A European Market For Social Media? Does Not Exist

An agency head told me how he was on a call between the European head of marketing for a US brand and that brand’s board of directors. The chairman asked the marketing honcho, “How is the European market?” The marketer answered, “There isn’t one.” Awkward silence. “That is, there is no European market. There is a French market. A German market. A British one. And so on. I can tell you about those.”

In no other sphere of marketing are these national differences magnified more than in social media. Social media is, by its nature, participatory and thus takes on the form, tone, and color of its users. Social media in Germany is German social media. In France, French social media.

Then brands enter the picture. That social media strategy hatched in Dallas or Dublin, with a sum earmarked for translations, will not cut it.

Three reasons cookie-cutter strategies will fail in Europe:

  • Europeans as a broad group are less likely to engage with brands on social media than, say, in the United States or metro Hong Kong.
  • Europeans’ usage differ significantly country to country; Italians usage is not comparable to German usage.
  • Each market boasts strong local players that excel at the intricacies of their market’s social media usage.
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What Lies Behind That Result From Facebook

Pundits’ take that Facebook has “solved” mobile advertising after its home run last week hid a bigger, behind-the-scenes story:

We’re finally seeing branding and direct response marketing merge in a meaningful and measurable way; Facebook is just one place where it’s happening most demonstrably.

Here’s important context: Facebook’s quarterly earnings beat projections last Thursday, driven by the 62% of its ad revenue that comes from mobile. Also note that Facebook’s only ad revenue from mobile is its in-feed ads (or native ads, or whatever you want to call them).

The in-feed ad is Facebook’s holy grail. If they can manage to position ads in users’ mobile feeds so that these ads: a) perform well, and b) don’t kill engagement with Facebook, then they can print money against their 1 billion-plus monthly active users.

Facebook knows they’ll need advertisers’ and their agencies’ help to achieve this. That’s why I want to draw your attention to a slightly less publicized study that came out of Facebook and two partners the week prior to its quarterly earnings announcement.

Working with the social ad platform Adaptly and Refinery29 (one of a new set of savvy content-driven eCommerce outlets), Facebook showed that social advertising that merges branding and direct response outperforms direct response ads alone, by a margin of about 70%.

Facebook Valuable Content Uplift

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Something Like Democratic Marketing

Set against marketing messages, I would rather listen to my neighbor’s opinion of a product. A critic’s opinion. An expert’s. Any idiot with an Internet connection, in fact (according to our research, review content from complete strangers is more trustworthy than messages from brands).

The payload of this realization – that marketers’ messages are overinvested in by a million percent and underdeliver by an equal value – strikes our marketing foundations, oh so softly. Thud. Pop. Distant thunder.

Simultaneously it’s never been easier for other people to write about our brands, to create breathtaking personal tributes to our products, to call out our worst policies, and even to slander us. The crowds have snatched the megaphone and they won’t give it back.

These are two factors in a big equation that we’re still only beginning to calculate.

So far, we’ve dealt with these changes pragmatically and conservatively.

Community management is a perfect example of the pragmatic response. Community management is just a series of tribal agreements about playing rules. The brand will not allow threads that include the word “shit”. The brand will retweet only tweets from registered users. The brand answers requests within one hour between 9 AM and 9 PM EST. The brand will blog politely about its topic.

The marketing fortress has collapsed, the mobs are baying for blood, and the sop you throw this change is to play nice? This is what I’d call the Marie Antoinette response.

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FT Digital Media: Anguish Over Products

Two ways media’s changing now, and two ways it’s going to change:

The FT Digital event in London last week pulled together some of the cream of the European media world. The big conclusion they were made privy to?

The media world will soon discover exactly how many ways you can skin a cat.

The old-fashioned way for media brands to skin a cat – make the content and license rights to distribute it, or advertise next to it – doesn’t work anymore as a standalone product. As a result, the business model experimentation we’ve seen so far in the media world is turning into business model explosion. Evidence: Half of the speakers and attendees at this media event wouldn’t have been at a media event at all only three or four years ago. Facebook. Shazam. BuzzFeed. And tech VCs, for example.

Two pieces of news exemplified changes taking place right now:
One, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus (a virtual reality gaming device) forced discussion toward the value of a platform – the device is only as valuable as the community of developers creating remarkable content for it; tech and media companies alike need to take a platform approach to their assets.

Second, The New York Times’ launching of NYT Now – a premium version of the Times exclusively for smartphones – showed how media companies are bending themselves backward to divorce (call it “conscious uncoupling” if you will) resources from revenue. The mobile app will take a Facebook-like approach to making money by allowing advertisers to publish sponsored content in-feed.

And two discussions painted a picture of media’s future:

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The Native Advertising Answer Is Publishers’ Problem

[Recently, I wrote that overly optimistic or pessimistic predictions of native advertising’s future were the result of vast (and naïve) assumptions. I concluded that a more accurate prediction would not hinge upon grand theories about how great native advertising is or isn’t, but rather a wily assessment of many factors – the foxlike approach of Isaiah Berlin’s Hedgehog and the Fox. I said I’d offer such a foxy assessment. Here’s that assessment.]

First, let’s consider the two grand theories of native advertising – the hedgehog positions:

1) Native advertising is the best thing that could have happened.
According to this theory, native advertising at last frees the world from interruptive or parasitic advertisements and allows both the publisher site and advertiser to work toward a shared goal: the best possible experience for the user or reader. Success will be measured directly by readers actually choosing to consume stuff from brands, which means it’ll all be worth more and publishers will earn a bigger cut.

2) Native advertising is the worst thing that could have happened.
According to this theory, native advertising depends fundamentally on confusing the reader into clicking on an advertisement by disguising it as unpaid site editorial. As a result, readers will lose their trust in the sites’ editorial integrity and abandon the site. This loss of integrity will destroy the halo effect, whereby a site’s editorial integrity reflects positively on the advertisers associated with it.

True hedgehogs could expound on these arguments at length (they have a tendency to do that), but I’ve represented the basic positions.

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Content Marketing Fortnight VII: The Pains And Joys Of Going Mainstream

What’s happening (that’s important) in the world of content marketing? This is your fortnightly round-up of the best of the best stuff online for marketers who think about content; for the previous “Fortnights”, go to the bottom of the post. (And for more information about what the Content Marketing Fortnight is, see my intro from the first one. Get this curated newsletter in your inbox every other week – send me a mail.)

NewsCred scores $25 million. Tech news: “What’s content marketing?”
It’s no $16 billion, but the $25 million Newscred raised to expand its content marketing cloud offering is no insignificant sum. The company is moving fast to help brands win relevance with content, boasting a unique weapon (licensing for premium content with thousands of top-shelf sites). Re-code – previously the Wall Street Journal’s tech team – was taken aback, asking, “What’s content marketing?” Percolate’s Noah Brier answered them.

Federated Media, a content marketing pioneer, backs out of content marketing

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Does Native Advertising Face A $3 Billion Question?

Predictions about native advertising’s medium-term impact are both short-sighted and simplistic.

Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin

In 1973, the Wall Street Journal quoted a professor: “Academic politics is the most vicious…because the stakes are so low.” Thereafter, the idea (that the intensity of a dispute is inversely proportional to its stakes) was named after the professor: Sayre’s Law.

Sayre’s law applies very well to native advertising. According to Forrester data, digital advertising dollars are today some 20% of traditional advertising dollars. Of those scarce digital ad dollars, something far less than 10% goes to anything that could be characterized as native advertising.

Perhaps that’s why the dispute has been so vitriolic (at least, by advertising’s standards).

The day after the New York Times launched a redesign to facilitate more native advertising, Tom Foremski, a media commentator, said: “Native advertising is the world’s worst idea and I can’t believe the New York Times management is so gullible and clueless in agreeing to its publication.”

He joins an authoritative cast of native advertising skeptics. Another, Bob Garfield, described native advertising to the Federal Trade Commission as something akin to bat poo. Even Barclays Capital believes the practice peaked in 2012 and will shrink to a less than $500 million market by 2017.

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Content Marketing Fortnight VI: Drew Barrymore A Content Marketer?

What’s happening (that’s important) in the world of content marketing? This is your fortnightly round-up of the best of the best stuff online for marketers who think about content; for the previous “Fortnights”, go to the bottom of the post. (And for more information about what the Content Marketing Fortnight is, see my intro from the first one. Get this curated newsletter in your inbox every other week – send me a mail.)

"Lost Content" a new frontier
Many content marketers (OK, all content marketers) struggle to budget and produce all of the content that they wish they could. Mark Carroll of TMW makes a compelling case for an overlooked bounty: Archived and making-of content that’s sitting on many companies' servers; he calls it Lost Content. His deck:

Let Google+ distribute your content
Content advertising’s time has come when Google’s adopted it. Now Google plans to allow brands to take content (say an image) from their brand Google+ page and package it up into ads across their display network. It’s a simple, off-the-shelf content advertising play, backed by Google’s huge digital reach. Will this enliven Google’s morose social product? For marketers, maybe. For users, maybe not.

PR Industry PRs content marketing

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Native Advertising: Worth Pursuing

Forrester analysts are encouraged to “make the call” and here’s a call that is sure to invite some heated disagreement (native advertising has a way of doing that).

Today my report about native advertising came out and, if I had to bottle up the recommendation of the entire report in a two-word slogan, this would be it: Worth pursuing. That’s not “pour all your advertising dollars into it”, “go hog wild!” or any variant on that theme. By “worth pursuing”, I would say that it: a) is a very imperfect tactic, b) holds great promise, and c) requires some experience to get right.

(First of all, if you’re not sure what native advertising is, quickly go here [definition] or here [examples]).

Let’s start by assessing the promise of native advertising. What’s so great about it?

From a marketer’s perspective, the opportunity to go from a position “next to the show”, “interrupting the show” or “between the shows”, to “part and parcel of the show” is extraordinary. The church/state editorial wall that media outlets have trained advertisers to respect has become porous, and it’s the outlets themselves who are pounding holes in it (most recently, the New York Times). That change should not be underestimated.

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Will Native Advertising Be A Tragedy Of The Commons?

One thing can be said definitively about native advertising: It is poorly understood.

  • It’s advertising, but shouldn’t act like it (even though it should definitely be labeled as such).
  • It’s like advertorials, but also far more than that – just as media sites are more than web newspapers.
  • The media world loves it and loathes it. Bob Garfield famously compared it to islands of bird poo at an FTC workshop in December. But most publishers are ramping up their native advertising.
  • Readers say they have been misled by it, though millennial-friendly media titles like BuzzFeed, Mashable and Gawker are doing more and more of it.
  • Lastly, when a committee of the best and brightest in native advertising sat down together to define it, they settled on six different types, or categories.
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