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Social Search Seeks Success

Dawn Anfuso
Social Search Seeks Success Dawn Anfuso

Eurekster CEO Grant Ryan (pictured) says Eurekster’s new search engine marries the old Internet search business model with the new social networking trend, to yield an entirely new type of search engine. Launched in January, the service learns from the behavior of users and their social networks to both deliver personalized search results and to offer instant sharing of popular Web destinations and searches among extended communities.

Eurekster utilizes both commercial and non-commercial search results from Overture, and derives revenue from Overture’s commercial search results, with paid placements appearing under “Sponsored Listings” headings on Eurekster. Other non-commercial results are provided by the Fast index (which powers Alltheweb.com).

iMedia Connection: Please explain to me how this works.

Ryan: Say you’re looking to purchase a digital camera. You’ll probably do a lot of research online, looking up model numbers, going to manufacturers’ sites, doing some comparison shopping. Statistics show that 20 percent to 50 percent of people go to a site they’ve been to before. So next time you type in the same term, the sites you were most interested in will appear at the top. Our system remembers what you found to be most relevant.

iMedia Connection: What if I go to a site, but it turns out that it’s not that valuable to me. Would that then be part of what is returned as a “favorite” next time?

Ryan: The system uses very sophisticated algorithms that, among other things, take length of time on a site into consideration. If you were only there a minute or so, then, no, it probably won’t come up as a favorite.

iMedia Connection: OK, what about the social network element? How does my search for digital cameras affect my friends’ searches?

Ryan: The system will use what you found most relevant to help personalize searches for your friends. If someone you know is also interested in digital cameras, all the work you’ve done will be at the top of the list for them as well. It’s just like word-of-mouth, only amplified and personalized.

iMedia Connection: Why is this the next evolution of search?

Ryan: The reason we believe this is the next evolution of search is that if you look back at the history of search engines -- first you had the AltaVistas and InfoSeek, which used keywords and meta tags to return results; next came Yahoo! and LookSmart, which have editors doing the work of finding results; then came Google and Teoma, which basically give you the results Webmasters think match. The next logical step is what people you associate with think is relevant.

We’ve become accustomed to everyone receiving the same results. But clearly, the billions of people in the world have different ideas of what is useful and relevant. This system learns from your behavior what is relevant for you and people like you.

Personalization is such a big part of the future of search. There are interesting ways it can be applied to how people market. Currently, paid listings are targeted to keywords but personalization will enable the targeting to be based on more things including, locality, industry sector, profession, social group.

iMedia Connection: What other unique features does Eurekster offer?

Ryan: On the right hand side of the page, there are two “what’s hot” boxes, covering recent searches and recent visited destinations. We think of them like online water coolers. They let you “overhear” what’s of interest to other people right now, both on a general basis and among your network. That might prompt you to look at things you might not have heard about. Again, it amplifies the word-of-mouth concept.

Here are two examples of how this has benefited searchers. We had a minor earthquake in our home town. Some of our colleagues were out of town. They saw that people were doing searches related to the earthquake, which is how they found out about it so they could then check on their families.

In another situation, a woman was checking into schools for her child. She found that someone else in her network had also been doing this, so she was able to contact the other person and the two were able to compare notes to help them make decisions.

iMedia Connection: How is privacy protected if what an individual searches for is public and others can contact them based on their searches? 

Ryan: We enable privacy in three ways. One, we have a tick box under each search that you can check to make it a private search. When you do that, nothing is recorded. The second layer is that after you type something into search, there’s a box you can check if you decide you don’t want people to see the search. There’s a delay, so no one will ever see that search, either. And third, on the highest level, there’s no identity attached to the hottest searches, so no one knows who is searching for what.

As far as contacting people in your network, there is an email icon next to who did the search last that you can click to contact that person. It doesn’t identify who that person is. It’s only if that person chooses to email you back that you know his or her identity.

iMedia Connection: This taps into two very hot commodities right now, search and social networks. Is there something to that?

Ryan: Yes, those are both hot and the timing is nice, but this isn’t something that we just came up with. One of our parent companies, SLI Systems, Inc., has been doing search technology for more than six years, receiving more than 300 million queries a month, and the other company, RealContacts Ltd., has been working in the social networking field for two and a half years. So together we’ve done a lot of research and testing before launching Eurekster.

iMedia Connection: What has response been like?

Ryan: We’re happy with how the market has reacted. A number of people are interested in partnering, that’s a good sign. We never expect to be a big destination site, or to compete with other search engines. We’re supplemental to them. So we’re happy with how people are reacting.

iMedia Connection: I see this as being valuable to work teams, not just friend networks.

Ryan: You’re right. If you have a team of people all working on one project they will frequently look on both the company intranet and the Internet for information relevant to the project. If these searches and the results are easily available to other members of the team this can save a lot of time and effort. It is an advanced form of knowledge management but all the users do not have to change their behavior—just search like usual using a Eurekster search box available only to their network or users.

iMedia Connection: What is the benefit to advertisers of having their sponsored links come up?

Ryan: The amplification effect. If you click on a paid listing and find it relevant, that listing will appear high up for all of your friends as well. It’s viral marketing to the nth degree. We’re quite excited about the long-term prospect of how advertisers can amplify their listings.

For more information about selecting a search marketing partner, visit
iMedia's Search EngineConnection

Kate DiRanna, director of partnership marketing, HIP Genius [Media Storm, LLC]

Top tips

  • Partnership means being flexible, but good research and groundwork in advance is key to helping you manage unexpected challenges.

  • Sometimes the huge success of your partner can throw off your campaign as much as a failure can. What if your celebrity spokesperson wins an Oscar? Plan for all possibilities.

  • The most important role of the agency is to act as a sensitive and creative intermediary between both/ all parties. Cultural differences can always be worked through.

iMedia Connection: You've had exhaustive experience in the entertainment field. What have been your main takeaways in terms of forming brand alliances with entertainment properties?

DiRanna: In the entertainment space, partnerships are part of strategic marketing and promotions. An entertainment property partners with brands to get exposure in areas that they can't buy -- basically, experiential media. And brands look to partner with entertainment because it creates some consumer recognition, brand "coolness" -- a little something different. Entertainment lends itself really well to partnerships because there's always something new going on, so it gives partners a great opportunity to mix up their messaging.

iMedia Connection: Can you tell us a little bit about your work with Flip and "Avatar: The Last Airbender"?

DiRanna: Flip was gearing up for its next big media launch, and they really wanted to create alliances with fan bases, not just to broadly communicate to the general consumer. So looking at the competitive landscape during that time-frame, Paramount's "Last Airbender" was one of the opportunities that made a lot of sense. It was a hugely successful franchise on Nickelodeon, with a very deep and robust fan base, and the celebrity of M. Night Shyamalan attached to it. We put together a 360-degree, consumer-facing campaign to speak to that fan base. We secured M. Night for our ad campaign, and branded special-edition Flip cameras with "Last Airbender" artwork, which were pre-loaded, for the first time, with exclusive content. We participated with Paramount in field-marketing programs, giving away Flips at screenings, and being part of their radio programs and local media advertising.

iMedia Connection: How did audience demographics play into your decision to initiate this partnership?

DiRanna: The great thing about Flip is that everybody from eight to 80 can use a Flip. So their demographic as a product is very wide, and we were looking for something that spoke to that. The movie was positioned and released as a "four quadrant film" -- which basically means young, old, men and women. Importantly, we liked that the film represented the brand image of Flip -- very family-friendly and positive. It wasn't so much a demographic as a psychographic that we wanted to reach.

iMedia Connection: In such huge campaigns, how do you deal with the points of tension that are bound to crop up? What happens when the brands goals and voices don't sync?

DiRanna: I think usually everyone comes to the table in good faith. So we hammer out as many of the details in advance as possible, and make it very, very clear about who's offering what, and what the deliverables are expected on each side. It's a continued negotiation process. When conflicts happen, our role as marketers and agency folk is to hear all perspectives and come up with creative solutions.

iMedia Connection: Do cultural differences between brands ever become insurmountable?

DiRanna: I think cultural differences can definitely be worked through. Having an agency person in the middle is a great intermediary, because they're able to balance all of that out. To avoid other, more bottom-line differences, really do your research in the beginning, know what's out there. Make sure that both partners are really speaking the same language, talking to the same people in the same way. Your partner's brand persona has to be in line with your own.

iMedia Connection: Do you adopt a different approach for celebrities, as opposed to films?

DiRanna: A celebrity is a person, living, breathing, and changing. They're not like a movie, which is going to be that movie for all time. So the brand needs to be ready for the unpredictability of a human being; you need to roll with the punches that may come with it.

iMedia Connection: How can brands prepare and plan for such crises, if they come up?

DiRanna: The one that screws you is the one you never plan for. Take each of those as they come -- both the scandals and the accolades. It's a constant dance to make sure that your brand always comes out in the right light.

Darin Wolf, EVP, Live Nation Network

Top tips:

  • Take a tip from how artists build relationships with their fan base -- it's a slow process based on providing value and maintaining authenticity.

  • Come to the table open-minded -- don't let subjective opinions about entertainment acts cloud your judgment as to the best course of action.

  • At the end of the day, the consumer is the most important part of the equation. Always be creating value for them.

iMedia Connection: Can you tell us a little bit about Live Nation, and how you orchestrated the Hewlett Packard/"30 Seconds to Mars" campaign that launched this January?

Wolf: We're the largest live entertainment marketing company in the world, and we help brands leverage the power of live music. The HP/"30 Seconds to Mars" campaign that launched this January is a great example. HP launched a new technology called ePrint, which allows you to print any of your documents from a mobile device to a known ePrint address. So HP came to us with that challenge, to help them launch this revolutionary technology. They wanted to do it around a tour platform, so that they could showcase the technology both online and as well as on-site. So we identified several artists that made sense with their target audience and connected with their product line.

iMedia Connection: Such as "30 Seconds to Mars"...

Wolf: "30 Seconds to Mars" was our pick early on, and our strongest choice, primarily because they're a great, really cool band and they have a huge digital fan base that they are very engaged with. So we negotiated the deal, which the band embraced whole-heartedly, and we launched a 15-day tour that began in January. We created a microsite for the fans to really engage with the artists. We asked fans to ePrint a photo of themselves demonstrating to the band what they made them the biggest 30 Seconds to Mars fans, so literally these photos would be printed on the band's printer. The band would then sift through several hundreds of them, and they then selected the winner. The winner was flown to Atlanta to see the show, meet the band, and get a real VIP experience on site. There's a video on the microsite of the band looking through the videos. As a secondary prize, we also awarded $15 of Live Nation concert cash. So if you didn't win a chance to meet the band, everyone still won something.

iMedia Connection: How was the response?

Wolf: The amazing thing about the fan base is that they're so passionate about the brand, that the response was tremendous. As a marketer, you need to think through, are you looking for scale or are you looking to build a connection and a true engagement with that fan base? For this one, it was really about -- I call it the "who many" rather than the "how many." From HP's standpoint, you really got these passionate fans engaged with their product, and getting to fully understand this new technology.

iMedia Connection: What research tools do you use in assessing the right "fit" for brands and live acts?

Wolf: We have the luxury at Live Nation of tremendous amount of data on fans and live acts, based on ticket purchases, in addition to other research we do about our customers. We use the data to add more objectivity to the selection process and the strategy.

Some brands really make the mistake of being enamored with one particular artist, and they become very subjective in the process. So what we try to do is to educate brands on the variety of choices out there...

iMedia Connection: And not put all your eggs in one basket? Have you ever experienced music fans resisting or resenting these corporate partnerships, and being "marketed to", in a way?

Wolf: The best scenarios are always when your marketing solution works for all parties involved, and everybody wins, especially the fans. The brand partners have to bring value to the equation. They should offer something special such as unique content, like how HP offered great behind-the-scenes videos and images of the band that the fans wouldn't have access to otherwise, and of course for the fans who got to meet the band, that would never have happened if it weren't for HP.

iMedia Connection: So essentially, always keep the fans first in mind, creating unique value for them so that they never feel like they're being marketed to, or pandered to.

Wolf: Yes, exactly. The only person who really matters in this equation is the fan, or customer or consumer. The fan/ consumer is the one who keeps the artist in business, us in business, and the manufacturers in business.

It's also important that when it comes to music, that the marketers keep a long-term view of the process. It's not about just doing a one-off promotion, and believing that that will lead to long-term love of the brand from that fan base. You've got to be consistent -- you've got to connect with the fans year after year, and add value each step of the way.

Scott Donaton, president, CEO, Ensemble

Top tips

  • Entertainment is one of the most important parts of people's everyday lives. It is a direct route to an emotional connection.

  • Be sure to define ahead of time what success means to you. Know what you want coming in, and you'll know what you get coming out.

  • A lot of entertainment properties are open to creative collaboration and creative input from the brand. Find a partnership that works for you.

iMedia Connection: What would you say was the need that Ensemble was created to fill?

Donaton: A lot of Mediabrands' clients and potential clients were asking questions about the content space -- some of them were active in it, some wanted to be -- and were turning to us for capabilities and a point of view. Ensemble was created to extend the reach of our media assets and give brands a chance to explore this space more deeply.

iMedia Connection: You help brands create content with entertainment partners- what's your general philosophy on such partnerships?

Donaton: Sometimes brands come in and ask, "Should we have a content strategy?" My answer to that is, absolutely not, what you should have is a marketing strategy, and we can talk about content in the context of advancing your marketing strategy. I've never liked the idea of someone creating a content strategy separated from everything else they're doing.

iMedia Connection: So what do you start with?

Donaton: With brands, we always start with the basic questions -- What is your business challenge? Who is your target audience? What is the essence of the brand? What are the other things you're doing in your marketing mix, and how can we use entertainment and content to more deeply engage consumers? That's where brands start -- from a sense of, how do we build a more emotional connection to our consumers at a time when people can choose what content they're going to interact with and what they're not in every form. The new technologies have put the end user in charge of the information flow- brands realize that it's no longer enough to interrupt the conversation. Rather, how do you get invited in? We get in by harnessing the power of storytelling and entertainment.

iMedia Connection: Entertainment can be powerful.

Donaton: During my time at Entertainment Weekly, we did studies that revealed how important entertainment is in people's lives. Some dismiss entertainment as fluff, but in truth, it's the number one thing people turn to in dealing with stress in everyday life. Most brands understand that entertainment helps them connect with the consumer on a much more deeper level.

iMedia Connection: How do you keep track of the constantly shifting entertainment landscape?

Donaton: We maintain relationships with literally several hundred content creators, from production companies and talent to studios to talent agencies. We keep track of which companies are better with which genres, reaching which audiences... Sometimes, but not often, brands may come to us with a sense of who they want to work with. But we dig deeper. If a client wants to work with Conan O'Brien, we ask, "What is it about Conan? Is it a sensibility, is it the audience?" And what's the story that we want to tell the audience? From there, we can decide whether Conan is the right fit, or whether it makes sense to develop something new to achieve those goals. Often, creation is better than integration. Most of the time, though, the process starts more open ended, and our job is to find the talent and company that fits the brand's audience, and once we get the sign off, to initiate the discussions with both parties.

iMedia Connection: How does the talent or entertainment property usually respond?

Donaton: There's been a great sea-change recently. It used to be that the entertainment companies would be like, "Yes, if the brand wants to play, that's great, they can write a check and stay out of the creative process." But now they're realizing that brands can be great partners. A lot of entertainment talent and properties are building their business models by leaving space for potential brand partners.

iMedia Connection: So in essence, brands get to use that creative talent for their own storytelling.

Donaton: I usually tell brands, if you do this right, you basically have access to the world's largest creative department. You have all of these storytellers who you can tell -- here is the audience we want to talk to, here's the role we think we play in their lives -- and partnering with the talent helps take your brand up to another level. You both basically want the same thing -- what's the right story to tell these audiences, to engage them, and to keep them entertained?

iMedia Connection: Do you find that content created with the obvious stamp of a corporate brand turns off consumers?

Donaton: I don't think that's so much an issue anymore. There have been a lot of studies on this. When I wrote the book "Madison & Vine" back in 2004, there was a sense that if you weren't straight with consumers, if you created something they didn't like, there might be a backlash just because a brand was involved. That kind of thought is gone. What brands have to keep in mind is the consumer attitude, which is, "If I'm going to give you my time, give me something in exchange that's valuable." But the mere fact of a brand's involvement, I don't think, is a turn-off anymore.

iMedia Connection: What mistakes do you wish brands would stop making?

Donaton: A lot of brands still see the content creation partnership as a cool one-off tactic, but they need to take a long term view of how this fits into their overall marketing strategy. They need to define their own measures of success. Are they trying to raise awareness, move product, change attitudes and perceptions? Know what you want coming in, and then you'll know what you got coming out.

Madhuri Shekar is a freelance writer and digital marketing consultant in Los Angeles.

On Twitter? Follow Madhuri at @madhuri567. Follow iMediaConnection at @iMediaTweet.


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