Boiling Frogs

>> Friday, June 18, 2010

There's an old anecdote that if you drop a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out because of the intense heat. But if you put the frog in lukewarm water and slowly dial up the heat, it will gladly be boiled to death.

What does boiling frogs have to do with digital marketing, you say? Well, I had the pleasure of listening to David Kirkpatrick discuss his new book, The Facebook Effect, the other night and was reminded of this old anecdote. Particularly as he described Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook and its current CEO, you get the sense that Zuckerberg is the master chef, boiling up his tasty concoctions and we, the 500 million of us that use Facebook, are the frogs.

It's obvious that Zuckerberg has a distinct vision for Facebook, and that is to be, in the most pure sense of the word, ubiquitous. Besides amassing shear numbers of people (nearly half of all Americans and one third of the world's online population are users), the desire is to weave Facebook so deeply into our lives that it almost goes away because it's everywhere (kind of like the Internet itself). To forever change what we say, share and do with our friends.

To achieve something so lofty takes ambition and also the resolve to deliver what your users want and need, even if they don't know it yet themselves (as Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses"). As we have seen when the news feed was first introduced, Beacon was enabled, the homepage changed, or recently with privacy settings, abrupt changes upset people.

They protest (in the irony of ironies, on Facebook), forming groups and Fan pages asking for things to go back to the way they used to be. And sometimes they are successful in getting features rolled back or removed. But sooner or later, we end up there anyway--it just takes longer and with a more gradual adjustment of the proverbial heat. As Kirkpartick mentioned in a blog post about a year ago, "Facebook has no choice but to keep updating the service as user behavior and the Web evolves rapidly." Evolve or die, yes, but tread lightly when you bring it to the masses.

The lesson here for the rest of us? Oftentimes, we as marketers know what our people want (we've seen the data, mined the insights, sized the market, etc...) but need to deliver it to them in a way that they will embrace, not revolt against. If Facebook has shown us anything, it's that if you turn the heat up too high, the frogs jump out, but warm it slowly and we'll happily stay in the water.


Webby Awards

>> Thursday, June 17, 2010

I attended the Webby Awards this week.

Wow. Whoa. Wawee.

Let me tell you, it was impressive.

We’ve all been hearing about convergence for as long as the Webby Awards have been around—14 long years. That concept feels so much more tangible right now.

Being there felt like I was online, only with real people. I watched the Andrey Ternovskiy, the founder of ChatRoulette, chatting to Ben Huh, the guy behind I Can Has Cheeseburger. I renewed my crush on Isabella Rossellini as she accepted an award for Sundance Channel’s brilliant Green Porno. And I got a wee bit teary as the boys and girls from the PS22 chorus sang, lead by their teacher. Buzz Aldrin was there, and so was Roger Ebert. And so were Jason Bateman, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler. Vinton Cerf ‘the father of the internet’ bounced on stage to receive a lifetime achievement award for his work on the protocol that still, 40 years on, allows data to be transmitted across the internet.

The beauty of all this is the wide spectrum of talent being celebrated. From the brilliance of Pandora to the absurdist humor of Selleck Waterfall Sandwich. From the financially practical to the hilarity of The Onion. ‘Old’ media got a pat on the back—The New York Times, NPR and BBC. And so did ‘new’ media—Twitter, Hulu and HuffingtonPost.

I know it’s just an award show, but I also think it’s a reflection of where we are at right now. With artwork by Shepard Fairey, videos by The Wade Brothers and B.J. Novak, from The Office, MCing, the experience was exactly what it should have been—an event celebrating the achievements in a hugely influential medium.

Now let’s see if we can get our hands on one of them slinky-like awards and give a mandatory five word speech.

I wanna hang with astronauts.

Check out the winners.

Sergio Flores


Can Brands Unlock The "Value" Badge?

>> Friday, June 4, 2010

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Jim Dayton, Doug Levy, and Stephanie Noble in a panel discussion at the "Social Media for Pharma" conference in Princeton, NJ, and one question that we were asked to answer has been rattling around in my brain since then: can pharmaceutical and healthcare brands participate within foursquare?

Foursquare—a social network where people "check-in" to physical locations, earn points based on their activity, and "unlock badges" based on the type and frequency of their check-in—is surging in popularity, with nearly 1.5 million users. While it may have a fraction of the users of larger networks like facebook (400 million+ users) or twitter (100 million+ users), foursquare has shown that people are willing to engage when you add geo-location to social networks. That Twitter has added and Facebook is adding location-based services only emphasizes the trend.

Naturally, marketers and brands see this growth and want to capitalize on the opportunity. But it heightens an issue that many still struggle with—how can I, as a brand, participate and engage within social environments?

We know that banner ads are not particularly effective within social networks, even with more sophisticated targeting and relevance capabilities, because of the nature of the environment (to use an often-used analogy, if social networks are like a cocktail party, imagine someone wearing a sandwich board, jumping up and down, trying to get your attention, while you were chatting with a friend at a cocktail this going to be interesting or relevant to you?). Engagement is possible when brands are able to provide something of value to people, whether it's customer service, helpful tips, cost savings, or a Whopper.

Which brings us back to foursquare and whether or not healthcare brands could ever play in this space.

As I mentioned during the panel discussion, like most digital examples within our industry, we can look to other verticals like packaged goods and "pure" consumer brands for inspiration and guidance. Starbucks is probably the most obvious example of a brand that has seamlessly integrated themselves into the foursquare experience, both with their Barista badge (which I have proudly unlocked) and the special it offers to the mayor of each store ($1 off a new however-you-want-it Frappuccino), but many other examples exist on both a national and local level:

Will we ever see an "I have Erectile Disorder" badge for 3 refills of your Viagra at the same pharmacy? Um, probably not. Using foursquare's leaderboard to add a little healthy competition to making better lifestyle choices like exercising and making better food choices? Why not. OTC brands offering coupons for the mayor of the local CVS or Walgreens? Probably.

The bottom line is that brands, regardless of the category, can play here if they respect the environment that they're in (unique places for social interaction, not advertising), get creative with their approach, and bring value to the people they are trying to reach.