Coke SVP marketing Wendy Clark opened the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting this morning. As my colleague Bob Lisbonne put it, “Coke isn’t just great at marketing. They’re even impressive at marketing the marketing.” In addition to sharing the stat that Coke has 23 million Facebook fans and adds a million more every 11 days, she made some IAB members weepy with this video from the 2010 World Cup.
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TrendHunter calls it Nail Art Advertising, but it’s not clear that KFC or Subway is paying anyone for the right to put logos on those fingernails. More like fingernail fan-clubbing. In any case, this is a vastly better idea than tattooing a logo on your skin.
Turns out purpose is more important than profit. There’s a lot of science that says paying people more for cognitive work (such as journalism or making videos) won’t improve quality. In fact, it appears to worsen quality.
Yesterday Google announced changes to the PageRank algorithm that will affect nearly 12% of search results. According to their post at Google’s blog, Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal say the changes are “designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”
Presumably this will have an enormous effect on content farms such as Demand Media and Yahoo’s Associated Content. So what’s a content farmer to do?
A few days ago I wrote a post expressing my hope that content farms might grow up into something useful and generally less sucky. Maybe I’ve been reading too many happy-ending fairytales to my daughters. But when I pull back from the actual content from Demand or Associated that makes its way to my search results (which is usually quite bad), I see a platform — and platforms, theoretically, are things on which you can build something lame or something good. If the content farmers help individuals with knowledge find questions (search queries) that need answers (topics too niche for large or mid-sized publishers to cover), it seems plausible that some individuals might create useful content.
My argument, though, misses at least two important points, which Glenn Fleishman and Jeff Jarvis helped me think through.
“Why do people write on Huffington Post? Because they can. Because they give a shit. Because they like the attention and conversation. Because they couldn’t before. Why do they sing their songs on YouTube? Same reasons.”
Jarvis’s argument is: When we’re doing work, we expect to get paid. When we’re doing something for the love of it, we’re motivated by passion and the opportunity to be heard. When we’re doing it for love, in other words, we often create value for free. Quality content is traded for distribution to an audience and for a chance be an authority.
In a Twitter exchange with Glenn Fleishman, he said “The more you spend, the better content you get, up to a point.” His site, Wi-Fi Net News, was one of the first 10 sites that teamed up with Federated Media back in 2005. So my question back to him was: “But what about WFNN in the early days when the money wasn’t great but the content was?”
Aha. It’s about ownership. Glenn is specifically referring to IP ownership (his words, his URL, his business), but there’s a different kind of ownership too — one that Jarvis is getting at. I’m willing to contribute (to the best of my abilities) good content, free of charge, to Twitter, Quora or the Huffington Post even though I don’t own the IP or the business. I’m willing to do that because I do get to own the authority. Those platforms publish my by-line, picture and bio, so if someone out there thinks something I write is smart or funny, I own that goodness. I’m not making money, but I get credit. I work hard to create value because, if I’m successful, that content distributed on those platforms polishes my brand and my reputation.
Even if Demand Media keeps most of the money they’re making from their websites, they might dodge the Google bullet if they can improve content quality by giving their contributors a sense of ownership over what they create. And then they marry the handsome prince!
(This post also appears on Techdirt, where the comments are much more lively.)
Girl Scouts are tapping social media, geo-locating services and mobile payment systems to boost sales. We should all pay attention. From BrandChannel:
“Don’t be fooled by that cute kid bearing a box of cookies and a big smile: the rebranded Girl Scouts are social marketing ninjas. Consider that there is a standalone website, YouTube channel, a Flickr group, and Facebook page for Girl Scout Cookies. No wonder today’s digitally savvy 9 year-old Girl Scout can sell 400 boxes of Thin Mints in an hour. Using Facebook, an iPhone and e-payment service Square, Facebook global policy manager Jud Hoffman’s daughter Greta and a few friends did just that.”
I loved this tweet by NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin on journalism versus newspapers. One is a specific type of content, he reminds us, the other is a distribution platform.
In the early days of Internet newspapers and magazines, which banged out new content more frequently than their print counterparts, web publishers were criticized for their lack of quality, spelling and fact checking.
Right around the time web publishing had attained mainstream credibility, blogs emerged as the new enemies of quality journalism. How could people writing without pay create anything good? But somehow quality publications emerged from the blogosphere, including the Huffington Post, with its small staff of editors and its thousands of unpaid contributors.
Evidence of the Huffington Post’s legitimacy among journalists is a recent post at the Daily Beast by Newsweek’s Dan Lyons. Its new model of journalism — some created by paid staffers, some for free by independent bloggers, and some aggregated from other sources such as AP — is in danger of destruction by the “AOL Way,” an approach advocated by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong to create more search-engine friendly content. Much like the technique used at content farms such as Demand Media and Yahoo’s Associated Content.
“It’s all about making stories based on traffic potential and profit potential. It’s all about numbers — and volume. It’s a depressing, sickening, embarrassing document. AOL’s hacks are expected to write five to 10 articles a day — which put me in mind of the scene in Ben-Hur where the slaves are put to work rowing a Roman warship, and their Roman master tells them, ‘We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live.’”
Before I go on, let me first admit that Demand Media and Associated Content are certainly producing a lot of crap. Earlier today I was searching to find caffeine levels in Mighty Leaf brand breakfast tea (is there any?! I’m falling asleep as I type this), and on the first page of Google’s results was an “article” from Associated Content.
It’s really atrocious. Someone or some machine seems to be inserting phrases such as “your search for excellent quality teas” and “great online source for tea drinkers” in nearly every sentence. And there’s almost nothing useful between the search-bait clauses.
Yet I still hold out hope for the content farmers. In its extreme form, where somebody or something is generating and inserting nonsense phrases in sentences written, presumably, by a human being, these content-farming platforms are spewing out spam. If Google can’t figure out how to sift out this dreck, it will (as has been widely reported) lose its share of our attention and the ad dollars chasing that attention.
But what’s to say that content farms can’t operate like quality-agnostic platforms — like Blogger, WordPress and Twitter? Or “platforms” that are less defined by their underlying technology than by their ability to delivery content to audiences, such as the Huffington Post or print newspapers of old? If you turn off the god-awful search-bait phrase creator, isn’t content farming just a new way of assigning stories? We’re certainly in trouble as a civilization if this becomes the only way! And you’ll still have lots of junk — just like you do across the blogosphere, Twitter or those beloved newspapers from the golden age of print journalism — but there’s also an opportunity for a passionate tea drinker to publish a useful paragraph comparing breakfast blends from Mighty Tea and Peet’s, or a community organizer to get news out to neighbors without the costs associated with publishing a neighborhood paper.
Who knows? When I first created a Twitter account, I dismissed it as a chat room for my narcissistic friends. Now it’s helping to power revolutions.
“Advertising in social games might not be solely about eyeballs, but there are definitely a critical mass of people who are playing them. About about 30 million players per day play the most popular social game, FarmVille. The most popular prime time television show last week, Dancing With the Stars, had about 24 million viewers.”
This billboard on La Cienga Boulevard in LA caught my attention. Maybe it was the retro mustache and pipe? There’s certainly nothing new about poking newspapers for printing yesterday’s news — the snarkarati have been doing that since the first intrepid browsers found their way to the Internet 15 years ago. But why, all of a sudden, is a talk radio station picking on newspapers? Hasn’t radio offered live news reports for nearly a century? Are there still people out there that don’t know about live news radio??
Oops! Apparently a Red Cross employee tweeted the above from the official Red Cross account instead of his or her personal one. According to a post at the Red Cross blog, the tweeter was sober and the rogue tweet has been deleted.
“In the meantime we found so many of you to be sympathetic and understanding. While we’re a 130 year old humanitarian organization, we’re also made of up human beings. Thanks for not only getting that but for turning our faux pas into something good.”
While poking fun at Red Cross, some tweeters included links to the donation page.
Nicely handled by Red Cross, and even nicer to see a social-media stumble motivating people to make a donation.
(Thanks for the tip, Mark!)