Showing posts with label AOL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AOL. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 18

Bucking The Conversation: Ted McConnell

"I have a reaction to that as a consumer advocate and an advertiser. What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?" — Ted McConnell

That's right. McConnell, general manager-interactive marketing and innovation at Procter & Gamble Co., is bucking the social media conversation, especially as it pertains to social networks like Facebook. According to AdAge, he doesn't want to invest in advertising dollars where people are trying to talk to someone, saying "we hijack their conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it.”

He's mostly right. Companies that push and prod their way into personal spaces can be annoying (it became the death knell for AOL chat for those who remember), especially when the intent is to overtly or covertly steal them away to see a sales pitch.

Most don't mind the overt promoters so much (as long as they can be unfollowed on Twitter or assigned to junk mail). It's the covert operations, shrouded in idealism, that makes some people wonder.

Where McConnell might be right.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines. More than one social media expert has caused a raised eyebrow after offering up a few runaway comments and quips.

"The critics don't pay my bills."

"By elevating my personal brand, more people will read my blog when I write about my client."

"I engage them in conversations with the hope they click on my signature, which takes them to my client."

"They probably won’t answer you, but that’s okay. All you want to do is appear like you have a relationship with them to enhance your credibility."

Keep in mind, these are the same folks who claim it's not about the money. They generally promote authenticity and transparency, state that their purpose is to shape social media for no other intent than to move their industry forward, and encourage that everyone should engage in social media just like they do.

Yet, if you read between the lines, you learn that the only reason critics (not trolls, mind you) are shunned is because they might hurt the bottom line. Whereas critical review tends to be more welcome in academics because the pursuit is about truth and knowledge over personal brand.

Or, you might learn some public relations professionals are pushing press releases as posts. Or, that online conversationalists really want you to buy a duck. Or, that someone's popularity was contrived from the very start.

This isn't the only area where McConnell may be right. He seems to be right that the infinitely thin targeting is creepy; limitless inventory will dampen publisher profits (until value finally beats reach, assuming it ever does); and that just because it moves, doesn't mean you have to monetize it. Don't misunderstand him. For all the criticisms, Procter & Gamble won't leave Facebook all together, because he does see value in social media. He just seems to see that the value is being applied to the wrong places.

Where McConnell might be wrong.

For all his good points, McConnell questions whether social media is media. Yet, it is a medium, even if it is different from other mediums.

Where he seems most mistaken is that it's not the participation that makes it media as much as it is the platform where that participation occurs. You also can't discount that tremendous number of voyeurs who treat the participation of others as their preferred consumption. And, in order to support these public platforms, someone has to make a nickel sooner or later (people generally accept this, especially when they have the choice of ad supported or premium ad-free services).

Besides, we've monetized almost everything anyway. Take a walk outside sometime and you can see it. People break up under billboards that line our horizon all the time. However, other than that small discrepancy, McConnell seems to touch on a subject that needs to be touched on. You see, while people might break up under billboards, those billboards don't generally shout down that they can help.

Online, they certainly seem to, especially when a marriage counselor, divorce attorney, fashion consultant, and dating service all become part of the break-up conversation between two people. Is that what people really want? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not.


Wednesday, August 22

Advertising Conundrum: America Online

If you are still wondering why content is king on the Internet, even beyond blogs, consider that American Online (AOL) continues to lose ground after reducing its reliance on subscriptions and shifting to an ad revenue model despite having what once was the largest place to connect on the Internet.

So what happened? As made all too apparent by Miguel Helt in The New York Times on Monday, ad revenue alone cannot replace the splendor AOL once enjoyed as the darling of online subscription services. The Internet has changed and AOL changed too late.

What is not clear in the article is the true culprit behind the AOL slip. Its slow transition from subscription to ad revenue hastened the pace of member defection. Basically, its members left because it didn’t make sense to pay for advertising-infused services that they could get elsewhere. Then, as its members left, AOL had fewer numbers to pull down ad deals.

It has been a long time since I visited AOL (not counting yesterday), but I did two years ago. What I found made me realize my decision to leave was a good one. Chat rooms, once a core service offered by AOL, were overwhelmed with little lines of advertising and bothersome bots, leaving people to wonder if anyone was real. (Probably not. Real people were using Instant Messenger.) Hardly something worth using let alone paying for.

And that brings us to today. According to the article, the newest idea to save AOL is to re-engineer the site so its customers can choose various channels and services they like and then include them in their blogs, personalized home pages, or favorite social networking sites. (In other words, they still do not get it.)

“We are not trying to build yesterday’s portal,” said Ron Grant, president of AOL told The New York Times. “We are trying to build a network of sites that users can combine or do whatever they are most comfortable with.”

Where is the added value? When you consider our shiny new object syndrome that tends to sweep the Web every few months (or is it weeks?), our apparent desire to customize as opposed to accept package deals, our disdain for intrusive advertising (which AOL has built right into its new page layout), and our thirst for fresh content, AOL really is only offering yesterday’s portal today.

Look, the Internet is not hard to decipher. There are three distinct offerings that attract customers to any platform and portal (or even blog): exclusive content, exclusive products, or exclusive services. Google: exclusive services. eBay: exclusive products. The New York Times: exclusive content. Sure, there are other examples that can be plugged in and other ways to make an impact. For example, Southwest Airlines attributes $150 million in ticket sales generated by a widget.

Once you have exclusive content, products, or services, a growing number of members, subscribers, and consumers will follow. In time, this following will be more likely to pay for a product, service, or submit to some mysterious amount of advertising (assuming you have the right audience). Even AOL, once upon a time, had all three ingredients, which justified the subscription fee. For many of us, at least for a short while, it was also the only connection game in town.

But as the world grew up around the company, AOL's once exclusive services began to erode, its content became more generic, and its products were improved upon by others. Worse, its branding all but imploded under the weight of aggressive control and generic content, increasingly sophisticated customers, poor “user” service and cancellation policies, and an inability to leapfrog the competition.

Ho hum, if AOL wants to remain relevant today, it seems to me that it might forget trying to build a better mousetrap to be all things to all people. A better strategy would be to focus on the next bright shiny object. And, given the amount of space it has available, who knows? Maybe this shiny object could be solving the broadband limitation ratio of “many to 1,” which is the last known hurdle in true convergence between traditional media and the Internet.


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