Amazon at 15, Facebook at 500 Million

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Three, if you believe this guy, is the magic number. Yet for Amazon, the site that changed online shopping, and Facebook, the site that forever altered social media, 15 and 500 million, respectively, seem to be pretty awesome numbers, too.

On Friday, Amazon turned 15 years old. Launched into the public collective in 1995, Amazon has had a bumpy, memorable and ultimately game-changing 15 years. For starters, let’s give Amazon a round of applause for saving Christmas. Many a retail smack down has been avoided during the holidays thanks to Amazon. Bookstores, however, suffered big time thanks in large part to Amazon. Why toddle on over for the latest Harry Potter when Amazon can bring it right to you? Only the toughest book retailers survived as Amazon unleashed the Kindle on the world and, thanks to an Oprah endorsement, once again changed the way we read.

Yet I’d argue one of the biggest changes Amazon helped usher in was the way books are marketed. Thanks to Amazon’s customer reviews, publishers and authors knew what readers thought of their books days after they were released. Publishers were pushed into action to provide Amazon and other sites with maximum information and author interviews if they wanted their titles to be found on the massive inventory. Authors soon were expected use social media to connect with their readers and help market their books. Amazon paved the way for DIY marketing and for companies directly talking to their bread and butter.

By the time this blog is published, Facebook will have reached 500 million users. It’s an impressive yet slippery slope for the social media giant. This colossal success has been met with even bigger criticism ranging from the paranoiac to the sociological. However, Facebook has changed marketing, too, like Amazon. Social media advertising and upkeep is now its own industry thanks mainly to Facebook. But the question now is what’s next? Marketers wonder if the social media well is nearly dry as Facebook starts to dip in the all-important 18-24 demographic. Facebook itself is highly addictive and fascinating to watch so it’s befitting that the inner-workings of the conglomerate are equally as thought provoking.

So whaddya think? What was the first thing you bought from Amazon? Did Amazon kill books or save books? And is the tidal wave of Facebook popularity destined to be met with a tsunami of backlash? Spill it in the comments section below!

Radio Rocks On!

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Old Spice’s YouTube responses, albeit clever and buzzed about, will not be discussed in this blog today. Nor will I be the 47 millionth writer to kick the iPhone 4 where it hurts. That’s because the biggest news in media, online marketing and social media is”¦ wait for it – radio.

That’s right, cowboys and cowgirls. The little fuzzy sounding square where you used to listen to Doctor Demento is back. In truth, radio never left; rather, it has morphed into a do-it-yourself media tool that is accessible to everyone and, as it turns out, listened to by millions.

Yesterday the Guardian ran a piece about how smart phones have revitalized radio in the UK. A recent survey found that 20 percent of all smart phone users surveyed have a radio app installed on their phones. The same report says that 31 percent of all radio listeners listen to it online while 16 percent have downloaded a podcast. This is big news globally as well, since podcasts are now receiving bigger numbers and downloads and keeping up with streaming radio.

The comeback could be attributed to a lot of things. Primarily, I see it as the same anti-media media that YouTube belongs to. Online folks want to pick out their stations and not have a lot of corporate mumbo jumbo. The popularity of the iPhone NPR app is a testament to that. While many online stations and podcast have sponsored blocks, they are far less frequent and annoying than traditional radio.

For marketers, radio is good news. Online radio advertising rates are ridiculously low. Plus many offer options like sponsoring full hours or even entire days with multiple brand references. The other great marketing possibility of radio is that now small businesses can even start their own stations and podcasts that social media followers and newsletter readers can tap into.

Consider this all an after-effect of the Clear Channel domination of radio more than a decade ago. Now advertisers and marketers aren’t being told there is only one way to have a presence on radio. We’re being told that radio has infinite marketing possibilities just waiting for us to grab them.

But don’t touch that dial! Let’s hear from you now. What are some of the Internet radio stations you listen to during your workday (I’m a big fan of wherewolfradio.com)? What’s your dream radio station sound like? And lastly, any advice you want to disperse to the rest of us about radio marketing? What’s your frequency, Kenneth? Sound off in the comments section below!

5 Things You Might Have Missed List

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Another weekly round up shout out to web findings that are helpful, interesting or perhaps, like the great TLC once said, Crazy Sexy Cool.

1.) Square Biz for Small Biz – This straightforward guide for small businesses on how to successfully integrate Foursquare into their social media marketing plans is a great read and may have passed you by when it was published earlier this month. Covered here are the basics of Foursquare, brand preservation, fan and user reward programs and how to use Foursquare’s dashboards and business tools. Foursquare is an emerging social media channel and this article starts the conversation on how we all can tap into it. Thanks, Suite 101, for some good food for thought. One might even call it a “square meal.”

2.) Lemonade Stand 2.0 – Here’s a distinctly modern twist on an old summertime favorite: I stumbled upon the organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand that encourages people around the country to start lemonade stands to help raise money for childhood cancer. They’ve been around for more than a decade; now they’re using Twitter to spread the word about events and to interact with supporters. It’s an inspiring business model for non-profits using social media. From your church bake sale to your Girl Scout cookie showdown, blending social media with non-profit agendas provides endless possibilities.

3.) Alternative Outsourcing – This is a mind-opening piece on CNN.com about how certain companies are suing small, economically-challenged states like Arkansas for outsourcing labor and technical jobs. While not the usual techy fun that we devour here at Brandsplat, the piece throws down the gauntlet to inspire big and small companies alike to find answers in our own backyard.

4.) Make a Walrus Playdate – Now for something just goofy and fun, here’s this commercial! Vigorsol Cult picked up steam this week on a variety of sites and it’s worth posting here. Why? Because who doesn’t love a patty-cake playing, pimp-slapping walrus? I know I do.

5.) Brandsplat Report-Live From Big Sur! – Call it a little shameless cross promotion but this week’s edition is worth a look if you haven’t seen it. YouTube leanback, sometimes daily.com, and Asian reenactments are all to be found in this episode. Plus there’s pretty scenery and a cameo by some vocal birdies!

Online Brand Makeovers Aren’t Just For Superheroes

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Great Hera! There has been a rash of online branding makeovers happening this summer. The message is clear: if your brand’s new-and-improved image is something people will buzz about, it will translate to sales. For evidence of this, look no further than Wonder Woman.

She of the invisible jet and the shoddy stepchild treatment from DC Comics made international web news when photos of her new look and image hit the Internet. Hipsters applauded the sassy jacket and tough chick demeanor. Purists cried foul. Even Fox News wondered if Wonder Woman wasn’t being forced into looking less patriotic. All of this talk was good news for a brand that hasn’t generated much buzz since Lynda Crater spun her into television history over 30 years ago. The Amazon princess turned out to be a real goddess at the comic book store, too. Wonder Woman #600, at the time of this blog, has entered its second printing and breaking sales records. Sure, people are still kvetching about the look and new origin storyline, but it doesn’t matter. DC took a risk and it paid off.

True, not all of us have the PR juggernauts of Time-Warner behind us, just waiting to promote the heck out of our latest brand makeover. But every small business can infuse its trusted brand with something new and newsworthy. As seen via Wonder Woman, if we offer our customer base something new, then media will pick up on it. If your cafe is offering a new online menu, for example, send out digital press releases to let food bloggers know about the changes. Likewise, if your technical company is starting a groundbreaking service, alert the tech geeks (pronto!). Social media is great for new campaign and brand makeovers. Your Facebook page can instantly update your already faithful following to watch for exciting changes. Facebook is a great way to test-run and get feedback on new products and campaigns that your company is working on. Lastly, all of your already-in-place digital marketing avenues can be put into play for fresh, exciting visual campaigns or announcements of recently-updated websites.

How do you, dear Brandsplat readers, feel about the new Wonder Woman? Do you have a digital makeover in the works? If so, how will online branding and social media make your latest venture a talked-about hit? Tell us in the comments below!

The Agony of DeTweet: When Twitter Gets Us Into Trouble

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The recent dismissal of CNN International correspondent Octavia Nasr is a lesson on watching what we tweet. The long-respected journalist, who many consider one of the few voices during the days after September 11th who provided in-depth and non-biased news, recently was fired for one single tweet. On Sunday, July 4, Nasr tweeted, “Sad to hear the passing Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Nasr was talking about the death of a head figure in Hezbollah, an organization labeled as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Her simple tweet, meant to pay respect to one of the few Middle East leaders known for his support of Muslim women, was seen as support for terrorists. By the time the holiday weekend was long gone, so was Nasr’s job at CNN. Despite a follow-up tweet by Nasr to clarify her point and support from long-time journalism colleagues, Nasr has been shoved into the anti-American column. Whether or not we agree with the reactions that have flooded the blogs since Nasr’s Fourth of July tweet, we can all learn a thing or two when it comes to Twitter messages.

The big problem with Twitter is that you only have 140 characters to make your point. Therefore what could be misconstrued as controversial political remarks or thoughts on religion or anything else that might need a few thousand more words to explain should perhaps be left off of Twitter entirely. This is a great rule of thumb if you’re using Twitter as a PR or professional marketing channel. It’s simply bad business to shove political messages down the throats of clients. Quite frankly, clients don’t care what we think about the oil spill, the war or Hezbollah. Twitter is fun, light, social. If you want to spread the word about your pet causes, find another outlet to do it. This being said, it is unfortunate that we live in such reactionary times where a journalist like Octavia Nasr could have her career ended by a single mistweet.

The Facebook Privacy Debate Rages On

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While we clickety-clacked on our keyboards, relentlessly checking our e-mail and social media inboxes, Internet data tracker-types noticed something strange: For the first time in its history, Facebook’s ever-dominating growth suddenly petered out. The site added a mere 320,000 new U.S. users in June, down from the nearly 8 million in May. So why the drastic drop? According to this piece at PCWorld.com, the bad press swirling around Facebook and its security issues may have scared off Facebook virgins in droves. Even more surprising is that Facebook’s bread and butter demographic – 18- to 44-year-olds – kindly said “no, thank you” to the site. This coveted group of users was down about 150,000 from the previous month. The privacy story hit like a tornado, appearing everywhere from ABC’s Good Morning America to CNN. The fear is that one day Facebook may hand over user information to potential advertisers.

According to this Wall Street Journal story, that day may be just around the corner. The article announces a new ad platform that Facebook will use to supply big companies with your information depending on whether you’ve mentioned them on your Facebook page. For example, if you love Pepsi and say so on Facebook, this new platform will customize ads to your page. Some call it a brand loyalty advertising platform, while others are saying that Facebook is crossing the line.

But what does any of this mean for marketers and small businesses? Honestly? Not much. It doesn’t really matter if you ethically agree or disagree with Facebook’s privacy policies. You can disagree with the power of the thing. But Facebook remains the one-stop social networking destination for PR, advertising, client communications and campaign launches. What does matter is protecting yourself and your business/clients. So in lieu of hoping that Facebook will stop pimping out your information (because that’s not happening. Ever.), we have to thoughtfully post on Facebook pages. Running Facebook pages for clients means that we take care of their image and don’t leave them prey to a bunch of spam. For individuals, less is more with Facebook. Leaving off your work information, what you like to eat and where you shop will prevent you from becoming demographics roadkill.

But where do you darlings stand on this debate? Will breach of privacy bring Facebook to its knees? Any nightmare social networking privacy stories you’d like to share with the class? And, lastly, should the government step in to monitor social media like the FCC does television? Debate your behinds off below!