Thursday, May 31, 2012

 Social Networking: From Main Street to Wall Street

This afternoon on CNBC's "Closing Bell", the CEO of Morgan Stanley (and a fellow Columbia Business School alumn), James Gorman,was forced to face the social networking music in an exclusive interview with Maria Bartiromo. The dark-haired Aussie defended the pricing of the hot IPO, citing unprecedented market demand and particularly the demand from retail investors.  Now, with the stock, while trading off it's lows, the stock closed down 22% eradicating  $3.5+ bn in shareholder value.

Back in 2004, it was unfathomable to picture a world where parents, grandparents, bosses, etc. would be perusing the same social networking site as I was. Nine years later, and with the entire family armed with iPhones, Facebook serves as my primary means of communication (outside of text messaging, of course).  Having created my Facebook account the summer before arriving as a Freshman at college (literally seconds after getting my .edu email address), I've seen the site transform itself from a bare bones profile page, with photo upload capabilities and some key profile data points (relationship status, undergraduate university, interested in, etc.) to an online digital media center, personal event planner, and chronological memory bank for the past ten years of a person's life on Facebook.

 So of course there was going to be unprecedented retail demand for the IPO.  Retail investors are what breathe life into Facebook every minute of every day in every timezone.  Facebook users, are the value proposition. Unfortunately, and as with many high profile events, the spotlight ran a muck on the offering and particularly with the series of events that took place on Friday, May 18th, the first day of trading. It was like watching the ball drop on New Years Eve, except when the clock struck 11am, the confetti canons failed to work.  Everyone was looking for some acceptable explanation behind the delay.  Statements from the exchange later attempted to assuage the [trading] public.  Yes, trading glitches take place all the time (ie. delayed reporting, late fills, spillage, etc.) just unfortunate to have taken place when everyone, including my retired parents, were watching.

Facebook, now must serve its shareholders, adding value wherever and whenever possible.  I'm skeptical that this mandate will truly align itself with what lies at Facebook's core, namely a social network that allows people to share information they want with those who they want to share it with.


Software is Eating the World

If there is one venture capital firm to be watching, it's Andreesen Horowitz. The founders, Marc Andreesen and Ben Horowitz are two of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time. They've been the leaders and creators of the most important trends in technology. This article from Wired is a great summary of Marc's career. I was once in the same room with Ben and can tell you that he's awesome (or that I was awestruck, or both).

One of the most important theses they have is that "software is eating the world." Briefly, this means that automation through software is going to change every single industry in major ways. We've seen it in the record industry and in the publishing industry, among others. It's coming to everywhere else. Here are a few questions we should all ask ourselves as we head in this direction (with some specific areas of focus):
  1. Are we ready for this lightning speed of change to come to everything? (Disruption of status quo on a regular basis)
  2. Is our government and current legal processes ready to handle this? (Software patents, fair use of content)
  3. How can we fix education to give everyone an equal shot at being the next A16Z? (Access to broadband, programming language instruction)

So far, A16Z has absolutely killed it with this thesis. I think it's because they intimately understand where the internet is going, where it should go, and the qualities a leader requires to take a company there. In this Forbes article, Columbia alum Bill Campbell adds that, "They have set the new standard of services to startups." I would absolutely invest every dollar I have in their fund if only they would let me (can $1MM in school loans make me an accredited investor?).

Marc, Ben and the rest of the team blog at, I highly recommend that you go there regularly.

Tell me what you think: @bballan or


Why tweet when you can Thunderclap?

Crowdspeaking is a word that the people over at Thunderclap are hoping will soon be as common as crowdsourcing as they move to open their new application up to the public.  The basic premise is that when you have a message that you fee needs to be heard, the community of thunderclap users will be able to elect to 'support' that message.  If 500 people support your message within one week (currently the proposed default settings) then that message will automatically be retweeted on Twitter by those who chose to support that message in the first place.  The Thunderclap team say that as 'the first-ever crowdspeaking platform" big ideas will now be able to "enjoy exponential amplicfication". 

The question is, are people more likely to retweet something if 499 other people are doing it? What do you think?


Coffee Breaks Don't Boost Productivity After All

Coffee Breaks Don't Boost Productivity After All

(Harvard Business Review – May 2012)
Post: by, Lewis (B8699: Digital Marketing Strategy & Tactics (MBA))

According to this article in the May issue of Harvard Business Review, research has found that taking breaks from work does not boost employee energy levels as much as people had previously thought.  While vacations and time away from work help people to decompress and improve their moods, the positive effects felt from these breaks wear off after a few weeks and people return to square one.  The article does not discuss the long term benefits of breaks, in terms of overall health, and I’m not sure if it’s even possible to measure this connection, but it did point out interesting findings related to short breaks - referred to as "microbreaks"- throughout the day and their effects on work productivity.  According to the research, short breaks that were unrelated to work – such as coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, taking personal calls, or taking a walk outside – did not improve people’s energy levels or productivity.  However, short breaks that involved work - such as talking to co-worker about a project or praising that co-worker on her work - maintained energy levels and kept productivity at higher levels than non-work-related breaks.  This finding is not surprising to me.  I find that any time I get off track from my task, it is that much harder to get back on and restart the engine.  It seems logical that work-related breaks fuel the fire, because your brain continues to be stimulated and nourished by the same type of material.  I think it helps to move around and change the scenery a bit in order to avoid brain busts or irritability, but I think that limiting the amount and frequency of non-work-related breaks is a good thing.  For me, it is much more difficult to get back to work after tuning out for a bit.


Meeker of KPCB Bullish on Mobile Monetization

In a relatively short time frame, having a smart phone has transformed from merely possessing a status symbol to a necessary tool for the average person that facilitates almost every day-to-day interaction. Yet mobile commerce is still at a nascent stage, making up only 8% of U.S. e-commerce. Many in the mobile space observe that, despite booming traffic, monetization remains a major challenge for mobile app developers. Remarks by Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, at a recent presentation on Internet trends indicate that the future bodes well for making money from mobile. Meeker asserts that mobile monetization "has more going for it" than early desktop monetization, citing the very rapid user growth, increasing engagement, and unparalleled rate of innovation. Further, Meeker notes that there is often a lag time between increasing usage of new media and ad spend associated with it. Within 3 years, she believes that mobile monetization will exceed desktop PC monetization.

While this forecast may be overly optimistic, the underlying trend is inevitable. Smart phone users exhibit diminishing reliance on PCs for basic tools, such as email and web browsers, and mobile devices offer more convenient functionality relevant to a host of regular activities (i.e., shopping, review seeking, street mapping). This translates into greater mobile usage and hence more revenue streams for businesses in this space. Meeker points out that GREE achieved average revenue per member growth (roughly 2x within a year), which may not be the best benchmark for the rest of the sector since it's a Japanese mobile gaming company...


Social Media gaining budget control

As mentioned in the article Liquor Giants Plug Into Social Media, the use of laptops, tablets, and smartphones has increased the accessibility of information online. Users from all parts of the world are engaging and interacting with brands at an overwhelming speed, and companies must keep pace.
Massive liquor producers and distributors such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard (No. 1 and 2 spirits companies in the world – measured by revenue) are responding to this shift in trends by directing impressive figures away from traditional advertising towards social media.
By advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, brands can better understand their consumers, their behaviors, moods, perceptions, needs, and triggers. It can verify or disprove target markets, enabling brands to adjust their marketing efforts and focus them on their true consumers.  
The benefits of gaining such a direct contact are such, that Diageo has increased its budget allocation to Social Media up to 20%. Even though traditional advertising through television and film still take the lead in the distribution of marketing budgets of companies, there is a rapid growth of expenditure in social media advertising.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow marketers to have direct contact with consumers. Consumers are also able to share, comment, and gather information about brands or products. However, companies must be aware of the potential negative advertising that can rise from bad experiences. Undesirable comments or accusations are as rapidly spread as positive remarks.
Furthermore, on the consumer side, social media gives consumers the chance to identify with and even “own” brands or products. By searching for what they like or even sharing and commenting about their preferences gives them a sense of ownership and allows them to express their perceptions. It creates awareness and promotes the creation of membership to unique groups. By becoming a fan of a Facebook page or a Twitter follower, consumers gain knowledge and information that non-members are not entitled to receive.    
Companies that are not diving into the Social Media trend are losing an enormous opportunity to engage their consumers and create value through communication.


Social Media: Marketers - tread carefully!

Social media marketing has become more valuable than ever.  Not only is it relatively low cost and much more measurable than traditional media, but the direct and targeted communication with consumers that it allows is extremely valuable.  Unfortunately, if companies and brands do not approach this new-found tactic strategically, it can go terribly wrong.  An article on discusses the fatal flaws that are often committed with three major social media sites - facebook, Groupon, and Pintrest - and provides suggestions on how to use these platforms more effectively. 

I was particularly interested in the article's comments about using facebook as a marketing platform.  The author suggested that spending significant dollars on facebook ads only to have them viewed by millions of people is not a successful strategy.  Instead, marketing through facebook requires a significant amount of patience, consistent outreach, and quality value-add material in order to build a meaningful relationship with consumers.  From my own experience, I find this to be completely true.  Having worked in entertainment marketing in a movie studio that had branded fan pages with millions of fans, it was easy to simply post ad-hoc messages promoting and linking to a certain product.  Even though these messages would receive millions of impressions, it was extremely difficult to encourage significant fan interaction, let alone actually convert a meaningful number of clicks to sales.  The most successful social media campaigns were those with the longest lead times that allowed us to build a story and conduct outreach that served to engage relevant consumers with material they found valuable, which in turn significantly increased their interaction with the content that ultimately resulted in more sales.  This is also relevant to one of the key points that the article makes - that trust is incredibly important with social media marketing.  This is especially true since most people use sites like facebook for their own personal self expression.  If they ever feel that their space is being infiltrated by an untrustworthy source such as a brand, or if a brand's communication becomes ever so slightly irritating, it is very simple for the consumer to click a brand page's "unlike" button.

Click here to read the full article:


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Banner ads are undergoing an evolution

With more and more digital media innovation on the horizon, many have gone so far to say that banner ads are dead. Sure, we’re becoming more creative with social ad formats and video content but let’s take a step back.
The first banner ad ran in 1994 on and had a click-thru rate (CTR) of 78%. In the 1990s CTRs  for banner ads dropped to 3% and most recently it is at a mere .1%. There is no denying that display advertising is on the decline but I wouldn’t venture so far to say that banner ads are dead. They are merely getting a facelift to address the burnout. In fact, I think they will be around far into the future but the way that we buy them, serve them and engage with them will change dramatically. Today, display ads are more creatively appealing, better targeted and more intricately measured than ever before. A recent DigiDay article ( reinforces this perspective, stating that Google continues to invest heavily in its range of display ad products and technologies. The article states that user consumption has changed as small ad sizes (468x60) now only account for 3% of ad impressions while the three dominating ad sizes (rectangle, leaderboard and skyscraper) account for 80% of ad impressions.  To demonstrate the change in media buying and consumption patterns, ad exchanges and technology companies with advanced targeting and innovative creative abilities are gaining traction with double-digit growth. Before you draw your own opinion about the future of banner ads, check out this video which highlights 10 insanely clickable, amazingly engaging banner ads:


finance industry and social media

I read an interesting article in the Huffington Post regarding the finance industry and social media. As a former banker, I can attest to my own group’s lack of social media use to connect with and market to clients. According to this article, this trend is changing. For example, currently “44% of the Massachusetts’ investment advisers use at least one social media site,” which is a significant increase from past usage. With the adoption of social media, potential regulatory violations come into play, often because communications are difficult to track. Many institutions still lack guidelines for employees to follow when leveraging this new technology. This is of particular concern for investment advisers who are providing stock recommendations for clients. “An ongoing struggle for advisers is uncertainty over whether investors who click the "like" button on an adviser's Facebook pages are effectively giving testimonials, or a positive endorsement about the adviser.”  Massachusetts actually issued a ruling on this, stating that purely a Facebook like without commentary is not considered expressing a testimonial. I agree with this ruling and believe that other states should adopt similar guidelines. I do not feel that visitors to an adviser’s Facebook page would typically sift through all the people that have “liked" that adviser and as a result be influenced by that action. As long as comments are not left in addition, there should not be restrictions against this action.    
-Danielle Cervelli


Samsung launches Music Hub, offering the ultimate mobile music service

In early May, Samsung Electronics has announced its plan to release a new smartphone, Galaxy S3. In addition to its technical features, Samsung emphasized a new mobile service, Music Hub, which will first be launched in Europe. With aid of mSpot and 7digital, users of Galaxy S3 who have registered for the Music Hub service can customize their music database via the cloud. The users can listen to any kinds of high-quality music they like without regard to location. Specifically, key features of the Music Hub are “Scan & Match Cloud Locker, catalogue of millions of songs, [and customized] radio [program].”

Historically, music industry was a pioneer in technology. For example, the technology moved from CD to MP3, or iPod to iPhone in the past few years. From Samsung’s new approach towards the mobile music market, it is apparent that our generation is moving towards “Advanced Digital Mobile Age”, which can be characterized as the period of providing customized and personalized products to different customers via mobile channels. Consequently, major companies must also go along with this trend, which means that they need to follow “advanced digital mobile” ways to market their products. I currently believe that there are no specific “correct” approaches to formulate and execute digital marketing strategies via the mobile channels. Yet, the following questions can be good guidelines for companies striving to become leaders in the “Advanced Digital Mobile Age”.

1.       How and when should a company approach its potential customers via mobile channels?

2.       Is it possible to utilize current digital marketing concepts (such as that of marketing via displays or banners on webpages) in mobile channels? If so, how?

3.       What kinds of metrics can companies or researchers develop to measure performance of marketing via mobile channels?


Quitting Facebook

Facebook's Nasdaq listing has gone down as the worst-performing large initial public offering in the past decade. "Leaving Facebookistan," a blog post written by New Yorker writer Steve Coll, suggests that the troubles of the world's largest social-networking company are merely just beginning.

Coll writes that he ultimately quit Facebook because he didn't feel safe, an expression I've heard repeatedly and personally identify with. One wonders how and if Mark Zuckerberg will overcome increasing privacy concerns or whether he's signaling, by going public, that the company's peak has come and gone.

The lawsuits over Facebook's mismanaged IPO are already trickling in. MySpace and Friendster, long-forgotten Facebook predecessors, have evolved into websites focused on music and Southeast Asian users. It's possible Facebook will find its own special niche in baby pictures, or photographs that should never have been shared in the first place.


Addicted to Speed

I went hiking this weekend with a group that included an entrepreneur whose firm specializes in click-through ads. We've known the entrepreneur for several months, and in February he was excited about several new online ad product services that were booming. When we asked again about his business this weekend, he was worried that it might fail within the next year. I was astonished that the turn from boom to potential bust could be so rapid, but he assured me that lifespan in the digital ad world is only secured via constant innovation. His view is that rivals can easily copy digital ad business models, and that technology is constantly changing, so to stay ahead of the curve (and in business) you have to reinvent yourself constantly. His tactic is to check in with his customers literally every week - his customers are his most useful source for issues or competing company copycat pitches. Often, he explained, his digital ad products can become obsolete in a matter of a two to four weeks.

It appears that this need for speed/innovation in the technology world will only grow worse  - gigaom published today an article speculating on our what our "web addiction" will look like in 2016. On average in 2011, internet users generated 11.5 gigabytes of data per month - by 2016, this is estimated to grow to 32.3 GB per month. The moral of the story? More and more users are coming into internet connections in developing countries, and more and more users in developed countries and doing more and more activities online. Our gadgets are also become smarter and more data-hungry as we transition to smart utility meters, internet-savvy cars and televisions, and more.

An exponential hunger for more data means the world of internet advertizing will continue to grow - but how can smaller companies (like my entrepreneur friend) gain momentum among constant changes in giant personal-data-collecting competitors (like Google), and constant changes in advertizing mediums? Will we soon be hearing ads in our cars, or "sponsored" tips from our smart utility meters?


Customer Segmentation: Target's Innovative Use of Unique Data (B8699-025)

In Duhigg’s (2012) New York Times Magazine “Hey You’re Having A Baby!” article, clinical research on human behavior has shed new light on how people develop habits.  Target’s understanding of universal cues and rewards, positions them to better allure customers to buy in other product categories.  The Target organization takes a data-driven approach to launching campaigns.  GuestID numbers and the transactional data assigned to them, provide marketers with insight on how they might want to develop tactics that will not only resonate with customers, but also elicit customer habits.

Target’s statistician, Andrew Pole, could predict with great accuracy whether a customer segment was pregnant and at what stage.  Females who loaded up on unscented lotion and vitamins among other items helped Target to customize offerings that resonated with this group.  Target singles out women who might be pregnant by tailoring messages and offerings that have the potential to capture and transform the group into high-yield, life-long, repeat customers.  Understanding when customers are most adaptable is crucial and can lead to better conversion rates in other product categories (Duhigg, 2012).  

Pregnancy milestones and other life changing event, like moving across country can affect consumer behavior.  A key observation discovered is that people become more flexible to suggestion at these times, which can provide marketers with windows of opportunities to convert prospects into repeat customers.  Target’s approach to customer segmentation of pregnant women is a fascinating example of how an analytical competitor can leverage enterprise-wide data and information to better identify its best customer groups and design offerings that meet that segment’s needs.  Target’s ability to analyze a combination of factors at a moment’s notice gives the retail giant a real advantage (Duhigg, 2012).  The article provides a good example on how new knowledge can affect campaign messaging in real time.  However, how far is too far?  

1.)  Regarding transparency between consumer and marketer, do you think customers who participate in retail loyalty programs be explicitly told that the data collected on their purchases will be used to identify customer segments, which will inform marketing programs on how to best offer products in the future?

2.) From the perspective of a customer, what ethical concerns might become glaring red flags among people who feel their privacy is being compromised?


Another Life to Manage

Social media has become an essential element of the marketing platform of celebrities.  According to the Wall Street Journal article titled “Behind That Celebrity Tweet,” social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr are helping folks in the entertainment and sports industries to “tout” themselves.  The article describes how social networks are devising business plans that will appeal to celebrities who want to make money from their online presence.  Social media companies will even search for actors or musicians who have been out of the spotlight for a while and create business plans that will entice these once-famous stars to utilize the web to promote themselves.  
While I’ll admit that employing social media as a marketing tool is actually an ingenious idea, I’m not sure that I like the idea of celebrities finding other methods to promote themselves.  Prior to the social media age, actors were promoting movies, athletes were promoting sports teams, and musicians were promoting albums.  Events were created to market movies, Championship Series or new albums.  The actors, athletes and musicians were participants in these events.  Now, however it seems that these actors, athletes, musicians, etc. have become the main event on each of their respective social media sites.  In essence, with the help of social media, these people have created another (online) life for themselves.  Celebrity figures have become their own brand.  Although this is an amazing business plan, I personally am not sure that I can buy into the idea of celebrities and self-promoting personal sites.  
On the other hand, maybe I just need to spend more time beefing up my own Facebook page …


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is Social Media Changing How We Do Math Too?

 2+2=4, or does it? Maybe two potential customers plus two potential customers equals four potential customers, but those numbers have taken on a whole array of new factors.  Social media offers tremendous new opportunities to analyze metrics for digital marketers. Insights into user behavior, if identified well, provide creative platforms in which to gauge ROI., a growing design e-tailor owes much of its success to this new social media math. Not only do investors want to see real time and projected purchases, more notably, customers are interested. People are curious to know what others like and are much more likely to recommend those items to their friends. Simple math would recognize that one ad would yield a certain number of members. Yet through the power of social media, one member invites a group of friends of which some become members as well. As founder, Jason Goldberg comments on ads “It was basically buy one, get one free. We were looking at the viral coefficient of the ad, so suddenly your costs went way down.”

I think customer analytics companies have a very bright future in this digital age. Information is everywhere and becoming more readily available. How we creatively analyze the data to glean true insights will likely separate those that succeed from those that don’t.


Will apps replace the Web?

It's no secret that apps are changing the way people access the internet. But with Facebook's $1 billion acquisition of Instagram last month, the New York Times raises an important question - will apps replace the Web?

In my recent involvement with a start-up company, a venture capitalist advised us not to develop a Web presence. With limited resources, we were told that our focus should be on developing the app. According to the New York Times article "A Billion-Dollar Turning Point for Mobile Apps," it turns out that the VC's advice was not unwarranted. Developing an app as the primary user interface seems to be especially important for social start-ups. Professor S. Shyam Sundar, a director of the Media Effects Research Lab at Pennsylvania State University, says “People are living in the moment and they want to share in the moment. Mobile gives you that immediacy and convenience.” It's no surprise then that Facebook saw Instagram as a smart investment. Instagram allows you to take, alter, and instantly share photos with other users and on social platforms like Facebook. Many other social apps such as Foursquare and Path are also built on the foundation of instant sharing and have a limited Web presence.

Rumors are circulating that Facebook is even developing its own smartphone. What would this mean for the future of mobile? Facebook is currently the ultimate Web platform, where millions of users log on every day to share and view content, play games, and chat with friends. Obviously they would like to remain the ultimate platform as usage behaviors increasingly shift to mobile. What do you think about this? What would it take for you to switch to a "FacePhone?


Google Releases Penguin Update 1.1

Last Friday on the start of a three day holiday weekend, Google pushed out the first update to webspam fighting penguin algorithm.
Google's Matt Cutts announced the news on twitter, calling it a "data refresh" that impacts less then than one -tenth of a percentage  searches.

Google Penguin is to penalize websites undertaking some black hat tactics - techniques that are used to get higher search ranking in an unethical manner- and those low quality content. however it seems that Google's fight against web spamming has resulted in the unprecedented crash of established websites for their previously held rankings.

Although I am not expert in this area, in my view, Google latest move most likely would hurt small business sites, such as some travel sites, as they have very limit budget to afford the higher searching ranking through money.

for more details, you can refer to


Isaac, Amy, and Honda Make Three

If you were not connected to the internet this holiday weekend, I can see how you may have missed Isaac and Amy's epic engagement.  Otherwise, you surely saw this video at some point since Friday- it is EVERYWHERE. You see, Isaac planned an ELABORATE proposal and filmed it all for the entire world to see. It is incredible, and I speak from the perspective of an actor as well as a girl waiting for my boyfriend to pop the question. Naturally, he is not thrilled about how high Isaac has set the bar.  Check it out below.

But after the fifth time I made Steve watch the video, he made a really interesting point. What if this video was sponsored by Honda?  After all, the video's editor made a point to write -"....  When she arrived I had stationed my brother to sit her in the back of an open Honda CRV and give her some headphones. He "wanted to play her a song"..."
OK, fairly subtle name drop, but significant....could be...right? 

What would be the benefit to a huge corporation to do something like this?  We aren't talking about a viral video in the sense of the Old Spice commercials, but a video that seemingly was made for little-to-no money and completely unprofessional. What kind of associations to people attribute to the Honda brand after watching this video?

Well, as you may know, this engagement is quite real, but the questions remained stuck in my head.


Does social media have a lifespan?

In a blog post entitled “Why Facebook is Killing Silicon Valley” Steve Blank ( last week lamented that, as a result of the enormous amount of quick money VCs had made from social media startups in the past few years, VCs are turning their backs on investments into traditional science and technology in order to focus purely on social media.  The economics are fairly straightforward – social media startups require little in the way of upfront capital expenditure, have an enormous potential market and are (almost) infinitely scalable.

Blank however points to waves of innovation that have taken place within Silicon Valley (see graphic below) over the past century which he suggests demonstrates an ability to reinvent itself, stating “as the Social Media wave runs its course a new wave of innovation will follow”.  So, does social media have a lifespan? 

I would argue however that social media is fundamentally different to previously waves of innovation in Silicon Valley - it goes straight to the heart of how ordinary people (and like the readers of this blog - extraordinary people) interact and engage with each other.  While Facebook has generally dominated the space in the western world for the past 3-5 years, inroads made by more recent entrants such as Path and Pinterest clearly demonstrate that there is still space left in the sandpit in which other kids to play.  It's easy to be distracted by the onslaught of negative publicity created by a poorly executed IPO, but I would suggest that there is a long way to go in the development of social media.  

The question then is whether social media investment and traditional science and technology investment can co-exist?  That will be up to the VC community to determine in the longer-term, but for the time being I’m betting my money that social media is here to stay.