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Who Do You Trust?

Without trust, the Internet would consume itself like a dying star.

Think about everything you do on the Internet, and imagine what it would be like if the world we live in—with copyright laws, consumer protection against fraud, and other regulations—simply did not exist in cyberspace.

The easy, free-flow of information and anonymity that make the Internet so appealing is also perhaps its biggest threat.

Stealing private information, lifting of copyrighted material, and spamming by remaining invisible, are all rampant on the Internet. And just like in the war against terrorism, every time the enemy develops a new way to attack, the “good guys” will scramble to invent new ways to thwart these cyber-threats.

Referring to technology that helps identify people online, Caterina Fake, VP of marketing at Flikr says, “Going forward, trust (will be) the thing that makes the Internet possible. Reputation management will be more and more important.”

And it’s not only individuals or insignificant players getting caught up in the fray. Just last week, a French court found Google in violation of copyright laws for scanning protected books, and fined the company 10,000 Euros ($14,300) per day.

As the Internet keeps evolving and the rules keep changing, we’ll continue to see new technology and legal battles aimed at protecting order as we know it in the “real world,” out there, in cyberspace. Along the way, individuals and companies will push the envelope, battles will be waged, and if we are fortunate, the delicate balance between freedom and rights will be maintained.

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Looking forward to 2012

The Obama campaign made national news headlines when it promised to first announce its pick for Vice President to its followers via text message. Some, including his opponent, chided then Senator Obama for using mobile technology. “I hope his fans know you can’t text-vote for president like you can for ‘American Idol,'” Michael Palmer, McCain’s eCampaign director, told ABCNews.com.

However, the Obama campaign went on to make these naysayers eat their words. The campaign found success using new media and technology to accomplish mission-critical objectives, and its new media team’s mantra became “message, money, and mobilization.”

While the role of the Internet and mobile technology in driving home the campaign’s message and generating donations are well documented, probably the least written about but most important strategy was the campaign’s ability to leverage technology to mobilize organizers, volunteers, and ultimately, voters.

Online tools at My.BarackObama.com or MyBO gave organizers Web-based tools like Neighbor to Neighbor to build bases of supporters and volunteers in areas of the country where the campaign had none. Basically, organizers were able to pull this support together in advance, online, so that the campaign could arrive in a state and command a newly assembled army of supporters.

In addition to helping organize support, a rich, fully integrated database—without geographic barriers—solved a perennial problem in elections. Reports, offering up-to-the minute quantititive and qualitative data, were available to campaign’s leaders—right up to the top—without interference or interpretation from a host of middle-men.

This direct connection with literally millions of people on the ground gave Obama an advantage his opponent could not overcome. And in the end, it forever changed the way elections will be waged.

I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings.

Vail Resorts, one of North America’s largest vacation companies with annual revenue of nearly $1 billion, points to the economy and the emergence of social media as the main reasons they’ve done a 180 on their advertising strategy.

“Everthing that we thought of, in terms of how we will use media a year, a year and a half ago, is totally different today. All of a sudden, now there is this entirely new medium that no one has a road map for, and that’s social media,” reports CEO Rob Katz.

In the ski vacation industry, video sells the product incredibly well. Especially at the beginning of the season, skiers love to indulge in watching “ski porn,” or high-action images of skiers shooting down the mountainside with with powder flyng. Social media is the perfect way to get those videos out there. Further into the season, video can put the skier on the mountain by streaming what’s happening live that day.

And the travel industry is changing from one where vacationers book trips months in advance to one where booking weeks in advance is becoming the norm. This is partly fueled by economic uncercainties, but also by the last minute deals that have become the staple of the travel industry. Companies like Vail Resorts are finding long term media like print magazines, which require committing to an ad four to six months in advance, just don’t cut it anymore.

Last year, Vail resorts reduced its print budget by 80% and is now holding this cash in reserve for last-minute, social media marketing. According to Katz, this change in strategy has totally compressed the marketing decision making time. He reports the company now operates on a week-by-week calendar almost like a political campaign. Newspaper, Web display ads or search engine marketing still work well with this fast-turn marketing. However brand or “glamour” ads, which once required the company to make a decision about the marketing strategy and message early and live with it for the whole season, have been almost completely cut.

In this new game, the go-to play is the blitz, and the mantra is, “Wait for it, wait for it…”

Get Hired Like Hal

Who is Hal Thomas? And how did he end up on the cover of Wired magazine?

Truth is, Hal Thomas is not a social media guru being touted as the latest and greatest thing by the media. At least not yet. Although his new job at BFG Communications may be the ideal launching point for such lofty career aspirations. In fact, his unique approach to earning a new position was covered by MSNBC and other blogs. And of course, Thomas wrote about it in his own blog, brand aid.

The mock magazine cover pictured above was part of Thomas’ winning job search strategy that included Twitter, Photoshop, and a successful blog.

BFG had Tweeted to candidates, asking them to skip the cover letter and resume in its recent search for an assistant content manager. And Thomas’ creative response won him the job.

Does this mean that resumés are now passé? That Twitter is a panacea–the future means most companies and candidates will use to connect? Not likely. But for a communications firm looking for a social media savvy employee, what could possibly make more sense?

If you’re setting your sites on a new job in new media in the new year, check out this BFG’s blog for a sampling of candidates’ responses. (A word to the wise: just as college career counselors instruct students to be careful about what employers might see or read about them on Facebook and Twitter, with social media, apparently job applicant confidentiality is now out the window!)

Perfect Brand Harmony

Does anyone remember the book, All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulgham? Well, as much as I like that book, I’ve always believed that everything I ever needed to know I’ve learned from riding dressage. What does this have to do with social media, you ask? Hang with me for a couple of paragraphs and I’ll explain.

Dressage, an Olympic sport, is a little like ballet on horseback. Typically, we ride powerful, large, athletic horses. These equine athletes tend to be spunky, and many have strong opinions of their own.

The ultimate goal in dressage is to “dance” with your horse in near-perfect harmony, preferably with the rider leading and the horse following. Yet much advice given to riders focuses on control. Many times in a lesson, I’ve heard a trainer shout out, “More control!”

One how-to article I read stood out among the others. This author wisely suggested we replace the word “control” with “influence.” By trying to control the horse, we ride mechanically, with an unwilling partner. But by using patience in training and subtle, rhythmic aids (cues), we influence the horse, and begin to develop loyal, willing partners rather than submissive robots.

Here is where the story turns to social media. Some companies are afraid of social media because they fear they can’t control the customer or the conversation. But much like trying to control a 1200-pound animal, these companies never really did have as much control over their customers as they thought they did.

Companies need to let go of this illusion of control, and start working on a give-and-take relationship with their customers. Like good dressage riders, they need to think in terms of influencing with subtle cues, and of building loyalty and partnership over the long run, rather than demanding quick results.

In dressage, at the end of the day, correct riders are separated from the rest with the reward of beautiful, harmonious partnerships with their horses.

I believe that social media will have a similar impact on marketers, separating the truly great brands from the ones that never really got it. As great brands, we need to ask our customers to dance with us, and in the end they will do so gladly because they want to, not because they have to.

How Big is Huge?

New media. Emerging media. Social media. Unless you’ve been living on a remote glacier in the Arctic, you’re constantly hearing about just how huge this phenomenon is, how fast it’s growing, and how much you’re losing out on if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon.

If you’ve ever wondered just how fast, and how much, and how many—users, views, videos, Tweets, posts and texts are really flying around out there, check out this list of new media stats and links compiled by new media blogger Gary Hayes, author of Personalize Media:

  • 20 hours of video uploaded every minute onto YouTube (source YouTube blog Aug 2009)
  • Facebook 600k new members per day, and photos, videos per month, 700mill & 4 mill respectively (source Inside Facebook Feb 2009)
  • Twitter 18 million new users per year & 4 million tweets sent daily (source TechCrunch Apr 2009)
  • iPolicy UK – SMS messaging has a bright future (Aug 2009)
  • 900 000 blogs posts put up every day (source Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2009) (Note: Link and stat updated by author.)
  • YouTube daily, 96 million videos watched, $1mill bandwidth costs (source Comscore Jul 2006)
  • UPDATE: YouTube 1Billion watched per day SMH (2009)- counter updated!
  • Second Life 250k virtual goods made daily, text messages 1250 per second (source Linden Lab release Sep 2009)
  • Money – $5.5 billion on virtual goods (casual & game worlds) even Facebooks gifts make $70 million annually (source Viximo Aug 2009)
  • Flickr has 73 million visitors a month who upload 700 million photos (source Yahoo Mar 2009)

If these numbers aren’t enough to make you want to sprint–not walk–into new media, you should probably seriously consider retirement.

@bobby_jo-jo Hey, you in the red jumper. Don’t you just love snack time?

@jo-jo_bobby Luv the gingerbread. What are these crazy new toys they gave us?

@bobby_jo-jo They big ones call it a Twoddler. What a stupid name!

@jo-jo_bobby So right. LOL!

@bobby_jo-jo Catch you later. I need to Tweet my mommy.

If developers in Belgium are successful with their new prototype, this conversation, or more likely, a much-simplified version of it, could start taking place in preschools everywhere.

The Twoddler, built on a Fisher Price Activity Center chassis, features buttons with pictures of Mom and Dad or even playmates, along with buttons that produce lights and sounds. Pre-defined messages are sent via the todddler’s Twitter account (yes, that’s right, little Bobby will have his own social media address), to a loved one when he interacts with that button for a period of time.

Messages like “@bobby_mommy Bobby misses mommy and looks forward to playing with her this evening” are likely candidates. Now, parents can experience guilt and separation anxiety electronically, 24/7, from any location.

The toy also has the potential for kids, in say a preschool setting, to interact by pressing a button that will result in a colored, blinking light going off on a playmate’s Twoddle. Anybody want to party?

If you’re mumbling to yourself that this must be the dumbest invention since the Snuggy, you might be interested to know the Twoddler is the winner of a prestigious award. The prototype beat out around 40 other submissions to win the 2009 Innovative and Creative Applications competition for its potential to combine hardware and software to bring communication and interaction to the non-verbal.

Does anyone else see Tweeting pets on the horizon?