May 13, 2013

Death to Blogger Whores! After reading a number of case studies describing how brands have used social influencers to drive commercial success, I get the feeling that bloggers are like Congressmen; they can be easily bought and paid for. And while FTC rules demand full disclosure, it seems that the journalistic ethics of early bloggers has succumbed to the easy baksheesh offered by brands, and their PR or social marketing firms, eager to marshal what appears to be consumer endorsements or momentum. Duane Reade’s “Show Us Some Leg” campaign outlined in the May edition of Internet Retailer , got me thinking about this. Working with a firm called Collective Bias, they identified likely bloggers using social listening tools. Then paid selected bloggers to go to the store, buy the products and crow about both experiences early and often. Duane Reade claims that over the 6-week campaign hosiery sales increased 28 percent. Though they aren’t really willing to attribute the sales spike solely to suborned bloggers. They paid up but they aren’t sure what they got in return. Zach Reiss-Davis of Forrester Research points out that it’s a cheap way to rally peer-to-peer reviews and to present what appear to be brand endorsements from fellow consumers. Marketers looking to efficiently buy word-of-mouth advertising can get some blog love to “bend a conversation in your direction.” As a long-term independent blogger, there’s something skeevy in this. Maybe I’m old fashioned. Or maybe I’m getting cranky in my old age. But if you’re a paid endorser, taking products and talking points from a brand, you absolutely have to disclose. It’s not only the law; it’s the right thing to do. Otherwise you’re just a covert whore. Similarly, agencies and firms organizing fake groundswells of social conversation ought to be held accountable, exposed, embarrassed and fined by the FTC. Brands can buy ads, pay endorsers, hire spokespeople, deploy affiliate programs and run all kinds of interactive events and experiences. Consumers understand the deal. They know who is talking to them and why. The great thing about social media is that it can be a real unvarnished conversation among people who share ideas and interests. Undercover advocates pollute and skew the genuine organic interaction between people that honest bloggers and credible social networks have worked hard to create. Fakers and liars should be rooted and hooted out.
6 Web 5.0 Imperatives In the beginning there were web pages. Brands staked their claims on the newly invented World Wide Web. Web 1.0 met consumer expectations that every brand would have an 800 number and a web page as points of contact. Web 2.0 was about finding, developing and embracing interactive technologies to engage customers, prospects and other constituencies. It was about Flash, bells and whistles and keeping up with the Joneses. Having a cool website mattered. Web 3.0 was about business results. It was a phase of encyclopedic websites. Governance was split between marketing and IT. The Holy Grail was a fully realized multi-dimensional interactive relationship between a brand and its customer base nurtured by using the latest and greatest tools to achieve predictable business results. Metrics, rather than showbiz, began to be important. In the Web 4.0 era, brands broke out of the corporate mold and sidestepped corporate rules to create countless mini-sites. Experimenting with one-off efforts to slip away from IT and corporate design and functionality restrictions, it was a re-run of 2.0 with more internal conflict and a much broader experimentation with designs, content and functionality. Video, photo carousels, animation and games were deployed. Social sharing was introduced. Brands began to orchestrate messaging, traffic and content between branded sites and Facebook. Today’s Web 5.0 is about the surgical use of sites to achieve specific marketing objectives in an era of near total mobility. Sites are no longer all things to all consumers. They are built to specifically and immediately achieve discrete business goals. They assume that context and mobility married to established best design, SEO and functionality practices will achieve results effectively and efficiently. And while everyone thinks they know how to create a 5.0 website, it is hardly the case. That’s why Gabe Shaoolian, founder of Blue Fountain Media is emerging as a Web 5.0 guru based on the sheer volume of sites he’s built and his UX-driven insights. Here are his six Web 5.0 imperatives. Start at the End. Determine what you want to the site to do. Then use user experience design techniques to direct visitors to make the desired action. Be rigorous. Eliminate anything that will distract or impede users. Put the most important stuff up front. Avoid too much scrolling. Pre-plan the page pathways. Then map them to business objectives. Use Responsive Design. The Internet has gone mobile. Build sites that automatically stretch to fit the screens they’re viewed on. Given the high rate of smartphone turnover and tablet adoption, responsive design is much easier and efficient than creating separate versions for each operating system and its variants. It will take a bit longer and cost a bit more. But the payoff, in terms of user experience and SEO, will be well worth it. Write for Scanners. Strive for clear concise messaging. Forget about intro pages. Anticipate FAQs. Proactively answer them. Avoid dense copy blocks and use lots of white space. Viewers, especially mobile users, scan. They don’t read. Design headlines and subheads to call out key messages. Use bullets and numbered lists to highlight content. And place big colored buttons to focus attention on your call to action. Forget Flash. The days of dazzle are over. Use video, animation and gaming techniques to engage visitors and sustain attention and page views. Don’t use music. Be careful when using copyrighted images, video, music or memes. Be wary of image carousels because rarely does a single viewer see all the images. Accelerate Sharing. Put social media buttons and sharing tools across the site. Create content with search and sharing in mind. Make it as easy as possible for visitors to help you earn added impressions. This is especially important for images, videos and games, which lend themselves to sharing. Make Navigation Simple. Put navigation across the top of the sight so users have a clear line of sight. Left navigation bars, especially on interior or sub pages are distracting and give visitors too many choices. Give users navigational control by using forward and backward breadcrumbs or numbers. The goal is to offer clear sign posts and reduce any friction or confusion. Web 5.0 promises to be the most productive era so far. Implementing these ideas will yield a site that improves your chances for customer engagement, commerce and loyalty.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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