Online Display Ad Effectiveness: Skepticism Persists

Online Display AdvertisingAs the variety of options for online advertising have steadily increased over the years, the reputation of display advertising effectiveness has suffered. Part of this is in the statistics: abysmal clickthrough rates on many online display ads with percentages that trend toward the microscopic.

But another part is just plain intuition. People understand that when folks go online, they’re usually on a mission – whether it’s information-seeking, looking for products to purchase, or avocational pursuits.

Simply put, the “dynamic” is different than magazines, television or radio — although any advertiser will tell you that those media options also have their share of challenges in getting people to take notice and then to take action.

The perception that online display advertising is a “bad” investment when compared to search engine marketing is what’s given Google its stratospheric revenue growth and profits in recent years. And that makes sense; what better time to pop up on the screen than when someone has punched in a search term that relates to your product or service?

In the B-to-B field, the knock against display advertising is even stronger than in the consumer realm. In the business world, people have even less time or inclination to be distracted by advertising that could take them away from their mission at hand.

It doesn’t take a swath of eye-tracking studies to prove that most B-to-B practitioners have their blinders on to filter out extraneous “noise” when they’re in information-seeking mode.

This isn’t to say that B-to-B online display advertising isn’t occurring. In fact, in a new study titled Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B, marketing research and consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. reports that about seven in ten B-to-B interactive marketers employ online display advertising to some degree in their promotional programs.

And they do so for the same reasons that compelled these comparnies to advertise in print trade magazines in the past. According to the Forrester report, the primary objectives for online display advertising include:

 Increase brand awareness: ~49% of respondents
 Lead generation: ~46%
 Reaching key target audiences: ~46%
 Driving direct sales: ~41%

But here’s a major rub: Attitudes toward B-to-B online display advertising are pretty negative — and that definitely extends to the ad exchanges and ad networks serving the ads. Moreover, most don’t foresee any increased effectiveness in the coming years.

That may explain why Forrester found that fewer than 15% of the participants in its study reported that they have increased their online display advertising budgets in 2011 compared to 2010 – even as advertising budgets have trended upward overall.

When you look closer at display, there’s actually some interesting movement. Google has committed to a ~$390 million acquisition of display ad company Admeld. And regardless of the negative perceptions that may be out there, Google’s Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media platforms have created the ability for advertisers to bid on ad inventories based on their value to them.

Moreover, new capabilities make it easier to measure and attribute the impact of various media touchpoints — online display as well as others — that ultimately lead to conversion or sales.

But the negative perceptions about online display advertising continue, proving again that attitudes are hard to change — even in the quickly evolving world of digital advertising.

Oh, S#\@*!! Facebook’s Not for Prudes

Profanity on Facebook:  More than you might imagine.In the “anything goes” world of social media, it stands to reason that the language we find there isn’t exactly reserved for polite company.

And now we have some quantifiable data that confirms those suspicions. Reppler, a Palo Alto, CA-based social media monitoring service, recently scanned some 30,000 Facebook members’ walls … and what they found wassn’t exactly the language of choirboys.

Here are two interesting stats from what Reppler discovered:

 Nearly half of the Facebook walls contain some form of profanity.

 Four out of five users with profanity on their Facebook wall have at least one comment or post from a friend that contains profanity.

What’s the most common profane terms used? Not surprisingly, the “f-word” comes out on top. That’s followed by various derivations of the word the French know as merde. Runner-up among the top three is the “b-word.”

It’s important to note that people don’t have complete control over the language their Facebook friends use. But the prevalence of profanity on Facebook walls comes at a time when many employers are increasingly looking at the online presence of their prospective hires and noting the degree of professionalism – or lack thereof – that they see.

And there’s a related issue that’s becoming increasingly significant as well. With more companies and brands creating Facebook pages and other social networking sites, monitoring the discussion that takes place on them takes on even more importance.

It’s critical for brands not to offend even a small percentage of their customers. But with the general “race to the bottom” in what’s deemed acceptable language, there are real differences in what some people think is legitimate expression … and what others would consider to be gross indecency.

These differences are a factor of not only of age, but of acculturation.

Third-party tools from Reppler and others that automatically flag certain language or phrases can alleviate some of the problem, but there’s really no substitute for good, old-fashioned site monitoring. Which is why so many companies are finding the whole social media thing to be pretty labor-intensive, when done properly.

Twitter’s World: Click … or Clique?

Twitter traffic:  dominateed by a tiny fraction of users.
Half of all tweets are generated by fewer than one-half of one percent of Twitter accounts.
What’s happening these days with Twitter? The micro-blogging service continues to light up the newswires every time there’s a civil disturbance in a foreign land, because of how easily and effectively it facilitates planning and interaction among the dissidents.

But what we’re also finding out is that Twitter is overwhelmingly dominated by just a small fraction of its users.

In fact, Cornell University and Yahoo recently published results of an evaluation of ~260 million tweets during 2009 and 2010, which found that ~50% of the tweets were generated by just 20,000 Twitter users.

That is right: Fewer than one half of one percent of Twitter’s user base accounts for fully half of all tweet activity.

Just who makes up this “rarified realm” of elite users? It turns out that they fall into four major groups:

 Media properties (e.g., CNN, New York Times)
 Celebrities (e.g., Ashton Kutcher … Lady Gaga)
 Business organizations (e.g., Starbucks)
 Blogs

Even more interestingly, these “elite” users aren’t interfacing with the rest of us “regular Twitter folk” as much as they are simply following each other: Celebs follow celebs … media companies follow other media companies … bloggers follow other blogs.

The Cornell/Yahoo research report, titled Who Says What to Whom on Twitter, can be found here.

But one wonders if the report should be retitled Much Ado About Nothing?

The Ripple Effects of High Gasoline Prices

Shopping at home is rising along with gasoline prices.We’ve all heard the news reports about the effects that high gasoline prices are having on families who rely on automotive transportation for their livelihoods. It’s all well and good to promote the use of public transportation, but when your job is 25 miles away along suburban or rural roads, it’s often impractical to adjust commuting behaviors.

We’re also reading how high gas prices are affecting other aspects of the economy, such as the rising price of food items in the grocery stores due to higher transportation costs.

To this, we can now add another consequence of the high cost of petrol. Paralleling the gas price spike has been an increase in Internet activity.

Marin Software, a leading paid search manager platform for advertisers and agencies, has performed an analysis across more than $2 billion worth of paid search marketing activity. The firm established a benchmark based on the share of activity across the Google and Bing search engines, and then studied cost-per-click activity, clickthrough rates and conversion rates.

Marin evaluated the rise and fall in the volume of clicks along with the rise of gas prices over the time period January – March 2011. Voila! It found a positive correlation between rising gas prices and increased click activity.

In a similar vein, digital market intelligence firm comScore is reporting that U.S. e-commerce sales were ~$38 billion during the first quarter of the year. That’s up ~12% compared to the first quarter of 2010. And while e-commerce volume has been up over the past six quarters, this is only the second time the growth as been in double digits.

So the premise that the higher gas prices climb, the more the propensity is to shop from home and avoid the cost of driving appears to be on target. And it’s probably being helped along by the plethora of “free shipping” offers that are also out there — along with avoiding paying sales taxes.

Looking forward to the day when gasoline prices may plateau or fall back, it’ll be interesting to see if Internet activity drops back as well. Or will more people have become used to the comfort of shopping from home in their boxer shorts – so that online activity remains at an elevated level?

I have a suspicion it’ll be the latter.

The Information Tsunami Shows No Sign of Letting Up

If you feel you’re being overwhelmed by information overload in the digital realm, you have lots of company.

A survey conducted last month of ~200 adults who are online “content consumers” found that the largest proportion reports being online essentially their entire waking day. The survey, conducted by content publishing platform company Magnify, was made up of executives, professionals, entrepreneurs and technologists.

It’s a small survey sample to be sure … but who could really argue with the results it uncovered? When asked to what degree they were connected to the Internet, here’s how these respondents answered:

 From the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed: ~50%
 Most of the workday: ~28%
 9 am to 9 p.m.: ~17%

But here’s the even bigger kicker: A large majority of the respondents reported that the quantity of information being received today had grown by 50% or more compared to last year:

 Information flow has doubled or more since last year: ~26%
 … Has increased by ~75%: ~10%
 … Has increased by ~50%: ~28%
 … Has increased by ~20%: ~25%
 … Has stayed essentially the same: ~11%

How are people dealing with processing the additional information? See how many of these “coping mechanisms” reflect your own actions or behaviors:

 Reading/responding to e-mail on evenings and weekends: ~77%
 Never turning off the mobile phone: ~57%
 Unable to answer all e-mails: ~47%
 Missing important news: ~41%
 Ignoring family and friends: ~40%
 Answering e-mails even while with children: ~35%
 Checking e-mails in the middle of the night: ~33%

The question is: Have we finally reached a critical-mass state where the law of diminishing returns kicks in?

Well, we might have thought that one year ago … before the latest torrential increase in volume happened!

Facebook’s Hidden Bombshells

Facebook's hidden bombshellsAs Facebook has been busily turning itself into a web powerhouse – challenging even the likes of Google for dominance – some people are beginning to question the fundamental aspects of how Facebook treats users and the content they post.

Last week I came across an interesting article by Douglas Karr, a social media consultant and author, who has spent thousands of dollars advertising on Facebook for himself and his clients. Karr summarized recent experiences he’s had with Facebook accounts that now make him extremely leery of using it as a central rather than an ancillary platform for promoting companies and their brands.

Facebook somehow became suspicious of entries posted by one of Karr’s clients. Facebook then proceeded to disable every administrator’s account that was associated with this client’s Facebook page. Because Karr was one of the administrators, this action disabled all of his Facebook pages and applications as well.

It then took a Herculean effort to repair the damage, during which time Karr learned quite a bit more about the customer service side of Facebook – if you could even call it “customer service.” Here’s how he summarizes it:

Facebook lacks a meaningful customer service process. There’s no phone number to call … or dedicated e-mail address specifically for support. So good luck trying to get any sort of satisfaction. Karr was asked to submit a form in order for his account to be turned back on. But that communication only resulted in an automated reply message to verify his identity.

In the meantime, with his accounts disabled, there was no way for Karr to log in and retrieve any of the now-hidden content.

What Karr learned is when all of what makes a Facebook presence so valuable – postings, photos, video and other content, fans, applications, etc. – goes by the boards, there’s essentially no recourse for a business.

Luckily for Karr, his account was re-enabled after a few days – with no notification from Facebook. But then he still had to republish all of the pages.

[It turns out that Karr’s client had a “friend of a friend of a friend” at Facebook who was able to pull a few strings to set things right … but how many of us should be so fortunate?]

This experience revealed another distasteful reality: The content you post on Facebook may be yours, but Facebook owns the access to it.

Yep. If you look closely at Facebook’s fine print, this is what you’ll find: “You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

So much for keeping proprietary control over anything that may go viral and ends up on Facebook.

Karr’s word of advice for companies considering employing Facebook as their primary means of generating online traffic and revenue: “Don’t.”

Instead, he suggests adopting other tactics such as developing a blog, investing in search engine optimization and search engine marketing, using Twitter … and owning all of your content on your own domain.

That’s pretty smart advice from someone who speaks from experience.

What Facebook Looks Like Today

Facebook's world mapBy now, everyone knows that Facebook has pretty much won the social media wars, as early entrant and rival MySpace hemorrhages employees as it tucks its tail between its legs and slinks away.

And Facebook itself is a good chronicler of the hyperactivity of Facebookers wordwide. Recently, it published some stats on “what 20 minutes on Facebook looks like.” Among the revelations:

 ~10.2 million comments uploaded every 20 minutes
 ~2.7 million photos uploaded
 ~2.0 million “friend” requests accepted
 ~1.8 million status updates posted
 ~1.6 million wall posts
 ~1.5 million event invites sent out
 ~1.3 million photos tagged
 ~1 million links shared

Fan designations (or “likes”) are now reaching stratospheric proportions for some celebrities. And who were the most popular in 2010 based the “most liked” status? The results show a major skew towards the younger generation … and toward entertainers rather than political, scientific or academic leaders:

 Lady Gaga: ~25 million people “like”
 Eminem: ~24 million people
 Megan Fox: ~20 million people
 Vin Diesel: ~19 million people
 Rihanna: ~19 million people

Where does President Barack Obama rank by comparison? He’s at ~17 million “likes” – right along with Bob Marley, Li’l Wayne, Justin Bieber and Shakira.

Personally, I found the trends in relationship status to be the most interesting. There were quite a few relationship changes … but perhaps not as many as you might expect considering that there are an estimated 600 million active users on Facebook these days.

For the record, here’s what happened with personal relationships in 2010:

 ~44 million people changed their status to “single”
 ~37 million changed their status to “married”
 ~28 million changed their status to “in a relationship”
 ~6 million changed their status to “engaged”
 ~3 million changed their status to “it’s complicated”

Notice that the number of people who migrated away from marriage were nearly equally matched by those becoming engaged or getting hitched. As the famous French saying goes, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)