Search: Digital Future

Friday 27 February 2009

Email Marketing Sells Products

While social media and search marketing are the current favourites in the digital media industry, email marketing is that one area that is often overlooked but that consistently delivers great ROI. This article from Sarah Lacy at Business Week talks about (the slightly unsexy) email marketing and it's ability to generate sales.

What Sells Online? Unsexy Newsletters
They're not the newest fad, but these daily digests sent via e-mail can generate some much needed ad revenue when there's not much of it to go around
By Sarah Lacy,

We San Franciscans think New York isn't quite as Web savvy are we are. No offense to my BusinessWeek overlords and Silicon Alley pals, but we're convinced that the smartest, most innovative ideas for using the Internet emanate from this coast, not yours. Heard of Google (GOOG), anyone?

Here's the shocker. As the ad recession deepens, it's a handful of Silicon Alley Web companies that are getting one thing right that many Bay Area companies abandoned years ago: the e-mail newsletter. That's right. The East Coast is leading the way in showing how to make money from those electronic digests of a site's content, delivered regularly to your already cluttered in-box.

Daily Candy's Toothsome Morsel
The most noted success story is, purchased by Comcast (CMCSA) just before all hell broke loose in the economy last fall. Reportedly, it fetched $125 million. Not exactly a home run in Web terms, but a big win nonetheless. has done well enough that its investors at Pilot Group Ventures in Boston have backed several companies that also use e-mail newsletters, among them the newsletter-for-dudes-who-read-newsletters Thrillist, which is launching in its 10th city, Philadelphia, this month. The company says it is profitable on annual sales of $5 million to $10 million. That's saying a lot in this economy.

Wake up and smell the CPMs, Silicon Valley. Of course, we're all waiting on companies like YouTube, Facebook, Slide,, and Twitter to come up with the next great Google-esque plan to make money from social media. Meantime, why not reap some low-hanging fruit with a newsletter? No, it's not likely to make your company a billion-dollar Web powerhouse. But it just might help you eke a few more months—if not quarters—from your dwindling venture capital dollars.

Dogster Takes the Lead
Ted Rheingold, founder and chief executive officer of Dogster, is one Bay Area denizen who's gotten the newsletter religion. But Rheingold's attempts to spread its gospel don't make much headway in Silicon Valley. Rheingold is particularly critical of the increasingly popular tendency for Web 2.0 companies to let ad network middlemen handle advertising sales.

In 2003, when his social network for dog lovers become more business than pet—I couldn't resist—project, Rheingold weighed all the options for generating revenue, from placing ads on his site through Google's AdSense program to working with an ad network, from building his own sales force to distributing a newsletter. He discovered that AdSense would yield about 28¢ per 1,000 times the ad is seen (for a CPM of 28¢, in industry parlance). Glam Media, one of the highest-paying ad networks, would deliver a floor CPM of $2. But that was still leaving a good amount of revenue on the table, especially considering an ad network takes half the gross.

In addition to letting Federated Media sell some inventory, Dogster built its own Web sales force, setting CPMs at $8 to $20. But even that pales compared to what he charges advertisers per 1,000 views of an ad on his e-mail newsletter: a whopping $20 to $40.

Tangible Engagement
Slowly, the logic is catching on. Just last month, Yelp, another company that opted to build its own sales staff instead of hiring an ad network, landed its first national ad campaign for its "Weekly Yelp" newsletter. This year, newsletters are going to be a bigger focus. Yelp Chief Executive Jeremy Stoppelman won't disclose figures. He coyly told me, "It's a good rate, but not highway robbery."

It may sound odd that space on a low-tech newsletter could be so desirable in an age of mass-market blogs, when young people increasingly rely on instant messaging, texts, and such sites as Twitter and Facebook instead of e-mail. But remember that signing up for and opening an e-mail newsletter is a much bigger commitment than passively clicking on a link that takes you to a blog post. Publishers can see how many people open an e-mail, how long they read it, and how many friends they forward it to. Advertisers eat up that kind of engagement, because it's different, tangible, and more likely to result in an action such as making a purchase.

Dany Levy started DailyCandy as an e-mail newsletter in 2000 and has resisted the allure of blogging ever since. A longtime print journalist, she was just doing what she knew—and that was media, not tech. "People have a paper delivered to their door every morning," she says. "The push model just made a lot of sense to me. You didn't have to remember to go anywhere; it was just in your in-box." Daily Candy expanded to more than 2.5 million subscriptions while spending little on marketing. Most of the growth came from readers simply forwarding the newsletter to friends. The company has been profitable since the third quarter of 2001, Levy says.

Don't Abuse the In-Box
Of course, that meant the content had to be just right, akin to light, tasty 150-word morsels, as the newsletter's name implies. "You can't just take the simple rules of journalism and apply them to e-mail; it's a different animal," Levy says. "It sounds corny but whenever I hire a new editor I tell them, 'It's a privilege to be in someone's e-mail box.'"

Not respecting that privilege is exactly why e-mail newsletters lost favor in the Internet bubble of the late 1990s. Nearly every e-commerce company automatically signed up shoppers to receive e-mail newsletters bursting with promotions and specials. This quickly got spammy and annoying and users en masse removed their names from newsletter lists. The aim in those early newsletters was selling people something, not entertaining them. A high percentage of recipients open their DailyCandy newsletter, Levy says, because getting it compares to the difference between getting "a bill and a letter."

Web companies considering newsletters also need to respect the difference between a telemarketer call and a treat. Give the user something of value, like news of local events, restaurant openings, and highlighted reviews, as in the case of The Weekly Yelp. And don't send it too often, either. As a result, recipients will open the e-mail, forward it, and maybe even make a purchase. The advertising will take care of itself.

In other words, Silicon Valley Web companies looking for some near-term revenues might do well to act more like New York media companies for a change. That's a statement that may send shivers down the spines of engineering-centric startups, but isn't it better than closing up shop?

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Twitter (and Social Media) Are Redefining Agencies

There's a lot of buzz about Twitter at the moment. The Twitter discussion has also intersected with the ongoing focus on the changing role of advertising and media agencies. So are agencies really getting it? This great article from Phil Johnson at Advertising Age really focuses in on how the rapidly changing digital media landscape is fundamentally changing agencies.

Will Twitter Disrupt Your Business ... or Enhance It?
How Social Media Tools Can Complement What You Do
Posted by Phil Johnson on 02.23.09,

There's a great business book called The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. The basic idea is that every once in a while a technology comes along that disrupts the established order. It's cheaper and better than the current technologies and will eventually topple the established market leaders. Think hard drives, computers, and semiconductors. The dilemma for established companies is that to succeed in the face of a disruptive technology, they will have to let go of the products and business models that made them successful so that they can start to develop the next generation of innovative products. They may even have to move away from their current business before customers are ready to adopt the new technology.

Today, agencies face their own disruptive technology in the form of Web 2.0 tools and social media. To pick one specific example, social networks such as Twitter can improve on a host of agency functions and often at a fraction of the cost. To be clear, Twitter won't displace all the functions of a marketing agency. Companies will continue to need brand identities, lead-generation programs and creative ideas that connect with people emotionally. Twitter, however, can serve as a marketing platform that allows companies to build brands, manage customer relationships, and share content. It's simple, it's powerful and it's inexpensive.

Does it have the potential to redefine the value and purpose of the modern marketing agency?

Here are just a few of the places where you can start to see Twitter and other social networks overturn the established order:

They make it easier and faster to monitor what customers think about your product and company. Tip: Use the Twitter search feature to see what people think about a client's brand.

Twitter gives you the ability to move beyond targeted messages to real conversations. One-to-one marketing celebrated the ability to tailor a message or an offer to an individual. Twitter lets you actually interact with people.

Through social networks, brand identity has broken free of the agency-driven campaign. Companies such as Zappos and Amazon have built their brands through the principles of community with very limited advertising.

We're well beyond arguing whether these changes are real. You can see the evidence stack up every day in The New York Times and BusinessWeek. Fox News profiled Ford's head of social media, Scott Monty. There's not enough time in the day to read about the new-business applications for Twitter on Twitter and related blogs. If you're going to try, Pistachio is a great place to start, as is Web Strategy by Jeremiah.

The big question is how should agencies respond to Twitter as a disruptive technology? Do you give up short-term revenue from traditional marketing services that may be obsolete in several years, so that you can reinvent your business model? Do you hang on to your current business model as long as possible and run the risk of falling behind?

I bet that most of us believe that we can create a hybrid model where we continue to practice traditional marketing and introduce select social-media components to our programs. Personally, I don't think that goes far enough. While we're taking half steps, new breeds of social-media agencies such as The Advance Guard are springing up to capitalize on disruptive technologies. My bet is that advertising agencies, even those with strong digital capabilities, will have to find a way to put social media at the core of their business model, because in time it will displace many of the marketing tools we use today.

The bright light for agencies is that they can use this time of transition to make their organizations a proof-of-concept for social networks. They should be able to demonstrate how they have developed their own brand on Twitter and other prominent platforms like Flickr, YouTube and SlideShare. That they have created multiple touch-points for sharing content. That they have built a network that connects all their important audiences. And that they are accessible and open to honest conversation with all the people who want to engage.

When this happens, one side benefit is that agencies will be more transparent to each other. Already I'm engaged in conversations with competitors on Twitter that I might not otherwise have had. Much of the content that we want to share with our clients and prospects is also accessible to our competition. I can tell you that the sky has not fallen. If anything, it has made us work a little harder to keep company with some of the great agencies that we admire.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter

Here's a fantastic article that deals with that tricky Twitter question - should I reciprocate and follow you, if you're following me? Atherton Bartelby clearly gets it right in his "Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter" posting. It's good reading!

FOLLOW FAIL: The Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter
January 6, 2009 - 4:08 pm PDT - by Atherton Bartelby,
Atherton Bartelby is a Brooklyn-based graphic designer, art director, writer, blogger, and photographer. He authors a blog at Curious Affairs.

We’ve all been there: You’re at a party hosted by that one fabulous friend, and populated with the best of your mutual circle of friends. The atmosphere is almost carbonated with excitement; the guests’ personalities flawlessly compliment each other; and the conversations that abound are infused with intelligence, caustic wit, and a wide variety of knowledge that ensures the complete absence of any pregnant, awkward pauses. Then, it happens: someone appears who just doesn’t…fit.

A similar phenom happens on Twitter. You’re having conversations with your established Twitter friends, you’re broadcasting useful information, news, or links to your followers, and you’re “engaging your Tribe,” etc., when suddenly, someone begins following you who, much like that previously referenced party guest, just doesn’t fit. This is the person whose follow on Twitter you simply cannot bring yourself to return. This is the follow fail.

Run any number of searches on Google or Alexa and you will arrive at a veritable host of articles offering endless lists of tips on “how to get more followers on Twitter.” What you will not find are lists compiled by Twitter “power users” regarding the major reasons why they will or will not return a Twitter follower’s follow when it happens, and this is my gift to you: “The Top Ten Reasons Why *I* Will Not Follow You In Return On Twitter.”


1. You have no user avatar


…or your user avatar is neither a personalized photograph nor reflective of a brand.

More important than whether or not your Twitter profile background is “designed” is how you choose to present yourself in that seemingly insignificant 48×48 pixel square. If that square is empty, impersonal, or otherwise lacking any qualities that will immediately allow me to visually associate it with you, that is an immediate Follow Fail. If I am going to build a Twitter relationship with you, I want to see you, or your brand, and not, however humorous I may find it, a screen capture of a magical leoplurodon.


2. You list no location, no website, or no bio


Clearly, Twitter is all about brevity. So how difficult is it to provide a few additional characters of information that may offer potential followers more impetus to follow you in return? I’ve returned countless follows from users whose Twitter streams I’ve found “meh,” but whose listed blogs, sites, or portfolios were too amazing to not follow, or whose 160-character bios were too humorous/intriguing to pass up, or who were in the same city as me and therefore potential project collaborators.

These fields take two seconds to populate; it would behoove you to take those two seconds to populate them.

3. Your “website” listed is a MySpace profile


…or, far worse, an AngelFire “page.”

I’ll admit it: I had a MySpace profile…until I deleted it a year ago when it became obvious that only teenagers and musicians were still using it. I also had a GeoCities/AngelFire “page”…for my very first website when I first got on the Internet in 1994. If the Twitter user in question happens to be an actual teenager, or musician whose MySpace presence truly works for them, then fine. But I tend to pass over those users whose proffered web presence is, well, clearly doing it wrong.

It doesn’t take much these days to establish a web presence that seems genuine and thoughtful, and appears to intend to attract and build an online community based on the content it provides. AngelFire pages simply don’t communicate that.


4. You’re following over 1,000 users, have 20 followers, and no updates


…or, worse, one update that includes a shamefully ill-constructed mention of Jason Calacanis.

Who, aside from those running Twitter apps that automatically follow and unfollow followers, would add these Twitter users? While I may every so often and uncharacteristically give these users a chance, simply to see what sort of content, if any, they may eventually provide, the gratuitous mention of any higher-profile Twitterer or web-famous personality means little more to me than that you were properly able to spell “Calacanis” or “Kawasaki.”


5. Your profile features any variation of “Internet expert”


…or “social media expert” and you have very few and/or insubstantial updates.

While I generally loathe any mention of the word “expert” in a Twitter bio, it is particularly egregious when paired with a Twitter stream of only five updates, or one with a plethora of updates that make me question your “expert” status. You’re an “expert” who is only now tweeting about a Twitter app that everyone else was tweeting about two months ago? How awesome for you! #instantfollowfail


6. Your updates clearly indicate that your Twitter activity is always, only, about pushing your own service/product


So, you have decided to use Twitter as an online marketing tool in order to sell your amazing service and/or product, and you make this glaringly obvious. I find this fabulous, because not only must this tactic be working for you, but it also allows me to immediately decide whether or not I want to follow you in return.

Since I do not use Twitter in this manner, I rarely follow any of these users in return, unless said product or service genuinely piques my interest/desire to support it.


7. Your following and my return follow result in a poorly-constructed auto-DM reading, “Thx for the follow! How can I help you get to a 4-Hour Work Week?”


I’ve several Twitter friends who employ the automatic direct message tool upon any new follows, but their messages are carefully crafted and, well, thoughtful, and go far beyond the garden variety “click my junk” automatic direct message. As I am an intelligent, savvy, thinking Twitter user, I am more than capable of reading all about how you can help me get to a 4-hour work week by consulting your Twitter stream, Twitter background, or website. An impersonal automatic direct message from you along these lines does not impress me, it insults my intelligence.


8. Your most recent updates make references to any need to achieve “more Twitter followers”


…or “enough new followers to reach 10,000 followers by midnight!”

For me, Twitter is not a shallow popularity contest, it is about forging interesting connections and conversations with other people. My Twitter followers are far more to me than a simple follower count: they are friends, they are colleagues, they are collaborators, they are peers, and they are sources. To follow someone in return whose only intent is clearly to acquire more followers would be to devalue the esteem with which I hold my other followers.


9. Your Twitter stream indicates a propensity for consistent arguing

…with your followers/random Twitter users/really anyone.

I am all for intelligent debate on any topic, and I’ve been lucky so far in meeting Twitter followers who are still able to politely debate about a variety of passionate topics without constant and vitriolic argumentation. If your Twitter stream is filled with nothing but mean-spirited opinions and argumentation that only advance your own beliefs and allow no consideration of others’ views, then my Twitter stream is definitely not for you.


10. You do not engage your Twitter followers


Probably the most important reason why I will not return your follow, though, is if it is glaringly obvious that you do not engage your Twitter followers. Here I suppose I need to make a distinction between those Twitter users who use Twitter to broadcast their content, as opposed to everyone else; these broadcasters, in my experience, are generally the ones who are followed, not those who are following.

Obviously, engaging their followers is not a priority. Twitter is a major platform in social networking and social media, and they aren’t called “social” networking and “social” media for nothing. There are other people out there, and if you are not engaging or interacting with those users who take the time to follow you for whatever reason, that is a huge follow fail in my book.


The three tenets


My list isn’t perfect, and it is definitely personal and therefore biased, but it is a start toward exploring the differences between a successful Twitter follow attempt and an outright follow fail. In the end, and to return to those previously referenced lists of “how to get more followers on Twitter,” I think there are really only three tenets that should be followed should you desire to build a successful and quality Twitter network:

1. Present a cohesive personal brand, or, if presenting a brand is too much for you, simply present a cohesive sense of yourself

2. Always be consistent in your use of Twitter, i.e., become known for the unique ways in which you use Twitter, and stick with what works for you

3. Engage with your network. Genuine engagement with your network of followers will ultimately ensure that your mobile number is retained, and not “lost,” at the end of that fabulous party, and it will ensure that you don’t (too often) commit any serious follow fails.

Searching Blogs - More Than Just Google

One of most interesting aspects of search marketing is blog search (engines that specifically focus on searching blogs). This is quite different to the usual Google, Yahoo!, Baidu and MSN search (although blog postings still appear in these search enginess) because there are services that specifically search blogs (and only blogs). The most widely known service is Technorati, but there are a number of excellent services now available. So next time you're looking for that obscure bit of industry knowledge or expert advice, why not jump onto FriendFeed or IceRocket instead of Google?

The State of Blog Search, 2009
Written by Marshall Kirkpatrick / January 29, 2009

What blog search engine should you use? That depends on your needs.

In order to join a conversation, you've got to be able to find it first. Three years ago "blog search" was expected to be a booming industry, startups left and right developed different technologies and more than a few raised millions of dollars to help users search the part of the web made up of blogs. These days no one thinks consumer-market blog search is a serious business, but many of us still have a need to limit searches to blogs. What should we do? ReadWriteWeb offers some recommendations and an assessment of the state of the industry below.

Choosing a Blog Search Engine
Different circumstances call for different search engines. We've made a chart below illustrating our different recommendations to fill different needs. When, for example, we're looking to see if anyone else has written about a breaking news story yet - we use Google Blogsearch because it's the fastest. When we're putting a live search feed on a public web page, though, we use Technorati and crank up the spam-control it offers. Many businesses use profesional blog tracking services for some of their search needs, but we're not convinced those services are as useful as grabbing some of these worn old tools and doing it yourself.

Where These Services Stand Today
Technorati is the old stand-by, the blog search engine that the smartest blog lovers used to use. These days it's a sad shadow of what it used to be. The company leadership is focused on building an advertising network and search features have been shed like there's no tomorrow. The company's developers say that features will be returning, just in a more accessible form, but we're not holding our breath.

The service is slow, misses a lot of search results (perhaps in the name of spam prevention) and is so loaded down with cruft and extraneous page loads that it makes us want to scream.

That said, the fundamental value proposition of Technorati remains - it counts inbound links to every blog it has indexed and it will let you sort by that metric of "authority." More advanced RSS-heads will appreciate the fact that Technorati delivers "authority" numbers in its RSS feeds and those numbers can be used to fine tune spam filtering in Yahoo Pipes.

Google Blogsearch is the fastest in the industry but has gone almost untouched since the day it launched, except for a recent dabble with memetracking on the front page. Google Blogsearch spam control is not good and recently the search engine started bringing back search results from places like blog sidebars. It thinks that content is new, too, every time a new blog post (the content we really care about) is published. It's painful to look at Google Blogsearch results pages, but if you've got a need for speed or want to make use of the relative heft of the Google search input box for things like complex queries - then it's a good option.

IceRocket is Mark Cuban's baby and has improved more in recent years than anyone else on this list. It's quite a sophisticated tool for searching blogs. It's got trend analysis, author awareness and a number of other cool features. Unfortunately it only lets you organize search results by data and sometimes other needs arise.

IceRocket also misses some search results that even Technorati catches, though it catches some that Technorati misses as well. Blogsearch has become an unexpected favorite of ours over the years. It's nice. Spam control is pretty good, speed is pretty good, the size of the index is pretty good. It's a pretty good blog search engine. The best thing about it is that it's very easy to sort results by relevance, date or "popularity" of the source, as defined by the number of subscribers the source feed has in Ask's formerly market dominant feed reader Bloglines. Want to find out who the biggest blogs are that have written about Chihuahuas lately? (We'll just tell you, it's Jalopnik, Celebrity Baby Blog and Fark.)

If there's a downside here, it's that Ask does index a fair number of feeds that aren't really blogs. And it doesn't do anything else that's particularly fabulous. None the less, we find ourselves going back to it every day.

FriendFeed is a lot of things, but it's also a blog search engine of sorts. It's a cross-network, real time social site originally built by a team of ex-Google employees. It's pretty awesome and once you've got an account there you can search blog posts, Twitter messages, YouTube videos, SlideShare powerpoint presentations and much more. The down side is of course, it only lets you search the content that other users have synced with their FriendFeed account. That content has a whole lot of conversation going on around it though! Several members of the ReadWriteWeb team use the newly launched FriendDeck to do real-time tracking of FriendFeed. You can meet our whole team on FriendFeed here or join us in the RWW room (open to anyone) here.

That's How We See it - What's Blog Search Like for You These Days?
We'd love to hear about your favorite blog search tools these days. What do you use and in what circumstances do you use it? Is blog search itself old news in a new era of real-time microblogging? We welcome other perspectives on this field that may have lost some of its luster but remains useful and important several years after it was so hyped.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Twitter Looks at Charging Business

In Asia, Twitter and the whole microblogging concept is just starting to take off. In the US, Europe and other parts of the world Twitter is an already established social media service. Twitter, like it's social media cousins Facebook and MySpace, has a significant audience but hasn't yet established a viable business model. This article from TechCrunch discusses the concept of Twitter starting to charge companies who are starting to realise marketing benefits that Twitter offers businesses - currently at no cost.

Twitter To Start Charging Companies For Having An Account?
By Robin Wauters on February 10, 2009.
Companies using Twitter for commercial purposes may soon start getting charged for that activity, according to an interview British trade magazine Marketing (part of BrandRepublic) held with co-founder Biz Stone.

This is what Stone reportedly said:

“We are noticing more companies using Twitter and individuals following them. We can identify ways to make this experience even more valuable and charge for commercial accounts.”

No big surprises there, as this is often cited as one of the most obvious moves Twitter could make to start generating revenue, although many are expecting more from the startup who has become notorious for its lack of an apparent business model even after nearly 3 years of existence. Stone also said they will not start charging individual users, and that the move could “create revenue-generating features to tap into the way brands use Twitter as a hybrid marketing and customer-service tool.”

Stone did not give any details regarding pricing or the specific way Twitter would go about charging users and for what exactly. As a reminder: the startup has raised $20 million in venture capital to date and recently turned down an acquisition offer from Facebook.

One of the most recent examples of companies using Twitter for commercial purposes is Dell, who reportedly made $1 million in sales during the holidays via the micro-sharing utility, and recently started giving discounts exclusively to its followers.

We’ll see more of this type of behavior in the future beyond any shred of doubt, but I’m wondering what exactly is considered as ‘commercial usage’ by Twitter management: does it mean any way of promoting a product or service or only when there’s sales activity connected to the corporate accounts? And will companies be prepared to pay up for use of the service at all?

Marketing got in touch with Bob Pearson, VP of communities and conversations at Dell, with that exact question and got a telling response: “If it becomes complicated and costly, our instinct would be to move elsewhere.”

Update: as Peter Kafka points out in comments, there was good article two days ago in New York Magazine which reveals a little more of where Twitter is headed.

Update 2: Twitter’s Biz Stone has written a post related to the rumors:

However, it’s important to note that whatever we come up with, Twitter will remain free to use by everyone—individuals, companies, celebrities, etc. What we’re thinking about is adding value in places where we are already seeing traction, not imposing fees on existing services. We are still very early in the idea stage and we don’t have anything to share just yet despite a recent surge in speculation. When we do, we’ll be sure to let you know.