Monday, April 27, 2009

What Current TV really needs

Dear @jkretch:

Late last week, you issued an RFP seeking an agency that could help Current TV "formulate a brand/ad strategy that communicates who Current is through compelling, inspiring, and even controversial advertising."

(In the advertising world, this is significant because it cut through the normal process, which, like many things in advertising, is laden with hierarchy. So in that respect, good for you for bypassing that antiquated process.)

But here's my question: Why, oh why, are you looking for an advertising agency? I would suggest that you need an experience agency, an agency that that understands communications and technology. I mean, really, what exactly is advertising these days?

If indeed you would like to communicate with your current and potential viewers in a compelling, inspiring and even controversial way, here are a few suggestions. Think of them as thought-starters:

1. Create a #hashtag taxonomy
This should be the foundation for your VC2 communications plan. Current already has a taxonomy of topics that appear with each piece of content (which the viewer submitting content chooses from a list at the time of submission). These meta-tags can also serve as #hashtags on Twitter (although it might be useful to do an inventory of #hashtags on Twitter to validate which #hashtags already have a following and meet your taxonomy needs). Provide viewers submitting content with a list of recommended #hashtags for their content that they can use to integrate directly with twitter. Which leads to...

2. Integrate the Twitter API into your posting process
When viewers post content to Current, they should be given the option of sharing on twitter. Twitter's API is open, which means that you can develop an app that sits on your site and then publishes on Twitter. That means that every time a viewer submits content, it will be posted on Twitter, along with relevant #hashtags. Take it a step further and integrate viewer comments or other viewer-generated input. Basically, take over Twitter.

3. Develop an app with Facebook's new stream API
Just today, Facebook opened their stream API, which is big news. That means that you could create an app that integrates directly with Facebook. So viewers posting content could send a status to both Twitter and to Facebook. Now that's reach (especially when you consider that Twitter's audience is tiny compared to Facebook).

Those are just a few thoughts--there's so much more you can do! Maybe it's not what you would think of as a typical brand/ad strategy (it's more of a Web 3.0 approach than a Web 2.0 one), but it's definitely a start to an authentic and powerful communications strategy that leverages the types of experiences the Web thrives on.

Good luck with your search!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Digital strategy, a methodology

Ah yes, digital strategy. It's one of those ambiguous terms with lots of promise attached to it. But what exactly does a digital strategist do? The answer will most likely vary depending on who you ask. I, for one, believe that it's not simply sitting around "thinking." Rather, developing an actionable digital strategy--one that helps an organization meet its business goals--requires some clear actions to fully understand the challenges and opportunities at hand.

I approach digital strategy projects by looking at four key elements on a needs/opportunity continuum: brand, business, market and user. (Note that this is not a new process, in fact many types of strategists use it. It works for digital and social media only when coupled with a deep understanding of this domain).

1. Brand

Why it matters: Understanding a brand's core attributes is key to developing a digital and social media strategy that syncs with an organization's character and essence. The user experience should convey a brand's attributes. Getting clear on what they are is essential to developing that experience. For example, if "daring" is a brand attribute then the interaction design and creative should embody that attribute. In many cases, brand attributes aren't communicated clearly online, or maybe the brand is evolving. In both cases, digital can help.

How to get there: The easiest and most effective way to understand the brand is to work with your planner or brand strategist as well as take a good read through the company's Annual Report, if available. I also like asking key stakeholders a series of brand related questions during Stakeholder Interviews. In addition, an audit of current digital properties against brand goals is useful input.

2. Business

Why it matters: As much as I love twitter, twitter for twitter's sake doesn't cut it. Real creativity is required when it comes to defining a features and functionality set and interaction dynamic that can help an organization meet its goals. This input also plays a key role in defining the project's success metrics.

How to get there: The key here is Stakeholder Interviews, and the more the better. I've found that 20 to 30 60-minute interviews done on a one-on-one basis provide a great foundation for understanding an organization's needs. The goal is to listen and document what each stakeholder knows about the brand, the organization's challenges, as well as to clearly understand what goals they will personally be measured on. Stakeholder Interviews also help identify what organizational challenges exist, both from philosophical and resource standpoints. Finally, findings from this phase can help key stakeholders (who often differ on important matters) align.

3. Market

Why it matters: An industry understanding of best practices is key to developing a strategy that is differentiated. Especially with social media, a relatively new space, it is important to understand what others have tried and what has succeeded, or failed, and why. (This is in addition to general digital best practices, which are vital to getting a project right. Digital Strategists, in my opinion, should have experience with user experience concepts).

How to get there: I like to complete a Competitive Audit as well as a literary review from services such as Forrester, eMarketer and any industry publications.

4. User

Why it matters: In the digital space, the end user or consumer is especially important because they are directly involved in the conversation. Understanding who the user is and what activities they have a propensity for, as well as what interaction models they will best respond to, is necessary to developing a feature set which will be embraced. Also of interest is how key users find information, what they feel is credible online and who they trust.

How to get there: Primary user research is vital to a solid digital strategy, especially because each target segment within each industry can differ. Primary research does not just include focus groups but may take the form of one-on-one interviews, photo studies, shadowing, etc. In addition to primary research, secondary research in the form of industry analysis and web site metrics are important. Understanding how current users use an organization's website and their behavior in relation to that site can be powerful.

This is a high level look at what I would consider comprises a digital strategy. The entire process is more detailed and complex, in my experience. Thoughts and feedback, as always, are welcome.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Google, don't be evil, leave Twitter alone

There's been lots of talk about Google buying Twitter this past week. It makes sense -- Twitter could potential pose a threat when it comes to search. While still not mainstream, the service has grown more than 1300 percent over the past year.

Yes it's time to take Twitter seriously, and Google knows it.

Here's my concern: Google has a history of buying up social media properties and doing nothing with them. Take Dodgeball, a pioneering mobile social network. Google is in the process of shutting is down. Or Orkut. I just checked my account, I have had 18 profiles views in three years. Maybe it's big in Brazil, but it has yet to take hold elsewhere. At least Blogger is alive and well, although quite buggy lately.

So what will Google do with Twitter? Will they let it die a slow death or will they simply make it searchable like they did Usenet?

In some ways this potential buy feels a bit Microsfty. I hope it's not. Google, remember, your own motto here, and don't be evil.