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Twitter execs: PLEASE start accepting ads

In case any of you hadn’t noticed, there’s been something of a civil war on Twitter over the issue of whether advertising should exist there. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on, and a lot of people who seem convinced that they possess the ultimate truth as to how Twitter advertising should work. As far as I can tell, no one will win, a lot of hurt feelings will result, and Twitter will lose some of the irreplaceable camraderie which has made it what it is.

This is why I’m begging, in all seriousness: Please, Biz, Jack and Evan, take this process over and impose an advertising format that works for all before people start rolling out cannons. You may not see advertising as the future of Twitter, but unless you impose some rules on the unruly, it will become the spam-choked Hotmail of new communications platforms.

Yes, I know Twitter, and the myriad of applications leveraging your system, have rolled out naturally and freely with a chaotic zest Timothy Leary would have admired. But now, things aren’t quite so new any more. And I’m telling youyour baby’s in danger unless you put the ad fights to rest once and for all.

Right now, I’d say there’s roughly three groups throwing snowballs at each other:

* First, there’s the Twitizens who believe that no ads should ever invade its sacred soil, and have sworn mighty oaths that they’ll “unfolllow” (the dread punishment of no longer reading a person’s postings) anyone who brings the commercial breath of Mordor to their land. (OK, I admit it, I saw some of the Lord of the Rings trilogy this weekend. But anyway…)

* Another group is at least tolerant of Twitter ad experimentation. (Perhaps they’re remembering how much experimentation it took to get Web and e-mail advertising formats worked out and cutting pioneers some slack?) These folks may not love the idea of being pitched in Twitterspace, but they’re not ready to boot anyone who tries, either.

* Then, there are those who want, at least as a market research experiment, to try out some ad formats on this amazingly well-connected, thoughtful and educated audience, and have no problem enduring what feels like spam for a time as we figure things out.

Some of us (and I consider myself such an experimenter ) want to see how the dynamics of new platforms like Magpie, Adjix and TwittAd actually work. Others, like @madmoneyblogger, actually seem to believe that they can accumulate some real cash this way.

While the various factions try to be civil, I don’t think peace is going to last much longer. So please, brilliant young men behind Twitter, accept that while open source models can work wonders–even in a social setting–sometimes you’ve just got to lay down the law.

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Facebook video: Can it compete with YouTube?

According to blogmeister Robert Scoble, Facebook is now getting 100,000 video uploads per day, or enough to keep you busy 24/7 for 100 days. That raises the question as to whether a) Facebook has the capacity to handle the YouTube-like service levels and b) whether it’s going to compete with YouTube’s advertising and analytics programs for video.  Given its rather sketchy support for its PPC and pay per impression ad programs, I’d argue that b) is pretty unlikely right now. But hey, it’s way too early to write Facebook off in this market–and here’s why.

Sure, right now Google (including YouTube), has a 55.4 percent of video viewing visits to online video site properties.  Meanwhile, Facebook has a comparatively tiny 1.5 percent of video viewing visits, according to eMarketer. But bear in mind that that 1.5 percent (up from 0.8 last year) puts it on par with content behemoth Viacom and just below CBS Interactive. Actually, it’s in a pretty impressive position.

True, Facebook moves pretty slowly and hasn’t much aggressiveness in the ad space, but that can’t last forever if it’s going to keep growing.  Monetizing video, even by aping YouTube, is just something it has to do.

I’m also pretty sure that Facebook’s rate of video content accumulation will climb rapidly, giving it increasing leverage. After all, while YouTube tries to be friendly–and can feature some intriguing comments on hot content–it just isn’t the kind of community space Facebook is and doesn’t offer anywhere near the tools.  That gives Facebook a big advantage in building video visitor rates and putting the squeeze to YouTube.

Facebook, all told, has a real opportunity here, though it hasn’t yet shown signs that it cares. Let’s see if it wakes up and makes some tough moves to capture more video viewer market share.

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Will your brand be Twit-jacked?


Beware: a painful phenomenon from the Web 1.0 world is creeping into Twitter and other social media platforms. Opportunists of the same stripe that reserved for themselves in the cowboy days of 1993 (hoping to make millions, of course) are beginning to try similar tricks with Twitter, Facebook and other Web 2.0 identities.

The twit-jacking phenomenon hasn’t moved as quickly as most people feared. Sure, there have been some incidents–about a year ago, for example, one questionable fellow tied up the Twitter versions of CNBC, MSNBC, Newsweek and Business Week–but I haven’t heard anything about a large-scale attack. I think you can be pretty sure it’s coming, though. Domain squatters may not be geniuses, but they’ll catch on soon enough.

Why? Publicity is peaking. Twitter (and fellow social media platforms) are reaching the critical mass of mainstream media coverage which attracts the predators in every business community. Once the coverage reaches them, they’ll be registering social media IDs like mad.

In the mean time, I’m recommending to my clients that they to a social media naming audit (write to me if you’d like our form for doing this) to make sure their core brand is protected on all of the major platforms. It’s worth probably analyzing and leveraging a few of the lesser ones, as well, as you want to hedge your bets.

I also suggest that clients do what they’re probably already doing in the Web 1.0 space, which is to reserve multiple spellings of their corporate name, keywords they consider important to their mission and personal names of their corporate executives. Be thorough, and be thoughtful; and remember that nobody though something crazy like an “URL” would make much of a difference in 1994. We’re at that point again.

Besides, it never hurts to think how your brand is positioned today’s hottest emerging media, and if you’re lucky, you may develop new ideas to reach these audiences as you dig through their layers of social participation. If nothing else, though, you’ll have protected yourself against Twit-jacking for the near future. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.


P.S. This Network World editor has his own interesting take on the subject, including some interesting details on the extent to which Twit-jacking is already picking up steam

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Twitter: Developing a good follower list

You know, it took long enough for the traditional marketing industry to figure out just how to develop e-mail lists effectively (not that there aren’t new techniques left to be discovered). Now, with Twitter becoming an increasingly powerful communications medium–an actual element in people’s marketing strategies–now we’re having to come up with an entirely new set of rules for list development, unlike those from e-mail marketing or even snail-mail direct marketing.

This has become particularly important now that major brands like H&R Block, JetBlue, Best Buy, Intel and Comcast (to name just a scant few) are making appearances on Twitter. Not only do they have to figure out just how to communicate in this new and unique medium, they also have to figure out how to attract the right audience to hear it. Despite their billion-dollar might, these brands could tarnish their rep for some time to come if they make big mistakes on Twitter, to date still a small community which has proven decidedly gossipy.

My methods for developing Twitter follower lists

To date, my methods for developing a follower list, both on my own behalf and on behalf of clients, have been quite simple. I’m well aware that some people will villify me no matter what I say–did I mention Twitterers are touchy?–but the following seems to work:

* Begin by following just a few people who interests seem to be a great fit for you or your company’s brand or personal focus

* Just as you might do when joining an e-mail discussion list, sit and “listen” to the tweets posted by the people you’re following

* Comment on what the followers are saying, if that’s appropriate, or just introduce yourself and say what your goals are (people will find it by tweetscan)

* Make sure you connect to a few friends, not just to have a friendly audience, but also to attract followers from their list of friends. People will also find you through Twitter Friend Adder or similar apps.

* Use Tweetscan to scan for mentions of your company, name or issues you’re following closely. Then respond, though carefully. Be helpful, and be present, but don’t intrude if possible.

* Make sure you Twitter ID (with a link to an explanation of Twitter for those who don’t “get it” yet)

* I haven’t tried this yet, but what about an anouncement on the Web site promising coupons and such to those who subscribe, as well as mentioning that you can solve problems?

Now folks, I’d love to hear how you build follower lists, as I know that what I’ve suggested is pretty elementary. What’s worked for you? — Anne

P.S. Since writing this, I’ve been reminded that some people have feel they have too many followers, which is a subject for another post entirely. More to come on the techniques that are emerging to cull your Twitter list and increase its overall value.

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LifeAt takes social networking to housing communities

At first blush, I liked the idea a lot. Brooklyn-based start-up LifeAt has built a social networking platform apartment communities and other housing developments can use to connect residents with each other, the management and the neighborhood. With the help of some persistent PR reps, the idea has gotten some attention, including a feature in The New York Times.

Conceptually, the model makes a great deal of sense–and I’m guessing that the real estate investors behind the venture can keep it afloat for quite some time–but as I looked things over, I realized that I have some problems with LifeAt’s execution.

First, the basics. LifeAt, which developed all of its technology in-house, charges building managers a flat $6,000 to get access to the platform, which includes templates for personal profiles and “friend” connections, a community discussion forum, profiles of local stores, restaurants and services and a “marketplace” where residents can post free classifieds. To make sure only residents access the sites, no one can enter unless they get a username and password from the property manager.

As of late 2007, when the Times wrote its profile, almost 1,000 communities were live or scheduled to go live within a few months.  (Note: While CEO Matthew Goldstein didn’t say how many, at least some of the buildings are those already owned by the investors behind the project.) More interestingly, at that point more than half of residents in the already-launched properties had created personal profiles. In other words, yes, people do use the service.

So, other than the one-time $6,000 fee–a pittance as software development licenses go–how does LifeAt plan to support itself? Well, there’s the rub. Goldstein told me that the company plans to sell local advertising on the sites, something I very much doubt will work over the long term.

I’m skeptical of the local ad sales model for a few reasons. First, there’s already a huge array of local advertising options available to national companies who might want to go local, so the competition will be stiff there. Second, the local businesses immediately adjacent to the building are not exactly lacking in local channels either. Among other plays, there’s local newspapers, big city newspapers like the Times, Yellow Pages (both online and offline), ValPak and its ilk, plus local Web advertising plays by radio and TV stations. And unlike these local players, LifeAt’s sales folks aren’t going to be intimately woven into the life of that community (unless they have plans to hire thousands of local salespeople).

Sure, they’ll sell the “our people are more engaged” concept, but I don’t think merchants will be that impressed. After all, unlike the Facebook communities they imitate, as far as I know they’re not selling advertisers in-depth demographic and behavioral info on their users. So it’s just plain-vanilla advertising, even if sold by nifty partners (and it does have more than a dozen of those).

Meanwhile, another big issue is that LifeAt is relying on residents to create the local business content which plays a key role in its model.  As local search gurus know, it can be fatal to wait for people to create good content–especially business content. Instead, I think LifeAt’s going to have to eventually break down and license Internet Yellow Pages or other neighborhood business listings content from somewhere else. Then, they’re still providing a nice variety of local business content even if residents aren’t review-happy.

Ultimately, I think LifeAt will end up having to raise its initial charge significantly and make all of its money there as a white-label social media network technology player (albeit a rather specialized one).

But we’ll see…I’ve been wrong a gazillion times. Hey, I though Yahoo was a big waste of time in 1995, and look, it’s still alive!


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