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Here’s How LinkedIn Can Save Itself

Here’s How LinkedIn Can Save Itself

There are a few important changes LinkedIn needs to make in order to save itself from a disastrous fate.

If you happened to catch a glimpse of LinkedIn’s stock price over the last week or so, you might have noticed a straight line downwards on Friday February 5th. That wasn’t a glitch; LinkedIn’s stock price has fallen by over 40% (at the time of writing) since it announced lower-than-expected earnings and lowered projections for the coming year. Investors are losing their patience.

LinkedIn Stock Price Feb 7 16

Despite having a great core product (which LinkedIn very much still does) many of the efforts of the professional network to expand have not yielded strong results. In fact, in a lot of respects, those expansion efforts have rather resulted in an almost ‘worst case scenario’ outcome.

This is not to say that LinkedIn has missed the mark every time it has done something; the acquisition of SlideShare in 2012, for example, was a brilliant move and continues to be among its best. But some of the more universal oversights have cost the network dearly, and there are a few pain points that need to be addressed as soon as possible in order to end the slide into penny stock status (though that’s still a long way off – we hope).

Spamalot Central

Facebook is consistently working on its algorithm in order to ensure that the content you see is what is most relevant to you. The result has been quarter-over-quarter growth in average session time, engagement per post, engagement per user, and more metrics that have come into existence since the advent of social media in the world of marketing.

LinkedIn has taken a slightly different approach.

In order to encourage engagement among its users, InMail exists (which guarantees a user will see the message). Of course, users pay for that privilege, but is accommodating the users who pay for mass (spam) messages like that really worth the detriment that does on the user experience as a whole?

How often do you receive unsolicited messages on LinkedIn offering to sell you traffic, invest in a business opportunity, or, in some cases, enlarge or enhance something? In the last month alone, I’ve been included on over a dozen chain-style message threads (another issue) from users (and including users) with whom I’ve never connected. I pay close attention to who I allow into my professional circle, but all that seems to factor into is my feed content, and has no influence on what kind of trash I’m sent from peddling affiliates.

A better spam filtration system needs to be put in place by LinkedIn and it needs to be put in place fast. More and more users (as exhibited by time on site and people I’ve spoken to) are using LinkedIn for little more than a place to host a resume and highlight some skills, rather than a network where actual business can get done. These filters don’t need to be all that complicated either for them to work (and improve the experience).

First, these kinds of promotional messages (and chain messages) should be restricted to second or third points of contact. Introductions (with character limits or standard content set by LinkedIn) should be the ONLY content that non-connections are allowed to send at the outset. If someone send me something along the lines of, “Thanks for connecting, I look forward to talking to you a little bit more about how we might be able to work together!” I’ll be significantly more likely to look through his or her profile, see what it is they do and, if I see potential, engage with the user and open up a professional dialogue.

I wonder what kind of horrific return these affiliates and marketers see when they purchase InMail packages and generate nothing. That might be a nice short term gain for the network, but as we have seen with this year’s earnings reports, it’s not a solution.

Improved Ad Dashboards

Advertising is any social network’s (even a professional one’s) bread and butter. So, as we’ve seen with Facebook – the shining example of social advertising that marketers love – constant improvements should be made to a dashboard in order to make it simpler, more effective and more evolved. This is an area where LinkedIn has really struggled.

As someone who has been involved in social advertising for years now, it is not hard to tell which network (of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) has seen the slowest evolution in its ads platform. As Facebook and Twitter have introduced new capabilities and made the management of campaigns and creative much more efficient, LinkedIn has done little to evolve its dashboard.

It has certain undergone some aesthetic changes, but ad campaigns function in an archaic fashion. It is almost as if marketers are publishing magazine ads and hoping that they work. Why do I say this? Well, ads can be created…but that’s about it. Editing is a nightmare (if not entirely non-existent) and as you create varieties of your creative, your campaign become overwhelmingly populated with different variations. For a network that is built on professionalism, the ads dashboard is far too disorganized.

A simpler, more tasteful segmentation, like that of Facebook’s setup (which modelled itself after Google) would make life much easier. Moreover, the ability to edit ads and feature proper creative to populate a link preview (as opposed to a tiny window with a fraction of what’s actually on the ad) would go a very long way in driving marketers to use LinkedIn ads more frequently.

Improved Ad Placements

And again with the ads.

Most marketers can agree that the age of the banner is dead. And yet, the right-hand side ad lives on. Granted it is a viable bit of real estate, and LinkedIn has done a better job than Facebook of optimizing the appearance of the RHS ad (instead of several ads scrolling, one appears in a noticeable box at a time) but for advertisers the value is in sharing content to a targeted user’s feed.

That can still be done on LinkedIn, but where both Facebook and Twitter have the network beat is in how to drive traffic from these ads. As noted above, the tiny image that populates a link is completely worthless. A large, eye-catching piece of creative with a clear call-to-action and a different visual structure than a regular post or update is what makes an ad worth the marketer’s budget. LinkedIn needs to make changes to how creative we can get with those ads.

There is no denying the viability of the audience on LinkedIn. Barring those users that are simply sharing spam (I’ll get to that again in a second) there is the most targeted group of people active on the network than any other social platform. So it would make sense that LinkedIn charges a little bit more than other networks for its ad space, but you’re paying five, ten even twenty times as much per click (trust me I’ve done the comparisons) for an ugly, boring ad that can’t be changed once you click ‘Start’.

Ads need to be more visually stimulating if marketers are to see results from them, and their placements need to be more apparent in the timeline than simply allowing users to create Sponsored Updates.

User Purge

LinkedIn has registered about 414 million users. Based on the content I mentioned above that floods my inbox, I wouldn’t flinch if you told me half of those were spam.

OK – maybe not half. But you get my point.

It’s time for LinkedIn to clean up its network. Hitting that critical mass is exciting, and it means charging more for advertising, but as more bots and tactless affiliates join the network, the value of that ad space goes down. Now, the cat is out of the bag as far as how people are using the network. Several are using the online space to store a resume. Others are using it to share content and find a new job. Recruiters are using it to find those users. And so, so, SO many are using it to tell me about an amazing business opportunity that I need to act on or sell me traffic.

To rebound from this devastating hit, LinkedIn may need to sacrifice a huge portion of its user base. That might seem counterintuitive, but one theme that has been apparent in a lot of what LinkedIn has done has been short-term thinking. This is looking at the value to marketers in the long-run.

Conclusion

Nothing here is vastly complex. I’m not suggesting a paradigm shift in how the network functions or what it offers. These are existing models that simply need a tweak.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight. It will take time and it will take just as much (if not more) time to see the effects of this working. But I really do believe that in order for LinkedIn to survive this downward spiral, it needs to look towards simplification, rather than expansion.

As Wall Street begins to shake and the memories of 2000 start to creep back up in their minds, they are taking good hard looks at what is working and what is not. Right now, there is a lot about LinkedIn that scares them. But the potential is certainly there and the product is fantastic. Taking heed of a few of these suggestions might just help it get back into the good graces of the powers that be (and drive up active advertiser numbers as well).

What do you think LinkedIn needs to do to come out of this mess?

Brand Trust is on the Rise

Brand Trust is on the Rise

Every year, Edelman releases the Edelman Trust Barometer, and for the first time in a long time, consumers are starting to trust in brands again.

The Edelman Trust Barometer (embedded below from SlideShare) was first released in 2001, and its purpose has consistently been to show the state of trust of the average consumer (globally) in different bodies. Those bodies range from governments to NGOs to, most recently added, ‘a person like me’. When this last one was added, we started to see some changes in the way marketing and, more universally, business works.

Edelman Trust Barometer Trends Each Year

In 2005-2006, as social media began to take shape and brands began to adopt these new media as a means of sharing a message, reviews, experiences and stories began to rise as the most trustworthy sources for accurate information. Not much has changed today; most of us still turn to websites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor when trying to decide where to go to dinner, or where to stay on a vacation. But this year, something was seen that we have not seen since the Great Recession back in 2008.

The 2016 report shows a significant rise in the trust consumers have in brands themselves. Everyone from NGOs, to businesses, to media to governments saw a rise in the trust factor, with businesses themselves receiving the highest jump of five points. Transparency mixed with an increase in the size of the informed public has led the charge upward. But for the general public (not part of the informed public, that has seen a rise in trust) trust has decreased. We’re now in the midst of a significant trust gap (shown below).

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016 Trust Gap

Now, I won’t dive too deep into the correlations found in terms of income inequality and trust disparity (those you can review in the complete report below) but suffice it to say that it is all pretty interesting. What’s more, the countries identified as having these gaps might surprise quite a few of you (I was certainly surprised by some).

The Exciting Stuff

All of these universal findings are noteworthy – that’s for certain. But when it comes to my interests – both professionally and personally – I have to say that the focus on influence and the value it holds in terms of trust is what I find most interesting.

When it comes to the sources most used (and trusted) for news and information, half – HALF – of the top sources are peer-influenced media. What is peer-influenced media, exactly? Media with low barriers to entry that are influenced by the population around them. So, while newspaper and television might not be peer-influenced (seeing as how there are significant barriers to entry and a small minority controlling what is deemed relevant content) blogs and social media are.

Edelman Trust Barometer Peer Influenced Media

Once again this year, peers and experts are seen to be more credible than executives or even government officials. In fact, ‘a person like yourself’ received an impressive four point bump this year (CEOs received an eight point bump, but are still trusted by less than 50% of the general public).

Edelman Trust Barometer Trust Levels

These rises, after years of low trust levels, present a great opportunity for business. While the informed public has been quicker to trust businesses, there is still an upward trend on which brands can capitalize. The key, however, is going to be living up to expectations.

With every move a brand makes being thoroughly scrutinized by the public, decisions need to be carefully considered. In today’s fast-paced, highly social marketplace, it is hard to understand how so many companies still stumble. Granted, for a lot of organizations, these new media meant adaptation, and many are still in the process of meeting the learning curve. But now that 80% of the general population believes that companies can make money and do good, it’s time to pay more attention to detail than ever before.

The startup culture has turned the CEO role from one shrouded in mystery, to one that the public wants to see more than anyone else. The positive side of this has been the rise in trust (from 41% to 49%) by the general public. The risk (to the executives themselves) is shifting focus away from traditional business metrics to social metrics. This is a hard culture to adopt, but one that the general population is deeming necessary.

See For Yourself

There is (unsurprisingly) a lot of great stuff in this year’s Trust Barometer findings. Scroll through the slides below and see if anything catches your eye!

Some Marketing Trends for Which to Be Thankful

Some Marketing Trends for Which to Be Thankful

In keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few marketing trends for which we can all be thankful this year!

We all know that the marketing world evolves rapidly. In just a few short years we’ve seen the landscape change from buying print ads to AdWords to social advertising, and as we approach Thanksgiving, there is yet another collection of new marketing trends for which to be thankful this year.

Smart Automation

Marketing automation has been refined considerably over the last few years, and the powerful tools that exist on the market make it one of the most valuable assets in a marketer’s arsenal. What we are starting to see is the evolution of these technologies thanks in large part to their improved and more powerful analytical capabilities.

According to research conducted by Smart Insights, marketers feel as though marketing automation will have the greatest impact on their strategies and success in the coming year (shown below).

Marketing trends and commercial impact

This shouldn’t surprise us considering the power behind a marketing automation software. As machine learning becomes less of a luxury and more of a standard and these technologies become more intelligent and capable of truly optimizing conversion rates and decreasing the length of the buyer journey (which they are currently in the process of doing) we can expect to see marketing automation become the central pillar for many marketing professionals’ strategies.

Simpler Data

As exciting as the concept of ‘big data’ has been for a lot of marketers, the subject has been largely too complex for most to breach. In the chart above, you can see that ‘big data’ is of growing importance, and a large part of that is the simplification of its applications and the lowering of barriers to entry into the field.

If you’ve read some of the articles I’ve written about data, then you probably already know my feelings on the subject; I have long asserted that in order to get any use out of data, we need to think about it in context and look at it on the micro level. Now, we are finally seeing a rise in that way of thinking and the release of tools that allow for the simplification of data use. That trend is growing, and data will be a much easier beast to tackle in the coming year.

All Mobile, All Day

At this point, talking about the importance and growth of mobile is about as redundant as it is necessary. Though we all know how crucial mobile is (see the chart below) there are still new facts and justifications released every day that further strengthen that point.

KPCB Importance of Mobile Marketing Trends

We’re spending more time on our mobile devices, mobile advertising is generating exceptional results and this year, for the first time, mobile web traffic is expected to surpass desktop traffic. All that (and a whole lot more) is reason enough to keep emphasizing how crucial mobile is and will continue to be.

Departmental Integration

The silo approach is dead. I’m not entirely sure why organizations still approach business in this way, but thanks to the advent and permeation of communications and media at every level of the business, it is no longer an option to look at your departments as operating in a vacuum. Everybody needs to be involved in everybody else’s business.

That is not to say that there still should not be carefully outlined objectives and tasks, but in order to find success, departments – from marketing to customer service to your executive team – need to work together. The reason for this is twofold: first, communication and action is happening too quickly to operate in a silo format. Simply put, buck passing is not an option when the whole world can hear about something in a matter of hours. Second, your organization is no longer just the big corporate facade, but rather the people inside it – all the people. Communication is not a department, but a part of your culture, and culture affects everyone and everything.

We’re seeing this happen at both large and small companies, quickly and slowly. The important thing, however, is that we are seeing this happen, and we can expect to continue to see this trend expand in the coming year.

Enter the Chief Marketing Technologist

Last time I counted the number of marketing technologies that existed on the market today, I lost count. At this point, there are well over two thousand. That, by the way, is not a type (which is why I typed it out). There are well over 2,000 pieces of marketing technology and MarTec clouds and add-ons and all sorts of tools that exist on the market. To know what to use and how best to use it, you’re going to need someone who lives and breathes this stuff.
Marketing technology landscape marketing trends

The Chief Marketing Technologist is a relatively new position (no more than a few years old at this point) but one that is quickly growing in value and importance. Tools are designed to not only make life easier, but help you build your business. Knowing which tools are right to help you achieve your objectives in the shortest timeframe possible while maximizing profits is crucial to the success of your company.

When you consider the fact that there are as many tools as there are listed above (plus hundreds more that are not listed at this point) and how important these tools are, it is no wonder we are seeing the rapid rise in the implementation of this position.

Conclusion

As with every year, there is plenty to get excited about and be thankful for in the world of marketing this year. We have seen a lot of changes, but those changes mean that the market is evolving. Processes are simplifying, the market is growing and capabilities are expanding. It should be an exciting year in our field, and there is no doubt that at this rate, we can expect to see some great advances next year as well.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

An Update on the State of the Internet of Things

An Update on the State of the Internet of Things

Most of you know by now that I am obsessed with the Internet of Things. Here is an update on the state of the industry.

Fairly regularly, I mention my fanboy-like infatuation with the concept (and advances in the industry) of the Internet of Things. After all, when you look at the market potential, the theoretical applications and some practical implementations that have been presented to date, can you really blame me?

State of the Internet of Things

Every so often, I like to look around the industry and see what major announcements have been made, what research has been conducted and get an overall update on what’s happening with the IoT. Here is some of what I have read and discovered as of late.

Projections are Huge

Based on certain studies and analyses of the state of the industry today as compared to where its headed (and at what rate) the market for the Internet of Things is going to be a pretty substantial space. That isn’t all that surprising when we consider the fact that virtually anything can be a part of the Internet of Things. Unlike a lot of emerging and new markets, there are no constraints with regards to the scope of what might be involved.

Certain projections (and there are a lot that vary pretty significantly) conclude that by 2020 (in just five years) there will be anywhere from 24 billion to 50 billion connected devices in the world (up from an already impressive 10 billion today), and that over two thirds of those devices will be IoT devices. Let’s remind ourselves again that IoT isn’t just smartphones and tablets, so it isn’t all that inconceivable that the average person has 5-10 IoT devices (anywhere on their person or in their home).

On top of that, projections suggest that we might see investments as high as $6 trillion into the IoT industry over the next five years.

Business Will Lead the Charge

As with most things (and as we’ve seen to date) the investment in and adoption of IoT devices and practices starts with big organizations and slowly makes its way into every day society.

Of course, early on, a lot of this has to do with the fact that there are high barriers to entry (in terms of integrating IoT applications in several fields) and among those barriers is the prohibitive costs involved. But as those costs have decreased, we’ve seen more brands and organizations moving towards IoT-enabled practices, and a major reason for that has been improved efficiency.

Though we don’t have long-term studies yet that prove this assumption empirically, it is hard to deny the benefits of IoT when it comes to improved productivity. Smart devices are smart for a reason – they make life (and work) easier. As more businesses factor in the savings and increased output that IoT applications can generate, we will surely see a greater (and much faster-paced) adoption of IoT across multiple industries.

Adoption is Happening Fast

14 countries already have more than a 10% market saturation for IoT-enabled devices. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a study this year that found that South Korea currently has the most IoT devices, with a saturation of 37.9% (37.9 devices per 100 inhabitants) and thirteen other countries saw rates of over 10 devices per 100 inhabitants.

There were also several countries – namely Brazil, Japan and Australia – that were very close to that 10% saturation. All in all, 24 countries were studied, and there is no sign of this rapid adoption and integration into every day life slowing down (see the five-year projections above).

Connected Driving

One industry that is on the war path to get connected is the auto industry. There are only a few brands that currently connect you to the Internet (some luxury, like Tesla, and more and more overarching brands, like GMC).

It is estimated that the option currently exists in about 10% of vehicles, but in the next few years (again, looking towards that 2020 goal) we can expect 90% of (new) vehicles to have Internet connectivity.

Conclusion

As is often the case when I write an IoT article, I could easily carry on for another few thousand words filled with updates and fun facts (for example, some potential market value estimates value the IoT market at over $19 trillion) but these are some of the more crucial (big picture) highlights we should be aware of when it comes to this space.

Five years is a pretty short timeframe to see all of these estimates come to fruition, but the pace at which the market is currently evolving, it is certainly not out of the question.

5 Buzz Words People Are Tired of Hearing (So Stop Using Them)

5 Buzz Words People Are Tired of Hearing (So Stop Using Them)

When it comes to marketing and startups, there are some buzz words that have been so overused that they cause more of a cringe than add value to a presentation.

We’ve all been there: listening to a pitch – whether it’s from a seasoned marketing veteran or a young entrepreneur – and hearing a buzz word that immediately draws our attention away from the presentation and onto the use of the term. We ask ourselves, “Why would they say that? It sounds ridiculous!”

While some of these terms are simple modifiers, others are industry titles themselves that are starting to cause more harm to businesses within those markets than good.

Revolutionary/Revolutionize

Virtually nothing you’re doing is ‘revolutionary’. Unless you’re finding cures or new treatments for diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries, harvesting solar energy in order to halt the reliance on fossil fuels for every person on the planet (thanks Elon Musk!), creating a market where one did not exist in the past, or something else on that scale, all you’re doing is offering a solution to a problem (a problem that, in the case of most startups, people didn’t even realize they had).

A mobile app that makes it easier to select a ringtone from your favorite songs, for example, is not revolutionizing the way we receive phone calls. In fact, using a term like ‘revolutionize’ to describe your product immediately devalues your service in the eyes of those to whom you’re pitching. If you plan on using the term (or something like it) you better hope that what you’re about to blow people away with what you’ve created. Otherwise, you’re only hurting yourself by setting expectations too high.

‘Big Data’

Plagued by its own hype, the term ‘Big Data’ has largely become synonymous with other passing fads, like ‘Pet Rock’. But that’s not the case! There are virtually endless applications to data – both ‘big’ and small sets – and the overuse of the term has resulted in people tuning out a lot of what comes next for one major reason.

People have short attention spans. They want immediate results, and when that doesn’t happen they look for the next opportunity for instant gratification. Just take a look at the Gartner Hype Cycle (pictured below):

Gartner Hype Cycle 2014

As you can see, ‘Big Data’ is on its way into the Trough of Disillusionment. (What a Kafkaesque name.) People are over all the hype and are now waiting to see what might actually come of it. That, combined with the fact that no real definition was ever offered, and the term was just loosely used has led to people scoffing at the term whenever they hear it.

Big data is amazing, but do yourself a favor and avoid referring to anything with the phrase in order to keep the attention on what you’re discussing.

Guru

If you’ve spent more than ten seconds perusing LinkedIn, you will have undoubtedly come across a self-proclaimed ‘guru’ or sorts. It is widely considered to be in poor taste to use terms like guru in your profile (particularly since you are describing yourself).

I once received an interesting piece of advice (that not everyone would agree with, but I do): Avoid using terms like ‘guru’, ‘expert’ or anything else that asserts your dominance in a field, as you are describing yourself in these cases. Rather, go into detail about your accomplishments and what has set you apart. Let others describe you as the expert – it goes much further.

Personally, when I see the term ‘guru’ used, whatever credibility had been built up around a profile is immediately shot.

Disruptive

You’re playing a dangerous game if you refer to your work/startup/app as disruptive and don’t have the data to back it up. Much like the term ‘revolutionary’, disruptive leads to an immediate judgment on the part of your audience. They want to know why, and if you’re not truly changing the way an industry works, you won’t be taken seriously. (OK – maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, but you will have dug yourself into a hole that is hard to leave.)

Clayton Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma) coined the term ‘disruptive’ (in this sense) and the simple definition is as follows: a new breakthrough, technology or methodology that shifts an industry and forces incumbents to rethink the way they approach operations.

Unless you are doing that (think Uber/Lyft and the taxi industry) you’re not disruptive.

Engagement

What does engagement mean? This is a term so often associated with social media (another overly broad term) that it has lost most of its meaning. If I go into a presentation and talk about the great engagement we’ve seen on a campaign, the question will still remain: How are we defining engagement and what is this particular type of engagement worth?

Vanity metrics such as Facebook ‘Like’ count, Twitter favorites and Instagram ‘Likes’ have been long-standing tentpoles for engagement, but are those worth anything to a brand? And if so, what? When you want to talk about ‘engagement’ go a little deeper. Be more specific and assign value to these measurement criteria. You’ll look a lot better for it.

Conclusion

These are certainly not the only buzz words that get overused. There are dozens of terms that we hear every day that cause our ears to burn. Cutting these out and adding real value to a presentation or profile description can go a very long way.

Instagram Ads and the Future of Social

Instagram Ads and the Future of Social

As Instagram ads are rolled out to the general public, it is interesting to think on the future of social and digital advertising.

Instagram is about to explode. OK – it has already exploded by most definitions, but it is about to explode as an advertising platform. The Instagram advertising API has been switched on, and marketers simply can’t wait to dig into it. In fact, there is so much anticipation that analysts are predicting that by 2020 ad revenues could be close to $4 billion!

Instagram ads projected revenue

That’s 3,500% growth in five years!

Thinking about this brand new (publicly available) ad space and how many Instagram users will soon be digesting ads at the same rate they do on Facebook or Google, one wonders about the future of the socialsphere and what we might see coming out of the industry in just a few short years (or even months!).

Instagram

So, now we will see ads. We’ve already seen some, but these have mostly been tests and betas run by the companies willing to make the significant investments that come with these types of pilots. Now everyone from your local clothing store to international Instagram sensations can begin promoting content.

This has been a long-awaited integration and we have reason to be excited (on the professional front). As with all things free and tech, however, it won’t be long before people are up in arms over the inclusion of paid content. “How dare they?!” we will shout. But will it make any difference? Probably not. People will still open the app ten times per day to pass the time, only now the occasional snarky comment will be left on a brand’s ad.

It’s funny to think that that social network that (I think) has done the best job of seamlessly integrating advertising without an uproar from the public – Twitter – is having the hardest time finding its stride.

And speaking of Twitter…

Twitter Gets a Much-Needed Takeover

Twitter is struggling. Jack Dorsey is a smart kid – there’s no denying that – but he is also the CEO of payment processing startup Square, which is also set to go public. Twitter needs a full-timer at the helm if they ever want to succeed, and the only way to get the network on track might be through a takeover.

Rumblings can be heard that Google will be the most likely to buy the network. After all, Google has decidedly failed when it comes to social (more on that shortly) and Twitter would be a great fit. What’s more, even if Google paid triple the stock price (which they would never do, but humor me for a moment) they would still have double-digit billions in cash leftover. If they paid a slight premium on what Twitter is worth now, they would be able to buy it four times over.

But will Google be the one to take it over? Probably not. (But still maybe. But probably not.)

Larry Page and the Google M&A team are looking to acquire companies that are literally changing the world. Twitter would be a valuable tool when it comes to expanding their mobile and native ad presence (which Facebook is dominating, and Instagram will, too) but Twitter has (probably) affected all the change in the world that it is going to affect. Google tends to go bigger picture.

That said, someone is more than likely going to step in and scoop up the company. Even though it has struggled (despite a smart move to come into the market at an undervalued stock price) there is still a lot of value there.

As For Google

Google has conclusively failed when it comes to building a ‘Facebook Killer’. It built the opposite, in fact. Google built a network that put into perspective just how well executed Facebook really is. So what will become of the ‘social layer’ Google once boasted?

Required Google+ sign in is gone, the building that once housed Google’s tentpole for social is emptying (slowly and sadly) and everything is moving towards alternatives. That said, there are a few things we can still expect to see from Google on the social front.

I wrote an article a little while ago that details what we can expect to see from Google+ and Google’s social efforts. Take a look at it here.

Conclusion

Certainly, there is a lot we can expect to see in the realm of social. It is a constantly evolving space with a ton on the horizon. While these might be the trends of the day, expect so much more to come in the next few months (or even days, who knows?).

What Ashley Madison’s Data Breach Means for Web Security

What Ashley Madison’s Data Breach Means for Web Security

The Ashley Madison hack means a lot more than a few failed marriages.

What you do with your free time is your business – until it’s not.

Let me start by saying that the moral conscious in me cannot understand the idea of hosting a playground for married people to cheat on their spouses. The business person in me, however, commends the creators of the site for identifying an untapped market and tapping it (so to speak).

Ashley Madison's data breach

But with the latest data breach (if you haven’t yet heard about it, the identities of Ashley Madison’s 37 million+ users were obtained and are now being revealed) the landscape of web security is going to be shaken up (more so than it has in the past).

Quick disclaimer: While I don’t agree with the service provided by the website, that doesn’t make what these hackers did remotely acceptable. But let’s take the subject matter out of the equation and look at this from a purely analytical standpoint.

This image appears on the Ashley Madison website:

Ashley Madison's data breach

Badges like this are not uncommon, either. We see on everything from eCommerce stores to payment processing sites to social networks. Everyone touts the security of the data they possess, but while seeing a SSL certificate in the corner of the address bar makes us feel better about what we’re sharing, events like this make us question if that little green box is anything more than a security blanket.

Ashley Madison’s (and ALM’s) Future

When Target had its massive data breach in 2013, people were outraged and called for an inquiry into the security practices of the retail giant. Target might have been hit pretty hard by the bad press, but ultimately, a small settlement and some time seem to be the end of the issue. The difference here is that Target’s core business is not built on the security of user data and anonymity of users.

For some of Avid Life Media’s (ALM) properties (including Ashley Madison) security is the only thing that matters. With this massive breach, it’s hard to imagine how Ashley Madison – or even ALM, for that matter – can recover. When you have a network built off of trust, and that trust is broken, people are not all that likely to forgive. (This is, by the way, a wonderfully a propos symmetry between what service is being offered and how betrayed the users must feel; a sort of poetic justice.)

The parent – ALM – was hoping to file an IPO. That will likely be put on hold and the opportunity might disappear entirely. ALM’s PR team has been pushing to showcase Ashley Madison as a safe haven for data, claiming that it is the last secure hub on the web.

One would think that hubris has been put in check now.

The only real way the brand can bounce back is if it disappears for a little while, gets its security and encryption practices in check and launches as a new service under a different with a focus on nothing but security. And even then it’s a long shot.

What About Web Security in General?

This breach is going to force a lot of companies to take close looks at their data security practices. Too many times in the last few years, we’ve seen companies – some big and some small – fall victim to these types of breaches.

I was on a flight to Dallas a few months ago and I was sitting next to a VP of an Israel-based web security firm. He was telling me that a lot of their work tended to revolve around the security of government databases, so as you can image, their standard is pretty high. He was telling me about their operations, and explained that at any given moment, there are teams of programmers watching live data breach attempts and constantly updating their encryption in order to protect the data. That’s pretty serious stuff.

Even with these measures in place, we have seen examples of some data being breached by hackers within government agencies. But with proper measures in place, it can reduce the risk significantly, especially when you’re out of the government-sized spotlight and running operations on the private side.

Some of these practices are cost prohibitive. The average corporation can’t afford dozens or hundreds of programmers writing live code to thwart breach attempts. But measures in greater encryption and more regular system updates are likely going to result from this hack.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll find ourselves living in a world in the near future where our data really is safe on the web. Until then, I’ll just choose to live in my fantasy world.

A Few Exciting Announcements from Google I/O

A Few Exciting Announcements from Google I/O

Every year, Google hosts their I/O conference and shares plenty of new projects and features web users and developers can look forward to.

There was no shortage of major announcements from Google I/O this year, and it means that there is a lot for marketers and developers to get excited about. It’s tough to say what’s been most exciting to see, but I would have to say that the heavy focus on the Internet of Things (something most of you should know by now is one of my favorite things) has me very excited.

announcements from google i/o 2015

On to the announcements…

Android M

You’ve probably seen this title hovering around the web (particularly in every article posted by tech blogs to Facebook) and that’s because Android M is Google’s newest OS, and it comes with plenty of great upgrades. (Well, it will come with great upgrades when it’s rolled out in the Fall.)

The first major change is App Permissions. Now, instead of lengthy permissions screens appearing when you download an app, you’ll be prompted to give an app permission to use a feature (like your camera, for example) only when it needs to.

App Permissions were part of the announcements from Google I/O

Photo: The Next Web

Other great features include battery saving capabilities, Chrome Custom Tabs, which allow developers to overlay custom features on top of existing apps (like the Pinterest app in Chrome) a more ‘intelligent’ operating system that gets to know your habits and optimizes your experience, and much more.

Android Pay

This is nothing new, but it does open up the possibility of seeing more retailers accepting NFC payments through mobile devices. It’s been interesting to see what’s happened with Apple, and what kinds of hurdles it’s faced.

As with Google Glass – Google’s miserable failure which was attributed largely to the fact that people weren’t ‘ready’ for it – it’s possible that Apple Pay launched a little too soon. Maybe Android Pay will come into the market when people are more willing to adopt this form of payment. Time will tell.

The Internet of Things

Project Brillo, Google’s IoT operating system, and Weave, Google’s IoT language for connected devices, are huge announcements. There has been talk about what Google’s massive acquisition of Nest would turn into, and it is looking like a portal into the home and the increasingly exciting Internet of Things space.

Both Brillo and Weave are slated to launch in the latter half of 2015, and if Google can offer an user-friendly platform on which the Internet of Things market can expand, it is going to mean big things in 2016 for the market. Keep an eye out.

Now On Tap

If you own an Andoird device, then you’ve probably tried Google Now. If you’ve tried Google Now, you know that it is a pretty impressive function (when used properly). The only downside is that it is still very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get model. There isn’t much in the way of evolution – until now.

Now On Tap is Google’s promised update to Google Now, which will make your smartphone even smarter and more intuitive. The idea revolves around learning your behaviors and prompting you with options based on your activities. Just landed in New York? Prompt to call an Uber. Searched for vacation packages to Maui? Prompt for a great deal just announced on Expedia. You get the idea.

Keep Watching

It’s still early on and there is certainly more to come as we get close to Q3 and Q4, when most of these announcements are set to go live. Keep a close eye on what you see happening with Google – like the launch of Google Photos following its announcement yesterday – because it sounds like they’re going to have a big, exciting year.

For more great announcements – like Google’s improved speech recognition system and Polymer 1.0 – take a look at this list from Venture Beat.

Thinking About the Future of Social Networking as a Marketer

Thinking About the Future of Social Networking as a Marketer

We might not have a crystal ball, but one thing we can be certain of is that there will be a lot of changes in the future of social networking.

Marketers are always trying to predict the future. We always aim to be on top of whatever’s trending and find a way to (creatively) hijack the medium for our own (or our clients’) benefit. But more often than not, the reality is that by the time the majority of marketers hop on the bandwagon of a new medium, it is already something from which trendsetters have moved away.

The Future of Social Networking

But all is not lost!

Copious amounts of research provides us with insights into the future of social networking, and we can leverage these reports and information in order to keep up with what’s happening and ensure that our campaigns see the results we hope to achieve.

So where exactly are we, and what exactly can we expect to see when it comes to the future of social networking?

Teens Control the Future

In a Piper Jaffray Spring 2015 report, Taking Stock with Teens, research found that teens (aged 14-18) directly control $75 billion in discretionary spending in the United States. That’s roughly 4% of total discretionary spending in the country. Considering the fact that the definition of discretionary spending includes everything from new clothing to candy (basically, if you have clothes, are eating minimum calorie intakes and sleep with a roof over your head, any spending is discretionary) that’s a pretty big chunk of change.

Essentially, the long and short of this tells us that teens have a good deal of control over how their parents spend the money they earn. But it’s more than just the money.

The report also found that while brands are still important, the 2008 recession caused a foundational shift in how teens perceive value. Now, it is much more about the experience than the possession itself. So, if a teen feels a connection to a brand, that is the one they will choose. Brands need to be cultivating relationships, but as noted above, so many start too late.

Businesses are Behind

Not only are brands starting late, but they often find themselves in the wrong place. Facebook recently celebrated a milestone: it now has over two million registered advertisers. That’s not a major ratio of registered businesses (only about 5%) but from a volume standpoint, the network is making positive strides. That’s great! But tastemakers have already started looking elsewhere for their next thrill.

Barely two years ago, Facebook dominated the market in terms of importance to trendsetting demographics (teens and young adults). Now that level of importance has plummeted.

Important Network and the Future of Social Networking

In terms of where these key demographics rank Facebook in terms of importance, it is less than fifty percent as important as they thought it two years ago. Snapchat is about to surpass it and it has more or less swapped places with Instagram.

And yet, the majority of investment is going into Facebook.

Now, this is by no means claiming that every business should be active on Instagram and Snapchat. After all, those networks simply don’t work for a lot of verticals considering the rich nature of the media shared. But ask yourself if you are investing in a network where popularity is declining among your key demographics. If the answer is yes, you need to look elsewhere for success.

Mobile More Important than Ever

This is nothing particularly new. On the heels of Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’, as the update has been dubbed, it has never been clearer that optimizing everything for mobile is a key (if not the key) to success. But having a responsive or mobile-friendly website is the highest point at the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re running a campaign, think mobile-first. If you’re sharing content, share something that people will be able to digest on a mobile device. The question you need to ask yourself until it becomes second nature is, “Will this work on a smartphone or tablet?” If there is even a moment of hesitation in your response, you need to rework the idea until it works on a mobile device.

Hypertargeting

Your audiences are out there. I say audiences because for every bit of content, every campaign, every new product, there is going to be a niche much more responsive what you have to say than anyone else.

The ability to hypertarget consumers has never been easier. On social media, people share more information about themselves than even the most detailed of censuses or surveys could ever collect. We, as marketers, need to start thinking about these data as segmenting criteria, and cut our audience down to the very small groups that fir a selection of characteristics. Then, we need to craft our communications strategies to appeal to the idiosyncrasies exhibited in each group.

Yes – there is more work involved. But imagine having the ability to skyrocket your conversions across hundreds of audience segments as opposed to hoping for a slightly above average conversion with your larger, semi-segmented audiences.

Conclusion

There is plenty more to come on the social networking front, but these trends are rapidly approaching (and, for the most part, already here). With these few tidbits in mind, we can begin to think somewhat differently about our next campaign and our overall marketing initiatives in order to keep with the upward swing of things, and avoid jumping on a bandwagon that has already been abandoned by the demographics that matter most.

Salvaging What’s Left of Google+

Salvaging What’s Left of Google+

As Google+ prepares to transition into two quieter products, what can we expect of the remains of the network?

There was once a time where I urged anyone and everyone to use Google+. And I wasn’t alone. Despite the fact that the general response to the term ‘Google+’ was, “I don’t really know what it is or what to do with it,” marketers everywhere were asserting that it was a must for any degree of success with social media and search strategies.

Google-Plus-Photos-and-Streams

As Bob Dylan once sang (and still does, albeit a little less intelligibly), the times, they are a changin’.

Back in March, Bradley Horowitz, a Google veteran and product VP, confirmed to the world that, yes, Google+ would be transitioning from a full-blown social network (once touted as the ‘Facebook killer‘) into two separate, significantly quieter products: Photos and Streams.

What exactly are these two products?

Great question.

As someone who has had an iCloud account for years, I can say that I never really went any further in building it up past the factory settings on my iPhone. When I wanted to upgrade my phone, it worked out nicely that I had it, but have I taken the time since then to configure it any further? I have not. What I have done, however, is taken advantage of the storage and cloud capabilities offered by Google+.

One such example is the ability to auto backup any photos taken with your Gmail-connected device to Google+. It is there that my entire history in images is stored. And it is for that reason that Google is salvaging this aspect of the network. For all that Google+ got wrong, it got this right.

Google+ does an excellent job of arranging your photos by trip, date, location and tells wonderful stories when those images are uploaded. It’s a fun feature that is worth saving. And it has Facebook bested (by a significant amount).

Facebook tries to find ways to connect with its audience by sharing flashbacks and stories. More often than not, the images and videos Facebook creates for its users share painful or awkward memories, and those (of course) are the ones that are shared most with the world.

The quiet nature of the Google+ photo feature has lent itself to more success than market cohorts.

The second feature, Streams, is a little harder to understand (in terms of why they would want to save it). If there is one thing that people do not care to use on Google+, it is their feeds. Sure, people might scroll through every once in a while and +1 an article here or there, but ultimately, people will turn to Facebook or Twitter for feeds of digestible content before they go to Google+. So to save this feature seems a little odd.

That said, considering Photos and Streams will be separated and marketed as two distinct apps, we should wait and see what they do with Streams before passing judgment. One hopes that they move away from the native nature of Google+ as it exists now (showing only content that has been shared by my network) and expand it to show content that might be relevant from around the web and my secondary network.

What else can we expect to see saved?

In 2011, a year after Facebook introduced their ‘Like’ button (that only came into existence in 2010!) Google rolled out its response: the Google +1. Expect that to stick around.

The +1 is a valuable indicator as to what content matters to users. The fact that it links to a logged in user’s Gmail account, it tells Google a lot about what is relevant to the user, and what content adds value to the online community. The button helps refine and improve search result accuracy and is so widely used (worldwide) that it wouldn’t make much sense to remove it. Unless the powers that be have an alternative that is equally simple to use and valuable (both for the poster of a piece of content and for Google itself) we shouldn’t see that button go anywhere.

Google+ logins will undoubtedly change, but a Google login will still be very much alive. Again, the user data that a Google login offers both sides of the transaction is hugely valuable, and there is no way that people want to see that go. With Google+ no longer existing as we understand it today in the near future, it will surely change how the login works, but it’ll still be there in one form or another.

Google launching gmeet

Granted, Google Hangouts are not really Google+ specific, but they were certainly born out of the social layer that Google was trying to cultivate with the creation of this social network. Recently, it was announced that Google would be launching a new service called GMeet (pictured above), which would revolutionize the conference call by offering users a way to participate without a pesky dial in. That’s neat, and it is built on the Hangout model, so we definitely won’t lose that.

Conclusion

Google has succeeded and failed in the past; I turn your attention to Gmail and Flu Trends, respectively. But never has such a grandiose undertaking failed so publicly (which, I guess is the downside of having a social network fail). That said, there are clearly a lot of pieces within Google+ that work very well. They just don’t all work together.

As Google prepares to rollout Photos and Streams, the world will wait patiently to see if it can redeem itself after the fall of Google+ to the other giants of the social networking world.