Social Networking, Data Mining, Media and Privacy

Had the pleasure Wednesday of seeing Michael Chin of Kickapps do a (kickass) presentation in my Digital Marketing class at Baruch's biz school. He demonstrated not only how social media centered around a brand or organization can cultivate enthusiasm (and generally give an indicator of sentiment), but also how much mineable data there is about each participant in the network. That data goes beyond the typical demographic info -- zip code, age, gender and so on -- into deeper direct or inferential matter about everything from the person’s preferences, lifestyle,“friends,” and even to clues about what enthuses, delights and annoys them. One avid basketball fan Chin showed, for example, had put a wealth of info about herself in reams of discussion posts, videos, comments, still photos on a team’s fan site. That’s a gold mine for that team if it chooses to access it.

Chin, at the Social Times conference  (which my company helped produce the media for) a few weeks earlier had told me that CRM (Customer Relationship Management) can become a lot more than the grid-driven database systems we have today. True, powerful tools like allow collaborative workers to share information and better serve (and sell and upsell) clients and potential customers. Just call a rep at your cellphone provider to see, in action, how a good customer database system can tell the person on the other end of the line all kinds of things about you that might get you to either stay happy with them or pay for more service.

But those systems pale in comparison to the kinds of data we’re giving about ourselves on personalized media like social networks and Twitter. Imagine if through some sort of Semantic Web application a company could glean information not only on what info you offered, and tags you’d left, but also the things you were passionate about, what you’d been writing and saying, asking for and complaining about. Imagine if the company could handle the complaint or fuel the delight of that passionate, highly involved (ok, “engaged”) fan -- how much might she crow about you, then, an not only increase her loyalty but also help spur others into the fold?

True, it’s a lot of work. And some of the work is subtle and requires a very human touch. We don’t today have an algorithm that can mine such soft and random data in this way (though a recent Open Calais demonstration did wow me to the possibilities), and it takes a human touch to understand the not-so-fine line between delighting someone and making them feel you’ve gone over the creepy edge into invading their privacy. 

And what about the cost? Chin half-jokingly bristled when I asked if he could map social media back to a return on the investment. It would take a lot of data and crunching to even try to get at whether the dollars spent mining the social info is more cost-effective than the more blunt-force forms of marketing and communication more prevalent today. Certainly, none of it lives in a vacuum, and it goes along with other messaging, so it's next to impossible to separate out the effect. And there is, of course, more than a hint of self-serving in Chin’s remarks (use social media, and delight your customers!). But that doesn't make his point invalid.

We can assume, be nearly sure, that the data mining, perhaps driven by Semantic Web-type applications (even a quick run through “” can show you the terms someone is using most, let alone the Calais system of auto-sifting) will improve and that the point at which the parsing needs to get handed over to a human will be pushed further down the line, weighted more to technology and less to the humans. It makes sense for the people at media companies -- who can help mine and sell their data -- social networks and marketers to think along these lines.

Too Much Content: John Byrne of Business Week

We've added John Byrne of to the roster for tomorrow morning's "Wealth of Content" seminar at the Magazine Publishers of America, in New York.

Why Online Ads Won't Tank as Badly This Time

Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider writes that we'll see a decline in online advertising (especially display) in '09, but it won't be as bad as the decline in the early part of the decade. He gives a few reasons.

Another reason Web advertising won't tank as bad as the last time is because this time marketers understand they need to be online, and their target audiences are there.

Good Timing: Alan Schanzer Interview

I am lucky enough to have the first in-depth interview with leading digital ad industry analyst Alan Schanzer in his new role, next Teusday. Schanzer, who’s leaving MEC Interaction as managing partner to become chief strategy officer at Undertone Networks will be appearing with Chris Cunningham, the CEO of Appsavvy, which just received $3.1 million in financing. Noon, Tuesday, Oct. 21.

They'll talk about where the smart ad dollars go. Even as the economy contracts, digital media is expected to grow. But there are so many choices — so much “fragmentation” — that it can be daunting to know where to spend ad dollars to reach the right audience. Display ads on major media sites? So-called “vertical” networks? Search engines like Google? Or will everyone retrench to the “quality” brands of known media in TV, radio and print? Our guests will talk about where the smart money is headed, how to understand the ad market, when and where to spend, and take your questions.

More details here.

The Media Pinball Effect

Finally, a term for what happens in the real MediaVerse: The Pinball Effect. That’s what Nielsen CMO John Burbank used to talk about the way online and TV interrelate to spur consumption of the other. His example: The Katie Couric-Sarah Palin intterview gets six million viewers. That’s cut into clips, each of which is viewed three million times. Viewership of Saturday Night Live (with their parody of the interview) spikes to 9.5 million viewers and 25 million people watch the skits on the Web and THEN a record 70 million people on 11 TV networks watch the vice presidential debate. That, Burbank said at the Media and Money Conference that concluded today in New York is how audiences build over time due to the effect, on “word of mouth.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone’s making money on it, a point Burbank also raised.

Oddly, though, he said there has been “little impact” of citizen journalism, no breakout viral video clips from a cellphone, despite the many opportunities of Joe Biden speaking many places every day. (I might counter that there’s a lot of influential blog and Twitter discussion, and that any Swift Boating might occur online, especially via email. Video is not the only place to look for influence. Not to mention Obama’s in-game ads.)

More coverage here, with other links.

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Myers: Newsps, Mags, TV and Radio Down

Jack Myers, for whom I've done some work, writes today in a run-up to his annual ad spending forecast that most of what some call legacy media are going to face a decline (this on the same day that newspapers' Web revenue is reported declining in growth):

Newspapers, magazines and local television and radio will experience double-digit declines in 2009 and additional declines in 2010, coming off a flat to down year in 2008.

Even more importantly, he predicts that we won't see the media industry re-emerge with a 21st-century model for another 3-4 years:

It will be 2012 before the industry of the future - the 21st Century model of the media and advertising industry - will begin to prosper. We can witness new foundations emerging without even looking that hard. Those who profit from the preservation of the old institutions misguidedly turn first to Wall Street and economic solutions rather than building new business models that focus on their customers and consumers.

Don't look to Wall Street. That's probably not a hard sell right now. It's been common wisdom of a sort that while newspapers were in trouble, other parts of the media wouldn't decline so precipitously. Maybe newspapers were simply the canary in the coal mine.

How to Manage Too Much Content

There might not be a lot of literal wealth around these days, but there's still a lot of content that media companies are managing in their digital properties. The challenge is to balance the competing needs (commercial and editorial, breaking news vs. standing features, archival material) while making it all findable and, not least, preserving the "brand" -- the look and feel of the media product. Some of the leading magazines have grappled with the issue, and next week, on Oct. 23, I'll will be moderating a seminar on the topic. Here are more details from the MPA site, with a link to registration:

Every publisher struggles with what to put on a website's homepage, and on every internal page as well. It's a struggle to maintain the brand identity while you also:

  • Balance important news and information with the big traffic drivers
  • Encourage user participation and content
  • Satisfy competing interests of not only editorial staff, but also marketing, sales, circulation, community, etc.
  • Keep the page optimized -- for search, the important Web browsers and operating systems, etc.
  • Include audio and video
  • Encourage clickthrough
  • Architect the site for maximum ease and effectiveness
  • Nail the navigation -- don't include too little, or too much

  • and much much more. As Goldilocks might ask, How can you get it just right?

    With leading digital executives of some of the top magazine and media companies -- including recent award-winners who have burgeoning audience -- we'll explore in detail the ins and outs of what they've done, and how.

    Don't miss this session, another in our digital best practices series, that will give you the tools you need to achieve success in the digital sphere.

    Panelists include: Mark Remy, digital chief of Runners World, winner of the ASME for General Excellence this year and Jim Meigs, Editor-in-Chief, Popular Mechanics . Moderated by Dorian Benkoil, SVP, Editorial Director, Teeming Media.

    Thoughts on Google's Ad Sense for Games

    I was asked by a reporter from CNET (where I've contributed) what I thought about Google's announcement that they're launching advertising for games.  A lot's not clear about what Google's doing, but that they're getting into gaming is certainly an endorsement of the platform as a place for ads, and means others will pay attention. It's never prudent to denigrate a Google effort any more than it is for Microsoft. (Remember how many poo-poo'd the idea of Internet Explorer being able to become a dominant browser?). 

    Here's some of my quotes from the piece:
    To Dorian Benkoil, the founder of Teeming Media, an online business consultancy, Google's success at placing in-game ads, like that of its competitors, will come down to how well it is able to integrate those messages in games.

    "What I've seen," said Benkoil," is that the community of gamers tend to be very vocal and emotional about anything that they find that isn't well integrated into a game. So if Google is doing an AdSense initiative, I would hope that they would do it in a seamless way that isn't interruptive of the gaming experience. Because if not, they would face some backlash."

    Benkoil said that his research has also indicated that in-game ads may not be as effective as those in other media. That's because, he suggested, gamers spend a lot of time on the sites and in the games where they play, but they are deeply engaged in what they're doing and are not very interested in looking at things, like ads, that may be a distraction.
    Minor niggle: I didn't really say "my research" but rather just conversations with media buyers and planners. I also mentioned that I teach an MBA-level digital marketing course, where we happen to have done games as a platform last lesson.

    Ways Around Text Messaging Fees

    A significant portion of the recent Naked Media show was on fees for mobile (cellphone) use, and how people are going directly to the Web to get video and other material rather than subscribing and paying a new fee for a subscription, on top of their data plans.

    Occurred to me today that the mobile Twitter app (interestingly, link is a Blogspot blog) is a way to avoid text messaging fees. You can post to the mobile Twitter site, and hit people directly (if they follow you), and also blast the wider group. Less of a sure thing than text messages -- which you can be pretty sure are consumed by those you're sending to -- but it's a way for people to go "off-deck" for text messages, too, from their handhelds, and end-run another money maker for mobile carriers.

    Broadcast TV Down: Is That Bad News?

    One way to make money from TV other than ads in the program.

    Today’s Wall St. Journal story on the decline in TV ratings snapped me back to an alternate universe, a week after listening to ABC’s digital programming EVP Albert Cheng talk about revenue “per episode" at the Streaming Media West show. If broadcast TV executives are counting their pennies the way the “blast-from-the-past” story described it, they are in trouble:

    Many viewers haven't rushed back to their television sets to watch this year's highly promoted season premieres, preferring to catch the shows on digital video recording devices and online -- or not catch them at all.

    An average of 9 million people tuned in to prime-time programs on the top five English-language broadcast networks the night they aired last week, a 4.3% decline from the first week of the 2007 TV season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

    OK, the “not catch them at all” part would be distressing. But why would watching in some fashion other than linear broadcast be considered a negative? Advertisers and Nielsen are already allowing for the “+3” formulation that accounts for viewers who watch a show up to three days after initial airing. TiVO has good measures of how many ads are viewed in a DVR’d program, making the case that even when forwarded through, some ads stick. Ads that are actually watched on a DVR are probably more impactful than on broadcast. And, what about the bathroom or snack or pick-up-a-coffee-table-magazine breaks during commercials?

    Perhaps NBC’s Jeff Zucker was right when he said that NBC now has to manage not for ratings, but rather for profitability. What’s a show worth if you add up the revenues not just from broadcast TV ads (and reruns and overseas...) but also DVD and iTunes sales, and Web and mobile and anything else from which you can make a penny? Perhaps broadcast’s worth can even be counted as a marketing opportunity for sales in the other platforms.

    It’s not like any TV executive should, at this point, be surprised by any of this, except perhaps the pace, accelerated by the apparent lasting effect of the writer’s strike. It’s not like DVRs or the Web are a surprise at this point. Sure, the days when a TV ad sales exec could just wait for the phone to ring and take the order are long gone. A show that’s a hit has so much more than broadcast TV to rely on. That people are watching in other ways than over the air should be seen as a triumph of the programming, not a downside. Even for ads, there are innovative ways to go about it. There's no reason, for example, that commercials have to be exactly 30 seconds and fit neatly into a format that's decades old (and easy to skip and avoid). Now, it’s the executives’ jobs to turn that popularity into money. That takes work, sure. But that’s all it is.

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    Naked Media Goes Mobile

    In a wide-ranging yet very specific discussion with Jerry Rocha of Nielsen and Bob Walczak of mobile ad company RingLeader Digital we explored everything from the fate of mobile advertising (there may be one), to how minorities are using mobile devices in the U.S. more than the mainstream, to ways in which the iPhone (gasp!) doesn't quite work.

    See Episode 5 on the Naked Media site. And check out the blog for some "man on the street" interviews where we show that all the whizbang we discuss in the studio (and at trade shows, industry magazines and the like) is far ahead of the crowd.

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