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 Updates:
Managing ecosystems from McKinsey
Ecosystem strategy from Accenture

Monday, June 25, 2018

Why Marketers Should Add Snapchat to the Digital Communications Mix

Recently Snapchat announced a new developer platform called Snap Kit. Why is this a big deal?

Primarily it’s a big deal because so many teenagers use Snapchat and consider it their favorite platform. Statista quotes 2018 data showing that 72% of female teens and 67% of male teens use the platform. 77% of black teens use Snapchat, followed by 72% of white teens and 64% of Hispanic teens. The chart shows Shapchat as the favorite platform among teens, pretty much leveling off after quarters of meteoric growth. Instagram is second with Twitter and Facebook falling further behind in third and fourth place, respectively. In spite of its second place finish marketers shouldn’t write off Instagram for reaching teens. According to Piper Jaffray’s annual survey teens consider Instagram the best channel for reaching them with new products and promotions.

What, Really, Is Snapchat?

Let’s back off for a minute and--for those of us who long ago left the 18-24 demographic-- understand the Snapchat platform and why using it has been problematic for marketers. The essence of Shapchat is that messages go away after a few seconds—the time determined by user settings. The message stays in the recipient’s inbox until opened, then disappears in the allotted time. The user can send a photo, video or text message to a friends list or only to selected people from it. The platform also offers Stories, a collection of snaps and videos that lasts for 24 hours. Videos are easily filmed and shared. The minimum age for Snapchat users is 13.

Here’s what some teens themselves say about Snapchat:

"Snapchat is probably my single most favorite social media platform," . . ."It combines texting, FaceTiming, and the photographic charm of Instagram."

"I consider it digital honesty, which is hard to find in a web of fake profiles and manipulated photos,"

"I spend a lot of time looking at the 'stories' from CNN and Buzzfeed," . . ."It's the best way to easily ingest quick news or pass the time with quizzes and such."

Quoting a study from research firm Goodwater, the Los Angeles Times also pointed out that teens mostly followed the stories of their friends, not those of celebrities. Users under 30 are most likely to use the Stories function but they are not likely to use expensive apps like Spectacles. Likewise, they are not enthusiastic about additional functions like search and long-form videos. "Simpler is better," . . . "Snapchat would lose its uniqueness if it started
implementing features that were already in use," according to one of the teens.

This is evidence of a deeper, and extremely important trend. News site Axios summarizes the trend:

The concept of speaking to your entire friend network at once via social networks helped propel the popularity of sites like Facebook. Now the pendulum is swinging away from speaking to hundreds of people at once, back toward one-to-one communication that people feel is more private, secure and authentic.

Marketers need to consider the implications of that trend.

Why is Snapchat so Great?

Snapchat has provided one solution to more authentic content for many young people.  Tech executive and writer Ian Kar, who’s had a Snapchat account since 2013, lists key points about the platform:
•    It’s about creating content, not just consuming it
•    It works with vertical videos
•    It’s private
•    It’s relevant, authentic and unfiltered
•    It’s fun!

Why Marketers Need Snapchat

Clearly marketers need Snapchat if they want to reach teens on social media. But other demographics use the platform also. In fact, according to eMarketer, growth is being driven by users aged 45 and up. They are not joining for disappearing messages, they are joining for content, especially streaming short TV episodes. Growth among teen users has slowed as many of them find Instagram stories better suited to their needs.

In this context, it is worth noting that Facebook use continues to decline among young users. eMarketer also expects Facebook to loose 2 million users aged 24 and under in 2018. It expects the number of users 12 to 17 to decline 5.6%  and 18 to 24 by 5.8% this year. Reports suggest that some young people are turning to Instagram as a substitute for Snapchat, while others may be turning to messaging apps. Each of those is a story for another day.

Today’s story is why marketers should consider using Snapchat. Here are some reasons:
•    Reach the younger audience (of course)
•    Test ephemeral content
•    Take advantage of the high engagement rate and the platform’s reputation for user privacy
•    Make use of vertical video using the Snap Spectacles video app
•    New opportunity for location-based marketing using the Snap Map
•    Use the Snapchat advertising platform including the Audience Match function which allows brands to use their own customer data
•    Reach the majority of Snapchat users who shop online.

Some Snapchat Campaigns

With those opportunities dangling in front of them, some marketers have experimented with Snapchat campaigns. Note that I had to travel through time and geography to find these. Reason? Few marketers are yet using Snapchat in 2018. Statista puts the number at 8%; for comparison, 94% of marketers use Facebook. There is a difference in whether the campaign is a one-shot (Taco Bell) or ongoing for a period of time (McDonalds).

The 2016 Taco Bell Cinco de Mayo campaign thrust Snapchat into the marketing world when it garnered 224 million views in a single day. It was expensive, using a Snapchat lens (an animated geofilter) to convert the user into a taco. This campaign was featured in the SMM text in the Mobile Marketing chapter because we thought it wasn’t large enough at that time for detailed coverage in the platforms chapters.

In 2014 the Danish branch of the World Wildlife Fund created The Last Selfie campaign to spotlight endangered species. The message of the video was that their existence was as ephemeral as a snapchat post. The WWF extended the campaign into a second week, stating that it achieved more attention than they expected and was a fundraising success.

The elections in the UK in 2017 inspired the Electoral Commission to create a Find your voice voter registration drive that was available throughout the UK. The filter offered several images for the user’s image and a reminder of the number of days until the election at the bottom. It partnered with Snapchat in the week-long get out the vote campaign,

To the present day, this time in New Zealand. McDonalds has run numerous small scale (or perhaps a better term would be location-specific) campaigns over the past few years including one to recruit new employees. In the current campaign a person can activate the McDonald’s geofilter when she is in a store and create a snap to share.

How Marketers Can Learn to Use Snapchat

A good short explanation of marketer uses of Snapchat makes the point that it updates so often it is useless to give detailed instructions on how to use it. Point well taken, but there are a number of generic ways to reap benefits from the app. This list is divided by organic growth and advertising.

Marketers can drive organic growth on Snapchat in a number of ways:
•    Use a Snapchat Story to create awareness of your brand. For instance, conduct a quick,  fun-filled walkthrough of your business operations
•    Post some behind the scenes content from your workplaces or about your products
•    Be responsive to every message. Thank your viewers. Give them a shout out in your snaps. Share something they’ve snapped.
•    Post regularly, at least once a day.
•    Above all, be consistent with your brand’s voice and mission.
Once the marketer has become comfortable using Shapchat, she may want to make use of Sapchat ads. Some examples include:
•    Use Snap Ads to leverage audio visual content for marketing your brand.
      o    Use Context Cards to add additional information like product availability locations
•    Sponsor a lens; identify how a user would engage with your product, and apply the insights to a lens (for instance, a lens that lets users ‘drink’ your energy drink)
•    Use themed geofilters like the in-store McDonalds filters.

There’s an important reason for separating organic growth from advertising on Snapchat. Brands can create their own filters and lenses and can learn a lot by doing that. Snapchat advertising gets expensive pretty quickly. The Taco Bell Cinco de Mayo lens was rumored to cost about $750,000—for one day! The New Zealand McDonalds chain filter is going to be expensive because it’s going to be available for a year and will be changed to reflect other promotional activity. I couldn’t find a cost for The Last Selfie campaign, but you can see the basic costs for sponsored lenses in the chart below. It’s not clear whether the WWF got a price break because it’s a non-profit, but it is clear that Snapchat supported the Find your voice campaign for the UK Election Commission. Otherwise, a spokesman notes that the nation-wide filter would have been “quite pricey.”

It’s always wise to check, but these are recent estimates of ad costs, some verified by several sources, others from one good summary:

Snap Ads. This is a DIY ad format using Snapchat’s Ad Manager. Not surprisingly, it works uch like Facebook ads.
Sponsored Lenses. The quoted price varies by day with weekdays being $450,000, $500,000 for Fridays and Saturdays and $700,000+ for holidays and special events.
Nationwide Sponsored Geofilters. This is a new product but estimates suggest about $100,000.
Discover. These are essentially banner ads that appear at the top of the screen and cost about $50,000 per day.
Snap to Unlock. This is also a new ad format in which a link in another site or channel unlocks a Snap filter.
Snap to Unlock Codes. This is another new ad format which looks like Snapchat’s version of a QR code. It is estimated to have a price just higher than local geofilters.
Sponsored Local Geofilters. The cost for a local geofilter can be as low as $5, per day apparently. One source quotes the cost for an annual contract for a local geofilter at “a few hundred dollars.”

These are basics and some are estimates. Snapchat’s rates are based on CPM but it also offers goal-based bidding, which is a pay-per-action format. If viewers interact with the ad, they become members of a Snap Engagement Group that can be retargeted.

Why is the New App Policy So Important?

The preceding section makes it clear that Snapchat ads are pricey. What may also be obvious is that the platform has kept a tight rein on its advertising options. The new Snap Kits for developers cracks that door open a bit, and that’s why it’s important.

Even so, the opening is limited. The new products allow developers to include Snapchat features like Bitmojis and stickers in their own apps, embed Stories as content on other sites and sign in with their Snapchat identification. The platform says it will share only display names and Bitmoji avatars with developers—no demographic data or friends lists. For the present, all applications will receive human scrutiny prior to approval, which one assumes includes a careful look at adherence to privacy standards.

CEO and co-founder of Snapchat Evan Spiegel likes to goad Facebook about Snapchat’s stronger privacy protection and the fact that it hasn’t been susceptible to Russian interference. He often suggests that Facebook should copy Snapchat privacy standards. Speaking about the developer kits, a member of the legal staff says:

"Under no circumstance do we allow anyone to ask for your friends list or contacts directly," says Katherine Tassi, Snap's deputy general counsel. "[Mobile] platforms do give developers the ability to ask for contacts, but that will be on their own." Tassi added that third-party developers also won't be able to see people's messaging activity—though there is anonymized, aggregated usage data shared between Snap and the developer. 

This is still the age of Snapchat experimentation. Brands that have teens or the broader 18-24 demographic in their target market should be experimenting now. As with any platform, there will be a learning curve. Now is the time to jump on!

See the infographic here

Related Updates
Using vertical (portrait) video is a Snapchat strong point 

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!