Social Advertising: Serendipity+ or In-Authentic Engagement?

In recent weeks we have run a number of large-scale social ad campaigns for clients. On both the new twitter ads platforms in the shape of Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets, and also on Facebook running sponsored stories and page ads. One thing that's a common strand across these platforms, and is now becoming more deeply ingrained into Google's own Adsense platform, is the ability to target users based on behaviour, who their friends are, and "their social signals", those social actions we each make day as we like, comment and share out way through the web.

In a conversation earlier this week (see below) with Vicky Beeching (and more of her thoughts on her blog) I got thinking about just how authentic these forms of engagement are. There are two quite clear strands of thought about this.

From the point of the view of the advertiser, we are given an unparalleled opportunity to, (when done well) get messages in front of those who are far and away the most likely to be interested in what we have to say. In ad-land-utopia this means we get a far more personalised user experience, get less shoddily targeted ads in our various streams and feeds, and hopefully get introduced to some cool products and people that we wouldn't otherwise know about.

However we don't live in the mythical ad-utopia, and so in practice it doesn't always go quite that smoothly. In reality, some people make a random action on Facebook, outside their normal pattern and get thrown some curve ball ads for a few days. Over on twitter you talk about your mobile home for a weekend and then spend two weeks getting ads on twitter about upgrading your phone line rental.

Now of course in most cases this is not the result of people being intentionally annoying, but rather them not having a clear understanding of both the technology and the psychology of advertising in social spaces. I mention the psychology element, because actually this is often the most misunderstood.

These social spaces have a certain aesthetic that other advertising mediums do not, which is that despite the 800 million users on Facebook, to each user their profile and news feed is "theirs". We have a sense of ownership and possession over these digital living rooms. Most of you would be pretty upset if I walked into your living room and erected a giant billboard! That sentiment lives online too.

It's also compounded by the increase in mobile consumption of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If the figures are anything go by we are consuming nearly every social platform increasingly via smartphones and tablets - these devices command an enormous (and in some cases unhealthy) amount of personal affection. They walk with us, most people I know sleep with them within touching distance. So when you combine the personal attachment we hold to both of these technologies it's not unsurprising that a bit of bad targeting can really rile some people.

When all is said and done there are of course commercial factors at play here. Facebook shares, now more than ever need to start shifting, stock prices need restoring - and a big way that Facebook is able to justify its existence to shareholders is its ability to monetize its phenomenally sized user base. Twitter is on the same path, and Google will keep step to save both face and market share.

Unfortunately for those who don't like their news feed being overtaken like an FA Cup final pitch invasion, it may be too late - the advertisers are coming. And mainly because they have too. Print circulation is dipping, ad rates going up and marketing directors the world over are taking long hard looks at their traditional "buy big, but everywhere" strategies, because TV is failing to provide the kind of responsive real-time data that social and mobile can. The economics of it all are kind of too hard to fight.

So this raises a question for those of us who look at these things through a lens that wants to see more transparency on the web. Is this feeling of false serendipity duping us? Are we being played for fools? Or as consumers should we be pleased that our data can give us a more personalised experience?

I think however you feel about it, how precious your data is it you, is an important thing for us to wrestle with - but know this, there are only two options. Live with it. Or leave - because the Ad men aren't going anywhere.


Submerged - #LikeMinds 2011 Series

Today some of the most creative and forward thinking people in the UK will descend on sunny Exeter in preparation for tomorrow's annual gathering of the #LikeMinds conference.

Ahead of my talk on Friday morning I thought I would give you a little preview and invite some feedback on a poem I have written for the occasion, which (depending on your feedback) I am thinking of using as my opener.

In a year that has truly seen social media, the recommendation economy and technology make the headlines this is a little reflection on how I still feel we need to strive to truly be US in the digital space. As my friend Bex always says - what we do online is not some 'virtual' world - we are people on a offline. It's all about perspective isn't it.

Hope you like it - comments welcomed (be gently brutal - Ta).


Is news now only what's trending not what rules bankers are bending or what MPs are spending or heartbreaks simple words are mending or crying in the night from voices with no way of fending for themselves

is my truth just what I create or seek to orchestrate like a mad conductor on the run away train of the latest perplexing meme. Or delinquent dream of a different way of thinking - is the extent of my imagination brink-ing? or is it only beginning , seeking to break the 140 character horizon. If so then why do we find ourselves sinking?

drowning in noise whilst searching for a signal drenched in wi-fi & 3G waves hoping to find a single route to what I crave. hoping to link deeper but avoiding any depth. Maybe I need to watch my steps.

Is my over connectedness disconnecting these words from my heart have i been so busy busying that I really failed to start searching for all the answers in all the right places

are my-space's really just books of faces twittering in the silence where no one truly finds. Maybe all I really want is to discover some uniquely - Like Minds.

A New Year's Thought: Let's Get Real

Benjamin Ellis' lunch time talk at Like Minds, Exeter 29/10/2010(Photo Credit: Harry Duns:

2 things prompted this little thought, which in it's self has turned into a new years resolution for me that may be one of the hardest to keep out there.

It's not got anything to do with quitting something, or starting up something new, but actually is about doing something that we need to overcome in ourselves. Not just me, but all of us.

The two things that prompted this resolution are these:

1. This post from Bernie about being connected to people

2. This video from Tony Porter from the recent TEDWomen conference

Bernie speaks about a new kind of people who are emerging as business people in 2011 as people who;

"...don’t chase big names, they chase big problems, and they don’t have lots of rubbish badges on their web page or write ‘working in partnership with’ on everything they own. Instead they spend the time getting to know people and are honest about how they work..."

In Tony Porter's TED talk he talks about how Men need to get out of the "man box" which we so often hammer ourselves into, a place where we lose something of ourselves. He says we need to come to a place where's OK to be "whole".

These two thoughts got me to thinking about how we can spend 2011. How we can do extraordinary things. How we can be people who change our worlds and the world's of others. How we can do life just that little bit differently.

I am talking about being real. Working in the world of marketing where it's all about appearance and managing reputation, not just of our clients but our own, it can be pretty bloody difficult to stick to our guns about who we are. About what makes us tick, or angry or what causes us pain or joy or grief or unutterable happiness. Because, as we have gotten used to sharing so much of the minutiae of our lives with one another online we have become aware of our own filters. Aware of what we share about ourselves so as to only present the version of ourselves that we would have others see. We have become our own editors.

Now sure some of this is for the good. It stops us from lashing out when we are wronged, or posting that Facebook photo that we may very shortly regret or even being labelled with an Overshare Foursquare badge. But I think the problem is that when this consciousness of our own reputation begins to permeate all of our relationships it becomes intensely difficult for us to be real with one another.

Take the example - in the pub with some business people. Maybe after the conference or event or even day at work has finished and you are sharing a drink and breaking bread. How often is there one or more people at the table who are still in presentation mode? Still doing the hard sell, or name dropping because they feel they have to? I think this may be becoming a social trend that will get gradually worse if we don't watch ourselves - and the result isn't just ugly, it's dangerous.

Let's commit to making 2011 the year where we get this right, living life out together but without the bullshit. Without the corporate speak. Without the hard sell. Let's make this the year where we get real.

Presence v. Participation

One of the interesting aspects of last weeks LikeMinds conference was the phenomenon that I have experienced in a few good conferences (I use that term carefully), that when the most interesting stuff was being said on stage the twitter stream died of... Interesting I think to myself. The #LikeMinds boys!

It's not that the #tag went completely silent, but you could certainly see and feel a dip in it's momentum. It seemed for a second that the fact that someone had got up on stage to share something with us in the room that was truly interesting, people began to opt for being present where they were, rather than participating (or for some broadcasting their pithy comments) in the conversation on Twitter.

You may now be sat thinking - yes James, this is plainly obvious, why waste your time telling us this. Well you may be right, when we are presented with something really interesting, mixed with the social etiquette of a person on a state, sure we pay attention. But what about at home watching a movie, or at the dinner table in a restaurant or in a lecture? Do you find yourself, your partner or your friends checking Twitter, Facebook or reading the football scores? Or maybe your fingers wander to that level of Angry Birds that was giving you trouble in the tube home?

The thing is, I know this is my experience. For all that I love about these technologies, for all the connectedness they bring, I also find a constant struggle against what has just become the norm, the battle to remain present where I am, with who I spend my time with. It's not easy when these things become so engrained in our way of life. As my friend Jeff Pulver often says "social media is like air" it's becoming just the way many of us (not all I know) live our lives.

But in the same way that many of us found at LikeMinds and as I find my wife Constantly reminds me (as I in turn remind her) that there will always be down time to tweet, blog and post - but the moments of true connectedness are found when we meet, visit and worship together, and right there in those moments by our very presence we are participating, writing new lines of living code into His great tapestry.

At the start of this new week let's give it a go. Being present, participate with what you find in front of you. Practice being present.

Standing out by standing still

As some of you will know (because you were there virtually or physically) I have just got back from 4 days in Devon at the wonderful #LikeMinds conference run by Scott Gould and Drew Ellis down in Exeter. One of the biggest draws of the event except for the speakers, conversation and wonder that is Exeter is the sheer fact that you get out of, what is for many of us, the London bubble. It was a thoroughly refreshing experience as I find it is every time I get out of this city. Don't get me wrong, I love London, but every once in a while you get a chance, if you are very lucky to stop and stand still. Maybe for the briefest of moments, in a coffee shop, by the river, a park bench. Or maybe for a longer period, a weekend away, holiday, sabbatical or even a conference.

The River Ex

These times can be confronting can't they? Isn't it funny how often in these times of standing still, which are meant to be moments of comfort, release or rest we find ourselves so conflicted or just unable to switch off?

I think it's because in these moments we are presented with what we've been busying ourselves with. When we get a moment out it's often so hard to concentrate on being still because we spend so much time analysing what's just been or planning what's just about to come. If our heads are full of this stuff how on earth are we meant to just be?

I sometimes think we need to learn to be a bit more like a DVR or DVD player. These things are built to play stories from start to finish, they just play out, but if you stop them mid way through, if you hit pause, that's all they do - pause. They don't worry about what you were just watching nor do they care about whether Jim Carey will ever find his way out of Trumanland, they just stop in the moment and do nothing, just leaving us with a still image of the character in screen.

Maybe in our timeshifted, google mapped, live streaming world it's counter cultural to just stop for a minute and pause. So much of our time is spent spinning around trying to stand out, maybe we might just stand out all the more by learning to stand still.

LikeMinds Autumn 2010 - The photo post

The London contingent and those from all corners of the earth decended on Exeter once more to impart into one another, to participate and to do life together. This time we came together to discuss Curation+Creativity - all about how we think about bringing stuff together and making something new.

Check out @ScottGould and @DrewEllis for more details or check out the LikeMinds website

I'll be posting some follow ups from all we learn't whilst in Devon this week over the next few days, but for now check out the pics below of our jaunts in the South West!

Understanding Recommendation Markets - Part 1

In the past couple of weeks I have been exploring the concept of the Recommendation Economy here on the blog, and for those of you who have been following the conversation you will be well aware that everyone seems to have an opinion on this! (For the uninitiated check out the previous posts by clicking on the "Recommendation Economy" Tab above! Last week we explored the currency of the recommendation economy - the recommendation itself. This week we look at the second  element of the recommendation economy - recommendation markets.

What is a Recommendation Market?

A recommendation market is more difficult to define, as they take many forms, but like traditional economic markets they have similar hallmarks. Each market has it's own native traders, is effected by market forces (more on those next week) and has it's own exchange rate - all of which effect the value of a recommendation when it is traded in, out and between different recommendation markets.

We can examine recommendation markets through the lens of two categories:

Let's take each in turn. (Explanations below graphic!)

Network and Collective Recommendation Markets

Network Recommendation Markets:

Network recommendation markets are pretty easy to spot. You probably participate in them on a daily basis, they are our online workplaces, for some of us our homes, where we spend our time and also where we share our likes, dislikes, suggestions and recommendations.

In these markets recommendations can take many forms, from the humble (and entirely inadequate) "Like" to the most considered form of professional flattery and hob-nobbing - the Linkedin Recommendation. However the value of a recommendation, even for the same product, brand or service can change depending on which market you trade it in. - More on that in a moment.

Collective Recommendation Markets:

The c0llective recommendation market is a little harder to spot. Mainly because, unlike the networks market, it doesn't tend to live in just on place, under one URL or behind one login and password. Here we are thinking more of blogs, online new sites or podcasts, which on their own may not constitute a market as they tend to be more outlets of an individual (or editorial team) as opposed to a network of people linked by a predefined eco-system (such as Facebook or Linkedin).

However we know that no blogger exists in a vacuum (despite a few carrying on like they are) - and with many bloggers coming together to form club, groups and networks there is a growth in different Collective Markets growing... you may think of the likes of Gawker Media, British Mummy Bloggers, TechCrunch or Mashable here.

These collective markets, due to their respective mediums of communication arguably exchange richer value recommendations, as blog posts (at the least the well written ones), podcasts or online news sites often have more consideration taken over their content than the click happy tweeter or Facebook addict.

Part 2 - Next week... Trading in Recommendation Markets

Next week we will look at how the value of a recommendation changes when exchanged in a recommendation market, and begin to examine what market forces impact a recommendation market...

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Monday Musings: #Like Minds & Social Communications

Welcome To Your Monday. Here are some musings for the week of March 1st (eek - it's here already) 2010. We kick off today with a couple of summaries from the fantastic #LikeMinds summit, which took place down in Exeter, England on Friday and Saturday last week. We Are Like Minds is a very interesting blend of business, culture, technology and marketing - all connected by (to use Mr Blanchard's term) - Social Communications (we are ditching social media for now...). You can check out Olivier's summary of the summit here. After much internal debate (and some nagging from @drewellis) I had to turn down an invite, which may in hindsight been a mistake - as it looks like all involved had a great time, evidenced by the enthusiasm of my friend Gemma Went's summary of the conference here.

#likeminds 2010
The Like Minds 2010 Team (via @thebrandbuilder)

Just to take up Olivier Blanchards point, as I think he has got it as close to right as we can at the moment, "Social Communications" may be an important change in our vernacular - as he make a very well made (and succinct) point - it was never about media in the first place. I truly believe we are not far away from (as I mentioned last week) that social "media" is going away. What we are seeing around us at the moment is not too dissimilar from the evolution of the printing press, radio, television or telephony, merely an evolution of communications.

We are right to point out that there is something of a cultural phenomenon going on here though, so for now to keep the "social" bit attached to the term seems appropriate, as this is a fundamentally different method of communications that what we have seen before, particularly in the business world. Never before has such a freedom of interaction been allowed to foster in business culture, navigating between hierarchy and rank to just connect people to people - finding like minds. That is something different. So for now "social communications" will have to do.

In other news:

"What the Hell is Social Media?" (Good question in the light of the above!) - A great little video wung its way into my reader this week via fellow Surbitonian and all round good guy Rax Lakhani.

A great explanation of integrated communications in the form of "The Big Social Media Marketing Plan" (or should that be communication?) from the pen of Penn Olson

And a fantastic productivity tool via @lifehacker called InBox2 which combines email and socialnetworking to better organise tasks and files in a lovely way. One to try out! (Windows only for now sadly, but a good web app for all you Mac's out there).