Can User Reviews Account for Personal Definitions of "A Good Restaurant"?

I love to eat. When I travel, I’m always looking for the best –whatever it might be—a given town, city, or culture has to offer. For most of my life, I’ve done this by asking people what they recommend. Like most of us, however, I increasingly rely on services like Yelp and Google Places. This is particularly easy to do on my Droid phone: when searching for food via the “Places” app, it even lets me sort the results by either distance or rating.

What I’m finding, though, is that places with great reviews or high average ratings can turn out to be disappointing if the overall playing field is weak to begin with (ie: is not in NYC). Example: What passes for “great pizza” in New Berlin, NY might be hard to stomach if you’ve been eating at places like Lombardi’s for the past decade. Even in Hoboken, my new home that’s 10 minutes from Manhattan, I’m finding that the majority of the restaurants with “great” reviews really aren’t that great at all.

What's going on here? User generated reviews are supposed to be the holy grail of objectivity. So why are these review platforms leading me to restaurants that I don't think are all that great?

Let’s start by setting realistic expectations for user generated reviews: The concepts of “good” and “bad”, especially with restaurants, are very relative. So the idea that I (or anyone, for that matter) should allow my dining decisions to be influenced by the unvetted opinions of the masses can become somewhat of a stretch. These platforms might bubble up “the best,” but not in any universal sense of the word, and certainly not by my own tastes (for better or worse). And I’m also starting to see that user reviews can tend to champion venues with broad appeal but little depth – kind of like what network TV has been serving up for generations.

The thing is, I’m not looking for the culinary version of “Two and a Half Men.” I want “Mad Men”. I want reviews that can calibrate against my tastes, standards, and expectations. What I want for dinner is a piece of the long tail. When I’m out of my comfort zone --when I try something new-- I would like to have at least some reliable guidance that a restaurant really is the best that Wichita has to offer. Instead, what I get from Yelp and Google Places are a lot of recommendations from people whose only point of reference is Wichita.

I don’t expect every town I visit to have world-class dining. This is not what today’s post is about. I’m simply looking for a way to tailor reviews to my personal standards so that I get more value out of them. If Papa John’s happens to be a best a town can offer, then so be it. As long as I know that I’m not missing out on something better, I’ll enjoy it. On the flip side, if I don't know anything about a local specialty (like frogs legs, for example), I'll be more than happy to rely on local opinion to guide me to the best.

I see the current state of reviews as a blunt tool. The content is there, but the value is limited because I can't put that content in the context of the reviewers themselves. In the near future, I hope to see features that filter or weight reviews so that users can get more value from them. In broad strokes, here’s where I believe the state of the art is heading:
  1. Give weight to reviews from people in my extended social network who I (or others in my network) have defined as restaurant / food savvy, or who “like restaurants that I like”.
  2. Give weight to reviews from people out of my social network but who “like restaurants that I like” or who like restaurants similar to what I like. Such people can be identified via reviews, Facebook Like buttons, FourSquare comments, GetGlue checkins (for food related content - but not actual restaurants), and more. (Ex tempore thought: GetGlue should enable check-ins for what you're cooking in your own kitchen)
  3. Give weight to acknowledged micro experts. These are the kinds of people whose reviews you can subscribe to via Yelp. They may or may not be professional reviewers/cooks/restaurateurs. They may or may not have a blog.  Regardless, these “brands of one” have demonstrated a passion and an articulate set of opinions that resonate with me. We can see early instances of this with Google’s algorithms for weighting social media posts from Twitter and Facebook. I’d like to see something similar with the reviews in their Places pages.
The company that can solve the first two challenges will have won a big trophy, indeed. While I see the beginning of this sort of effort with TripAdvisor and Facebook’s “Cities I’ve Visited” app, I really believe it is Google who can take this one home. If they can get their GoogleMe concept out of the starting gate and then combine it with the structured (star-based) reviews they host and aggregate on their Places pages, we might have a winner.

What are your thoughts? Are you finding consistent value in reviews for restaurants? How about for hotels and services? Are reviews more or less helpful when you're away from home?

The Internet Gets Ready to Enter The Living Room (finally)

Each day it becomes more apparent that we are entering a new era of multiple connected Internet devices.  As the gates to the living room fall, there will be great opportunities for smart marketers...and great disruption for incumbent agencies, marketing service organizations and marketing executives.

Remember WebTV?  In 1998, after graduating business school, I was oozing with passion for the potential of Internet and wanted to introduce this to my father.  So I set him up with WebTV.  I remember hooking it up, selecting the proper dial in number, testing it and showing him how to use that clunky keyboard to navigate the screen.  Boy, we've come a long way since in the last 12 years.  Here are a few recent announcements that illustrate the fundamental change we are all about to experience.
  • Tablets - Apple launched iPad in April and there are at least 7 tablets due to launch between now and Q1 2011.  Users are fascinated with the iPad for both personal and business use.  They have innovated around the iPad.  For example, some use Velcro to attach the iPad to walls and objects everywhere - creating their own connected screen experience.  As the market has voted, Tablets are great media consumption devices.  Tablets and their well designed apps will also function as remote controls for connected TVs in the near future.
  • Apple and Google TV - The latest version of AppleTV, due out later this year, now integrates with NetFlix, streams pay per episode TV shows with Disney and Fox among other upgrades for $99, down from $299.  Rumors are strong that Google is working on an Internet TV service.  We should expect this to be a bit more open than Apple, run on a version of Android and provide access to Android apps.
  • TV OEMs - Connected TV offerings are hitting the market in time for the holidays.  Expect to see offerings from all major players including Samsung, LG and Sony.
There have been many challenges to bringing a good Net experience to the TV.  I remember discussing some of these during my interviews with Microsoft's Digital TV group in 1997.  I lack of standards, bandwidth as well as a well-funded battle for the user interface between hardware, software, cable and satellite companies.  We had a bunch of closed platforms seeing big dollar signs if they could be into the living room on a large scale.  Today, thanks to a convergence of enabling technologies, new gaming platforms and Steve Jobs, we will see a robust Net experience on existing TVs as well as new connected screens. Here are some of the reasons we will see the Net enter the living room on a large scale in the next 18-36 months:
  • Bandwidth - ever increasing, we now have ample bandwidth to stream TV,  movies, live sports, etc.  I really enjoyed watching multiple March Madness NCAA games on my iPhone and TV.
  • Cloud Computing - technology, security, storage, bandwidth and other factors have come together to enable large scale Cloud computing.  We don't need to store our media (DVDs, PCs, servers, etc.) in our homes any longer - there is ample space in the Cloud.  From our TVs, we'll also be able to access all media we've created (photos, videos, etc.) from cloud-based websites and applications.
  • Wii - gesture-based natural user interface for TV was introduced.  This educated many consumers about what was possible beyond the remote, keyboard and mouse.
  • Apple - with iTunes, Apple cracked the music business model question.  With iTouch and iPhone, they've delivered a more intuitive experience.  With Apps, they've developed a new (closed) eco-system that they are sure to leverage accross all device types from iPod Nano to wide screens in your home (iScreen).
  • Social Networking - Social now has the reach of mainstream media and enables shared media experiences.  Verizon FIOS has integrated social feeds into their interactive TV offering.
  • Media Business Models - the networks and content producers are figuring out how to make money on the Internet.  Steve Jobs has showed them the way, and, albeit slowly, they are all coming to the party.   
  • Demographics - the habits of the younger demos diverge significantly from the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations.  They will welcome a new, connected TV experience.
What are the marketing implications of the arrival of the Net in our living rooms?  Here are a few thoughts, but I am sure there are many more and I welcome all comments below.
  • Marketing Competitive Advantage Up For Grabs - for marketers, the proliferation of multiple connected devices including in the living room and home is both a threat and opportunity.  Marketing competitive advantage will be up for grabs.  Each device platform becomes a new demand channel.  Those marketers that invest in optimizing the user experience on all devices as well as the digital media/advertising for all devices will reap the rewards.  
  • Agencies Have to Change - it remains to be seen if large agencies will be able to free themselves from their existing business models and comfort levels and build effective competencies around this new paradigm.  
  • Brand Advertising Finally Moves to Net - There will be great opportunity to move brand advertising dollars to the Net.  Imagine the impact of rich, interactive digital ad units on your TV.  iAd for Apple TV?  Who will profit from this?  
Do you see it as I do?  All thoughts are welcome and appreciated.  Please comment below.

Mobile + Social = GeoSocial Strategies for Hotels

With Facebook’s recent release of its Places features and the growing enthusiasm of Foursquare in particular, mobile enabled Social Media, or GeoSocial, is coming into the mainstream. I’ve seen great articles lately regarding the power of mobile marketing vs traditional web, and I’d like to add to the discussion with a particular focus on hotels. In general, I see two broad GeoSocial strategies for hotels: Internal Strategies are most ideal for large resorts that have a variety of amenities and services onsite. External Strategies are more suitable for limited service hotels, especially those that belong to a brand with multiple sites.

Internal Strategies focus on being sure that the major GeoSocial platforms (Facebook Places, Foursquare…) have listed all of the possible locations where guests might congregate at your hotel or resort. This includes all restaurants, bars, golf, spa, rooftop areas, and more. Because many venues/places are user generated, you’ll usually find that most of your venues are already covered. An important first step is to claim each of these venues/places. And be sure to check for misspellings or other rogue venues that reference your hotel, but might not be “official” and therefore create unfocused traffic. As the GeoSocial services themselves become more sophisticated, you will be able to engage in dialog with your guests on more focused topics, like golf for example. At the same time, your guests (and their friends) will be better able to share, provide feedback, and more.

Connecting with your guests on these various fronts should drive social acquisition, which supports a variety of objectives (see here for a few ideas). First efforts in this area do not require a specific mobile application or website updates. However, as hotels evolve to more sophisticated strategies, mobile applications and websites will become a necessity.

External Strategies for GeoSocial seek to leverage a hotel’s role as a defined destination and an ambassador to a particular neighborhood, town, or city. For example, your guests will still need/want restaurants, bars, and business services, even if your hotel does not offer them itself. Your external strategy should seek to extend the concierge concept for guests who need help. The challenge here is that this strategy seeks to insert itself between the guest and the existing GeoSocial platforms and Review platforms like Yelp, Google, and others. This means that a mobile website or mobile app is almost certainly a necessity, which creates a higher barrier to entry for smaller or individual hotels. The payoff, especially for chains, however, is that guests will have a ubiquitous application to help them navigate from city to city, using the hotels as a base of operations – perfect for business travelers and road trips.

When thinking through mobile application development, consider functionality that will be most useful for the guest (hint: it’s probably not creating another reservation). Think through, too, how the application can leverage existing platforms – it is unlikely that anyone will get value out of a brand-specific platform for rating restaurants, for example – let the existing services like Yelp handle that for you. For a great example, see the WehoKey mobile app put out by the West Hollywood Visitors Bureau.

Also, note that internal and external strategies are not mutually exclusive. As an example, a resort can ensure that all of its onsite bars, restaurants, and services are represented while also including (perhaps for a price) local tour operators or other specialty service providers who don’t compete with the hotel directly. In fact, enabling local business to advertise on your mobile application could become a new revenue stream. And, as platforms continue to evolve, coupon options enabled by mobile could support per-person tracking of traffic driven from a hotel to local restaurants.

If that last example seems too far-out for you, consider where we were two years ago in regards to Facebook and mobile adoption. The pace of user adoption of these technologies, and the pace of the technological evolution itself, continues to quicken. It is essential to begin thinking now about these new opportunities if hotels are going to have any hope of gaining a competitive edge in the near future.

The iPad Impact

"What is unique about the iPad is they are truly the most tactile device, with a larger screen where you are actually moving the content with your hands, not a mouse or keyboard," she said. "This is a more immersive experience than the lean back of TV or the lean forward of the PC. You are part of the content."

Great quote from Catherine Spurway, Pointroll VP Advertising and Marketing.  I've been using an iPad for about a month now and my expectations and early hypotheses have been shattered.  When Apple announced the iPad I felt it would be mostly a media consumption device - a large iTouch.  I believed it would be hard to use for productivity based work apps.  I under valued this revolutionary product and the great opportunity for touch interfaces.

The iPad experience is so superior to the PC or Mac model.  I now refuse to travel with my Sony notebook (which is quite small).  I am typing this blog from my iPad while the person sitting next to me on this AA flight watches a movie on hers.  I brought my notebook on this business trip but haven't booted it up - just thinking about that makes me queasy!  For now on, the Sony will stay in its dock in my office.  I feel so liberated and know my travel life will be better, easier, more productive and more entertaining.  A wise colleague has a great blog called "Death of the Mouse".
 Through my recent iPad experience, I now understand the paradigm change to touch interfaces.  As the mouse dies, so will the hardware and software that work with mice and support the PC paradigm.

This is possible due to the beautiful Apple design and user experience plus cloud computing, easy low-cost apps, and improved and pervasive mobile broadband.  This iPad experience will only get better as more apps are released and integration between apps, device and cloud services improves.  There are a slew of new business productivity iPad apps hitting the market including apps for viewing, editing and saving Microsoft office files.  The NY Times reviewed a couple of these new apps today. 

The Puppy Effect
Many of us have experienced the magnet effect of walking a puppy in NYC (free tip for singles out there). Well, my new puppy is my iPad.  Everyone wants to see it, touch it, play with it.  I am having more conversations with strangers (do I really want/need that)?  And once someone tries it, they must have one.  I have seen this with a few friends already with their wives contacting me with questions so they can order the iPad for Fathers Day.
Naturally, being the digital marketing consultant and competitive freak that I am, I need to make a bunch of predictions about the winners and losers from the new iPad paradigm so here goes.

The Winners
  • Apple, naturally – the stock broke 270 today…all time high.
  • Smart advertisers (and agencies) who will test this platform before it reaches scale – test, measure, refine…
  • iPad app developers – the smart ones will develop “universal applications" (iPad, iPhone, etc.)
  • iPad accessory makers – the iPad needs a lot of accessories to connect to devices, to enjoy media, etc.
  • Desktop makers – much cheaper than laptops.  More will ask “do a really need a laptop and iPad?”.
  • Cloud services – as local storage goes away, demand for the cloud increases.
  • Digital Content producers – the iPad is the best digital content device ever.
The Losers
  • Apple, again - do we really need both iPad and iPhone?  There are better phones and networks.  Plus, there's little app synergy yet.  Time will tell...
  • Notebook makers – see above.
  • Software incumbents – see above.

So, what do you think?  Please comment below.

The Social Media ROI Framework- a Model for "I"

Challenge: Especially in times of lean budgets, many organizations are reacting to the emergence of Social Media by tacking responsibilities onto resources that are already fully utilized. The results aren’t surprising; these under-resourced social media efforts do not yield desirable outcomes in terms of awareness, revenue, or operational efficiencies.

Solution: Use today’s post to specify core use cases and to build a spreadsheet that provides empirical labor estimates. I recommend that you revisit this exercise periodically to fine tune current and forecasted resource needs, which in turn play a substantial role in defining the "I" of your social media ROI calculations.

Use Case 1- Read Content
  • If you haven’t yet invested in a social media monitoring tool, start with Google.
  • Count up the quantity of brand mentions that appear in a week. Break this out by major channels/categories like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, Flickr, news, and channels specific to your business model (Amazon product reviews, for example).
  • Make a “feels right” estimate for how much time will be needed to read a mention. Hint: It’s somewhere between 15 seconds and three minutes.
  • Multiply the time per mention by quantity of mentions.
Use Case 2- Respond to Content
  • On average, about what percent of mentions will your brand respond to? Again, try to break out by channel/category. For example, response rates to Flickr photos will be far lower than posts on your Facebook wall.
  • Multiply your percentage by the total quantity of mentions estimated in the prior use case to establish an estimated quantity of replies per week.
  • Like you did with “Read Content,” estimate time per response and multiply by total estimated responses.
Use Case 3- Create and Publish Reports
  • Estimate how much time per week will be needed to record mention and response metrics for your brand in a spreadsheet.
  • Another hint: Social media monitoring tools require no time to generate reporting, whereas the operational cost of “free” tools can begin to look daunting once the building spreadsheet reports is considered.
Use Case 4- Analyze Data
  • Allocate enough time per week to allow analysis. Analysis should be conducted by resources beyond those who participate in the first three use cases. Think along the lines of a 15 – 30 minute review per week by Marketing, Customer Service, and Sales executives, for example.
Use Case 5- Create and Publish Planned Content
  • “Planned Content” tends to skew more towards marketing and awareness than the responsive content mentioned above. This includes executing contests, content that ties in with other channels, and more. 
Use Case 6- Manage Fans and Profiles
  • Clicking “yes” to allow friends and fans to follow your brand doesn’t take that much time per week, but record it nonetheless to complete the picture. Over time, these small activities add up.
  • Bigger brands might need an hour per week. Smaller businesses should expect something more like 15 minutes a week.
Use Case 7- General Monitoring
  • It’s important to earmark time per week for pure browsing of mentions across different channels. Without allocating this time, organizations tend to gain tunnel vision around primary sources of content at the risk of missing out on emerging new blogs, for example, or the long tail of mentions across the internet at large.
Next Steps: After you’ve completed this exercise, you’ll have a first stake in the ground for how many hours per week your brand will need to support core social media efforts. To estimate labor cost, multiply by an estimated hourly rate. If appropriate, different hourly rates can be applied for specific use cases like Analyze Data.

Keep this data relevant: By necessity, most of the inputs (and therefore outputs) of this exercise are estimates. As time goes by, however, you’ll have real data coming in. On a regular basis, fine-tune the numbers for both volume and for time spent per use case. These refinements will bring more clarity to your current state and can support more accurate forecasting, too: Use trends to estimate when fans/followers/mentions will increase by 25%, 50%, and beyond and note how turning these dials affects overall resource demands. Along with other data inputs, your spreadsheet will become a budgeting and resourcing blueprint that justifies shifting resource costs from traditional areas like call centers and Marketing/PR to where the customers are: Social Media.

Are Your Facebook Like Buttons for Sale?

It’s been about a week since the F8 conference, and Facebook’s new Social Plugins, including their Like button, remain the biggest news in social media. One of the most important benefits of the Like button is that it enables brands to grow their fanbases without cannibalizing “traditional” website metrics, especially e-commerce revenue. And Facebook is happy, obviously, to dramatically increase their web presence and their level of profile data per user.

But I see already that the Like button could be doing something more. Here’s an example: I go to and select The London NYC (disclosure: they are a client). I click the “Like” button there, and here’s what appears on my Facebook wall:

“Aaron likes The London NYC on TripAdvisor.”

So what happened? TripAdvisor just got two links back to their website by piggybacking on the brand equity of The London NYC, one to TripAdvisor’s page for this hotel and the other to Yes, the hotel gets measurable value in directing people to its TripAdvisor page, but that traffic is substantially less valuable than traffic to the hotel’s own site.

And therein lies the opportunity: The Like button could create a new B2B market where Fans are the currency. In addition to driving traffic and/or revenue, could sites like TripAdvisor charge for driving Fans, aka: Likers? Look at your own website, could your Facebook Like buttons be for sale? Help me if I’ve missed this, but I don’t see anything in Facebook’s Terms of Service that forbids it.

We can ask this question across a spectrum of business models/relationships; below are three general categories, to help get the conversation started:
  • Keep the target of the Like button at its source: If implemented, would/should Like buttons on point to the Amazon product pages or to the manufacturers’ pages? I would imagine that many manufacturers would prefer Amazon because of the heavy revenue-generating benefits.
  • Point the Like button to a third party site: The existing Like buttons on could point to that movie on Netflix, for example, to help drive revenue. Studios might prefer this for movies like “Up in the Air,” which just sort of come and go. For franchises like Star Wars, however, the studios might prefer the long-term value of the fan and potential merchandising opportunities that can be realized by directing to their own website.
  • Point the Like button to the manufacturer/provider’s page: This is the TripAdvisor example. I could see many hotels at least considering paying to have that Like button point to their own websites. See below for what they would gain by doing so...
To further highlight the opportunities and threats of the Like button, let’s continue with the TripAdvisor / London NYC example: Replacing TripAdvisor's Facebook “Share This” buttons with the Facebook “Like” buttons might seem like an incremental shift, but it’s not. It’s a power grab; it’s a first (and commendably early) move in a fight for fans and for eyeballs that drive ad revenue. The hotel misses out in at least three ways:
  • Missed long-term benefits of having the potential guest in its social graph. When I click that Like button, I have NOT become a fan of the hotel. I am not in that hotel’s social graph, and their marketers are not really any closer to me than if I clicked nothing at all. (Side note: we’ll have to discuss “fan fragmentation” in another post – pretty soon I’ll have many different flavors of becoming a fan of the same hotel, for example, via different review sites)
  • Less potential traffic to its own site (bad for a variety of reasons, including diminished upsell opportunities)
  • An arguably diminished share of potential revenue
Would hotels be willing to pay to regain these opportunities if TripAdvisor were to point their Like buttons to the hotel sites? Would TripAdvisor be willing/able to price and maintain this service in a way that makes up for their opportunities related to more site traffic?

The possibilities here are big. The big Social Media prize for 2010 is to determine the value per Facebook Fan for a given brand (and Twitter fan, FourSquare fan, etc). The toolset is not fully evolved here, but WebTrends is getting close with Facebook and others are soon to follow. In the meantime, some focused spreadsheet-building and a holistic metrics approach can yield at least an estimated FB fan value. As that number becomes more clearly defined, Fans could become a new B2B currency of the web. The review and reseller sites would have to include in their pricing the overhead cost of maintaining hundreds or thousands of Like button destinations, but the potential is certainly there.

Yet despite the opportunities, I don’t see this transition happening overnight. Here's three reasons why: 1) Depending on the brand, value per fan metrics are fuzzy to non-existent; 2) supporting this market could require large-scale technical and sales efforts; and 3) no turnkey e-commerce model for this like with Google’s AdWords.

Look for small sites –probably bloggers- to take this on first, most likely as an ad-hoc revenue model along with AdWords and banner ads. These small sites can skirt around the above challenges with spreadsheets and a manageable volume of Like buttons.

I focused on hotels today, but keep in mind that this discussion can apply to a large swath of websites – pretty much any site that reviews or enables ecommerce. Where do you think this opportunity will be realized first?

A New Decade Finds Google Under Assault

In an earlier post, I referred to the prior decade as the "Google Decade".  For digital marketers, the big story last decade was paid search and organic SEO.  Google grew search market share every quarter and expanded their AdWords program to many sites and countries.  They also established a culture of innovation that resulted in numerous new products such as Content (display ads), Earth, Print, TV, Gmail, Analytics, Apps, etc.  Despite this new product rollout, Google still derives the vast majority of their revenue from AdWords, leaving them vulnerable to changing user behaviors and other advertising options.  After dominating the last decade and proving a great ability to innovate and execute, Google finds itself being attacked from all sides.  The recent news and announcements from Apple, Facebook and Microsoft tell the story.

  • iPhone - despite their closed approach, single carrier strategy and Google's aggressive Android push, the iPhone continues to gobble up smartphone market share.  For the quarter ending March 28, Apple sold 8.75 million iPhones, representing 131% unit growth year over year.  Users don't search as much on their iPhones as they do on their desktop or laptop PCs. iPhone customers, instead, depend on Apps to find and enjoy digital information and content. Apple's App ecosystem and superior user experience are key to the success of the iPhone.
  • iPad - 500,000 units have shipped in the first week or so.  This new device type, which runs on the mobile, iPhone OS, is changing the game in terms of how we consume and interact with digital media.
  • iAd - introduced on April 8, this program greatly benefits developers, publishers and advertisers. All iAds will be hosted and served by Apple. More about this can be found here and here.  
  • iTravel - on April 21, Apple filed a patent for iTravel - their travel-centric App for the iPhone and iPad. Apple is getting into the travel transaction (full user experience) business according to the filing.  This is consistent with their iAd strategy to allow advertisers to reach iPhone and iPad users without making them leave the App to respond to or buy from the iAd.
  • Implication for Google:  For the first time, Apple is now in the digital advertising business and they have the mobile OS and platform to grow their advertising market share at Google's expense.
  • 400 million active users - also, it was announced on March 19 that Facebook eclipsed Google and became the largest website in terms of page views.
  • Social Plug-ins - last week, Facebook announced their new distributed "Like" program which will significantly grow their rich user data and provide earned media value for commercial websites of all types.  This valuable profile data will yield greater advertising value (ROI) and quickly grow Facebook into a digital advertising powerhouse.
  • New Graph API and platform - this simpler platform is designed to add value for developers, users and commercial websites.  This should result in more "social graph" data for advertisers to target.
  • Implication for Google: Facebook is innovating quickly and solidifying itself as an extremely large and valuable advertising platform where precise targeting can occur - sounds similar to how we described Google 5 or 6 years ago.
  • Yahoo Search Partnership - this deal will allow the #2 and #3 player to join forces to battle Google.
  • Bing launch and share growth - for the first time in memory, a search engine besides Google gained search market share.  Microsoft has shown a great ability to innovate with Bing.
  • Facebook Partnership - last week, Facebook and Microsoft announced their social collaboration through the launch.  This site, which leverages Office, cloud computing and Facebook,  enables users to create and share Microsoft office documents with their Facebook friends.  
  • Implication for Google:  Microsoft has a war chest of cash and is spending it to gain market share in Search and cloud-based Apps - two strategic markets for Google.
Google is firing back:
  • Android mobile OS and Nexus One phone - launched on multiple carriers with numerous headset models including Google's Nexus One phone.  Early results suggest these phones are selling and allowing Google to gain smartphone market share, at the expense of RIM and Palm.  Android phones make "searching" the web a lot easier than iPhones.
  • Bazaarvoice partnership - Last week, an interesting partnership between Google and Bazaarvoice was announced.  Bazaarvoice provides private label user review technology to many major manufacturers and online retailers.  Google will index these reviews and aggregate user scores and include them in search results and sponsored search ads.  This exciting integration of earned media with paid media and search results will be interesting to watch.
  • ITA acquisition - just a rumor, but the strategic thinking behind this potential travel acquisition shows that Google is now willing to risk their AdWords revenue and compete with some of their largest advertisers (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) in order to dis-intermediate the travel supply chain and bring more efficiency to the travel market.
What's your take on my analysis?  Will Google withstand this attack and continue to grow at the levels we've all become accustomed to?  Please comment below and keep the conversation going.

    Apple's iAds - Further Analysis and Predictions

    After I wrote my last blog post about Apple's iAd mobile advertising program, I came across a link to Steve Jobs' 10 minute iAd introduction. I have to admit, I was blown away with the presentation and, while it confirmed many of my thoughts expressed in my last post, it also helped me crystallize the following implications and predictions for app developers/publishers, brand marketers and direct-response, transaction-based advertisers.

    iAd Value for App Developers & Content Publishers
    • New revenue stream for existing their apps through the 60/40 ad media revenue share with Apple.
    • New source of business for developers through a new iAd development service.
    • A better advertising channel to market their own Apps.
    • Development tools that are "very easy" to use, according to Mr. Jobs.
    • Simple & easy process - Apple sells and serves all iAds.
    iAd Value for Brand Marketers
    • Superior digital creative - iAds offer more interactivity than TV ads & more emotion than Display ads.
    • Better user experience - according to the presentation, navigating an iAd is "very simple".
    • Innovation value - brands can ride the "cool" and "innovative" halo from Apple.
    iAd Value for Direct Response & E-commerce Advertisers
    • This lies with Apple's growing option value.  I predict Apple will launch iStore which connects to merchant and travel back-ends via APIs and allow the user to transact via iTunes, just as they do currently with songs, movies, books and apps. Jobs mentioned a "shopping list" for Target - what does he mean?  Is this a new form of shopping cart that Apple is working on?
    • When will Apple launch iWord - a DR ad solution tied to App Store inquiry targeting?
    Net, net...the winners: Apple, developers and publishers, brand marketers.  And, the losers: Google, Microsoft, Adobe.  

    Do you agree?  Please share your comments.

    Apple's iAds - What it Means for App Developers, Brand and Direct Marketers

    Last week, while still basking in the after-glow of Duke's 4th national championship and nail-biting victory over Butler (which I witnessed with a good Duke buddy), Apple gathered developers to discuss iPhone OS 4.0 and iAds.  In this recent NY Times article about the launch of iAds, there were some interesting comments. Steve Jobs said, "People are not searching on a mobile device like they are on the desktop". A Google spokeswoman commented that Google mobile search is 5 times bigger than 2 years ago and that people are searching 30-50 times more often on smartphones than basic mobile phones. While these 3 statements may be true, they don't explain Apple's entry into advertising and their new iAd strategy.  While it's becoming more and more obvious that Apple and Google are locked into a long term battle, the questions this competition stimulates are more intriguing.  Will this battle lead to ever greater innovation that will leave Blackberry, Palm, Microsoft and Nokia in the dust?  What is Apple's strategy and rationale for entering the digital advertising business (this is more than just mobile advertising. think iPad)?  Should performance oriented marketers see value in iAds.  By analyzing iAds, one can conclude that it's all about supporting their app developer ecosystem.

    Let's take a look at Apple's iAds strategy.  Apple's mission is to make the iPhone OS the de-facto standard in mobile computing.  In keeping with their past, and in direct contrast to Google, Apple is winning with a closed approach due to their ability to deliver superior user experiences for consumers and, as importantly, developers.  iAds is consistent with these core principles.

    ·         By focusing the service on developer benefits, Apple will keep the apps flowing.  Combine this with Apples's app approval process and Apple should continue drive comp advantage of their app platform which will keep users migrating to iPhone, iPad, etc.
    ·         iAds allow app developers to have a revenue model for free apps and to keep paid app pricing down.  Developers/publishers will get 60% of ad revenue, Apple 40%.
    ·         Jobs believes iAds will deliver "engaging and emotive" experiences to users.  His relentless focus on the iAd user experience fits with their overall design approach and superior user experience.
    ·         iAds also take aims on Abode by pushing HTML5 over Flash for iAd development.  This is consistent with Apples past decisions to block Flash on the iPod, iPhone and now iPad.  Offering superior ad development tools, Apples hopes to diminish Abode's installed base asset.
    ·         It's a closed ad system that locks out Google mobile ads delivered through Google's recently acquired mobile network, AdMob.
    ·         iAds leverages the acquisition of Quattro whose core competency is around mobile display ads (qualitative), not quantitative ads tied to rich search or user data. The iAds announcement could have big implications for existing mobile advertising providers and networks such as AdMob and Millenial Media, which have built businesses on serving ads into iPhone applications.

    iAds will not allow click offs to transactional websites.  Clicking through on iAds will launch the advertiser content, which essentially takes the form of mini branded applications in their own right, featuring video, games, and other interactive content.  By leveraging it's core competencies, strategy and Quattro acquisition, Apple appears to be catering primarily to brand marketers.  The focus on emotion is very different than Google's approach which is centered on delivering simple solutions for quantitative focused, direct response advertisers. iAds also won't solve the App proliferation problem for developers or users.  Hopefully Apple will now turn it's focus on building a better App search engine/directory coupled with direct response sponsored ads which would provide value to users, developers and direct response marketers.  I still have many questions about iAds.  Please help me answer the following questions by commenting below.

    ·         Will iAds be able to host shopping carts and travel booking engines?
    ·         Will ad serving, management, tracking and optimization tools work with iAds?
    ·         Will digital marketers be able to “close the loop”?
    ·         Should direct response advertisers test iAds or just "wait and see"?  

      A Post That's Not (really) About the iPad

      In choosing “Digital Street Smarts” as the name of our blog, Jack and I wanted to emphasize that we’ll be providing thoughts on social media, mobile, and digital marketing from a practical, “lived it,” point of view. This kind of work ethic led me to unexpected places this week when I took a short vacation to my parents’ house so that they could spend some quality time with the grandkids. It was good to get my head out of my laptop (and phone), and I found myself making note of events that really brought to life all of the stats and trends that we read/write about on a daily basis. Stepping back like this allowed me to focus on real-life social media + mobile experiences for a few days. Here's what I saw...

      My 60-ish Year Old Dad: Dad is a champion of traditional media consumption. In addition to going through a new novel and several magazines each week, he reads an actual local newspaper every night while simultaneously watching movies/sitcoms/news on TV. On my first night there, he said to me “If this isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is,” and showed me the local newspaper. It was a thin, flimsy thing. I’ve seen junk mail that’s thicker. We all know that newspapers are going out of business, but to see a newspaper that serves a metro area of over one million people in such a weakened state really hit me. I could almost hear it gasping for breath over the background noise of the TV...

      My 22 Year-old Sister: Like most people her age, my “baby” sister silently texts to friends constantly, even as she engages in conversations that are right there in the room with her. No surprises there. The poignant moment came at night however, when she passed out on the family couch (she had generously given up her old room so that my kids would have a quite place to nap and sleep at night). For four nights in a row, my sister literally fell asleep with her phone in her hand. In the same way that she dozed in and out of late night conversations with her siblings who were in the room with her, she also talked to friends via text – that’s how fundamental her phone is to her life experiences.

      My Three Year Old Son:  My older son just turned three and has been spending increasing amounts of time online. It has recently evolved from simply watching videos (robots or construction videos on YouTube) to more interactive content related to what he watches on TV (Sesame Street and Sid The Science Kid). At first, he needed more time than I expected to learn how to use the trackpad and mouse. As intuitive as we think these devices are, the truth is that using a mouse is an unnatural and learned behavior. He repeatedly reached out to touch the screen when we first started using my laptop and still occasionally does so. His behavior certainly makes sense and is probably influenced by his use of my Droid phone.

      The part where I talk about the iPad: So where's all of this lead? In light of the iPad, I’ve been talking a lot with colleagues about the death of purpose-specific hardware, and you can easily see how a tablet device would serve each of the above users extremely well (and upend a few business models in the process). Today’s post was initially about the iPad device, but instead, I want to make this point: You can’t learn everything from a book. Or even an ebook. Or even from As our relationships with our technologies become ever more intimate, remember that some of the best learning re: media/social media/mobile/internet can occur right under our noses. Our modern lives play out in a rainforest that is rich with technology; playing Jane Goodall for a few days and getting in the weeds can really bring to life and add context to all of those statistics and numbers.

      Starting tomorrow, we'll be hit with another deluge of iPad related announcements and commentary. As you wade through that, remember this: Steve Jobs allegedly delayed development of the iPad for several years because the experiences (via the larger iTunes ecosystem) were not yet in place. Jobs knew that if he couldn't replace Dad's newspaper, the iPad was just another thing.

      We can all learn from this. Social Media is not about the thing (the platform or the device) itself. It is about enabling and improving experiences. I encourage you to get in the weeds and make some observations of your own and to think about towards where those signposts are pointing. Share in the comments!

      Mobile Adoption Changes the Revenue Model of TVs in Hotels and Resorts

      Today’s post looks at a major effect that mobile adoption has had within hotels and resorts....
      • The Trend: Communication and content-serving technologies are on the brink of total ubiquity and portability. We’ve covered this several times in this blog -- basically everyone will have a smartphone within five years and everyone who would want a laptop already has one. (See this report if you require convincing of this point.)
      • The Effect: Hotels have been cut out as middlemen that provide access to content and communication. Such services are now provided directly to customers via wi-fi internet (for now) and mobile.
      • The Result: Hotels can no longer expect meaningful revenue streams from delivering or providing access to content and communication. Not even for internet access.
      Here’s a real-life example: Several resorts will need to replace their ageing in-room televisions within the next 24 months. Unlike in the past, however, the new TVs will have almost no ROI if traditional models are pursued. Why? Because the bottom has fallen out of video on demand revenues. Nobody watches video on demand anymore, not even pornography, because everything that the guests want is already available for “free” via internet or DVDs that guests bring along and access via laptops.

      The natural progression from dwindling VOD (video on demand) revenues was to deploy and charge for internet access. Customers demanded this service, and it certainly made sense from a long-term revenue perspective, but mobile is already siphoning off this stream, too. The current generation of mobile phones operate as internet access devices in their own right and enable tethering for laptop internet access, too. As with land-line telephones and TV content, hotels are about to be cut out of the “wi-fi as revenue stream," too.

      But all is not lost. Here’s the opportunity: Hotels must define new ways to curate and access content for the specific hotel/resort experience. Specifically, TVs and their programming need to be rethought from the ground up to act as tools that enhance guests’ exploration and sharing of the resort (here are a few ideas from a mobile point of view). TVs will remain very valuable to guests (for now) because they improve the viewing experience from guests’ phones and laptops. That is, they improve guests' ability to view their own content, along with anything of interest via the internet or created for exploring the resort. Special thought should be given to helping guests to connect their devices to TVs and to how guests will be interacting with content. The days of simply viewing content are coming to an end, and resort-specific programming should be proactive on this front.

      In the end, TVs will still generate revenue but via different services like facilitating service orders, offering games, and promoting the hotel through social media, as opposed to watching first run movies and some content that just isn't appropriate for home or office.

      Search Fragmentation is Coming - Be Prepared to Capitalize.

      This week, a Google representative declared "in three years time, desktops will be irrelevant".  In December, Morgan Stanley stated "more users will likely connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within five years".   According to Facebook now has more users than Yahoo.  This rapid increase in mobile and social screen time is changing user behavior and creating new types of searches - apps, friends,  music, photos, etc.  These changes will fragment new search queries away from Google and other universal search engines.  Google will continue to dominate desktop-based searching, but new smartphone and social searching will fragment to a host of players including Apple, Google and new companies.  These new entrants, including Twitter, have an opportunity to adopt Google-like PPC ad model to complement search behavior on their services. Some will simply copy Google and design an even better mouse-trap and APIs for ad/bid mgmt. Digital marketers need to follow these trends, begin testing and measuring new models and start gaining insights, revenue, profit and, most importantly, a marketing competitive advantage.

      On this blog, I've labeled the last decade "The Google Decade".  Despite predictions of vertical search and resultant search fragmentation, it never materialized. In 2005, I remember search pundits predicting huge growth for vertical travel search. We have seen the emergence of meta-search sites like Kayak, but have also seen failures such as Yahoo's Farechase.  Vertical search never came to pass as Google added incremental features to their popular search service and creating Universal Search - local, images, blogs, maps, real-time Tweets (recently), etc.  For practical matters, Google's ground-breaking business, AdWords, only faced one competitor during the decade - Yahoo's Overture.  It's nice to be a fast-follower.  But, Google really focused on user experience and having the best search experience before they even added a revenue model through AdWords.  This is precisely the strategy of Facebook, Twitter and others.

      Google and Apple are in an epic battle for smartphone market share that will continue through this decade.  Google hasn't faced competition like this since the early days with Overture.  Based on this chart, both Android (Google mobile OS) and Apple are gaining smartphone market share and, most probably, will win.  As I spoke about in my January post, Apple is focused on a new user experience and Internet navigation model that is not centered around Google search. Also, Google's launch into Social through Buzz has been challenging and could contribute to a loss of trust and Google's looming privacy bubble this decade.  So, will these trends and new user behaviors lead to the search fragmentation others have been predicting years ago?

      Let's look at some predictions of things to come, how this will affect the way we search for things and how advertisers can capitalize on these changes.  
      • Apple iWords - In a recent blog post, I wrote about the proliferation of mobile Apps.  I posited that on Apple smartphones, we are being trained to navigate the web through apps and Apple's App Store.  In fact, the screen area dedicated to search in a fraction of what you see on a typical PC browser.  Just like Google trained us to use Search to navigate the Net through a PC, Apple is training us to use their storefronts. Apple's PPC solution will tie relevant search ads to app searches. I am sure their are plenty of App developers and businesses that would love to reach this highly targeted user base.
      • Twitter Search - Rumors abound that Twitter is about to launch a PPC model to compliment an improved Twitter search experience. This could work and provide a revenue model that doesn't interfere with the micro-blogging experience.
      • Facebook Advertising - Facebook has already launched a Google-like self-service, auction-based advertising service.  While the user feedback has been bumpy, the hyper-targeting opportunity remains.  Facebook has wisely exposed their API allowing bid-mgmt and attribution tools to add Facebook to their systems.  It is not a stretch to see Facebook improving their on-site search experience and adding these targeted ads alongside the search results.
      • Digital media mgmt technology will add new PPC platforms and optimize accordingly using holistic attribution tracking, measurement and optimization.
      How should digital marketers prepare for these changes to come?  Let's look at a few recommendations. 
      • Ramp up your knowledge about mobile, social, apps, etc.  Talk to experts, immerse yourself, read blogs.
      • Launch Social strategy.  Target social search PPC at your target social profile based monitoring, listening as well as technographic and socialgraphic research.
      • Launch Mobile strategy. How will users find your company from their mobile device?  What will the experience be like?
      • Utilize a 3-pronged media management approach for Owned, Earned and Purchased media. Use media attribution and optimization.
      • Test, measure and learn from everything.
      What do you think about this blog?  Do you agree with my take on how this will upfold?  I don't have a crystal ball - just enough experience to have a point of view.  This is a process of collective learning where we all benefit through dialogue and debate.  Please add your comments below.  Thank you.

      Industry Analysis: Hotel Review Sites and Social Media

      On behalf of hospitality clients, I’ve been digging into how well social monitoring tools cover hotel review sites, including Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, Kayak/Travelpost, Hotwire, TripAdvisor,, and a few others. These sites are important channels by which hoteliers can sell their inventory. They also, of course, are a source of guest reviews and ratings that are very valuable to guests and hoteliers alike – it’s the kind of consumer feedback that other industries must work hard to find or cultivate. Needless to say, review site content is must-have for hotels when we talk about social media. Plus, the potential for groundswell transformations within hospitality is significant because of the industry’s native focus on consumer feedback.

      Nearly all of the review sites (also known as “TPIs” and “OTAs” in hospitality parlance) make it very challenging for monitoring tools to pick up their content. The result is that, for hotels and resorts, “social media” remains sadly fragmented between the reviews and ratings on these important sites and the other 95% of the internet. I’ve talked recently with over a dozen social monitoring providers: Small and midsized monitoring platforms simply don’t have this content, and enterprise class platforms have to deploy a roomful of humans to keep the content flowing. Even the few industry specialists who seem to have cracked this nut still silo “reviews” from “social media” from the user-interface level on down. In fact, the industry does not yet seem to be considering the review sites as social networking platforms, and I think that’s part of the problem.

      Sadly, this current state inhibits the development of social media best practices at hotels and resorts, but it is just as damaging to the review sites as well. So today’s post is an open message to the hotel review/TPI/OTA sites…

      For your own sake, open your content up to social monitoring tools now. You have little to lose and much to gain.

      1: The market needs independent third-party review platforms. Reviews on a hotel website will always be held with a certain amount of suspicion by the public. TPIs provide a valuable service to consumers because the content is crowdsourced, passive, and unbiased.  And, the ability to compare the reviews of multiple hotels (from different brands) at a single site provides a lot of value to guests. Even as an increasing quantity of guests book their reservations property-direct, these two benefits remain firm.

      2: Current business models are not compromised by monitoring tools. Remember that monitoring tools are for the hotels and brands, not the guests. Even the most bare-bones monitoring services are about $99/property/month – and they provide no real value to guests. Guests will continue to arrive at review websites for reading, commenting, booking, and clicking on banner ads.

      3: Monitoring tools make review data more useful to hotels and, in turn, guests: Because ratings/reviews are fragmented across many review sites (including local/niche sites), it’s a challenge for hoteliers to find and react to users’ comments in a timely manner. Monitoring tools would enable all reviews, regardless of source, to be processed in a single place. The resultant increased response rate from hoteliers would add vitality and relevance to a given review site, resulting in greater end-user traffic.

      4: You can’t hold onto user-generated content forever: There are significant trends at play that guarantee that reviews and ratings will be sprung from the review sights sooner rather than later. Consider Google Profiles, Disqus (and other comment communities), and the new Facebook APIs. Consider, too, the ever-growing sources of organic feedback – the real “social media” stuff that most other markets have to deal with. Review sites/TPIs/OTAs can act now to establish positive relationships within the community and to influence the future of “review portability.” Or, they can lose their current head start in the social media revolution and become victims.

      In the near future, savvy hotel brands will be willing to entertain syndication deals that bring review sites’ unbiased content to the branded hotel sites, perhaps along with greater reporting insights. Holding onto the old models will only hurt review sites in the long run. The winner will be the first to make its content universally available to hoteliers via social monitoring toolkits, including third-party authoring tools like HootSuite, so that hoteliers gain greater reporting insights and can more easily interact with the reviews.

      Am I missing something in today’s post? Is there an angle of the business model that I’m not giving enough weight? Comment. Contact me. Let’s discuss. This is an important issue for the industry as a whole…

      Do Not Curb Your Enthusiasts

      While one of the most-cited benefits of social monitoring tools is “reputation management,” it’s far from the whole story in social media. For starters, “reputation management” includes a lot of defense and reaction. How can we use the same toolset to go on the offensive? To create opportunities? To drive revenue?

      We have been able to create success for our clients by using social monitoring tools to find smaller and more focused online communities – that is, enthusiasts. One of the cornerstones of good social media strategy is to find your target market segment, including your enthusiasts, and to take the conversation to where they already are. Well, that’s easier said than done for certain brands and products. Example: we have a current B2B client that has operated successfully for decades outside of the public view by working with various resellers and other third parties. They do not engage in traditional marketing beyond their website, and their product line is utilitarian enough that it does not generate mainstream end-user enthusiasm. Their quantity of mentions in the last six months, anywhere on the web, is zero.

      So you can understand the challenges we’ve faced, from a social media point of view, on behalf of this client. Simple brand monitoring (the first step in reputation management) did not help us to find current and potential enthusiasts. Instead, we’ve searched for communities built around the activities supported by the product. It takes longer to sift through the noise, but the end result is that we’ve been able to discover small communities that are highly qualified for potential purchase. Engaging with the moderators of these communities has lead to positive product reviews, which in turn generate very positive results: significant spikes in web traffic from three different communities with bounce rates under 1%. To put that in perspective, here’s a quote from Avinash Kaushik (see step #3)

      My own personal observation is that it is really hard to get a bounce rate under 20%, anything over 35% is cause for concern, 50% (above) is worrying.

      Really puts the 1% bounce rate in perspective, right? It means that we are driving very highly qualified traffic for this client and building relationships with communities that absolutely want to hear from us. Will we be able to repeat these kinds of numbers for every client? We’ll work hard to try, but what matters more, however, is that we are defining how we measure success and learning to make the most of our social media toolkit. Once discovered and engaged, it is not a long stretch to convert super-qualified audiences like these to actual dollars, actionable feedback, and more.

      Quick sidenote: I want to point out that this client hadn’t done anything “wrong” in the world of social media and e-commerce. Rather, their business model and strong industry relationships created a situation that had not traditionally needed this kind of support to grow. I mention them today because they present a somewhat unique, almost laboratory-like, case study on how social media can support a variety of business models and objectives.

      Although our B2B client is just getting started in social, today’s lesson is just as applicable to bigger brands. Community and reputation managers must use their toolkits to look for conversations about the hobby/lifestyle/problem-to-be-solved in general. Looking for specific brand mentions is not enough. Cast a wider net and look a little deeper. Like us, I’m confident that you’ll find many untapped enthusiasts that want to hear from you and get greater value out of your social efforts in the process.

      Will Twitter Become the AM Radio of Social Media?

      David Pogue had a user-friendly article on Google Buzz yesterday. His natural first comparison was with Twitter, which he described as very user-friendly because it has so few features. I agree, even if he made the apparently willful omissions of related services like TwitPic or TweetDeck, for example, when stating that you cannot upload photos or filter Twitter content. I liked David’s review of Buzz;  highlights include: functionality and usage is inconsistent and confusing, even while features like geolocation are awesome fundamentally important in a world that is shifting to mobile. He then concludes with this statement…

      Buzz probably won’t make much of a dent in Facebook or Twitter or FriendFeed. But… because it has powerful and flexible features and because millions of Gmail members can get in with a single click, Buzz will have its own following…

      I disagree. Twitter, in particular, I think is doomed to irrelevance. The combination of its weakening adoption curve, substantially smaller user base, and limited feature set will almost certainly relegate Twitter to obscurity in the next few years. I can explain by sharing some of my impressions regarding Google Buzz:
      • Google’s never been the best-looking kid in the room, just the smartest. I think looks do matter in this case, however; the labyrinthine UI isn’t exactly going to help adoption.
      • The feature set, including threaded conversations, location recommendations, auto-recommended friends, and more is a bit overwhelming, too.
      • I’d like to get more mileage out of Buzz, but message parity across networks matters to me (lest something like this should occur. Especially for business interests, I need to be able to selectively simulpost to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and –preferably– Buzz.
      The fact that Google are making their API available will address these current weaknesses, just as it did for Twitter. I’m sure players like TweetDeck and HootSuite cannot wait to bring Buzz into their service offering. When they do, the feature set will become more manageable. Google users will be able to use the service in Twitter-like contexts, but with the notably added benefit of geolocation and tie-in with Google's ever-growing set of services (and non-Google services like Flickr, too). Especially with the understanding that mobile internet usage will become more common than traditional internet usage in the next five years, I don’t see how Twitter can compete. Also very important: you can use more than 140 characters if you want.

      Now let’s look at the numbers. Twitter is tough to measure because of substantial usage off of its website, but these are pretty clear metrics:
      • Adoption rates are decreasing and almost leveling off at around 25 million total users, and Twitter has a despairing retention rate, but to be fair…
      • Usage metrics are becoming deeper in terms of quantity of tweets and following/followed metrics per account
      Compare that with Gmail’s 146 million monthly users and the assumption that the Buzz service will evolve quickly via both Google and third party apps. It seems clear to me: Google’s connected services and substantially greater mass will simply swallow up Twitter over time. Even if Twitter’s core user base is getting more value out of the platform, I just don’t see how Twitter can compete with Google and/or Facebook when they now offer: a) the same features, b) along with other features, and c) an enormous lead in user base. Maybe by a tie-in with FourSquare would save Twitter? Because those guys are going to be in trouble, too, as Buzz matures and takes its place in mainstream social media and mobile usage.

      So let’s put all of this in terms of strategy. Bottom line: Beware of anyone peddling a “Twitter” or other platform-specific strategy. Context, not platform, is what really matters. This is especially true as services like Buzz (and Facebook) enable sharing in a variety of contexts, now including microblogging.

      What do you think? Will Twitter fight its way out of the corner or is it doomed to become the AM radio of the social world? Will these trends help to evolve social media strategy beyond the platform-specifc?

      More on Kevin Smith and Southwest

      While talking about Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines with the client who turned me on to the story, we realized that this really is an emerging case study for social media. In my earlier post, I had mentioned that the issue was as much about a communication failure between Southwest employees as it was about any purported “anti-fat” policy. As the story progresses, however, I see Southwest continuing to fail in the world of customer relations via social media. Get this- they tried to apologize to Kevin, via Twitter, by offering him their standard $100 voucher.

      Was there any basic social media training for the customer support team at Southwest? Regardless of what we think of his celebrity (or lack thereof) in mainstream media, the guy has well beyond one million followers on Twitter. His initial rant was via Twitter, so it is not a big leap to expect someone to check on this –and therefore gauge his level of potential influence-- before making that standard (and somewhat insulting) $100 voucher.

      Key takeaway: SOPs for handling customer complaints should attempt to assess the customer’s level of influence. This does NOT mean that the everyday people should get lesser service. It DOES mean that the organization should recognize when it has an impending customer service issue AND PR issue and react accordingly.

      As if that first move were not enough, Southwest then attempted to tell their side of the story via their blog. Yikes. It’s hard for me to imagine a response that could be much worse. Do they understand that they’re dealing with an emotional issue in a media ecosystem uniquely designed to convey emotional content? Not only that, I’m sure their blog does not have the same kind of dedicated traffic as Kevin’s Twitter followers. Even if their apology were right on the money, Southwest’s bullhorn isn’t big enough.

      My colleague and I were trying to imagine ourselves in the (painful) shoes of Southwest’s PR team right now. The truth is, however, that Southwest has it pretty easy in this scenario. Kevin Smith is obviously upset, he was inconvenienced and embarrassed, but he also has the presentation of a funny and somewhat humble guy. To show what a good sport he is, he even gave them an easy out via Twitter…

      Hey @SouthwestAir: you bring that same row of seats to the DailyShow, and I'll sit in 'em for all to see on TV. If I don't fit, I'll donate $10k to charity of your choice. But when I do (& buckle the belt as well)? 1) You admit you lied. 2) Change your policy, or at least re-train your staff to be a lot more human & a lot less corporate when they pull a poor girl off the plane & shame her.

      What a great idea! Southwest gets a forum that’s big enough for their apology and corrective actions to be heard and Kevin gets to stop sounding like an irate fat guy. Only problem is that Southwest should have come up with this idea, not the wounded party. And, no matter what, they should make a charitable donation to something selected by Kevin. I can’t resist making a few PR recommendations here: Southwest should show up on the Daily Show with a hilariously small chair for Kevin to try and fit into. You know, have a laugh, try to focus on the miscommunication and less on the “anti-fat” policy. As I mentioned in my previous post, Southwest must take this opportunity to exam their processes - the issue is not just about the policy itself.

      I’m interested in what you think. Did Southwest handle Kevin’s twitter-transmitted rant correctly? Did they miss other opportunities? What else can we learn from this?

      Social Media Accelerates Opportunities for Improvement

      Director Kevin Smith was deemed too fat to fly on a Southwest airlines flight this weekend. While famous in certain circles, he was on the brink of becoming yet another anonymous customer service casualty until he described his ordeal to his 1.2 million Twitter followers. This in turn generated traditional media coverage and a spike in is follower base to 1.6 million. Southwest thought Kevin was too big to fly? Well now they have a really big problem on their hands.

      Southwest says they have had the same “customer of size” policy (I prefer the term “obese customer” – I mean, we all have a “size”, right?) for nearly twenty-five years. Is their policy fair? In this case, it doesn’t even matter. The problem isn’t the policy, it’s a breakdown in Southwest’s internal communications that got Kevin so upset. An organizational communication failure at Southwest became a customer service issue and its now been exposed to over a million people directly and many millions more through traditional media.

      According to his own story, Kevin actually had THREE seats purchased (his family was going to travel with him, etc -- see the whole story using the above link) but plans changed and he was able to leave town on an earlier flight that had only one seat available. Again, according to his story, he explained the situation to the staff at the check-in desk, who assured him that there would not be an issue with a large man like Kevin taking the one seat. I’m guessing that no one at that desk thought to talk with the pilot of the plane, however. Whether justified or not, the pilot made a decision that was in direct contradiction to what Kevin had been promised moments earlier. Although Kevin is clearly a big guy, it seems that Southwest allowed its own policy to be broken by allowing Kevin (who had already bought many tickets) onto a different flight with one seat.

      Internally, Southwest failed to consistently enforce/make exceptions to its policy. Although Kevin was in face-to-face communications during his ordeal, I think most of us go through something very similar almost every time we pick up the phone for customer service: We get bounced around from one person to the next without any one of them having legitimate context or history of our customer service issue. I had a similar situation with Verizon FIOS a few months back that caused me to drop their service entirely.

      Social media creates an environment where only excellent organizations can thrive. And, in this case, a weakness in how Southwest handles situations like these was exposed. They tried to placate and apologize to Kevin, but with little success.  So what’s Southwest supposed to do? “Learn”, is my advice. In the context of social media, many organizations rightfully fear this exact kind of situation. But one of the understated benefits of the environment is that bringing these issues to the surface creates opportunities for improvement. This is an opportunity for Southwest to improve and undoubtedly make many other passengers (even those without 1.6 million twitter followers) happier with their service.

      I’ve been reading that certain people and groups, like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance will make the issue discriminatory one, but remember that the point of failure was first and foremost a procedural one. As the PR dust settles around this, I hope that Southwest are able to look at the issue for what it was and make the necessary adjustments.

      Thinking beyond reservations: Mobile, Social, and Hospitality (Part 2)

      In my previous post, I shared a rough sketch of my ideal mobile application for resorts – it’s much more than booking a reservation! Today, let’s talk about how social media can bring potential guests closer to the live experience of a resort by enabling real-time descriptions from friends and family.

      Why is real time important? Because sharing experiences while they are fresh results in more descriptive –more authentic-- content. Compare real time to how vacation experiences are usually shared: A guest returns from vacation… and a few days later connects his camera to his laptop… and then uploads photos to Flickr or Facebook… The context is limited. The feeling of being at the resort is not conveyed. The whole thing is stale as soon as it’s published and –importantly- the impression made by that content cannot be measured. There are exceptions if the guest labels his vacation with the name of the resort and/or also posts to a Facebook fan page, for example, but it’s far from ideal.

      That’s why designing the killer resort app is so important: with all of those great features, guests are given incentive to keep their devices on-hand and to share in real time. While discovering super local-ratings for the various beach areas, they can also share of-the-moment feelings of excitement, bliss, relaxation, and happiness with their immediate connections. Aside from actually teleporting a potential guest to the resort for 10 minutes and then yanking them back to their cubicle at work, I cannot think of a more emotionally direct way to market a resort experience. It sounds obvious, but a more authentic description of a guest experience at a resort is equally a more authentic description of the experience that the resort is offering for sale.

      In addition to the features I described previously, the well designed mobile resort app would include easy-to-use options for creating and sharing content with other onsite guests and with traditional social circles like those on Facebook. Some suggestions for content include:
      • A short video that is pre-timed to be a max of 20 seconds and then uploaded to a pre-specified page
      • A micro blog that helps to communicate with other guests and existing social circles. (Perhaps Twitter with auto-hashtag and list functions?)
      • Physical signs on the resort that encourage guests to “share a picture”. These signs could easily transmit via bluetooth to mobile devices...
      In turn, ideas like these create a real opportunity for
      • User-generated content (including photos, videos, status updates, and tweets) to always be branded for the resort, which in turn further promotes the resort through organic search (assumes guest opt-in, of course)
      • Dedicated landing pages for guest-generated content that enables conversion tracking, and in turn ROI reporting
      • A content-rich platform that would support any number of contests, games, and other interactive campaigns
      I’m obviously thinking out loud here and purposefully giving a light touch to the details (technology, privacy concerns..), but hey- that’s what blogs are for. Well designed functionality in this area would be like a rocket booster for a resort’s emerging social networking strategies. It would enable guests/other vacationers/back-home friends to share in real time their rich experiences related to very specific resort amenities. Think about how much more viral that content would be vs. the traditional “I had a great stay!” feedback that I often see on hotel fan pages. As an added bonus, publishing this content would incentivize management to resolve published issues quickly. Preparing a resort to process that kind of feedback is for another post, however….

      As always, interested in your thoughts. What's your take on how to bring immediacy to the social efforts of resorts or similar destinations?

      Got an iPhone what? Proliferation of apps presents a marketing challenge.

      "Build it and they will come” won’t work for app marketing any longer. A “Street Smart” app marketing plan is what is needed.  Much of the focus in the past two years has been on rushing to develop an app, get it approved by Apple and tweaking it to be more visible in Apple’s App Store.  But, the sheer numbers of Apps makes this approach futile.  Apple has 100k+ apps, Android 30k+ and both are growing by huge numbers monthly.  The number of apps downloaded in U.S. up 9X in 2 years according to Strategy Analytics.  Apple’s new iPad has over 1,000 "multi-touch" sensors creating further app development opportunities. This "app soup" creates the classic dilemma - how does one break thru the clutter?  Experienced marketers have dealt with this clutter problem before, but how you handle it in the social world we now live in requires new digital street smarts.

      Just why are there so many apps?  We live in rare times.  We are witnessing the convergence of many significant trends and paradigms.
      • Smartphone adoption is soaring. In December’s Mobile Internet Report, Morgan Stanley stated "Regarding the pace of change, we believe more users will likely connect to the Internet via mobile devices [smart phones] than desktop PCs within five years." Apple and Google’s Android platform competition that is yielding more innovation and user value.  
      • The rise of social networking has given consumers a strong voice and helped to move the technology adoption from consumers to businesses versus the opposite that we have experienced over the last few decades.  
      • The wide adoption of business models that leverage Cloud computing is enabling a mobile society and un-tethering users from their desktop PCs. 
      • Mobile bandwidth continues to improve (3G) with 4G expected within the next 12-24 months.
      • Developers are rushing to develop Apps due to better and simpler tools and financial rewards.  Expect this to continue now that iPad and associated developer tools (new SDK) has been announced. Finally, users are showing a willingness to pay for apps due to the enhanced user experiences (simplicity), instant gratification and portability. U.S. apps revenue increased 60% in 2009 with a CAGR of 22% between 2008-2013 according to Strategy Analytics.  But, according to a survey by, while most developers focus primarily on [iTunes] App Store gaming strategies, they have limited understanding of other marketing tactics and channels.

      Digital marketers now have an opportunity to think strategically and develop a holistic, app marketing plan that leverages their assets and the new socially interconnected, digital world we now enjoy.  Always remember that a cornerstone for any mobile or app marketing plan is having a solid social networking strategy. Here’s a check list for marketers to consider when developing their plan. 
      • Identify your target market and aim app at the right customers.  Is your app meeting an unmet need or unmet want?  Is the need/want latent?  Understand optimal messaging and positioning.  How should you craft messaging that is both concise and clear in order to best position your app? The better your work is with audience profiling, positioning and targeting, the more effective and viral your app marketing will be.
      • Understand and leverage social velocity and WOM marketing. Mobile and social are “tied at the hip”.  You need a solid social plan in order to successfully market a new mobile app. What is needed to spark and sustain WOM?  How do you solicit user and expert feedback and reviews?
      • Measurement is key.  You need to fully understand mobile and app measurement - what's the value of an app user? an app download?  What are the growth rates?  Are you able to measure online media that promotes your app including clicks, downloads, conversions, ROI, etc?
      • Think holistically about media opportunities and how they work together.  Leverage owned and earned media before considering purchased media.  Should you consider offline media opportunities?
      Are mobile applications an opportunity or threat to incumbent brands?  In my view, this should be an opportunity for large established brands as users seek out apps they know and trust. Brands need to understand this opportunity and not delay to take action and start the process. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if Apple and/or Google launches paid search for apps.  Apple is in ideal position to launch a PPC ad model for apps.  With their acquisition of Quattro Wireless in 2009, they have already shown a willingness to add an advertising business model to their successful software, hardware and media models.  Apple could add this iWords service to their App and iTunes Stores.  Google could simply integrate into Google Mobile search and, eventually, into Google search when iPad and other touch-screen devices become widely adopted.  We will talk more about app search in future posts.

      We don’t pretend to have all the answers – just a point of view.  What do you think about what I have written above?  Please share your thoughts and opinions below.  

      Thinking beyond reservations: Mobile, Social, and Hospitality (Part 1)

      When talking about mobile within the hospitality industry, most of the focus to date has been on booking reservations. Reservations are worth much attention but are certainly only the start of what mobile can do in hospitality -- especially at resorts, where up to 30% of per-stay revenue might come from anything other than the price of the room. My motivation for today’s post is to take the hospitality+mobile conversation beyond reservations; I’d like to begin to explore the deep value that both guest and resort could gain by combining the full potential of mobile applications and best practices of social networking.

      The opportunity here is so big because guests are committed (more or less) to staying on a private campus for several days. A good mobile app should be designed to anticipate the many (but predictable) needs guests will have and to help them navigate through that very specific environment. As a guest, here’s a starting list of what I would like to do with my mobile phone when on vacation at a resort:
      • Learn about the resort’s services, features, areas, special events
      • Book services like restaurants, golf, or spa
      • Use concierge services for recommendations and booking with off-resort vendors
      • Read other guests’ comments and ratings re: all of the above – but for specific areas in the resort
      • Keep tabs on friends and family who are with me on vacation
      • Order poolside/beachside food and beverages, but mostly beverages ;)
      I could conduct most of the above activities using my phone’s web browser and current Google services (think Latitude for keeping track of my family), but it would be clumsy: Google maps probably wouldn’t have specific names for the different buildings, pools, and beach areas. I would have a hard time narrowing down reviews on TripAdvisor or CitySearch to just the golf courses or a specific restaurant. The resort’s traditional website might have what I need, but it probably won't render well on my phone and won’t have any outside content (ie: reviews) that might help me to choose an activity for the day.

      Imagine, however, if I could download to my Droid phone a resort-specific application at check-in. I’m thinking along the lines of IBM’s Seer Augmented Reality app, which is akin to Layar, but for specific commercial purposes. I would be able to see that my wife is at the “Towers Pool” and could navigate quickly to recent ratings and reviews of that specific pool or perhaps one of the four restaurants at the resort. I might learn through an internal micro-blog function that one of the bars is where the action is. Navigation would be simple, designed for a mobile device, and always completely focused on my experience at the resort.

      In a nutshell, this application would work to “curate” information that is specific to my experience. “Social,” “Mobile,” and even “Local” will remain heavyweight buzzwords for 2010, but I think that “curate” is a dark horse in the competition. We’re all familiar with that queasy feeling one gets after typing a straightforward query into Google and receiving 100,000+ results. The beauty of a well-designed mobile app is that it spares me from the Google Geyser of information. This is a serious problem with potential solutions cropping all over the place, including My6Sense for RSS and social,  Vizibility for preconfigured Google searches, and Wolfram Alpha for, well, anything you can measure.

      Authors of curated content must understand their responsibilities in a socially-enabled world, however. Example: Users are more likely to trust raw user-generated content, even if it is less easy to manage. A best practice, therefore, is to design with links back out to Yelp and TripAdvisor, for example. Even if users decline to review this outside content, the fact that the resort is enabling access to it will greatly engender trust in the branded application and the content it hosts.

      For the sake of brevity, I’ll wrap up today’s post here. I’ll continue thinking out loud on this topic, most notably with a followup on how mobile applications can jump-start a resort’s emerging social networking efforts. It’s on this front that the resort will see significant long-term value, I believe.

      I’m interested in your feedback. What functions would you most like to see in a resort-specific mobile app? What functions would best serve the needs of the hotel?

      Update: Part 2 of this post continues here.