Archive for the 'Social Customer Support' Category

08
May
11

Transmedia Storytelling

Seven Myths About Transmedia Storytelling Debunked
BY FC EXPERT BLOGGER HENRY JENKINSFri Apr 8, 2011
This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.

Over the past few years, transmedia storytelling has become a hot buzzword in Hollywood and Madison Avenue alike–“the next big thing” or “the last big thing” depending on whom you ask. Last year, the Producer’s Guild announced a new job title, Transmedia Producer, a decision that has more or less established the term as an industry standard. More and more companies are laying claim to expertise in producing transmedia content. But many using the term don’t really understand what they are saying. So let’s look at what people are getting wrong about transmedia.
Myth 1: Transmedia Storytelling refers to any strategy involving more than one media platform.
The entertainment industry has long developed licensed products, reproducing the same stories across multiple channels (for example, novelizations). Increasingly, broadcast content is also available on line. And many films are adopted from books (or now, comic books). None of these necessarily constitute transmedia storytelling. In transmedia, elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple media platforms, each making their own unique contribution to the whole. Each medium does what it does best–comics might provide back-story, games might allow you to explore the world, and the television series offers unfolding episodes.
Myth 2: Transmedia is basically a new promotional strategy.
Yes, many early transmedia experiments were funded through marketing budgets. Transmedia has been closely linked to the industry’s new focus on “audience engagement” and sometimes uses “viral” (or “spreadable”) media strategies. But, the best transmedia is driven by a creative impulse. Transmedia allows gifted storytellers to expand their canvas and share more of their vision with their most dedicated fans.
Myth 3: Transmedia means games.
The rise of alternate reality games coupled with mass media properties is part of what’s generating excitement here. Transmedia properties combine cultural attractors (which draw together a highly invested audience) and cultural activators (which gives that audience something to do). Games are a good way to give your fans something to do, but they are by no means the only model out there.
Myth 4: Transmedia is for geeks.
So far, most of transmedia has been designed for early adapters–folks at home with digital applications, with disposable time and income, and especially the 18-27 year old males who have disappeared from the Nielsen Ratings. So far, much transmedia content has targeted children through cartoons or geeks through science fiction, horror, and fantasy franchises. But, there are plenty of signs that transmedia experiences may appeal more broadly. For example, some believe transmedia strategies may be key to the survival of soap operas.
Myth 5: Transmedia requires a large budget.
Fans now expect transmedia content around blockbuster films and cult television series, but there are also many successes with using transmedia to build audience awareness around low budget and independent media productions–from The Blair Witch Project to District 9 to Paranormal Activity. It’s about developing the appropriate mix of media for the genre, the audience, and the budget of a particular production.
Myth 6: Everything should go transmedia.
Many stories are told perfectly well within a single medium, and the audience leaves satisfied, ready for something else. Transmedia represents a strategy for telling stories where there is a particularly diverse set of characters, where the world is richly realized, and where there is a strong back-story or mythology that can extend beyond the specific episodes being depicted in the film or television series. Transmedia represents a creative opportunity, but it should never be a mandate for all entertainment.
Myth 7: Transmedia is “so ten minutes ago.”
The first generation series to push transmedia, (Lost, Heroes, Ghost Whisperer, and 24) ended last season, and some of attempts to replace them–from Flash Forward to The Event–failed. But many of the big hits–including Glee, True Blood, and The Walking Dead–model new transmedia strategies to attract and sustain audience engagement. Transmedia storytelling is still about the stories and if the stories do not capture the imagination, no amount of transmedia extension can repair the damage. But, we will see innovative new approaches because transmedia as a strategy responds to a media environment that rewards being everywhere your audience might be and giving your fans a chance to drill deeper into the stories they love.
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Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California. His book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, has been credited with inspiring much of the buzz on transmedia. On Monday 4/11, he is moderating a session on transmedia at the 2011 NAB Show, the annual media & technology industry conference in Las Vegas, which features a dream team of transmedia experts: Starlight Runner’s Jeff Gomez, Red Faction’s Danny Bilson, The Ghost Whisperer’s Kim Moses, The Walking Dead’s Gale Anne Hurd, and Conspiracy for Good’s Tim Kring.

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05
Apr
11

VCs trade biotech for social networking

VCs trade biotech for social networking

By Clare Baldwin
NEW YORK | Mon Apr 4, 2011 8:53pm EDT
(Reuters) – Venture capitalists are shifting their attention to social networking companies and away from biotech companies, bankers told the Reuters Global Mergers and Acquisitions Summit on Monday.

Venture capitalists, who make high-risk investments in start-ups, are tired of waiting years for biotech companies to generate real products and be marketable as initial public offerings, bankers said. They’d rather invest in companies that could go public in just a year or two.

“Think of an IPO for an early stage biotech company. You’re 5, 7, 9 years away from revenues and profitability. That’s a big stretch today for most investors,” said Frederick Frank, vice chairman at investment banking advisory firm Peter J. Solomon Company.

“The IPO market for biotech companies is close to moribund,” he added.

A quicker turnaround on an investment could be attractive. In August 2008, the IPO market dried up, preventing investors including venture capital funds from exiting investments for about a year.

“Look at the choice a venture capital fund has: to invest in the next social network that might go public in 12 months, versus a scientific idea where they might get the opportunity to take it to the FDA eight years from now, and then maybe get a letter where they have to do additional clinical trials on top of that,” said Drew Burch, head of healthcare mergers and acquisitions at Barclays (BARC.L) in New York.

“A greater percentage of the dollars has moved toward technology investments,” Burch said.

That’s not just true for venture capitalists. Wealthy investors are eager to buy shares of social media companies like Facebook, even before those companies go public.

Following a high-profile private share sale earlier this year, Facebook said it would open its books to investors in 2012 — a statement many say is code for an IPO. The social network is the largest in the world.

Groupon has spoken with bankers about an IPO. Other Internet companies including Zynga and Twitter are expected to tap the public markets.

Private market valuations of some social media companies are in the multibillion dollar range.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin; Editing by Richard Chang)

16
Mar
11

ROI of social media can be an intangible

March 15, 2011

What’s It Cost?
ROI of social media can be an intangible

There’s Facebook, Second Life, Myspace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and now Jumo. There are many smaller social networking platforms. When it comes to deploying assets, where to be in cyberspace is a tough decision.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Baltimore is going through the evaluation process. CRS is one of Facebook’s 500 million active users, and also tweets on Twitter and posts videos to YouTube. CRS has a Myspace profile with 3,288 “friends,” although it is not seeing a lot of activity there and managers are trying to decide what to do with it. Deleting it is a serious option.

“We, like many other nonprofits, struggle to accurately measure the financial ROI (return on investment) of our efforts,” said Laura Durington, online community manager at the CRS. “We look at Facebook Insights, Google Analytics and we look at source code reports in our online fundraising program. But, it only gives us part of the picture. Still, I would argue, although it’s more of a hunch, that we are getting something important out of these efforts.”

According to an Idealware study, “The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide,” CRS isn’t the only organization considering cutting back on Myspace. The Portland, Maine nonprofit technology group surveyed 460 nonprofit employees, held six telephone focus groups, and a case study collection in which 273 staff members provided details of which social media channels they are using and who they are targeting.

As you might expect, since 2008 Facebook has seen a huge increase in popularity and there has been a substantial decline in Myspace nonprofit users. Many nonprofits aren’t investing much time in it and are seeing decreasing benefits.

Myspace cut its staff in half in January, letting go 500 employees. The decision came after the social media website was revamped in October 2010 to run with fewer people. MySpace had 54.4 million unique U.S. visitors in November, down 15 percent from a year ago.

Julie Somogyi, director of integrated marketing and communications for the Girl Scouts of the Greater Chicago area, believes the organization needs to focus on the social media websites where their girls and volunteers are virtually congregating. “Even though we did have some initial interaction with Myspace a couple of years ago, we began investing our time more heavily in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in the past two years because those are the most active sites within our key demographics,” she said.

According to Andrea Berry, Idealware’s director of partnerships and learning and coauthor of the study, nonprofits are using social media websites for public interest, although the idea of fundraising is always in the back of their minds. “A lot of nonprofits are struggling to use it as a fundraising tool but use it as a way to reach out to new people, potential supporters, engage current supporters and reinforce their brand for key people in their area like the press,” she said.
More than 30 percent of people surveyed who use Facebook and Twitter said they know that these social media sites are reaching new supporters for their organization and more than 75 percent responded saying they think Facebook and Twitter are reaching new supporters. The numbers jumped to 80 percent for sites such as Facebook, Twitter, video sharing sites and blogs for nonprofit managers who responded they think that these sites are enhancing their relationship with their audience.

“It’s a good way to reach an untapped audience,” Durington said. “When we started we weren’t sure what to expect three years ago. Every article about it said this is going to be this huge boom for fundraising but very quickly most nonprofits found that not to be the case.”

CRS uses Google Analytics, but it’s still hard to see the absolute correlation for the Facebook donations because the tracking gets lost and it becomes a “grey area.” They also spend more time promoting and encouraging people to go to their own website rather than the organization’s Facebook page, although, the Facebook page is becoming a place where people can go to build and engage in an educated community, Durington said.

“Our commenter’s seem to be very educated about global issues,” she said. “We have witnessed a lot of some interesting dialogue, not just between us and them but also with each other.”
It’s an interesting experiment to see what people are talking about. CRS’s goal is to boost traffic to their website and have Facebook be a referral point. Durington said that the people going from the Facebook page to their website is in the single-digit percentage but it is equal to the number of referrals they get from Google.

Facebook isn’t as reliable as a website but it’s starting to be a place were people look for information. “A website is always going to be number one. You shouldn’t be using a Facebook instead of a website,” Berry said.

ROI for nonprofits is hard to calculate, said Thomas A. McLaughlin, vice president of consulting services for the Nonprofit Finance Fund and contributing editor for The NonProfit Times. One way to see if there is anything happening is to look at the overall fundraising of operations. “In reality, even assuming that organizations have record keeping for this, its almost likely the best we could hope is to calculate a marginal interest on fundraising costs and attribute it to social media if that’s the only thing that’s changed,” he said.

Another reason ROI is so hard to determine is it doesn’t translate to mean the same thing for nonprofits. “ROI is popular for for-profit businesses and doesn’t transfer easily to the nonprofit world,” McLaughlin said. “There is no such thing as an investment in the nonprofit world like there is for for-profits. It would be more of a cost.”

One cost expense would be if an organization hired an employee solely to work on social media campaigns or trying to break down the time of an employee who works on overall fundraising campaigns. “If organizations can somehow isolate the employees’ times in various elements of fundraising, social media will be one of those elements,” McLaughlin said. “If you get lucky enough, some organizations might track what that employee spends their time on. In those cases you might be able to strike some approximation on dollars and time spent on social media.”

For the Girls Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, instead of having one person designated exclusively to social media, they include the social media responsibilities in three marketing team members’ job descriptions.

Maria Wynne, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Greater Chicago area, thinks its important to have a place to go on the Internet for all ages, which is why the Girl Scouts just launched their new website, http://www.worldsstrongestgirl.org for girls 13 and younger. “It’s a place for girls where they can express themselves that is safe, with anonymity and the latitude to be imaginary about a story or tell something that is very concrete,” Wynne said.

The website is animated with cartoon-like characters that represent badges. Girls can click on a badge and write a story or create their own badge. “The younger girls are very much about something that interacts and engages them,” she said.

For girls who are 13 and older, they want to network and talk with people online. One of the reasons why they created the website was to give the younger girls an entry point for interacting with the Girls Scouts online with an activity that isn’t threatening.

“The financial value of those communications is secondary and although some decline in the program and marketing print budget has been realized, the intangibles are a bit more difficult to quantify,” Somogyi said. “For example, when girls use social media to reach out to their friends and family members to ask them if they would like to order Girl Scout cookies, there is a financial advantage to the girl and her troop because they have reached more customers, and to the council as a whole because proceeds from the Girl Scout cookie program support how we can best support our membership locally.”

On the Girl Scouts’ Facebook page, girls and volunteers are connecting and even creating their own Facebook pages for their capstone projects and other programs that the Girl Scouts participate in. The Girl Scouts are also on Twitter and LinkedIn. “I think it’s the way people expect entities to participate in the virtual world today,” Wynne said. “Along with having a presence, it is for many the practical way of sharing information.”

For example, Wynne has seen new leaders and volunteers ask for advice on their Facebook page and almost immediately there are 10 responses from other members of the Facebook group. “It’s a mentoring and networking tool for best practices and a way for people to ask for help in the volunteer community,” she said.

Justin Perkins, director of nonprofit strategy for Care2.com, has been working with nonprofits for five years with online marketing and donor improvements. He was inspired three years ago to make the ROI in social media calculating tool when Facebook Causes launched to help nonprofits decide if this would be worth their time and money.

“There was initial skepticism that there was a vital business model there (Facebook),” Perkins said. “Before investing time, it was ideal to come up with a tool to look before you leap.”

The calculator was created using typical metrics that nonprofits use to measure online success like how many employees or volunteers are working on a social media campaign, how many hours a week they spend on it, how many “friends” they recruit, how many of those “friends” sign up for an e-mail list and ultimately how many become donors.

The calculator allows nonprofits to plug in their information or number goals in a four-step process to see their potential ROI. It can be found on http://www.frogloop.com/social-networks-calculator

Perkins believes nonprofits that started using social media had a sort of “gold rush mentality” but they need to figure out if it will actually be promising for them in the end. “What’s the actual cost? What’s the opportunity cost if we do this at the expense of something else? What is something else we could be doing to have a higher ROI,” he said are some questions that nonprofits need be asking themselves when using social media. NPT

09
Mar
11

Holy social media, Batman! Video rentals come to Facebook

Posted by JP Mangalindan, Writer-Reporter
March 8, 2011 2:44 PM

Facebook users can now watch The Dark Knight right on the website. It won’t be the last time content providers come to where the users are.

Would you watch movies on Facebook? That’s what Warner Brothers, a division of Time Warner (parent company of Fortune), wants to know by offering up The Dark Knight for viewing on the movie’s Facebook fan page. 3.9 million fans have already “Liked” it and they and other Facebook users can rent it for 48 hours for 30 Facebook Credits, the equivalent of $3. There are some caveats though: it’s only available in the United States, only streams in Standard Definition, and sharing remains limited to posting the activity to the NewsFeed, “Liking,” or Tweeting it. Pretty barebones at this point, considering the wealth of features Facebook currently offers.

But the move is less notable for what it’s lacking and more for what it means for content programming going forward. Recently, Warner Brothers also dabbled with other unorthodox distribution methods, by creating iPad, iPhone, and iPod apps specifically for The Dark Knight and Inception. Not an ideal solution — who wants to download an iOS app for each and every movie? –but it does show that the studio wants to reach as many markets as possible. Its movie apps reach 35 worldwide markets, more than the 23 that iTunes covers. With Facebook, Warner Brothers has the potential to one day reach some 600 million users in more than 200 countries, from Jordan and Senegal to Botswana and Martinique. In doing so, it becomes the first studio to offer movie content within a social network. No outside links or shuttling to third-party web sites.

It might all sound pretty strange at first. Because when users signed up for Facebook, they envisioned using it for connecting with friends and acquaintances, and in some cases, people they’re dying to date. Watching movies probably didn’t register. After all, there are better, dedicated services like Netflix to handle that, right?

But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Facebook’s userbase spends an average of 55 minutes a day, 6.5 hours a week, or 1.2 days a month on the site, a significant chunk of time only rivaled by email usage, and one that will grow even further as Facebook matures and introduces more time-sucking features. Rather than force Facebookers to leave the network to some external service or site, a huge barrier of entry in and of itself, content providers are bringing programming to where the users are.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring a shared viewing experience back to folks who have gotten geographically dispersed,” says David Raycroft, VP of Product Strategy for Milyoni, the social commerce platform used for the Dark Knight-Facebook viewing and ecommerce app. Development of such projects can take as little as three days, though in this case, The Dark Knight app took 30 days to develop.

While it’s a solid first step — the user interface is simple and responsive — it also raises several thorny issues. Once the whole trend of Facebook movie streaming takes off, and I firmly believe it will eventually, there’s the issue of fragmentation. Will users be forced to seek out movie fan pages to watch that particular flick? How will they know when a particular new movie becomes available for viewing?

A content streaming hub will become vital as more studios bring content over to the social network, not only to aggregate and highlight content in one central location, but also to update users. Of course, in doing so, it brings Facebook one step closer to being even more integral to your daily life, which, if you’re Mark Zuckerberg, is a good thing.

02
Mar
11

Will Social Media Change the Insurance Industry?

by Gloria Vogel
In recent weeks we have all observed the power of new social media to facilitate change. From protests in Egypt to current clashes in Libya, the power of new media is now readily apparent. So the question to ask is whether or not the insurance industry is ready for these newer forms of social communication? How will social media transform the insurance industry?

While social media itself is undergoing rapid change, current attention has focused on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and LinkedIn as the leaders in the field. In a quick check of major insurers, many firms have already established a presence on those sites, primarily to distribute announcements from press releases and provide some background description of their firms, or to facilitate recruiting. Traders, employees, and others have made some comments on those company pages. But, the insurance industry has not yet effectively used social media to market its products, to handle claims, or to better communicate with and engage its customers and employees.

Insurers do not readily embrace change, so the slow response to date is not a surprise. But social media is quickly evolving and it has the potential to significantly alter the way insurance business is conducted in the areas of marketing, underwriting, and claims.

What if the industry shifted more of its marketing to social media?

Insurers typically market products through independent or captive agents, brokers, or directly to consumers. Most direct marketing is done via standard postal mail or phone solicitations, with some Internet commerce. The roadblocks to quick adoption of social media in insurance marketing concern the notion that the brokers/agents currently control the business and maintain the customer relationships; that the products are too complex to be readily saleable in a social media format; and that the open communication associated with social media does not effectively protect privacy. Moreover, many agents/brokers view social media as a threat that could eliminate their middleman status, and this could hinder progress in industry adoption.

However, marketing costs account for significant charges to first year sales, especially for life insurance products. If expenses could be brought down, then insurers could reap additional profits from those sales. The cost of maintaining an agency force is high, while the direct cost associated with social media is significantly lower. In a marketplace that demands efficiency, that difference in cost could be meaningful.

To date, most consumers use the Internet to learn about products and to scout out companies, and then seek the advice of agents/brokers to actually purchase their policies. This is especially true for more complex life insurance products or commercial casualty coverages, rather than for straightforward standard auto insurance policies. However, with social media, consumers can receive rapid response to their questions, buyers can quickly make price comparisons between companies, and consumers can get immediate feedback from existing policyholders concerning levels of satisfaction. As such, social media has the potential to transform insurance marketing into new cost structures and methods for product distribution. Notably, with social media, consumers will be more likely to purchase a policy if someone they know recommends it, rather than receiving the recommendation from a cold calling insurance representative, so the need to satisfy consumers will become paramount. With younger generations reliant upon social media as their favored form of communication, the future will most likely include more direct selling to end-user customers via these new distribution methods.

The critical elements that social media would appear to offer include: speed of response (text messaging), trust of provider (recommendation by friends), open communication (opinion of existing policyholders), and ease of sale completion (via smartphone apps). The benefits would be savings in time and cost. Some insurers would be expected to have business models that allow for this kind of dramatic change, while others will naturally be slow to adopt.

Application of social media to other insurance functions

Underwriting also has potential to benefit from use of social media. Social media enables underwriters to learn more about their policyholders than ever before, leading to better pricing and better policing of claims. Just as recruiters currently check social media to learn about unsavory habits of applicants, underwriters could learn more about their customers from social media. Community relationships and sharing of knowledge could also help solve problems associated with risk assessment, especially with respect to global issues of climate or other environmental threats, pandemics, emerging risks, etc.

The web already allows consumers to download claim forms and file claims electronically. Social media combined with new smartphone apps could enable claimants to file claims immediately after an event. Photos could be taken on the spot and claims submitted quickly. Payments could be credited directly to an account for immediate use by the claimant. Social media could also serve as a good tool for fraud detection.

The biggest potential drawback in using social media for insurance transactions involves the issues of privacy, risk, and control. Policyholders don’t want their individual information to be widely distributed. Also, companies don’t want to have negative comments posted on their social media pages about their poor claims processing or competitively more expensive products, so reputational risk is likely higher with use of social media. Nonetheless, change is constant, and it is only a matter of time until the insurance industry begins to use social media as a tool to more effectively conduct business. Cost pressures and focus on younger consumers will force its eventual adoption.

17
Feb
11

10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

By Susan Gunelius at Entrepreneur.com

Leveraging the power of content and social media marketing can help elevate your audience and customer base in a dramatic way. But getting started without any previous experience or insight could be challenging.

It’s vital that you understand social media marketing fundamentals. From maximizing quality to increasing your online entry points, abiding by these 10 laws will help build a foundation that will serve your customers, your brand and — perhaps most importantly — your bottom line.

1. The Law of Listening
Success with social media and content marketing requires more listening and less talking. Read your target audience’s online content and join discussions to learn what’s important to them. Only then can you create content and spark conversations that add value rather than clutter to their lives.

2. The Law of Focus
It’s better to specialize than to be a jack-of-all-trades. A highly-focused social media and content marketing strategy intended to build a strong brand has a better chance for success than a broad strategy that attempts to be all things to all people.

3. The Law of Quality
Quality trumps quantity. It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you the first time.

4. The Law of Patience
Social media and content marketing success doesn’t happen overnight. While it’s possible to catch lightning in a bottle, it’s far more likely that you’ll need to commit to the long haul to achieve results.

5. The Law of Compounding
If you publish amazing, quality content and work to build your online audience of quality followers, they’ll share it with their own audiences on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, their own blogs and more.

This sharing and discussing of your content opens new entry points for search engines like Google to find it in keyword searches. Those entry points could grow to hundreds or thousands of more potential ways for people to find you online.

6. The Law of Influence
Spend time finding the online influencers in your market who have quality audiences and are likely to be interested in your products, services and business. Connect with those people and work to build relationships with them.

If you get on their radar as an authoritative, interesting source of useful information, they might share your content with their own followers, which could put you and your business in front of a huge new audience.

7. The Law of Value
If you spend all your time on the social Web directly promoting your products and services, people will stop listening. You must add value to the conversation. Focus less on conversions and more on creating amazing content and developing relationships with online influencers. In time, those people will become a powerful catalyst for word-of-mouth marketing for your business.

8. The Law of Acknowledgment
You wouldn’t ignore someone who reaches out to you in person so don’t ignore them online. Building relationships is one of the most important parts of social media marketing success, so always acknowledge every person who reaches out to you.

9. The Law of Accessibility
Don’t publish your content and then disappear. Be available to your audience. That means you need to consistently publish content and participate in conversations. Followers online can be fickle and they won’t hesitate to replace you if you disappear for weeks or months.

10. The Law of Reciprocity
You can’t expect others to share your content and talk about you if you don’t do the same for them. So, a portion of the time you spend on social media should be focused on sharing and talking about content published by others.

09
Feb
11

For alcohol brand-related social media issues

For alcohol brands, social media a stiff cocktail
by Caroline McCarthy

On a Monday morning late last month, at the headquarters of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association, the promotional vehicle for a vineyard-speckled region about four hours northwest of Manhattan, something was amiss with Foursquare.
Namely, the Corning, N.Y.-based tourism group’s account on the location-sharing social-media site was doing something funny: It was triggering friend requests. That’s not supposed to happen with a Foursquare account that’s set up as a brand or business page–users should be able to automatically follow the brand or company, rather than having to wait to have their requests approved individually, as would be the case with a regular personal profile. The switch seemed to indicate that Finger Lakes Wine Country’s brand page had been, in effect, demoted.
“My office manager, who handles all of our general e-mail inquiries, said, ‘Has there been a change to our Foursquare page? All of a sudden I’m getting all these friend requests’,” related Morgen McLaughlin, the president of the tourism group. “Then we received an e-mail from Foursquare that they had suspended the account because of the alcohol content.”
When some of the trendiest destinations for digital brand marketing and advertising are small social networks with limited resources, brands in restricted sectors like the alcohol industry–and those that might be on the periphery of it–start to run into these kinds of problems. Foursquare built a name for itself as a way for nightlife-happy 20-somethings to “check in” to bars in cities and let their friends know where they were throwing back brews. But because Foursquare does not at present have technology in place to effectively verify users’ ages, alcohol-related brands are currently barred from participating in its brand pages program.
Twitter, too, has been hesitant to permit the promotion or inclusion of alcohol in its Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends ad program, excluding them from it at first and now cautiously allowing a few very large companies. (It should be noted that Promoted Products are still restricted overall to a few hundred brands. None of the alcohol brands that have been permitted access have bought Twitter ads yet, according to a company spokesman.)

Advertising wine, or even activities that may be related to wine, can be tough on social-media sites like Foursquare and Twitter.
(Credit: CC: Flickr user umbrialovers)
Finger Lakes Wine Country managed to contact Foursquare to resolve the problem, and after explaining that it was a tourist group rather than an organization that actually sells wine, its brand page was reinstated. McLaughlin says she can see where Foursquare was coming from. “It absolutely makes sense, especially when you’re talking about specific businesses that sell and market alcohol. So, yeah, a winery should have its page restricted. Thirteen-year-olds or 15-year-olds probably shouldn’t be thinking about wineries and breweries,” she told CNET. “We’re not a wine marketing company, per se, we’re a destination, and so for some people, especially in legal, that becomes a very hard point of definition.”
Social-media companies like Foursquare do, of course, ask for users’ ages and can theoretically use that to gauge which users are of legal drinking age. But it’s not that easy, explains Ted Zeller, an attorney with law firm Norris McLaughlin and Marcus, P.A. who specializes in alcohol beverage law. “If you’re an alcohol brand, I know of no federal Internet law restrictions as far as advertisements go–the same would be applicable to TV advertisements,” Zeller said. “The problems that you run into are more state-based regulations.”
A few states, like Utah and Pennsylvania–where Zeller, who has represented the Yuengling brewing company in court, is based–have extremely stringent regulations that extend all the way up the alcohol industry’s chain of command from wholesalers to consumer marketing. Foursquare’s hurdle here would be that it would either need to abide by different laws for different states, or put in place overarching age verification and advertising regulations that adhere to even the strictest state laws. “That’s the difficulty,” Zeller said. “It’s a tremendous hurdle from a legal perspective.”
The irony is that social media, given the vast amount of personal information that users are prone to entering into profiles, ought to make things easier for an industry that needs to carefully target its advertising and marketing based on legal restrictions. But that information can be so vast and unverifiable, and a social-networking site’s reach so global, that it can instead get even more complex. Geolocation services like Foursquare, where an essential part of the experience is moving from place to place, crossing state or even international boundaries in the process, brings a whole new piece to the puzzle. In comparison, traditional advertisements–TV ads distributed based on a static television market, ensuring that billboard ads are kept the required distance from churches or schools based on state laws–seem far simpler.
The company that’s perhaps figured this out best is Facebook, which has fine-tuned its targeted display ads so meticulously that it’s been able to put forth a precise set of regulations for alcohol advertisers. Age-based restrictions are in place for multiple countries, as are some outright bans in countries like Egypt, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates, which prohibit alcohol advertising of any type. If a Facebook user has not filled out his or her profile extensively enough to determine age or location, that user will not see any alcohol-related ads. Access to alcohol-related “fan pages” can also be age-restricted.
And some alcohol-related brands have actually taken advantage of restrictions in order to create campaigns that give their brands an elite, “secret club” vibe. Tequila company Patron and beer brand Stella Artois have created, respectively, the “Patron Social Club” and “La Societe Stella Artois,” members-only networking communities that offer perks and promotions in exchange for top-of-the-line age verification.
But when it comes to the most basic and obvious uses of social media–a Foursquare brand page, a promoted tweet on Twitter–the roadblocks can be frustrating for companies ranging from a local winery or brewpub to a mass-market rum company looking to launch a spring break promotion.
“I feel sorry for a lot of these small start-up companies, because the percentage of usage growth is huge, so the companies don’t have the internal infrastructure to be able to deal with these things case by case,” Finger Lakes Wine Country’s Morgen McLaughlin said. “I remember in the beginning with Facebook, I actually got thrown off because I was posting about our new travel guide to too many friends.”
But in spite of the inherent red tape that comes from working with small start-ups in a rigid advertising environment–and the continual need to explain that, no, her company doesn’t sell liquor–social media is where McLaughlin plans to continue focusing. “In 2010, Facebook was the No. 1 Web referral to our Web site outside of organic search, by huge numbers,” she told CNET. “We’ve connected with major wine and travel writers on Twitter. Without those tools, our destination would not be nearly as visible.”




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