Tell Me, Tell Me

7 06 2012

It was about a year ago that I had lunch with one of my colleagues, Dr. Pradeep Racherla. After about an hour of bantering about social media, he sat back and asked the $64,000 question: “So, Dr. Gerlich, what do you think is next?”

I, too, sat back. I scratched my chin (I do that when I am nervous). My gaze shifted top-left. And with all the wisdom I could muster as a senior faculty member, I responded: “I don’t know.”

So much for experience.

The fact of the matter is, this is a question I am asked many times by students. And it is a very good question. But if I knew the answer, I would probably ditch this job and head to California to start a company.

It is also a question that has been dealt with in a slightly different way by one analysts asking whether Facebook will be in existence in 2020. His answer: No.

He went on to show how Yahoo has failed to evolve from a 1st-generation internet company to 2nd-gen (social media), and how Google has likewise stumbled at the same level (Google+ is its third…and hopefully last…attempt at social media). As for Facebook, he sees the 900-million-pound elephant in the living room as having no ability whatsoever to evolve into a 3rd-gen company, which is mobile.

And I don’t mean mobile apps, although that is a part of it. He argues convincingly that FB has failed miserably on the mobile graph, and I concur. Yes, FB has paid lip service to the fact that, while about one-half of all visits are via mobile devices, there are no ads placed for those moving eyeballs. But so far, nothing. It was three months ago that FB announced it would start placing ads on our phones and tablets, but they must be waiting for something more significant than just a near-perfect annular eclipse or Venus transit.

To say that Facebook has fallen flat since its 18th May debut is an understatement. I saw it coming, and refused to buy in. The revenue model is still very weak. And although they have increased the number of ads running down the right pane (there were once three ads, and now sometimes as many as eight), as well as ad placements along with our photos, they have allowed the mobile area to remain an ad-free zone.

It’s kind of like allowing patrons to eat for free at your restaurant. But the shareholders won’t tolerate such silliness for long.

So what will the future hold? The analyst thinks that Facebook’s inability to evolve is the crux of the matter, but I think that something bigger and better will come along that will cause us all to think, “Man, Facebook sure is lame. How did we live for so long with it?” Remember, innovations come along overnight in this business, as evidenced by FB’s purchase of Karma, which was only launched three months ago.

No, we are going to be amazed by something new. Something of which we haven’t the slightest inkling. Something that will conjure up that old saw about sliced bread.

Think about Yahoo. Consider the venerable software giant Microsoft. Heck, let’s go real old school and think about Kodak. Yahoo is well on its way to becoming an internet ghost town. Microsoft’s lunch is being eaten by Apple daily, and it has no horse in the social media race (unless you count its research project). And Kodak…well, let’s just say it was nice knowing you. Companies, like the seasons, change with regularity.

I really do wish I could have answered Dr. Racherla’s question, but he was drawing blanks as much as I that day. It is hard to envision a world without Facebook, but then again, we felt the same way about MySpace. It is hard to believe that the company was once purchased for $580 million by Murdoch in 2005, and then sold six years later for $35 million. These things happen. Facebook had a better product.

And someone else will, too, sometime between now and 2020. Just be ready to embrace it. And if you are really smart, you will be among the first to figure out how businesses can leverage it. That’s where the money is…knowing how to use the platform.

And maybe, just maybe, it will have an IPO worth buying into. Now keep your fingerprints off my crystal ball.

Dr “Future Perfect” Gerlich

It’s About Time

7 06 2012

People are funny. We become creatures of habit, and every time someone rearranges the furniture of our lives, we get anxious. Nervous. Even angry.

Like when our favorite supermarket resets the shelves. Gone are the days of cruising in to grab a pound of coffee and box of cereal. No siree, now we have to look for things. Of course, it is all by design, because the supermarket wants us to have to look for things. They want to break our routine.

I continue to be amazed by how disgruntled folks become whenever Facebook makes a change. Wall campaigns are launched, vendettas pronounced, threats to close accounts made perfectly clear.

Yeah, whatever. Not a single one of us has paid a lousy nickel so far for our beloved Facebook accounts. You’d think we owned the place or something.

The biggest uprising of late has revolved around the deployment of Timeline, announced last September, rolled out in beta in December, and now slowly but surely being foisted upon every single one of the 900 million Facebook users worldwide. My colleagues and I recently conducted a study of early Timeline adopters, and found that the three biggest predictors of early adoption were the number of Facebook friends one has, as well as the degree of daily routine they have made Facebook, and their score on an openness to change scale specifically tailored to the Facebook experience. (Our first paper is currently under review for possible presentation and publication this fall.) For the record, I love Timeline. It’s a photographer’s dream come true.

But while individuals are battling it out, an entirely different event is unfolding regarding companies and Timeline. In this arena, though, there is no squabbling. Companies, organizations, individuals and even brands can now be presented in the Timeline format. And for those who have adopted it (and fully embraced it), the possibilities are seen as nearly endless. No, Timeline is not something to which we migrate or begrudge. It is the new corporate website.

And companies are now publishers.

In the span of fewer than 20 years, we have gone from static corporate websites that were nothing more than brochureware, to full-blown interactive Facebook pages that are now the curated content of the company, brand, person, etc., which it represents. It is more than just back-filling the Timeline (much like we might add births, marriages, graduations, etc.). Now it is about creating a visual representation of all the company deems important in its past.

Certainly, this can be abused. We witnessed this very phenomenon last winter after Lowe’s had its debacle over All-American Muslim, and decided to pull nearly 30,000 comments from its Wall after things got a little out of hand. “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along,” became their implicit message, as if the whole thing had never happened.

But for those companies without corporate communications crises or closet skeletons, Timeline is the best thing since HTML.

The fact that all manner of multimedia can be embedded only makes it better. Oh, and pity those half-asleep companies (and individuals!) who do not think outside the column, for Timeline’s 2-column layout can be expanded with one simple click on each post (click the “Highlight” icon). Suddenly, your cool post or picture will bridge the gutter and go wall-to-wall.

Many companies have jumped on the Timeline train, and seen it for what it’s worth. But my fave so far is New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins), who leveraged Timeline leading up to the introduction of their new Shift Pale Lager brand this April. Beautiful photography in the Cover Pic, changed out every few days, showed the product in various stages of packaging and transport as the big roll-out loomed. New Belgium is one of the few companies to have already begun work on social media metrics, and has a good idea of exactly how much revenue each one of the Likes is worth (about $260 annually).

For those companies who have made a habit of Timeline, the change represents opportunity, not something to bicker over. Now if we could just get over it at the personal level and move on.

Dr “Time In A Bottle” Gerlich

Karma Chameleon

7 06 2012

Most of the major world religions have some tenet regarding the doing of good things. This “do unto others” idea is intended to promote social good, and possibly benefit the doer in the long run. What goes around, comes around. Do good things, and good things will happen to you. Do bad things, and bad things will happen to you…now or later. A non-sectarian views this as the ethic of responsibility. Christians call it The Golden Rule. And Buddhists call it karma, which can accumulate over multiple reincarnations.

Which is why I was intrigued when Facebook, under cover of its much-hyped IPO on 18th May, quietly purchased Karma the same day. Karma is a social gift-giving app, and follows hot on the heels of FB’s previous purchases of Instagram and Gowalla. I had to wonder if this one would come back to haunt them…or would good things prevail?

Karma greatly simplifies buying gifts to the point that all one need lift is a thumb. I know…all that tapping can wear one out, but it sure beats having to actually go online, or, worse yet, go to the store. Gifts can be given via SMS, email or Facebook.

At the surface, this really does sound like a winner for Facebook, as well as lazy shoppers, he says as he stands in front of the mirror pointing. Never mind all the inconvenience of shopping. This just makes good sense, because all of our friends are already on Facebook, right? How easy could it possibly be to weigh them down in gifts?

While FB’s IPO weighed in the gazillions of dollars, Karma was a mere $80 million purchase. And while FB announced its intentions to keep the February 2012 start-up running as a separate entity, you can bet your bottom friend request that it will soon be integrated into every last sponsored story.

About the only folks who do not stand to benefit from Karma are those of us with family and friends who…ahem…have not joined the social graph yet. Like my aging parents. Can you believe this? I had to actually go online to purchase Mother’s Day flowers! Heck, I may as well have driven to Florida and delivered them myself.

If you read that with the voice of Louis CK running inside your head, it will be funnier.

I think you get my point. And naturally, Facebook/Karma, as intermediary of all this gift-giving, is going to rake a tidy margin for its own coffers.

But the part I like best is that, once you have loaded the app to your phone or tablet, Karma searches your friends’ and family members’ Facebook accounts to glean their likes. It then makes suggestions. “Hey Nick, your brother will love the Three Stooges movie on DVD when it comes out.” Or, “Might I suggest the Gewurtztraminer?”

And if you happen to be shopping for a gift for your ever-loving professor, a six-pack of anything from New Belgium Brewing Co will make me happy. Hint, hint.

The idea of social gifting is a new one, and probably one that is going to take some time. We’ll also have to screen the suggestions, because a person’s mere mentions of a product do not necessarily imply liking. It could, in fact, be loathing dripping with sarcasm.

Whether Facebook’s purchase will be seen as good karmic activity remains to be seen. So far, the shareholders are not a happy lot, given the tumultuous slide since the 18th. But hey, Father’s Day is coming up. There’s hope that this Karma could change the color of Facebook and keep everyone happy.

Dr “Fat Tire Is My Favorite” Gerlich

A Little Dabble Do Ya

7 06 2012

The last blog of the semester is always a bittersweet one for me. Some days I struggle to find time to write (although I am seldom ever at a loss for words). While I do look forward to the mental break, I know that after a month of down time, I will be more than anxious to fire up the writing engine again for summer school.

As for my students, I am sure they have been ready a long time for me to take a break. This is the 96th blog of the semester; aside from my annual Spring Break re-telling of how I met my children’s mother, each and every blog has been an original. (For the record, I allow myself two reruns per year…the one at Spring Break, the other at Thanksgiving, in which I share my Adbusters story.) If anything, the end of the semester has come at a good time…our collective wells are running dry and we need a downpour to recharge the aquifer.

We have come a long way, though, since the 18th of January, in which I led off with a blog about Pandora. Facebook has once again been a frequent topic…with the release of Timeline and acquisition of Instagram gaining the most print. We have praised those companies with a vision for the future, while bashing those (think: Walmart’s online cash option) who have their heads in the sand. And as per usual, the course this year has been very different from those of previous years. You can count on that. It’t the nature of evolution. Something new and presumably better is always coming around the corner.

Which leads me to my topic du jour: Dabble, the social geo-location based photo app. Think FourSquare. Think Instagram. Think Facebook.

Yeah, pretty much all rolled into one.

The gist of it is this: it is a social way to create virtual postcards of places, all of which are tied to specific locations. Your friends and followers can view yours and vice-versa; others can also see your pics if they happen to be at that particular place. In essence, it becomes a crowdsourced journal of photo postcards that over time could serve as a gigantic repository of images from all different angles.

I know. You’re thinking, “But who needs yet another social network?”

Probably no one, to be honest. It’s hard enough to juggle Facebook and Twitter, much less FourSquare, Instagram and Pinterest. And like all the others, Dabble cross-posts to all the majors (if you wish), so you do not have to worry about only a handful of people seeing your photographic genius.

So I have taken it out for a test drive. I have one Dabble friend; I have one picture (a pretty awesome shot of WT’s Old Main, I might add). Dabble does not have the retro filters of Instagram, but it does have that geo-tagging feature so that all who shoot campus pics after me will bow before my lens.

Of course, location-based services all bring with it enormous user risk in the form of TMI provided to total strangers…like, “Hey, I see that so-and-so is not at home right now…and in fact, he is 1000 miles away.”

Which is another way of saying that, with all things social, use some sense. Don’t tell so much that you may as well have left the key in the door.

But aside from this drawback, I can see Dabble (or one of its competitors) actually having a glimmer of hope. We are far from seeing the end of creative juices flowing among entrepreneurs and developers. The end is not near.

Except for this semester, that is. It is my hope that during the last 96 blogs your eyes have been opened to the length and breadth of marketing as it continues to evolve, for it is an entirely different animal than it was a mere three months ago. And it will continue to change. Come back in a year and this course will not be the same. Literally.

And now may you go forth with the wonderment of a child as she partakes of new experiences. May you act like a kid in the toy store of innovation, grabbing at least one of everything new. And may you never forget your old toys, because those were what made you who you are today.

Be sure to take a picture and post it. Next year’s students will have fun dabbling with it.

Dr “Photo Finish” Gerlich