Digital Marketing

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Yes, There's Fraud Online. Deal With It.

Breaking: everything you see and read on the internet isn’t true.

Hope you were sitting down for that surprising revelation.  I know, I know, it’s not that big a surprise, but that’s why it’s constantly surprising that people are…surprised by it.

A reporter from one of this country’s leading metropolitan dailies contacted me recently about the late-summer revelation from Facebook that some 83 million (or 8.7 percent) of its user accounts are fake. Facebook is, after all, a platform based on the value proposition that its users are behind real identities.

Doesn’t this blow Facebook’s value proposition out of the water, the reporter wanted to know. Isn’t this an incredibly high number of fake accounts? How could they allow this to happen?

Relax. The problem is hardly endemic to Facebook. Fake accounts, whether malicious in nature or not (Facebook estimates only c. 1.5 percent of active accounts are, in fact, malicious – the others are mostly duplicates, users under the age of 13, your dog, etc.) come with the territory – online or off.

Facebook is working to identify and disable fake accounts just as the search engines are working to combat click fraud – for years now. As ISPs work to block oceans of spam.

Oh, and did I mention fake online reviews?  Yelp has resorted to a sting operation aimed at shaming businesses that are caught trying to game their ratings system. They’re posting “consumer alerts” on those businesses’ pages, and exposing the emails they send to hire favorable reviewers. (TripAdvisor is also participating in its own version of the walk of shame.) So widespread is the fake-review practice that Gartner estimates by 2014, 15 percent of all online reviews will be fake.

Companies running online sweepstakes often encounter fraud, fakes and undesirable metrics in short order. A few years back, I looked under the hood of several soft drink sweepstakes aimed at males aged 12 – 24 (Coke, Sprite and Mountain Dew, to name a few of the brands). I asked Hitwise (now Experian Hitwise ) to crunch the data. They clocked the overwhelming majority of entrants as low-income females…over 45. They weren’t clicking on ads, but rather on a link on contest-aggregator site Sweepstakes Advantage.

Blame the Internet – Or Human Nature?

Somehow, when fraudulent, misleading or even unintentional things happen online, “the internet” is to blame. Or Facebook. Or Google. Or the dating site that was a 14 year old girl’s first step into a bad situation – never mind that a 14 year old had no business being on the site in the first place.

No one seems to be stepping back and saying things like, “Contests are overwhelmingly popular with low-income, middle aged women. Is it wise to run a sweepstakes to reach young men? If we do elect to go that route, how can we ensure we reach the target audience?”

Just as retailers account for “shrinkage” in financial forecasts, digital marketers must account for wasted clicks and impressions. Comes with the territory. There’s always going to be clickfraud. Chihuahuas and Yorkies will continue to update their Facebook newsfeeds (or, even further violating Facebook’s TOS, allow others to do this for them.) People who aren’t 100 percent neutral (like maybe the owner’s mother-in-law) will review restaurants and hair salons – favorably or unfavorably, depending.

Offline Corollaries are Much Worse

While the media are quick to blame “the internet” for a multitude of crimes related to fraud, companies like Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all the major ISPs get little public credit or acknowledgement for their efforts to combat said fraud. Much of the knowledge we have of online misconduct was revealed by these companies themselves. It’s transparency and disclosure.

Not so their offline bretheren. A quick search of “inflated circulation” results in a veritable rogues’ gallery of news stories indicting companies like Time Inc., News Corp, Newsday and other major publishers of being caught in the act – not openly revealing they are combatting a problem.

Forbes recently indicted USA Today for padding hotel bills to the tune of $82 million annually for those unwanted, untouched copies of the newspaper in front of your door in the morning (nearly one million copies per day that you probably don’t read, and probably are billed for).

Online fraud? Yeah. It’s a problem. It will always be a problem. Just like in the real world.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Who Heads Content Marketing? What Falls Into Their Purview?

Content marketing has been embraced by businesses large and small. There’s far less of a need to buy media when you can create it yourself. Businesses are aware that if you have a website, a blog, a YouTube channel, a Twitter presence, a Facebook page or a host of other online offerings, then you’re as much (if not more) a publisher as you are an advertiser.

But strategizing, creating, assessing, disseminating, evaluating, and monetizing content doesn’t just happen by itself. Someone’s got to actually do it.

How do organizations determine who that someone is? There are certainly plenty of possible roles that can oversee, or play a role in, content marketing. Here are just a few of the most obvious examples:

  • Chief Content Officer/ VP of Content
  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • Content/Editorial Director
  • Community Director
  • Blogger
  • Social Media Director/Manager
  • Copywriter
  • Copy Editor
  • Videographer (production, editing)
  • Graphic designer
  • Photographer
  • Outside Consultant(s)
  • PR Professional
  • Everyone (or very nearly everyone)

“Everyone” Should Be Involved

Companies that really buy into content marketing are increasingly taking the “everyone” approach. They’re hiring people to be responsible for creating digital content because its worth has been solidly demonstrated, but they’re not the only ones participating.

The fact that “everyone” is involved speaks to a critical aspect of content marketing. Companies must create a culture of content in order to find stories, identify customer concerns, product issues, barriers to sales, extract testimonials and hundreds of other content types.

Content ideas don’t live in the marketing department. They’re more likely to be found on the showroom floor, in the call center, or in sales. Product designers are a source of content. So are suppliers. Companies that take content marketing seriously must invest shoe leather in their initiatives. Like good journalists, they go out and find stories and ideas.

Clearly, when the job is creating lots of content, it helps to have lots of contributors. Yet putting someone at the helm of those initiatives is critical  – as critical as putting an editor-in-chief in charge of everything published by a newspaper or magazine. Consistency, style, voice, adherence to mission, editorial judgment and ethics are just part of the role. (For a great job description, see this chief content officer job description.)

The role has come to be referred to as the chief content officer, though many people are put off by the term (how many C-level executives can a company realistically have?). Quibbling over the title isn’t the purpose here. Depending on the size and org chart, this person may be the head of content, SVP content, or whatever.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published)

Rebecca Lieb's picture

The Cat Food Would Like to Have a Word: The Sentient World Meets Marketing

Characters on packaging sing and dance. Retail inventory “knows” where it is in the store, and when it needs to be restocked. Invisible coupons can be snatched from the ether, and    mobile devices can lead shoppers to items that match pre-selected criteria (low-fat, gluten  free and strawberry flavored). Open the car door and, as the heat and engine automatically start, the seat slides to your preferred position.

The sentient world is no a radical future vision, it’s present reality. Readily available technologies such as smartphones, Google Goggles (and soon, Glass), augmented reality (AR), smart keys and fobs, even laptops make it increasingly easy to apply layers of content, images and information on top of object, products, and places. And at the same time, to view and experience these additional layers of content. Technology developments will soon enable more and more objects to become sentient, as Corning so elegantly depicted in its highly successful A Day Made of Glass Video:

 

Brands, particularly those aspiring to a cutting-edge image, have embraced advertising and marketing in the sentient world. Augmented reality almost seems old hat when you start totting up brands that have tried it, including GE, Nestlé, Lego, Kellogg, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesco. Ben & Jerry’s augemented ice cream lids. Starbuck’s experimented with enhanced coffee cups.

An iPhone app created by Dentsu in Japan allows shoppers to see animated butterflies flitting by. Each butterfly contains a coupon for a nearby business. In-store smart kiosks are becoming popular, as are apps that facilitate shopping. IBM has developed an app that finds what shoppers are looking for by scanning the shelves with a smartphone’s video camera

The sentient world goes far beyond in-store and CPG applications, of course. Destination and place marketing creates enormous potential both for data and for marketing and advertising applications. Kia, for example, a US Open sponsor, put a layer of information over last year’s event.

Unquestionably, as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated as well as cheaper, and as consumer adoption of smart devices soars, the world of places and things will become increasingly sentient. This raises a number of questions marketers must begin addressing now in order to intelligently introduce content – literally – into other dimensions.

1. Whose data surrounds your product? From a marketing perspective, the sentient world fundamentally means Things + Places = Media. OK, but what content is appropriate for which things, where? This is where content strategists and marketers face new challenges. Will they create it? Aggregate it? Allow users to contribute it? What are the paramenters of the “what”? (How comes later).

2. How will user-generated content be considered and handled? It’s already easy for users to add layers of content to the sentient world. How will brands cope with virtual UGC? As with social media, brands face a lack of control in many aspects of the sentient world. AR is something consumers can do already. Smart devices such as keys have been hacked. Negative sentiment is inevitable. UGC will soon literally spill out of the web and into if not everything, then many things that will affect brands.

3. What data should or could be layered on your product, service or brand? What information, images, data and media should surround a carton of yogurt? A cinema box office? A hammer? What goes on the label, the package, and what constitutes an invisible but discoverable layer in the virtual world? Here, content strategy merges with merchandising, packaging, point of purchase and other marketing functions in a highly complex interchange not yet informed with best practices and cases studies.

4. What’s appropriate, in line with marketing and content strategy  and makes sense for the target audience? Currently, augmented reality is the dominant channel for marketing in the sentient world (though technology developments could shift this paradigm, and quickly). AR is opt-in. It requires a call-to-action to impel a consumer to whip out a device, fire up an app and experience the data layer. Will it be worth the effort? What’s the payoff? What’s the appropriate form of the call-to-action? More open questions that will only be resolved by extensive trial and error.

5. Data will be experienced in real-time. Do you have real-time ability? Real time marketing and advertising are becoming commonplace for many brands such as Pepsi and Applebee’s. Their marketers have always-on war rooms in which highly trained social media and analytics teams monitor digital sentiment and interaction 24/7, reacting and optimizing messaging in real time. The sentient world will rapidly become part of this intense, pressurized marketing function.

6. How will workflow be managed? Whose job is it to oversee these virtual layers of data? As with other forms of content marketing, clear roles haven’t yet emerged. The sentient world calls for developers, content creators, multimedia producers, strategist, creatives and more. Staffing, relationships with vendors and outside agencies and technology investments will all be affected – and require investment and ongoing budget.

7. What metrics will be applied to the sentient world? Interactions in the sentient world can be measured, but marketers have always had difficulty determining what to measure, particularly in new digital channels. Very little in this realm conforms to simple direct marketing metrics. Instead, more complex KPIs (key performance indicators) must be developed.

8. Who partners in this ecosystem? Who will brand align with to leverage the possibilities of this new ecosystem? If your refrigerator tells you it’s time to buy a fresh carton of milk, will the alert be accompanied by a coupon? When your car wants oil or fuel, will it recommend a preferred brand? Perhaps your phone will “know” there’s a nearby McDonalds where you can recharge – both the battery and yourself. Brands will soon explore newly-logical alliances.

9. What platforms matter now, and what must be accommodated in the future? A tough but persistent question in mobile has always been around platform. iPhone? iPad? Android, Blackberry, other tablets? What devices will consumers carry, and how will they use them to interact with places and objects? Yesterdays cameras, MP3 players and e-readers are consolidating into phones now. What will tomorrow bring – and how will you bring your data to that platform?

10. After the first wave of doing it because it’s cool, what’s next? As with all new technologies, the sentient world is a novelty now. Any reasonably serious brand initiative is almost guaranteed to have a novelty factor, PR amplification, buzz – the whole first-mover advantage package. More strategic brands will be asking themselves what comes next. How will we work, play, shop, travel and interact with the sentient world when it’s just another part of…the world?

Rebecca Lieb's picture

How to Measure Social Media ROI

Measuring digital advertising is relatively easy and

Owned and earned media? That’s a whole other story. The metrics and the methods for measuring digital marketing are less exact, the platforms are newer, while the old rules and models don’t apply.

It’s been easier to groan about “lack of analytics expertise and/or resources,” “poor tools,” “unreliable data,” or “inconsistent analytical approaches” than to roll up collective organizational sleeves and really tackle the social media measurement problem.  Yet with creativity, as well as hard metrics and defined business goals and strategies, organizations are not only measuring social media for ‘soft’ metrics such as brand sentiment, but also ‘hard’ data, such as revenue attribution.

My Altimeter Group colleague Susan Etlinger has been researching the topic and just published the result, “The Social Media ROI Cookbook: Six Ingredients Top Brands Use to Measure the Revenue Impact of Social Media” (available as a free download under the Open Research model).

While there’s admittedly no perfect measurement method, the study identifies no less than six models for measuring social media revenue impact, three “top-down,” and three “bottom-up.” The organizations that measure most effectively use a combination of these methods in concert, and the report provides a four-factor matrix to help determine which of the six methods apply, based on type of business, the product or service, media mix, and customer profile.

The media mix is of particular interest here, as my focus has been on the convergence of paid, owned, and earned media recently (the topic of my newest research report). Converged media models also require converging metrics, presenting the not inconsiderable challenge of applying findings and learnings from paid and owned, for example, into earned media. Or vice-versa, often in real or near-real time.

Like measuring social media ROI, these models are only just emerging. Measuring new media models is complex enough. The new necessity of measuring, learning, optimizing and applying data from one channel to another makes the challenge geometrically more formidable.

 

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Rebecca Lieb's picture

Why Organizations Must Be Faster Than Real Time

“I’ll check with my supervisor and get back to you.”

Why doesn’t that remark cut it anymore? More often than not, it’s symptomatic of an organization that isn’t adaptive. One that hasn’t taken advantage of new technologies, or empowered (or trained, or created policies around) the tools and technologies available to their employees. Tools their employees are very likely already versed in and using in their personal lives.

The adaptive organization is one of the themes I’m working on this year as a research analyst. Its ramifications directly target corporate leadership: CEOs, COOs, etc. Next in line is the marketing organization (and who hasn’t heard the refrain that today’s CMO may well be tomorrow’s CTO?).

Marketing organizations are currently siloed. There’s advertising, social, and communications. Digital may be walled off from traditional, content from display and broadcast. All these divisions function as fiefdoms, competing internally for budget and prominence. Within digital alone, there may be display, search, social, email and a long line of sundry et ceteras competing for a piece of the pie

Incentives to work cooperatively are often minimal at best within organizations. Small wonder brands have difficulties getting external agencies, vendors and marketing service providers to work in concert. These constituencies have business and revenue models even less conducive to opening kimonos than do internal staff.

Having just done a deep dive on how paid, earned and owned media are converging (The Converged Media Imperative), it’s become abundantly clear that organizations need to adapt – now – to flow learnings, functions, processes, creative and analytics across all three media channels while eliminating redundancies. Moreover, it’s increasingly necessary to do so with extremely agility; ideally, in real time or something very close to it.

Flowing paid, earned and owned media together is a team effort. Each channel is, on its own, highly specialized. Yet commingling these channels not only results in demonstrably better results for digital marketing initiatives. Converged media is also rapidly flowing out into the “real world” of traditional media as well as offline inevitably becomes more digital. Already we’re seeing examples of converged paid, owned and earned media occur on digital billboards and on television.

Some forward-thinking marketers are already erasing hierarchies between media types. Just weeks ago, Intel’s Nancy Bhagat blended the company’s global and social media teams into a single marketing strategy operation.

“Why does this make sense?,” asks Bhagat on her blog, “ I found we were having similar conversations across teams. The role of communities is not exclusive to the social space. Our paid media partners are looking for ways to drive engagement and conversation in ways previously unheard of. Our social partners are open in an exciting way to new product ideas and testing. The idea of ‘test and learn’ has never been so real.”

So real, or so difficult for enterprise organizations. Take content marketing, for example – or ‘owned’ media. Content is absolutely essential and central to paid, owned and earned initiatives. Without solid content, brands cannot achieve earned media at scale. Earned media amplifies messaging, builds word of mouth and buzz, spreads awareness, and with increasing frequency surfaces those ideas that become the core of creative advertising strategy.

Yet most organizations have yet to develop a plan or an organizational model to create, disseminate, publish, share and govern content. There’s general awareness that content strategy and marketing reside in the marketing org chart, but where? Just today, I spoke with an organization trying to unknot who is creating content where in the enterprise. Are efforts being reduplicated? Resources shared? Best practices and guidelines adhered to?

Their best detective efforts have thus far surfaced over 25 individuals in six distinct divisions who “do” content. It’s assumed very few of these people have met in person, much less collaborated. It’s assumed each group uses its own ad hoc software solutions for managing creation, workflow, resources, etc. Clearly, findings and insights are shared between these disparate content creators, much less their colleagues across the marketing organization.

Real time insights and optimization, and shared learnings that inform other initiatives (not to mention that can inform their own work) are an impossibility in vertically organized, hierarchical organizations. Enterprises must be able to move as quickly as their customers do. This requires bold realignment as well as informed empowerment.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

The Converged Media Imperative

20th century, when the commercial internet was in its infancy, there was  no end to the griping about “silos.” Back then silos referred to That Which Is Digital and That Which Is Not Digital. The gripe (from the digital side of the equation) was that the not-digital team got all the budget, and didn’t even accord the digitals a place at the table.

So ingrained was the silo grudge that no one, but no one, grew to understand silos better than the digitals. In a scant decade, more digital silos emerged than you can shake a stick at: Search. Email. Display. Social. Analytics. Online video. CGM. CRM. Targeting. Retargeting.

The list goes on. Digital is, after all, highly technological and all these areas legitimately require high degrees of specialization. They still do, but now there’s a very compelling reason for digital to stop the Balkanization it so actively criticized just a few short years ago.

The reason? Media are converging. The new research report I publish today, together with co-author Jeremiah Owyang (we were ably assisted by Jessica Groopman and Chris Silva) reveals that consumers, who flit like so many butterflys between devices, screens, windows and channels, are making little distinction between media types.

Paid, owned, and earned media? It’s rapidly becoming all just…media. Ads, blog post, social interactions – either they’re interesting (or entertaining, or engaging, or helpful, etc.), or they’re not.  Brands must integrate paid, owned and earned channels now. It will not only make marketing more effective and efficient, but it will prepare them for the future. As traditional media becomes increasingly digital, this trends is beginning to occur offline, too.

Converged media is tough to wrap your arms around. Paid must inform owned which must inform earned, and vice versa, and sideways, too. It’s complicated, but it can pay off in much-improved optimization, reach, insights and above all, effectiveness. We like to think of it as a stool. Three legs (paid, owned and earned) provide a better foundation than one or two would.

To effectively commingle paid, owned and earned media, brands must get everyone around the table and make them play nice together – easier said than done. Ecosystem players such as software vendors and agencies have areas of specialization – not to mention revenue models – that rarely scope beyond one of these three channels.

Yet effectively converging media brings with it an advantage beyond more effective advertising and marketing.  Integrating teams, both internally and externally, will help smash the multitude of silos that litter the digital landscape.

Converged media is both a reality and an opportunity for better integration and collaboration across a myriad of digital specializations. Imagine the possibilities when we all start really collaborating with each other!

As with our other reports, The Converged Media Imperative is published under the Open Research model. Use it. Share it. And we’ll publish more.

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Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook Advertisers 'Like' Their ROI

What’s the ROI of a ‘like’ on Facebook?

For too many marketers, getting fans or ‘likes’ on Facebook is a goal unto itself. It’s about as legitimate a goal as measuring how many ‘hits’ a website got circa 1998. Just as those ‘hits weren’t translating into revenue in the early days of the commercial internet, so too are many Facebook advertisers and marketers having difficulty determining if their efforts are bearing fruit, and how to leverage fans and likes into actual revenue.

Others are being more methodical about it. Research published today by Facebook in conjunction with comScore reveals that of 60+ campaigns measured, 70 percent of major brands have seen 3X to 5X ROI – in many cases offline, in-store sales, as a result of combining paid media buys on Facebook with the earned media from fans and friends of those fans.

On a call yesterday, Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of measurement and insights, told me, “These are very healthy numbers. The vast majority of these campaigns had really, really positive ROI.”

The question now, of course, is dissecting, mapping and documenting why these campaigns worked. “Paid [media] for us is actually an amplification of earned,” Smallwood told me, a trend Jeremiah Owyang and I are learning in the process of our in-progress research on the confluence of paid, earned and owned media.

Earned media – how to get it at scale and how to leverage it effectively – is a brand new skill. Facebook’s new research (the report is entitled “The Power of Like 2″) demonstrates that there’s not just synergy in combining paid, earned and owned media, but there’s profit in it as well for brands such as Starbucks, Target, Applebee’s, Nutella and Best Western.

Yet doing so requires new alignments in vendors, creative, media, agency relationships and even the internal org chart. Stay tuned for lots more work on this important topic.

 

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook Advertising Can’t Succeed (without Marketing)

Perhaps GM’s ad unit needs more of a social life.

It’s hard to believe there wasn’t some sort of agenda in telling the Wall Street Journal, three days in advance of what’s slated to be the biggest IPO in U.S. history, that advertising on Facebook isn’t working for GM, but that’s what the automaker did. If the company was looking for attention, they certainly got it – the media were scrambling for new angles on the week’s biggest story.

Sure, it’s a big deal when one of the world’s largest advertiser pulls back $10M in spend (or makes such a public proclamation). Perspective is also warranted in this situation.

Facebook’s success as an advertising medium, or a public company for that matter, is far from guaranteed. Blazes of glory in this industry are often nasty, brutish and short (AOL, Yahoo, MySpace). But herewith, seven reasons to temper GM’s very public proclamation against Facebook’s advertising:

Facebook advertising isn’t even 1.0. It’s still beta Facebook is developing new advertising products, refining them, killing others, and tweaking some more.  The company’s IPO is a $100B bet that eventually, they’re going to get the model right, just as the search ad model was (and remains) very much in evolution when Google went public. For many advertisers advances can’t come fast enough, but the old term “new media” is very much in play in this contest.

Paid media can’t succeed without earned and owned integration Shortly after the GM story broke, rival Ford tweeted: “It’s all about the execution. Our Facebook ads are effective when strategically combined with engaging content & innovation.” Sounds simple, but integrating paid, owned and earned media into a viable, sustainable strategy in which each informs the other is hard. It requires silo-busting, new metrics, and an entirely new approach to media. Yet it’s a task marketers and advertisers must master – first in social media channels like Facebook, then across the rest of digital as well as traditional media.

Advertisers are only now testing the waters. “We believe that most advertisers are still learning and experimenting with the best ways to leverage Facebook to create more social and valuable ads,” Facebook says in its IPO filing. Best practices for advertising on social networks, or integrating that advertising with owned and earned media? Barely even embryonic. Like Facebook’s evolving ad platform, how to effectively advertise in social channels is still in the earliest stages of evolution

Facebook advertising is not about direct response Those ads on Facebook about tooth whitening and belly fat? Going, going gone says the company. Yet GM’s complaint was that its Facebook ads weren’t moving enough car sales, a pretty disingenuous argument.  GM is certainly sophisticated enough to know that advertising has many purposed other than direct sales: branding, consideration, and purchase intent for starters. It’s very hard to believe the company expected to sell X number of vehicles per Y Facebook ads.

Display is down across the board Why integrate paid, owned and earned media? Because fewer and fewer consumers engage with display advertising. It would be a lot simpler if that weren’t the case. Advertisers could plop creative into ad units and meet goals. But banner blindness and declining click trough rates call for more creative and integrated solutions – again, particularly in social environments.

Content Counts Even GM cedes to Facebook on this account. “We remain committed to an aggressive content strategy,” is one of several quotes GM made in the wake of its ‘no-advertising’ bombshell.

Facebook is biggest media company in history Ever. Of all time. Why doesn’t anyone ever state the obvious? No print or broadcast medium has ever even remotely approached a one billion user base. That old adage about advertising going where the eyeballs are? There are more eyeballs in the world focused on Facebook than anything else man-made. That’s a pretty compelling argument to get this advertising thing right – both internally at Facebook, as well as for advertisers and marketers.

Addendum: I’ve done quite a bit of talking to the media about this issue. Here’s a particularly insightful article from Venture Beat’s Jolie O’Dell: Why Facebook’s GM ad drama won’t impact this IPO.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Beyond the IPO: 9 Implications of a Public Facebook

Susan Etlinger & Charlene Li are not only co-authors, they contributed more to this post than I did.

The run-up to Facebook’s IPO reminds me a bit of a wedding: everyone’s attention is on the big day (expected to be Friday May 18), without much regard for the weeks, months and years afterward. Charlene, Susan and I sat down to discuss some of the implications of a newly public Facebook: on shareholders, business and Facebook itself. — RL

Whether or not Facebook’s IPO ends up being one of the world’s largest (this Washington Post article places it sixth, between AT&T Wireless and Kraft Foods), it will certainly earn a respectable position in the history of the public markets, a lofty spot for an eight-year-old company in a relatively unproven business.

We identified ten areas where we are watching Facebook closely, as an indication of its success in the future. We picked these topics because they intrigue us, because they provoke discussion and, ultimately, because we believe they are the issues most central to Facebook’s future.

#1. Leadership
In a media frenzy in which anything (such as, for example, wearing a hoodie on a road show) can spark a news cycle, it’s to be expected that Mark Zuckerberg would have kept the lowest possible profile during Facebook’s quiet period. But now during the roadshow, on the first day of trading, and afterwards, he’ll need to step out, step up and set the tone for how he will lead this company into its next major phase. Can he pull it off?

The decision Zuckerberg must make, as a CEO who’s famous for his a “go away; we’re working on it” attitude, is whether he will use this milestone as an opportunity to cultivate his newest constituency: investors. As CEO, Zuckerberg needs to be accountable to his shareholders–not to a stock price per se, but to their faith in him. We will start to see clues to this decision during the first earnings call (a trial by fire for the CEO of any newly public company).

Of course, it’s all fun and games until there is a major hit to the stock price. We know, generally speaking, what the triggers will be: a new, poorly received product, a privacy issue, slowing user growth–the registration statement is full of examples. When this happens, Zuckerberg will have to demonstrate a completely new level of leadership. He’s chosen his executive team wisely in that both COO Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Ebersman are strong, respected executives who have been through this process before. And, despite his youth, Zuckerberg has learned from previous missteps like member revolts, privacy, and Beacon. If you still wonder if Zuckerberg is ready for prime time, imagine how you’d react if a major, highly unflattering motion picture had been made about you while you were still in your twenties. The issue isn’t whether he can avoid controversy, but how well he can quell the concerns of skittish investors.

#2. Innovation
Facebook has a hacker culture; its development mantra, “done is better than perfect,” is at the root of both its growth and its biggest failures. Given the massive number of monthly active users (901 million according to the latest released figures) the strategy has been to release product to the market and learn as it goes.

But as a public company, Facebook will need to choose whether it will continue to release products the way it has in the past or take a more cautious approach. How will it behave when it’s not just the pundits on Twitter, but the shareholders who react?

Although they’d hate the comparison, there’s a strong role model in Google, which, even as a public company, has managed to maintain its agile development strategy. Granted, there’s always the risk of a Buzz (Google) or Beacon (Facebook), but Facebook has demonstrated considerably more focus from the start than Google. Furthermore, the company sent a strong signal in its last quarterly statement that it will continue to make investments for long-term growth, even at the cost of short-term profits. It’s setting expectations that it’s investing for the future, not just for the quarter.

#3. Brands
Will brands buy what Facebook’s selling? Facebook is, after all, a media company, and while it has other sources of income through partnerships, brand dollars are what will ultimately make not only the IPO, but the company itself, succeed or fail. With close to a billion users, Facebook is the biggest media company that’s ever existed, in any medium, ever. Advertisers go where the eyeballs are, which is Facebook’s undisputed advantage. After that, it gets a bit trickier.

Facebook is at the vanguard of developing products that merge and conflate advertising and marketing, that blend content, conversation, paid, earned and owned media with media buys. Advertising is media buying, but those other aspects: owned media (premium brand pages) and earned media (the conversations and comments and interactions brands have with their fans, users and yes, detractors) are part and parcel of what Facebook is working to monetize. It’s still experimental. Brands are still testing the waters and are far from establishing best practices or firm models in a “brand” new environment.

#4. Data

Facebook is also in a position, thanks to its staggering user base, to possess and be able to leverage data on a scale we’ve never before seen. Likes, affinities, social graphs, recent behaviors – it’s all there, together with the basic demographic information. Again, the ability to package, parse, productize, make understandable and actionable this vast quantity of data is as formidable a challenge for Facebook as it will be for the media agencies who buy against these very new models. Facebook’s potential as a marketing data juggernaut is very real, and can potentially take advertising to new levels, if the company succeeds in making that data useful.

#5. Mobile
Most of the coverage around mobile has been focused on Facebook’s “lousy” mobile applications. But we believe this is a red herring – the core issue revolves around the slow development of mobile advertising and marketing. The S-1 says it best in the section on risks related to advertising:

  • “…increased user access to and engagement with Facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently directly generate meaningful revenue, particularly to the extent that mobile engagement is substituted for engagement with Facebook on personal computers where we monetize usage by displaying ads and other commercial content…”

But with 85% of revenue coming from advertising as of the end of 2011, the more effective Facebook is at appealing to its mobile users, the more it risks shifting revenues from the Web platform where it can monetize users, to the mobile one where it can’t — at least not immediately. So the real question becomes how Facebook will balance creating mobile user value against driving shareholder value.

Facebook can’t risk waiting too long before moving aggressively into the mobile space, but also needs to buy time to help mobile advertising develop. Given this significant risk, the purchase of Instagram represents $1B of earnest money that Facebook is focused on the long term. With the war chest Facebook will have accumulated post-IPO, building a great iPad app and upgrading the smartphone experience is a foregone conclusion. The bigger issue to watch is how well Facebook can develop the mobile advertising market with that experience, in a similar way that it created social media marketing.

#6. Investors
The first earning call is always rough for a first time CEO, and Facebook will likely be no exception. But what we are watching closely is if Facebook will develop a different kind of relationship with its shareholders. The company is, at its essence, about sharing: will a newly public Facebook use its own platform to share more information with investors? Facebook has an unprecedented opportunity to change the way that it handles investor relations. Will it take this opportunity, or will it stick with the tried and true? We’d love to see Facebook use its own platform as a way to engage with and provide greater transparency to its newest stakeholders: the public markets.

#7. Mergers & Acquisitions
Thanks to Instagram, every venture-backed start-up has dreams of meeting with Facebook’s M&A team. Will Facebook focus on smaller acquisitions to acquire talent or smart ideas, or will it make major deals to really move the ball forward?

One of the more interesting areas of speculation lately is what would happen if Facebook were to buy Bing from Microsoft. With Google arguably its most formidable competitor, the addition of search would give Facebook advertisers a direct response medium they could not get before on Facebook. Google is, at its essence, a search company that has struggled with social. Facebook is a social company that needs search. A Bing acquisition would up the ante in a significant way between Facebook and Google.

Looks good on paper, but acquiring Bing would also be a huge distraction and a departure from Facebook and Zuckerberg’s legendary ability to focus on social sharing. A more likely scenario is that Facebook and Microsoft continue their long-term strategic partnership, integrating Bing deeply into the Facebook search experience.

Regardless of whether it buys Bing or another organization, few companies do the “merger” part of M&A well. We expect that Facebook will focus on smaller acquisitions that it can absorb and leverage quickly, while any large acquisitions like Instagram will be kept running separately, in much the way that Google ran YouTube as a separate entity for years. Again, a focus on the long term gives Facebook the ability to look at M&A in a very different way than traditional companies who much justify every single penny spent on a company.

#8. Culture
Facebook is a private company in many respects (one of which is about to change dramatically), but the internal culture has always been very open. It has invested heavily to create this open culture, and it has slowly but surely been reducing the amount of information shared internally in the run-up to the IPO.

This will only increase, as the company will now be beholden to even more securities industry regulations intended to protect investors from selective disclosure. So again the balancing act, this time between employees (and openness) and shareholders (and fiduciary responsibility). Which leads us to…

#9. Talent
Once it goes public, how will Facebook retain talent, especially top talent? Expect to see the usual exodus as people wait to vest, then cash out (the Bay Area housing market is already bracing for impact). But, again like Google, Facebook will retain its cachet for some time to come, and some will be motivated by the opportunity to change the world from within Facebook rather than from without. Where else can you find a platform of 900M people to try out your next great idea?

#10. Privacy
Zuckerberg has said that increased sharing is core to Facebook’s growth. But with greater sharing also come increased pressures on and threats to user privacy.

Over the past eight years, Facebook has mastered the art of trial and error when it comes to privacy. There have been huge missteps (Beacon), significant improvements (to privacy settings) and escalating tensions as the company has continually pushed its users to share more, and more often, frequently beyond their comfort zones. The company has accumulated a great deal of resilience along the way, and has tried to balance giving people a granular degree of control (at the risk of confusing them) with offering a simplified experience (at the risk of alienating them).

Charlene: The addition of Timeline, and the emergence of “passive sharing,” raise the bar yet again. A few months ago I installed the Washington Post Social Reader on my Timeline. Now I know that it involves social sharing, but one day when I was in need of a little “mental floss,” I clicked on a story about Snooki’s recent weight loss. I didn’t think anything of it until a bunch of friends and work colleagues started teasing me. There it was, on my timeline with comments: “Susan Etlinger read an article: “Snooki Finally Reaches Goal Weight of 98 Pounds – But Has She Gone Too Far?” I was, frankly, mortified. I’d forgotten I was “in public,” and I am someone who is supposed to know better.

Wherever your stance on Facebook’s privacy record, privacy will continue to be a litmus test issue for Facebook. User outrage is one thing; shareholder outrage is quite another. We will watch to see how Facebook balances continued innovation against privacy. Where will Facebook stand when and if privacy issues affect the stock price — will they pull back or forge ahead?

As always, we’d love your thoughts on these issues. What are you watching as Facebook heads into its IPO?

Rebecca Lieb's picture

The Dynamic Customer Journey

How many devices do you have within reach right this second?

How many screens? How many apps and tabs are open on each screen? Is one of them TV? An ebook? A smartphone or a tablet? Which one(s) are you paying the most attention to? How long does that attention last, and what causes you to switch channels – or devices?

As consumers flit like hummingbirds between a plethora of devices, screens and messages simultaneously, even private space is invaded with as many messages as a virtual Times Square. How can marketers and publishers harness attention when it’s so fleeting? What causes distractions? How do customers determine which channel they’ll use for what information – a search engine? A social network? SoLoMo?

What influences the dynamic customer journey, and how do experiences across channels and devices shift – or remain consistent?

These are the questions the bulk of my research will attempt to answer in the coming months, so it was interesting to see a report publish this week that also examines the dynamic customer journey. The survey, published by PulsePoint terms the phenomenon the Digital Divide. That term traditionally refers to digital technology haves and have-nots, generally divided by socio-economic lines. The survey reframes “digital divide” to refer to the rift “between consumers engaging in real-time across channels, versus the digital marketing industry that is still largely siloed and not executing in real-time.”

PulsePoint’s survey places a great deal of emphasis on the need for improved real-time marketing capabilities to address the dynamic customer journey: real-time data and analytics; dynamic content delivery systems, the ability to make faster decisions and take immediate action. Always-on has never felt so ‘always,’ or so ‘on.’

But real-time, while critical to addressing the dynamic customer journey, is far from the only element that must be mastered in terms of technology, ability and best practices.

The growing complexity of digital advertising, marketing and publishing has led to increased vertical silo-ization and channel specialization. Customers expect integration and consistency as they pursue content across multiple channels and devices, but cross- and multichannel integration is not yet one of those areas boasting its own specialists. These specialists will doubtless soon be required, and they will have to be vested with considerable power to bring disparate players to the table and encourage them to cooperate.

A changing media landscape is a major factor in the dynamic customer journey. I’m currently looking, together with my research partner Jeremiah Owyang, at how paid, earned and owned media are conflating. Customer reviews and community posts are incorporated into ad units – both examples of earned media becoming paid media. Ads become content in online channels, particularly campaigns with high viral or entertainment value. Facebook wall posts (owned media) morph into paid ad units.

As fluidly as consumers switch screens, so does content flit between paid, earned and owned channels. Do consumers differentiate between these channels? We believe less and less, if at all. In the end, content is what matters because content is, after all, what these dynamic, fast-moving consumers are pursuing.

How can marketers influence these journeys? Through users’ social graphs, via experts, commercial media or through their own owned channels?

That’s what we’re trying to uncover and we want to hear from you. Tell us on your blog or website how the dynamic customer journey is impacting your business, and we’ll cross-link to the conversation here and on the Altimeter Group blog.

Image Credit: PulsePoint Digital Divide

A version of this post also appeared on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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