TheCUBE is Traveling Tech TV

The folks at Wikibon and SiliconANGLE have been traversing the country for the last two years with a cleverly packaged portable streaming video platform they call TheCUBE. They touch down at the site of a technology conference, stake out a couple of hundred square feet of floor space and start pulling in speakers and attendees for interviews. The interviews are streamed live online and archived on the SiliconANGLE Network channel on YouTube. At the recent EMC World Conference they blew through 72 video interviews.

Wikibon founder Dave Vellante is clearly having the time of his life, and they’re making money, too. Conference organizers and sponsors pay for the coverage. Here they are at this week’s IBM Edge conference in Las Vegas, where TheCUBE is at the center of the action and the interviews are playing continually on screens around the conference floor. Congratulations to Dave and John Furrier for a great and well-packaged idea.

TheCUBE at the IBM Edge Conference

 

Marketers See Value But Remain Wary About Social Media

This article originally appeared in BtoB magazine.

For the past year, business professionals have connected to each other online as never before. Now marketers are trying to figure out a way to monetize these new networks.

The MySpace effect finally seeped into the business world, triggering explosive growth for the new darlings of social networking: Facebook and LinkedIn. Both networks had breakout years, with Facebook breaching the 60 million-member mark. LinkedIn, with 20 million members, broke from the pack to become the place where business people make contacts, find jobs and develop professional relationships.

Social networks are proving to have the kind of stickiness that marketers have long dreamed of. People give up all kinds of details willingly in the name of furthering friendships. Facebook’s early 2007 decision to open its platform to developers has created a gusher of 16,000 new applications. While few have gained much traction, marketers are pushing ahead in hopes of inventing a megahit like Scrabulous.

The battle for supremacy in the broad social network market is effectively over. MySpace and Facebook together account for 88% of all visits to social network sites, according to HitWise (LinkedIn wasn’t included in those totals). Although MySpace holds a three-to-one advantage in total visitors, users actually spend more time on Facebook, according to comScore Inc. Emory University surveyed its incoming freshmen last fall and learned that 97% had Facebook accounts.

YOUTUBE A BIG WINNER

Another big social networking winner is YouTube, with 66 million videos. Although widely perceived as a playground for backyard videographers, YouTube has had some notable b2b successes. IBM’s tongue-in-cheek “Mainframe: Art of the Sale” videos have grown traffic to its associated blog tenfold. JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman took to YouTube to explain the February 2007 crisis that left thousands of travelers stranded.

Social networks are now springing up in vertical professional communities. Sermo claims to have 50,000 members in its online physicians network. Big winners overseas are virtually unknown here. They include Orkut.com (Brazil), Cyworld.com (Korea), Mixi (Japan) and Grono (Poland), to name a few.

Now the vexing question is how to market to these groups.

Social networks have remained stubbornly resistant to promotional campaigns. Many experts believe that’s because the intensely personal interactions between members prohibits traditional interruption marketing. MySpace has made the most progress. Researcher eMarketer expects it to generate $820 million in advertising this year, nearly four times the estimate for Facebook.

But there have been disappointments. Google’s subpar fourth-quarter results were blamed, in part, on MySpace advertising shortfalls. And recent data has indicated that social network traffic is leveling off.

B2b marketers have been wary about social network campaigns. For one thing, the conversation is unpredictable. Reliable metrics still don’t exist and the paucity of success stories has also dampened enthusiasm. Then there was the outcry over Facebook’s social shopping experiment, called Beacon, which let members see each other’s purchasing activity, sometimes without their knowledge. Marketers wrestle with how to engage an audience that shuns messaging.

Social media thus stands at an awkward transition stage: businesses overwhelmingly understand its importance but are unsure of how to take advantage of it. While 78% of respondents to a Coremetrics survey said social media marketing is a way to gain competitive edge, they’re spending less than 8% of their online marketing budgets there.

BLOGS GO MAINSTREAM

They aren’t nearly as curmudgeonly about blogs, however. Corporate activity in the blogosphere has ramped up even as the hype has died down.

Recent entries into the blogosphere include Marriott, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota and Wal-Mart. Even the Transportation Safety Administration has gotten into the act, giving five midlevel employees the green light to blog on behalf of the organization about the practices that befuddle frequent travelers.

There’s a trend here. B2b marketers are finding that employees can be powerful and persuasive advocates of the company message. Microsoft and Sun both claim to have more than 5,000 employee bloggers, and corporate giants like Southwest Airlines and Kodak have structured their blogging initiatives around ordinary employees and even customers.

The surprise social media winner has been podcasting. Those downloadable radio programs have turned out to be a hit with time-challenged business people.

Emarketer estimates that the U.S. podcast audience grew 285% in 2007 to 18.5 million people and will hit 65 million people in 2012. More importantly for b2b marketers, Arbitron reported that 72% of podcast listeners are older than 25 and 48% are older than 35. General Motors, Purina, HP, IBM, Kodak, Wells Fargo and many others are using them to reach business influencers.

It all adds up to a chaotic scene, although there are signs that consolidation is setting in and the flood of new services is slowing.

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What Makes a Good B2B Online Video

I spent some time with comic video whiz Tim Washer (also @timwasher) at B2B Forum last week, and he followed up with a few questions about how B2B companies are using online video as part of their content marketing programs. I shared some opinions with him, but why not share them with everybody else as well? I’d like to hear your answers to these questions, too.

What companies have succeeded/failed at using videos for B2B marketing?

There are numerous successes, and Tim’s list on SocialMediaB2B is a good starting point.

I would add Cisco to that list. Cisco has long done a good job of leveraging video in almost every kind of communications, from product announcements to contests to customer testimonials. Here’s one:

I like IBM’s customer videos a lot (example). Its Centennial video was outstanding, and it used video very effectively for the wholeWatson Jeopardy challenge. (Full disclosure: Both Cisco and IBM are past or current clients.)

Of course, you have to hand it to Corning for the most successful B2B viral video ever.

PTC’s “I Am a [Pro] Engineer” is a great example of how to use a theme.

The Ben Heck show on Element14 is perfect for its audience.

Google also does a great job. The Project Glass video is inspired. You might argue that this isn’t pure B2B, but it’s pretty damn good.

As far as failures, I don’t want to name names, and there are so many candidates that it wouldn’t be fair to do so. Here are some of the most common fails I see with business videos in general:

  • Long, monotonous monologues by talking heads. I believe three minutes is about the threshold for the audience’s attention span. If all you’re doing is reading a script, then video adds no value.
  • Scripted but poorly rehearsed stunts. Someone writes a parody song or a comedy skit and a group performs it without any attention to staging or even without any apparent rehearsal. The result looks amateurish, and I think that reflects badly on the company.
  • Poor quality lighting/sound/composition. You see this in a lot of do-it-yourself videos, particularly if they’re composed in a work environment. The content may be interesting, but the sound quality is poor or there are distracting images or noises in the background. It’s worth investing in a wireless mic and a couple of spotlights if you’re going to make video part of your public image.

What is the value of using a “non-messaging” approach to B2B videos, e.g. storytelling, entertainment, humor?  

As I frequently tell audiences, storytelling is the most basic form of human communication. We instinctively relate to the experiences of others, and that’s why framing your point in the context of a story is so effective. Ronald Reagan knew this. He drove his critics crazy because of his ability to shoot down a well-researched and  supported argument with a single anecdote.

The reason non-messaging is becoming critical is because people don’t have to listen to messages anymore. It’s become very difficult to interrupt people and deliver a message, particularly online. We have to attract them to come to us because our content is useful, interesting or entertaining. In a world in which people have developed ways to block nearly all messages, it’s the only way to get their attention. That’s why “content marketing” is now so hot.

Which metrics most accurately measure the success of videos?   

Look for engagement metrics: subscribers, likes/dislikes, favorites, comments, shares. I really like YouTube’s “relative audience retention” metric, which shows a video’s ability to retain viewers during playback by comparing it to all YouTube videos of similar length. The point isn’t to measure whether people start the video, but whether they complete it.

Do you see any new trends developing around online videos and B2B marketing? 

I think business videos are becoming much more professional. In the early days of YouTube a lot of companies posted videos simply because they could. The quality was spotty and most of them were too long. This is natural with any new technology. People triangulate until they get it right.

Now the technology to make good quality video has become affordable to nearly everyone. A lot of professional videographers have developed the skills they need for fast and high-quality online production and people are learning some basic best practices:

  • Have a story to tell and a script to work from.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Have good lighting and sound quality.
  • Rehearse and re-take until you get it right.
  • Keep the pace brisk. Even static images can look more interesting with panning, zooming and creative camera angles.
  • Use sound bites. Avoid monologues.
  • Identify people in the video.
  • Use attractive title and closing screens.
  • Edit aggressively to keep down the overall length and quicken the pace.
  • Use restraint with transitions and music. They should accent the content, not overwhelm it.

 

New Video Series Shows How Mobile Marketing Can Work for B2B

Christina Kerley is a leading voice in B2B mobile marketing, and she’s starting posting engaging educational videos that show how mobile devices can be incorporated into the B2B marketing mix. For example, conference organizers can replace those thick (and expensive) packages of conference materials with a mobile app that delivers latest information to the devices users are already carrying and builds in goodies like QR codes that people can scan to download slides and get bonus information. Thought-leadership material that companies are already producing should be optimized for display on tablets and smart phones because business travelers often have downtime in transit to catch up on reading.

CK has some great examples in this video series, which now includes six segments, each six to nine minutes in length. She’s promising to add a couple of new chapters each month. Here’s an example.

CIO Challenges Educators to Stay Relevant

Wichita State University CIO Dr. Ravi Pendse last month issued a provocative challenge to educators to rethink their tools and tactics if they are to remain relevant a decade from now.

Addressing a regional edition of the popular TED conference in Wichita, KS, Dr. Pendse, who is both the CIO of Wichita State University and an award-winning professor, said he chose the term “relevant” deliberately. In his view, educators who continue to rely upon lectures and chalkboards as the tools of their profession are becoming dangerously out of step with the ways in which young people learn.  Educators must not only adopt the tools the students use but also adapt their curricula to the topics that interest those students.

“If the goal is to get people excited about history, shouldn’t we study the history of Google?” he asked. “Our young people are looking for complete convergence. If you can’t provide it to them, you have a problem of relevance.”

To illustrate how out-of-step some educational institutions have become with even everyday technology, Dr. Pendse asked audience members to exchange cell phones with each other. He noted the nervous rumbling the exercise created among the crowd. “It’s uncomfortable not to have those devices with you,” he said. “So why do we tell people in the schools to turn them off? We should be using them as educational tools instead.”

Facebook is ubiquitous among college students, but many higher education administrators don’t use any social networks at all. With the social network expected to surpass 1 billion members sometime this summer, “Wouldn’t a class be popular that studied the sociology of Facebook?” he asked.

Dr. Pendse acknowledged that his views aren’t universally shared, but he expressed little sympathy for educators who refuse to change. “I call them CAVE people,” he quipped. “That stands for Colleagues Against Virtually Everything.”

The analogy of the caveman may not be lost on an older generation that is falling further behind. By the age of 21, many young people today have played 10,000 hours of online games, Dr. Pendse noted. Educators may not approve of that fact, but they need to accept it and discover some of the virtues of video games.

For example, “They require creativity. They even have built-in assessment tools; you can’t go to level 15 without completing level 14. And young people are collaborating across the world to figure out how to get to that next level.”

If educators are to get to the next level themselves, they need to put down the chalk and pick up the mouse. “Technology will never replace teachers,”’ he said, “but we can use technology to help a much greater number of students learn from each other.”

You can see Dr. Pendse’s 23-minute presentation below.

Two B2B Social Marketing Initiatives Worth Checking

A couple of notable B2B efforts have caught my eye recently that I wanted to share. One is Element14, a social community for engineers sponsored by an electronics distributor of the same name. I wrote in B-to-B magazine early this year about a Make magazine-like video series they started last fall that appeals to engineers’ passion for tinkering as well as for fun. Other new stuff that they’re doing (and this comes directly from the press release):

  • The industry’s first online design hub – the element14 knode – designed to help engineers accelerate design and development and bring products to market faster than ever before.
  • RoadTests – Allowing members to actually try out the latest new products for free and share their reviews with other engineers
  • Focused sub-groups – scores of technical forums ranging from LEDs, robotics, FPGAs, engineering student design teams, etc.
  • Over the last quarter alone, more than 500,000 people visited the online community, spending over 65,000 hours researching, collaborating and communicating with fellow engineers.

Element14 is trying to position itself as “Facebook for engineers,” and they’re doing a heckuva job. This is a commerce play, incidentally. The whole community is linked to an underlying catalog site. One of the innovative things about the Ben Heck Show is that each of his video hacks is accompanied by a parts list that you can order right on site.

When I first learned about Element14 a couple of years ago, it was a rather unremarkable document exchange engine. Over the last year, it’s evolved into a multimedia experience that bristles with value and fun. No doubt this wasn’t cheap, but it’s impressive to see a B2B community demonstrate this kind of ingenuity.

Update 12/6/11: Premier Farnell just announced that “The Ben Heck Show” has attracted more than three million views since its launch.

Also, check out Social Media Quickstarter, a tutorial site aimed at small businesses and launched just this week by Constant Contact. The site is organized in “chapters” by platform – Facebook, LinkedIn, Ratings and Reviews, QR codes and the like – and presents really useful tutorials in a step-by-step format, many including video. There are more than 70 chapters, all of which can be downloaded and printed.

There are several aspects of this ever that I like:

Minimal branding – Constant Contact intentionally keeps the focus on the content rather than its brand. In fact, the company name is in almost comically small type at the top of the home page. One smart move was to prominently note that the resource is “Powered by KnowHow,” which is a training service the company offers. It’s a low-key approach to branding that uses the quality of the content to validate the service.

Value – Constant Contact says it surveyed small businesses to discover that many didn’t know how to get started in social media, but you didn’t need research to figure that out. There is a crying need for this kind of basic education. The value of Social Media Quickstarter isn’t as much in the content itself as in the fact that it’s all in one place. You can Google around and find much of this advice elsewhere but the company has conveniently aggregated it in one spot.

Simplicity without Condescension – Quickstarter manages to walk that fine line between teaching basic skills and talking down to its audience. Quickstarter doesn’t pretend to be a resource for the digerati. It answers the basic questions that millions of small business owners are asking, and it does so in plain language with lots of pictures and video. It respects its audience.

Two impressive B2B social media efforts by two companies addressing very different audiences.

Linked In Overview, from Social Media Quickstarter from Social Media Quickstarter on Vimeo.

My Video Interview About B2B Social Media on EWeek Biz Advisor Blog

I recently chatted over Skype video with Eric Lundquist about how small and medium-sized businesses can use social networks to reach their customers. I made the point that social media plays perfectly to the passion that small business owners bring to their work. It’s an unfair vantage that small companies have.

Groupon Relents

Four days after its offensive ad campaign began, Groupon did the right thing and pulled the plug. CEO Andrew Mason posted an apology on the company blog that was a vast improvement over the explanation he had posted two days earlier. The controversy was an expensive lesson for Groupon; in accepting full responsibility for running the campaign, Mason presumably absolved the agency of any blame. On the other hand, it may ultimately work out to be a worthwhile investment.

Some cynics (including on this blog) have suggested that this whole controversy was scripted for the purpose of creating awareness of the Groupon brand, which it certainly did. I personally don’t buy that the public outrage was anticipated or planned. I don’t think Groupon could have enlisted so many celebrities to lend their names to a program that was designed to offend. This was a mistake, and the company ultimately did the right thing in apologizing and walking away. It gets credit for credibility, humility and fallibility, which are all endearing traits. Groupon may actually get more goodwill lift out of this whole controversy than if it had run tasteful ads in the first place.