It’s still a Google world

Today’s announcement that Facebook and Bing are joining forces is being hailed as a major blow to Google.  But before we start chiseling a headstone, let’s think about Google’s week so far:

All this adds up to the fact that Bing may lap Google in the search battle, but that’s swiftly becoming less important to Google’s business model – which has always been about collecting data from different points of your daily life and using that to serve you ads.

Maybe the wind farm doesn’t obviously fit into that (although, their servers crank up an awful lot of heat and use lots of electricity to crunch all your data).  But turning the family TV room into a Google-fueled den and knowing exactly where people are driving are both pretty advantageous for an advertising company.  The possibilities for each of these technologies in 20 years is mind-blowing.

Facebook will continue to be valuable because of the value it offers in organizing our relationships, but Google remains one step ahead in its quest to organize (and monetize) the world’s information.


Better yard signs? We have the technology

Supporters love yard signs.  Not only is it an easy way to demonstrate support for a candidate, it also offers an unofficial measure of how a campaign is doing.  Driving through a neighborhood amid an ocean of your favored candidate’s name is a big morale builder.

Political activists hate yard signs.  They’re expensive, and a volunteer sticking a signpost in the ground is generally not a volunteer walking through a precinct and talking to his or her friends and neighbors.  To that point, Alex Lundry has a great post about the utility of location-based apps, and mentions how campaigns may be able to use location-based services to give their yard signs greater impact.

A Spanish company, whimsically called Macanudos, is going one better.  They’re working on creating a quick-response (QR) code technology that would allow users to scan images and instantly “like” something.  These QR codes would operate like bar codes, and if they’re on a lawn sign, someone walking down the street could immediately like a candidate with a smartphone.

Of course, Facebook followers are like lawn signs: they both provide a nice stat that is, without further action, ultimately meaningless.  But what happens if we mash up Lundry’s idea for incorporating location-based services with Macanudo’s ability to instantly scan-like something?  Campaigns might then be able to figure out roughly where the scan-likes were coming from and give the list to the appropriate precinct captains, who could then in turn follow up with the individual voter.

Creepy?  Maybe a little.  But hey, you wanted yard signs…

A quarter million doesn’t go as far as it used to

Rand Paul’s $250,000 money bomb is being treated like a dud for failing to meet the lofty $400,000 goal the campaign set for it.  For a Kentucky Senate race, a cool quarter mil is far from chump change, but the dour coverage shows the value of managed expectations in setting benchmarks for online metrics.

Paul inherited from his father a reputation for both staunch libertarianism and savvy online organizing, which make his swings-and-misses at online fundraising and Facebook recruitment much more pronounced.  But Paul isn’t the only one who falls into the trap of easy metrics: dollars raised online, Facebook “likes”, Twitter follower counts, and other obvious numbers are easy to understand, so issue and candidate campaigns alike will use them as benchmarks for impact.

Two problems stem from this.  First, metrics which are easy to understand are not always easy to obtain.  Second, having big numbers doesn’t always translate to big impact.  Having 100,000 Facebook followers who don’t vote is just like having 100 Facebook followers who don’t vote.  Further, there comes a time when a campaign must balance the effort of recruitment with the reality of mobilization.

In the particular case of the campaign’s recent online fundraising attempt, Rand’s supporters may be suffering from money bomb fatigue, since the campaign has used the tactic regularly.  They might be feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and giving $25 where they would have given $50.  But none of that would be in the discussion if, at the outset, the campaign had set a reasonable benchmark for dollars.  There are plenty of completely legitimate explanations for why Paul raised “only” $250,000 – but what really requires explanation is the original expectation for $400,000.

5 reasons Facebook advertising is up 1000%

Businesses are advertising on Facebook more – ten times more, to be exact.  This is more than simply another channel for businesses and brands to reach internet users and peddle wares – although the fact that Facebook is the web’s top-ranked site doesn’t hurt.  (Political races have already felt a limited impact of Facebook ads – recall that in 2008, a $51 ad buy helped a Dartmouth college student win a county treasurer race, and 2010 Congressional candidates are building their follower lists now.)

So leaving aside the obvious reason of the network’s large – and growing – audience, what has been driving the rapid growth of Facebook’s ad platform?

1.  Budget justification through analytics, flexibility, and (most important) measurable results

The internet has been to advertising what the Moneyball approach has been to baseball – it allowed stat-crunchers and analysts to break down real-world activity into numbers, and optimize their activities according to what yielded the best results.  (This had, of course, been going on as long as advertising had been around, but the internet allowed for more variables and more precise measurements.)

Like any successful online ad platform, Facebook allows advertisers to examine what trends work and what don’t, and change things like creative and targeting accordingly. This is what has made Google the world’s biggest advertising company.

It’s especially important for Facebook because, as ubiquitous as the site is, many businesses are concerned about dipping a toe in Lake Facebook.  Put another way, the question for the budget-masters to ask themselves is: What if we built a Facebook page, and no one likes us?  Having a dead Facebook page is worse than having no Facebook page at all.

Facebook ads can give advertisers and brand managers ammunition to go to these budget managers and identify key, reachable metrics to justify not only the ad flight, but an entire Facebook strategy.

2.  Ease of use for advertisers

Another page from the Google playbook for online advertising is the ease with which anyone can build a Facebook ad.  It requires creativity, strategy, and writing skill, but you don’t have to be a technological genius.

This is important for two reasons.  First, if you’re in the business of selling ads (either directly or as part of an overall brand or issue management strategy), the advertising model is easy to understand and sell to a potential client.

Second, it expands the universe of potential advertisers.  Local businesses could target users in their neighborhood with limited buys that are put together the same way as the ads of a national brand like Old Spice.  Like Google, Facebook makes very powerful advertising tools accessible to small businesses and individuals as well as large companies.

3.  Peer pressure

The first two drivers of Facebook’s ad success involve its adoption of features that Google and other networks perfected; the next two involve advantages Facebook enjoys over Google search advertising.  The first and most obvious is the “like” feature on ads, which allows users to see whom among their friends has clicked on it.  This is a small feature, but it taps into what has always been the driving force of activity on Facebook: the idea that people get most of their information from their friends.  That’s a big reason why Facebook drives more web traffic to news and other sites than Google.  By leveraging peer pressure where it can, Facebook gives its ads that much more impact.

The platform also allows advertisers to target friends of existing members of fan pages or group members.  For instance, if my friend likes Organizing for America, then OFA can direct an ad at me, figuring that I might be a potential supporter as well.

4.  Attractive ads

Back in the early days of online advertising, display ads checkered websites the way print ads checker newspapers and magazines.  Google’s search ads were less attractive but more effective, since they were based on a user’s searches and interests.  There were no pictures, because that would have only cluttered the space.

Facebook’s text ads with a small thumbnail both draw the eye and allow for some illustration of the brief message.  Facebook ads require the same pithy writing as Google ads, but the small picture makes a big difference.

5. Cost

Facebook’s ad prices haven’t grown with its user base, so it has remained a cheap cost-per-click option for advertisers.  That, combined with an extremely flexible pricing structure, results in a platform that lends itself to very limited and easy ad flights.  This allows for a $10 or $20 test campaign – low enough that curious individuals can run one on their own, or front the costs on a project for a client and work on a contingency basis.  That low barrier of entry that promotes experimentation helps win over new advertisers – and, once they figure the platform out, gives them a reason to stay.

It’s the most popular website in the world, and everyone hates it.

Last week, as Facebook celebrated the half-billion user milestone, a consumer satisfaction study placed Facebook’s “Like” rating down in the bottom 5% of surveyed companies.  ReadWriteWeb points out that this puts them on par with cable companies, airline companies, and the IRS.

Those are interesting company for the social network.  There’s a parallel between Facebook lessening their privacy policies to better monetize their users and airlines adding additional fees for checked bags, carry-on bags, and eventually suitcases that you keep at your house and don’t bring to the airport.  Facebook’s reaction has been similar to a cable company that asks a customer to be available from eight to four for a service call and doesn’t show.

The dissatisfaction is likely chronic for as long as Facebook tries to make money, and there’s two ways that type of customer dissatisfaction might play out.  The first is that users leave the service.  Facebook runs its course and becomes the next Yahoo! or AOL, a shell of its former self as internetters flock to the next big thing.  It doesn’t go away, but former Facebook employees talk about the glory days the way Frankie Five Angels Pentangeli wistfully compares the Corleone family to the Roman Empire at the end of The Godfather Part II.

The alternative is that Facebook becomes an acceptable evil – that users can always find something to complain about, but nothing that drives them away.  In the same way that spam doesn’t lead to an exodus from email, people stay on Facebook because it’s the easiest way to connect with friends.

In that way, the best comparison to Facebook from among the entities with similarly low satisfaction rates may be the IRS.  No one likes it, but everyone still uses it – and it’s probably not going anywhere.

Coming to a theater near you: Facebook

The first full-length trailer for The Social Network is up, appropriately enough, on YouTube:

There’s no doubt that the inception of Facebook has been a significant development in internet consumption; and it’s one of the most interesting business stories out there.  But after a decade of startups promising to redefine how we use the internet, the “this is going to change everything” rhetoric is a little tired.

So from this trailer, this movie could be any – or all – of the following:

  • Deeply fascinating
  • A trite waste of time
  • Mildly entertaining
  • Creepy (as underscored by the cover of Radiohead’s Creep that the trailer is set to)
  • A way to spend two hours ostensibly with people while paradoxically not interacting with anyone or anything except a glowing screen

Sounds like the perfect movie about Facebook.

The only thing worse would be working for BP

Chris Kelly’s former job probably seemed like an asset when he jumped into the race for California Attorney General – in a state so closely identified with technological innovation, he was one of the executive leaders of Facebook.

The problem for Kelly now is that his title was Chief Privacy Officer.  Having that position for Facebook is kind of like being a nutritionist for KFC – it doesn’t come with much credibility.

How bad is it?  Not only is Kelly’s opponent using his association with Facebook against him in a television ad, but in that same ad she’s actually bragging about being endorsed by Nancy Pelosi.

The irony, of course, comes in the picture of Pelosi used in the endorsement, which looks to be a few years old and looks nothing like she does now.

In other words, it’s a typical Facebook picture.

3 (more) ways for SNL to be more fan friendly

Betty White hosts SNL this week, thanks in large part to a Facebook movement.  It was a savvy move for the television institution – which, at 35, might as well be as old as White in TV years.

SNL’s target audience has always tended to be younger, and as such the show must constantly adapt to changing times.  Tapping White to host in response to popular demand is a good start, as is the Backstage blog which includes sketches cut at the last minute.  But SNL  can do even more:

1.  More online video content

I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to make a post using an obscure SNL sketch to make a point.  And honestly, there’s no reason (other than to promote DVD sales) for SNL not to have a library of all their sketches available.  Currently, only select sketches are available.

Aside from my selfish reasons, having every sketch ever made available could be a good business decision for SNL.  Old, obscure sketches could become viral sensations when exposed to a new audience.  And then there’s the social factor: For many folks, watching SNL is a social activity, and so any sketch can become an inside joke among friends – whether or not it’s a “classic.”  An otherwise unfunny 1999 sketch where Horatio Sanz repeatedly screams, “a bear ate my parents!” was pretty lame, but it would get plenty of laughs from soem of my UMass chums if I sent them a link to it.  You and your friends probably have sketches like that too.  SNL is missing out by not tapping into that emotion – it keeps viewers loyal.

2.  Viewer-generated content

Andy Samberg’s Digital Shorts have helped SNL advance in the online video space.  So why is Samberg to only one making digital shorts?  There are some talented comics out there who can make funny videos.

By inviting submissions and letting viewers vote on which one should be on TV, SNL can not only build a great interactive relationship with their audience, but also find cheap talent.

3.  Viewers pick the host

SNL understood the dynamics of audience engagement early on, running an “Anyone Can Host” contest back in 1977.

Offering a season-long, election-style contest between two good comedic actors for a spot hosting the season finale would not only be comedy gold, but would reach into those actors’ networks – their Facebook fans and Twitter followers would suddenly have a reason to visit SNL’s website, and to recruit friends to do the same.

If Tim Pawlenty figured it out, you’d think Lorne Michaels could, right?


Apple – or, more specifically, Apple CEO Steve Jobs – flexed some muscles in the last week by proclaiming that Adobe Flash has no place on the iPhone, the iPad, or whatever’s iNext.  As previously discussed (here and there, as well), the walled garden that is the App Store positions Apple not only as the gatekeeper of “tech cool,” but also as the potential object of an antitrust investigation.

Today, two Washington agencies are reportedly deciding who gets to launch an Apple antitrust investigation.

As easy as it would be to point to Jobs’s chest-beating, this is the second time in two weeks where a company is drawing ire from inside the beltway.  And in both cases, the companies in the crosshairs are direct competitors to Google.  That doesn’t make Google the Michael Corleone of federal tech policy, taking out enemies silently and sequentially (though it would be kind of cool if it were).  It does mean that technology policymakers seem to be on the same page as Google as far as what access to the internet or the mobile web should look like.

Facebook reporting

New York Times tech blogger Nick Bilton tweeted an “off-the-record” quote from an unnamed Facebook official today.  The groundbreaking revelation: CEO Mark Zuckerberg scoffs at privacy.

The leak was ill-timed for Facebook.  As Wired’s coverage points out, the “official” nature of an off-the-record conversation means that it probably shouldn’t have been repeated:

“‘Off the record’ restricts the reporter from using the information the source is about to deliver,” reads NYU’s Journalism Handbook, in one definition of the phrase.  “If the reporter can confirm the information with another source who doesn’t insist on speaking off the record (whether that means he agreed to talking on the record, on background, or not for attribution), he can publish it.” “On background” usually means that information can be used, but can’t be attributed to a specific person.

In other words, the person making the quote might have thought the information was private, but the conversation was set up so that information was revealed.  Boy, wouldn’t that be instant karma.
In reality, the unnamed source apparently understood that he would be quoted – which is good.  In media relations as well as Facebook, nothing is really off-the-record.