Green Content Syndication: Part II – Top Environmental Diggers

January 22, 2008

One of the most effective ways to syndicate content is by activating power users on sites such as Digg.  Quite simply, “Diggers” uncover and bookmark interesting content – news articles, images and videos – for others to view.  

Top Diggers are known for frequently submitting content that is deemed compelling by the Digg community.  If others users like the content, they may “digg” it as a way to recommend it to others.

Why should marketers care about whether an article submitted on Digg becomes popular or not?  Well, “popular” articles create their own viral effect.  Not only are more people likely to be interested in articles that come highly recommended, but more people are exposed to them as well.  On Digg, popular articles tend to get preferred placement on the front pages of the site and each topic section.  (Note: while popularity is the primary factor that affects placement on Digg, Neil Patel of the Pronet Advertising blog suggests that other factors impact placement including “number of submissions in a category, diggs, and time” between submissions). 

For a marketer, this can translate into increased reach and traffic to a site where the content is hosted at little to no incremental cost.  Though it is difficult to quantify the incremental impact of traffic referred from Digg, antidotal evidence suggests that Digg popularity leads to increased traffic.

For example, The Daily Green recently published its “10 Most Popular Stories of 2007”.  Notably, five in ten articles had been bookmarked on Digg.  Moreover, three in five articles submitted were wildly popular on Digg – with more than 1,100 users digging each of two articles (“Major Breakthrough for Super Efficient LED Lighting” and “Arctic Sea Ice Re-Freezing at Rapid Rate“) and nearly 700 users digging a third (“Glass Wall of Death Surround California Suburb”).  Inevitably, these bookmarks referred significant traffic to The Daily Green and contributed to the popularity of the articles on the site.

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Today, “Top Diggers” are ranked based on the total number of popular stories that they have submitted.  Marketing Green believes that for green marketers, however, the current method for ranking diggers is incomplete. 

First, the current ranking gives undue weight to tenure.  Quite simply, the longer one has been digging, the higher the likelihood that they will have submitted a greater number of articles that became popular.  While successful tenure is an essential criteria, it may portray an incomplete picture, however, as it does not necessarily mean that the digger is very active today.  As such, any ranking of green diggers should also take into consideration recent activity.   

Second, the current ranking is based on articles submitted across all categories rather than those specifically focused on the environment.  Diggers are typically specialists that focus their efforts on a specific area of interest, however.  As such, not every Top Digger is interested in promoting articles related to the environment. 

Others have tried to create a more specific ranking focused on green diggers.  The Daily Green, for example, recently published a list of top environmental diggers.  While the list is solid, it is based on a “subjective process” that relies heavily on personal opinions rather than measurable facts.   

In contrast, Marketing Green believes that a ranking should be based on more quantitative criteria that enable it to be repeatable over time while minimizing bias. 

Moreover, any ranking should balance a digger’s success over time (successful tenure) with his/her recent activity specific to the environmental category (recency in category).  Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers attempts to do just that (within the limits of publicly available data).   

Marketing Green gives equal weighting to two criteria: successful tenure and recency in category.  Successful tenure is determined based on the cumulative number of popular articles submitted by a digger over his/her tenure on Digg.  This is similar to how Top Diggers are currently ranked today. 

Recency in category is a proxy for how successful a digger has been recently in submitting popular articles specifically on the environment.  It is estimated based on two factors: the number of articles submitted in the “environment” category within the past 30 days and the historic percentage of submitted articles that have became popular. 

Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers

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Based on analysis of diggers in early January, 2007; 1Overall popular articles; same as current Top Digger ranking; 2Popular articles on the environment within the past 30 days

Marketing Green’s Top Environmental DiggersMrBabyMan, supernova17, msaleem, suxmonkeyzaibatsu, tomboy501, burkinaboy, Aidenag, skored, sepultra; Notable mentions: 1KrazyKorean, capn_caveman, charbarred, cosmikdebris, DigiDave, FameMoney, johndi, maheshee11, petsheep, pizzler, vroom101

Notably, Marketing Green’s ranking reveals somewhat of a different mix of diggers than are included in the previous rank of “Top Diggers.”  It should not come as a surprise, however, to see that the four Top Diggers are also ranked on Marketing Green’s list of Top Environmental Diggers.  Interestingly, these Top Diggers rank highly on Marketing Green’s list based not only on their successful tenure (the current criteria for ranking) but also on their recent activity within the environmental category.

The remaining six diggers on Marketing Green’s list are ranked in large part due to their recent activity in category.  Up and coming diggers such as suxmonkey and burkinaboy are great examples as they rank #57 and 110, respectively, based on successful tenure while ranking #1 and 3, respectively, based on recent activity. 

Why should green marketers target top environmental diggers rather than digg the articles themselves?  For starters, content submitted by top diggers has a higher probability of becoming popular than others.  This is likely due to a variety of factors including: faster submission time (top diggers spend time trawling for new articles), superior ability to uncover interesting content, a broad network of friends that may digg articles submitted, and established influence within the Digg community that may peak the interest of others.   

Moreover, InvespBlog suggests that diggers also know how to ‘sell’ their Digg submissions through compelling titles (eg, more than 75% of the top 100 most popular articles on Digg had titles different than the original), by attaching relatively lengthy descriptions (eg, the median description for a top 100 article was 48 words) and by choosing articles of limited length (eg, the median number of words in the top 100 article was 444). 

How much better are top diggers than the average?  As it turns out, they are significantly better.  In fact, the 10 “Top Diggers” have an average % popularity of nearly 37%.  This is in contrast to the average of the 100 Top Diggers (26%), let alone the 1,000 Top Diggers (18%).  Impressively, Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers have the highest average % popularity at 38%, narrowly surpassing the overall 10 Top Diggers.

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As such, marketers seeking to syndicate content should consider activating power users on sites like Digg to help them do so.  All diggers are not alike, however.  Green marketers should take into consideration not only the overall success of a digger but their recent activity within the environmental category.   

Stay tuned for the third and final part in this series for tips on how to active them. 


Green Content Syndication: Part I – “Deconstructing” Websites

January 20, 2008

Traditionally, publishers have viewed websites as content destinations, challenging marketers to drive traffic to specific websites in order to engage consumers with relevant content.   

Today, the model has changed.  Increasingly, publishers are uncoupling online content from its host site; marketers are learning to syndicate this content online or encouraging others to do so virally.  Jupiter Research has defined this trend as “website deconstruction”. 

Moreover, emerging and established content platforms, including news aggregators, video sharing and social bookmarking sites, enable content to exist on its own in the online world and allow users to have greater control over its distribution.  

Today, a two-step process has emerged for marketers to facilitate content distribution:

Active distribution: Publishers need to first distribute content to multiple users via RSS feeds to readers, widgets, personalized home pages, news aggregators and even mobile devices. A broad list of readers and aggregators can be found here

                          Downloadable and Customizable Widget 

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Publishers can also syndicate content to users by seeding bloggers or by distributing assets to third-party websites through platforms such as Blogburst, Voxant and Magnify.  Each one has a different distribution mechanism.  Blogburst facilitates distribution of blog content through 200 established news channels such as Reuters and FoxNews, for example. 

    Marketing Green Blog Posting on FoxBusiness.com via BlogBurst

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Voxant, in contrast,  syndicates news from mainstream sources to third-party websites; Magnify distributes video.  Magnify provides a widget that can be easily customized (based on content preferences) and downloaded onto third-party sites.  Publishers can make their content available for distribution simply by creating a channel on Magnify to do so.  Currently, Magnify offers 119 channels of content relating to “Nature and Environment”.

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Passive or viral distribution: In addition to actively pushing content out to a variety of sources, marketers need to ensure they position their content to be further distributed by consumers.  Today, users increasingly share and recommend content to their peers.  By doing so, individuals not only share content with other users, but they empower these users to make recommendations to friends and contacts in their networks.  For marketers, such a network effect can have an exponential impact in driving reach; it also costs marketers virtually nothing to achieve.   

 

Examples of users facilitating passive content distribution include sending viral emails, posting video content on YouTube and veoh, bookmarking an article on Digg and del.cio.us or linking to personal pages within MySpace. 

 

While all general interest sites host content related to the environment, there are many websites that focus exclusively on the green space.  Examples include video sharing sites ecolive.tv, emPivot, Green.tv, GreenEnergyTV, RiverWired and URTH.tv; bookmarking sites ecoblogs, Hugg and hunuh; and a multitude of social networking sites including Care2 and Zaadz (See also Marketing Green’s “Green Marketing on Social Networks” and “Sharing Green Videos Online” postings).

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In a conversation with Marketing Green earlier this week, Shmuel Benhamou, a founder of the recently launched ecolive.tv, makes the case for green vertical sites: “Videos are one of the most efficient and interesting ways to spread the ‘green’ message throughout the world.  Yet, today, it is very hard to find good green videos on YouTube and others user generated content sites.  Ecolive.tv wants to promote green videos to a targeted audience.”

Notably, syndication blurs the lines between publisher and user, as everyone has the chance to distribute content.  Moreover, it also blurs the distinction between content, either professionally or user-generated, and advertising.  Increasingly, content serves as advertising and advertising is enjoyed as content. 

One great example of advertising distributed as content in the green space is a commercial for a European wind energy company, Epuron, syndicated on YouTube.

Marketers: Think differently about your digital strategy.  Uncouple content from specific websites and distribute directly to users or through intermediary sites.  Encourage consumers to share content with their peers and across social networks.  If done right, syndication can act as a digital channel accelerator by driving reach and generating impact far beyond the cost required to facilitate it.  It is a must for most marketers today.  You scarcely can afford not to.


Corporations Foster Dialogue On the Environment

January 14, 2008

While many corporations leverage the Internet to distribute information about environmental initiatives, a few companies are going much further by facilitating two-way dialogue with stakeholders.   

Some companies may view such dialogue – via email, web forums, chat rooms and video – as risky, as it may open them up to public scrutiny.  Moreover, this sentiment may be especially true today for those brands that compete in carbon-intensive industries. 

Nonetheless, companies that are bold enough to enter into a dialogue tend to find that the rewards outweigh the risks.  Dialogue creates a direct channel to stakeholders that can be used to gather feedback, build credibility, and engender more loyalty by showing a more human side of the company. 

In other cases, companies are using dialogue to activate stakeholders – including customers, suppliers, employees, partners and shareholders – as change agents by soliciting new ideas. 

There are several examples of dialogue in the environmental space.  Here are just a few: 

British Telecom: It seems that on most corporate sites today, users are hard pressed to find a specific contact to forward their concerns to, let along an email address that does not deliver to a general mailbox. 

BT is different in this regard as it offers a detailed listing of contact names and email addresses to send questions specifically regarding corporate social responsibility, corporate environment programs and environmental supply chain management.

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Shell: Shell periodically conducts webcasts with senior-level executives on topics such as its annual Sustainability Report.  Interviews address questions solicited from stakeholders via email.   

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Dell: When Michael Dell declared that he wanted to build the “greenest PC on earth,” his company launched IdeaStorm as a platform to solicit “direct feedback from, [its] customers, suppliers and stakeholders” on how to do just that.  Moreover, IdeaStorm engages its stakeholders as change agents by encouraging them to promote their ideas and discuss them online with Dell and other users.

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General Motors: Chevrolet just announced a bold move in the green space by inviting the public to enter into a direct dialogue regarding GM flagship division and actions that it is taking to reduce its environmental impact. Through a New York Times advertisement, Beth Lowery, GM Vice President for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy asked the public to “talk” with Chevy about mutual concerns for the environment and what Chevy is doing to address them.   

Lowery asks the public to submit questions through a New York Times microsite that will be published in the Friday Op/Ed section.

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While many marketers perceive direct dialogue as too risky, many companies have fully engaged with stakeholders on many sensitive topics including the environment.  For many, a direct channel to the customer provides a way to generate feedback as well as to solicit new ideas.  Others focus on creating a more human way to connect with stakeholders. 

Regardless, dialogue is consistent with key attributes of leading green brands including accountability, transparency and credibility. More companies need to overcome their fear of potential negative feedback and join the dialogue on green issues. If done correctly, dialogue will more likely mitigate than engender consumer backlash in the future.  

(Full disclosure: GM is a Digitas client)


Investing in Green Innovation

January 2, 2008

As companies plan their green investment strategies for 2008 and beyond, they should take into account that caps on carbon emissions are all but inevitable in the future.  In fact, it is highly likely that caps will be in place in the US within the next few years.  The 187 nations that attended the UN climate conference last month in Bali (including the US) agreed to negotiate a successor agreement to Kyoto by the end of 2009.  Perhaps more importantly, Congress already has several climate bills under consideration.

How aggressive will carbon reduction targets be?  A recent Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme concluded that developed nations needed to reduce carbon emissions by greater than 80% from 1990 levels by mid-century in order to advert the worst impact of climate change.  Under any implementation scenario, carbon caps will likely be imposed over many years, if not decades, providing a window of opportunity for companies to adapt to and compete in this new world order.

In many ways, the imposition of carbon caps will reset the current competitive landscape.  Those businesses able or willing to adapt more quickly to this changing landscape will likely secure a competitive advantage by differentiating their brand or products, or by improving their cost basis. 

Despite the arguments for moving quickly, many companies will likely delay investment in green as long as they can, and do so for seemingly good reasons.  First, exact targets are uncertain.  Second, the timeline for implementation may take years, if not decades. 

Finally, the misuse of financial practices may preclude smart green investment.  A recent Harvard Business Review article, Christensen et. al., suggests that there are three ways that incorrect financial practices suppress investment in innovation.  Marketing Green believes that as green investments are largely investments in innovation, it is very likely that the misapplication of financial practices that impede innovation may also hinder prudent investments in green.  (Clayton Christensen, Stephen Kaufman and Willy Shih, “Innovation Killers: How Financial Tools Destroy Your Capacity to Do New Things”, Leadership & Strategy for the Twenty-First Century, Harvard Business Review, January 2008).  Here is how:

Cash flow modeling: Companies often do not fairly compare the projected discounted cash flow from a new investment with that generated from current operations because they assume that current cash flow will remain constant in perpetuity. 

In fact, as Christensen et. al., explain, this may not be the case: in the absence of continuous “innovation investment”, the more likely outcome is a “decline in performance” in existing operations.  Without this downward adjustment, however, financial analysis creates a “systematic bias” against innovation in new products or processes – green or otherwise.  

Asset lifetime: Financial managers may mistakenly assume that that an asset’s usable lifetime should be based simply by its depreciation period, rather than its “competitive lifetime”.  Said differently, even though the continued use of an existing asset generates a more attractive return in the near-term (typically because capital equipment costs are already sunk and therefore not included in the calculation) than an investment in a new asset, it may not be the best decision for a company if it wants to maintain its competitiveness (and cash flow) longer-term. 

A famous example cited by Christensen et. al., is the case of Nucor and US Steel.  Nucor invested in new minimills that yielded a low average cost of production. Instead of following suit, US Steel stuck with its existing mills because the marginal cost of producing incremental steel was lower than investing in minimills (because it was simply putting excess capacity to use) and therefore more financially attractive in the short term.  

In this case, US Steel relied on marginal cost analysis to inform near-term production decisions that was insufficient for making longer term investment decisions.  As Christensen et. al., point out, “When creating new capabilities is the issue, the relevent marginal costs is actually the full cost of creating the new.”  As a result, US Steel’s average production cost remained much higher than Nucor’s and Nucor was able to out compete US Steel longer term.  

Applied to the green space, many companies may decide to defer investment in greener technologies given the upfront capital requirement to do so.  This decision may extend the life of less efficient technologies, manufacturing processes or products in the market.  Yet, it may prove disadvantageous longer term as other competitors or new entrants make more aggressive investments that generate a more sustainable competitive advantage when carbon caps become more restrictive longer term. 

Quarterly earnings: Companies that focus on quarterly earnings may systematically under invest in innovation as they are not rewarded by the market for doing so.  Given that the time horizon for green may take years to pay off, green initiatives may likely be underfunded relative to initiatives that are able to contribute sooner to earnings. 

Marketers need to think strategically about their investment in green.  Caps on carbon emissions will reset the competitive playing field, though they may be imposed gradually over years, if not decades.  Early movers  may enjoy a competitive advantage in the market based on their brand, products or cost position.   

There is a good chance companies will underinvest in green due to regulatory uncertainty and the misuse of financial practices that may favor investments that yield near-term benefits at the expense of long term competitiveness.  

Marketers must understand and compensate for bias that leads to underinvestment in green.  Formulate a strategic vision for green, properly balance the risks and rewards and invest for the long haul.  Your shareholders will thank you.


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