Archive for June, 2011

In Search of Authenticity

Posted on June 26, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Back when chat rooms were the “in” thing, people used cryptic screen names like BostonGirl28 or luv2ride. Unless you actually knew these people in the three dimensional world, there was no way to know who you were really chatting with. Was Mike2468 really a 21-year-old Harvard athlete? Or was he a 45-year-old pedophile? Or a group of teenage girls having fun by pretending?

chat room lurker

The anonymity of the Internet allowed people to be someone they were not, whether to commit a crime, have a little fun, or temporarily escape low self esteem. There was a generally accepted belief that it was not safe to put your true identity online. Yet, I think the use of fake names, in and of itself, made the Internet an unsafe place to connect with people.

But times have changed and recent research has shown that, today, people are quite “real” on social networks. Rather than projecting an idealized version of themselves, as was popularly thought, users offer up their genuine feelings, behaviors and habits through sites like Facebook. In fact, many credit Facebook for this change, as it was the first social site to require people to register with their real name.

Not everyone thinks linking real identities with online personas is a good thing though. Christopher Poole, a 22-year-old social networking entrepreneur, created, a site in which all posters are anonymous. It has been called the anti-Facebook and, because of its raw, uncensored content, “the id of the Internet.” Poole claimed in an interview, that anonymity is authenticity. It allows kids to be kids—to say stupid things and not worry about them affecting you as an adult.

Christopher Poole

Christopher Poole

His theory assumes, however, that people stop saying stupid things when they grow up. Not to mention harmful things. In fact, the notorious hacker group “Anonymous” was hatched at of, although Poole claims no involvement.

While the “realness” of Facebook has its flaws and potential dangers, I think it largely encourages responsibility and honesty. Anonymity, on the other hand, allows people to write and act without fear of accountability.

Which site do you think offers more authenticity–Facebook or Is the Web safer when identities are exposed? 

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Flogging (and I’m not talking about the punishment)

Posted on June 19, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The term “unofficial” can imply that a source is unreliable or that information is not confirmed. Yet, in this day and age in which people trust each other far more than corporations, unofficial is where it’s at. To some, unofficial is the real deal, the inside scoop, the uncensored truth a company might not want you to know.

Unofficial blogs have sprouted up all over the Internet, written by current and former employees, rabid fans, and brand haters. Some (like IKEA Hackers) sing a brand’s praises, while others (think Walmart) tear the brand apart. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, power has shifted to the consumers, and we are having our say.

One way in which some companies are fighting back is through fake blogs (a.k.a. flogs). You may have heard about the 2006 Walmart flog fiasco, which involved the retailer paying a couple to travel across the U.S. in an RV, stay in Walmart parking lots along the way, and write lots of wonderful things about Walmart and its many happy employees in their blog, Walmarting Across America. This scheme backfired in a very public way when the “blog” was revealed to be a campaign dreamed up by Walmart’s PR agency.

The blogosphere may be part of the “Wild West” that is social media, but that doesn’t mean there are no standards of behavior. Among many bloggers who voiced their disapproval of Walmart’s flog tactic, Kevin O’Keefe of Real Lawyers Have Blogs claimed that the company broke the unwritten rules of the blogosphere; and Aude Sapere had just one harsh word—fraud.

I agree with Kevin and Aude in that blogs have a spirit, if not a written code; and that spirit is characterized by openness and transparency. Walmart took a “by the people, for the people” type of format and used it to try to fool and manipulate the people.

What about you? Do you think it is fair game for companies to test the limits of social media for gain, like Walmart did? Or do you think flogs are a betrayal of consumer trust?

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Going Viral

Posted on June 12, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In my last posting, I wrote about how advertising is everywhere these days and, as a result, we’re all getting a little numb to it. We fast forward through commercials, we barely glance at print ads, and heaven help the telemarketer who calls our cell phones. Thanks to technology (e.g., TiVo, caller ID, pop-up blockers), we have more control these days—and we’re using it to take a stand against advertising.

For the marketing industry, this shift in power means it needs to raise the bar to create advertisements that we want to watch. Ads that don’t interrupt our entertainment, but in fact, are entertainment. Ads that we just have to share with friends. Ads that, in the best case scenario, go viral.

An Ad Age article lists the top 10 viral ads of all time. While most ads are unceremoniously passed over by consumers, the top video ad of all time has more than 134 million views. It’s not for a soft drink. Or running shoes. It’s for a blender. Blendtec created an Internet sensation by blending everything from iPhones to glow sticks to golf balls.

So, what makes an ad go viral? According to the Social Times, no one cares about your product and its many benefits. Rather, they want compelling content. “You need to tell a compelling story or show something that is so funny or unique that viewers just can’t help but share your video with their friends.” Blended iPads, dancing hamsters and flash mobs all seem to fit the bill.

A Mashable article adds that video advertisements that provide good information are also candidates for going viral. People not only like to learn interesting, useful things, but like to teach them to others by sharing via email or social media.

A powerful combination of emotional content and valuable information has created a success for a new ad by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. Despite being five minutes long (forever for a commercial), this video about skin cancer is so compelling that it has received 2.3 million views in just over one month.

With the dawn of YouTube and social networking, friends can share memorable video ads with the click of a mouse. What are some of the ads you have deemed worthy of sharing, and why?

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No Free Lunch—Even on the Web

Posted on June 8, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I was surprised to discover recently that, according to a 2010 study by Performics, only two-thirds of Internet users are aware that some of the results you get from a Google search are actually paid advertisements. (Psst…for those in the other one-third, the ads are the ones in the shaded box at the top, as well as along the right side of the screen.) Because I hear so much grumbling about all of the advertising on the Web, I assumed everyone knew about these ads.

Google sponsored ads

People tend to dislike advertising in general, but some get especially testy when it invades their cyber turf. These folks might agree with the idea that “your Facebook page is your personal space,” as is proclaimed on a website offering an application to block Facebook ads. I, on the other hand, would say that Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg’s space, which he allows me to use, so he can make money from advertisers. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. We live in a capitalistic society—this kind of give-and-take is what makes it all work.

Facebook cash

The Web may have changed a lot of things, but one constant is the sentiment captured in the old adage, “You can’t get something for nothing.” You may not pay cash each time you look up useful or entertaining content on the Web, but you make a contribution with your time and attention, and maybe even a click or two. These actions, along with lots of online purchases, satisfy the advertisers who pay for prime real estate on search engines, Web-based publications, blogs, Facebook, and more.

Way back in 2002, a Wall Street Journal article warned that, without advertising, the Web would turn into a “pay-per-view world,” in which users would be charged for content. We actually have begun paying the piper to some extent, with some online publications, including The New York Times, introducing some form of a paid subscription. Just a few months ago, Ran Cohen issued a warning similar to the Wall Street Journal’s, reminding “Web freeloaders” that both advertising and data collection through cookies are what pay the bills for online publishers.

For those who are frustrated by Google’s “sponsored ads” and those pesky, moving banner ads, do you feel that the annoyance is worth it for the valuable content you’re accessing? If not, is there a price you’d be willing to pay for an ad-free Web?

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