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#Sandy May Be The Moment When Social Grew Up

Social networking has had a number of inflection points in its short history – markers in time where so many people have discovered the value of their networks and the platforms on which they are built and maintained.  The list includes the 2008 Presidential election, the evening we learned of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and, although less critically, almost every award show on television over the last two-to-three years.


History may show, however, that the period tied to Hurricane Sandy may be one of the biggest events thus far for shaping how we think, feel and use social networks.  If this proves to be true, it will be because so many of us were engaged in social, so frequently, for such a concentrated period of time, regarding a matter that meant so much.  #Sandy may be the moment when Social grew up.


We used social networks for so many reasons during that week.  For clarity, it might be helpful to inventory them in one place – this blog post.

#1: Second Screen Discovery Engine

For those of us who had electricity during the storm, social networks made for an excellent compliment to television.  While our broadcast networks of choice were deploying their full force of 5-10 correspondents and camera crews, the information we derived from social media reached far further.  If you had 200 Facebook friends living in affected areas, you essentially had 200 reporters one the scene.  While they may not be trained journalists, they were certainly expert eyewitnesses.  And, the scope of communication was not even limited to the size of our own friend-base – it extended to their friends and beyond.  Reports came flying in from all over reach of the storm: the river is crossing over Greenwich Street, there’s 3 feet of water in my building on 23rd Street, we just lost power on the Lower East Side.

#2: Replacement for Traditional Media

The pictures, videos and stories we were getting directly from those experiencing the storm were more personal and immediate than anything we were receiving through traditional channels.  In many ways, what was the purpose of a traditional news outlet that essentially just acted like a filter for the real thing?  Further, when cable and Internet went out, those channels were useless.  But, if one could conserve enough phone juice (or find a place to plug in), social networks were the best source for news and information.

#3: Search Tool

Twitter was an especially good resource during the storm due to the searchable nature of the platform.  In the early going, queries for #Sandy revealed updates on the storm’s path and allowed us to commiserate with others around our nerves and anxieties.  At the height of the storm, concerned people were searching for information on specific neighborhoods to get eyewitness accounts from #Breezypoint or #Avalon.  In the days since, we have been able to get through the short term fuel shortage by searching for those tweeting about open gas stations with hastags such as #NJgas and #LIhasgas.  I benefitted from the reach of Twitter by finding a gas station open at 10PM Saturday night that was only 5 miles away with a relatively short 15 car wait – no small feat.  Google offered a number of tools that helped as well including a Crisis Map that relied on citizen crowd sourcing.

#4: Primary Form of Communication

Forget just being a source of news and information, when the power did go out for millions of people, social networks replaced e-mail and battery-draining phone calls as a primary form of communication.  Without landlines and Internet connections, people across the region turned to their smartphones.  Social networks became one of the ways in which we connected with others to share that our offices were closed or tell friends that could use a place to sleep.  For many, this became their main connection to the world.

#5: Call To Action

Finally, social networks became a place where critical causes were given a voice.  On Friday, the drum was beating loudly for the annual New York City marathon to be cancelled.  Mayor Bloomberg wanted to keep the event as a milestone towards recovery, but louder voices emerged from people feeling the marathon was an insensitive drain on resources that could be better spent elsewhere.  Those points-of-view were expressed throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter.  The Mayor’s office must have been listening to the dialogue because the event was called-off at about 5PM, a little more than 36-hours before the start of the race.


Of course, some of those same voices have also used social platforms to alert friends and followers to volunteer efforts going on across the region.  So many people have connected to victims we have never met through their personal stories, attached to appeals for help, and communicated through intermediaries – the people within our own social networks.



The adage you learn better by doing applies to the experiences of millions of people who experienced Hurricane Sandy.  The week we spent with the both storm and our social networks have taught many – and deepened the affinity of others – of the virtues of these channels.


There are so many ways to get involved with time or resources. Please give what you can to your causes of choice.  I could not end a blog post about how social networks have helped us through this storm without offering just one more pathway for people to take action.  Here is one that deserves our attention:






Social Networks Bring Us Together, But Also Keep Us Apart

From my post that appeared this morning in the industry blog “The Makegood”

For all that we love about social networks, there is a glaring problem we must address: the very platforms that bring us together, also keep us apart.


Before we experienced a total proliferation of media choices – before cable television, specialized websites and Google news feeds gave way to social networking streams – we were compelled to consume information meant for the masses.

In the 1960s and 70s, Americans learned about important news from sources like Walter Cronkite on CBS.  In the 1980s, we tuned-in for nightly sports scores on SportsCenter.  Even our political pundits – those who shared their opinions with a following well before we all did – delivered their product in broad forums such as Meet The Press or Crossfire.

Back then: the various networks and news outlets scheduled the programs and chose the stories & guests.  Today: we do that job for ourselves.  We are each our own network executive that green light what we see.

Due in large part to our use of social channels, we can now choose the particular outlets we want to see in our feeds each day.  If someone cares deeply about college football, alternative energy or Justin Bieber, their Twitter feed can deliver dozens of different sources on each of those subjects – and potentially, just on those subjects.

Net-net: We can each create incredibly targeted and customized feeds depending on our tastes and interests.


As we pick and choose the various sources of information we care most about, those sources deliver a stream of information that fits into our narrative of choice.  While that can be good, it also has downside implications for which we should be aware – especially now in the middle of an important political season.

Here is an example.  I have a Facebook friend who is a gun owner.  I detest guns.  In fact, I post about this point-of-view whenever our country experiences another high-profile shooting.  This friend often times replies to my posts with a rebuttal of his own (something to the effect of: guns don’t kill people, people kill people).  It riles me when he does this – to the point that I have considered unfriending him.  I typically think to myself: What right does he have to populate my news feed with his ignorance?

I am not alone.  We are increasingly removing voices that make us uncomfortable.  According to a recent study, the single biggest reason that people unfriend one another on Facebook is due to comments that the unfriender finds polarizing – the study suggests that quite often these polarizing comments are political in nature.

We tend to subscribe to (and maintain) sources of information that reaffirm our thinking rather than challenge our beliefs.  We follow streams on: Facebook to hear stories that keep us current with the friends we already have; on Twitter to provide us with information we use as currency with our colleagues; on LinkedIn to anchor us to our chosen careers; on Pinterest to see images that appeal to us; on Tumblr to be impressed by articulations of topics for which we care.

While it is human nature to gravitate towards people who share common interests and values, we have never before received so much of our information – including hard core news – from these very sources.  It is becoming more difficult to be persuaded by outside influence.  We setup a world that we care about and, at times, shut the rest of it out.


My first job out of college was at a political consulting firm.  I remember learning a rule-of-thumb early on in campaigns: 40% of the electorate will definitely vote for your candidate and 40% will never vote for your candidate – it is the 20% in the middle that you must persuade.  Based on polls during the last two Presidential election cycles, there is good reason to believe that today this rule should probably be expressed as 45/45/10.  Or worse.

Consuming greater portions of our content diet on social networks is certainly driving part of this polarization.  We filter in that which provides us with the short-term stimulus we need to make us feel validated and arm us with the social currency to share amongst our friends and followers.  We filter out everything that makes us think harder than we may want to, lest it not fit into the memes that we have set for ourselves.

As we consider how we gather information in an election year, we should be mindful of how exposed we are to the content that may persuade us.  We should – in theory, anyway – be responsible for listening to all sides before we make our judgment.

Social networks mirror democracy itself.  It is a very American ideal to choose what we consume and how we consume it.  Yet like our own democracy, we must test ourselves regularly to ensure we are doing it correctly.



"The Big 3" of Digital: Social, Video & Mobile


As we head into the next phase of digital growth - one that might as well be called the post-Facebook-IPO, NewFront-is-the-new-upfront, smartphones-at-critical-mass world of digital marketing - a tangible landscape is finally coming into focus.  Forget “So-Lo-Mo.”  With a small but important tweak to that moniker, we now finally have our three emerging categories quickly becoming the new establishment of digital marketing: SOCIAL, VIDEO and MOBILE.

As with all things digital, each of these three areas overlap to both confuse the picture yet create more potent tools for marketers.  Let’s start by looking at the world that lives at the intersection of each:

Data could be called out as a fourth major focus area and that wouldn’t be wrong.  But, for the purposes of this discussion, we should assume that data is an ever-present, always-on layer that affects the entire landscape.  It is a layer that sits beneath Social, Video and Mobile to ensure their success.  Data raises all boats.


Of The Big 3, Social is off to the strongest start.  According to eMarketer, $3.6B was spent on social network ad spend in 2011.  That’s the largest expenditure of the three categories.  Video is second and Mobile is third.  But in the three year spending projections made by eMarketer, the categories flip.

Through 2014, significant growth is predicted in all three categories, but pay specific attention to Mobile as its ad spend is predicted to increase 150% for that three year period.

Each of these categories will have a significant affect on the others.

How would Video grow without Social?

How would Mobile grow without Video?

How would Social grow without Mobile?

The answer to all of these questions is: they won’t.  They will each have material impact on the others.

Still, to understand why each category is where it is today and to predict where it will go from here, we need to look at the factors unique to each.


There are seven factors that drive growth in each category:

  • Content.  Is content being created for the category?  Is it premium?  Do users want to consume it?  Is it valuable to them?  Is there an abundance of it?
  • Back-End Technology.  Does the category physically work for both users and marketers?  Is there quick load time?  Are there industry standard solutions to traffic ads and make things run?
  • Data/Targeting.  Are there norms in place that enable brands to reach their audience efficiently and effectively the way they have become accustomed to in other channels?
  • Standardization.  Is there a currency in which brands can buy media?  Are there ad units common from publisher to publisher?
  • Measurement.  How do we measure success?  Are those measures accepted by the marketplace?  Are those measures driving business outcomes?
  • Scale.  How many people are active users in the space?  Are they truly engaged?
  • Dollars.  While all of these factors are indicators of whether dollars will be spent in the category, ad spend begets more ad spend.  Are dollars flowing into this category?

Each factor helps to make the market and until most of those factors reach critical mass, it is difficult for a big business-model to truly breakout along the lines of traditional display, paid search or television.

In order to determine where each category will go from here, it is instructive to look at how The Big 3 are doing against these 7 factors.  To illustrate, I have ranked each factor on a scale of 1-10.  When factors are at 3, we still have a way to go.  When they reach 5, we’re witnessing a tipping point — essentially the start of critical mass.  When they elevate to 7 or beyond, we are looking at a category in maturity.

The goal for each category is to reach 5 across factors in order to make it easier for brands to rationalize the category for their marketing spend and for publishers/providers to monetize it.

5 is a tipping point.  Digital display advertising hit that milestone in the late 90s and Search hit it in the early 00s.  Each is now a very big business.  How will Social, Video and Mobile reach their tipping points?

(**My numbers are subjective, of course.  But I would hope that they would generate agreement at least directionally.  I welcome thoughts and comments to this post.**)


Category score: 5.6

What’s working: Since social networks are essentially made up of user-generated content and third-party professional content being shared friend-to-friend, the Social category has been driven by a close relationship between content and scale.  The more people on the platform, the more content is generated.  Facebook has over 800 million users and Twitter has over 400 million.  All of those social networkers create content every day that drives the ability for this category to prosper.  And they aren’t just coming once a month — many Americans are extremely active in their social communities.  The result is a huge amount of monetizable inventory that is nowhere close to sold-through.

Data/targeting is also ranked high in social.  Mapping the interest graph and harnessing it for ad opportunities has been a business for about to five years now.  An ecosystem of networks and third parties companies have been able to harness social data for brand use.

Areas to address: Measurement will have to improve in order for brands to move more dollars into the space.  The old adage applies: “nobody ever got fired for buying more television.”  Until the industry can demonstrate consistent performance in social channels, this category will continue to be an emerging category instead of the main event.  The recent press around lack of performance on Facebook is doing nothing to help this along.

[Note: Social may be off to the biggest start of The Big 3, but it may be an even larger business than the eMarketer number suggests.  While the best available figure is $3.6B, that statistic is defined as ad spending on social networks.  It is not, apparently, inclusive of the other dollars spent in support of social: listening & monitoring, community management, app builds on Facebook, content creation and the like.  With those areas factored in, investment in this space is probably 3x or more.  This is important because it’s hard to distill down the entirety of the category to just paid media spend because that entirely misses the point of the Social space.]


Category score: 5.1

What’s working: The number one factor that video has in its favor is scale.  Americans are looking for ways to consume video digitally regardless of method: through YouTube, Hulu Plus, Apple TV, Netflix, X-Box and many others.  All of that user trial results in user hours and user hours yield inventory opportunity for sellers.

Measurement is also gaining a head of steam as broadcast and digital video buyers look to convert impressions to classic GRPs.  While buying against a GRP isn’t the most efficient way to look at the digital video space, it will prove to propel the marketplace forward since it’s the currency favored by the $70B TV industry vs. the nascent $3B digital one.

Areas to address: Standardization is critical because building video units has typically been an expensive proposition for brands.  Asset creation doesn’t have to be expensive, but current production norms make it so and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.  In order for marketers to make a bigger investment in video content production, standards will have to be put in place (e.g.: the 15 second interactive pre-roll) to enable builds to be streamlined.

Dollars are another issue.  While I am making the argument that reaching critical mass against each of the other six factors will help drive ad spend, brands should not be let off-the-hook for moving dollars into a category for testing.  Social has seen a solid level of “trial investment.”  Video has not been blessed with that kind of pioneering spirit.  Given the strength of available measurement capabilities and the results of various metrics themselves (especially compared with broadcast TV), video is woefully and surprisingly under-represented in marketer budgets today.

Finally, while there has definitely been an uptick in content production, more premium content will be needed to truly see dollar shift from broadcast to digital video.  This is coming in a big way, but we haven’t reached critical mass for this factor just yet.


Category score: 3.6

What’s working: U.S. smartphone penetration passed 50% last year.  Most of us rarely have our mobile device more than a few feet beyond our reach, so not only do we have critical mass penetration, we also have a highly engaged audience.  Therefore, scale is present - audiences are there for the taking.

Beyond scale, there’s not much to laud about mobile…yet.

Areas to address: Where to start?  Content creation - relative to Social and even Video - has been abysmal.  The greatest success story in Mobile is likely the apps ecosystem fostered by Apple where hundreds of thousands of apps are available for download.  This content hasn’t been created from the typical professional producer community, it has instead been made by a network of developers - from amateur to pro - who have taken it upon themselves to build for the space.  While there’s nothing wrong with this as a starting (and ending) point, we have only seen the beginning of efforts from digital content producers and we have barely heard at all from movie studios and TV networks regarding their efforts for mobile.  But we will.

Standardization has also been holding mobile back.  Due to the number of handset makers, carriers and mobile ad networks, we haven’t been able to align on ubiquitous ad units to carry brand messages.  And that might just be the point.  The current crop of display ad units on mobile devices are intrusions.  The coming revolution of location-based marketing will make display look quaint - to both user and marketer alike.  Imagine the moment when we will be served messages based on the intersection of our demographic profile, mobile browsing history and current location?  Those instances will be ripe with value for both the messager and the messagee.


  1. The Big 3 will drive the marketing industry for many years to come.  So much so that five years from now, we will hardly use terms like “Social” and “Video” and “Mobile.”  Why would we when all of it will be seemingly everywhere?  Television and digital video will morph into one another.  Mobile and the web will be synonymous even if their very definitions change.  Social will be a catalyst to even more content production and consumption - and will continue to drive usage of other media as well.
  2. Brands that understand the interplay between the three will succeed.  Those that don’t, will wither.  In this new world order, we don’t build Social, Video or Mobile strategies, we build marketing strategies with the knowledge that people consume in these channels in unique and multifaceted ways.  Today’s landscape is eerily reminiscent of the early days of digital (circa 1996) when traditional advertising began to lose its crown to the broader approach of marketing.  The Big Three are creating another inflection point where we must relearn what we thought we knew.
  3. Plumbing will drive growth.  Some of the less obvious (and perhaps less sexy) factors will be the biggest catalysts for growth.  Don’t discount back-end technology, data/targeting, standardization and measurement in pushing each category towards critical mass.  These are, after all, the factors that expedite decisions by marketers because they provide a rational safe haven for budget shift.



Geo-Fencing. It’s Coming. (It’s Here.)

I had one of those great “social moments” earlier today.  Nothing incredibly groundbreaking (I didn’t participate in a never-been-done-before-beta), but it was a moment of clarity where I sampled the future even though it’s still the present.

@ 12:41…I walked out of my office to grab a sandwich and bring back to my desk.  I had no particular destination in mind — just figured I would walk in one direction and figure it out as I went.

@ 12:43…My pocket buzzed two blocks from our building.  I pulled out my phone and saw a message from Foursquare making a suggestion for a take-out place called “Choza Taqueria.”  When I opened the message, I was shown a map of how to get there and a message that reminded me that I had actually put the restaurant on a list of places I’d like to get to at some point.  Foursquare calls this service “Radar.”  I had listed this place on my Radar many months ago.

@ 12:46…I arrived at Choza and noticed that a friend of mine - someone who I’m connected to on Foursquare - had made a recommendation on what to get (an “awesome vegetable option” along with one of their special sauces).  I ordered it.  Why not?  Social tools and recommendations had gotten me this far.

@ 12:50…I paid for my meal.

So, in 9 minutes, I went from being directionless to spending $11 at a taqueria that I had completely forgotten that I had wanted to try.  It felt spontaneous.  The world beyond my immediate mindset had conspired to provide me with an experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Many services at the intersection of social and mobile - emerging companies currently dotting the landscape as well as many we have yet to hear of - will be driving our commerce experiences in the years to come.  Our pockets will be buzzing with both knowledge and offers to drive our purchases and change our habits based on who we are, where we are and what we do.

Some say this is an invasion of privacy.  I say: if we opt-in and understand it’s value, the future is going to be both fun and rewarding.



Recent Social TV Symposium at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center.  I had the chance to participate in this excellent morning of discussion organized by Peter Naylor of NBC Universal.  Along with me on the panel are Kristine Segrist of MEC and Seth Greenberg of Intuit.  Randall Rothenberg of the IAB moderated.