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The Work Force is Surfing

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Bad news for bosses: Advertising Age claimed earlier this week that office time spent on non-work blogs adds up to the equivalent of a cumulative 2.3 million jobs per year. Ad Age estimated that 35 million workers, or one in four people in the work force, visit blogs and spend an average of 3.5 hours a week on blogs. That's 9 percent of a 40-hour workweek.


Here's worse news for bosses: it's not just blogs that employees are digging into while supposedly at work. Your staffers are shopping, emailing, IM'ing, and surfing up a storm on the company dime. They are planning vacations, researching cars, and hunting for apartments from 9 to 5.


A quick tour through the eMarketer eStat database comes up with dozens of measures pointing to rampant personal use of the internet on company time.


An America Online/Salary.com survey published earlier this year offers the broadest (bleakest?) picture of wasted time. Note that younger employees -- presumably those most familiar with all the distractions and temptations the web has to offer -- are the biggest online time wasters. Those born between 1980 and 1985 log nearly two hours a day. That's right: roughly 25 percent of the day is wasted.



IM'ing is probably a major culprit for these younger users. A survey by Akonix found that personal IM use eats up hours a day for many users. Almost half of those surveyed said that IM'ing took up to 30 minutes of the day.



Web surfing is another time consumer. A Harris Interactive poll commissioned by Websense found that a staggering 51 of employees said they spent between one and five hours a week on non-work sites.


My favorite group in this poll is the brutally honest 11 percent who admitted that they spend at least 11 hours surfing for fun while on the job. Hats off to these enterprising slackers, who doubtless will develop carpal tunnel syndrome from repeated use of the alt-tab command to launch work-related apps whenever the boss comes around.




And then there is email. Statistics from the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future found that nearly two-thirds of adults check personal email at work. That was based on data from 2003, so it is likely the number is higher today.




When is the most common time for these workers to check their mail? Sorry, boss: all day long. That's according to a poll by Opinion Research Corp. for AOL.



What with all the IM'ing, emailing, blog reading and writing, and general surfing going on at work, who can find time to shop while on the company dime? More than half of us, actually, according to this Websense survey. (And that doesn't count the 39 percent who said they visited auction sites.)



In fact, one of the key allures of online shopping is that it can be done while at work, according to a survey by Forrester Research.




Bosses, being human, are doubtless wasting plenty of time online, too. Perhaps that's why so many of them don't mind that employees are doing a bit of shopping while on the clock. Note that of the four regions in this Harris/Yahoo! poll, only in the Northeast did a majority of bosses say it is not acceptable to shop at work-and that was a slim majority.
 


This virtual epidemic of work time wasted presents a clear lesson for marketers -- don't ignore workplace consumers! Go after them during the day. They're roaming the web in force from 9 to 5. Just don't expect them to listen to audio files -- they've muted their speakers.


Ezra Palmer is editorial director of eMarketer, the "first place to look" for market research information related to the Internet, e-business, and online marketing.

Got schmoozing on my mind
Do forget about the concept of schmoozing. When you're overly aware of your intentions, you may come off as an opportunist (in the worst sense of the word).


"Probably the most important trait of the effective schmoozer is that they are, first and foremost, not schmoozey," says Traction CEO Adam Kleinberg. "Many people feel they have to adopt a persona when they network. Don't." Kleinberg's method is simple: Be real and go out with an intention of making a friend. Focus on quality rather than quantity. Hoarding business cards won't amount to much in the long term. A good one-on-one conversation, however, carries more substance than you may think.


"You may not meet as many people," Kleinberg says. "But you'll be more likely to create lasting relationships with the ones you do.


Don't be conscious that you're schoomzing. Even though this article is, ostensibly, about how to schmooze, the bottom line is that it shouldn't be on your mind in first place. Effective networking doesn't take supernatural levels of consciousness. Rather, your demeanor and actions should fall together naturally. So throw out the point-by-point game plan that you've scribbled on a placard.


However, it does get a little more complicated than that, says Kleinberg: Even if you're not consciously schmoozing, subtle tics in your body language may lead people to question your intentions. These signs include:



  • Looking at people's nametag before you look in their eyes

  • Looking over a person's shoulder while they're talking to you

  • Constant checking of your watch

In other words, make sure to maintain eye contact with the people you're talking to.


The pre-game warm-up
Do prepare yourself before the day of the event. According to Denise Zimmerman, president and CSO of NetPlus Marketing, summits and conferences are meant to foster common interests, so plan your stay to make sure you're meeting people who'll find value in what you're offering.


"Relationships are built on common connections," Zimmerman says. "So it makes sense to start your networking by finding out who is coming, and what you may share in common beyond an interest in digital media."


Weinstein agrees with these sentiments: "Scan the attendee list as soon as you register. Look for the companies and individuals you want to meet so you can contextualize your introductions."


Zimmerman is also an advocate of iMedia Connection's People Connection page. It enables her to see who's going to an iMedia Summit, and to inform others of her own attendance. She supplements the info from People Connection with material from LinkedIn. Using these sites, Zimmerman says, try listing 10 people you'd like to meet. Base your decisions on their background and work info. Ask yourself: Do you know any of the same people? Do your businesses share the same directives?


Don't go in cold turkey. A lack of planning will lead you to panic and grab at everything within reach. Feeling the pressure to be productive, you may start handing out business cards like they're Gouda samples from the dairy aisle. Or maybe you'll barge in on every conversation on the floor.


In other words, you'll default to "swinging for the fences," which is a disaster in the making. "Don't attack people with your elevator pitch the second you meet them," Kleinberg says. "Don't speed network. These behaviors are obnoxious."


Greeting everyone within a five feet radius will only lead to idle chatter. The "connections" being made won't carry much weight. "Don't spend too much time schmoozing with clients or partners that don't have congruent goals or actionable opportunities," says appssavvy CEO Chris Cunningham. Doing so will be a waste of time for both parties.

The shyness epidemic
Do break out of your shell.
Let's face it, not all of us are wired for networking. Some people are introverts by nature, and there's no shame in it. But the plain fact is that business events are most productive when you're making an effort to engage people.


To help break the ice, says Sean Cheyney, vice president of marketing and business development at AccuQuote, try finding acquaintances who are talking to people you don't know. It'll greatly ease the introduction process, and you won't feel like you're being intrusive as you start talking about yourself.


Cheyney also recommends visualizing the traits of a good networker. This can be used as a sort of mental cue. "I saw [Starcom's Sean Finnegan] in action at a business event in Chicago very early in my career. The guy is naturally charismatic in a networking environment," Cheyney says. "So I just pictured the good networking habits used by Sean, and others, and emulated them."


Misner says it also helps to take pride in being an introvert. "Introverts are great listeners. By listening to other people and asking questions of them, [they] will be impressed that you are so interested in them." So embrace your shyness (to an extent), instead of dreading it for the duration of the summit.


Don't regress into your shyness. As the saying goes, do something each day that frightens you. And remember that zero progress -- as in not making a single connection -- is the worst possible failure you can endure (outside of driving your rented Suburban into the lobby).


Cheyney warns against the practice of standing on the sidelines. Though it seems like an obvious enough rule of thumb, many people still fall victim to the mistake. Another pitfall is to stick with acquaintances that you're already familiar with. "Relationship building is important, but so is forming new relationships," Cheyney says. So make it a point to meet new people. Keep in mind that you're expanding your pool of relationships, not just giving it depth.  


A quick note on the open bar
Do take notice of your peers. An open bar can be a welcome mat to self-sabotage, but you should be in the clear as long as you're mirroring the pace of the room. If people are having a drink, feel free to follow suit. "It doesn't need to be an alcoholic drink," Cheyney says. "But just having one in your hand will help [you] align yourself better with the room." He notes that this groupthink sort of method will help put you at ease if you're feeling self-conscious. You can blend in with the crowd if you're doing what others are doing. 


Don't overcompensate with liquid courage. Let's say you're primed to make a presentation and now you're beset with a case of the butterflies. It might be best to keep the maximum possible distance from the bar. At the very least, know your limit and keep the number of glasses in check. "Being known as the conference lush is counterproductive," says Cheyney -- an understatement if there ever was one. 


Tim Loc is an editorial intern at iMedia Connection.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 

BuzzFeed


You can't talk about native advertising without talking about BuzzFeed. True, BuzzFeed didn't invent native advertising, but when you go looking for examples of native ads that worked, it certainly appears that way. In fact, as far as publishers go, BuzzFeed is practically synonymous with native advertising. But it goes much deeper than clever creative. For one thing, BuzzFeed appears to be turning a lot of those native ads into serious revenue. At the same time, the company has also helped pioneer some best practices that have clearly given brand advertisers confidence. And then there's the wider distribution model through BuzzFeed's very own native ad network.


Add that all up and there's no question that BuzzFeed is leading the pack when it comes to native ads. But with so much invested in native, it is certainly worth asking what will happen if the native ad skeptics have a point. After all, there are those who question the rosy projections for native, citing concerns that publishers are giving away too much of the store, as well as sharing criticism that the data on native is just too early to tell.


The New York Times


When The New York Times makes a move, people notice. So it's not surprising that the publisher's decision to redesign its site to accommodate native ads was well-documented. But while The New York Times is certainly offering native ads (Dell was the first advertiser to come on board), the product is probably best described as paid. After all, The New York Times goes to great lengths to make clear that the native ad content is a paid ad and certainly not editorial content.


Take a look at the Dell ad here. Note that the ad appears in a separate browser window with a URL that puts "paid post" in front of the rest of the address. The word paid also appears three times on the page, which is rather easy to distinguish from a regular New York Times page because the paid pages have a prominent blue bar and rather different layout.


Why does this matter? Because while native ads might be the next big thing for advertisers, there are certainly those on the publishing side who have expressed their doubts about native, citing concerns that native dilutes the integrity of the media brand. You can read about some of those doubts here, here, here, and here. For now, it's safe to say that the news outlet is treading on the more conservative side of native, giving advertisers a good alternative to publishers out there who try to hide the ball on native with less obvious labels, as well as those who don't label at all.


At the same time, the New York Times is also carving out a reputation among publishers for bringing high production value to native content, as seen here with this in-depth multimedia story about women in prison that was part of a native campaign to promote the latest season of the Netflix original "Orange Is the New Black." Interestingly, that ad even earned praise from journalists who have been critical of native advertising.

Twitter buys Namo Media


Tech acquisitions come and go. Sometimes the big ones turn out to be nothing and the little ones that hardly got any press end up being huge. So we'll take a wait-and-see approach to Twitter's $50 million acquisition of Namo Media. But Twitter's head of advertising, Kevin Weil, did tell the world what to look for as the company plans to pair Namo with a previous acquisition, MoPub.


"...we have been working to bring native ads to mobile app publishers in order to create a more seamless and less intrusive ad experience for users," Weil said in a statement.


As for Namo, here's a look at what it does.



Bringing native to a social mobile platform is a no-brainer for Twitter, which is at something of a crossroads right now. On the one hand, the company is adding users at a slower than expected pace, but on the other hand, slow growth doesn't seem to have hurt Twitter's ability to monetize its existing users. In theory, putting MoPub and Namo together should help Twitter increase the value of its user base. Of course, Twitter isn't the only name in the social mobile space, so as native ripples through our networks and onto our phones, we'll certainly see some other big names with their own native plays.


Programmatic


At first glance, native ads shouldn't be able to scale. But whenever there's a trend in online advertising, you can bet your bottom dollar that there's a follow-on movement to automate and scale that trend.


Enter a slew of firms that say they can scale native advertising through programmatic media buying. You can read about those specific plays here, here, and here.


On the one hand, the idea of using programmatic to scale native ads seems like a potentially huge win for advertisers. And maybe it will be. But there's also a downside to applying programmatic to native. After all, native ads are supposed to be about creating custom content that leverages a specific publisher's brand. Isn't that the whole point? With the publisher's help, the advertiser is supposed to create something on par with the content users already expect from the site. Sure, some content could play on multiple sites, but the further you stretch content across the media universe, the more you commoditize the media. And truth be told, we already do that with banner ads, which are created and distributed independent of the media. Tools that divorce native ads from a specific publisher don't seem like they'll work because they ultimately devalue the publisher and overvalue the audience. But for the time being, there's no shortage of startups out there insisting that they can have their cake and eat it to.

Bloomberg


For any publisher considering native advertising, there's always a tension in presenting the ad content in such a way that works as editorial without actually being editorial. But while setting the boundary is critical, it's also important for publishers to think about what sets them apart in the market. After all, it's that unique quality that drives audiences to their site, and it's that same quality that advertisers seek to tap into when they make a native buy. That is precisely what makes Bloomberg's native ad play so interesting.


While Bloomberg is known for its business reporting, the site's editorial core isn't so much a focus on business as it is a data-driven approach to journalism, which, if you hadn't noticed, is incredibly hot right now. Accordingly, Bloomberg's native ads tap into the publisher's data-driven style of journalism. Recently, Bloomberg announced its first native advertiser, Zurich Insurance Group, which is running a two-year campaign (how's that for a data set?) that features articles, infographics, and videos all focused on the topic of hidden business risks.


Local


Cracking the local advertising market has long been a goal for the online advertising industry, so it's not surprising to hear about native ad plays with a local twist.


One of those local players in the native ad arena is Speakeasy, a partnership between a local ad agency and The Dallas Morning News. In theory, a local paper should be well-positioned to take advantage of local native ads because it has access to talent, resources, and the kind of locals-only knowledge that can make content of that nature work. But as this Digiday article points out, Speakeasy initially set a floor of $2,000 a month but found that it had to raise its rates to $4,000 per month to keep the venture going. In the world of national ads, $4,000 a month is a drop in the bucket, but to local advertisers, especially the mom-and-pop variety, $4,000 is a pretty big commitment, especially when weighed against search and word-of-mouth strategies.


Then again, The Dallas Morning News isn't the only local paper playing the native ad game. A few years before people began talking about native ads, The Los Angeles Times kicked up a controversy with a cover story that turned out to be an ad for an NBC show in disguise. Given the beating that local newspapers have taken in the last decade, it's not surprising to see many of them getting involved in native. For the same reason, it's not surprising to see newspapers in trouble opting to go with the more aggressive native strategies that risk alienating readers.


Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Michael Estrin at @mestrin.


"Newspapers and magazines on display" image via Shutterstock.

Ezra Palmer heads eMarketer’s editorial group, managing a team of researchers, interviewers, writers, analysts, forecasters and editors as they collect, analyze and contextualize data from thousands of research sources worldwide for the...

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