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Welcome to the Imagesphere

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of my boss Bob Lisbonne’s presentation at FM’s CM Summit on Monday:

In the Kodak Era we took pictures on birthdays and vacations. Now, with a camera in nearly everyone’s pocket — there were 2.5 billion camera phones in use in 2009 — there is a whole new dynamic around image content. You can break down this new dynamic into three phases.

Phase I
We’re witnessing a massive increase in photo creation: Ten percent of the photos every taken by humankind were taken in the past 12 months (source).

Phase II
New platforms for sharing those images (especially Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr) have turned photos into the universal language for communicating in social media.

Phase III
New technologies are turning those static images into interactive experiences. The popularity of Pinterest, from anonymity to the third largest social network in a few short months, is one example. Luminate’s image apps, which are used by more than 100 million consumers, are another.

Welcome to the Imagesphere.

Full preso here.

Federated Media’s CM Summit 2012: ChasNote Round Up

Battelle kicked off the annual Conversational Marketing Summit by interviewing Barry Diller, who delighted the CM Summit’s digital-evangelist crowd with remarks such as “magazines like Newsweek won’t survive another five years as print publications.” Then he summed up the divide between the big media companies and Silicon Valley as follows: “Talking to a TV network exec about tech is like talking to a plumber about bio-physics.” But tech adoption aside, he said, the cable and broadcast networks beat the pants off the internet when it comes to reliably delivering high-quality content, which is one of the chief reasons that advertisers love to spend on TV.

FM’s Joe Frydl presented the Law of Content on the Web: “The value of content on web is directly proportional to number of connections is starts or sustains.” Where digital marketing goes wrong, he said, is that — for all the targeting tools — it doesn’t understand context, and as a result it’s “tone deaf.”

LUMA Partners’s Terence Kawaja blinded the audience with a handful of new LUMAScapes, those logo mosaics that show the complicated ecosystem of startups, agencies, networks and exchanges all fighting for parts of the digital advertising dollar, and proposed a standard OS for online advertising. From Ki Mae Heussner’s post on GigaOM:

While the industry wouldn’t want to quash the innovation, he floated the idea of addressing what he called the ‘rationalization’ issue through standardization. Just like mobile technology has its Android and iOS platforms, Kawaja said, digital advertising could have its own operating system. “Many other industries have benefited greatly by having an operating system, a common platform upon which other companies can build their tools,” he said.

Everyone loves an easy-to-use platform, it seems. By 2015, he forecast, ads bought via real-time bidding platforms (RTB) will represent 25% of all online display spending.

“Too many brands still think writing a big check to Facebook means you have a social strategy,” quipped Mediavest digital chief Amanda Richmond. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, news broke that one of her agency’s biggest clients, GM, has canceled its $10 million ad contract with Facebook, three days before the social network’s IPO. The big-check-to-Facebook strategy isn’t working for GM, apparently. (To which I say, that’s preposterous.)

The industry loves data (“consumer insights are the new black,” she said), and the ability to precisely target consumers based on that data. But while we’ve become good at precision ad delivery, “we also need to know what story to tell them.” We’re falling short on the creative side. (Related: Digiday polls some industry folks, including me, to ruminate on the flaws and virtues of the banner ad.)

And then from Luminate’s Bob Lisbonne (my boss): Welcome to the Imagesphere. In the Kodak Era we took pictures on birthdays and vacations. Now, with a camera in nearly everyone’s pocket there is a whole new dynamic around image content. Ten percent of the photos every taken by humankind were taken in the past 12 months (1000Memories). That’s Phase I of the Kodak-to-Imagephere migration: A massive increase on photo creation. Phase II: New platforms for sharing those images (especially Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr) have turned photos into the universal language for communicating in social media. What’s next? Phase III, Bob argued, will turn those static images into interactive experiences. The popularity of Pinterest, from anonymity to the third largest social network in a few short months, is one example. Luminate’s image apps, which are used by more than 100 million consumers, are another.

Sarah Bernard, social media director for the White House, seemed to support Bob’s theory that images are where it’s at. When asked what she’s learned from using social media for direct democracy, she joked that the best way to engage the citizenry about tax code would be to sneak in some fiscal policy on a photoblog dedicated to Bo the dog.

A few more of my favorite soundbites:

There Will Be Good Days and Bad Days in Social Reader Land

Earlier this week Forbes reported a massive drop Washington Post readers who accessed the site via Facebook’s Social Reader tool — from 17.4 million average monthly users in April to 9.2 million in May.

Debobrah Petersen, social media editor at the San Jose Mercury News, speculated on the reason for the drop. The idea of alerting Facebook friends to every news article you read “makes me obsess about whether I look smart enough, and it threatens to strip me of my guilty pleasures. Worse yet, I could appear un-cool or downright boring.”

I do think she’s on to something, especially the comment about guilty pleasures. When my Newsfeed is flooded with Washington Post and Yahoo News articles that my friends are reading, I’m generally annoyed by the spamminess of it all. Except when one of those friends is reading an article about tantric sex tips or something else that hits my feed like an intriguing, if accidental, confession. (My 60-something relative turned off her Social Reader shortly after the above incident.)

But from John Herrman’s analysis at Buzzfeed, it sounds like the usage collapse at WashPo — and similar ones at The Gaurdian, DailyMotion, Scribd and others — isn’t mainly the result of embarrassed, over-sharing readers calling it quits. Rather its because Facebook tweaked the algorithm that controls how often articles read via Social Readers are presented to other Facebook members. “Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away,” as GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram put it; it’s “very much a Faustian bargain.”

True enough. Sort of like the Faustian bargain every publisher with an iPad app makes with Apple, or any web publisher or online retailer makes with Google (even if they don’t realize, until traffic plummets, that they made a deal with the PageRank algorithm). Then again, this isn’t entirely different from the deal made by a TV programmer with the network that distributes its show, right? You can fill up your mom’s basement with reels of your awesome new police drama, or you can cut a deal with a network to put them in front of an audience.

I’m sure last week was a miserable one in the PR department at Washington Post. But after losing 8 million monthly readers, they still have 9 million that they didn’t have before launching the Social Reader.

The Endless Appeal of Old Pictures

The New York City Department of Records just uploaded nearly a million photos of the city and its inhabitants taken over the past 150 years, like this one of Babe Ruth at the 1936 World Series.

And it turns out we love old pictures, or at least like them very much. So far 85,000 of us have hit the Like button on the Daily Mail’s story, which features a selection of the images. (Update 4/30/12: It’s now over 92,000 Likes.) Compare that to the social likability of Daily Mail stories that feature more current photos: 31 for a story about Obama on the cover of Rolling Stone, 177 for Madonna breaking the record for #1 albums, and 233 for the new lingerie pictures of a Victoria’s Secret model.

It’s not just gorgeous old NYC photos that are challenging the perception that social media is just for real-time news that can’t wait around for traditional media outlets to break the story. When it rolled out its Open Graph integration last year, London’s Independent learned that several quirky stories from the late 1990s were the most shared stories of the early 2010s.

Facebook Timelines: Creating Brand Authenticity Through Old Photos

At the end of this month, Facebook Timelines will officially open for business. In the meantime, Econsultancy asked its readers to rank the brands who are already making good use of the new format for corporate pages.

Among the most popular are Fanta and Captain Morgan, both of whom offer custom apps and games — not to mention alcohol and sugary deliciousness. Who can resist the combination of pirates and boozy recipes, or cute cartoon characters and soda pop? Some brands have it easier than others.

My favorites, though, are Subway, New York Times and Burberry, who are using Timeline to reinforce the authenticity of their brands through old pictures. Burberry resurfaces a print ad from the 1950s: Burberry’s, apparently, has been the outerwear for rich adventurers since the days when traveling by airplane defined you as rich and adventurous. Subway, the unpretentious lunchtime favorite of guys like Jared, presents storefront photos from its older self, a corner joint called Pete’s Subway. And the New York Times, the Gray Lady of trustworthy news reporting, digs up images of reporters in 1948 walking past a plaque memorializing Times reporters that fought in the First World War. Heck, the Huffington Post wasn’t even around to cover the First Gulf War. Who you going to trust?!

Let’s be honest. I have no idea if Subway was really started by a guy named Pete who wore a white paper hat, but pictures have a way of presenting themselves as truth. Whether I like it or not, I believing Subway’s heritage-through-pictures story. All of sudden I’m feeling like I could be friends with that giant, Fortune 500 corporate entity that sells me lunch three times a week.

(Thanks for the tip, Toby Bodner!)

Facebook’s History of People Using Media Badly

From a presentation by Facebook’s Paul Adams at FM’s Signal SF event last week: A history of technological advances and the early missteps of the media creators who used them (via Business Insider). It’s about time someone called out the idiocy of using the printing press for printing books in LATIN!

The more important point, though, is that content creators respond to new media technologies slowly — early TV was like going to the theater, only the actors appeared inside a small box in your living room; the early web was like reading the newspaper without the inky residue on your fingertips. Advertisers tend to respond even more slowly. Web publishers are hustling to embrace the social, conversational expectations of digital audiences, while most of the ads that support them are still Flash banner that beg you to click them. But, hey, we eventually figured out television advertising — I have hope.

Publisher Strategy and the Image Explosion: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Luminate

(Credit: Christina at Greige Design.)

It’s starting to feel like this photo frenzy isn’t just a passing phase. Maybe there’s some inescapable human affection for pretty pictures. We just can’t help ourselves.

As Antony Young, CEO of Mindshare North America, put it in his recent column for Ad Age:

We’re seeing a consumer movement toward a more visual culture brought on by technology and media. Smarter devices are prompting more occasions for people to create and consume visual content, while social media is encouraging that content to be shared on multiple platforms.

Facebook will tell you the same. When you talk to its executives or founders about the company’s inflection point, they’ll all tell you some variation of “It’s the pictures, stupid.” The Facebook community uploads 250 million photos a day, and one Harvard Business School study estimates that 70% of all activities inside the social network — from Liking and commenting to looking at friends’ content or uploading your own — revolves around photos.

Relative upstarts like Instagram and Pinterest are riding the image explosion too, bursting onto the scene with audience growth rates that are even steeper than Facebook’s or Twitter’s in their early years. Instagram went from launch to a million users in 2 months, and grew to 15 million by the end of 2011, at which point users were uploading 60 photos per second. Pinterest has grown from obscurity to 10 million pinners in 6 months.

There’s an underlying explanation for this image explosion, according to Shawn Graham at Fast Company: “Pinterest’s rapid ascent into the social strata has reemphasized something we’ve known since the day the first camera was invented way back in the 1800s — pictures matter.”

I’ll say! And we’re taking and sharing more of them than ever before. Ten percent of all photos taken by humankind were taken in the past 12 months.

Publishers are taking notice. Photo galleries have long been a staple of the user-experience at entertainment sites like Yahoo’s OMG and Entertainment Tonight. But news sites like CBS News and business publications from The New York Times to The Business Insider have gone photo-happy too. Readers process more information more quickly from images than from text, and thus images drive more audience engagement than text content. Everyone’s got an image strategy these days.

And like a publisher’s mobile strategy or social strategy, the image strategy needs to contemplate three elements:

1. Audience engagement.
How can images increase engagement among my existing audience?

Most publishers are making great progress on this front — investing in large, high-quality images on every page, and organizing clusters of them into galleries. The only catch is that sometimes the most “successful” images, the ones that are most effective at lighting up consumer interest, are also the ones that launch readers off your site. Your most passion-inspiring images drive visitors to Fox Sports to get an athlete’s stats, or to Wikipedia to get biographical info on a political figure, or to Macy’s or Gilt Group to shop for the fashions worn by a favorite celebrity. The image apps we create here at Luminate bring that content right into the image itself. If your happiest readers are using you own images to abandon you, it’s tough to argue that images should play a more prominent role in your digital publishing strategy — even if it’s the format your readers enjoy most.

2. Audience acquisition.
How can I convert that engagement into sharing?

Facebook and Twitter buttons are a start. Feeding image content into Instagram (as well as Facebook and Twitter) is another way for publishers to amplify their investment in images: It puts them inside social networks where the sharing activity is happening. According to Sharaholic Pinterest is driving more referral traffic than G+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Reddit combined. Pinterest makes “pinning” and saving images easy for users of its browser extension, and its integration with Facebook drives new eyeballs to those images (though not all those eyeballs convert into clicks back to the original publisher’s site). Luminate’s social apps are another approach. Rather than waiting for readers to download the Pinterest applet, publishers can present all of their readers with apps attached to each image. Several of Luminate’s apps, for example, facilitate positional image-sharing — attaching a comment to the part of the image he or she wants his friends to check out.

3. Revenue.
How does the strategy help me make more money?

One approach that’s gaining traction among smaller sites: Just put ads at the bottom of images, the image equivalent of the overlays at the bottom of YouTube videos. As long as the ad message inside the overlay is highly relevant to the image content, overlays are a reasonable approach. An even better approach, I’d argue, is delivering advertising that’s attached to a user-initiated bonus content experience. If a brand sponsors relevant content and services that enhance an image, the reader is much more likely to pay attention.

(A version of this post appears at Ad Age, under the headline In An Age of Pinterest, Instagram, Marketers Need An Image Strategy. And if you live in a rainy part of the world, Om Malik recommends you add this post to your weekend reading list. Thanks, Om!)

Time-Spent with Google+ Is Less Than One-Percent That of Facebook

“New data from research firm comScore Inc. shows that Google+ users are signing up — but then not doing much there,” reports the Wall Street Journal. Google+ has racked up 90 million registered users, but the average computer user only spends 3 minutes per month on the service. Those same users are spending nearly 7 hours per month with Facebook, 140 TIMES more minutes than the time-spent with Google+.

There are two ways to look at those numbers, I suppose. One, lots of people barely use Google+. Or two, some people love Google+ deeply and use it all the time, but they make up a small group so their power (as measured in minutes per internet user) is diluted by a large denominator. There are some snarky critics who believe the latter; in fact they suspect the small group of Google+ users is pretty much just people who work at Google.

Come on, that just can’t be true! The global internet population is about 2.3 billion. On average they each spent 7 hours last month with Facebook, but since only 845 million of them are actually using Facebook, that means the average Facebook user spent more like 19 hours Facebooking.

If, on average, each of the 2.3 billion internet users also spent 3 minutes with Google+ last month, that’s 6.9 billion minutes, or 115,000 hours. Divide that by Google’s 33,000 employees, and you get 3,485 hours per month per person. Which is pretty darn good, considering there are only 720 hours in a month. This suggests that the snarks are at least a little bit wrong. But if they’re not, and every single Google employee is using Google+ more than 24 hours a day, then Google has a giant hit on its hands — if only they can get more people to use it as enthusiastically as Googlers do.

Turns Out Yesterday’s News Is More Interesting Than We Thought

So much for the expression “that’s about as interesting as yesterday’s news.”

Since the early days of newspapers, editors have been obsessed with breaking news faster than the competition. But as newspapers and other websites deploy Facebook’s Open Graph — making it easier for readers to share stories with friends, and for publishers to see which articles garner the most reader attention — there’s emerging evidence that good (or weird or funny or important) stories don’t lose their relevance as quickly as we once thought.

The above image is a slide lifted from Barbarian Group CEO Benjamin Palmer’s OPA presentation. Apparently London’s Independent, as it rolled out the Open Graph, learned that several quirky stories from the late 1990s are the most shared stories of the early 2010s. (More data here.) If news publishers are sitting on a goldmine of buried archival content, imagine the opportunity for publishers outside the breaking-news category if they can figure out how to resurface those great stories from last month, last year, or a decade ago.

Meanwhile I wonder if this will inspire a rebranding exercise for the folks at Yesterday’s News kitty litter.

Will Facebook Win Over Big Brand Advertisers?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has a problem on its hands:

Facebook’s estimated market value, now in the neighborhood of $70 billion, is founded on the belief that companies will spend big to advertise on the site. Facebook’s revenues, which come largely from ads, were $1.6 billion in the first half of this year, up $800 million from a year earlier.

But most of its ads were for small advertisers, such as local businesses and small-scale websites, according to comScore Inc. Facebook is under pressure to grow its advertising on a grand scale, and to snag the sort of big brand names who now drive billions of dollars to TV, radio and print campaigns.

Some of advertising’s biggest spenders aren’t yet writing Facebook checks that are in proportion to Facebook’s audience size, share of time spent by its users on the site, or its generally dominant position in the online ecosystem.

U.S. consumers spent 15% of their online time at Facebook in September, according to comScore. But Facebook is expected to capture just 6.4% of total online ad spending this year, according to estimates by research firm eMarketer Inc.

Just 6.4% of total online ad spending?! Eight years ago Facebook didn’t exist, and now it has 800 million members and captures more of our online attention than any other site. That all happened kind of fast, and large advertisers tend to migrate their dollars more slowly than consumers change their media habits.

Consider cable TV. Somewhere in the 1990s total viewership for cable TV channels began to match that of the big broadcast networks. By the summer of 2007, viewership of primetime cable TV shows was twice that of primetime shows on the broadcast networks. Yet only this year for the first time — more than four years after consumers spent more than TWICE their time watching cable — will cable TV ad spending exceed the ad investment in broadcast TV.

There’s no doubt that big advertisers will follow their customers to Facebook; they always follow consumers eventually. And the fact that much of Facebook’s revenues currently come from small businesses — who tend to be more demanding than large brands that ad investments quickly convert into sales — isn’t a liability. It’s a strong sign that Facebook’s ad products are delivering the goods.