What we can learn from GM taking advts off Facebook

social network

General Motors took their advertisement spend off Facebook.[1. GM pull ads off Facebook] Given the expectation around Facebook’s IPO, this is seen as bad news for Facebook. On the contrary I believe this is a classic example of how old world companies wrongly perceive paradigm shifts in technology and technology-enabled interactions. Will keep this brief but could do with some review and discussion from your end.

First let us understand how advertisements are served online today. A random user, say Ajay, does a search for a car or a related service like motor insurance. This keyword is watched by search engines or advertisement providers like Google, to whom vendors have bid on specific keywords to trigger display of their advertisements. So what you have is Intent -> translated to keywords -> keywords matched to list bid by vendors -> advertisement displayed. As you can see this is simple and works reliably. Works because their is a clear articulation of intent, you know what you are looking for before you hit a search engine. Variations can occur when advertisements are displayed in specific vertical sites, say like designer related tools on a site like Smashing Hub.

Now, think about what is lacking in this workflow from which Google makes most of its revenue. What is lacking is an understanding of the user. Who is she, what does she like, care about and so on. Yes, Google can and does track what searches you have made, what links you end up visiting..but these allow Google to only infer what you are as a person.

So, where does Facebook come in here. FB is your social network. You receive updates of what your connections liked, updated, saw, read and so on and likewise all your updates are propagated out. All within a single homogeneous network. This is a goldmine of engagement data using which FB can build a detailed profile of a person. Imagine how richly targeted advertisements can be on FB. A vendor could potentially say, “FB serve ads to people in Manhattan, NY area, who are environmentally conscious, like organic products and like kittens”. Am not aware to what granularity FB allows to target people but if they wanted they could do it. That precision in being able to target a message, will allow organizations to adapt messages, discounts etc to suit a particular demographic.

Now to GM. If a car vendor thinks, showing a bunch of ads on FB is going to drive sales or engagement for their car related services, they surely don’t understand what social media is about. Social media is about brand-engagement, being on top of mind for target demographic, its like a grease that smoothens all aspects of customer outreach. Taking an old business model, showing ads about your products to gain customers, to a brand new technology enabled capability like a social network will not work. The parallel I can think of is when organizations started doing Flash websites to show interactions without understanding underlying principles of hyper text.

Anyway, enough cribbing. What would I do if I were boss of advert spend on GM? There must be a hundred stories behind every car that GM has manufactured. Tell these stories on Facebook, get customers to connect with people behind the brand. Or highlight customer stories, where a safety feature saved a life, or a student who used a GM car for his first day at college or first job. Travel from point A to B need not be mundane, anchor it to aspirations, ambitions, identity and culture, then you have a much bigger canvas to experiment with. I feel FB is the first wave of social media platforms that are going to change how the world goes about living. But it takes work and creativity to harness a new medium like FB, just throwing ads to see if something sticks will not work.

What would you do if you were boss of GM? Share thoughts in the comments section.

Creative Commons License Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Compfight

Twitter, Hashtags and the 1 Letter Taxonomy

Jeff Jarvis started it, by wanting to use Twitter to post reviews of movies, books etc. Stowe Boys, rightly, pointed out that Hastags could be used to add metadata to individual messages, which Jeff acknowledged in an update to the original post.

Stowe seemed to have liked my comment about extending his original suggestion of using #* to mark all reviews.

My proposal was to have a one letter taxonomy under Hashtags, just like #* – one letter because we have already consumed 2 chars(3 if you include a space seperator), leaving only 137chars for content. And these would be the top level tags that one could apply. Further hashtags could, I suppose, be added as the author sees fit. My initial list follows-

Hashtag

Description

#* All reviews
#$ Finance related content
#? A question
#! Alerts
#+ Reminds of redcross, hence any humanitarian stuff
#^ Any geographic stuff(or fashion?)
#& Relationships
#, Continued from previous twitter message
#= Adult!
#’ Weather

Obviously, this is just a draft list. Would love to hear your thoughts, just drop comments or mail me at cr dot mahesh at gmail dot com.

As next steps we can create Yahoo Pipe based feeds to filter based on the type of hashtag one chooses to listen to. Or even PopFly. Could be a good time to play with both of these toolkits.

And what do you think of nanoformats? Microformats for Twitter! And the benefits listed for this would be applicable to our one letter taxonomy too.

For those getting to the party a little late- Twitter is a short message service, with a maximum length of 140 characters, that has a variety of means to push content to the web cloud. You would not be alone in thinking the content length restriction is a crippling limitation. But the uptake within the blogosphere indicates something big, albeit 140 chars at a time, could be brewing here. Be it covering disasters, conferences, reviews or just gossip its all done here. For instance I covered a training program on coaching skills on my twitter yesterday. There is a little more info about Twitter here in my earlier post.

I liken Twitter to a Haiku – the short form individual communication, as compared to the long form of blogs. And like Haiku, brevity of length does not always imply inability to bear meaning or beauty.

[update: Added hashtag for weather messages]

Google Open Social – Beware Greeks bearing gifts

The industry goes gaga over the OpenSocial API from Google. And methinks this is another instance of fanboys missing the forest for the trees. In my honest opinion this is nothing more than a wrapper over each social site’s API, legitimized by Google’s overarching status in the industry. I wonder how the conversation would have gone behind the scenes between Google and its so called partners!

This gesture has no more relevance than as a means to counteract other larger players in the social networking space(Microsoft with Facebook). After all how do you stop momentum from a competitor but to adopt Open Source religion. IBM did it with Java, being more open than the creator of the language Sun. So much so Sun is no longer a credible threat to anybody, leave alone IBM.

I wish the industry was a little more balanced in its opinions of Google. True they have changed the computing landscape as we had known it but not all that comes from that stable is benign. Microsoft’s clout would be a pale shadow of what influence Google will wield in another 5 years.

But the immediate benefits remain for developers who wish to aggregate content from these social networking sites without having to resort to hacks.

But its prudent to be wary of gifts that come by.