Will Facebook / WhatsApp mark the end of the “App Bubble” like AOL/Time Warner marked the end of dotcom?

facebook whatsapp - Google SearchMany agree that Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp is the perfect representation of just how disjointed the market is. Where a company that has a flimsy monetization strategy can finagle 19x more out of Facebook than any of their previous acquisitions combined. The last most notably being Instagram for $1 billion in April 2012. Mark Zuckerberg calls this a bargain while the rest of the world, particularly the financial sector, looks on with skepticism.

So how can a messaging app, who’s main function is to provide an amalgamation of  features similar to existing apps, sell for $19 billion dollars? There is all kinds of speculation as to the answer but at least this much is true:  WhatsApp users send 600 million pictures a day. 1 million more than Facebook. 70% of WhatsApp users engage on a daily basis. Facebook sees a 50-60% daily engagement rate. WhatsApp has a strong presence in emerging markets such as Latin America and India while Facebook does not. Lastly, WhatsApp has seen a user growth rate even greater than Facebook’s astronomical growth. Which of these reasons most heavily influenced Facebook’s decision is impossible to know unless you are on the inside, but it’s likely they all factored in to some degree.

whatsapp vs facebook growth - Google Search-1 whatsapp global use - Google Search

What does this mean for the app ecosystem? There is speculation that this will ultimately crash and burn sending Facebook into a tailspin, evoking memories of the AOL / Time Warner deal that marked the end of the Dot-com boom. The major difference here is that WhatsApp, like many other high price tag apps, actually provides a utility, which is to say it adds value. That value may come in the form of saved time or money, better pictures, easier sharing, faster connectivity or more accurate geo-location, whatever the case may be, people find value and they continue to use these apps at a staggering rate.

Whether this acquisition ultimately helps or hurts Facebook is anyone’s guess but irregardless, the app ecosystem is only going to continue getting stronger. If this particular deal does fail it will mean that greater emphasis will be placed on due diligence upfront, in other words, more assurances the app has a working and sustainable monetization strategy. If the WhatsApp deal works out on the other hand, Facebook will undoubtedly try to make similar purchases, perhaps equal to or greater in value. Apps will work to replicate the WhatsApp model, even if that means a barrage of apps that all look and feel very similar to end users – though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Competition breeds quality and as long as app makers can continue to produce apps that provide quality utility to end users, then the app ecosystem will remain firmly in tact.

Pinterest…Where Are All The brands?

After having launched just over two years ago, Pinterest is increasingly becoming integrated into our social vocabulary. True, the demographic still skews older and female, and the launch might not have been as buzzed about as other social platforms such as Foursquare, but the growth rate and amount of time spent onsite is staggering. By now this isn’t a secret to consumers or brand advertisers, so why aren’t brands effectively leveraging Pinterest or incorporating the platform into their digital marketing strategy? In the 25 months since it’s inception, Pinterest has gone from generating 1% to 17% of social media revenue. This still pales in comparison to Facebook’s 82%, but it dwarfs Twitter’s 1% and if other social platforms have taught us anything, it will likely continue to grow at a rapid rate. This only further begs the question – “Where are all the brands?”

Currently the top brand on Pinterest is Perfect Palette, a wedding blog providing color palette recommendations for brides-to-be. Perfect Palette has almost 250,000 followers while the next brands are a distant second. Real Simple and HGTV have 100,000 and 50,000 brand followers respectively. This is a drop in the bucket when compared to the number of followers the top brands on Facebook had amassed after two years.

Take Procter and Gamble for example. With brands like Tide, Febreze, Pampers and Swiffer clearly targeting women as their core demographic, Pinterest presents the perfect platform through which to promote brand advocacy, grow affinity and inspire purchase. The potential to harness communal value, then using it to generate momentum behind a product is tremendous. Add to that, Facebook and Twitter integration points and you have the ability as a brand advertiser, to maximize impact and exposure across multiple social touchpoints.

Buyers referred from Pinterest are 10% more likely to buy something and spend 10% more on average than visitors who arrive from other social networks. Pinterest takes the best of Facebook and creates a simple amalgamation of social features. Sleek design and nice visuals coupled with brief captions, provide the ideal type of platform to host a variety of indirect advertising rarely used as effectively. To further validate this, a branded pin without price is twice as likely to be shared than the same pin with a price. Right now one of the most liked and re-pinnned items on Pinterest is a bra with iPhone pocket aptly named the Joey Bra.  An end user on Pinterest can not only like or repin the bra, but they can also click-through to purchase on the brand’s site.

JoeyBra featured on Pinterest
JoeyBra site, linked to from Pinterest
JoeyBra site, linked to from Pinterest

It’s only a matter of time before an influx of brands bombard Pinterest, similar to the way they did Facebook. With that in mind, it’s prime time for marketers to capitalize on the lack of clutter. A smart brand would make Pinterest a key component in its social strategy.  A highly visual integrated campaign, leveraging the connectivity with Facebook and Twitter to share out content from Pinterest and then link back to it, would be ideal. The way Pinterest lends itself to recommendations and the ease at which those recommendations can be shared while closing the loop to purchase, is an example of the functionality and UI so many other platforms are trying to create or evolve to. That said, at least for now we can appreciate Pinterest for what it is, while at the same time, preparing for what’s to come.

MEMBER CELEBRITIES PART II: Real World Examples of Brand Advocacy Evolved

I was in Houston two weeks ago meeting with clients and speaking at the Houston Social Media Club Breakfast. I was reading USA Today (under the hotel door addition) the morning before my speech and I saw an article that perfectly validates the impact and importance of Member Celebrities. With that in mind, I wrote this to serve as an addendum to my previous Member Celebrity post.

Two weeks ago the New Jersey Devils stole a term from NASA (and Gatorade) and launched what they are calling Mission Control. Mission Control is a “social media hub” within the team’s headquarters in the Prudential Center. This social media hub is really a state-of-the-art media room that will serve as the nerve center for team related social media creation. The coolest thing about this story isn’t Mission Control, but rather the fact that the Devils have literally given the keys to this room to 25 of their biggest fans. So the duality of Mission Control is that it’s serving as a social media hub and the ultimate reward for some very lucky Member Celebrities (the Devils call them Army Generals). Below is a step-by-step guide to creating and promoting successful Member Celebrities who are impactful to your brand.

Step 1. Identify your biggest fans:

With the right tools and strategy, this is the easy part – The Devils do it by holding a contest. Essentially the team is looking for a way to hone in on fans who are brand advocates and very active in the social space.  The Devils’ goal was to choose 7-10 people, but they ended up with 25 due to the sheer volume of quality entries. These fans are what I call Member Celebrities and they are the evolution of brand advocates (see my previous blog post for a more detailed explanation).

Step 2. Provide a platform:

Your Member Celebrities need an official platform that they can leverage for content creation and distribution. Giving Member Celebrities admin rights to a Facebook page doesn’t count. If you are using Facebook you need to enable Member Celebs with the right tools such as community functionality built into a Facebook tab or community tools on the homepage of your brand’s domain site. These Member Celebs are responsible for content creation on the brand’s behalf and the brand is responsible for content curation.  (Brand as the curator is becoming a very en voue topic as of late – if you don’t believe me – Google it or check out the BeanCast – you’re welcome Bob)

Step 3. Communicate content creation plan:

One thing that differentiates Member Celebrities from brand advocates is that the brand is in direct communication with a Member Celebrity and the brand develops a content creation plan that the Member Celeb is trained to follow (the Devils have daily meetings at Mission Control). The idea here isn’t to detract from the authenticity of the content, but rather to provide the Member Celebrities with a set of guidelines and to set expectations. Most Member Celebrities aren’t professional writers, bloggers, marketers or advertisers, although they are socially savvy, they aren’t necessarily brand savvy, so this is a way to educate them on the brand’s voice as well as general marketing principles to ensure they stay on-brand.

Step 4. Broadcast UGC to key social and digital touchpoints:

Another key differentiator between brand advocates and Member Celebrities is that a Member Celebrity’s content is broadcast outside the community. Brand advocate conversation is featured in a community such as Kraftfirsttaste.com but you can’t find it on any affiliate sites or the social web. This is a mistake. This is exactly the kind of content that should be featured on affiliate or partner sites. From Facebook and Twitter, to ad banners and even at offline events like the Prudential Center Jumbo-tron, broadcast your Member Celebs.

Step 5. Reward Participation:

The last step involves rewards. True: many fans would consider just being a Member Celebrity reward enough, but it’s important to build a level of exclusivity. You want other fans to covet the role of the Member Celebrity. Other fans can publish team or brand related content, they just aren’t doing it from an official platform, account, handle etc. In other words, you need to give Member Celebrities a little something extra to set them apart from the average fan. In the case of the Devil Member Celebs, it’s access to team facilities, locker rooms, players, iPads, plus free tickets and box seats for certain events.

Just one month after introducing Mission Control and Member Celebrities, fan growth along with interaction and engagement on Facebook, Twitter and the Devils’ community, has grown in double digits. The Member Celebs even took it upon themselves to organize an unofficial Tweetup that 50 people attended. The Devils will officially sponsor this event in the future and it is sure to draw more fans, but the key takeaway here is that this serves as a great proofpoint for Mission Control and the Success of Member Celebrities. Whether you are building a new community or doing an audit of your current community, consider how you can use Member Celebrities to elevate advocacy and drive engagement. Make your community members your biggest asset. They will thank you for it.

KickApps Rocks Social Media Week

I’m not usually into shameless plugs but it would be a travesty not to recognize the KickApps Dev team for putting together an exemplary social media experience for Social Media Week. From livestream video in multiple cities, to the interactive map, real-time Twitter stream and share functionality it really looks and functions superbly.

Also check out Alan Wolk moderating the Offense / Defense panel tonight at JWT at 6 p.m.

Below is a link to the Facebook page so you can see what I am talking about.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Social-Media-Week-New-York/165112893507912?v=app_4949752878

Webinar Tomorrow: Social Media Integration

I will be presenting a webinar tomorrow here at the KickApps Union Square office. The webinar is entitled “No Social Site is an Island: The Key to Social Media Integration.”

We will be discussing the digital revolution and how that has impacted online behavior, necessitating an integrated social media strategy and a move towards fully socially integrated sites.

The webinar will be available for download later this week.

Social Selling: How to Make Social Impact Your Bottom Line

2011 marks a new year and another chance to examine the evolution of social strategy. In working with brands from a consultative perspective,  it’s very interesting to note the changes in their social strategies, content creation plans and especially social benchmarks in comparison to last year’s. Last year it was all about the undefined. It was social strategists and marketers trying to convince the c-suite to pull money from existing buckets with proven ROI models and invest it in a rapidly emerging, but still unproven medium of social media. 2010 was really the first year that the majority of businesses and brands actually set aside a bucket for social. BUT, and this is a big BUT, they did so without having any solid ROI model or meaningful business metrics.

Jets fans gathered for a rally in Times Square Thursday in anticipation of Gang Green’s AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Yes we got a million Facebook fans last year.” “Yes we were @mentioned 5 million times on Twitter.” “Yes we’ve got unerring positive sentiment.” “Yes to all the above.” But when we break this down and look at how all the social media buzz is impacting our bottom line, it becomes a very difficult question to answer. In the past it was, “we know we need to put up a Facebook page as quickly as possible” and now it’s, “we have a Facebook page but how can we use it to make money?” Luckily we’ve made it this far but we’re still not taking the time to really think through the answer in a smart way that we can prove time and again. Part of the reason is because there isn’t a true set of globally accepted metrics – but trust me, we’ll be there soon.

In the meantime it’s all about strategy. Brands need to start treating social strategy like they would marketing or any other strategy. No savvy marketer would ever pump a million dollars into a marketing strategy without some semblance of what the return would look like, but this is exactly what’s happening with social.

Okay. So what does this all mean? It means we need to get back to selling – SOCIAL SELLING. Essentially it’s all about adding real marketing messaging that will drive people to purchase and then (now this will really blow your mind) enabling them to do so. This should be the core of your social strategy unless you are cause based.

People know that even though brands have created fun and engaging experiences on Facebook, look at Oreo, Starburst, Vevo, Red Bull, Ford, MTV, Starbucks and the list goes on and on, but at the end of the day the consumer isn’t stupid and they know a brand really wants them to BUY something.

Many of these brands have great social experiences, games or apps but they aren’t getting anything meaningful and measurable in return. This can only go on for so long before the c-suite says, “Alright ACME marketers, you have 16.5 million fans on Facebook but you don’t have any meaningful analytics that will prove this is really impacting my bottom line.”

This probably sounds familiar and to put it into perspective using a real world example, lets look at a professional sports team that is using social media to drive sales, establish itself as a leader in it’s space and most importantly, impact it’s bottom line. I am talking about the New York JETS and the Wall Street Journal has a great write-up on them in today’s issue. The JETS are doing extremely well with all the social intangibles (“intangibles” means social metrics that don’t necessarily have an impact on ROI) such as social mentions; they lead the NFL with 1 million; twitter following, they have the largest; and Facebook fans, they have the third most among NFL teams.  These are all great stats but the JETS are also excelling at something most other teams and brands for that matter haven’t figured out, SOCIAL SELLING.

Here are some ways the team is using social to generate revenue and directly impact it’s bottom line (taken directly from the WSJ article) “The team’s Fireman Ed Chant app ($1.99) is the second-best selling paid sports app on iTunes. Their Ultimate Fan app on Facebook, which allows fans to make predictions and stage virtual tailgates, has four sponsors, making it a rare revenue-generating Facebook app for a sports team.”

The JETS are also utilizing social apps such as Twitter and Foursquare to better the customer service experience. They use Foursquare to upgrade your seats if you check-in at a game and they leverage Twitter to, “solicit advice from fans on everything from staging rallies to the stadium experience.”

The JETS have figured out the answer to the social paradox; creating and implementing a social strategy that has actual benchmarks, real sales metrics and a positive, measurable impact on ROI. Even if you aren’t a fan of the team you have to admit they’ve gotten something right (aside from Hard Knocks).

A sound testament to this is the fact that the JETS are already planning to increase the social media component of sponsorships to 50%. That’s up 40% from this year. That should be a call to arms for all social strategists – Social Selling does work and when you can provide meaningful metrics and demonstrate the impact on ROI, you will be rewarded with larger budgets to do even greater more innovative things in your space. To that I say, “J-E-T-S! JETS. JETS. JETS!”