FaceBook(Feature)Creep

The new version of Facebook is out for viewing (if you have not already seen it). It features a raft of new things and a rethink (some might say radical) of the interface.

What’s new? Well – it’s certainly fatter. The interface seems to have widened substantially, and I think this takes advantage of the fact that many people’s resolution on their computers is significantly wider than a few years ago. Some people have said that it looks cleaner and that a lot of the clutter generated by oddball applications has now been moved behind a tab called Applications strangely enough.

The big news for marketers is that the adverts have been moved to the right-hand side on profiles rather than remain on the left underneath the raft of Facebook features. This means more than one ad can be shown.

The change also seems to make editing of a profile far more dynamic. If Facebook do the same to Pages, then I can see the whole environment becoming far more attractive to Brands than it is at present. More news when it appears

That Ol’ Inbound Link Thing

A bit of debate going on between SEO compatriots. Just how much of a difference do certain inbound links make to a search engine ranking? Well it depends on a variety of factors, but there is some debate on whether (in the UK) a .ac.uk domain is “worth more to Google” than say your average .com or .co.uk.

.com and .co.uk addresses can be bought for a few dollars, whilst an educational or governmental domain cannot be just bought from your average registrar. As a result, search engines like Google place great merit on a link that comes out from such a domain. As a result (and opinions vary), an outbound link from an educational domain may well produce a higher ranking (by a factor of 10 according to some estimates) than that coming from a regular .com style domain. This is because a link from such a site is considered reputable and to have some significant credibility. Suddenly having a bit of real estate on a .ac.uk domain becomes an interesting proposition.

What does this mean for Blackhatters? Well – I can see an increased amount of persuasion by SEO specialists of .ac.uk domain participants to somehow link back to their own domains. As the participant in a number of .ac.uk domains (with the right to create content on public space on University web sites), I can imagine that subtle pressure will be applied to get me to endorse commercial propositions through linking. The same will apply to civil servants (some of whom earn the minimum wage), medical staff and other publicly funded employees with access to public web space.

I can see what people are trying to achieve, but there are significant numbers of people with access to space who do not realise the consequences of this. And when it starts to affects rankings between competitors, I imagine that a lot of whistle-blowing will occur. Someone fairly innocent is going to get a kicking.

Netimperative Roadshow

I had the good fortune and privilege to chair the Netimperative Manchester Roadshow yesterday – a fun gig that was well attended by service providers and client firms alike. Plenty of good speakers (and some okay ones!). For particular mention, I enjoyed the work Adam Parker from webitpr provided, which was a nice and gentle introduction for many in the audience to the whole online PR maze.

Martin Cozens from Latitude provided one of the most comprehensible and thorough understandings of the inner workings of Google: after – how many years in this game? – I now understand ūüôā – a superb resume of SEO and PPC. A keynote from Martin Bowley was entertaining as we listened to how an old media lag has started to try and understand the new media marketing environment. And make money from it.

But I was particularly taken with the work Christopher Bennett is doing with Blyk, a free-to-use mobile phone service for the 16-24 market, the first really interesting and disruptive business model I have seen for ages where young adults agree to receive branded advertising messages in return for free calls and texts. I’m really excited about how that proposition works and look forward to seeing how it goes on in the future.

Netimperative could have had a rough ride coming and showing their country cousins all about digital, but to be honest, there was plenty of interesting new stuff and even a bit of controversy. There may be a recession coming, but I don’t think it’s going to reduce the work that’s going on there.

The iPhone 3G becomes the New Facebook

4 days into owning one of these devices (which I said was the marketing tool of the future), I realise it’s become the Facebook of the Now. You remember when Facebook starting getting bad? When all those naff applications¬† started turning up. Well – bizarre apps for iPhone have started turning up.

Let me just remind you. The iPhone is a communications device for talking and sharing information across a variety of networks. So this old thing will really help. I wonder  if the iPhone is going the way of Facebook. I hope not.

Social Media Press Releases

Well it looks like the PR industry (not necessarily the traditional PR industry mind you) is starting to get its head around social media, in the form of this Social Media Press Release Template (opens a PDF from Shiftcomm). Now – a US agency may well have to do things differently for a different psychographic or behavioural market in the US, but it’s nice to see the development of a “methodology” emerging from what is pretty much a chaotic state of affairs. What’s interesting is that whilst the US lags somewhat behind in certain subtle aspects of digital marketing, the preponderance of American bloggers means that social media PR seems to be further developed over there – to the extent that social media PR people are trying to show clients that it is is not a dark art that certain (digital) PR/full-service agencies in the UK seem to suggest.

A nice example of open social PR is used up at Democracy PR. Director Jennifer O’Grady is responsible for the Digital PR aspects of the launch of the new Yang Sing Oriental Hotel in Manchester. Despite the performance of the traditional PR agency (whose PR choices I have to question), the digital PR side of things is done in a very open and interesting way. A media launch last week involved plenty of non traditional audience turning up. Jennifer has actively used informal social networks on Facebook to create some noise and traffic (both virtual and real) to the hotel. In response, she’s got plenty of nice people talking. Shove “Yang Sing Oriental Hotel” into Google and you’ll see an excellent write-up from prodigious blogger Julia Shuvalova, a well respected and (key point here) independent writer.

My only worry is I don’t seem be able to find a web site for the hotel yet – but as the hotel itself is not quite finished, I suspect the same for the site. But I know this is an area that another agency is having to deal with (which shows what issues emerge from using many different agencies). Anyway – hats off to Jen for the 1st page on Google which shows the results of an excellent open social media campaign. I hope she gets to run more of the publicity operation for what is such a lovely business.

Marketing Spend: Cleanout?

News today from the IPA is that spend on advertising and marketing is starting to decline. This particular metric is one often seen as the vanguard to economic recession. Firms that are in some difficulty often slash marketing and advertising budgets first (along with training budgets), an historic trend that’s been observable for many decades.

For digital practitioners, things aren’t so difficult, because remaining budgets will need to be carefully used and the digital domain is one area that many regard as one that’s easy to measure in terms of accountability and performance. But it will still be a difficult environment to work in.

The ironic thing is that slashing these budgets is probably the last thing a firm should do. It’s probably a key activity to keep on. If buyer numbers and value are diminishing, then firms need to invest in 2 things – more marketing to entice buyers back (emphasizing the value of their products) and retraining to upskill workers for the next big thing they need to engage in. For marketing firms, this means investing in the reskilling of marketers to become accomplished integrated digital marketers. For other firms, it means investing in marketing and advertising initiatives designed to acquire and retain customers for the long-term.

The next 6 months are critical, because those firms that actually buck the trend will the ones who also buck the traditional response to recessive economic conditions.

iPhone 3G: The Future of Digital Marketing?

Well for the first time I ever, I became a real fanboi! I got a new iPhone 3G 16Gb and I queued up for 2 hours in the rain to get at from 7.30 this morning.

Fanboi-ness asides, the introduction of this particular iPhone has serious ramifications for the digital marketing business.

Firstly, it could be acquired for free or for a very small amount of money on a tariff that wouldn’t be beyond most people’s monthly mobile budget. This guarantees (supply-shortages not included) that saturation of the marketplace with this particular smart phone is going to be quite quick as people latch onto¬† the relative free/cheapness of this desirable device.

Marry this to the number of unlimited 3G surfing devices and the use of various other handsets, we’re now in a position to start really thinking about how we can market to people using this ubiquitous technology. The devices are quite sophisticated and can handle a variety of different media communications approaches. In addition, Apple have locked every user into the iTunes platform which provides for marketing in a unique way (albeit for the sale of digital commodities that will fill Apple’s pockets). This platform in particular could offer some future marketeer a particularly powerful way to communicate with customers, and no other platform has the acceptance (and locked-in-ness) of iTunes. Also look at the fact that Google have got two of their applications right onto the front screen of the iPhone. You can see people are thinking of revenue models all ready.

Where’s it all going? We’ll need to look at subtle ways of geting and using the permission to communicate via this medum with customers – learning lessons from early mistakes made in social media marketing. At some point everyone will have a device as sophisticated as this. And that’s more people than will have a regular PC at home. It’s the way people want to communicate.

Is my MSc too expensive?

I am the course leader for the MSc in Digital Marketing Communications at MMU Business School. This is a prestigious programme which combines the very latest new practice training from E-consultancy with academic support and development from our experienced teaching staff at the University.

This part-time course (which last 30 months) is hard work for students. There is a significant amount of training, study and assessment. Students have to engage with each other, trainers and teaching staff on a very regular basis. It’s tough and the rewards at the end of the programme mean that students can look at their achievement with some pride.

The cost of the programme is £3450 +VAT for year 1, £3450 + VAT for year 2 and £1850 for the final consultancy dissertation.

It’s quite a lot of money for a course, just less than your average MBA but obviously more than a bog standard MA in something or other. And this is the rub. Is it too expensive? As a professional MSc, it doesn’t attract any government subsidy unlike certain other programmes. It contains siginificant industrial and commercial know-how that you don’t get in your bog standard MA. And you need to be working in a cognate profession to get the most out of it.

It’s the way of things to come. The price reflects the real cost of running a programme of this nature and the return that a student gets from this programme are way beyond those that one could expect with an old-fashioned MA programme. Sure it’s dear. Boy is it worth it. An exclusive club.

Where’s Facebook Going?

So – what’s the long term thing with Facebook? In the UK at least, this summer should be a real test of the long-term viability of the platform because….. all of the students have left Uni for the summer and are holidaying / working / doing something else other than sitting in IT labs checking their Facebook. With that in mind, we should be reminded of what happened last Christmas. Students went home and in the midst of festive chaos, they kind of forgot about their Facebook and concentrated on Christmas TV, turkey and probably a fair amount of binge drinking. For 2 or 3 weeks, Facebook took a backseat: like a previously well-used toy that was put in the back of the cupboard.

Then on their return, a reasonable proportion just didn’t get back into it and for the first time ever, Facebook UK numbers dropped.

So – will we see a repeat this summer? When Seprtember starts, the returners might just not be as in love with their social platform, and the graduates just won’t have time to play with it. Are we in for another drop in numbers?

I think we’ll see a gradual change in the value put on Facebook by users that we’ve seen with tools such as Hotmail. Once the hottest thing on earth, this now is a useful but not essential tool. It’s no longer considered de riguer (not now my mum has an account there) – it’s just an appliance we use without noticing its specialness. And maybe at that point, that’s when it can become really powerful. The key thing is that Facebook must not take their eye off the ball in the same way that MSN did.

Thinking about a business blog?

Business blogs come in for a lot of stick, and that’s because many of them are poor. They’re often written by someone who doesn’t have the motivation to do one, or even worse, ghost-written for the owner by someone not personally associated with it. There’s plenty of evidence that shows how these fail.

Chris Brogan has written a really nice piece on how you can produce a really good business blog by making it part of your business process. Given that a business blog should really be a(n ongoing) conversation with your customers, Chris provides some nice insights and advice into how to make it a star performer.