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The Real Problem with Gmail


Google is dropping the ball with Gmail -- but not in the way you might think they are.

The company introduced Gmail, its new free email service, to a chorus of negative press from legislators and consumer watchdog groups who claim that it invades consumers' privacy. The idea behind Gmail, if you haven't heard already, is that consumers get free email with 1GB of storage in exchange for allowing Google to scan their email messages and serve contextual ads.

At great risk of sounding like too many other critics of Google, I understand how Gmail can seem a bit creepy at first glance. For example, if I sign up for Gmail and begin to receive the inevitable next wave of Paris Hilton spam, will Gmail begin to serve me ads to porn sites? Google says "no," but the company hasn't really communicated where it'll draw the line on this. And that allows me -- and several other privacy pundits -- to dream up all kinds of inappropriate ways in which Gmail could potentially invade my life via my inbox.

Personally, it would make me a bit uncomfortable knowing that my emails were being scanned, collected and stored all for the purpose of marketing product to me. I send all kinds of nonsense to my good friends, and the thought of anyone looking over my shoulder while I'm emailing friends a recap of the events of last Saturday's barbeque makes me cringe.

Having said that, I'm not quite ready to grab my pitchfork and torch and storm Google's headquarters with the rest of the privacy villagers. After all, Google has been pretty open about Gmail functionality, and that has got to count for something. And if consumers, provided with full disclosure regarding the privacy they are giving up, decide to sign-up for Gmail, then I'm not going to try to convince them that I know better. Consumers have a right to sell, trade or give away any and all of their personal information to anyone they'd like.

To put it another way, just because I think it's crazy to let any company view my personal correspondence in exchange for storage space I could purchase for a few bucks, I understand that other rational people may feel differently. I've watched people give up their personal information to a tobacco company in exchange for a $2 lighter, so I guess anything is possible.

So for the most part, I don't take issue with the Gmail message scanning and contextual ad serving system. However, I do see a problem if Gmail is scanning messages from a non-Gmail account to a Gmail account.

As I've explained previously, Gmail users have made an arms length transaction with Google to give up certain rights in order to receive the extra storage space. So if Google scans through the text of an email message between two Gmail users in order to serve a contextual ad, at least both parties know that Google is doing it, and have the ability to opt-out by canceling their Gmail account.

But if I send an email message from my Hotmail account to a friend with a Gmail account, I don't have the ability to opt-out of Google's contextual scan. Nor have I received a benefit that might offset the intrusion. Heck, if I'm a new or infrequent email user, I might not even know that Google is scanning my message at all. And that's where I draw the line. If I'm not a Gmail user, I don't think Google has any right to scan through my message for any reason other than to check it for spam content. Perhaps Google has already taken this issue into account, and has a plan for addressing these concerns.

But to date, I haven't heard that defense from Google. In fact, I haven't heard much of anything from the company. And that's where I really take issue with Google regarding Gmail. It almost seems like the whole controversy has caught Google by surprise, and the folks there are just hoping that it'll go away. If that's the case, Google needs to step up and share their vision with the rest of the marketplace. By remaining relatively quiet, Google is allowing others to define Gmail ("intrusive", "creepy") instead of defining Gmail themselves ("sexy", "fun", "informative", "valuable"). Tell consumers why they need Gmail. Tell them why it's cool. Tell them why it's fun.

My completely unsolicited advice to Google is they need to create a public dialog in defense of Gmail. They need to proactively describe the benefits Gmail users will derive. Perhaps Google can draw some inspiration from the wireless carrier that is generating demand for its camera phone service.

Personally, I don't understand why anyone would need a camera phone, but that's not the point. Those commercials have given consumers dozens of reasons why they can't live without a camera phone. Some of the reasons might be a bit over the top (like the commercial featuring the gremlin who steals socks from the drier), but all of their reasons are fun. All of them stir the imagination, and all of them have left me feeling positively about the product.

I'd like to hear Google tell a story about two people trading emails on its service who received tremendous value from Gmail's contextual ads. Tell us how the company plans to address privacy issues relating to scanning emails from other ISPs. Tell the marketplace why the doomsday scenarios presented by EPIC and other privacy groups will not come to fruition with Gmail. If Google procrastinates in getting its message to market, they are at risk of having Gmail defined and eventually snuffed out by opponents. And that would be a shame.

Consumers need to know what's in it for them. C'mon Google, what are you waiting for?

Alan Chapell is a consultant focusing on privacy and data collection strategies -- helping clients to build customer loyalty and mitigate against risk. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Mr. Chapell is the New York Chapter Chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and he publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy.

Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text"

Step 1:

That's why Apple, Amazon and countless others are so darned interested in movie downloads.

But the rise of online video is about more than how we choose to entertain ourselves.

User behavior and user expectations themselves are shifting to favor video over static text-- and that's where the rubber meets the road for marketers. According to market research firm eMarketer, nearly 60 percent of all internet users watch video regularly-- and that number will hit 80 percent by 2010.

Previous: Introduction          Next: Step 2

Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text"

Step 2:

Marketers outside of the entertainment industry are already leveraging online video in a variety of ways:

  • Breathing new life into old television ads. Some made-for-TV-ads have morphed into their online equivalent, playing automatically before or after desired video clips. Alternatively, commercials deemed too risqué for television are now popping up on YouTube, such as Chrysler's Foldgers spoof.

  • Soliciting user-generated content. "Create your own commercial" contests are one way to cozy up to the young and tech-savvy. Although the approach can backfire, as GM famously discovered, Frito-Lay is encouraging users to create their own Super Bowl ads.

  • Making banner ads that literally say something. Red Bull recently used video banners to promote its Giants of Rio extreme sports competition, achieving full-view rates as high as 66 percent and clickthroughs just above two percent, according to rich media provider EyeWonder.

  • Letting your company's "talking heads" speak for themselves. Pulling executives out of the press release and in front of a camera is already emerging as a relatively inexpensive way any company can leverage video. That's what my company did on our About ClipBlast! page.

  • Selling product features-- as well as more products. Seeing a product in action is unquestionably more enticing than viewing a thumbnail. While e-tailers don't have video clips of their main products (yet), a harbinger of what's to come is tech-review site CNET.com's collection of video product reviews.

  • Sharing expertise with your target audience. What better way to spotlight your thought leadership -- or reduce the number of support calls -- than to present step-by-step demonstrations? Askthebuilder.com features several how-to videos, including one on how web marketers can make their own videos.

PreviousStep 1         Next: Step 3

Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video.
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text."

Step 3:

As an online marketer, you more or less expect that if you build it, (eventually) they will come. After all, sooner or later, search engines will find your clip, right? Uh, well… no.

Video search capabilities, believe it or not, are basically where Google was years ago, when web search was new. That's because standard web search relies on text to find and categorize site content. With video files, there is no text, making it harder to decipher what a video is about, who posted it and how relevant it is.

Google gets around this difficulty by requiring users to create "metadata" that describe the video before posting content to its site. "Google video search" literally means just that-- searching videos posted to Google/YouTube and nowhere else.

That approach not only makes your content difficult to find, it also makes it difficult for you to monetize your own clips. On your site, you control the branding, you own the user experience and you capture the leads. On Google and YouTube, you don't.

Fortunately, a handful of companies -- including mine, ClipBlast! -- specialize in true, internet-wide video search that not only makes it easy to find video content, but to monetize it. What that means for you, as a marketer, is that you may need to expand your concept of search to also partner with the right video-search provider.

PreviousStep 2         Next: Step 4

Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text"

Step 4:

Creating high quality video can be costly, and shooting amateur video can be deadly to your brand. Fortunately, you don't have to be Steven Soderbergh (or his less auteur-like counterpart, the webcam aficionado) to give your users the video they crave.

If you can't shoot it, get your content the old-fashioned way: Link to it.

Partner with a company that can embed video search directly into your web pages, enabling you to seamlessly push relevant clips to your users.

PreviousStep 3         Next: Step 5

Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video.
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text."

Step 5:

We know, we know. You've spent 10 years figuring out how best to portray your brand on the web. The last thing you want to do is think about yet another element-- or, heaven forbid, completely rethink your site.

Here's the cold, hard truth: If you as a marketer aren't thinking about video, you're not thinking the way your customers are thinking. It's kind of like railroad tycoons who didn't invest in airlines or newspaper magnates who didn't embrace television (or, more recently, the internet).

Just as YouTube emerged from total obscurity to a top 10 web destination seemingly overnight, user preferences for video will force marketers to add video to the mix faster than it takes to hit "Play." Every company -- from Amazon to Ziff Davis -- will have to figure out how video fits into their web strategies. Why not get started today?

Gary Baker is president of ClipBlast!, which he founded in 2004. Read full bio.

Yes, you can use a bot

First, the good news for bots: In some cases, bots can be quite helpful.

"Bots can be an invaluable scheduling tool that lets an agency or a brand automate tasks that don't need to be run through human hands," says Justin Oh, senior digital strategist with 22squared. "But bots are just a tool, and like a lot of tools, they can easily be misused, which happens a lot in digital."

According to Andrew Cunningham, a community manager at HUGE, bots can serve a few important marketing functions. But he cautions, "Overall, bots are a means to an end. They should be used infrequently, if ever, and are more of a business tool than an effective means of social reach."

  • Bots are cheaper than people. That may not matter across the board, but some brands are understaffed.

  • The technology that allows you to post pictures and videos on Facebook and Twitter can be "finicky," so some marketers prefer to upload and test in advance and use a bot to schedule the post.

  • Bots make it easier to target a message by time zone.

When robots are left unattended

Frankly, we've all seen a robot screw-up. Those screw-ups are as common in social as hashtags and typos. But from a brand perspective, bot-related screw-ups can be a disaster, showing "extreme insensitivity or a total lack of awareness," says Cunningham.

For Cunningham, the NRA's Twitter account in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting is a good example of bots gone bad. But he says that it is just one of many examples of a bot that was preloaded with a message that turned out to be insensitive by the time it actually posted. 

Should you kill your social media bots?

Now, there's a perfectly good reason for that tweet. The message was totally innocuous and on brand when it was written and loaded into whatever bot the NRA uses. But when it posted after the shooting in Colorado, it looked like the NRA was either clueless or mean. In reality, it was probably more like careless. Because, while Cunningham says there are some good reasons for deploying bots, he's also adamant about keeping humans in the loop.

"It always makes sense to still have a set of eyes checking each post once it does go live to ensure there are no issues [such as] cancellations, change of plans, national event, etc.," says Cunningham.

But beyond adequate deployment and supervision of bots, their use raises some serious questions about the nature of social.

What your bot says about your brand

"In a lot of ways, how a brand uses a bot is a litmus test for how committed they really are to social," says Oh. 

But it's not just as simple as saying, "Brands that use bots just don't get social," because there are obviously places where brands are going to use bots effectively. It's really about whether or not the brand understands that social has changed us as consumers, and, by extension, changed the way we think about brands.

"There's been a huge reset in terms of how consumers see brands," says Kleinberg. "Consumers now have an expectation of humanity from brands."

That doesn't necessarily mean a brand needs to put specific names and faces to its social profiles -- there is, after all, a big risk that those people will leave the company eventually and take that personalized brand equity with them. But it does mean that we want a little more human touch from our brands, especially when it comes to social.

What works for one brand won't necessarily work for another brand, of course. But each brand should experiment with appointing social media spokespeople or just try striking a different, more personal tone online.

For Kleinberg, it's a little like the automated telephone menus that have become so common when you call a large company. Sure, those menus can walk you through a lot of options and provide good information, but they shouldn't be a model for how your brand communicates online, especially on platforms like Facebook and Twitter where the expectation is that everyone is -- or ought to be -- a human.

"Just be human," says Kleinberg. "I think too many brands obsess over content curation and that gets them into trouble -- whether they're using bots to post or not -- because they're not thinking about creating something that a human would actually want to see or read."

And if those brands are using a bot for a significant portion of their messaging, they're really not talking at all, says Oh. What those brands are doing is a lot more like walking into a crowded room, turning to face the corner, and shouting nonsense at regular intervals.

"Nobody wants to be carpet-bombed with clunky messages," says Oh. "That's not what I'd call being part of the conversation."

The brands that do it well

While there are a number of brands that have gotten praise for their Twitter accounts over the years, the fact of the matter is that we're currently seeing some brand categories join the conversation, while others are lagging behind.

"In general, I'd say that airlines and banks are getting pretty good about actually talking on Twitter," says Oh. "They may use bots sparingly to push out a particular message or offer, but their accounts are manned by humans who do an excellent job of reaching out to customers when the conversation warrants it."

Admittedly, a lot of that outreach is about customer service, not marketing. And it's no surprise that brands that are especially prone to customer service nightmares have gotten particularly hands on -- in a human way -- with social media. But for all brands, no matter the category, we're way past the point when they should be debating whether or not to be in the social space. The fact of the matter is, all brands are already in the social space because their customers are using social. So the only choice brands have is how they're going to engage thoughtfully via social media.

Some brand marketers talk about engagement in social, while others talk about listening. But for Kleinberg, it's about presence, which is something you can't really get from a robot.

"If we're talking about a big brand, you really do want to have a person on that Twitter account whenever you're delivering a product to your customers," Kleinberg says. 

Obviously, for airline brands that can be a 24/7 commitment. And clearly, that's not something all brands are capable of. But it all comes back to that human thing, for Kleinberg.

"The brand can set the expectation for engagement," Kleinberg says. "People understand the concept of office hours, and you can tell them when a human will be in to respond to their Tweets."

On the other hand, Kleinberg warns, if brands deploy robots on a fulltime basis, the expectation is that there's always somebody home for the brand. And that can be a really bad thing because no brand wants to be in a position of failing to meet consumer expectations.

Understand your platform

For the most part, we've talked about bots in the context of Twitter. But the truth is, bots can also be used on Facebook and several other social platforms. And while nobody I spoke with is suggesting that brands make widespread use of bots, it should be understood that the rules about using bots change slightly with the platform.

The fact that bots are a common part of the conversation on Twitter is a little surprising to Oh.

"Twitter is about one-to-one conversations," says Oh. "And it's impossible for your customer to really talk with a bot."

By contrast, Facebook does offer a little more room for brands to use bots, especially when it comes to scheduling a post.

"Bots can be really important if you just think of them as a scheduling tool for your brand's Facebook page," says Oh. "The fact is, each brand is different when it comes to scheduling the optimal time for a message, and bots allow us to both schedule and get good data on that scheduling."


While I've been semi-active on Twitter for several years, I can honestly say that I didn't get serious about it until 2012. I got serious about Twitter for a rather selfish reason -- promoting my novel.

I mention this, not to plug my book, but to illustrate just how important it is to really use the tools that are out there. It's one thing to poke around on Twitter for a few hours, read some articles, and maybe even talk to some experts; but it's something else entirely to use Twitter and understand it in the same way that you understand your community or neighborhood.

That's why Adam Kleinberg's tweet was so striking to me. He gave voice -- ok, text -- to a sentiment that I had felt for a while.

Even before I saw Kleinberg's tweet, my publisher had asked me why I wasn't using HootSuite to make more efficient use of the time I had allocated to promotion. The answer, quite simply, was that I felt funny about pre-loading my tweets. Sure, I could write a lot of tweets that would be relevant (possibly even effective), but it wouldn't be the same as talking with the people that make up my Twitter community. In fact, it wouldn't be talking with them at all. It would just be blasting them with my own messages that have nothing to do with the conversation. And while I have a pretty liberal follow policy, I always unfollow people and brands that outsource the conversation to their bots.

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Comic style speech bubbles collection" and "Funny robot stay with laptop" images via Shutterstock.

Lack of expertise and training

Among the top factors important to success in digital marketing is having the right resources and expertise to guide strategy, as well as the staff to implement it. About 60 percent of brand marketers believe they need more help from experts to get the most out of their digital efforts, and only 27 percent of those in mid- and senior-level brand and digital marketing positions consider themselves experts.

The word used most often to describe how survey respondents feel about managing efforts in digital marketing is overwhelmed. To put some perspective around this, the pace of change and fragmentation in our industry can sometimes overwhelm even the savviest and experienced of us. There is a baseline of experience required to drive strategy and execute on specific disciplinary practices. Yet the industry changes so much and so frequently that it is impossible to know everything even in a specific subject matter area.

The top 3 marketing challenges facing brands today

The words most often used by marketers to describe how they feel about managing efforts in digital.

The complexity, rate of change, and the ability to plan and execute effectively in digital continue to be a challenge. As one senior brand manager at a Fortune 500 CPG firm said, "Let's face it -- TV is easier to do. Digital is more complicated and fragmented with a pace of change that can make your head spin."

While TV might be more expensive from a production and media buying perspective, it is far more turnkey than digital; the investment in people, skills, talent, and effort needed to develop and execute effective digital programs is often overlooked.

Only 29 percent of brand marketers surveyed feel that their companies have sufficient skills training in the realm of digital marketing, and 60 percent say they need more help from experts.

The skills required to produce effective digital campaigns are often multi-disciplinary and can require teams of a dozen or more. "Skills have a lot more to do with thinking more broadly and strategically -- while thinking tactically," said Cyrille Labourel, a senior brand manager with Johnson & Johnson. "To be successful, you have to be able to move between strategy and execution easily."

Half of all brand marketers surveyed believe that hiring internal staff members that specialize in digital is important to success, but only about a third feel that their firms are doing a good job addressing this need. Some brands are addressing this need by including digital experience in their job descriptions for brand management roles.

When hiring for digital expertise, it is advised to look for core characteristics such as the ability to cross-communicate and connect to business goals. Digital marketers must have a good marketing basis on which to build their digital expertise and a thirst for ongoing learning. Perhaps Jonathan Sullivan, digital lead for Valspar Paint, said it best when he shared, "Experts in our industry are experts at learning."

It's clear that budgets for digital marketing and media are increasing, but corresponding investments are lagging in the areas of acquiring the expertise and resources required to plan, develop, and execute effective strategies and programs. Brand marketers must start to integrate essential characteristics in their hiring practices and demonstrate the corresponding value to get the support they need.

Misaligned organizational structures and processes

Equally important to having digital expertise and resources is having the right organizational structure and processes to facilitate connections and communication across brand, marketing, and business goals.

To be successful, digital can no longer exist in a silo, in a backroom, or as an afterthought. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. And change has to come from the top.

While 62 percent of brand marketers feel that they are now getting senior leadership support for digital, only one in three think that senior leadership at their company has a clear vision for the role of digital marketing. This is greatly felt in the lack of organizational structure and process required to succeed. Brands need more active senior leadership support and focus on the role of digital marketing in their organizations. CMOs are in an ideal position to help facilitate and advance these efforts.

"There was a time when the web was its own thing -- brand managers weren't involved," said Barbara Rentschler, CMO for K'Nex Brands. "There was no integration between marketing efforts and what we were doing on the web. Over time, we have changed the organization and the way people work together so that they are integrated, high performance, self-managed teams."

Dedicated, internal digital teams that can bridge both classical and digital marketing are also a key contributor to advancing success. According to a brand manager at a Fortune 500 food manufacturer, "People are used to running traditional marketing programs. Having a digital team really helps."

These internal experts can bridge the language and skill barrier between digital marketing and brand management, helping brand managers get the most out of their agency partners and each other. "Brand managers and digital marketers are still learning what each does and how our roles can support each other," said Renee Heath, digital lead at B&G Foods. "It's a tag-team effort, and some things we work on jointly. We are all focused on where we can best apply our expertise and skills."

As content becomes integral to effective digital marketing, integration across brand management and digital becomes even more important as well. Brand managers for the most part are responsible for an increasing volume of content and messaging, in addition to their responsibilities for overall financial performance of the brand. Seventy-two percent of brand marketers believe that investment in strong digital content is important, but only 39 percent feel that their companies' efforts are "good" or "very good." To be successful, there must be true organizational support to drive the right business outcomes for brands.

Brand marketers are also calling for improved alignment and reorganization around agency selection and management. Many of those interviewed expressed frustration with agencies' lack of digital expertise or ability to hire agencies with the expertise they need. Often brand marketers are managing multiple agencies. Brand managers and digital marketers are calling for innovation in agency management and to be included in decisions regarding agency selection. Often times, these decisions are made from the top down -- by those furthest away from the existing and emerging needs of brand managers.

Ingrained legacy practices

Brand marketers are driven to figure out valid measurements, establish benchmarks, and gauge ROI returns that map meaningfully back to financial outcomes. When it comes to digital marketing, the language and the means are vastly different from what came before, and there is not a long history of proven performance, especially when you consider the pace of change.

From the perspective of the brand marketer, the fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. It's always tempting to rely on vehicles like TV, even if they are losing relevance, simply because they have sophisticated validation models. As one brand manager put it, "You never get fired for deciding to go with TV. If you make a large investment in digital and it flops, everyone notices." These legacy mentalities remain a key barrier to success with digital.

According to one senior brand manager at a Fortune 500 personal care giant, "There are so many legacy mindsets and processes from the old way of doing things that continue to persist. I'm not sure if CPG companies are still feeling safe about putting a lot of money down in the digital space because other older tools are 'more proven' because of historical marketing mix models."

Labourel with Johnson & Johnson went further to say, "Even if we know that TV doesn't have the same ROI, we don't know how much digital connects to sales. At the same time you have to be able to convince management that we need to do things differently."

There have been many industry attempts to translate digital metrics into legacy models with online ratings and GRP-type measurements with mixed results. While industry guidelines might be helpful, brand marketers must also focus on understanding the metrics that digital provides to develop their own benchmarks and ROI models that translate to their business.

According to one senior digital manager at a Fortune 500 beverage firm, "I sometimes get asked about how many GRPs digital provides, which reflects people trying to transfer old thinking to the new tools, and that just doesn't work. It's critical to be able to get into the numbers to understand what's happening and the behavior behind them. These are different metrics from what brand managers usually look at."


As digital rises in importance, brands need to have the right support from management. Budgets are increasing, but fragmentation, confusion, and frustration are as well. So while we might celebrate increasing digital budgets, the advancement of our industry, and acknowledgement of its importance, we still must address significant, unmet needs among brand marketers if we are to make these investments successful.

Only those organizations that recognize the needs and address them with senior-level commitment will be in a strong position to activate digital's full potential.

Are you prepared for that?

Denise Zimmerman is president and CSO of NetPlus. A special thanks goes to Finch Brands for its work on the "Finch Brands and Netplus Digital Pulse Study" that drove the insights in this article.

On Twitter? Follow Zimmerman at @dzimmerman. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Surviving adversity and managing risk for big business" image via Shutterstock.

The advice: Your Facebook page should replace your website

Why it's bad advice
"You only need Facebook" is more likely to be recommended to smaller (and sometimes local) brands. On the surface, it sounds like a great deal all around. Facebook is free and easy enough for most of our grandmas to set up. And business owners get sick of being told that they need to be on new online platforms. From the point of view of a small business owner (who is often responsible for his or her own marketing), keeping pace with the next big thing is often not a priority. Thus, they love the idea of being able to cut one -- an expensive one, like a new website -- out of the picture and focus instead on a "free" platform like Facebook.


Better advice
Decide what your audience needs and wants from your business's online presence. If you don't know, ask. If you don't know how to ask, hire a marketer who does. Here's why: You might not need Facebook at all. You might only have the resources to manage either a website or a Facebook page but not both. If your Facebook page isn't actively managed and your website is woefully out of date, you're probably better off concentrating on just one. So pick the right one.

Let's pretend that you own a snow cone stand called "They Were Cones" in the parking lot of the suburban Lone Pine Mall. Luckily, you've kept a paper email signup list on a clipboard on the edge of the counter for the past six months. A quick email survey to "The Coneheads" (your loyal fans) reveals that only three pieces of online information about "They Were Cones" are required -- location, hours, and flavors. Conclusion: Build a simple website and avoid Facebook for now. When you have more time, learn to engage through social media.

The advice: You should let your fans run your Facebook page

Why it's bad advice
Marketers and business owners sometimes follow this advice because is seems to ease the short-term strain on resources. It also falls in line with the popular -- and not altogether incorrect -- notion that brands no longer own their own brands. (The consumers own those brands.) With the wrong person at the marketing helm, a brand might be more than happy to gin up a Facebook page and then hope that fans will create content for it.


Better advice
A Facebook page is like a marathon where the fans are the runners and the brand is the event organizer. As the brand, it's your job to make sure everyone has the correct information. You are also there to help fans with concerns and questions. If some jerk gets rowdy, you might have to kick that guy out. The brand is also there to give out freebies and exclusives and to engage with fans on a one-on-one basis wherever necessary.

If this sounds like a lot of work, then you probably understand social media marketing! Yay! Curating an online brand is a big responsibility. Ideally, community management (which seems to be the accepted title) is a 24/7 job -- it certainly can be if you let it. Growing a Facebook community large enough to expect fan created content is a big job. Once you get there (if you ever do), Facebook is now a large portion of your fan base with questions, concerns, and comments that will require interaction from you. If those interactions are few and rare, expect to lose fans on Facebook and elsewhere.

The advice: Don't try to sell from your Facebook page

Why it's bad advice
Avoiding sales of products and services on Facebook is widely accepted because there's a competent kernel of wisdom to it: People don't usually come to social media to consume advertising and marketing messages. This simple fact about Facebook browsing behavior has been reiterated for years by both survey data and expert opinions. For example, in May, Chris Litster, SVP at Constant Contact, said, "Remember, people go to Facebook to catch up and connect -- when they want to buy, they'll go to your website."

OK, OK, OK, yes, yes, that's true.


Then why the hell are all these brands spending so much time and money on Facebook? If Facebook isn't an effective sales tool, then is Facebook the biggest fleece ever? Well, maybe for other reasons. But in this case, no. The brands that are investing heavily in Facebook presences understand that Facebook interactions occur near the top of their sales funnels. Just like real life, as a fan interacts with a brand over time on Facebook, that fan becomes likelier to buy something from that brand. Remember, Facebook isn't a banner ad. It's customer service. So be nice.

Better advice
Offer Facebook fans exclusive access or coupons or anything that gives them a one-up on anyone else. People like to feel like they're part of a secret club. Let's pretend that you run a bakery that is about to debut a brand new flavor of Cronut. Ask the Facebook community to help you develop the new flavor. Then debut it on Facebook with a special discount for fans only. And announcing regular sales and promotions is totally OK. Just don't go overboard.

For more examples, check out this Facebook Page to browse the innovative ways that brands large and small are driving sales from Facebook.

What is "intelligence" and what defines "artificial"

Intelligent entities have specific traits that make them so. Things like perception, reason, choice, action, reflection, communication, organization -- as well as the ability to set, achieve, and learn goals.

Algorithms are already the audience

We are spending more and more time in a blend of synthetic and real reality. On some days algorithms can make up 70 percent of the trades on our stock exchanges. We need machines to make sense of the chaos. We create innovative algorithms because we have the data to inform them. The question is no longer how much will we allow the algorithms to take over? Rather, it's when will we realize how much they have already taken over? Words are data. And data is the new development environment.

Think about the evolution of email. Before we receive email it's been processed by a myriad of machine intelligence. SPAM filters, personalization and priority filters, corporate routers, etc. In reality, an email has been read several times by machines before it appears as unread in our Inbox.

Similarly, the word is no longer the defining object in computing. Your mouse isn't busy clicking on hyperlinks any more. The tablet and the smartphone have you touching images. With raging ease we can share these images and with the popularity of social utilities like Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine, these very visual communications are being managed by a similar intelligence.

You're writing for machines -- and have been for some time

Agencies have been forced to learn -- without ever intending to -- how to write for the machines and this is just the beginning. Machines are getting smarter, and we trust them to do more on our behalf. DVRs, SMS, email, calendars, and personal digital assistants are all interacting with algorithms that process messaging for us, while also filtering and parsing out data we don't want to see (if our minds are the club, think of technology as the no-nonsense bouncer). As a function of the pervasiveness of the technology, our preference for information is managed more and more by the machines (and algorithms) that do our bidding.

As marketers, we already comprehend the value of a well-strategized SEM program. Or said another way, if you don't understand the algorithm, you get lost in the sea of data that is "search," which is less about you getting lost, than customers being able to find you. The next logical step is for the algorithms to begin generating original ideas for the machines.

I'm not talking about banner ads, or WordPress or Tumblr sites getting turned out formulaically. I'm talking about "the big idea" (I'm looking at you, Donny Deutsch). This means a new offering of the agency will be the crafting of algorithms -- creating original conversations with artificial intelligence. Readiness on the part of the agencies may vary, and some will naturally shy away from this evolution. Is your agency ready to recruit a group director of algorithms?

So, you've processed all these concepts and how they relate to your world, which brings me to the original question: Are agencies ready? Is your agency ready? Not having a group director of algorithms already on the payroll isn't a sign of certain doom, but there are three simple things you should do today to account for these new realities.

  • The people who think about influencing behavior with algorithms aren't traditionally found in the creative department. But really that's where they need to live. Many organizations are not ready nor are they prepared for this critical idea. 

  • Invite people who are already agents for this change into your agency and allow them to affect change operationally, organizationally, creatively, technologically -- now. Get them involved with the creative ideation early and often. Give them the latitude to influence the work.

  • Measure success through integration. Today, this work isn't going to be immediately billable. It's an investment in your future. But what you will see is the work the agency produces changing in many positive ways including enthusiasm for the work itself and the way clients consider your capabilities.

Just like advertising, you can't spell reality without A.I. There are steps you can take today not only to understand your reality, but to shape your reality for the future.

Jason Alan Snyder is VP, director of technology for North America at Momentum Worldwide.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet

The advice: Run a giveaway to boost your "likes"

Why it's bad advice
Yes, a giveaway will probably increase your "likes," potentially by a lot. But it might also cost you a lot of money. And you will have ultimately acquired a whole lot of "fans" who aren't really fans at all.

If you hire me or another marketer like me to increase your Facebook "likes," I can totally do that. A "likes campaign" is usually pretty easy assuming that you have at least a modest marketing budget or enough product for me to give away. If you want to increase your "likes" by huge margins, that's still pretty easy, but it requires a bunch of money and whatever is being awarded to new fans, as the giveaway needs to be at least somewhat on-brand.

Here's the rub: People almost always love free stuff more than they love your brand. So they probably didn't "like" your page because you're you. They're only there for the freebies. Now it's your job to keep them there. If you built a big Facebook following by giving away off-brand stuff, expect people to hide your updates or unlike your page quickly afterward.

Better advice
Create your Facebook fan acquisition strategy as a two-tiered campaign. Step one, the giveaway, gets them to "like" the page. Step two keeps them from leaving after the giveaway is over.

The advice: You must be on Facebook

Why it's bad advice
You are not the boss of me. Facebook usage is huge, so part of your audience is almost certainly on Facebook no matter what it is that your brand does. But it's possible that Facebook doesn't fit into your online marketing strategy. If you are a visual brand like food or fashion, Facebook makes sense -- but so does Instagram. Research about your audience might reveal that more potential fans are on Instagram, and those fans engage with your content more often than on Facebook.

Better advice
Do your homework first before investing resources in Facebook. Yes, Facebook is gigantic, which means that most brands should manage a presence there. But it's possible that skipping Facebook in favor of other platforms social and non-social (like a brochureware website) is a more efficient way to respond to the needs of your online audience.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Chapell & Associates is headed by Alan Chapell. In 1997, Chapell founded the privacy program at Jupiter Research, an internet research firm focusing on the consumer internet economy. During his four and a half years at Jupiter, Chapell also...

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