Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Twitter Increasingly Used to Promote Contests

Much has been made about Twitter and the various uses for the service, ranging from sending out droll updates to friends to businesses using the microblogging service to get a better handle on customer-service issues. Now, a new trend is emerging on the platform, which could play into efforts to develop a business model.

As reported in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, the "buzz-generating" value of Twitter is increasingly being pared with the proven benefits of contests to increase brand awareness. As an example, Moonfruit, a London-based Web-design firm, added 47,000 followers and increased its Web site traffic by 1300 percent by using Twitter to promote a 10th-anniversary contest. The contest used "tweets" as its entry method, with entrants only required to place the #Moonfruit "hashtag" somewhere in the tweet.

As a result of the campaign, Moonfruit says its paying customers have increased by 20 percent and the number of trial users has grown more than three fold. One important thing companies using Twitter to promote contests have found is that while they're great at initially luring people as followers, companies must make a concerted and continual effort to keep them engaged or traffic will fall off precipitously once the promotional period has ended.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Intern's Widely-Read Report Offers Blunt Analysis of Teens' Media Habits

A report authored by a 15-year-old UK intern is getting a lot of attention this week for a blunt analysis of one of the most popular social-networking tools around.

Matthew Robson, who is working this summer for Morgan Stanley's UK offices, authored a candid report detailing the media consumption habits of typical 15-year-olds. The report included information on their favorite television programs, as well as where they spent most of their time online.

Surprisingly, Twitter received very little praise in the report, with Robson saying not only do most teens not read newspapers and dislike ads, but they also have very little use for the popular micro-blogging service.

Robson says teens shy away from Twitter because most use it from cell phones and, unlike e-mail messages, every text message costs money. Robson said teens would rather send texts between friends than use them for updates "that no one is viewing."

He goes on to say that teens have no interest in physical newspapers and would rather consume their news online. He calls banner ads "annoying and pointless" and says that teens prefer to download or stream their music using free sites/services rather than pay for them.

While Robson's report may seem harsh, I think it's one of the best assessments of the media transition I've read. Everyone talks about the popularity of Twitter and iTunes and fails to mention the fact that banner ads remain a relatively ineffective way to finance content. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a delay in finding new, effective forms of financing online content.

Hopefully Robson's report will not only result in watercooler conversation, but some honest analysis of business models across the media and entertainment industry.

Morgan Stanley executives in the UK were so impressed with Robson's report that they immediately circulated it throughout the C suite, which prompted a number of high-level client inquiries.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Promise of "Citizen Journalism"

The New York Times ran a story over the weekend that looked at the rise in importance that tech-oriented social media sites were having on the industry and on the impact that rise was having on the way Silicon Valley companies now looked at marketing for their products. However, as is the case with many stories about social media, there was some big gaps in coverage that should be part of any social-media discussion.

The story profiled Brooke Hammerling and her involvement with Silicon Valley and the area's social-media scene. The story goes on to say that tech companies now have to consider influential bloggers such as Om Malik and sites like Tech Crunch and All Things Digital. The story goes on to say that conventional media are circumvented through the ability of "new media publicists" to whisper in the ear of influential CEOs and pundits, which it claimed would in effect have the conventional media outlets seeking out the principals of the story, rather than the other way around.

Hammerling's thesis is that, at its core, PR is all about relationships and that the PR firm or practitioner who has the most solid relationships will be the most successful. While that sounds great in theory, I really question whether there's substantial truth behind the notion.

For starters, many of the influential business leaders cited in the story are influential today because they have a hot-startup; forget for the moment that many of those start-ups don't have a viable business model and wouldn't be surviving right now were it not for venture capital. This is in a business context pretty much the same as a consumer living off a continual stream of income from home-equity loans; it's great as long as there's something to backup the value of the money coming in, but when that's not there, the ships starts to sink.

Social media and citizen journalism are both concepts that show a lot of promise, but let us not forget that the only form of journalism right now that has a business model that's ever shown to be a success is traditional print and broadcast. Yes, their business models are under attack like never before, but at least they've shown they have a viable business model that works. No one's really figured out how to get anyone to pay for original content on the Web, which is the one dirty secret of citizen journalism that no one mentions.

The story also revives the notion that buzz equals long-term benefits. Yet over and over, we've seen a host of companies that generated a ton of buzz -- some of which were mentioned in the article -- that mostly never made it out of the startup phase.

A successful public relations strategy is one that doesn't involve broad generalizations and instead relies on a customized approach for an individual company. We seem to often forget that most of the products and services that are the most profitable offerings for companies aren't often that exciting. Generally, I prefer "benefits" over "buzz" because buzz will eventually die, whereas a company that brings the most benefits to the table for their current and prospective clients or customers will go on to be household names.

While buzz isn't always bad, in many cases, it's better to leave the buzzing to bees.