A few months ago,an interactive marketing agency with offices in LA and NYC asked us if we could do some “word of mouth” (WOM) marketing for one of their clients.
They wanted to hire our team to “post about the product to message boards and social networks.” Fake promotion. Also known as Astroturfing. The practice I'm referring to here is fake product reviews, comments by people hiding their identity while being paid to comment, or fake “customer” dialogues. It's dirty. So much so that this behavior is now illegal in the EU.
We declined to do the campaign, partly because the product sucked, but mostly because we think lying is a bad idea. Pretending to be someone you are not is not cool.
As you may know, a lot of brands and PR firms engage in this practice. For example, Home Depot recently seems to have done some remodeling on their product reviews. Big brands make big mistakes. Even Coke stumbled.
Are you a marketer thinking about doing some Astroturfing? Go surfing. You'll feel better. Besides, wouldn't your time be better spent building relationships with real customers? You could even talk to them. Maybe consider working with brands that matter to you? Then, when time comes, you don't have to fake it. You can tell the truth. That's organic marketing.
There are countless examples of this nonsense hurting brands. You got some you want to share?
So, Fabric recently finished work on a new web application, PolicyMap.com, and I can't stop playing with it. It's not even a game; it maps geographic data in a layered, easy-to-use map interface. Our main focus was on UX/UI for both the application itself as well as the wrapper site the application resides on.
Just enter an address and start researching the demographics - income, school test scores, crime data, etc, etc. Anyone who owns a home, is thinking of buying a home, knows someone who owns a home, knows someone who is thinking of buying a home, or you've just plain been inside a home… you'll probably immediately see the value of this application.
I don't know why I can't stop. It started with looking up all the statistics of my own neighborhood. I clicked on almost every possible data layer. How much money are my neighbors making? How much money should I be making to stay juuuuuust above average? Should I worry about my car getting jacked? What if someone decides I should have kids? Will they grow up intellectually stunted because my particular school system values snack foods over music education? I've probably spent over an hour just researching my particular block. And believe me, I know exactly - precisely - which statistics to spit at you to make my neighborhood seem like the place you should be living.
But, wait! What if you're already living in a great neighborhood?! I started looking up my friends neighborhoods. Dammit! Their block has less old people living on it! I've memorized the exact set of data precisely calibrated to send every close friend I have into a wracking fit of sobbing. It's awesome.
Also, my girlfriend makes me look up the neighborhoods I really, really should be living in…
How many times per week do you ask your friends: “Where are you?” There is no doubt social networking on your mobile phone is a big opportunity. According to Emarketer, the size of this market is expanding fast. 800 million people will be using their phones as mobile networking devices by 2012. (It was about 82 million in 2007).
So, who's playing in this market? Who's worth your (limited) attention? Here's a few that might kick up some dust:
Sniffu. Really? That's one of the worst names I've heard in a while. While the name sucks, they got some things right. I like the value proposition. It makes immediate sense. I also like that they don't seem to be trying to do too much. Keeping it simple. Their “Safety” page clearly illustrates the big issue all of these companies face: “Do people really want other people to know where they are in real time?”
Dodgeball is an established player in start-up terms. Odd name. Not certain I get it. On the positive side, they did some good work on the user interface to explain what it is. I think the experience can be improved by giving the user more control of the animations.
Loopt got their partnerships down. Last week, they did a deal with Yelp. This makes a lot of sense for established and new Yelp users. Loopt is in a good position to make some moves. It works on 80+ phones, which I think is a real critical factor to success.
Next2Friends: Decent design. I found it interesting that these guys are funded by Simon - a real estate company. Why? Well, they own a bunch of malls, so they might possibly be making a play for mall-rats. “I'm in the store! Come see me while i try on some new boots!”
Their “Proximity Tagging” uses P2P Bluetooth to connect and record relative matches to other users and businesses that you come into close proximity to. Smart play for a real estate company. However, they have to be careful with the user experience. Make it too commercially driven and they risk alienating users.
Zannel is all about life-streaming. Share your pictures and video. Unfortunately, they stuff the UI with Google ads. This ruins it for me. Sorry lads and ladies. That's not the way to go. Please, let's see less - not more - clutter.
Radar has done a really nice job on their interface. Smart and clean design. For many users, photos drives sharing. Radar gets it.
Plazes Back in 2007, I wrote a post about them here. I wasn't too happy about their user experience at the time. They fixed it and they just got acquired by Nokia last month. That means this is possibly the gorilla to watch. Coming out of Berlin, Plazes is still a bit German-centric and, as with all mobile social networks , that's a challenge if you live in Los Angeles (or any other US city).
Another player in this space seems to be Brightkite, who seems to be in private BETA. I've not tried it yet, but I'll give it a run once I get access.
Everything is changing fast. Advertising, media, marketing, content, and context. We think social media is at the center of it all. So, what to do? Jump in. Don't sit back. If you’re not sure what to do, don’t think about it. Just do something. It will likely be better than doing nothing.
That’s our attitude anyway. Just do something. Here are some things you can do to engage:
Get a Facebook account and use it. Why? You’ll find old friends. People you forgot. Those geeks in your class you forgot about. Oh, yeah, they are now running cool companies and doing amazing stuff.
Use LinkedIn. Yeah, it works. 20 million business people can’t be wrong. You must know someone, right?
Get the new iPhone. The mobile Web has arrived.
Try www.Summize.com. See what the Buzz is about.
What are you waiting for?
We got our act together (sort of) and launched our new site. Yes, we have been busy with clients. Yes, we have hired great people. And, it is true, we are changing everything. Regardless, there shall be no more excuses. Bang! We are alive.
We’ll slip you a few pills before New Years. No, really, we will.
30 Days is on the road again – this time we have a big surprise for you. A highly respected ad agency in NYC just hired us to do a cool project for the City. A truly great Art Director just joined us in Los Angeles.
Oh, we just finished a project for Tampax. Yep. You heard it here first.
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