Thursday, December 30, 2004

Blogs aid disaster recovery

A moving article from the BBC online on how survivors and witnesses of the horrific tsunami that devasted Asia used blogs to keep their friends and the world informed.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Parasitic Blogs?

Wired released its 2005 wish list, with plenty of insightful suggestions. One which particularly struck me was that bloggers shouldn't just rehash news from other media, but instead create their own news.

It makes a lot of sense.

While it could be helpful to provide a thematic aggregator service and point to articles that readers may have missed on other publications, a copy-and-paste authoring style adds little value to a topic one would like to promote or share.

As a New Year resolution, I am pledging to publish here as much original content as possible.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Better luck next life

For whose of you who feel too old to roam Habbo hotel’s corridors, why not subscribe to Second Life instead? Second life, dubbed the new generation of online community allows its members to create their own characters, build their homes and live the virtual life of their dreams, be it as a rock star, a real estate tycoon or just a nice neighbour.

If you couldn't make it in this life, build yourself another life! and you even don't have to pay for a backstreet plastic surgeon and a Panamanian passport. More seriously, I find the concept of Second Life fascinating, despite that it reminds me of the Matrix so much.

I you are interested in branding/marketing within online communities and virtual worlds, I would be very keen to hear from you to exchange best practice.

In Care of the Community

I just came back from my annual lecture on e-marketing at the University of Metz.

Apart from increasing my cholesterol level with local fatty delicacies, this yearly pilgrimage is the opportunity to shut off from the pressure of the real world and to re-enter the more benign alter reality of the academia.

I have been doing these lectures since 1999 and I find it interesting to see how motivation, interests and the “buzz” evolve among new generations of Internet professionals. This year was particularly inspiring as my students came from very diverse backgrounds (an army submariner, a Cisco engineer, some advertising new business chaps…). They had a lecture on online journalism and were all switched on by blogs and online marketing.

We talked about the media landscape evolving from “mass media” to “we media”, contextual marketing (think Google Adsense, geo-localisation…) and online communities. On the latter, they were particularly interested in how brands were trying to “infiltrate” online communities.

Sulake’s Habbo hotel is one of my favourite examples of successful online community. Providing a safe virtual environment for teenagers to socialise, it opened in January 2001 and now counts over 2.5 millions members across Europe, Canada, US and Japan.

Some forward thinking companies have already tapped into this captive audience to create an “immersive branding” experience for promotional purposes:

Clearasil created a “Face of the Future” model competition and promoted it via the hotel’s cinema room and through pre-programmed Habbo characters talking about the event. As a result, the clickthrough to the Clearasil website was 22 per cent higher than parallel campaigns using “regular online promotion”. Over half of a sample of 5,200 Habbo members said their opinion of the brand had improved.

Momentum Pictures promoted Britney’s Crossroads movie through online billboards, internal messages via the Habbo mail console and exclusive posters for sale to adorn the walls of virtual apartments. In addition, it created a Karaoke event and staff on the site encouraged Habbo users to take to the stage and talk about the movie’s release.

Habbo’s immersive branding has seen higher response rates than traditional banners and pop-ups, with click-through rates of more than 20 per cent through its billboards.

Marketing to online communities is about providing user value, abiding by the community rules and understanding groups and online discussion dynamics. In short, it’s not easy, time consuming but increasingly indispensable to connect with otherwise fragmented and hard to reach audiences. And as the results from Habbo’s campaigns can testify: it works.

As Steve Outing, a senior editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies sums up: “Kids today expect to interact with their media". Community marketing is definitely a growing trend and when today’s kids will grow up, it will be part of every marketer’s toolbox.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Lycos Europe: stay tuned

Lycos Europe "make love not spam" has been rather shortlived (a quicky?).

Apparently, the chorus of negative comments from the industry and the threat of litigation brought the iniative to an halt.

Another speculation, from a security company is that one of the website on Lycos' blacklist redirected traffic to . Lycos Europe could have unintentionally affected its own website...

Spammers may have won the battle but could Lycos have won a PR war to position itself as THE consumer champion?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Spammers: redeem or perish!

Lycos Europe released a screensaver which when installed on your computer, bombard a list of known spammer's servers with data to overload them.

Apparently, Lycos' tactics are dividing the web community, with many saying that it sets a dangerous precedent and could incite vigilantism. Others question the legality of the process as well.

Posting on a forum:

"All the significant spammers are in the USA. The US government passed the "You CAN spam" `law' a year ago, and has done absolutely nothing useful about it in all that time. The internet parasite spammers have destroyed e-mail as an efficient means of communication, and anything which might help to reverse this state of affairs can only be good. Are we internet users supposed to sit back and let the spammers rule the internet without even a whimper?"

Steve Linford, director of non-profit anti-spam organisation Spamhaus:

"It's irresponsible of Lycos to put its name to it because it lends legitimacy to [DDoS] attacks," "You can't break into a thief's house just because he breaks into yours. We don't support this or recommend this practice. Directing traffic is part of the degradation of the Internet we are trying to stop."

In the war against spam, I don't know if Lycos’ tactics are effective, ethical or even legal. But I am sure it must feel good.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

2004: the year of the blog

According to Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher, "blog" headed the list of most looked-up terms on its site during the last twelve months. The word will appear in the 2005 edition.

Official definition:

BLOG noun [short for Weblog] (1999) : a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.

Talking about hyperlinks, here is their announcement.

In Blog We Trust: the art of micro persuasion

I wrote a short article to help blog virgin companies learn why and how they should integrate blogs in their communication plan.

See the article here

The "how to" can be summarised as:

1. Know your audience
Include blogs in your communication mix, if only to listen to what consumers say about you and your competitors.

2. Breach the trust gap
Bloggers will be naturally suspicious of any sales pitch. If you want to work with established blogs, make sure you are open and honest about who you are, why you are contacting them, what relationship you are looking for and why you value their opinion. Do not take bloggers for granted. Heavy handed or sneaky tactics will backfire and you will turn an advocate into a fiery opponent.

3. Engage in genuine partnership
If your brand is fortunate enough to have bloggers praising its merits, treat them like you would journalists. After all, your devoted blogger may have a bigger following than your favourite daily paper. Be lavish on exclusive product reviews, invitations, exclusive communication programs… But make sure you have been through tip 2 first.

4. DIY with caution
Creating your own blog might be an option provided that your brand has a following, a strong personality and plenty of interesting or fun things to say on a regular basis. As in all good communication, providing user value is key if you want consumers to engage with you. A blog updated every 2 months is a dead end and will damage your brand.

A blog could help give a personal dimension to some activities your company is engaged in. Think CSR for example with a diary of your teams’ efforts in a developing country or generating buzz around product release with your engineers reporting their progress and sharing some insights with aficionados (Microsoft’ employees write more than 700 blogs on these topics).
Equally, blogs can be effective in strengthening or raising an executive’s profile ( or helping assess authority in a sector.

Finally, whatever routes you take, encourage audience participation: blogs are collaborative efforts. If you would like to stimulate positive discussion about your brand, you must be prepared to open a two way communication channel.