities of customers –rather than brands.

What if these communities (we’re likely all part of at least one) started to band together and used UserVoice to define what we want? What if a savvy agency saw this, and decided to take our ideas to market on our behalf?

What could this wacky idea look like? These PR agencies would take the community defined spec to brands, bid for the top design, and even help negotiate the terms. As a result, they could skim profits off the transaction, or maybe offer new services such as community support, or organize events. Either way, if they stay as the conduit between them. Some users in Twitter mentioned this already happens, that agencies represent communities in non-profits, or at the chamber of commerce, but I’m thinking much broader, into the context of commerce.

Perhaps it won’t be that polar, existing agencies that represent brands will adopt the right skills and relationships, and will retain their relationship with brands. If you’ve access, a forward looking report called the Connected Agency discusses how this could work.

What do you think of this wild idea? Far-fetched or is it already underway? If communities assert control over what products they want, will agencies follow suit?

Update: we’ve now 40 comments below, and without a doubt the wisdom from the commentators is greater than the original assertion. I think one key finding from everyone is that this trend is far greater than PR, and impacts all agencies, and marketing as a whole. Secondly, it’s difficult to determine who these agencies will monetize, and some suggest they’ll go away all together. We’ll keep on exploring this topic, I’ve some new ideas on consumer crowdsourcing that I’ll blog soon. Thanks for being part of the dialog.

Social Network Humor: Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook


I grew up on watching Three’s Company the San Diego sitcom, and got a real kick out of this funny video. For some reason, Friendster reminds me of one of my college roommates. Caution, this is one of those videos that you may want to watch at home as it has some borderline adult humor, may not be safe for work. Buy hey, since it’s Saturday, that shouldn’t be a problem, right? If you like this video, I’ve been collecting them and tagging them here.

Weekly Digest of the Social Networking Space: March 26, 2009



I’m respecting your limited time by publishing this weekly digest on the Social Networking space, which I cover as an industry analyst. By creating this digest (I started this over a year ago) it really helps me to stay on top of the space I cover.

I’ve created a new category called Digest (view archives). Start with the Web Strategy Summary, then quickly scan the succinct and categorized headlines, read text for my take, and click link to dive in for more.

Subscribe to this blog in your feedreader, or use the email subscription box in the right column. Or you can subscribe to this digest tag only and not receive my other posts.

Web Strategy Summary
Facebook undergoes user revolt for latest redesign, although they trump most other social networks for usage. Expect to see more integration between social networks and traditional media sites like Twitter and BusinessWeek. Earlier this week, Twitter announced API integration with SalesForce –notice the connective tentacles from social networks spreading everywhere. This is a race to see who can spread the fastest.

Feedback: Facebook community not happy about latest changes
Communities always overtake the brand, and even in this case, Facebook’s redesign is getting some fire from many members, and Facebook may make some changes to meet the community concerns. Ben Parr from Mashable suggests Facebook should stay the course. I suggest next time, that the redesign have a bit more community testing and acceptance before making dramatic changes.

Usage: Facebook is for your Mom and Dad
Apparently so, since the “older” generation of “Women over 55 remain the fastest growing group, and growth among the teen and college-age set has been relatively paltry. In absolute numbers there are now even slightly more members between the ages of 45 and 65 than there are 13-to 17-year-olds.” says Wired

Deal: Twitter integrates with SalesForce
SalesForce CRM can now show simple displays of twitter conversations and discussions within it’s interface. This is the first step in many where social networks and communities become the first step in CRM. My take here.

Privacy: UK government discusses monitoring social networks
Fueled by the thought that terrorist discussions could be within social networks, the Guardian suggests that social networks like Facebook and MySpace could ‘hold information’ and perhaps make it accessible to authorities.

Spending: Social media marketing funding to increase
This data is from eMarketer, that indicates that most marketers are going to increase their social media spend, and only a few (3%) will decrease. These findings are related to the report we just published on the same topic.

Integration: BusinessWeek syncs Twitter Comments
One of the first media companies to integrate twitter comments is now BusinessWeek –which allows users to provide feedback and responses about articles from Twitter which will be aggregated on BW.

Transparency: Questions over transparency over Yelp –and other SNS
Yelp under continued scrutiny over how it’s treating restaurants and small businesses. There’s been increased criticism against this company as the community asserts control over restaurants, this quote sums it up best: “Yet as the site grows, some of the businesses scrutinized on Yelp are turning the tables and griping about the company itself.”

Best Practices: Online Moderation
This moderation professional is sharing a great deal of expertise, swing over to Mike’s blog.

Money: Tencent grows and grows
Tencent, a fast growing social network in China is generating revenues based off virtual goods. Their reporting healthy revenues at 70.5 percent or $719.1 million, a 95.5 increase over 2007.

Data: Social networks trump email
Social networks more popular than email says this report from Nielsen and covered by Cnet, and further goes on to show that member communities are more popular than email. Data from eMarketer via Cnet

Usage: Twtiter fastest growing soical network
Twitter’s growth up by says Nielsen sporting: “Unique visitors to Twitter increased 1,382 percent year-over-year, from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009,”

Irony: Government employees disocuraged to use social networks
Although these employees are encouraged to use social networks, they find it ironic they’re discouraged not to use these same tools.

Submit: I’m listening. If you’re a social network, or widget company, I want to know of your news, send me an email, or leave a comment below. Help me stay up to date but first, read how to score your announcements.

Hungry For Social Networking Stats? Then you should see my collection of Social Networks Stats for 2008 and 2009. Bookmark them, then share it with others as I continue to update it.

Orlando Tweetup on April 22, Forrester Marketing Conference April 23-24


I’ll be in Orlando at Forrester’s Marketing Conference April 23 and 24th, live blogging (maybe some live streaming), meeting clients, and listening and learning from Marty St. George, SVP of Marketing for JetBlue, Greg Clayman, EVP of Digital Distribution for MTV, and Annis Lyles, VP of Media and Interactive for Coca-Cola North America. We’re offering discounts to those that are headed out, as well as a night off the hotel rooms.

Even if you’re not attending the conference, the Tweetup on the night before is wide open for anyone to attend, hope to see you there. The Tweetup is on Wed, followed by the conference on Thursday and Friday, leaving the weekend open for you and your family to head out to Disney World if you’re able.

Leave a comment if you’re coming to the Tweetup!

Sponsored Aggregation: Impacts to Twitter, Federated Media, Microsoft, and the Community


My job is to dissect new and moving parts into ways that business decision makers can understand, I hope to do just that:

Web Strategy Summary
Twitter is finally monetizing. Working with social media marketing vendor Federated Media, Microsoft has sponsored an aggregation tool that collects all the voices and tweets of executives. While none of the executives were paid, and it’s not influencing their editorial, these public tweets are being monetized by the brands involved. (Added this previous sentence, thanks to Dom in the comments) It’s featured from the Twitter homepage (top right column) this program called ExecTweet gives exposure to the voices of executives and promotes Microsoft’s campaign.

Getting the Facts
I just got off the phone with Matthew DiPietro the Marketing Manager at Federated Media, to understand how brands are now working with Twitter and how the money is moving about. While I believe that Twitter could best monetize by becoming a CRM system, they’ve instead decided to do a variation of what we call sponsored conversations.

Sponsored Aggregation
This isn’t the same as other sponsored conversations programs where the bloggers (or Twitters in this case) are paid, but instead the voices and tweets of executives are aggregated. The executives (including my own CEO @gcolony) is aggregated on this site called ExecTweets, and there is no change in the editorial from the twitter users. In some cases, these execs may not even know they were added to this aggregation page. Individuals can submit other executives to be added to the aggregation page, which will soon be the untethered voices of this executive zeitgeist.

The exectweets site has some voting features that help to allow users to vote up the top discussions, and FM will help curate some of the discussions they think are most relevant. They didn’t say it, but I’ll bet they’ll put emphasis on conversations that best match the Microsoft campaign that’s sponsoring it called “Because it’s everybody’s business

I’d apologize for creating yet another buzzword, but it’s my job to help define new trends, and there’s constant changes in this space, so I’m trying to use terms that people can understand, use and be actionable with.

Breakdown of all the moving parts:

Twitter Community
First and foremost, focus should be on the Twitter community. This small advertisement was featured on the site displaying ‘house ads’ that would promote Twitter features, which is almost a warm up for this Microsoft Ad. Being on the fish theme, I remember that some web designs happen slowly as to not shock the users. The saying “change the fishbowl water a little at a time” comes to mind.

Executives that were selected or nominated to be in exectweets aggregation can now benefit from getting additional exposure and provide thought leadership amongst the land of 140. The downside now is their personal conversation are now associated with this campaign, and their general brand. I’d doubt that John Schwartz CEO of Sun would not want to be associated with this program, although I’m told that execs can opt-out.

Federated Media:
FM continues to impress me over the years, lead by John Battelle, they continue to develop innovative ways to sponsor influence, sponsor conversations, and insert brands directly into the editorial flow or develop brand association. Of course, they’ve had a few blunders in deployment but have a strong framework they use in their playbook regardless of the toolset. Their biggest challenge will be that they need to be careful not ensure that all programs are transparent and authentic, in order not to burn any stakeholders.

Microsoft: Tying in it’s campaign to reach executives and those who want to listen to executives, Microsoft benefits from associated branding by sponsoring the development and launch of this program. In theory, this should segment higher qualified clicks to their site “business if for everybody” as the link is on the exectweet site –not Update: I also learned that McCaan, Microsoft’s agency was a large part of this project.

Twitter: This nearly accidental microblogging network benefits by, well monetizing. This small ad takes up very little real estate and gives them the opportunity to trial methods to advertise. I strongly encourage them not to disrupt the editorial flow, and instead focus on the data portion, and monetize the firehose or develop products that brands need to manage discussions.

While it’s going to gain buzz from being new, don’t expect click through rates to the Microsoft campaign to be high, as it’s not in the editorial stream of tweets. However, it could generate more qualified CTR from those that are interested in what executives have to say, and secondary benefits from association with the top leaders. Expect this to be a rotating inventory for future campaigns, as Federated Media has done innovative conversational marketing during the height of blogging.