Social Media

Paying For Artificial Buzz Makes Me Feel Dirty

So we knew people want to (and do) pay for twitter followers and retweets, but apparently now companies are resorting to pay-per-buzz in the form of actors at their announcement events. Even hip companies like Netflix, a company that seems to “get it” was just found guilty of this.

I guess when hype on the web and in the social sphere are what drive the success of major project  launches, desperate measures are sometimes needed.  I wonder if Apple has ever resorted to this at their WWDC events (queue ironic chuckle).

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Why Steve Jobs Doesn't (And Shouldn't) Give a Tweet

While Apple’s latest additions to its product lineup are arguably their best ever, their latest gaffes have been even better (at least for entertainment value). The iPhone 4, the sleekest, sexiest, thinnest, most fully functional badass superphone to hit the market, came with two amazing undocumented “features”: (1) it didn’t quite sync with exchange and (2) it came with an unanticipated hang-up button. How a company that is known for developing stable, easy to use products could release its flagship iPhone without first finding these flaws blows my mind. In the aftermath, Steve Jobs (whose email account is very well known to the public) has sent some scathing remarks to Apple customers via email. The same customers that he’s spent the last decade training to insta-buy his products whenever he chooses to release them. It is Steve’s zesty remarks that are the foundation of this post.

Twitter is all about brand building (both for people and for companies). The reason it acts this way is two-fold: (1) it’s an open environment to share thoughts, express feelings, and “legitamize” content (i.e. saying you believe that certain content is relevant to you / your company) and (2) it naturally induces conversation by reducing the distance between any two human beings (whether they’re little ol’ me or Mark Cuban) to an “@” symbol and 140 characters. Branding is all about an inherent dialogue between the brand and current / potential customer. Traditionally, by the sheer limits of media, branding was a primarily one way conversation. Today, however, through services like Twitter, both you and I can engage in a two-way communication with the brands we love and hate. As a consumer obsessed with technology, I’m a fan of a lot of things that optimize / enhance my life or just entertain me. Today when I am either pleased or pissed with a product I turn to twitter. Over the past year I’ve noticed brands engaging back in response (Tungle, Zappos, Comcast amongst many others). These responses have had a consistent positive impact on me as a consumer; they’ve either reduced my discontent or strengthened my brand loyalty (BTW, Comcast I hate you less, and Tungle / Zappos I <3 you more).

Onto Steve Jobs and why, given the latest emails he fired over the bough, he is the last person on earth that should be tweeting. Let me preface this by saying that I believe everything I read on the internet. Based on this preface, from what I’ve read Steve Jobs acts as a monarch at Apple (just see how he parks), is transparent with his expectations, and says EXACTLY what’s on his mind. Those are phenomenal qualities for a visionary leader, but horrible qualities if aimed at a pissed off and rabidly fanatical fan-base. Steve needs to learn this and FAST. While he doesn’t “Tweet” per se, any email he sends to an individual gets plastered on a thousand blogs and becomes a trending topic on Twitter.

So here’s my suggestion. While I have infinite respect for Steve Jobs and his willingness to spend time engaging with customers via email, he should only do so when it reinforces positive product / brand perceptions. For the negative situations, the situations where perhaps holding a phone in a certain way drops a call, he needs to let a herd of professional communications / PR folks take the lead on managing the brand’s response to the consumer. Oh and whoever is doing PR for Apple, don’t ever, EVER, let Steve Jobs get a Twitter account. Instead of 9 out of 10 fiery messages making it into the spotlight (and at least some question as to their authenticity), you’ll have all 10 to contend with.

Today, Google Buzz. Tomorrow, Total World Domination.

Google Buzz, just released this week, is the latest step by Google towards total world domination. I’m semi-serious about this… a single corporation is about to have the richest data-set ever conceived about each and every one of us. Buzz’s core functions are far from revolutionary. However two key factors will play into Buzz’s ultimate success: (1) Buzz’s applicability to Google’s other core products and (2) the ease of user adoption from Google’s already enormous user base.

Why Buzz is Going to Succeed

Google Buzz is like a mesh blanket that’s is going to have its fingers in every major Google product by the time they’re done with it. I’ll explain how I think Buzz is going to change things for me. I’m an avid Google Reader fan – an amazing Gmail-esque tool for consolidating my daily reading of blogs, newspapers, and tech review sites. I find extremely interesting articles daily that I think a certain group of my friends would be interested in. Although I can share this today with Gmail integration, Buzz offers a frictionless tool for pushing this to not only my friends but also to a broader community of people that realize we virtually share interests. Add this to my use of Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Groups, Youtube, and Picasa – its going to be incredibly powerful to allow a community to share their thoughts on the content we collectively produce. I anticipate a day this semester where I will have a team project and instead of co-locating at Sloan we will use a shared Google Doc, Picasa Album, Google video conferencing, and most importantly Buzz commentary to help mold our final deliverable.

Whats even more impressive (albeit obvious) is that Buzz sits atop the enormous user-base that Google has acquired over the years through basic consumer focused services like Gmail. In twenty years would I ever see my Mom (a) understanding what Twitter is enough to (b) sign up and start tweeting? No way. Will she likely click the “add Buzz” link in her Gmail account and then “Buzz” me? More likely than I want to admit. Twitter’s user acquisition is increasing at a decreasing rate, but Google Buzz’s user adoption is going to shoot up like a rocket ship. Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, wrote a great post that was published on about the instant user-adoption Buzz will experience due to its tight integration with Gmail.

Challenges Do Remain

Not all social networks were meant to be included in your social graph. I read an interesting article on the blog: “A VC” which you can read here. The commentary is that your social graph in Buzz, which will piggyback on many years of Gmail history, will likely include a list of people you’ve corresponded with that you wouldn’t want to include in your Buzz network. Twitter, with its artificial barrier to entry (i.e. understand it, sign up, determine its value to you, and use it) may better facilitate the construction of an ideal social graph.

While the world continues on its way towards information sharing / transparency, there are still a ton of skeptics. Even as an early adopter of social networking, I sometimes get a sinking feeling that a single 140-character post on Twitter will haunt me when I’m in the hunt for my ideal job 10 years from now. I’m more carefree than most but I have a good friend who is terrified to join the Twitterverse because he has aspirations to one day enter into politics. Google will win if they figure out a user-intuitive way of controlling visibility to “Buzzes” in a way that enables purging of now public information in the future.

Buzz Explains a Lot

When the Google / Twitter acquisition talks were in progress, I would have bet the farm Google would buy Twitter. With Google’s market cap and cash in the bank, it was the most logical merger Google could make even with Twitter’s $1B valuation. Google made the smart play – sign an agreement to buy Twitter data but focus on developing Buzz internally. Now they have the best of both worlds – ease of integration with their core products combined with real-time data generated both in Buzz and Twitter.

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