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Jeffrey Cole on Internet Trends (1 of 3)

Dawn Anfuso
Jeffrey Cole on Internet Trends (1 of 3) Dawn Anfuso

In July 2004, Jeffrey Cole joined the USC Annenberg School for Communication as Director of the newly formed Center for the Digital Future and as a Research Professor. Prior to joining USC, Cole was a long-time member of the UCLA faculty and served as Director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, based in the Anderson Graduate School of Management. At UCLA and now at USC Annenberg, Cole founded the World Internet Project, a long-term longitudinal look at the effects of computer and Internet technology on all aspects of society, which is conducted in over 20 countries. At the announcement of the project in June 1999, Vice President Al Gore praised Cole as a "true visionary providing the public with information on how to understand the impact of media."

In an Insight Presentation to the iMedia Summit last month titled, "New Internet Trends: Changing Media Use, Declining Credibility and the Rise of Broadband," Cole enlightened the audience with results from 10 years' worth of research. Here's the first third of that conversation:

It’s really a pleasure to be here. Some of you may know our work from UCLA, the UCLA Internet Report, when I ran the Center for Communication Policy. I made a move, along with my entire staff over the summer, to USC, where we now run the Center for the Digital Future. And actually, the move went smoothly. There were no real divided loyalties until the football game on Saturday. And actually, it worked out pretty well. UCLA did well until the last minute, and then USC won. And in retrospect, I think that was a pretty good solution.

Let me share with you a little bit of what we’re doing, and a little bit of what we’re finding, particularly as it relates to some of the businesses you’re interested in.

As we start, I actually think of this, the year 2004, as the 10th Anniversary of the public Internet. The Internet itself has been around since 1969, as the ARPANET. As a matter of fact, my former university, UCLA, considers it the birthplace of the Internet, with some justification. But interestingly, UCLA didn’t even decide that the Internet was worth taking credit for until about 1997, 1998. 

But this is the 10th year that the public has been on the Internet. It was 10 years ago, in 1994, that AOL went from a walled garden, or a propriety service featuring only its own kinds of activities, to offering the Internet as one of the features of membership. That, incidentally, was to the screams of the academic and research community who didn’t want the masses on their Internet, afraid that they would look at pornography, exchange recipes, and of course, none of that ever really happened! And it was also in 1994 that Netscape introduced its first commercial browser, Navigator. Mosaic had been around before, but Navigator really changed the nature of the Internet.

So this is the 10th year that the public’s been using the Internet. And we want to look at these 10 years and identify what we see as some key trends. But before I do that, a word or two about the work I’m doing. When I was in graduate school I was taught that we blew it where television was concerned in the 1940s. Television was the one mass medium everyone knew was going to be a mass medium. There was no question as to whether people would like radio with pictures. Television was going to be popular. We knew that before the first signal aired. And what I was taught -- that we should have done and didn’t do -- is we should have tracked people before they had television and then gone back to them year after year to see how television changed their lives. And if we had done that we could have learned some pretty interesting things: Where did the time for television come from? When Americans were watching three hours of television a day in 1960 and we were asked where’d those three hours come from, we didn’t know. We just sort of glommed them from space. Well, we could have learned if those three hours came from talking as a family, from reading books or newspapers, or listening to the radio, or sleep, or from some other place. We could have learned how television changed our consumer behavior. Did it make us more likely to buy the goods and services we saw advertised? I think you know better than almost anyone, it did. How did it change our connection to the civic process? Did television make us more engaged in politics and likely to participate and vote, or more cynical and detached? And how did it change our desire to travel? And where we wanted to travel to? Who we wanted to be when we grow up … and a thousand other things we could have learned from television. 

And television in America is mostly about leisure and entertainment. The Internet’s about how we work, how we play, how we learn, how we do everything in our lives, and therefore, I think you can easily make the case that long term, the influence of the Internet will be far more significant than television. And therefore, believing that, five years ago we launched the study of the Internet that we think should have been conducted of television in the 1940s. Happily, you are not an academic audience. We don’t have to spend an hour and a half on methodology, although if anyone’s interested I’d be happy to take a methodological question or to meet afterwards and explain how we do this. But essentially what we do, is we track a representative sample of 2,000 people in the United States and go back to the same people year after year, and look at how their lives change, as they move from a non-user to a dial-up user, from a dial-up user to a broadband user. As about three percent drop off the Internet every year, we’re there to see why they dropped off, do they return, and if so, when and why. But beyond looking at everything we can, at their online activity, we also look at how they use media: look at political engagements, social activity, buying behavior -- both online and off. 

And we started this work five years ago in the United States, but we’re now in 23 other countries, with representative samples in each of those countries. And today I’m going to share some new information in the United States. I’ll make a couple of references to other countries, but if someone has a particular interest in one of these countries, I’m happy to answer a question or tell you a little bit about that particular country later. But I will focus primarily on the U.S. today. 

Having said that, in this 10th year of the public Internet, we’ve identified what we see as 10 key trends. And you can look at all 10 of those trends on our Web site. Today I want to take the three trends that are closest to the areas this conference is about and expand on them in a little bit of detail. So let’s start…

First trend we’re going to look at is something that you can’t say any more simply than this: “Broadband changes everything.” First just a statistic about broadband -- right now we’re on the verge of the majority of homes becoming broadband homes. Last year about 46 percent of homes connected through broadband. Right about now we’re crossing the line that the majority of homes connect through broadband.

I actually believe there’s a bigger gap between dial-up use and broadband use than there is between non-use and dial-up use. That’s how significant I think broadband is. Fascinatingly to us, four years ago when we started talking to consumers, we found that 40 percent of those who ordered broadband at home were not aware they were getting an “always-on” or a direct connection. They thought they were just getting a really fast dial-up: You connected the old way and then when you connected it just was really fast. And while they got used to the speed, they bought it for the speed, the speed was addictive and they got used to it immediately. But it was always on, so the direct connection changed their relationship to the Internet far more significantly than the speed did.

We find dial-up to be this disruptive technology. Well, broadband is a very integrative technology. And what I mean by that, when we say that dial-up is disruptive, the average dial-up user is on one, two to three times a day, with exceptions, for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. When they dial-up they usually go into some other part of the house, towards the back, into a den, into a bedroom, into an office. Of course there are exceptions. And generally, dial-up time is time spent away from the family, although they can be around them, and time spent away from television, although the television can be on if people do multitask from the beginning.

Dial-up users view dialing-up as a big deal. They frequently write down on the back of an envelope or a Post-It Note the things they want to do when they log-on. And if they log-off forgetting to do those things, they get irritated at themselves. Even though the act of dialing-up only takes about 30 seconds, they view it as a big deal, or as we in the scientific community call it, a “BFD.”

On the other hand, broadband is a really integrative technology. The average broadband user at home is on 20, 30, 40 times a day, two to three minutes at a time, with lots of exceptions. And, when they go online, it doesn’t displace other activities such as family conversation or television viewing. It occurs in between those activities. It fits into the rhythms of the day. It isn’t as likely to displace anything because they’re only on for two minutes at a time, not 20 or 30 minutes of dial-up. It doesn’t displace family conversation. Conversation occurs around the Internet time on broadband. 

And very importantly, something we began to notice about three years ago is where dial-up tends to displace television programming viewing, broadband displaces television advertising viewing. Where broadband was concerned, the viewers were still watching the program, but less likely to watch the commercial. It became one more thing they could do during the commercial.

And I know this is one of the major themes of this conference. I’ll just add my own two cents to this. I’ve written on this for years. I would argue, as I think you know well, a much bigger impression is made on a lay-audience. But I would argue television advertising has been in trouble for a generation, starting with remote controls, which gave people a way to go somewhere else during the commercial, accelerating with dozens, and now close to hundreds of cable channels, which gives people the somewhere else to go to. It was further endangered by VCRs, which give people the ability to scan through commercials. But our own research shows that only 20 percent of people who ever have owned VCRs have ever recorded on them, so VCRs just have the potential to allow people to skip through advertising, a potential now fully delivered on, as you know well, by PVRs and DVRs and TiVo.

I use the phrase “TiVo” even though I think TiVo will win the battle and lose the war and in 25 years we’re going to call all of our PVRs “TiVo” even though TiVo may be out of business. And the only reason to have a DVR is to record. And I would argue that the Internet is just one more thing that piles up on top of those other things. And I would even argue the Internet is not that significant, as a displacer of television advertising compared to those other things.

We were curious and did our own quick and dirty study, which could be slightly wrong, it’s entirely possible. We wanted to see how many people in our sample actually sit when television commercials come on, and watch them. Those are the people who don’t get up, go to the bathroom, go to the kitchen; who don’t change the channel, go to the Internet, get on the phone -- they sit and watch. And we found -- this may not surprise you -- the figure was 5 percent sit and watch the commercials. More than 5 percent sense the commercials and have some exposure as they’re walking in and out of the room. But only five percent actually sit and actively watch them.

Moving on with beyond broadband -- as people got to like the “always on” of broadband, the fact that it was quicker and easier to go to the Internet than it is to go to the telephone, or it is to go to the newspaper, they began to move the Internet out of the back room, out of the den or the bedroom, and closer to where the family interacts. What we saw three years ago when the Internet was fully wired was they were beginning to move it into the kitchen. The kitchen is the most humanly networked room in the house. It’s the first room you usually enter when you go into the house, the last room you leave before you exit the house. It’s where most people have their answering machines. And as people began to become dependent on the Internet, and the fact that it was always on and they could go to it so consistently, they wanted it where they were, and where they were was in the kitchen. And builders were starting to create pedestals in new inexpensive homes for the Internet. But that began to change with Wi-Fi. 

The only reason most people got Wi-Fi was not to be on a communication network, but to share a broadband connection. Then they discovered the advantage of moving the laptop throughout the home. Wi-Fi lets you move the laptop computer into the bedroom, into the living room, the family room, the backyard, the garage. Interestingly about six months ago, knowing of some of our work with the kitchen, The Wall Street Journal called and wanted to know what our data showed about the use of the Internet in the bathroom. And I must confess, we weren’t asking people about bathroom use. So they went ahead and did their own study, which was really interesting. And it made me think about using the Internet in the bathroom with a Wi-Fi connection. You really can’t use it in the bathtub or the shower. And my first reaction was it was sort of disgusting to be using the Internet while you were sitting on the toilet. And then I realized every hotel I ever stay in, including this one, has a telephone in the bathroom. And it’s actually a little less classy to use the telephone while you’re on the toilet than it is to use the Internet. That’s as far as I want to go with the bathroom…

But interestingly, what The Wall Street Journal found was that about 60 percent of the people who were using the Internet in the bathroom were using it while sitting on the toilet with the lid closed. They were using it as a refuge, as a second office, as a way to get away.

But broadband has made people dependent on the Internet, has made them want it not just everywhere they are in the home, it’s made them want it in their offices, in their pockets, in their cars. It has created this demand that you can just reach for it and it’s there, and it’s why -- one of our other trends I won’t go into detail with today -- it’s why the Internet has become the most important source of information for Internet users, the first place almost everybody goes to for information.

Broadband determines how often people log on the Internet, how long they stay on, what they do online, and where, as I mentioned, they go online from. There’s also a strong correlation between broadband use and purchasing behavior, and overall satisfaction with the Internet. And broadband users are on about 17.3 hours a week versus 10.6 for dial-up users. And broadband users, interestingly, do more of everything on the Internet, with two exceptions.

The first exception is looking at medical information. This was a surprise to us in the beginning. New users to the Internet, one of their heaviest uses is looking at medical information. Almost frantically they look up every question they’ve ever had, things they might not want to ask their parents, or their friends, or their physicians. They look up information on every disease they think they’ve ever had, think they might have, or think they might get. There’s this almost desperate desire for information, which is good to the degree they go to reputable Web sites; frightening to the degree they’re going to chat rooms or other places. But medical information, a very heavy use of new users, and therefore, a much more likely use for dial-up users rather than broadband, because new users are still more likely to be dial-up. 

And distance learning. Many people get their Internet connection only because they’re taking a course and they’re more likely to start with the Internet with dial-up.

And just a couple of other things about broadband -- we find almost all Internet users expect to be on broadband within the next 24 months. Broadband, as I’ve already mentioned, is leading the effort in Wi-Fi broadband users, buying more of all electronics across the board than dial-up users. And early broadband users have been innovators across a wide variety of areas.

Tomorrow: How media usage is changing.

Twitter Vision (like a humankind lava lamp) 

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Twitterverse presents a "cloud" visualization of term clustering from what people are posting. As Google went public with its DoubleClick acquisition, the Twitterverse "shouted up" the size of "Billion" and "Google." Common emphasized terms with early adopters include "blog," "coffee," "day/morning/night," "going," "new," "sleep" and "twitter."

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Twitterholic: Tracks the top performing Twitterers. The example below tracks the progress of Robert Scoble, one of the twitchiest, most erudite and smartest posters (he is the first "friend" I recommend you enlist).

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Twitterment: Search on specific terms being discussed or compare different terms/categories. In this example, I compare beer volume over wine:

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For the latest web, desktop and device-based applications, check out the Public Wiki on Twitter.

Building on Sharon Sarmiento's post on the 901am Blog, "The Top 5 Ways Smart People Are Using Twitter," here are some digital marketing implications for platform-independent, networked microblogs:

Advertising and marketing communications
The operative word here is "dialogue," where the form gives life to continued conversations and engagement over time. At Real Branding, we define the advertising role of any medium to Introduce, Engage/Dialogue and Remind. While Twitter doesn't have broadcast-like impact or broad enough penetration yet to widely introduce in the way most large marketers consider effective, it can be easily applied to extend the advertising effect. Dialogue is where Twitter lives.

  • For entertainment, consumer package goods, consumer electronics and B2B technology new product releases, as well as highly considered and affiliated categories, expect "Nano-Releases" by Twitter that tickle The Long Tail and maintain interest building to a trial, consideration, engagement or purchase event. See the Fox Twitter for "Drive" as an example of fan-based engagement with their show, and then with the broader community around shared interests.

  • For personality-driven and beloved brands, look for wit, wisdom, clues and insider info delivered to the deserving (See Colbert's and Borat's twitters).

  • For live sports and entertainment event marketing, expect the Twitter to get you front-row. Currently, you can get stats, scores and news from NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL teams pushed to you in real time. There's your Sunday ticket. For multi-venue music and film events like the New Orleans Jazz Fest or the Tribeca Film Festival, imagine quickly sharing the experience from your venue to your friends' devices next door, across town or even around the world.

  • For promotional programs, Twitter can deliver clues, locations, events, program updates and other gambits in richer ways that better account for how consumers are connecting.

  • For crisis management, think about having a Twitter deployment strategy to address breaking events between the news cycles. We would recommend having your Twitter available before it's needed, which brings up another implication.

  • Domain/brand claims. As with your domain names a decade or so ago, and MySpace pages more recently, friends and foes are already starting to "squat" on your most intuitive name. Go forth and register your brands even if it precedes a communications strategy.

As you may imagine, bloggers are the fastest publishing group to adopt microblogging; we've got a list of formidable participants in the last section, people to watch on Twitter.

Notable entrants outside of the blogosphere:

Traditional publishers

New media publishers

Back in the early 1990s at Omnicom, we came up with the idea for a career portal and launched the first one with Career Mosaic. The premise was based on a simple media dynamic: We noticed that the internet -- at the time, mostly newsgroups, FTP and gopher sites -- was primarily organized through the lenses of love (and every variation on the theme), money (with Classifieds being the biggest draw) and hobbies. Expect love, money and hobbies to be connected in short-form and less formal ways through Twitter. More connections before an in-person meeting could develop greater trust, familiarity and confidence. 

  • Winners here will be people practiced in the art of the sustained short-schmooze. In fact, this could really change that art, and could put a higher demand on substance.

  • Think networking on steroids. 

  • Consider it a friends & family rollcall and alert system.

  • For interdependent, interdisciplinary teams, this could be a killer client, teams and project communication tool ("alpha version on the staging servers!"). 

  • Proceed with caution: it seems like an Artificial Intelligence engine can fake a Twitter session/persona pretty easily (similar to what we created for HBO with Da Ali G bot).

Faster, stronger, better truths and transparency
Anyone who got the flu last year knows how good new strains are at beating our defenses. It's the same with these evolving platforms. Twitter will challenge the PR and corporate communications groups in ways that will make blogs look like warm-ups.

The next noise you'll hear around Twitter/microblogging could be a demolition of old ways of communications and brand management. Expect a wall of corporate secrecy to tumble one chip/Flickr Shot/YouTube video/Twitter at a time.

If you dig into expert commentary on the subject, there's this strange dynamic around the Twitter party. It seems like critics want to love, hate or at least appear indifferent to Twitter, perhaps to mask the obvious question: "How can you change the world in 140 characters or less?" Most blogs about Twitter will have a form of apology or disclaimer. For example the 901am blog by Sharon Sarmiento captures the sentiment: "To be honest, my first impression of Twitter was that it was for folks who had way too much time on their hands who narcissistically wanted to broadcast every random thought that crossed their brains."

It's true, a service answering one simple question, "What are you doing?" sounds so-Generation Y (See chart.), with a first-person world view and graphophilic-enabled drive to be somebody. Scroll through a page or two of short messages on the Public Timeline (one of the default views on Twitter) and the majority seem like navel-watching.

The first post by someone answering the essential Twitter question, "What are you doing?" is likely to be "trying to figure this thing out." Within a day or two of working on that question, the quality of posts may evolve. Just like the question "Who are you?" can become a life's work when practiced long enough, "What are you doing?" moves from temporal descriptions of the mundane to more emotional, humorous and intellectual musings.

The magic comes from the one or two posts every 10 seconds that present universal truths, and that makes the Twitter experience like watching a human lavalamp. Every five seconds or so (today) someone around the world is putting something you should read out there. The point of this social criticism is that Twitter taps into something deeper than the moment, than Gen-Y, than the ADD-attention span, and it's more than social networks that meet all your devices.

The big idea is that it's small and immediate. There's little room for fluff or editorial. It's a distilled meme or it's an update on something relevant to you. Whether it's the lives of loved ones, the status of a project, the fortunes of your team or fantasy player or even the weather, it is highly relevant should you choose to lock in your attention. Pick the right "friends" and the posts become personally, socially and professionally rewarding.

Given that Twitter is finding traction/velocity, the question every smart marketer seems to be asking is, "Is there a 'there' there?" Briefly, "yes," and in the next section I'll offer concrete applications for marketers and publishers to exploit this platform right away.

To give this new form a little context, here are three different cuts at definition:

  1. Twitter's description: A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM or right here on the web! In an April 22, 2007 New York Times interview, Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams, said: "Twitter is best understood as a highly flexible messaging system that swiftly routes messages, composed on a variety of devices, to the people who have elected to receive them in the medium the recipients prefer. It is a technology that encourages a new mode of communication…"

  2. My description: Microblogging meets global social networking. All the ways you connect digitally -- instant message, email, SMS/mobile, web -- combined with your select network or populating globally with a 140 character-limit. The short form is a big part of the function. Twitter is an active stream and archive of brief thought bursts bound to expedite and influence taste, news, popular culture and perhaps even where you'll dine tonight or in the near future and with whom.

  3. Wikipedia description: Twitter is a social networking service that allows members to inform each other about what they are doing and what they think. It allows users to send messages via phone, instant messaging or the Twitter website. Two SMS gateway numbers are available: one for USA and one UK number for international use. Users can receive updates from other selected users via web, IM or SMS. It made its debut in March 2006. It is an example of a microblogging platform.

    "Quoting the Wall Street Journal March 16, 2007 article, 'These [social-networking] services elicit mixed feelings in the technology-savvy people who have been their early adopters. Fans say they are a good way to keep in touch with busy friends. But some users are starting to feel 'too' connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they're having for dinner.'"

Note: A new service has since been launched that mitigates most of the "higher cellphone bill" concerns. EmailTwitter.com lets anyone post and retrieve Twitter updates by email without incurring SMS fees.

Ask Guy Kawasaki where he lives, and he doesn't name the town. "I live in Silicon Valley," he says. In fact, he helped brand the valley as the place where high-tech dreams -- and fortunes -- are born.

In 1984, Kawasaki joined Apple, where he became chief marketer for the Apple Macintosh, and he's credited for creating the concept of the marketing evangelist. Even in that heady but pre-internet era, he believed in word of mouth and direct communication between company and customer. He left Apple in 1987, but returned in 1995 with the express mission of reviving the Macintosh cult. Mac mania is the highest expression of his theory of marketing: It's not about features, and it's not about benefits. It's about love.

Today, he's managing director of Garage Technology Ventures and founder of Alltop, an "online magazine rack" designed to make RSS feeds more readable by arranging them according to topic. He's revered for his wisdom about succeeding in business, although he defines Guy's Golden Touch as, "Whatever is gold, Guy touches."

"I think his experience with Apple has shaped how he has viewed products ever since," says Kathryn Mayall Henkens, a co-founder of Alltop. "He's not technology-driven. He approaches products as a user, and I think that's why he's a good marketer."

Kawasaki is all business and all marketer. For example, from the beginning, he saw Twitter as a marketing platform. He's been criticized for using "ghost Twitterers" to increase the amount of good content he can provide, with the aim of constantly expanding his followers -- which number some 178,840 to date. The ghost Twitterers also search for users who might be interested in hearing about Alltop. He happily admits that he pisses off about 10 people a day this way, but lands many more new followers.

Guy's Golden Rule: Authenticity is everything. Love your product, or you won't be able to market it successfully.

It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that Jane Metcalfe invented internet advertising. She had help, of course, from the uber-talented team at Wired Ventures, including her partner Louis Rossetto. In 1991, Metcalfe and Rossetto hurried back from Amsterdam to found a new kind of computer magazine, one that focused not on the hardware but on the ways it could change society and our daily lives.

The first eye-popping issue of Wired premiered in 1993, and Hotwired followed in 1994. Hotwired was the first professionally produced website with original content -- in the world! AOL, Compuserve, and the like were walled gardens, but Hotwired was accessed through a direct connection to the internet. It pushed the digital medium beyond text, serving up multimedia in ways that are expected now but were groundbreaking 15 years ago -- and sometimes computer-crashing.

And it had ads. As president of Wired Ventures, Metcalfe signed what was likely the first internet ad deal, landing AT&T as a launch advertiser for Hotwired. Not only did Hotwired serve the first banner ad, it racked up a number of digital innovations: It displayed the first Java-enabled ad units, handled the first geo-targeted banner campaign, and served the first mobile ad (on a Palm Pilot in 1998). Wired was also one of the first to use electronic media to get feedback, via The WELL, an early bulletin board system now owned by Salon.

"Both Jane and Louis had a real perspective on the future. It was clear to them what the wired future was all about. It was a lot less clear to everybody else," says Rick Boyce, SVP of business development for Rooftop Media, who, as head of sales for Wired Digital, helped sell out the site prior to its launch.

Wired portrayed an elite society of digerati where intelligence was sexy, with Metcalfe and Rossetto as their royalty. And early internet adopters were a highly desirable audience, Boyce points out -- as they remain today.

Unfortunately, Wired Ventures floundered after two failed IPO attempts, and Metcalfe and Rossetto sold the magazine to Conde Nast in 1998. As an illustration of how far behind the duo the mainstream media were, consider this: The publishing house initially didn't want Wired Digital. That property was sold to Lycos until Conde Nast got with it and bought it back in 2006. Rossetto now runs a boutique chocolate company, and Metcalfe eschews celebrity altogether. But, she'd been there and done that a long time ago.

Jane's Dictum: Don't sell the tech, sell the so-what.

Robert Scoble's voicemail says, "Don't leave me a message. I'm probably doing an interview or in a meeting or something." He's such a celebrity that marketers hope some Scoble dust will rub off on them. The Paris Hilton of marketing recently signed on with Rackspace, a buzz-seeking hosting company that offers "managed private clouds."

Scoble provided the company with entrée to an exclusive tech event, for example, according to Rob La Gesse, director of customer development. "Scoble gives us the ability to enter a conversation stream we had been excluded from," he says.

Scoble was a geek before geeky was cool, working on Macs in high school, and then starting his career at Fawcette Technical Publications.

He signed on with Microsoft in 2003, becoming the de facto evangelist for the Vista operating system during its long development. "I knew they needed a human voice," he says. Scoble gave Microsoft that voice with Channel 9, an online community for Microsoft developers. Launched in April 2004, in the pre-YouTube era (when corporate videos were as sterile as a Waggener-Edstrom press release), Scoble shot quick-and-dirty videos with no lighting or special sets, bearding technical folks in their cubicles, then posted them on Channel9.com.

"It was an experiment they allowed to flourish," Scoble recalls. "We were very careful -- I took some risks, but they were calculated risks. It kept getting bigger and bigger. People realized this was a new way to talk to customers."

In 2005, community member Dave Oliver raved, "I now prefer the honest unmanaged rawness and feel of these videos, it's also like you get a sense of being in the room too... It does make Microsoft seem less evil and more human."

"[Scoble is] a guy who loves doing what he's doing, and it shows," says Steve Rubel, SVP and director of insights for Edelman Digital -- and a top blogger himself. "He's a bon vivant and loves to connect with people personally. The amount of connections he's able to build is amazing."

In 2003, Scoble made waves when he published the Corporate Weblog Manifesto on his blog, exhorting companies to be honest and responsive. He followed that up with the book "Naked Conversations," co-written with Shel Israel. He left Microsoft in 2006 and bounced around a bit before joining Rackspace, a San Antonio hosting company where, as customer advocate, he's helping to develop Building43, a site to help small businesses benefit from new internet tools.

"He understands trends six to 12 months in advance of most people," says Rackspace's La Gesse.

Scoble's gotten some backlash for promoting himself as an "A-list blogger," earning the epithet of "egoblogger." But fans say that he remains generous and approachable. In fact, much of his success comes from his being such a fanboy himself. For example, in a post about attending the Davos conference last year, he gushed that meeting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg there was one of the high points of his life.

The Scoble Manifesto: Tell the truth. The whole truth. Nothing but the truth.

Certainly, every big ad agency seems to have its trendy, experimental arm, and Publicis' Denuo, launched in February 2006, may look like more of the same. But Rishad Tobaccowala, Denuo's grand master, staked his career on digital media when it was barely a glimmer.

Tobaccowala was a rising star at Leo Burnett Worldwide, where he'd ascended from media buyer to account manager. He persuaded Jack Klues, then head of Burnett, to create a digital marketing group, and then to buy Giant Step, one of the first digital agencies. Then, in 1999, he shocked people by jumping over to head this new beast, known as Starcom IP. Some thought he was risking his career.

Jeff Marshall, who was one of the first Starcom employees, disagrees. "He sees things earlier than other people do, and he makes moves off that. I wouldn't characterize it as risky," Marshall says. "His vision was that everything would become digital." Marshall is now senior vice president and managing director of Pixel, Starcom's digital creative agency.

As Publicis bought Burnett, Tobaccowala went through the transitions: Starcom Media Group, SMG Next, then becoming chief innovation officer of Publicis Groupe Media before taking the lead on Denuo.

Tobaccowala pioneered digital ads on AOL, Hotwired, and Broderbund CD-ROMs. He's credited with getting Procter & Gamble and other clients to stick with the web during the dotcom bust.

"We tended to start working with people before most people know who they are," Tobaccowala recalls. "We were lucky. We didn't kiss a lot of frogs before we figured out who were the princes and princesses."

Marshall says Tobaccowala has three superpowers: He's incredibly intelligent, he's fearless, and he's a voracious reader. "A lot of people think they'll pick stuff up in meetings or reading Twitter feeds," Marshall says. "He has a bigger approach to the world that seems to work for him."

At a time when jazzy digital shops insisted traditional agencies didn't get it, and traditional shops tried to ghettoize digital, Tobaccowala was able to bridge the two worlds, bringing solid marketing chops while advocating for this new medium. He calls this pragmatic enthusiasm: loving the technology without losing sight of the business.

"Rishad has an unbelievable way of taking very complex marketing approaches and distilling them down to something that everyone can get excited about, and understand what the objectives are," says Adam Heneghan, a co-founder of Giant Step who worked with Tobaccowala after Burnett acquired it.

Adds Eric Heneghan, Giant Step co-founder, "He's someone who came from the traditional advertising world but was willing to understand how we could apply traditional marketing aspects to this new space."

Tobaccowala's Mantra: Think ahead and move early.

Seth Godin is one of the original digital marketers, founding Yoyodyne in 1995 to help companies connect with consumers. Yoyodyne developed online games for brands and lured consumers with contests and sweepstakes. He sold Yoyodyne to Yahoo in 1998 and stayed on there as vice president of direct marketing until 2000, when he launched a solo consulting and writing career.

Godin began his business-book writing career in the 1990s, and became famous for "Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers" in 1999. The concept became one of the pillars of internet marketing by distinguishing it from traditional "interruptive advertising" and led to today's emphasis on connecting with consumers.

Ten more books followed regularly, with funny, surprising titles (including "Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?" and "Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable"), wacky covers, and insights that immediately became marketing truisms.

In 2005, Godin founded Squidoo, a free service that lets experts and enthusiasts set up free "lenses" to aggregate content about particular topics. Last month, to demonstrate how companies could use them to track and respond to internet chatter, he set up 200 brand-specific lenses that collected tweets, blog posts, news stories, images, videos, and comments about the brand. The idea was to provide an easy service that let companies highlight favorable buzz and quickly respond to negative comments. All well and good. However, he promised to keep creating Brands in Public pages until there were thousands of important brands and, "If your brand wants to be in charge of developing this page, it will cost you $400 a month." After quick and vociferous outcry, he took down the pages, commenting, "Part of the magic of the web is that you can adjust as you go, particularly if you're willing to listen."

The flap -- and Godin's quick response -- illustrates his philosophy on how brands need to behave in order to win consumers' attention and loyalty.

Godin's Guidance: I'd rather be a purple cow than see one.

Susan Kuchinskas is a freelance writer who has written for Adweek, Business 2.0, M-Business and internetnews.com.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Creating editorial content by only relying on outside experts

Editorial content comes in many varieties, but we'll focus here on two fairly broad categories:

"Purchased" content -- creating a virtual editorial board
Companies like Contently and Skyword can help you build an editorial board and commission content, or you can amass a network of bloggers yourself. Either way, you'll still be paying outside experts (often freelance journalists) to write about your industry or niche. While you'll own the content from these well-established thought leaders, you'll also have the option to only pay for content that is up to your standards. The disadvantage here is that these writers may not be as intimately familiar with your company.

"Created" content -- leveraging internal experts
The second type of editorial content is that created by internal experts at your company. These can include engineers, product owners, scientists, or any other expert, depending on your field. Although the opportunity cost of this type of content is high, since you are asking high-value employees to spend time creating it -- or at least being interviewed to gather the subject material -- it is perhaps the most high-value content you can create because your internal subject matter experts know their stuff better than anyone else. This is where your company can really differentiate itself. Freelance bloggers are an asset that any organization can theoretically have access to -- your internal SMEs are unique.

Creating (lengthy) white papers and hiding them behind a gate

White papers generally differ from editorial content in both structure and substance. They tend to be written with a very particular persona in mind, and are often gated to help the sales team gather leads. While this can be an effective strategy in certain circumstances, it is widely overused, often to the detriment of marketing goals.

Before you create a white paper, remember that people's attention spans are very short nowadays. It's rare for someone to read the entirety of a 10-page white paper. Consider how long your white paper really needs to be in order to get the point across, and don't make it any longer.

Next, instead of automatically placing it behind a gate, where visitors have to give up contact info to view it, create teasers. One way to do this is to break your white paper into short html-based posts and use them as bait. Give something before you ask for something in return. Prove your content is valuable before you ask for contact info.

White papers can be a great way to educate your customers and the industry at large, and they can go a long way towards painting your brand as helpful and informative. Just make sure you do them right.

Thinking "All we need is video!"

With the proliferation of YouTube and other social video sites, many brands have come to think of video as a cure-all. However, it won't magically solve all of your content marketing woes.

One mistake that many marketers make is misunderstanding how and when people consume video. Most people believe that the majority of content is consumed in the morning. However, our data has demonstrated that this is not true.

In observing the pattern of content consumption throughout the day, we can see that most content is consumed around noon. In other words, people are getting their content fix in the office and during lunch. Think about how video is consumed in an office environment. Most employees are not comfortable watching videos when the boss could walk by at any moment, right? One great way to avoid losing readers because they can't or won't view video content at work is to write short complementary articles around your video content.

The top 5 content marketing mistakes

Tweeting everything in the morning

Another common misconception is that mobile content consumption peaks in the morning, but this is true only in places with very large commute times --think Los Angeles. Content consumption via mobile and tablets actually peaks in the evening hours, as desktop traffic trends down. As the chart below illustrates, understanding these patterns is vital when planning what types of content to put out and when.

The top 5 content marketing mistakes

You should consider both consumption patterns and form factors like screen size when determining what kind of content produce and when to share it.

Bringing it all together

When planning your content marketing strategy, be sure to avoid the aforementioned mistakes. Instead, remember that data is the best place to start when it comes to making decisions about what type of content to use and when. Gather as much information as you possibly can about your audience before building a content marketing strategy. Then, when you create the content, make sure you are employing the best tools that technology has to offer to optimize and distribute your content to achieve your marketing goals.

Gilad de Vries  is senior vice president of strategy at Outbrain

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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