Facebook Timeline’s Green Marketing Opportunities

November 26, 2011

Over the past few years, we have seen the web transform from a medium that facilitates information exchange to one that enables social connections and conversation.  Arguably, the recent launch of Facebook’s Timeline marks another milestone for the web, enabling a web experience more personal than ever before.

Timeline facilitates the sharing of a user’s life story – both the portion already written and the one still unfolding. It does so by transforming the current Facebook profile into an unending digital scrapbook of sorts.  Facebook reorganizes and summarizes available personal data such as likes, apps and photos into a timeline.  Users are then encouraged to fill in the gaps, especially meaningful events that predate their time on Facebook.

What makes Timeline so different is that it enables users to share their lives in an easily accessible, highly visual chronology, rather than simply post thoughts in the here and now.  A living memoir, if you will.

For green marketers, Timeline offers a unique new way to understand and connect with Facebook users, and one which they should take advantage of.  Here are a couple of ideas how:

Persistence:  Timeline organizes content in a way that enables individual posts to remain accessible, rather than disappear from view on the Facebook Wall.  Persistent access increases the value of this content – and Facebook as a channel for distributing it – by enabling it to be consumed and shared by viewers over a longer period of time.  This provides greater impetus for green marketers to motivate consumers to post about, like or share branded content on Facebook, as greater persistence means more impressions over time.

Prediction: Personal information has long been used to more effectively target users with ads.  Arguably, Timeline will enable a more in-depth view of the user mindset, revealing new targeting and messaging avenues.  Facebook has the potential to use this data not only to help green marketers find those that have demonstrated a clear affinity for green, but also to predict interest based on similar attitudes, experiences, demographics or behaviors.  This can enable green marketers to target micro-segments with more specific messaging, or even find new audiences, even those that have not yet taken action.

While Timeline is still in beta with consumers, there are expectations that Facebook will soon make Timeline functionality available for business pages.  Green brands should consider this new template for their own Facebook page as its functionality offers advantages for companies too:

Presentation: Timeline could enable new ways for businesses to present their brand online.  For example, Timeline enables a larger profile image prominently placed at the top of the page. Companies could use this space to build awareness for their brand or promote a trial offer for a new product.  Additionally, Timeline allows users to expand thumbnail images to provide a broader view of images and graphics, something for which the previous platform has limited ability to do.  This should benefit green marketers who find that their products require more explanation to drive broader adoption.

Persistence: A chronological Facebook business page would enable users ongoing access to brand information.  This should motivate green marketers to post more content on their Facebook pages such as product information, stories or even blog posts, bolstering these pages as comprehensive access points for brand content.

Timeline is an emerging platform that will enable users to have a more personal web experience.  Green marketers should take advantage of this functionality to more effectively engage consumers, as well as new capabilities as the platform evolves into the future.


Rise of the Peer-To-Peer Green Economy

November 21, 2010

One could argue that the green revolution really took root online with the launch of eBay. Or perhaps Craigslist. Connecting individual sellers with millions of potential buyers brought the neighborhood garage sale (or local classifieds) to the masses, and with it, the ability to extend the product lifecycle of used, yet still useful, products. As Amy Skoczlas Cole from eBay said, “The greenest product is the one that already exists.”

Such peer-to-peer ‘connective’ consumption has long existed offline. Online models like eBay connect individuals at massive scale, while overcoming transaction barriers through the use of seller reviews as well as secure payment mechanisms like PayPal.

Such models challenge the notion of permanent ownership, and with it the environmental impact that it brings. Instead, ownership is viewed as a temporary or altogether unnecessary condition required for realizing product benefits. Products such as cars, beds, clothes, lawnmowers and drills often lay idle and available for use if only those that are in need connect with those that have. Collectively, many have dubbed such transactions ‘collaborative’ consumption because they require the involvement of a community network to make them liquid.

Today, there are at least three peer-to-peer (P2P) models emerging that can facilitate greener transactions:

Rent. Today, there are many businesses that rent, instead of sell, products to consumers including Netflix, Zipcar and RentTheRunway to name a few. Shared products have a lower environmental footprint, of course, requiring fewer products overall to be produced to meet demand.

Recently, P2P models have emerged that allow consumers to rent products that they own including a spare bed (CouchSurfing), car (Spride, Getaround), even a wedding dress (Zilok). Such models leverage social networks to provide reviews and referrals for products and participants, as well as mobile apps that take advantage of location-based capabilities.

Exchange. Increasingly, consumers can facilitate the exchange of goods through trading, bartering or gifting. Such transactions reduce demand for new products by extending the lifecycle of existing ones. Such models provide a more flexible and open ended way to facilitate exchanges than with money. For example, FreeCycle users to make products available free-of-charge to those that are want to take them. In contrast, ThredUp facilitates the exchange of children’s clothes between peers but expects participants first to give clothes to a member in the community before accepting clothing in return. Similarly, Swap enables members to exchange books, CDs, movies and video games. What you can get depends on whether others want what you have to give.

Use Virtual Currency. Consumers can facilitate transactions through the use of virtual currencies that provide many of the benefits of a legal tender – the ability to accumulate, bank and borrow – without actually having to be legal tender. Such currencies work well in networked communities that rely on shared services to deliver a product or service. The Superfluid, for example, is a collaborative social network in which members conduct peer-to-peer transactions by exchanging “favors” for virtual currency. Here, a marketplace has been established where by individuals offer their services (say, web development) in exchange for Quids and then, in turn, spend Quids on services that they need (copy writing).

Certainly, there is the potential to leverage such networks in the green space. Perhaps Quids could be exchanged for environmental services such as conducting a home energy audit or preparing a social corporate responsibility report for a small business.

For consumers, such peer-to-peer transactions are a natural evolution of social networks. Such transactions will continue to grow as mechanisms for transacting become more seamless and consumers become accustomed to more unconventional methods of exchange.

Marketers will be challenged to participate in a meaningful way in such peer-to-peer transactions. Some like eBay and Zilok make it easy by allowing both individuals and businesses to facilitate exchanges. Alternatively, advertising on the largest exchange sites is certainly an option. This is particularly opportunistic for brands naturally aligned with such models including shipping companies, for example. Additionally, businesses should take advantage of such exchanges to launch new offerings such as pay-by-the-day insurance for those that seek to rent a peer’s car, for example. New models that reduce consumption are not necessarily bad for business – they are simply unleashing new opportunities for companies that can play a role in their facilitation.


Predicting a Green Future

February 14, 2008

This past week, the Industry Standard (IS), an icon of the late nineties Internet boom, relaunched its online property.  It did so, however, not as a publisher of industry content but rather as a consumer-driven platform to predict the future.

How does a platform such as this enable seemingly ordinary consumers to predict the future?  Quite simply, IS taps the “wisdom of crowds” or consensus view to determine the probability that an event will happen in the future.  Such an approach assumes that that “aggregation of information in groups…result[s] in decisions that…are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this approach has been demonstrated to be quite effective at making accurate predictions.

How does it work?  In the case of IS, a “market” is simulated whereby members place a bet on the probability that a future event will or will not occur.  They do so using “virtual currency” called “Standard Dollars”.  The probability of that event coming true is estimated based on “community consensus” calculated as the weighted average value of the bets placed for or against the prediction coming true.

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Interestingly, IS is only the latest online publisher to tap into this type of platform as a way to engage consumers.  Moreover, many of the existing platforms have a focus on predicting environmental trends including FT Predict, intrade, IdeaWorth, newsfutures, Popular Science Prediction Exchange, and ZiiTrend.   

                  Intrade’s Market Predicting EU Carbon Targets

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            Popular Science’s Market Predicting Green Events

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While many other sites exist to predict the future, it seems that only IS has tapped industry heavyweights as regular participants.  Their presence not only lends credibility to the site (and the predictions generated there), but arguably, also increases the accuracy of those predictions as well.  Quite simply, influentials possess domain knowledge that can shape the opinions of other site participants and the wagers that they make regarding the future.

As marketers experiment with new ways to attract and engage consumers, simulated markets should be in the mix.  Moreover, participation by domain experts may only enhance this consumer experience by providing credibility and enhancing the accuracy of the predictions.  But, you don’t have to take my word on this, however.  Just ask a crowd.


Green Content Syndication: Part III – Activating Diggers

February 4, 2008

Today, dozens of social news sites exist where users bookmark content for the site’s community to view and rate.  Specific content related to the environment is available on both general news sites such as Digg, Newsvine, Propeller (AOL) or Reddit and green vertical sites such as C2NN, Hugg, Five Limes and plant change (Aus).  Squareoak Media provides a fairly comprehensive list of social news sites categorized by vertical.

When syndicating green content, marketers should seek to activate influentials on each social news site by encouraging them to submit relevant articles that support and reinforce the marketers’ efforts.  Articles submitted by such influentials are more likely to become popular (see Marketing Green’s “Green Content Syndication: Part II – Top Environmental Diggers”) than if submitted ordinarily, resulting in improved reach and traffic to the host site.  

But, how do you activate influentials on sites such as Digg?  While all social news sites operate somewhat differently, learnings from Digg are relevant to most every other site.  Marketing Green believes that there are three key ways to influence article submission by Diggers.   

Make it relevant.  Each Digger has his/her own style and topic preferences.  Get to know each of them by reviewing their profile, past articles that they submitted (and especially those that subsequently became popular) and in what categories. Focus on activating those Diggers that most closely align with your content topics. 

Make it easy.  Diggers sift through dozens of blogs, sites and newsfeeds daily.  As such, make sure your articles  stand out: position them with a new spin, provide a catchy title or attach relevant visuals (ie, images, video) to accompany the content.  Moreover, when possible, refer articles written by a third-party source as it provides added credibility. 

Develop trust. Marketers should focus on developing a rapport with a select few Diggers and carefully seed articles to each – or give them a heads up in advance of their publication. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with two diggers on Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers: 32-year old Jonathon Colman (#7 burkinaboy) of Washington DC and 18-year old Erik Bashatly (#10 sepultura) of Montreal, Canada.  It is important to note that Diggers are not paid (while “Scouts” and “Anchors” on Propeller are).  For them, the environment is an interest or a passion; submitting content is their way to help build awareness for issues of interest or concern.  Notably, Jonathon’s activities as a Digger aligns with his day job as the Associate Director of Digital Marketing at The Nature Conservancy.  

Separately, I asked them questions about their style as Diggers, their influence and how green marketers should best approach them with new articles for submission.  Here is what they had to say:

MG: When it comes to the environment, are there specific topics that you like to digg?

burkinaboy: I tend to submit stories about conservation, people and their interactions with nature, endangered species, and environmental science/data, but I tend to digg (vote for) quite a lot of “green living” and general sustainability-focused stories.  I always find reading these articles to be very intriguing and helpful in terms of reducing my own, personal impact on the environment and climate.

sepultura: I’m a strong believer in green technology, so I try to find as many stories as possible, which take on the positive effects that technology has on the environment.  For example, advances in automotive technologies are a strong plus for me when I’m looking for stories to submit.  The majority of the green tech articles I submit are from a blog called EcoGeek.org, which is focused on spreading the word on all the beneficial improvements of technology.

MG: What makes an article become popular on Digg?

sepultura: If a story gets enough diggs, it’ll become popular in time.  But, don’t we all wish it were really that simple?  Digg’s front page stories get there based on an a complex algorithm, which was very well explained by my friend and fellow digger Muhammad Saleem. While there is no fixed rule on how and when articles can or will become popular, the more experience you gain on the site, the more you’ll understand it.  I’d say that about 85 % of Digg’s top users have noticed the many patterns in the algorithm and have adjusted their submissions accordingly.

burkinaboy: I think that it’s a fun (yet sometimes awkward) balance of trust in the user submitting the article, “juiciness” of the title and description text, freshness level of interest in the news itself, reputation of the hosting site for the content, and (of course) luck.  That said, it’s well known that a good photo or multimedia feature can sometimes sell a story, as can other singular aspects, such as using the phrase “Top 10…” in the title.

MG: How much influence do individual diggers have in making an article popular?

burkinaboy: Quite a bit, assuming that the individual user is well-known, has a good reputation, and operates at an elite level.  For example, articles that are posted by or commented on by users like msaleem, zaibatsu, and mrbabyman tend to attract a lot of attention from the community.  That said, a relatively unknown user can use shouts, a catchy title, or even — gasp! — find outrageous, incredible news that hasn’t been posted elsewhere.  Beyond following best practices with story submissions, I personally use a combination of shouts, Twitter, Pownce, IM and my Facebook profile to attract diggs for the stories that I post.

sepultura: On the whole, it is relatively difficult to get a submission on Digg’s front page without having a strong presence on the site.  (This has become less difficult today due to Digg’s recent addition of the “shouting” system). Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that casual users can (for the most part) only get a story on the front page if the submission meets one or more of the following criteria: it links to a very popular site (Ars Technica, Cracked, Torrent Freak), it is breaking news, or  it’s something so amazing that no one has ever seen before (which is the hardest to come across). 

Digg’s so-called top users have an easier time getting their stories popular simply because they have built a following and have gained experience and have learned what other diggers want.  If you contribute enough, you start to know exactly what to do to be successful.  So I’d say that when it comes to top diggers, an individual digger has a lot of influence.  However, any other user does not have that much individual power on Digg.

MG: Do marketers send you or tip you off to articles for consideration? If so, how often do you dig them when they do?

sepultura: I get about 2 to 3 articles sent to me for consideration each day from people who get my email address off my Digg profile. If I like an article I’ll usually digg it (I’d say that I’ll accept about 60% of the articles sent me to me. However, it should be noted that I’ll usually getting these request from the same people most of the time, which I continuously like to support.

burkinaboy: I love receiving articles from other users and evaluate them for diggs as I would any other story… I look for fairness in coverage, journalistic integrity, newsworthiness, whether the source is primary or first hand in nature, etc.  I tend to only get a handful of requests each week from folks whom I don’t know.  That said, the bulk of my personal submissions to Digg are from a huge page of aggregated RSS feeds that I review frequently.

MG: Do you like when marketers send you articles?   If so, how would you prefer that they approach you?

burkinaboy: Being spammed by fellow diggers will not gain my votes unless the stories are of truly exceptional quality, which they most often are not.  I prefer shouts as my main method of inbound requests and review my incoming shouts regularly, parsing out the stories for votes.

sepultura: I generally don’t mind people sending me links to their own blogs, but I do mind the occasional “demand” (as opposed to the welcomed “request”).  Some people believe that saying “check out my story and Digg it on Monday morning so that it can get the most traffic possible” is a legitimate way of asking me to help them out. 

I also never accept money for submitting articles to Digg.  It wouldn’t be worth risking my reputation. 

I love helping people out, especially bloggers who are just getting started.  I will, however, deny a submission if I don’t approve of it.  It’s also quite obvious when someone is in it for the money instead of for their content.  As for tips from random people, they’re always welcome of course!

MG: Why do you spend so much time on Digg? 

burkinaboy: I do this because it’s a great way to market and promote stories about the environment, conservation, science, green living and sustainability to a large number of people who have an interest in and are affected by these issues, but who might not otherwise see the particular stories that I post. 

We all know that making a story popular on Digg tends to cause a large wave of traffic to the hosting site, but what gets talked about a bit less is the spike of blog and media sites picking up popular posts on Digg that drives a smaller (but longer) secondary wave of traffic, interest, and search engine visibility to those same stories.  Therefore, making a story popular on Digg doesn’t just mean that a marketer is promoting content to a closed audience, but to nearly everyone consuming media online.

sepultura: Many people believe that we either do it to gain some kind of profit or because we have nothing better to do with our lives.  Either way it’s a negative misconception.  We do it simply because we enjoy contributing to something that we love to use.  It’s that simple.


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.


Green Marketing on Social Networks

December 1, 2007

Participation in social networks continues to grow seemingly without bounds as more people seek to connect, share and collaborate with likeminded individuals online.  Today, hundreds of millions of online users have already signed up, with an increasing number belonging to more than one network. 

For green marketers, social networks provide a compelling channel to communicate with consumers that have an affinity for green or are at least open-minded enough to listen.  Today, those users can be found across a wide variety of social networks, including both general interest and vertically focused networks that connect those interested in social responsibility or, more specifically, in the environment. 

Marketing Green has identified six different types of social networks that appeal to those with a green affinity.  Each network type provides the opportunity for users to connect, share and/or collaborate with others online.  And because many view green as a social cause, participation in such networks can generate both personal as well as societal benefits.   The six types of social networks include the following:   

Interaction sites connect online user to facilitate offline interactions.  For example, online users can connect with other likeminded individuals for dating or socializing on sites such as Care2, Earthwise Singles, dharmaMatch, Green Drinks, Green Passions, Green Party Passions, Planet Earth Singles and VeggieDate.  Alternatively, online users can find out about green events, political rallies or local meet ups on social action sites such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour Action, Care2, Do SomethingMeetup, Step It Up, TakingITGlobal, and WorldCoolers.  

Other sites allow members to arrange carpools on sites like GishiGo, GoLoco, pooln and WorldCarShare (Yahoo Groups), as well as rent, loan or reuse products (rather than purchase new or dispose of as waste) on sites like freecycle, gigoit, loanables and rentoid. 

                   Marketing Green’s Six Types of Green Social Networks

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Commitment sites enable users to share a personal pledge to make their lives more eco-friendly.  On certain Commitment sites, users can even collaborate with others to support their pledge or to encourage others to make similar pledges.  Examples include sites such as Actics, Low Fly Zone, Make Me Sustainable, PledgeBank, The Carbon Diet, Who On Earth Cares (Aus), Yahoo Green and the “I Am Green” page on Facebook.   

Utility sites enable consumers to connect and share online with others that have a green affinity and/or want to live a greener lifestyle.  Examples include general interest networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Tribe and Yahoo Groups (focused on green), as well as vertically focused networks such as beTurtle, Care2, Common Circle, Dianovo, ecoMetro, Eco-munnity, Good Tree, Green Bin, Holistic Local, Lime, Neutral Existence, rethos, TheNag (UK), Zaadz and Zelixy among others.   

Sites like Baagz are emerging that should, in theory, enable users to connect with a far greater number of online users across the Internet, rather than simply those within a particular social network.  Considered an early Web 3.0 application, Baagz leverages semantic web principles to allow software agents to connect people with common interests by reading embedded tags in web content (rather than natural language descriptions). 

Shopping sites allow consumers to connect and share green purchases and product reviews.  Examples include FiveLimes and Sustainlane.  Additionally, traditional social shopping sites such as Kaboodle, StyleHive, ThisNext and Wists include a wide range of eco-friendly (eg, organic) products.  

Today, online users have the opportunities to integrate their favorite purchases into their personal profile page on sites like Facebook using a Yahoo web application called “My favorite Things”.  This application enables users to share favorite products, create a wish list and send virtual gifts to friends online.  Importantly, integration of social shopping into Facebook enriches personal profiles and allows users to connect based on shopping preferences.  

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Alternatively, consumers have the option to connect with other likeminded consumers based on their brand and/or product affinity.  One example is Toyota’s community site for hybrid owners, Hybrid Synergy Drive.  Another example is Method’s community of advocates. 

Engagement sites enable users to share ideas and collaborate on new ones.  These social networks tend to attract members from specific vertical sectors.  Examples include local community sites such as ecoTreadsetters (Yokohama Tire), Gusse and Transition Towns (UK); innovation sites such as Green Building Forum (UK), Sustainability Forum and wattwatt; and business forums such as OpenEco (Sun) and OPEN Forum (American Express) among others.

Activism sites enable collaboration to promote change through social and political activism.  Example sites include: 2People, Care2, ChangeDo SomethingGreenVoice, idealist, just cause, Razoo, TakingITGlobal, tree-nation, Wiser Earth and Youth Noise among others.    

For marketers, such social networks provide a rich opportunity for messaging to consumers with a green affinity.  Today, there are three primary ways in which marketers can communicate with consumers through this channel: 

Search.  Marketers can bid on contextually relevant search keywords within social networks and provide relevant and engaging content on linked landing pages. 

Awareness and Engagement.  Marketers can actively engage consumers by placing corporate profiles within social networks, by facilitating the creation of user generated content and by encouraging viral marketing.     

The placement of profiles on social networks is a great way to build awareness within and across peer groups online.  Users connect to a brand or a cause as an expression of their online identities.  Those that do can be effective advocates for a brand (or cause) and brands should actively engage them as such.  Moreover, this simple link in a personal profile can provide a powerful way to build awareness within the user’s extended network as it provides a de facto endorsement of the brand or cause by a trusted source. 

Additionally, it is important to note that the creation of user-generated content itself can facilitate viral marketing efforts though sharing of content between consumers or via content sharing sites such emPivot, RiverWired and YouTube.  Moreover, users may bookmark favorite green content or websites on hunah, Hugg, del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon, encouraging others to also view the content or visit the site as well.

Targeting.  Marketers can target consumers within a social network through direct ad placement where possible and appropriate.  

Importantly, Facebook has made an announcement that has major implications for how marketers can communicate to members going forward.  Essentially, Facebook said that it will allow marketers to target members with ads based on its user’s personal profiles, social connections and even the recent activities of each user’s extended network. 

This announcement marks a significant departure in the way social networks have been organized to date.  Until now, marketers have had limited opportunity to serve ads directly to users within the social network.  With this change, marketers will now have the opportunity to target consumers directly based on attitudinal, behavioral and demographic attributes included directly in or inferred from personal profiles and connections online.    

So, marketers should take note.   Social networks are proliferating and consumer participation seems to be growing without bounds.  For marketers, social networks provide an increasing number of opportunities to communicate with online users that either have a green affinity or perhaps are connected to someone that does.  To have the greatest impact, however, marketers should ensure that they align their messaging with the mission of each type of social network.  Done right, marketers can have a powerful impact on their brands and the bottom line.


Green Marketing as a Vehicle for Consumer Engagement

October 12, 2007

Today, smart marketers are focused not only on whether consumers view their message, but to what extent they engage with it.  One definition of engagement is as a measure of consumer involvement with a marketing vehicle.  As defined, it implies that engagement should be considered as both a marketing tactic and a metric that can be measured and optimized. 

The green space is ripe for engagement in large part because consumers are interested in green not just as a product category but as a social cause.  As a result, consumers are not only highly open to invitations to engage, but eager to do so when given the opportunity.   Many, in fact, actively seek outlets for their passion; marketers only need to activate them by providing the opportunity. 

Several marketers have already tapped into this passion by creating points of engagement that go well beyond your average marketing communication. 

One such example is CNN’s Impact your World.  CNN is one of the premier news brands today.  Traditionally, news organizations like CNN have provided ways to consume and subsequently react to news by providing the opportunity to comment on news stories – a form of engagement in of itself.  

Yet, CNN Impact takes engagement to the next level by providing consumers with a way to act on their interests in or passion for particular news events – green or otherwise.  One great example is the recent story of the small Iraqi child that suffered severe burns.  CNN Impact enabled its viewers not only to read articles about the child but to take action by making donations to cover his medical bills.   engagement-tactics_3.gif 

In the green space, CNN Impact provides the opportunity for viewers to take action through its “Planet in Peril” section.  CNN provides links to relevant content as well as to environmental non-profits where viewers can make a donation.  CNN facilitates donations by partnering with Charity Navigator to provide information on non-profits to enable users to make more informed decisions. 

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Another great vehicle for driving engagement was the recent Members Project by American Express.  In this project, American Express designated significant funds to be donated to a cause of its cardmember’s choosing.   A platform was created for cardmembers to nominate and vote on different projects over a three month period. 

In the end, American Express cardmembers chose to fund a UNICEF project to bring clean drinking water to children (a noble project that is at the intersection of green and human health).  American Express provided the platform for the project; cardmembers engaged with each other through this platform to determine the project’s outcome. 

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Smart green marketers should take advantage of green as both a product and a social cause by creating deeper opportunities for engagement with their consumers.  Companies can facilitate engagement in multiple ways: by enabling consumers to act on their interests (eg, by connecting them with volunteer opportunities, enabling donations as in CNN Impact) or interact with peers (eg, through community or discussion boards), by encouraging content creation and distribution, and by facilitating product ideation (eg, through collaborative environments) or direct feedback to a company.   

Moreover, marketers may motivate consumer engagement by wrapping a product with an affinity-based experience (eg, Members Project) or by providing access to an event or experience that has perceived value or is deemed exclusive. 

Given the passion that some consumers have for the category, marketers may be surprised by the response and the impact that such marketing vehicles may have on the bottom line.  

(Disclosure: American Express is a client of Digitas)


Greening Your Brand in a Web 2.0 World

October 3, 2007

Last Friday, I have the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Sustainable Brands conference in New Orleans.  Panel participants included: 

  • Susan Space, Director, Brands & Advertising, at Sun Microsystems
  • Brian Reich, Director of New Media at Cone, a brand and cause marketing agency, and
  • Janet Eden-Harris, CEO of Umbria, a marketing intelligence company.  

I have included my opening remarks below (and will follow up with the transcript of the discussion when it becomes available):

Web 2.0 enable consumers to participate, share and collaborate online like never before.  And whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, you probably have noticed that consumers are embracing these technologies not only to participate but to control and dictate when, where and how they want to be communicated to. 

Today, consumers view six times the number of ads that they did 20 years ago. And not surprisingly, customers feel inundated and are tuning them out.  (Ad Age, February 4, 2006) In fact, consumers are finding ways to opt out of viewing our advertising altogether by using Pop-up blockers, spam filters, and DVRs and by signing up for Do Not Call Lists and even Do Not Mail Lists. 

At the same time, they are opting in to view content of their choosing by using blog readers like Technorati, customzied news feeds like NewsVine or even signing up for emails with green lifestyle tips from sites like the Daily Green. 

Today, more and more consumers are active contributors online, and in the process, blurring the distinctions between advertising and content and between consumer and publisher.  In this new world, ads are no longer the stuff that fills the gaps between the content.  Content, in effect, is advertising.  And, advertising is increasingly distributed as content.   With nearly 50% of consumers generating – or perhaps I should say publishing – content online, this shift has already taken hold.  (Pew Research) 

Moreover, distrust of product companies will only accelerate this trend, as consumers increasingly turn to their peers for seemingly unbiased opinions and information. 

And, it is in this environment that most marketers focus on the loss of control over brand messaging and identify, rather than the opportunity.  

How then do marketers – and particularly green marketers – take advantage of this new Web 2.0 order?   

We need to first recognize that the rules of engagement have changed; many traditional assumptions regarding marketing, media and branding no longer hold true.  Yet, as marketers, our response should not be to shy away from this change, but to encourage and embrace it through new marketing approaches. 

And, as it turns out, the green category is defined by specific consumer, product and brand characteristics that can take full advantage of Web 2.0 capabilities.

First, green is an emerging product category.   Consumers are not very familiar with the products available today.  Few standards exist.  And, new products and technology solutions are coming to market each day. 

As such, marketers have the opportunity to leverage Web 2.0 capabilities to help consumers to navigate the category, facilitate consumer education and drive product development through collaborative environments and communities 

Second, many consumers are not fully committed to being green yet.  Attitudes are evolving.  Purchase behavior is inconsistent.  And, perceptions about corporate brands are still be formed. 

Marketers have the opportunity to influence this evolution through transparent participation in the online dialogue, encouragement of WOM marketing and facilitation of consumer engagement online.  

As with consumers, the greening of a company and a brand should be considered a journey.  One challenge for green marketers then is to keep the journey of your own brand one step ahead that of your customers. 

Third, it is important to remember that for some, green describes not only a product attribute but a social cause.  All marketers should take advantage of this by activating those consumers most passionate about the category.   

The challenge for marketers then is to act in a way that is perceived as genuine and not simply “greenwashing”.  

And, it is in this context and this environment that we welcome our panelists and begin our discussion.  

(Special thanks to Carl Fremont, EVP and Global Head of Media at Digitas for his contributions)


Green Marketing Leverages Social Networking on MySpace

February 19, 2007

Social networking sites such as MySpaceFriendster and Facebook have become enormously popular, with membership topping 200 million today.  Such sites allow users to create personal profiles and interact with others by sharing content and communicating through IM and chat.  Users establish links to each other, creating networks that facilitate the sharing of information between friends and introductions between strangers. 

As Jupiter Research points out, advertising on social networks provides a powerful channel for marketers to reach online consumers in an “environment which they helped create” rather than on “traditional portals and destination sites”. In doing so, marketers can leverage social networks to build brand awareness, in large part by leveraging the word-of-mouth impact of the network. (“Social Networks”, September 26, 2006). 

For marketers, however, advertising on social networks is not without risk.  One challenge faced by all marketers is how to appear ‘genuine’ rather than purely commercial in such consumer-created environments.  Faced with this dilemma, mass market brands must tread carefully when advertising on such sites.  For example, a search on MySpace for Wal-Mart yields a profile page targeting college students with music, electronics and dorm accessories.  It also yields a “Don’t Shop Wal-Mart” page with many links to negative news reports about the company.  Ironically, green as a category may be better positioned than most to exploit social networks as a marketing channel.  There are a couple reasons for this positioning, as the green category may exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: 

  • Emerging product category: Social network users like to share content as there is an excitement, and even competitiveness, about being first in the know.  Emerging products and brands provide the opportunity to exploit the “novelty” factor that motivates viral marketing. 
  • Social cause:  Many consumers are linking to sites or sharing content if these sites or content support an underlying cause.
  • Lifestyle brand: Social network users express their online identities, in part, through the connections that they make online.  Links to lifestyle brands (or social causes) are ways for consumers to express this identity online. 

So, how should green brands take advantage of this consumer-driven social networking environment?  In terms of opportunity size, MySpace is in a league of its own with more than 100 million registered users.  A review of current activities on MySpace reveals learning for green marketers.  Here are a few considerations: 

Create profiles.  Increasingly, companies and non-profits are creating their own profiles on MySpace.  At first glance, they look similar to profiles created by individual users (as the templates are the same).  But, in fact, they are branded pages with content posted by a company or non-profit organization. One proxy for the marketing impact generated from placement on a social networking site is the number of people that have linked to a particular profile.  Based on this measure, promoters of the movie An Inconvenient Truth have enjoyed significant success for a green brand with nearly 85,000 links to date.   

Many not-for-profit organizations also maintain profiles on MySpace.  Interestingly, Greenpeace has one of the most popular profiles of any green non-profit.  However, this may not be surprising as MySpace is in large part about expressing online identity.  Given its grassroots base and edgy tactics, Greenpeace may make for a more unique expression of identify than more mainstream organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. 

Non-Profit Organization MySpace Links
Greenpeace 38,311
Wilderness Society 16,603
World Wildlife Fund 14,366
Earth First 10,337
National Resource Defense Council* 5,624

* Joint campaign with punk rock band Green Day 

A quick survey of eco-friendly companies, however, revealed very few brands with profiles on MySpace but include Annie’s Homegrown (organic), Ben and Jerry’s and green*light magazine.  Not surprisingly, user links to these corporate sites are relatively low, indicating that users do not want to associate with the brands within this environment or simply that it is too early to tell.   

Nonetheless, opportunity may exist for other niche brands (that are emerging, aligned with a specific lifestyle or support an underlying cause) to create a presence on MySpace.  Examples include companies as diverse as Tom’s of Maine, Seventh Generation, Method and Clif Bar to experiment with profiles on MySpace. 

Associate with celebrities. Association with celebrities provides credibility for a brand and expands it appeal across a wider audience.  One way to do so is to encourage celebrity links on branded profiles.  Currently, environmental non-profits are using this tactic as a de facto endorsement and broadening their appeal to a wider audience.  Most celebrities linked to environmental groups are musical bands which is not surprising given MySpace’s musical heritage.  Several examples include Pearl Jam for Defenders of Wildlife and the Dixie Chicks for the Nature Conservancy.  Promoters of An Inconvenient Truth have a link to the Black Eyed Peas while the unbranded profile StopGlobalWarming tapped the military and political figure, Wesley Clark.  

Tap into “New Influentials”.  Jupiter Research defines “New Influentials” as “active broadcasters of information” across the Internet due to their high consumption, creation and sharing of online content.  By doing so, they have significant influence in building brand awareness – spreading information quickly online via blogs and social networking sites. (“Marketing to Influentials,”, November 7, 2006).

Interestingly, many popular green blogs, including TreeHugger and GristMill, maintain profiles within MySpace and include similar content as their blogs. Seeding environmental blogs with engaging, and perhaps exclusive content (including videos, quizzes or even advertising clips themselves) is one way to facilitate viral distribution by New Influentials within social networking environments.  

Integrate marketing campaigns with MySpace presence.  Advertisers have created profiles within social networking sites in order to extend marketing campaigns to those environments.  Marketers should consider linking directly from the creative or corporate site associated with the online campaign to these profiles. These marketers should engage the consumers that visit their social networking profiles by soliciting their participation (eg, quiz, vote, content creation) or by facilitating the viral distribution of posted content.  There are two great examples of organizations that maintain integrated profiles on MySpace:  

National Resource Defense Council linked up with band Green Day to launch an unbranded campaign, Move America Beyond Oil.  The associated campaign site enables users to view video commentary by band members about environmental issues, send messages (eg, email, text) to government officials, learn about what they can do to reduce environmental impact and download free stuff (eg, wallpaper, icons).  

The campaign is tied to a profile page within MySpace which includes the video from YouTube and messaging information.   While the profile itself has fewer than 6,000 links, significantly, much of the content can be viewed or accessed from Green Day’s own profile which has more than 211,000.  

Green Mountain Energy, the largest US retailer of renewable energy, recently launched an ambitious unbranded campaign, BeGreenNow, which relies heavily on social network capabilities through its website as well as in MySpace.     The campaign itself features a highly engaging website that is intended to:

  • Educate consumers about their carbon footprint (eg, through content, blog, carbon calculator)
  • Motivate action to mitigate impact (eg, planting a tree, purchasing carbon offset)
  • Connect with likeminded people through community functions (eg, join BeGreenNow community, add link to other social networking sites including MySpace, social shopping site Wists and web site bookmarking and sharing sites like Simpy, Spurl, Furl and del.icio.us)
  • Spread the word through a combination of awareness (eg, add BeGreenNow button to personal pages or blogs) and viral tactics (forward to a friend).

The BeGreenNow site also features a video contest where users can submit a video about what they do to be green.  What is most interesting about this tactic is that marketers have cleverly embedded the video on its MySpace profile, rather than on the site.  Thus, a click on the site’s video banner takes the user to the MySpace page where one can view all of the submitted footage, vote on a favorite video and forward to a friend. 

When in doubt, stick to paid search.  Consumers are more accepting of advertisements when companies are open and honest about their intentions.  If there are any doubts about brand acceptance by social networking users, test the water first with paid search. For example, buy relevant key words to assess demand for a product or brand in the context of a social networking site before you invest in an ongoing presence.


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