Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflections of Zuccotti Park

Earlier this week the Occupy Wall Street protest that originated in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was disbanded by local authorities. In late October I had occasion to visit New York City and made a point to visit ground zero of arguably the most unified grass roots protest movement seen in this country since the 1970’s “No Nukes” or the “NOW” women’s rights movement in the 1980’s.

As I circled the park I was immediately struck with the sheer diversity of views, opinions, and axes to grind represented among the protesters. While much of the discourse taking place between protesters and passersby was centered around the unequal distribution of wealth, that apparent focus was lost among the competing voices and signage touting everything from water conservation and recycling, to trade imbalance with China and veteran’s rights.

At face value this lack of clarity may have made it easy to dismiss “the cause”. However the voices I heard spoke, sang, recited and shouted in such earnest tones about their respective issues, it was hard to deny the collective frustration that became, in fact, their unified call. Poet Michael O'Brian gives voice to the frustration as well as the paradox of American society in his spoken word poem "I'm A Pac Man":

Free Speech in action: I was also deeply moved by the powerful evidence OWS gave to our country’s long honored right of free speech. Regardless of the point of view— conservative, liberal, anarchistic—every point of view was not only able to be expressed, but respectfully so.

To be clear I did observe stimulated debate and vocal disagreement between parties, but at no point did participants attempt to repress or subdue opposing points of view. Every issue that had an advocate or a voice was given a platform and designated place to express itself. Given what we know to be the very opposite case in many societies around the world, OWS, if almost because of its many inherent contradictions, at its core, is a movement that celebrates the right of free speech, a right that can easily be taken for granted were it not for the existence of a movement like OWS that displays it so prominently.

For these reasons—unity in frustration over an economic system that many would agree creates serious divisions and disenfranchises the least able among us and, as a testament to free speech as a vital component of democratic society—we all should be very proud, if not grateful, that OWS took root first in this country and clearly has inspired many around the world to raise their voices for change.

OWS also serves as an important reminder that democracy is always messy. But would we really rather have it any other way?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Washington State Budget Cuts - Opportunity In Our Midst?

Taking a moment to look beyond the headlines and hyperbole, I thought it would be helpful from a business development perspective to identify exactly which services are being impacted by the state budget cuts and see if there are any new business opportunities that might emerge.

Nature abhors a vacuum and, I suspect, given the gaps created in the budget, entreprenuers and private sector companies will be examining the same data and seeing where they might enter the market with new/improved/more cost effective products or services to close the gaps.

Some sectors and relevant businesses that might be in position to exceute against this opportunity in 2011:
What do you think? Are you or your company executing against this opportunity? Please post your comments below.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our time is now

Two thought provoking videos that, when bookended, really open my eyes to the possibilities/potential inherent in digital media. This is a great time be an artist, producer, film maker, developer, publisher, advertiser, entrepreneur. Our time is now.

VIV Mag Featurette: A Digital Magazine Motion Cover and Feature for the iPad from Alexx Henry on Vimeo.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Strategies for Successful Stock Shooting: What Images Buyers Want and Why

What happens when you pair top art buyers from Microsoft’s Bing and Starbucks, with editors from Getty, Corbis and Danita Delimont Agency and ask them to share their knowledge of what images they buy/sell and why? Well, whether you are an art buyer/editor/designer or a photographer/producer, if you were in attendance at "Strategies for Successful Stock Shooting" hosted by ASPP you walked away with a boatload of insights that should help improve your chances of success in the worldwide stock image marketplace.

Danita Delimont, founder of her namesake agency led off the evening with her recommendations for photographers that want to crack the broad market for travel and nature images targeted at editorial markets for textbooks, magazines, and online:

Consider all media: Buyers are integrating still images and video across a range of media both print and onine. Photographers who create images that are shot to meet the unique requirements of each media will be rewarded with a greater share of sales. Empowered with DSLR cameras capable of capturing HD video, Delimont recommended photographers add footage to their repertoire. Doing so can grow sales by offering clients both still and moving images of the same subjects/locations.

Local content for global markets: Danita stressed the importance of having deep coverage of local subjects and work with agents in international markets who won’t have the ability to produce the depth of images photographers can create literally in their own backyards. Delimont used the example of placing images from San Juan Islands with an agent in Japan, whose Japanese photographers had little coverage of the San Juans, but for which Japanese tour operators regularly request images.

Ever dream of having your images viewed by one of the largest audiences on the Web? If you are bent on creating unique images that can accommodate Bing’s prominent search bar, Kathleen Green, chief photo editor for Bing shared her criteria for selecting images for one of the world’s most highly trafficked URLs:

“I want to know more”: Supporting Bing’s primary identity as a search engine, Green and her team of editors look for images that only begin to hint at the story that belies the image. Bing makes ample use of mouse-overs that reveal additional information about every image inviting users to click and learn more. Green cited the high volume of email Bing receives from teachers and students who are return to Bing specifically to enhance their teaching and learning.

The overall qualities Bing uses to evaluate images: Evocative. Intriguing. Poetic. Beautiful. The preferred subject matter:

  • Big nature (include people only to show scale).
  • Surprise: Whether nature, wildlife or travel, images need to hold some form of surprise
  • Critters, critters and baby critters: Cute, cuddly, and huggable
  • Humor
  • Unique Destinations: whether an industrial site or world heritage site, users love exploring new destinations
  • Familiar locations with a unique POV
  • Sports yes, but nature, travel, humor get far more clicks so sports shots must be unique

Here are just a few examples Green shared with the audience and give evidence of the criteria used to select images for Bing.

As Community Manager for Getty Images’ Flickr forum, Tom Wear has a unique perspective monitoring both buyer trends as well as global creative trends among thousands of Flickr photographers now represented by Getty Images. Tom provided stats on Getty’s best selling images from Rights Managed and Royalty Free collections.

Trends among best sellers include:

Green images: whether simple compositions of a water droplet at the tip of a fern frond or a field of wind turbines with a child flying a paper airplane in the foreground, green images are some of the most in-demand and highest selling images.

Abstract: Images that give creatives flexibility to communicate themes/messages as well as allow maximum flexibility to adapt images to layouts. A long exposure image of streaked headlights on a Los Angles freeway has been used for telecom, energy, finance and medical clients generating over $20,000 in sales.

Concepts sell: A simple of image of a cross-cut log communicates multiple concepts (longevity, tradition, time passage, etc) and as a result enjoys repeat sales totaling more than $16,000 to date.

Skylines: Often used as an icon or metaphor to quickly convey place names, skylines are always in demand. And, since buildings change the look of skylines over time, images always need to be refreshed.

Hyper-local: Become an expert on unique locations, the time of day/year that yield images only a local can capture. Tom cited an example of “Manhattan-henge” which apparently only a few dedicated local NYC photographers know when to shoot and as a result, have created a unique vantage point of NYC that is now in demand from advertising and editorial clients alike.

Hyper-realistic: Moving beyond gimmick, HDR images are gaining in popularity with image buyers especially when applied to familiar scenes. Wear showed images of an oft photographed Hiroshima memorial to show how HDR enhanced the mood of the image making it distinct and appealing to buyers.

Here is a screen shot of Getty Images 2009 top selling rights managed and royalty free images Wear shared with the audience.

Starbucks makes ample use of images to caffeinate its global brand. Sr. Art Buyer Jodi Morrison, works with a large team of designers, artists and illustrators to produce everything from packaging, products and displays that appear in Starbucks stores worldwide. Because of their unique requirements to distribute products globally, Starbucks often prefers to license royalty free images to simplify distribution and avoid the additional time and expense required to meter rights management.

Images are typically integrated with designs and as such get selected based on their ability to adapt to a pre-conceived design or layout. Morrison shared this example where she was asked to source images to match a layout an artist had conceived who then combined several RF images to create the final design:

Starbucks also maintains a corporate image library that it makes available to its design and marketing teams in its Seattle headquarters. All images are licensed for worldwide global rights and while fees paid to photographers per image are lower than traditionally commanded for worldwide rights, but participating photographers are licensing more images and hence generating significant revenue.

As an editor for one of the world’s most prestigious image libraries, Corbis’ Carl Gronquist, Director of Editorial Photography, has the privilege to work with world-renowned photographers like Frans Lanting, Louie Psihoyos, Stuart Westmoreland, plus many others. Gronquist shared some of their great images and analyzed why their work continues to be in demand.

Eye contact: Whether beast or bird, images that allow views to make eye contact with subject often wind up on the best seller list.

Unique POV: Gronquist showed several images from photographer Paul Souders portfolio that illustrated Souders command of POV. Whether getting in close to a feeding whale or floating beneath melting icebergs, Souders point of view conveys a powerful story within a single frame that viewers can instantly react to.

Unique icons: Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal images are a dime a dozen, but in the hands of a master photographer these all too familiar icons are captured with a fresh perspective. Gronquist’s example was a perspective of the Taj framed by an adjoining archway with the silhouette of two small birds compositionally arranged in the image foreground to emphasize the unique perspective and scale of the Taj in the background. Always look for the unusual angle, light, juxtaposition, etc when photographing the familiar and buyers will take notice.

Closing the presentations the panel responded to Q&A. Moderator Mark Ippolito posted the quested asked whether buyers prefer to buy from photographers directly, agencies or websites. Among this group of buyers, there was a stated preference for buying from photographers directly and both were open to getting emails and viewing online portfolios. Morrison emphasized the importance of responsiveness, turnaround and convenience whether working with an individual photographer or large agency. Morrison keeps a tickler file of photographers whose work she admires and will often call them for stock and assignments when the right opportunity arises.

Referencing the depressed economy, agency panelists and buyers alike all cited the challenges of having to do more with less. Delimont commented that publishers are allocating a specific percentage of budget to lower cost microstock and royalty free images creating downward pressure on pricing for rights managed images. A bright spot, Green commented that while budgets have been tightened, images remain an important element to Microsoft’s overall marketing and promotion efforts and hence healthy budgets have been preserved for getting the images they need.

Thanks to the panelists for their generosity and all the volunteers at ASPP for putting together this terrific event.

A podcast of the entire event is also available on the ASPP website.

All event photos in this post provided courtesy of Tom Wolken.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Future Of News: Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Serving as team lead for the November 18th MITEF dinner program "Breaking News", I had the privilege over the last few months of 2009 to interview more than 20 executives in the news industry and hear their thoughts on the future of news. Our moderator Todd Bishop of TechFlash did a marvelous job capturing the top takeaways from the event. To supplement Todd's report of the event, I want to highlight new business opportunities for entrepreneurs interested in providing products and services news executives identified as critical for the growth of the industry:

1) Driving in market behavior: Newspapers traditionally played the role of driving consumer traffic to retailers and service providers. With the demise in circulation for print offset by growth in online (Seattle Times reports 347K paid subscribers for the print edition as compared to 1.4MM monthly unique visitors to it's website), online editions of newspapers need to better connect the virtual to the terrestrial. Whether through couponing, product reviews, comparison shopping, mobile connectivity, etc. revenue is waiting to be unlocked. Newspapers are not the only industry to be challenged by this problem-- think direct mail, yellow pages, and display advertising- all could benefit from a much tighter integration between the "buy it now" conditioning of the consumer and the traditionally disconnected buying process endemic to print. Some success stories this holiday season in the mobile apps space include companies like ShopSavvy, RedLaser, TheFind, ShopStyle and

2) Authenticating Trust: Without trust news truly is a commodity that holds little value. As brands like MSNBC, Seattle Times, West SeattleBlog and others have demonstrated, both consumers and advertisers benefit from trust. However, with the proliferation of news sources relying on UGC (especially through Twitter and the blogosphere), consumers and news organizations are left to wonder who to trust. Local news blogs like WSB build their network of trusted sources through manual review and gut instinct, while large organizations like MSNBC, who recently acquired social news platform Newsvine, and Patch, owned by AOL, are trying to automate the process through ratings and relevancy. Given the example of Trust-E in authenticating and protecting online privacy, there are certainly opportunities to automate and standardize who we should trust when it comes to the accuracy, and perhaps more importantly, the editorial bias of the news sources we rely on.

3) Transforming data into news: With more access to raw data from government agencies-- as well as the private sector-- data holds the potential to become highly valuable news. Just as saavy service professionals scour the local classifieds for consumers and businesses in need of their services, news organizations are now surfacing publicly available data and packaging it into news. Everyblock, another recent acquisition by MSNBC, specializes in publishing mundane data such as issuance of liquor licenses, restaurant inspections and land use bulletins and turns them into highly relevant news delivered by zip code to hyper local audiences. In a similar vein, a dot com survivor, Onvia, has become the go to resource for contractors wanting to know which government agencies are distributing federal stimulus dollars.

4) Tranforming readers into revenue: On a similar theme as above, news organizations need the help of database marketers and information architects to help them unlock the gold mine of data they hold about their subscribers. Tying personalization to subscriber information would allow news organizations to deliver highly relevent news and information while simultaneously helping advertisers reach consumers more effectively than traditional media. One relatively straightforward opportunity we identified would be to connect the email data of paid print subscribers to their online profile. Doing so would help the newspaper industry leap decades ahead of where they are today to better connect-- and ultimately monetize-- their readers. As Patricia Lee Smith succinctly summarized during her company presentation for The Seattle Times, "we don't have readership problem, we have a revenue problem."

Thanks again to our speakers, our event sponsor WNPA, my dinner program colleagues who worked tirelessly to identify our speakers and organize the event, and all of the folks at MIT Enterprise Forum for making this event possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ready for ReInvention

Video report from ASPP's Ready for ReInvention workshop featuring Eric Proulx, Suzannah Scully, Michelle Estrin and Danita Delimont. In addition to the terrific insights shared by our speakers, ASPP West was honored to host the first public screening of "Lemonade" produced and created by Eric Proulx.

After viewing the video, please share your comments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Get the Right Picture for the Right Price

I recently had the privilege serving as moderator on a panel for ASPP New England. Fellow panelist Pat Hunt of crafted the following summary of top takeaways from the event. With Pat's permission I've re-published below. Thanks Pat!

On October 8th, 2009 ASPP New England (American Society of Picture Professionals) held an informative panel discussion called, Getting the Right Picture for the Right Price. A lively discussion by a group of experts in the industry helped to shed some light on the ever changing and confusing issues in stock licensing and pricing. The panel consisted of (pictured above l-r):

Mark Ippolito - Moderator and Founder of
Pat Hunt - Co-Founder and Managing Director of
John Griffin - CEO of
Christopher Kenneally - Director, Author, Creative Relations at The Copyright Clearance Center and
Jean Howard - Account Executive, Editorial Sales at
Rob Sylvan - Site Director for

Mark Ippolito opened by declaring that the digital media industry today is more than just stock images. We are in a mixed media industry, requiring constant upgrading of skills and the flexibility to change with the new technologies and business models. Many of the basics of pricing for still stock imagery are still the same:

  • Right Managed (RM) – Based on image size and placement, press run, circulation, languages and media for a specified time. Exclusivity is available.
  • Royalty Free (RF) – Image are priced by file size and are downloaded directly from websites. There is no opportunity for exclusivity. Prices often range from around $50 for low resolution to over $500 for the highest resolution.
  • Subscription pricing – Offers access to a collection of images, paid for weekly or monthly, and available for daily download, usually up to 25 images. These are all RF images.
  • Microstock – Founded by iStockphoto in 2000, this business model offers low priced user generated material along with images from professional photographers and artists. Customers purchase “credits” and use them to license images ranging from $1 to over $18, depending on quality, file size and bulk credit purchases.
  • Rights Ready – Getty’s hybrid of Rights Managed and Royalty Free. One price purchases a whole package of rights often including ads, direct mail, website usage and more.
  • Preferred Vendor Pricing – Negotiated bulk pricing agreements by stock agencies with large clients. Appropriate for textbook companies or anyone using a large number of images over a period of time.
  • User Generated Photo Service – This system allows a buyer to pick the image and terms of usage and then set the licensing fee with a bid to the seller. This business model is being promoted by

Comments from the Panel:

Pat – My company, Huntstock, is a lifestyle production company, specializing in some niche categories that are difficult to find and produce – Positive Lifestyle of People with Disabilities, Industry/Technology, Hispanic Lifestyle, and Boston Icons. We struggle with pricing models and with trying to discern which are the best distribution networks. The micro and macro models create a balancing act as to which business model to focus on, and how many images to put into each segment. We feel like we are doing full time change management.

Over the past decade, the pricing has gone down significantly, and there is no way to get rich quick in this business anymore. It feels like the recession accelerated the use of micro pricing. There is a great deal of effort in the industry for creators to delineate styles that go into micro and macro, and I’m not sure you can define them that easily. It is necessary to experiment in all of these distribution models to see where our money is going to come from. In micro you have to do a huge volume in order to make enough money to be worthwhile. Just like any business, it’s just another business model with its own format and its own distribution system; you have to do all your own keywording, uploading, color correction and it’s time intensive. The people making serious money have made a commitment.

John – As a former Wall Street broker turned stock licenser, I took my experience with working in the electronic marketplace like the NASDAQ, and translated that into traditional stock licensing, where sellers can set their own price. We have a pricing algorithm, that helps them find the correct market price. Buyers can purchase any image at the price shown or can bid on content to name their own price. This gives the market some flexibility and made it more dynamic and Cutcaster has been live now since the beginning of 2008 and has been doing well. We write a lot of blog articles and our goal has been to make our information open for the buyer and the seller.

Chris – Director of The Copyright Clearance Center, which is a non profit company founded in 1978 to “make is easy to use and share published content.” We have been trying to build on the licensing expertise that we have developed. is a web based service for licensing independent or user generated content. Ozmo offers no fee to a content creator putting their work into our database; we are trying to extend the mission of the CCC into the user generated content field. We feel that the principals of copyright and ownership matter, and that people should be paid for their work. That is under challenge today, given the way the internet works. Prices are set by content creator. We reach out to the trade organizations as partners and we are working with the PLUS coalition to introduce an advanced pricing module that uses the “Plus Pacs” standards. That will be rolling out later this year. We are also actively seeking out partners with a unique point of view. For example, they are working with a Lowell based company called which is using the power of the photography to promote global awareness.

Jean – Aurora Images has changed every year and continues to do so. The core is still RM imagery, but it is now based on the IPN network, where individual photographers can have their sites joined by shared technology and shared pricing models. We began an outdoor collection of extreme sports, along with video and stills. We also expanded into more creative advertising work by an alliance with Getty Images, as asset for our artists that can’t get into Getty. We have at least 12 image partners in Europe. Also we have started an RF branch called Aurora Open and a multi media division called Aurora Novis. Our model is based on providing as much personal service as possible.

Rob – iStockphoto was founded in 2000, and had been a successful user generated stock provider, with photos, video, audio, vector illustrations and flash. Photography is the largest segment. In 2006 the company was sold to Getty Images, which has been a good partnership, offering the advantage of Getty’s controlled vocabulary to spread into different markets. The company is still based in Calgary, Canada.

In 2003 you could license an image for 25 cents. However, prices are inching up and this year we launched Vetta, a premier collection of photos and vector files, adding video in the future. The price is higher for (pixel dimension pricing) 17mp file, which translates to 70 credits or $70. It varies with purchasing credit bundles. The market response had been good, and iStockphoto offers a lot of feedback quickly by sharing on blogs. We need more interaction between creators and buyers.

Some audience conclusions for the evening:

Some images are commodities and some are rare or hard to create. The commodity market is driving prices down, so distinction is based on quality The high production images may become the mainstay of macro, and the commodity images will be the same in the micro market.

In the micro market there is a fear that there exists a blandness from people that don’t have an ability to take pictures. However, iStockphoto’s images have gotten better in quality over the years, and not all buyers need top quality. There is broad opportunity for all types of contributors. Also, competition between websites creates a need for ever better content.

CPM or “cost per thousand impressions” may be one of the new licensing systems in the future. The advertisers split the money with the content creator based on the CPM that they charge to those licensing the images. On a website one sees a banner ad which uses this system that draws people to the site. The drawback in these new pricing systems is being able to make charges appropriate for the accounting departments of companies, who don’t want to change their systems.

It is easy to see that the constant technology and business model changes in the media industry make licensing and pricing a confusing issue for the content creator as well as the licensor. However, opportunities abound to access new and better content with ease. Today’s marketplace makes images available for every price point. Going into the future, there should be extensive growth as mixed media develops.

(Pat Hunt is a writer and workshop leader for the stock photo industry, and Managing Director of in Boston, a lifestyle image production company.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Seattle’s Social Media Marketing All-Stars Share Their Secrets

Social media marketing being the “it” topic among marketers in 2009, it is no surprise that the fall workshop and seminar season has kicked off with numerous events focused on social media marketing. Within a span of 10 days, no less than 5 organizations in Seattle (at least those I knew about) hosted events that brought together subject matter experts to share insights and observations on social media marketing. I was able to attend three of these and in general all of the speakers I heard and met were excellent and had powerful insights to share. To follow are some of the top takeaways from each:

Notwithstanding the fire drill that ensued in the middle of the presentations (literally), Seattle Direct Marketing Association hosted the first, and what in many ways was probably the best event, of the three that I attended. The speakers were not only informative, but each gave helpful case studies, stats and recommendations for tools, processes and tactics that really gave everyone in attendance a lot to walk away with—and put immediately into action.

Social Media as a powerful Customer Communications tool: Shauna Causey, Communications Director at Comcast Cable spoke eloquently about Comcast’s proactive efforts to engage and inform it’s “community” of customers through twitter updates. Using twitter as another communication outlet to enhance both customer service and community relations, Causey reviewed the benefits social media marketing played in offsetting potential negative repercussions for the brand.

Within minutes of learning of the outage, Comcast posted twitter alerts that immediately hit customer’s desktops and hand held devices and, throughout the several hours when service was down, Causey’s team sent updates throughout the day keeping it’s followers informed and thereby reducing the stress of customers -- and staffers-- effected by the outage. Causey also cited the benefits to Comcast’s bottom line: rather than fielding a spike in phone calls to Comcast’s phone center, Comcast was able to shift a meaningful a percentage of potential customer calls (there are over 700 followers for @WA_Comcast) away from the call centers reducing the diversion of man-hours (aka overtime hours) typically associated with a service outage response.

Causey also cited social media’s benefits in helping to quickly network with reporters and analysts who cover Comcast and keep them informed of activities at the company without having to resort to time intensive media briefings and traditional press releases. (side note: in all the workshops, the subject of social media marketing for B2B was always raised by audience members. While not referenced by this panel, Causey’s example of managing business contacts in her role in PR and corporate communications is a direct example of how B2B marketers can leverage social media. More below.)

Based on posts in recent days, Comcast has also successfully integrated social media marketing in its recruitment efforts helping accelerate pace of identifying qualified applicants and avoiding (or at least reducing) recruitment costs.

Messaging - Getting the right mix: Social media’s value on community are well suited to the core brand values of outdoor equipment retailer REI. Natalie Crain, Internet Marketing Manager, REI uses social media to “engage, participate, listen and respond” to its fans and followers on Facebook and twitter. The benefits to the brand are measured not in additional site traffic or direct sales, but rather in loyalty to the REI brand and creating evangelists among it’s members (REI is a Co-Op).

REI’s team of 10 digital marketing professionals (not all of whom focus on social media) enjoy broad support from senior managers to fulfill this mission. Crain’s instruction to her team is to provide fans and followers with a mix of messages that run about 75% “community focus” (recent twitter posts include information about weekend bike races, bag recycling programs, non-profit organizations, photo contests, etc) and 25% “brand and event focus” (eg: sales, in-store events, “deal of the day”, etc). The 75/25 messaging mix was echoed by several other speakers during the “trifecta” and appears to be a best practice among social media marketers regardless of the specific brand at play. With over 10,000 followers on twitter, clearly REI has struck upon an effective mix.

Be in the Relationship business: PCC Natural Markets is a popular local Seattle grocery business, but according to Ricardo Rabago, Social Media Specialist, “PCC is really in the relationship business. We just happen to sell groceries.” Using this credo, Rabago uses social media to maintain and grow the relationships it enjoys with its customers. Rather than pushing specific specials or offers, Tweets typically focus on recipes, meal suggestions and seasonal foods. A recent post on the sudden availability of Copper River salmon, a seasonal delicacy here in the Northwest, created an instant spike in sales. Leveraging geo-targeting capabilities in Facebook, PCC promoted an event at its Edmonds, WA store. Over a busy weekend over 7,000 people turned out resulting in 20% lift in store sales. For a recent kayak promotion REI used similar techniques to target it’s fans in the San Diego region and quickly sold out of the product.

Popular Third Party Tools: In a round up by Blake Cahill who served as an excellent moderator for the event, the panelists listed these as their favorite tools that help them manage their social medial marketing activities:

Twittersearch, CoTweet (manage multiple users on a single twitter account), Google Reader (to place twitter RSS feeds and archive up to 2 years of tweets), Radian6 (social media brand monitor and measurement), Tweety and Tweetdeck.

Why should you care? The next of my trio of events took me to the recently remodeled (lovely BTW) Hyatt Hotel in Bellevue, WA for an event hosted by my colleagues at MIT Enterprise Forum. The panel of assembled experts led of their discussion trying to answer this question.

Eric Picard, Advertising Technology Advisor to the Advertising Platform Engineering team at Microsoft Corporation succinctly stated “it’s where the conversations are happening.” Brands must participate, or at least listen, to these conversations lest they lose control of the conversation that ultimately craft perceptions and reactions to their brand. A simple example of how conversations influence brand and revenues, Picard cited the example of local restaurant Monsoon who clearly understand the benefits of social media marketing. Leveraging both the behavioral and geo targeting capabilities of Facebook, Monsoon delivered a display ad to Picard’s FB page. Intrigued, Picard followed the link. Expecting to be taken to a landing page or website, Monsoon had the display ad to its FB page where Picard could learn not only about the restraurant itself, but als o see first had the user generated comments displted on Monsoon’s FB “wall." Before he knew it Picard spent 10 minutes engaged with this brand and couldn’t wait to book a reservation for dinner where just a few minutes ago he didn’t even know he was hungry.

(Side note: if you need further evidence as a marketer as to “why,” do check out this short video. Maybe I’ve just drunk the kool-aid.
But if after seeing this video, if you are a marketer and are still asking “why?” let me know.

The Right Way & The Wrong Way: Jim Watson, Senior Vice President, Managing Director at Razorfish, shared with the MITEF audience one of the most humorous and engaging examples of brands who are getting it right. Entertainment Arts, publisher of the highly successful Tiger Woods PGA video game, was taken to task by a customer who thought it was humorous to come upon an episode in the game where Tiger Woods appears to walk on water to execute a shot during the game. Assuming it was an engineering glitch, the user videotaped the game “malfunction” (there some conjecture that EA intentionally engineered the glitch for humor and/or PR) and posted a video to YouTube titled “The Jesus Shot.” The video quickly garnered several hundred thousand views. Upon seeing the video, EA smartly recognized a viral media opportunity and produced the following video:

After posting a direct response” to Levinator25’s video above, EA’s version has received almost 4million views to date. Watson praised EA not only for the ingenious creativity in the response, but for also being saavy to the culture of social media and for not taking themselves too seriously. Short hand: humor sells.

Contrast EA’s saavy use of social media with the recent episode of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s attempt at using a corporate blog as a bully pulpit air (what many of his customers construed as) controversial views on the health care legislation in Congress. Customers were so incensed that they began organizing—via social networks--
boycott’s of Whole Foods stores. Picard points out that while Mackey has every right as a private citizen to air his views, his miscalculation was to pivot those views against the brand values of Whole Foods causing customers to revolt.

Moving the dial: Does having 3 million fans on Coke’s FB page really sell more Coke? Probably not. However, unlike global brands who often invest in social media simply in effort to be good brand stewards, small businesses have a much better shot at actually moving the dial on their business by leverage the power of social media.

In addition to the Monsoon example, Mike Weaver, VP New Business Development at MRM Worldwide, shared a case study about CAPCOM. A game publisher based in Japan, CAPCOM had insight to its customer passionate interest in the characters depicted in their games. Three months prior to the game’s release CAPCOM created several short videos that share the back story of each character and posted them to YouTube. 700,000 views later, CAPCOM had a sure hit on its hand creating lots of demand for the product among both existing fans and new customers. Larger brands certainly have success stories to share (Virgin America posting coupons on twitter to sell more seats), but agile small businesses can really make some hay with smart social media marketing programs.

Many Voices = Authentic: Brands often struggle with giving up control when considering social media as a forum for engaging with customers. Watson however cites Best Buy’s “twerpforce” campaign as both a willingness to forgoe control in pursuit of a higher objective: customer loyalty. By empowering it’s most knowledgeable experts to engage directly with customers via twitter to answer questions about products sold at Best Buy, the brand, gets the dual benefit of earning important social media “cred” while also offering customers value and utility. In contrast, a brand that doesn’t let go of some control doesn’t add much value and hence begs the question as to why deploy social media campaigns in the first place? Weaver used the example of CNN taking its own twitter feed and simply displaying as a ticker at the bottom of the screen during broadcast. “Where’s the value in that?” says Weaver.

Be willing to experiment: Implicit in social media marketing, experimentation means being open to making and learning from your mistakes. The last of the three sessions I attended culminated with a virtuoso performance from Jim Watson, of Razorfish . Using the expanded format of a keynote address to The Executive Network of Seattle, Jim shared case studies of brands that understood the terms of experimentation. In support of it’s “Code Blue” campaign, Coors Light built and released an iPhone app enabling users to send a “Code Blue” alert (aka text message) to all of their social media drinking buddies (aka young men) to meet at the local bar. While Coors designed a cool app with seemingly a lot of social-friendly hooks, what they misjudged was the app's lack of utility and as a result failed to generate a lot buzz.

Learning from this experiment, Coors launched a modified version of the campaign that not only provided the texting utility, but added social media functionality to include in the “Code Blue” alert information about which bars had the most ladies present. For Coor’s core audience, this added utility put the app on the map and beer in the belly.

The Coors project also served as an example for Watson to remind us that "
social behavior is nothing new, but the toolset is” and marketers should exploit the knowledge we have of consumer behavior.

During Watson's presentation he shared four guidelines that served as a coda in many ways for all the presentations I heard these last 10 days, for all marketers to consider when deploying social media:

1) Focus thinking on behavior and create opportunities for sharing, connecting and influencing. Levi's “Project 501” tied behavior (18 - 25 y.o, fashion-forward women’s interest in d.i.y. fashion) into a social media campaign. Results: 36% of the participants in Project 501 learned about the campaign through social media as compared to the 30% of participants who learned about the campaign through t.v. Moreover by exercising it’s social media chops, Levi's attracted a highy desireable audience segment to it’s brand – one they had previous difficulty breaking through to.

2) Do something worth talking about: Simply tweeting or launching a FB page doesn’t equate to success in social media. Virgin America is successful at attracting thousands of followers and fans because they are offering a truly distinctive travel experience.

3) Create utility: Whenever possible create something that people already like to do, and do it better, easier or faster. Nike saw that runners liked to listen to music when they run so they created Nike+ so consumers could have more utility from the products they were already interested in—and tell their friends about it.

4) Don't forget to listen: Success often comes from listening and then deciding how to respond. As referenced above, Whole Foods CEO might have gotten it wrong at first, but how the company responded to the crisis perhaps holds them in a more respected position by their customers.

What about B2B? With a room full of C-level execs many of whom operate in the B2B realm, one of the first audience questions Watson fielded was "What techniques could B2B marketers implement to take advantage of social media?" In essence Watson re-iterated the guidelines above, but submitted that B2B was not an area of expertise. Having successfully leveraged social media techniques in my work over the last several years in the B2B space, in the collegial environment of TENS, I offer some suggestions where I have seen results:

1.) Establish credentials as a thought-leader: Blogs, white papers and speaking engagements distributed thorough social networks, B2B marketers can quickly establish credentials as a thought-leader resulting (typically) in more qualified traffic and leads for your sales team.

Give generously:
Engage with social media communities not with the thought “what can we get from them?” but rather “what can we give today?” Offering your target audience real value (eg: recruiting tips, financial advice, guest blogging opportunities, white papers, tips, tricks, etc), interspersed with the occasional self-referential promotion will gain you not only followers and fans, but followers and fans who actually share your interests and therefore more likely to buy your product or service.

Less is more:
B2B is often about targeting the “right” prospects not the “most.” Identify social networks where your prospects live. LinkedIn’s powerful business networking utility, is often overlooked by marketers for it’s very effective capabilities of targeting groups and individuals who should be buying your product or service. Using the various search utilities in twitter, it is quite possible to cut through a lot of the noise we see on twitter and zero in on qualified, if not prospects, at least suspects and drive traffic to your site where they can further self-qualify.

Well, it was quite a 10 days. I’m certainly richer for it and already applying many of the tools and techniques these "all stars" so generously shared with me. This blog post is my small way of thanking them and paying it forward. Hope you’ll do the same.

What best social media marketing best practices are using? Please share your comments below.