Monday, March 2, 2020

Definition of Digital Ecosystem

Gartner has a succinct definition:

A digital ecosystem [is] "an interdependent group of actors (enterprises, people, things) sharing standardized digital platforms to achieve a mutually beneficial purpose."

Related Links:
Managing ecosystems from McKinsey

Friday, March 16, 2018

Protecting Your Privacy and Identity Online

I've wanted for a long time to do a presentation on data privacy. Chapter 17 in the text has a lot of great information but it's almost all from a business perspective as is appropriate for an Internet Marketing text.

This presentation is entirely from the point of view of individual internet users. It brings up a number of controversial topics and even brushes some political ones. All the recommendations are carefully researched and I believe it gives good advice for our daily lives. Since some topics are controversial--ad blockers for one example, the reference to the fact that ISPs could sell browsing data for another--it could also become starting point for a lab discussion. I, for one, would love to know how much of the data security practices are practiced by today's students--or perhaps even known to them.

Find more information here
Identity Theft Resource List
WP practical guide to privacy settings on major platforms 

Related Updates
Synthetic identity theft 
Password study and best practices

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

'Whopper Neutrality' and the Argument over Net Neutrality

In December 2017 the Federal Communications Commission passed a bill called Restoring Internet Freedom that revokes the net neutrality order that has been in effect since 2015, the Open Internet Order. The titles of the two dueling regulations make it clear that the whole issue is deeply political. However, potential consequences are great--to the internet itself, to companies that rely on the internet for their business and their employees, as well as to all users of the internet. That makes it worthy of discussion in classrooms where various aspects of internet marketing are taught. This post is an attempt to lay out the issues in an objective manner for coverage in the classroom.

While it is by no means objective, the prank video by Burger King on the subject is an easy-to-digest (pun intended) explanation of the effects of ending net neutrality which immediately went viral. The 3-minute video could lead into a class discussion of the subject. It is also worth asking why BK, which is about as far as possible from being a telecommunications company, would make a video on this subject. The answer seems to be in Burger King’s audience objective; its ongoing attempt to attract more Millennials to the brand.

Few articles and posts on the subject are free of ideological bias. Here is one of the relative few that are critical of the Burger King effort. Here is a much more typical explanation of the harm that ending net neutrality could cause.

What Was Net Neutrality?

The so-called net neutrality regulation was intended to ensure that all internet traffic was treated equally. Internet service providers were classified as telecommunications services. That made them common carriers who could not discriminate on the basis of how the broadband services were used. All all types of content as well as all websites and platforms had to be treated equally in terms of both service and fees. The term “open internet” is synonymous.

In practice net neutrality meant that ISPs cannot block or slow certain traffic. It cannot charge more to services like Netflix who want their services delivered faster—so-called ‘fast lanes.’ The practices prohibited by net neutrality are generally described as follows:

No Blocking. Simply put: A broadband provider can't block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.

No Throttling. The FCC created a separate rule that prohibits broadband providers from slowing down specific applications or services, a practice known as throttling. More to the point, the FCC said providers can't single out Internet traffic based on who sends it, where it's going, what the content happens to be or whether that content competes with the provider's business.

No Paid Prioritization. A broadband provider cannot accept fees for favored treatment. In short, the rules prohibit Internet fast lanes.

Note that the regulation specifically applied to broadband providers.

Who are the Large Internet Services Providers?

To understand the arguments pro and con net neutrality one must understand the market structure. The chart shows clearly the increasing market concentration and the results as of the end of 2017. Comcast slowly but steadily increased share from 2011 to 2017. Charter, on the other hand, shot from an also-ran to second in 2016 with the acquisitions of Time-Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Concentration was clearly ongoing during the period of net neutrality.

ISP Market Share
The second salient fact is that many of us have little choice in ISPs. Using 2017 Census data a research firm showed that 50 million of the 118 million US households lack access to the internet at 25 Mps, which is the FCC standard for broadband speed. Using a different metric (census tracts vs. households) the FCC itself found that roughly three-fourths of the US lacks access to high-speed broadband.

One of the FCC arguments for revoking net neutrality is that it stifled innovation and repeal would encourage more competition in that market space. The data in the chart shows that concentration was ongoing, both before and during net neutrality. Is it inevitable? Will the repeal of net neutrality accelerate it? One thing is certain; it’s isn’t easy to establish successful new ISPs. A post on the subject from Ars Technica was subtitled, “Creating an ISP? You'll need millions of dollars, patience, and lots of lawyers.” That pretty much summaries the argument. There is potentially another way, described in the last section of this post.

What Does the End of Net Neutrality Mean?

The rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization are now gone. Regulation has been shifted from the FCC to the FTC which has always moved against bad actors, primarily violators of data privacy regulations. Proponents of net neutrality argue that the large telecoms are now free to make any changes to existing practices that they wish, as long as they notify users of what they are doing. Industry leaders and associations have released statements indicating that current practices will continue, but that could change.

Small business owners are especially concerned that a “pay to play” environment will emerge in which small firms cannot compete with the financial power of larger competitors.

ISPs do not have to block websites to make them less popular. They can place them behind paywalls like existing premium cable TV channels. One option would be to “bundle” popular sites like social media platforms into a paid offering. In October Congressman Ro Khanna tweeted an ad that shows packages of various internet services, from social media to music, available for subscription in Portugal. Medium, in a scathing critique of current internet practices, says that nothing prevents US ISPs from doing the same thing, with or without net neutrality.

Another concern is the potential sale of even more subscriber data to third-party data services. Again, that would only expand what is now occurring.

It is also possible that, without regulation, the ISPs could slow certain traffic for whatever reasons they choose. It appears they would have to notify users, but beyond that they can do whatever they like—or whatever the market permits them to do without serious backlash from users. And that’s true of all the actions they might take. That is what makes the concentration of the industry so troubling.

Are Local Networks the Answer?

Local networks have been under construction for a number of years, motivated by a number of factors chief among them network availability and speed.  Fast Company has a good non-technical description:

Using affordable, off-the-shelf hardware and open-source software, hundreds of communities around the world are assembling small, independent, nonprofit wireless networks, often organized as so-called “mesh networks” for their weblike, decentralized design, in which each node–a phone, for instance, or a sophisticated wireless router–relays the connection onwards to the next node. This is the same principle used in mesh Wi-Fi routers for homes that are large or otherwise have problems getting signals from conventional routers to all areas of the home.

Interactive Map
Fast Company offers a number of examples from the education and arts communities. Localities that lack internet access at acceptable speeds provide another example. Detroit, where an amazing 40% of the population lacks any internet access at all, is undertaking the building of a network as a DIY project. There are a growing number of other communities that own private networks of their own and technical services agencies that supply them. I investigated the map for my own state of Massachusetts and found two, both in the rural western part of the state. One is Holyoke with a population of 40 thousand plus. It is an educational center and a tourist destination that has competing ISP and mobile providers. The average download speed appears to be about 15 Mbs although business plans with higher speeds are listed. The other is Mt. Washington, a community in the Berkshires with a 2010 population of 167. Internet service is available from several ISPs with download speeds that vary from 1 to 7 Mbs.

So if you believe competition is the answer, there is a potential solution.

If you believe that restoring net neutrality is the answer, there are numerous efforts underway.

About the only sure thing is that this argument is not going to go away soon. To know whether the predictions might come true, one must wait and see.

See the infographic with additional data here.

Related Updates
States supporting net neutrality
End of net neutrality

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Benefits of Certification for Digital Marketers

My new year's project was to become certified in Google Analytics. Debra and I are recommending various certifications in both the Internet Marketing and Social Media Marketing books, and while I totally agree with that in principle, I though I should try one. I was surprised by how much I learned about Google Analytics as well as about preparing questions and taking assessments on the web. I'm sure the same will be the case for any of the other certifications. Individuals should choose a certification course or courses that will provide greatest support for their career aspirations.

A student who wants a job in some aspect of digital marketing should clearly aim for one or more certifications in that specific field. They want a certification to display (add them to their LinkedIn profile, for example) and to talk about in interviews. Instructors may not need or want that much depth. Looking at the Google Analytics Beginners content with the first and second sections expanded, I'd suggest that most instructors would benefit greatly from the first 2 sections but might not feel the need to go into more detail. The introductory sections would also make good assignments and might get students enthused about finishing the certification on their own.

Beginners Course Content
The Google Analytics Certification is based on the Beginners and Advanced courses from the its Analytics Academy. Each course has four sections, each of which usually has four modules. A video tutorial of about 5 minutes is the centerpiece of each module. After completing each section there is an assessment. When the user completes all the sections in each course, a certificate for that course is issued. To receive the Google Analytics Individual Qualification certificate a separate 90-minute (free) test must be taken. The certificate is good for 18 months--a sign of how fast things change on the web.

This basic structure applies to other well-regarded internet marketing certifications. I'll return to some of these in a moment. First, some of the things I learned from going through the certification process.

Perhaps most important  I learned to pay no attention to the "how to ace the Google Analytics certification"- type posts. Most of them are several years old and, true to form, Google keeps making changes in the exam.The posts are worse than useless because they set false expectations.

Second, I was reminded of what I already knew. I'm a visual learner, not an auditory one. I enjoyed the videos but I had to read the attached transcripts to really grasp the material. They are also useful quick reviews for the assessments and the final test.

Speaking of the assessments, your best effort is saved and I found it well worth the effort to get 100% on each assessment. Not only were the missed questions obviously content I hadn't learned, it gave me a good review for the certification exam.
Google Analytics Certificate with Expiration Date

The exam itself was a lot harder than I expected. I finished the 8 sections (4 in beginners, 4 in advanced) and decided to take the exam without further studying and just see how I did. I finished with 74%, just shy of the 80% needed to pass. Ok, I needed to study some. I did, and got 71%, which was really annoying! So I finally got smart and copied off the incorrect answers included with my score. That was a lot of effort because some of the questions seemed less than straightforward and they are not interactive. You just have to find the correct content and dig out the correct answer. However, the effort was worth it because I passed on the third try with 87%. Clearly I haven't learned it all yet, and I kept the questions I missed on the last try for future reference.

I found this so much fun (well, rewarding, maybe) that I've started the Google Tag Manager course. I think I'm going to take my own advice there. I'm going to complete the four sections, but I doubt that I will try to pass the certification exam. That seems relevant only for someone who is actively managing digital campaigns, and for that it's essential.

There are third-party courses that purport to pave the way for quick passage of the Google Analytics exam and probably of others. All I can tell you for sure about them is that they are not free. 

There are many more certifications available. Google has others, including AdWords certification, which has somewhat complex requirements for staying certified. Hootsuite certification is another we recommend. There are actually a number of certifications in various aspects of SMM. All the courses are free; the exams range from $99 to $400, but the applicant can take the exam as many times as necessary. Hootsuite also recommends some other certifications.  Debra is using the Hubspot certification courses for her classes. There are certifications on a variety of subjects and they are all free.

Anyone who wants to take courses and obtain certifications should do their own search. There are many certificates out there and they should be carefully examined, especially if there is money involved. 'Is the certificate well regarded?' is they key question and that will require some research. There are also many specialized online college courses and they could be considered another alternative.

That suggests the final benefit, which is a more subtle one. Having observed the digital landscape for many years and following many of my students through it, I can say one thing with assurance. A person cannot survive, much less prosper, in digital without engaging in continuous learning. Earning at least one certification in addition to a college degree is one way to establish a valuable habit in our students. The fact that it's going to help them get the type of job they want is not be overlooked either!

Do you or your students have useful experiences with certifications? Comments on the subject are welcome!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Marketing and Advertising Opportunities on Messaging Platforms

Twenty-five years ago this month the first text message was sent from a computer to a smart phone. No one could have imagined the meteoric growth in messaging that followed. According to Statistic Brain, over 781 billion text messages were sent in June, 2017, an average of 551 per month per subscriber.

Growth in MAUs and Revenue. Sources: Statista and eMarketer.
The two largest messaging apps, WhatsApp and Messenger (both owned by Facebook) have over 1 billion MAUs.  By 2018 mobile apps are expected to have 75% of the messaging market and 98% of market revenue. That is because free mobile apps are cheaper to use than the messaging services supplied by mobile network operators.

The downloadable free apps are frequently referred to as OTT services. That translates to “over the top” applications—ones that stream content directly to the consumer over the internet, bypassing traditional internet providers like broadcast and cable services. That means OTT apps include streaming video like Netflix and Hulu as well as the messaging apps discussed in this post.

Mobile network operators have relied on subscription revenues, although that has been declining in recent years as apps have grown in popularity. Stand-alone apps, as opposed to those owned by major platforms like Facebook and Google, obviously have incentive to monetize their free services, but the eMarketer chart shows a vast difference in the degree to which they have succeeded. The success of the Line app illustrates what is possible from the app’s perspective.

The Case of the Line App: Marketing for Monetization

In March 2010 a team was already at work on a mobile app when a earthquake of magnitude 9.1 and resulting tsunami struck the northern part of Japan. (This was the tsunami that lead to the nuclear melt-down at the Fukushima power plant.) It caused widespread devastation, leaving residents completely cut off from communications.

Three months later the Tokyo team was able to launch the LINE app, which allowed residents to communicate over the internet. Jae Hyung Kim, head of strategy and operations for Line Euro-Americas said in 2016 that, “Our core values are to help foster powerful connections for people during specific moments.” It offers services similar to other leading apps including unlimited free messaging, voice and video calls, live streaming chat and a video service similar to YouTube. It also offers mobile services and a payment system. The company has transformed itself from a messaging app to a social media platform, third in user activity in Japan following only YouTube and Twitter. The majority of LINE subscribers are in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia. What truly separates LINE from the pack is its ability to monetize its services as shown in the eMarketer chart.

LINE Friends 5th Anniversary

A LINE Stickers Set

LINE sells games, themes and calling credits in its Line Store. However, stickers, introduced in October 2011, are the heart of the monetization effort. LINE friends are the icons, with personalities and lives of their own. The 5th anniversary image, for example, shows that Brown and Sally are a couple. In 2014 the firm launched the LINE Creators Market which allows all users to register and sell their own stickers. LINE says there are about 720,000 creators registered in 2017, more than 400,000 sticker themes and sets, and sales of over JPY47.9 since the market was launched. LINE receives 65% of the revenue from most of those sales. The number of sticker postings on Pinterest are simply impossible to count, each one of them serving as promotion for the app. Stickers have sound as well as animation. Related sales come from of stickers characters merchandise and licensing fees. Together, the stickers-related sales accounted for about 1/3 of LINE’s revenue in 2015. Fast Company has an article about LINE stickers with more than you ever wanted to know.

Growth in LINE Advertising. Source:
Impressive though the growth of stickers has been, advertising is now LINE’s fastest growing revenue category. LINE is just beginning to offer targeting options for its ads. Performance (PPC) ads are growing explosively. Ads comprised 30% of LINE revenue when it went public in 2016. Forty-one percent of revenue came from content which includes taxi services and an online payments system. It also offers paid accounts which allow businesses to send content and promotional stickers to LINE subscribers.

LINE’s goals extend beyond just communication. It aims to be a global marketing platform. Its evolution illustrates the breadth of activities necessary to monetize the communications platform. Its future activities in search of profitability and expansion will be interesting.

Advertising: Here Come the Chatbots—Again!

The example of LINE shows that advertising is a fast-growing category in messaging apps using standard approaches like mobile banner ads and PPC. It is not surprising that Facebook has entered the fray. In September 2016 Facebook added Messages to its objectives in Ads Manager, extending the option to Instagram in June 2017. Selecting the “click to Messenger” ad objective causes Facebook to serve ads to users most likely to communicate with businesses through a chatbot. There are many of them; one study found that 63% of users were willing to communicate with a business through a chatbot and 29% said it was their preferred way to communicate with a retailer when making a purchase decision.

Kalani Milliker for CoverGirl

Of course, in order for a brand to communicate with a Facebook user that way it must have a chatbot. There are already 30,000 chatbots on Facebook, many with their own personalities. CoverGirl has an app based on 16-year old television dance personality, Kalani Hilliker. The app is infused with her personality and offers make-tips, coupons and more with engaging enthusiasm. This is a high-tech way to include influencer marketing in a digital program. Note, however, that a chatbot is another app that must be marketed to users; that’s part of the beauty of the Facebook ads.
Less attractive but equally engaging is Mr Mucus. This app was developed for the Amazon Echo and Google Home. When users search WebMD for information about colds and flu Mr. Mucus encourages them to ask questions about treatment of colds and flu. He doesn’t dispense the answers, but he might at some future time.

Marketing and Advertising Both Have a Role on Messenger Apps

The number of people using messaging apps globally has grown to 1.4 billion and eMarketer forecasts that by 2019 fully ¼ of the world’s population, 1.75b people, will be using them. 8.6 trillion text messages are sent each day around the world.  Marketers have taken notice, but marketing and messaging on messenger apps has just begun to take hold.

While in-app sales of stickers, emojis, games and payment services are staples of marketing on messenger apps, the role of advertising is growing. Advertising is also using the staple techniques of mobile banners and PPC. However, the sheer volume of communication that could flow to brands through messaging channels will require extensive use of chatbots. Ensuring positive user experience will require strong marketing efforts to “teach” the AI-driven bots the information users are asking for and creativity will be required to develop apps with engaging personalities. The data gathered by messaging apps may offer new targeting options to advertisers.

This fast-growing area of digital offers more impetus for the consideration of mobile-first strategies.

See the infographic 

Related Updates

Young people turning to messaging apps for news