Monthly Archives March 2011

Is the Salesforce Acquisition of Radian6 Significant?

The acquisition of radian6 by Salesforce represents a possible significant shift in both the social media monitoring and customer relationship management industries. Time will tell how this merger will actually play out but the potential is there to deepen the connection and help foster a direct correlation between activity in social media and business ROI.

According to Mashable and the official release itself, the enterprise leading customer relationship management company Salesforce has agreed to acquire a leading social media monitoring platform in radian6. The deal is all but complete and should be finalized by July according to the article. The big question now is what does it mean for an industry who is still relatively young and with new players producing new platforms every day.

Salesforce sees it as a large move for them, which is pretty obvious by the amount of money they put up in their bid, a total of $326 million in stocks and cash was the reported agreement. “With Radian6, salesforce.com is gaining the technology and market leader in social media monitoring,” said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO, salesforce.com in the official release announcing the acquisition. “We see this as a huge opportunity. Not only will this acquisition accelerate our growth, it will extend the value of all of our offerings.”

So with this move does Salesforce automatically become the industry leader now and in which industry are we referring to?

In the CRM industry, they have been one of if not the leader for some time now. The dashboard is great for sales forces and keeping track of prospects and current client projects and has served as an excellent lead generation tool. However, it is my personal opinion that the monitoring portion has been less than impressive up to this point.

Radian6 on the other hand, is clearly one of the leaders in this space with over half of the fortune 500 companies as their clients. Their unique technology that allows them to monitor conversations across the span of the social space including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and more allows companies to not only see what is happening in real-time but to also receive analysis and insights and engage directly from within the platform.

So how will these technologies converge? Will this be a magical pill connecting our social activities directly with our sale activities to really finally be able to see the true ROI of our efforts? The answer is that time will be the determining factor because it remains to be seen exactly how Salesforce will utilize this powerful new technology. The release does provide some hints as it is mentioned that the current internal social network known as “Chatter” will now be filled with what is happening in the social web in real time. This could be more cumbersome than helpful however as the volume of conversation could be overwhelming for companies to deal with.

The bottom line is that the possibility is there to make this a seamless integration and help solve the disconnect problem that plagues some brands with their social media efforts. On the other hand the technology could become cumbersome for people like me to use and take away from the true joy of using these mediums to interact.

One thing is certain. The next couple of months will be very interesting and could determine the future of both these industries and how this all will play out. As for agencies and brands, keep engaging your customers through social media with whatever platforms you are using, but keep an eye on this merger as it could potentially alter the landscape permanently.

SXSW Crazy Energy One Week, “End of Social Media” the Next…What Gives?

We all know the truth can hurt. We also know it can help. But the truth, whether you can handle it or not, has a lot of shades to it.

Last week’s AdAge CMO column framed a POV on social media that got some of us at Flightpath – and from the post’s comments,  many other digital shops, too – really talking about the state of social media.  Given the recent evangelism at SXSW Interactive, attended by the rock stars of the industry (including our own #AustinSix), we figured why not share!

Below is the beginning of the column by brand strategist Jonathan Salem Baskin. He heralds the end of “a fad. No, not the end of social media, but rather the beginning of the end of social media’s infancy.” (Guess they went for the extra shock value of a misleading title.)

Do Campaign Failures, High-Profile Firings Signal the End of Social Media?

The latest news involving social-media pioneers isn’t good. Pepsi has fallen to third place behind Diet Coke in spite of its widely heralded switch from Super Bowl ads to a huge social charity program called Refresh Project. Burger King has grilled through a couple of CMOs and fired agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky after producing Facebook campaigns and viral videos that got lots of attention while the business witnessed six consecutive quarters of declining sales…

Every CMO should use this occasion to pause and reflect on the assumptions that were behind these efforts, especially if you’re about to roll out a social-media campaign or start giving away content for free. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t, and may not.

For one of our troops, Michael Liss, it all goes back to Gary Vaynerchuk‘s presentation at SXSW about his new book, The Thank You Economy. Some highlights from Mike’s notes:

This is the beginning of the humanization of business. It’s about hitting an emotional center, not pushing coupons. Social media marketing shouldn’t be about push. You shouldn’t be trying to close in one minute – everyone in social media marketing acts like a 19-year-old boy, trying to close too fast. You need patience – this is a cocktail party, start the conversation, break through the noise. There’s no such thing as a social media campaign – a social media campaign is a one-night stand; this is about relationship-building. Social is about talking to human beings. We’re living in the first time when the consumer can interact with you. It’s accepted for us to go into the conversation.

And then, interestingly enough, Gary predicted this entire debate:

Social media is going to start getting beaten up: Does this really have value? People will start looking at the money they’re pouring into this. The next couple of years might be a bad time for social, like the internet from 2000-03, when people thought the internet was a fad.

(You can read much more about the seven things Mike brought back from SXSW – five extra lbs. not included.)

Flightpather John Whitcomb agrees completely with the notion of “smart social,” as referred to in some of the AdAge post comments. He finds some of those comments  dead on, especially when it comes to ROI:

It’s amazing we still haven’t been able to come up with a system that utilizes social media metrics and quantifies them with actual results tied into business objectives. If this was the case, perhaps Pepsi and Burger King would have abandoned the strategy mid-way or at least tried to tweak it to make their campaign work.

I think the real issue, though, is that we cannot force people to buy anything using any sort of advertising medium. All we can do is create brand awareness, and hopefully drive affinity through the connections we forge on these various platforms with our consumers. But that’s still just leading the horse to water.

The Beginning is Ending, Yeah, Long Live the Ending!

So what to make of this debate? The coolest part of being involved in social media is the constant state of change. Change isn’t just in the air, it is in the DNA. The importance of social marketing (fine, media!) is how it connects people to people, people to brands, and people to opportunity in the most seamless, organic way.

If you believe the reality of “if you build it, they will come,” then you know what the build-out of any new and imaginative field is about: not infrastructure, but possibility.  Brands will take advantage of an ever-growing range of social options because community engagement is as rich a philosophy in marketing as it is in life. Social media will clearly lead brands to people and meaningful revenue to brands in the years to come.

Or, to slip in one more movie quote: “Evolution finds a way!”

Rebecca Black and the Cyberbullying She Didn’t Deserve

rebecca-black

I stumbled upon the now infamous video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” via a Tweet from MST3K’s Mike Nelson, which appears to have been the starting point for the video going viral. Like most people, I didn’t like it. The lyrics are beyond simple, and the use of auto-tune (which is something I’ve never liked, and is probably a true dividing line between generations) was mind-numbing. The song is almost a parody of modern pop, as Rolling Stone said, which is probably why it’s gained such traction. And I won’t lie; of course I laughed at the video as I watched it.

But that’s where it ended for me. I really had no idea when this was made, where it was made, and whether or not it was an actual hit song. I knew, however, that it wasn’t made for me. It’s a song by a 13-year-old girl – reason enough to back off – that I can see younger kids liking a lot. Anyway, the video spread fast all over the Internet, and I was really shocked at how dark the sentiment became not for the song, but for Rebecca Black, the person. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying (something those of us who graduated high school before the 00s thankfully never had to deal with) are getting real notice, from schools to the White House, the volcano of cruel remarks and vitriol hurled at her is downright sad.

If anyone releases music or art, it’s open to criticism. That’s fair. Parodies are fair. But take a look at the YouTube comments, or listen to Rebecca herself recount some of the messages she received during her Good Morning America interview. “Cut yourself,” “Get an eating disorder,” etc. Unequivocally, a line has been crossed, and it’s disturbing. This is people from all over the world, of all ages, joining the pile-on; lots of “Internet tough guys” – people who would never have the guts to say the things they say online to a person’s actual face – hiding behind a screename, who for whatever reason, feel empowered by belittling someone anonymously. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have fun with the video or song. But there’s a fine line between funny and mean, and the mean never get it. Conan O’Brien’s “Thursday” parody? Funny. Fake Charlie Sheen’s tweet to Rebecca Black? Mean.

And what’s particularly gross about this? She’s just a kid. Is there that much to be gained by making fun of a 13-year-old? Also, she’s not talentless, but actually seems to be a pretty decent singer. And most importantly, she didn’t write the song; if you want to blame someone, blame those who wrote it for her. Thankfully, she seems to be handling this – the fame, the criticism and the acclaim – just fine. But if we are serious, as a culture, about ending cyberbullying and toning down violent rhetoric, maybe giving Rebecca Black a pass would be a good start.

Going further, the ultimate happy ending to this story would be that maybe, just maybe, we learn not to be so quick to be vicious, mean or snide, but maybe be more thoughtful and supportive. Rebecca Black is someone who seems like a genuinely good person – she’s donating all her profits from this to Japan, something she really does not have to do – and is not deserving at all of the poison verbal arrows slung her way. There will be others like her in the future, and hopefully, we will have learned a more human way to react.

SXSW 2011: Photo Report – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our collection of SXSW photos. (If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.) In this final installment of our Photo Report, you’ll see more people, panels, food and fun stuff. Enjoy!

sxsw-2011-star-wars-uncut
Star Wars Uncut was a scene-by-scene recreation of the original Star Wars film made by fans around the world, using everything from animation to live-action to stop-motion. And it’s a great example of crowdsourcing. The first 15 minutes of the movie was played, and it was truly a blast.

sxsw-2011-star-wars-uncut-panel
The folks behind Star Wars Uncut, left-to-right: Jamie Wilkinson, Casey Pugh, and Annelise Pruitt.

sxsw-2011-facebook-jumped-the-shark
At the “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark” panel, everyone pretty much agreed that it hadn’t. More interesting was the debate that emerged on whether or not young people should or should not censor themselves on Facebook.

sxsw-2011-social-media-and-comedy
At the great “Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!” panel, featuring Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black (far left and far right).

sxsw-2011-marc-maron-twitter
Marc Maron discussed (in hilarious detail) an infamous tweet he made next to former GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman.

sxsw-2011-marc-maron
Marc Maron gets emphatic!
sxsw-2011-trade-show
The view from the trade show floor. Tons of companies, ranging from small to large, all showing off interesting software and gadgetry...

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But this was my favorite thing there.

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My view from the floor of the Google/Bing Q&A. The message, as always, was that content is king.

sxsw-2011-aint-it-cool
Harry Knowles, founder of Ain’t It Cool News and altogether Nerd God, along with fellow AICN writers at the “Ain’t It Cool News 15th Anniversary” panel. What I learned here: their early review, which was not too positive, of “There’s Something About Mary,” earned them major respect from both the studio and the Farrelly brothers. Also, Jar Jar Binks was originally going to die in Episode III!

sxsw-2011-star-wars-app
Josh Shabtai (hands), Creative Director/CEO of Vertigore, shows off his company’s awesome iPhone/Droid game, “Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner.”

sxsw-2011-lucky-j
Finally, I leave you with this. Bask in the glory of Lucky J’s

sxsw-2011-chicken-waffle-taco
...and their amazing chicken-in-waffles taco.

And that does it for our SXSW photos! If you want to share your own SXSW memories (especially if they’re chicken-in-waffles-taco-related), please leave us a comment!

Social Media tips for non-profit to corporate brands

This was my second time attending SXSW and I’ve picked up a lot over the course of the four days I was there from corporate culture to development to social media. A consistent theme of SXSW is relevance, transparency, and timeliness in social media. This holds true for advocacy in non-profits and corporate brands.

Non-profits
Social media is shifting the expectations of constituents and their organizations. It is expected that organizations be on Twitter and Facebook. Sure you can have a social media presence, but you must provide relevant information quickly as well as engage in a bi-directional, engaging conversation with your followers/fans/supporters. People expect a dialog and response, especially with supporters of the organization.

Corporate brands
Customer service via social media is growing. Customers expect quick responses, so do not ‘Photoshop your response’ and keep things transparent. Taking three hours to type a response is not the way to go. Don’t have an immediate response? Take the conversation offline, and address the issue publicly by acknowledging you will handle the issue privately via DM/email.

Another side of transparency comes when social media is outsourced to an agency. It is important to let it be known who is the person behind the brand.

Like what Barry Diller said during his interview, “The internet is a miracle. You push a button and publish to the world.” So when you do push that button, just make sure you’re sending a meaningful message because that message has greater reach, and there’s nothing between you and your potential reader. Social media is global.

Seven Things I Brought Back from SXSW (Five Extra lbs. Not Included)

Attending SXSW Interactive felt like being inside a popcorn popper: You ricochet from one idea to another, hurling into everyone around you, energy bursting everywhere. What did I bring back from Austin beyond the 5 lbs I probably packed on? Where to even start?

Attending SXSW Interactive felt like being inside a popcorn popper: You ricochet from one idea to another, hurling into everyone around you, energy bursting everywhere. What did I bring back from Austin beyond the 5 lbs I probably packed on? Where to even start?

It’s a Social, Engaged Community (Duh)
For all the digital landscapes we carve out, there’s nothing like interacting with real people in real life. SXSWi registration was up 40% this year, and it wasn’t small to start with. This was truly a community of passionate people – and truly a community. That conversation on the shuttle, in line, before the panel, at the party was every bit as meaningful, inspiring and enlightening as the biggest keynote addresses. And everyone was open to that conversation.

Be Enchanting
Achieve likability. Perfect your handshake. Achieve trustworthiness. Default to yes. Make sure everything you do is Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering and Elegant. Launch with a story, not a feature set. Empower action. Plant many seeds: Today’s nobodies are the new somebodies, and you don’t know where the people are who might embrace you. Enchant all the influencers: It’s not the top down, it’s the bottom and the middle.

It’s a Thank You Economy, Stupid
Your brand should hit an emotional center and do something that matters, instead of just pushing more coupons. Humanize your brand. Don’t try to close in one minute. A social media campaign is a one night stand – and this is about relationship-building. What’s going to work for you as a human being is going to work for you as a business. We’re turning into a small-town world. Human elements matter. Have a voice and a point of view, and don’t talk like a corporation.

What’s a Social Media Expert, Anyway?
Ask 10 different people what the ROI of SM is, what the value of a fan is, what Facebook strategy really means, anyway, and get ready for 57 different answers.

Open Book Brands
It’s not about apps, technology, campaigns. The brand has to emotionally connect with the consumer. Brands are no longer the mirrors that define us, but have to be magnets that draw us in. They have to deal with us with trust, transparency and truth. Own mistakes, then turn them around. Be genuine and authentic.

Follow Your Curiosity
Barry Diller got into the Internet in ’92 or ’93 because he was intrigued by this new way a screen was being used, and wanted to explore it. “So many people at SXSW are following their curiosity,” he said. “The miracle of the Internet is that it allows everybody who has curiosity to figure out the ideas in their brain, get it together, push a button and get it out.”

Have a Big Vision
The Foursquare founders knew what they wanted to do since their days at Dodgeball. They created the product they wanted to create to make people’s life more interesting, and went where that took them. They’re following their own strong sense of mission, leading always with how they can make their users’ lives more enriched, and doing it as a team.

Sounds pretty easy, right?

A Klout Score Alone is Not a Sign of Influence

Two panels during the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) that I attended were focused on the topic of influence. “The Ultimate Influencer Throwdown” and “Influencers are taking over the world.” Both were full of great points and one theme that came up over and over again was relevance.

Now when I say relevance, I am referring to topical relevance. One of the panelist I actually think said it best when she said, “Understanding the realm of influence is just as important as the influence itself.” In other words, it is great that you can get a big celebrity to mention or tweet about your brand but if the brand does not have influence over your end customer what does it matter.

This is especially true because when it comes to online communities, for the most part they are built up around niche topics. So one individual could have an incredible amount of power when it comes to that specific topic but when it comes to something else they are virtually invisible.

To date, this has been of the biggest complaints about the use of a Klout score. A Klout score for those who may not be familiar with the term is a score from 0-100 that supposedly measures your Twitter influence. It looks at a variety of factors but the bottom-line measurement is how likely your content that you put out will be acted on. This could be through a re-tweet or a mention or a copy and paste of a particular link that you posted. The Klout looks at all of these.

Joe Fernandez, The CEO of Klout, who was on the “Influencers are taking over the world,” panel spoke on the subject of topical relevance and promised that Klout would be rolling out a number of new features that makes the Klout score more relevant. “Big Celebrities tweeting about products is nice,” Fernandez said, “but that’s not what gets me excited about our product. What gets me excited is the fact that the top influencer on Twitter for a major brand like BMW could be a 15 year old boy who loves the cars and is always writing on them. That is the true power of Klout.”

For now though what can you do when trying to find influencers? Follow some of these tips.

  • Look at who is already mentioning your brand or industry
  • Find out who they are connected to and have influence over
  • Use the Klout score and other quantitative factors to identify influencers
  • Score this group of influencers based on relevance and topics

So what is the large takeaway is that there is no one-size fits all solution. Each agency or brand needs to develop their own internal ranking system based on what is most important to them. After all, If Charlie Sheen tweets about your brand you may get the mentions and impressions but does that mean it will get you any conversions. I think in this case the answer would be no and that you would be #notwinning.

Keep reading the Flightpath Blog for Part 2 of our photo report, as well as more reactions and insights from our team. For a look back at what we found interesting search #AustinSix on Twitter.

SXSW 2011: Photo Report – Part 1

We know that many of you couldn’t make it to SXSW this year to experience all the panels, sights, free stuff, parties, people and BBQ. But fear not! Flightpath gives you a glimpse into what SXSW was like with Part 1 of our SXSW Photo Report. Enjoy!

SXSW-convention-center-crowd
Outside the Austin Convention Center, the main hub of SXSW, in the morning. Lots of people, but nothing compared to inside the building...
SXSW-badge-pickup
Badge pickup. Not the most exciting part of SXSW, but essential nonetheless. The wait wasn't too bad, and all the convention volunteers were really friendly.
SXSW-escalator-view
The view from the escalator at one of the many hotels in the area hosting panels. For as many people as there were, it never felt suffocating like some other (::cough::New York Comic-Con::cough) conventions I've been to.
SXSW-comics-panel-crowd
The crowd awaits Anjuan Simmons' discussion about what lessons app designers can take from comic books.
SXSW-dual-twittering
As would become my habit, I was covering all the panels I went to with both my personal and Flightpath Twitter handles. And praying I didn't make a Chrysler-like mistake.
Anjuan Simmons, right, discusses comics and comic book fans. He ended the panel with a comic book trivia contest. Not to brag or nothin', but...
SXSW-comics
...I won.
SXSW-Pepsi-Max
The PepsiMAX lot. Free wi-fi, free food, and the PepsiMAX flowed like water.
SXSW-outside-clown
What would SXSW be without clowns on stilts...
SXSW-ice-cream-sandwiches
...and free ice cream sandwiches.
SXSW-crowded-SXSW
The view from the escalator at the Austin Convention Center. Pretty amazing.

And that’s it for Part 1 of our SXSW Photo Report! Come back soon for Part 2, as well as more coverage of SXSW 2011!

SXSW 2011: Finding Twitter Secrets Through Comedy

SXSW 2011

Before I jump into the topic of this post, I just want to report that SXSW 2011 is indeed living up to its hype. Tons of interesting panels, people, and an amazingly good spirit throughout. It is definitely the best convention/trade show/conference I’ve ever been to.

Now, to the topic at hand. Two of my favorite panels thus far have been, “Being Funny On Twitter (Without Getting Fired),” with talk from Chapin Clark of R/GA and Ross Morrison of Huge Inc. on bringing humor and personality to brands through Twitter, as well as “Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!”, which featured comedy-Twitter giants Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black, among others. These were especially timely panels after the Chrysler Twitter debacle last week.

While the two panels attacked a similar topic from different angles – “Being Funny” was about knowing when to use humor on Twitter and for which type of clients, and “Social Media and Comedy” was more about how Twitter has become a new tool for actual comedians – they both ended up presenting similar messages. As Maron said during the “Social Media and Comedy” panel, “You’re not rewarding your fans [if you’re always promoting something].” In other words, people go to Twitter for honesty. If you’re a comedian or a corporation, people aren’t interested in following you to be bombarded with advertisements for your next stand-up special DVD or product release. They want to get a sense of who you are and what your personality is. That’s why being funny on Twitter is valuable to companies where it doesn’t stretch the brand image too far, and why Twitter has become such a great source for comedy from comedians: it’s all about cutting through the facade and learning something real about a person or company.

During “Being Funny,” R/GA’s Clark talked not just about being funny on Twitter, but general conduct as well for when you’re managing a corporate Twitter stream. First-person Tweets from a corporate account tend to raise eyebrows, whether they’re humorous or not — people want to know who is actually writing this stuff. Remember that you’re not just playing to the room, you’re playing to the world. If not everyone is going to get your joke, especially if it’s a corporate Twitter account, it’s best not to Tweet it. Also, however, don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit. If you’re going to try and create a Twitter account for a company with some humor and personality injected, try different styles of humor and see what the audience likes. But what happens when you achieve Twitter success through comedy? Do you hold back once you have a mass audience?

At “Social Media and Comedy,” we asked Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black during the panel whether or not they feel pressure to self-censor as their Twitter followings grow. Both said no — they’re only emboldened to share more of themselves, though Ian Black admitted that when he does feel like he’s self-censoring, he says something more outrageous. This might not be the best strategy for a company using humor, but it does speak to the need to be consistent and not let your followers down. As long as you’re being true to them and yourself, you’re doing your job on Twitter.

We have lots more coming in the days ahead from SXSW 2011, including a photo report, more blog posts, and as always, more Twitter updates! Keep an eye on this space, as well as our Twitter account, @FlightpathNY, or the hashtag #austinsix for all updates from the Flightpathians at SXSW 2011.

SXSW Always Gets The Human Side of Digital

SXSW

Man, did I love SXSW 2010!  It was an incredible experience for a creative marketing digital-newbie-guy, even when gagging on people talking in code…like CSS and HTML5.  Honestly, it was the most profoundly immersive trade show or festival experience I had ever attended.

This year I am SOL (meaning so out of luck...I need this job, okay!) with personal commitments and tons of client stuff; there’s no way I can attend. But six lucky Flightpathians are going – I have affectionately dubbed them the “Austin Six” (hashtag #austinsix on Twitter) – and here’s their rap sheet. They are great, interesting people. If you see them, their Twitter stream, or their meme badge, just say hi for me.  This year there is so much human-ness in the presentations, sponsors and all the before/during and after parties; I know because I have been jealously digging anything SXSW 2011, and wish I could be there with the Austin Six.

I want to end this quick post before having to run to a Vet appointment – my digitally native Airedale Abby had major ear surgery a few days ago and is now deaf, but doing great – with three things you must do in addition to hooking up with the “A6”:

1.       Go to Wholefoods. Their global headquarters store is an easy one mile walk from the show – it is the coolest foodie store – and their breakfast tacos are clearly illegal in NYC!

2.       Think/act like somebody else, for at least one day. If you’re a geek, act like a designer or story teller or desperado for a breakfast taco…but leave your comfort zone for a bit!

3.       Forget about the parties as networking opps. Think about the networking opps as parties. You walk into opportunities everywhere, every minute. Make it all a party – it is the best freakin show on earth, and what better way is there to capture the human side of digital than by truly enjoying your time with the people behind it all?

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FlightpathNY for continuous SXSWi coverage, as well as hashtag #austinsix to keep up with all the Flightpathians in attendance. We’ll see you there!

The “Austin Six” Are Psyched for SXSW

SXSW The Austin Six

Six members of the Flightpath team (dubbed the “Austin Six” by Flightpath’s own Cliff Medney) are eagerly anticipating their trip to the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. The festival promises to be a whirlwind of networking opportunities, learning at every corner and of course the chance to experience all the sights and sounds that Austin has to offer.

SXSW has a huge following and just keeps getting bigger every year. Taking place this year from March 11th to March 15th, topics covered range from social media to design to programming. Most of the members will be experiencing SXSW for the first time, but we do have one repeat visitor as well. So starting with the experienced, here is what our team members are looking forward to the most.

Denise de Castro – This is my second SXSW trip. I’m looking forward to great eats, great panels, and catching up with other social media mavens that I tweet with but have never met. I learned my lessons from last year: I’m bringing a battery charging case for my iPhone and planning out what panels/sessions I’m going to attend. Okay okay, what I’m really looking forward to is The Food: barbecue, tacos, and bbq tacos =)

Dan Brooks – Definitely “Social Media & Comedy: F**k Yeah,” on which Marc Maron (who I talked about in my podcast blog post) will be a panelist. (This is a subject we’ll be tackling soon on the Flightpath blog via an interview, though I won’t spoil with whom!) Also, “Ain’t It Cool News’ 15th Anniversary” panel – I don’t think they create the most well-written (or well-thought out) movie/comics reviews around, but they were just normal dudes who created something huge out of nothing, and I’m interested to hear their story. Last (but not least), I’m looking forward to “Second Screen: TV Meets the Web Backchannel,” which is about laptop/mobile usage during TV viewing, a subject recently debated on the Flightpath blog.

Ryan Kitson – Sunshine, tacos, and nerds will definitely make for a great environment to absorb information. Though not surprising, it’s nice to see there is quite the assortment of mobile and tablet sessions, and “Your Mom Has an iPad: Designing for Boomers” has already got me thinking.

I recently had a conversation with my girlfriend about the fact that her mother (who has never had any interest in technology or SXSW, for that matter) is a proud iPad user. Since bringing home her iPad, she heads to bed early each night, curls up with her new Apple wonder, and watches past episodes of “The Bachelor.”

She may not be making full use of the device there, but it’s nice to know us technophiles are not the only ones enjoying the portability of this technology. I look forward to hearing the shtick.

Michael Liss – BBQ. Okay, other than eating some real BBQ, I’m most excited about being awash in people who eat, drink and breathe all things digital – that contagious passion I pick up at industry events that should be rocking to the nth degree at SXSWi. The people, companies, products and ideas that are changing the landscape faster than we can map it. SXSWi doesn’t just gather to examine where the digital world is going, but to forge it, to make it happen, right there.

New products and companies roll out in front of your eyes. Ideas and new ways of thinking come flying from all directions. I’m excited to be in the middle of it, to soak everything up, discuss and debate it, be inspired and invigorated, meet new people who live for this, and come back ready to reengage with a fresh perspective, fresh approach, fresh ideas and a pure excitement for putting what comes next into action.

And I also can’t wait for the BBQ.

John Whitcomb – Everything is bigger in Texas. While this may or may not be true, it does reflect what I am looking forward to the most. A chance to experience a new area of the country that I have not been to that has its own culture and way of doing things. From what I hear, Austin is not your typical Texas vision but it is a different city and will give me a chance to get out of the New York area and discover something new. I am sure the sessions will be full of new discoveries as well and that excitement of seeing and learning something for the first time is what I anticipate the most.

Alex Lindgren – Right now, nothing too specific. But I’m excited to see what new things companies are doing and announcing, and learning about new trends in tech – particularly mobile. I’m also really hoping not to be shot, since it’s my first time in Texas, and I hear it’s a place you don’t mess with.

There you have it! That is what each member of the “Austin Six,” as we are known, is looking forward to during SXSW. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FlightpathNY as well as hashtag #austinsix to keep up on how the festival is living up to our expectations. We’ll see you there!

Digital Debate: Media Convergence on One Screen

twitter on television

We here at Flightpath usually get along pretty well. We’re all interested in digital media, technology and how the two continue to change and evolve. We go out to lunch, get drinks, and generally enjoy each other’s company (except for that one person here…). Occasionally, however, we disagree on things (Jets vs. Dolphins, Birch vs. Stumptown (both awesome local coffee houses), Brgr vs. New York Burger, etc.). You know how it is.

Today, we’re having a “Digital Debate,” where we’ll offer two opposing views on an issue in the digital world. You decide who – if anyone – is right. In this sparring match, it will be “Smokin’” Social Media Strategist John Whitcomb vs. “Dashing” Digital Marketing Associate Dan Brooks.

The topic: Will there be a one-screen future featuring the convergence of television and Internet interactivity?

John:

As I watched the Oscars and followed my Twitter stream, it got me thinking about how far technology has come. It was amazing that I could connect to other viewers from all over the globe just by searching for a certain topic or hashtag, such as #Oscars or #TheOscars.

My vision of the future, meaning three to five years from now, involves one of convergence. Instead of having to watch one screen and have another to connect to my friends’ opinions on Twitter with my laptop, I will be doing both at the same time on one screen, plus a whole lot more.

Let me indulge you for a minute and so that you can visualize exactly what I am talking about (and make it easier for you to agree with me). It is the year 2014 and you are just settling down for your interactive Oscar experience. You turn on the TV and tune it to your desired channel. Next you bring up your Twitter and Facebook streams and start following the conversations. Since you are a huge behind-the-scenes fan, you have also just downloaded to your TV the behind-the-scenes app, which lets you watch exclusive video that is not available to the general public.

You continue watching the show, participating in the live Facebook chats with the winners and voting in all of the audience participation questions. You change the camera view so you can get a glimpse of the audience, and by clicking on one of the audience members you are instantly greeted with their bio (in case you forgot who they were).

Some of this is already possible, and this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, “Connected Televisions” were one of the largest draws behind, of course, the Tablet craze. But I really do think that this isn’t that far off and we no longer will have to choose between devices, but will have all the options that we currently have on multiple devices on one screen. Oh yeah, and did I mention that this viewing of the Oscars takes place after you have eaten the dinner prepared by your robot butler?

Nice vision, right? Top that, Danny Boy!

Dan:

John is wrong. THE END.

Just kidding. John brings up a good point in that many forms of media have been mixing and converging over the years. Our cell phones are no longer really phones; they’re music players, texting machines and mini-computers. Laptops are recording studios, DVD and movie players, and stereos. But I’m hesitant to lump TVs into this category, especially when it comes to Internet/Twitter/interactive functionality. The reason? The technology to incorporate interactivity and/or the Internet into the television viewing experience has been around for years; it’s been tried, and it’s never worked.

The biggest hindrance to web surfing on television has always been that the web just doesn’t look that good on TV. It’s the same as retrofitting a web site onto on iPad – it doesn’t work. The resolution is terrible and no one likes zooming in and out. Also, with web content on television, it’s really just no fun reading from your couch, which is usually pretty far away from the screen. In addition, no one seems to want a keyboard lying on their coffee table. (And who wants to use a remote to type on the TV? As a gamer, I hate typing messages on the PlayStation Network with my controller, and rarely do I or any of my friends write anything to each other short of highly intellectual quips like, “You suck.”)

But aside from that, even when media companies have tried to introduce web interactivity to TV, it’s been rejected. Remember the great WebTV craze of ’96? You don’t because there was no craze – no one wanted it. Yes, G4’s Attack of the Show does feature some onscreen Twitter messages from viewers, but this is a niche show geared towards tech fans. They’re low-hanging fruit.

And forget Internet or Twitter functionality; this is really all about interactive television, and there’s a vast graveyard filled with failed attempts at interactive television. There was Qube, Videoway, and Time Teletext, among countless others (see Fordham University Professor John Carey’s excellent paper on Interactive TV for more info). They all offered early versions of things that are now routine on the computer – banking, games, brief text news updates – and all were ultimately rejected or failed to make it out of their test markets.

My feeling is that the big change to how we watch TV in relation to the Internet was the adoption of laptops into the living room. Watching the Giants blow a three TD lead in the 4th quarter against the Eagles and want to see if any team has ever choked this badly? Turn right to the laptop and try to find out. (I’m a Jets fan, by the way.) Want to see what people think about Anne Hathaway’s supremely annoying “Woo!” yelp after every introduction during the Oscars? Check the laptop. Just watched a weird Korean horror movie sickly recommended by your boss that you can’t unsee and want to seek professional help? Open the laptop.

I will, of course, acknowledge that there already has been tremendous convergence between television and the Internet. There’s TV content on the Internet, and the TV experience has become more web-like, with Video On Demand, interactive menus and time-shifting via DVR. But I think this might be as far as it goes for TV meets the Internet because ultimately, TV is a passive experience. It’s a one-way street, where you turn it on, sit back and watch. It’s designed to work that way and nothing has ever been able to completely change that.

Checkmate, Whitcomb!

P.S. I have no idea who added that link to John’s “Nice vision” line. No idea AT ALL.

Conversion Rate Optimization: Performance Comes Down to Testing!

As a gear-head and big fan of motorsports, I’m psyched about the upcoming Formula 1 season. For those that don’t know, F1 is the pinnacle of auto racing, involving crazy amounts of money, resources and technology that is unmatched by any other form of racing. The level of engineering employed in creating these one-of-a-kind cars is amazing, with each team developing a brand new car every year. Top teams such as Ferrari, Mclaren, Red Bull and Mercedes spend hundreds of millions of dollars each season trying to win the drivers and constructors championships. The first race is a few weeks away and takes place in Australia (it should have been sooner in Bahrain, but with recent protests the race was suspended. sigh).

But before these cars can race, they must test. Testing sessions have been underway since early February. Here is where teams put their cars on track for the first time, testing new parts and different setups, and experiencing for the first time just how they stack up against the competition. Teams watch each other closely and size each other up, even monitoring engine notes to see if they’re running at maximum or just sandbagging. F1 is a sport where every tenth of a second counts. Imagine that your car is half a second slower per lap than your rivals. Doesn’t sound like much, but at the end of a 60 lap race, you’re 30 seconds behind and your car looks like a bus. Not something a title sponsor wants to see after pouring millions into your team.

This same principle can be applied to websites and campaigns. A/B testing and multivariate testing is nothing new, and this post is not intended to insult anyone’s intelligence, but many sites out there overlook ongoing conversion rate optimization following a new launch or redesign. Success can be quantified after a little more thought is put into visitor interaction and proper goals are defined; not just looking at visits and page views, but measurable conversions. As Avinash Kaushik, Analytics Evangelist for Google, says, “Not using goals is a crime against humanity.” With goals properly defined, tools ranging from the free Google Website Optimizer to the more expensive Omniture Test&Target are great for running tests and experiments to improve conversion funnels. This not only helps improve content relevance but also affects the bottom-line.

At the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference held in Orlando in mid-February, top online retailers such as Home Depot, L.L.Bean and Home Shopping Network were there to share their insights. Presentation after presentation, there was the same reoccurring message: test and test some more. A company like Home Depot, who has 25% of online market share, can’t afford to let things slide. They generated $68 billion in retail sales the fiscal year ending in January. If their web sales account for around 7% of that total, a small 0.1% conversion improvement can make a huge difference. In this case that tenth is worth $4.76 million. Sure, just following best practices could likely yield great results in a purely theoretical world, but every company is different and so are their customers.