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Sometime this year, 50% of Americans will own a web-connected smartphone, yet less than 20% of online retailers have websites optimized and formatted to serve these mobile consumers.

I am calling this the “mobile commerce gap”. The reason for this inequity between demand and supply, in my opinion, is because the internal resources required for online retailers to properly develop a mobile commerce site have been pulled in other directions, even as smartphone adoption rates have exploded. As a result, a majority of online retailers are offering their mobile customers a very poor online shopping experience. This, in turn, results in poor conversion rates and missed sales, not to mention the fact that consumers are left with the general impression that the retail brand is not serving their needs.

Think about it, how many times have you visited a site on your smartphone and immediately left when you saw it was not optimized for mobile? According to Google, this happens 79% of the time!


Why this “gap”? The first distraction came in 2009 when retailers and brands alike were told they must “drop everything and build  an iPhone app”. While apps are great for some things, a vast array of surveys and studies have concluded that consumers much-prefer a mobile site over an app for commerce. The second was the social media craze of last year, as Facebook, Twitter, and the rest dominated headlines and became “must-haves”. Both soaked up internal IT resources and distracted online retailers from building the mobile-optimized sites needed to serve their increasingly-mobile customers.

So, what are the factors online retailers should consider, as they investigate offering their customers the ability to convert sales from their mobile devices via a mobile commerce site? I hope the following 5 points will clear some things up:

1) There is No “Mobile Web”

While it is true that most “standard” websites are capable of being viewed on a web-enabled phone, few consumers are willing to “pinch and zoom” their way into a converted sale on a standard site jammed into a small screen. Ever tried this? It’s not fun.

While the need for mobile-optimized sites might seem obvious, many retailers justify not investing in mobile commerce by citing low mobile-originating traffic to their  current site (usually 2-5%).  Of course, this low-traffic negative feedback loop is caused by the fact that mobile customers seldom return to a site after being greeted with such a poor user experience. The retailer then concludes there is no need to invest in the “mobile web”. Again, there is no “mobile web”.  There is only the web viewed on a mobile device.

2) Mobile Commerce is NOT Mobile Payments

There is a lot of “noise” right now regarding mobile payments at point of sale, when the phone is used as a “mobile wallet” to pay for coffee and the like. While mobile payments might-well emerge as an issue retailers need to address, this  is not the same as mobile commerce. Mobile payments involve banks, credit cards, investments in point of sale infrastructure, coupons, NFC,  loyalty cards, and a whole array of complex issues.

Mobile  commerce is simply the act of ordering something online, from your mobile phone, via a mobile-optimized version of a website. Retailers should not confuse the two, or delay the launch of a mobile commerce site while trying to understand mobile payment options and what uniform technology may or may not emerge victorious.

3) Mobile Commerce “Actualizes” Mobile Marketing

Remember, every time a consumer clicks on a marketing or advertising link to your website on their mobile phone, they should land on a site that is optimized for the device they are accessing that message on.  Whether a tweet, a Facebook post, a banner ad, a QR code, an SMS message, or an email,  the mobile consumer who acts upon the message should be able to convert that action easily into a sale, via a mobile commerce site. If you are a retailer and do not have a mobile commerce site and are spending money on social media marketing or mobile advertising, you are likely paying to promote links to a very poor customer experience.

4) Integrate, Don’t Duplicate

There are several options for creating a mobile commerce site. You could use a transcoder to “screen scrape” your standard website and shrink it to fit a mobile screen. You could “sub-out” your mobile commerce efforts to a third party, by letting them “handle it” with their own separate and duplicative mobile store. OR you could leverage and extend your current, proven and trusted  e-commerce operations into mobile via an integrated solution. This is a superior approach, in my opinion, as it means you are avoiding duplication, while also maintaining full in-house control and fueling mobile commerce from the same infrastructure you trust today for your e-commerce operations.  A software-based integration approach takes a bit more effort on the front-side, but the long-term benefits are significant, as this single effort, if done properly, can serve as the foundation for not only mobile commerce, but also Facebook  commerce and commerce-enabled iPhone and Android apps, as needed.

5) Devote IT Resources, Plan For Growth

The single biggest reason I hear retailers give for not moving on mobile commerce is a lack of IT resources. Simply put, this is a poor excuse. While it may be true that IT is backed up, the measurable, tracked ROI that mobile commerce offers should elevate this to the top of the list. The ROI is extremely rapid, by even the most conservative estimates of the resulting tracked, incremental mobile commerce sales. Retailers and brands that are out ahead of the curve will be the biggest winners, as long as they plan for growth and chose the right approach.


Compelling Numbers

Still not convinced that mobile commerce is a “must have”? In recent weeks Google and other mobile marketing players have begun encouraging retailers to sit up and take notice of this “gap”, since they can’t sell online retailers mobile marketing campaigns if they have no place for the target audience to “land” when they click though a mobile campaign ad/link.

Google and others are pointing to studies and reports that contain numbers that are hard to ignore. Here is a sampling:

  • $1.9 Billion: Worldwide online mobile sales in 2009.
  • $23.8 Billion: Expected worldwide online mobile sales in 2015.
  • 61%: The percentage of mobile users unlikely to return to a site not optimized for mobile.
  • 79%: The percentage of Google retailer advertisers who DO NOT have a mobile site.
  • 78%: The percentage of consumers who prefer a mobile site over an app.
  • 62%: The percentage of smartphone owners who have purchased physical goods via their phone in the last 6 months.
  • 2-5%: The typical percentage of mobile traffic coming to a non-optimized retail website.
  • 5X: The typical increase in conversion rates, upon the launch of a mobile commerce site.
(Adobe-Mobile Shopper Insights, Google, eMarketer, Shop.org, Coda Research, Unbound Commerce)

Want even more evidence? I recently attended the Mobile Commerce Summit in NYC and the Keynote speaker was Steve Yankovich, VP of eBay Mobile. eBay has quietly become the largest online retailer in the world and were an early adopter of mobile commerce.

The numbers Steve shared regarding their mobile commerce success at the conference were astounding. Some highlights:

  • $4 Billion: The revenue eBay expects to generate from mobile commerce in 2011, double what they sold on mobile in 2010.
  • 100%: The percentage of eBay’s m-commerce sales they report as being incremental!
  • 38 Seconds: The average time someone spends on eBay for a m-commerce transaction (versus 20+ minutes on their standard site).
  • 100: The number of people eBay reports hiring for their mobile commerce team.
  • 50X: The predicted increase in what eBay will spend on mobile marketing to support the success they have seen in m-commerce.

We are finally at a point where the numbers are so compelling that few can argue against the importance of having a mobile commerce site. The simplest way to put this is, “If you do not have a mobile-optimized commerce site, you are losing money“.

The Time Is Now

Your customers are mobile and they are very likely trying to access your site on their smartphones right now. If they still see your “standard” e-commerce site crammed onto a small screen, you are delivering a poor customer experience and, as such, are missing incremental mobile sales. Try it yourself!

Some experts expect mobile commerce to grow to become as much as 10-15% of online sales. Retailers should weigh the risks of launching a solution that is not integrated with their current operations, since what might not be a problem at first could emerge as a big issue when mobile commerce makes up a significant percentage of online sales. Find the resources, take the time, and consider building/launching a mobile site ASAP that leverages and extends current online sales operations.

You will provide consumers a positive mobile interaction with your brand that also drives significant incremental, tracked revenue. Mobile commerce is here and the time to take advantage via a mobile commerce site is now!

__________________

Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec, LBS consultant, and now leads Sales and Business Development for  Unbound Commerce.

Contact him today to learn more. Mobile: 303-249-2083.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec and started Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 to help clients harness the power of location-based social media marketing. Contact him today to learn more.

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Not so long ago, in a Harvard dorm room not so far away, Facebook was born. In record time, Facebook has graduated to the big time.

Today’s announcement of Facebook Deals is very significant, as it shows Facebook is looking beyond contextual advertising and toward the power of mobile “social experiences” to drive purchases and tracked point of sale interaction. Fueled by special deals offered by the legions of businesses who already use Facebook as their primary social media engagement platform, Facebook Deals tips their m-Commerce strategy hand and, as such, is a big deal.

Beyond Advertising

While college students certainly still use Facebook, it seems a broader audience that includes 500 million active users also see the appeal. Facebook has capitalized on this user traffic to the tune of an estimated $600M in contextual advertising last year. This is small beans compared to the close to $30 Billion in annual revenue Google is generating, 97% of which comes from advertising.

While this gap between Facebook and Google is one indicator the size of the advertising opportunity in front of Facebook, they also have the unique ability to capitalize on something perhaps even bigger, by driving tracked proven m-Commerce revenue linked to a specific location-based marketing campaign for small businesses and large brands alike. Google has been trying to back itself into this powerful social interaction value proposition but, to-date, has failed.

200 Million people now access their Facebook accounts via mobile. If Facebook can provide a secure, customizable revenue engine, reporting dashboard, and accounting system that users and businesses both trust, they could be in a unique position to capitalize as m-Commerce finally emerges from uncertainty and takes center stage.

Facebook Well-Positioned With SMBs

The rapid adoption of Facebook by consumers and businesses alike has changed the very nature of marketing. The new two-way street norm of required engagement with consumers has evened the playing field between small and large brands – and has fueled Facebook’s growth and popularity via an ever-increasing stream of relevant content at the same time.

As location-enabled smartphone user ranks swell, connectivity issues improve, and data costs fall, Facebook hopes the day is not far off when all businesses will need a live dashboard that controls a branded mobile Facebook page. This could become more important than having a “standard” website. For many, it already is.

The Check-In Craze: Watching And Learning

As the Foursquare and Gowalla-lead “Check-In” LBS craze swept in last year, Facebook watched and waited. User numbers climbed even without an LBS play and advertisers lined up. Facebook watched and waited, and learned.

When Facebook finally launched check-ins via Facebook Places “way back” in August of 2010 and embraced the unique location-awareness capability of mobile, it was a sparse affair that simply answered the Foursquare and Gowalla challenge. Even if basic, checking in directly on Facebook sped up the process by cutting out the middle man, since Foursquare and Gowalla piggybacked on the users Facebook graph.

Lately and perhaps not coincidentally, the initial novelty of “checking in” via a function-specific platform/app like Foursquare and Gowalla has waned. Even though each company is adding functionality as fast as possible, they simply do not have the local reach to add real consumer rewards fast enough to please most of the people most of the time. Facebook, if nothing else, has this reach, and this add to the power of the timing of the launch of Facebook Deals (yesterday).

Tapping The Power Of The Private Sale

Another location-based force that has rapidly re-shaped consumer interaction with products and services is the “private sale” phenomenon. While it’s long been accepted that consumers will act based on opinions from a trusted network of peers, there are finally ways these actions to translate into real, tracked mobile sales that have the tangible and impactful side benefit of driving live bodies into a retail point of sale.

In the last 6 months, “private sale personalized shopping” companies like Groupon, Living Social, and RueLaLa have been printing money by tapping into the desire for small and mid-sized businesses to drive new customers into their storefronts by offering special loss-leader deals via mobile.

It is interesting to note that CEO Mark Zuckerberg focused in on the “if you get three friends to check-in with you, you get something free” element yesterday. If you use Living Social, you know that this exact model provides the viral, turbo-charged boost they use to spread their deals among the interlocking social graphs of their subscribers.

I heard recently that Groupon is only able to process 1 in 7 deals proposed to them by small  businesses and is generating an estimated $50 Million a month in revenue. Worth an estimated $1.3 Billion while taking in only 135 Million in funding, Groupon is proof that small businesses will share a generous portion of the incremental gross sales, in order to have a shot at winning over new potential long-term customers that they know came in and redeemed the loss-leader offer. If this $50M a month figure is accurate, by the way, it means that the Chicago start-up is roughly matching behemoth Facebook in annual revenue.

Again Facebook has watched and waited, as (literally) hundreds of “daily deals for you” copycat (and well-funded) companies have sprung up and, as such, have proved the viability of the “opt-in daily deal” model on a massive scale.

Since almost 70% of US businesses have a Facebook page right now, Facebook could blow past these”check in for a personalized deal” companies that all must compete with each other and sell-in their solution to one small business at a time (or, more importantly, one giant brand’s “gatekeeper” agency at a time). The latter, in my opinion, is the harder row to hoe.

Into The Path Of The M-Commerce Parade

M-Commerce is a hot topic and, finally, there are real metrics to back up the years of wild expectations and predictions. With Deals, Facebook has stepped off the sidewalk and jumped out into the middle of the street, just as the location-based “special offer” m-commerce parade is poised to sweep over them.

These “daily offers” are nothing more than a new, location-based (mobile) way to promote the same tried and true “chalkboard” restaurant/bar specials or “sale bin” store items you see every day. The difference is that they are discoverable, BEFORE you enter the location/point of sale, when a consumer is in actual real-time physical proximity to that same location and have volunteered their location to the platform that is displaying the deal.

Think mobile is not ready to handle for the volume of potential commerce? eBay will more than double m-Commerce this year, from $600M last year to an-expected 1.5 Billion in 2010.

With the launch of Deals, Facebook is now playing in this hot space and can offer richer and richer solutions for businesses and consumers alike that can scale very quickly. They can capitalize on what has worked for other players with far-less reach that have conveniently prepped the landing zone before them, and avoid what has not.

A Single Solution?

By positioning the mobile Facebook app as the “login” solution that can also serve as an authentication engine, Facebook hints at their intent to solve the problem of “app option overload” for consumers and the “financial backside fragmentation” issue that has long-plagued the e-Commerce world. These elements will be especially interesting to watch.

While consumers do not all enjoy having to open a different app every time they walk into a business, the more important reason Facebook is poised to solidify the opportunity like no other is due to the fact that small town small businesses are generally already familiar with managing the backside page interface. Again, a whopping 70% have a Facebook page.

With so many social media options that may or may not include a customizable LBS m-Commerce element, big national brands (and their agencies) are also seeking a single solution. If Facebook simply can add the “check-in” and related special offers and m-commerce redemption tools they need to what they already provide, the barrier to entry becomes very small across all adoption fronts.

What’s The Big Deal

If mobile Facebook users can act upon a proprietor’s customizable call to action  by being directed to the location near them, debit an account on the same mobile platform that showed them the offer, and link it to trusted input from their social graph, Facebook will be linking the power of social marketing and m-commerce.

If Facebook can prove that consumers will not react adversely to special offers being “pushed” toward them when they are out and about, based on actual location and other algorithmically calculated variables like time, weather, and past behavior, well that would be something.

What if they could prove that consumers will volunteer “personal preference profiles” including what brands they like most, in exchange for real savings linked to location-based local or regional deals personalized for them? Not so far-fetched.

With m-commerce predicted to explode from $1.9 Billion in 2009 to almost $24 Billion by 2015 (see above), Facebook Deals might be just the beginning for the social network. Yes, Facebook Deals is a big deal.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec and started Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 to help clients harness the power of location-based social media marketing. Contact him today to learn more.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec and started Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 to help clients harness the power of location. Contact him today to learn more.

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Last Monday, I attended an event at MIT in Boston. It was a standard panel-style presentation/discussion, with a moderator, sponsored by Nokia (thanks for the turkey wraps and little red gourmet cupcakes). It “sold out” in advance and I’d guess at least 200 people were there. It was, literally, standing room only.

Are Today's Agencies Enbracing Mobile?

Billed by organizers (Mobile Monday Boston) as a way for attendees to “learn the realities of mobile advertising”, the panel was stacked with ad agency people. Many attendees I spoke with saw this as a rare opportunity to hear directly from ad agencies, regarding their mobile plans. A finger on the pulse of those paying for the upkeep of the mobile heartbeat.  After all, if these agencies have the ear of the brands, then knowing their mindset regarding tomorrow’s mobile spend is very important, as the collective “Mobile Industry” springing up around all this “potential” needs to get paid today.

The Year of Mobile, Every Year

With the general mobile advertising outlook over-ripe from 3 years of unrealized, predicted mobile spending ramp-up, this night had the potential to shed some real light on the future of mobile marketing, and, perhaps, the fate of many of the companies represented in the audience. With livelihoods literally depending on brands spending real money via the mobile marketing tools many in the audience had invested so much time and money in, it is little wonder the event sold out in advance.

The Auditorium Fills Up! It Was Standing Room Only.

The predictions about the mobile ad spend have been recently correcting downward, as most brands idle on the sidelines, in a wait and see mode regarding mobile. Many dabble in mobile banner ads, a few skin up and launch product-related iPhone apps, and most have plugged into the free social media machine. But the big money is still not flowing and there is a backlog of companies waiting for the faucet to be turned on.

Are Agencies Paving The Way Or Blocking Progress?

Disclaimer: I have long-suspected large agencies of stunting the potential of mobile marketing because they fear that tracking and reporting real results regarding converted sales could shine unwanted light on all the untracked bread-and-butter mass broadcast marketing they run via traditional media. So, this night I came prepared to have my mind changed and I really expected to see and hear the excitement agencies were passing along to their clients. Why else would they have signed up for this panel? I was ready to be convinced that my conspiratorial theories were wrong (or at least have my mind set at ease).

To set the stage, here is the actual verbiage used to promote the event:

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The Realities of Mobile Advertising

Mobile advertising is getting a lot of hype, but what are brands really doing in mobile today?  What should we expect in 2011?  Our panel will discuss the realities and answer questions like:

  • How big is mobile brand advertising?
  • How does mobile fit into the big picture for most brands?
  • What are the hot issues for brands? Targeting? Buying? Ad formats? Measurement?
  • How has Apple’s promotion of iAd changed the market?
  • What are the opportunities for publishers and app developers?

Speakers:

Adam Towvim, Jumptap (Moderator), Brett Leary: VP/Dir of Mobile Marketing at DIGITAS, William Nann: Director, National Advertising Sales at Crisp, Brenna Hanly: Mobile Catalyst at Mullen, Jon Phenix: VP Sales, Nexage, and Stephen Bagdasarian: Digital Strategist & Mobile Specialist, Hill Holliday Advertising

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This was a who’s who of Boston Ad Agencies and the purpose was to have them explain their individual or collective “realities” right there, live and in front of a room of mobile industry “insiders”. Kudos to Mobile Monday Boston for putting this together, by the way.

Sponsor Nokia Kicks Off

Sponsor Nokia opened the evening with a slideshow overview of their plans to re-take a share of the booming US smartphone marketshare they let slide by. They announced a $10 Million dollar developer contest designed to lure apple-addicted code writers their way.

The slideshow touted their global marketshare and reminded us all of the gazillion Nokia phones they sell. Despite impressions here in the US (caused largely by iPhone mania), they are a real powerhouse elsewhere. The new N8 just launched in the US and the Nokia team even had a fishbowl full of business cards collected, for the purpose of handing out two new phones at the end of the night to two lucky winners. Nothing turns heads like free phones as schwag. They even branded the nametags at the conference, making it look like 200 Nokia employees were in the audience. First time I have ever seen a logo on a nametag. Pretty smart, actually.

The guy next to me took notes about all this on his iPad, and even snapped a few pics on his iPhone, as did I. Nokia is well-positioned to make some moves and has a track record a mile long but, in the US, they have a long way to go.

Patterns Emerge

Top Boston Ad Agencies Address Mobile

Jumptap’s Adam Towvim was the moderator and did a good job all night. He kept the panel moving and asked the right questions. As the conversation flowed along, some clear patterns  emerged.

The first was that fragmentation was generally viewed as a big problem in the mobile landscape and that it negatively impacted the ability of agencies to convey a concise strategy to their clients.

The second was that ad serving consolidation was needed to increase efficiencies, reduce redundancy, and allow the agencies to better know WHO was actually seeing the mobile ads and better-measure engagement, across all platforms. A tall order.

The various kinds of phones (feature phones vs smart phones vs “candy bar” phones) were mentioned as an additional challenge.  Ad exchanges and buyside technology plays (to aggregate various ad servers) were also mentioned as welcome tools.

Sponsoring or branding iPhone applications was discussed as a way that brands could get involved, but it was noted (and generally agreed) that few agencies were adequately staffed up for  this.

Brenna, the representative from Mullen mentioned that she worked on a crowded creative floor and only-recently heard mobile advertising even mentioned. She offered that only because the team had been shown a presentation on the potential of iAd had the topic even come up.

iAd was generally seen as a positive platform for creative to be conveyed on both mobile and on tablets, but soon the conversation shifted to the fact that Apple was wielding too big a big control stick and some brands were bailing out (IE Adidas).

The discussion was fairly interesting (and fair) but not very exciting. The focus seemed to be more about “glass is half empty” what-can’t-we-do problems with mobile reach and fragmentation. Branding apps and creative rich media used in addition to mobile banner ads were lightly touched on as positive. There was little “let’s dive in” energy and only a smattering of carefully worded cautious optimism. All evening, I had the nagging feeling that something was missing…what was it?

What Was Not Said

The time was 8:15 and the panel had been on stage for over an hour when, finally, it happened! Brett Leary from Digitas was talking about the potential of the iAd platform, when he mentioned LOCATION. Yes, that little teeny detail about mobile marketing was not mentioned for the first hour+ of the discussion.

As if startled awake, Steve Bagdasarian from Hill Holiday picked up the ball and ran with it, nailing  several important factors one after another that only mobile advertising can offer brands. He spoke of “marketing to context” and how mobile allows even a small campaign to yield very large results and learnings. He spoke of “completing the user experience cycle” and how the “where factor” adds a powerful new element for brands.

Finally, just as it seemed things might heat up and the true power of mobile fleshed out, the moderated session ended, and the floor was opened to audience questions.

A Murmur Of Energy

Astounded that it had taken until nearly the end of the evening for the fact that most mobile devices know where they are and can deliver contextually-relevant messaging to come up, I raised my hand and was called on first. I asked about Mobile Proof Of Presence and “checkin” transactions linked to marketing messages. I asked for each panelist to comment further and expand on the potential they saw regarding Location as a mobile differentiator.  A murmur of energy swept through the crowd.

Again, Steve Bagdasarian from Hill Holiday lead the way. He was genuinely fired up and called mobile Location Based Services (LBS) “the future”. Steve described standard banner ad click-though measurement as “not suitable” for mobile and even tied in brick and mortar “here and now” campaigns as key. He even mentioned New England-beloved Dunkin Donuts as a willing participant in some tests his agency was running.

Will Nann from Crisp jumped in and added that he thought measurement was key and Brenna from Mullen asserted that “time and place marketing” and “learned purchase behaviors” would be very important. Yes!

Brett from Digitas (remember, he first used the “L” word), asserted that mobile could “use all the elements” and would emerge as powerful, as long as tracking could work across all platforms.

Another question was asked and the discussion spun off into tablets, Nokia hurriedly handed out two new N8 smartphones via the business card drawing, and the program ended.

Conclusions: Agencies Remain Cautious

It was an interesting event, don’t get me wrong, but I was left with the distinct impression that, even when confronted with a room full of mobile industry insiders clamoring for evidence of some optimism, agencies remain cautious and, unless prodded, will not push mobile on their clients, at least until reach is better understood and confusion caused by fragmentation reduced. This implied “all or nothing” trigger point felt, to me, more like a convenient excuse, than a real client-side-generated requirement.

Hill Holiday stood out as the most-willing to “go for it” and the resulting impression was not, at least to me, one of foolhardiness. It was, in fact, the opposite.

Test Small, Learn Big: What Can Be Done

To get ahead, in my opinion, agencies need to embrace the idea of “test small, learn big” and those out there with solutions for forward-thinking brands should describe them to the brand’s agency of record as a low-risk  trial. Or they should pull the “end around” and find a cheerleader at the brand to demand that the agency address the measurable mobile opportunity with, at least, a small foray.

Mobile solutions that offer low-risk pilots and can generate demonstrated revenue lift (without causing confusion) will open the doors to more and will win early. Dashboards that allow the agencies to view/understand metrics, own them, and pass these on to their clients/brands are essential, as the agencies need to made to feel they are in charge of the results and pass them on at their pace, in synergy with other non-mobile campaign results. Agencies that bring these platforms to their brands will be seen as innovators, but the platforms must first win over the agency and be prepared to let them be seen as the winners.

Even if on a small (initial) scale, trials of these mobile marketing tools can show the brand real numbers and label the agency as forward thinking and not afraid of mobile, even during this “fuzzy front end”. The time is now and those with numbers generated over time (even if small now, on a user percentage basis) will be well-positioned to win when the user numbers catch up. The brands whose agencies push this strategy now, will beat their competitors whose agencies fail to act boldly and try some of these new, exciting tools.

Just DO It (and log the metrics)

Doing versus talking about all the reasons not to do is essential, especially in the face of mounting evidence that mobile usage and search is taking off, while at-home desktop search is falling (+247% vs -15%). While the percentages of those who engage with branded businesses via the location-enablement of their phones are still small, this opportunity to learn is big. If a consumer is out and about and searching for something, brands need to be ready to show them WHERE to locate that item and buy it, right then, in that crucial mobile-only moment. And their agencies should be telling them the best way to do it.

Are the agencies hurting mobile? I think the answer is no, but they certainly can do more to encourage trials and not link mobile marketing to unrealistic requirements like 100% defragmentation and total, complete reach, with uniform tracking across every device or platform.

Agencies also need to take the time to educate their employees on the basics of mobile marketing and LBS. This is crucial. It was clear to me that some top people at the agencies represented at this event were not fully versed in how these tools really work and the potential value of the metrics that can be generated. They need to educate themselves.

The Shotgun AND The Rifle

Most of all, in my opinion, agencies must discard the notion that mobile campaigns that provide tracking dashboards and ways to demonstrate ROI will expose the inadequacies of the other more standard media buys that do not. There will always be a place for the shotgun approach in marketing. Mobile, using the power of location, is the highly accurate rifle shot.

Where Can I Buy These Cupcakes? They Were Awesome!

All in all, it was a good evening. I was relieved that the topic of location and the unique differentiating abilities of mobile platforms was discussed, even if it was tacked on at the end of the evening and initiated by an audience question. Clearly, we in the industry need to make it easier for agencies to focus on the full half of the glass, but agencies also need to put aside the convenient excuse that they will only let their brands dive in when every single element of mobile marketing is known and understood.

As the Mad Men TV show teaches us, the basic premise of advertising has been around for a long time. Mobile, on the other hand, offers us new and different and untested potential and there is a degree of “try it” needed if brands are to be exposed to the full potential of tracking incremental sales tied to specific mobile campaigns.

Thanks again Mobile Monday for the event and to Nokia for sponsoring it. By the way, where did you get those little red velvet gourmet cupcakes? I wish I could use my phone to find the brand that makes them and then navigate to the authorized retailer near me right now that sell them. I wish the agency that handles their media would call me and hire me to help. Wouldn’t that be sweet!

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec and started Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007 to help clients harness the power of location. Contact him today to learn more.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the Founder of Boston-Based LBS consulting firm Location Based Strategy, LLC. He checks in on the forces shaping location based marketing often and can be reached at Wilson@LBStrategy.com.

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Boston, MA June 10, 2010 – The Mobile Proof Presence (MPOP) checkin game is white-hot and set to explode. In a relatively short amount of time, most people (with an iPhone, at least)  know what a “checkin” is and the most popular checkin platform (Foursquare) is adding 15,000 people daily and rapidly closing in on 2 Million users, stacking up approximately 10 checkins per second, or well-over 1 Million per day.

Broadcasting the details of their location-based interactions with real businesses 3 to 4 times per week, these users are providing Foursquare a stockpile of opt-in mobile metrics. This is no longer a fad. This is real and could finally be the legitimizing  “lift” mobile advertising has long been looking for.

Thanks to checkins, realtime social network updates are no longer just static, general “What’s On Your Mind?” posts. They now convey “What are you doing, where are you, and who are you there with.” While this has certainly been a fast-moving location-based social media phenomenon, the real momentum behind this movement (and the reason to take-note) is not individuals sharing the where/what/who, but something else.

Special Offers Becoming The Focus

 

Increasingly, Foursquare and other checkin platforms allow users to convey, “what special deal they got for being there”. This last crucial element has recently tipped the balance and allowed Mobile Proof of Presence linked to checkins to emerge as THE transformative mobile advertising force to-watch, in record time.

No longer passing out only fun, amusing “digital candy” badges, mayorships, pins, or token drink specials, these platforms are now tapping into the rich vein of actual product-linked incentives offered by well-known brands. In no small way, they are set to finally deliver on the original (largely unrealized) core premise of mobile advertising, by linking consumer behavior and tracked  mobile ROI to an existing, proven formula for increasing sales.

Every consumer-facing business with a cash register, from the smallest single-door to the largest mega retailer, knows that special offers drive lift. Printed coupon fliers, chalkboard nightly restaurant specials, “BOGO” days at the supermarket, seasonal clearance sales, and, most importantly, “punch card” loyalty programs all work. Foursquare takes the incentive programs, coupons and special offers retail businesses have used for decades to drive sales, and straps them to a new, modern opt-in engine that feeds the businesses back real-time location-parsed ROI metrics.

Lucky Magazine Partners For Shopping Specials

At long last, it seems large, well-known brands have finally decided to step around their lethargic and overly cautious agencies and get involved. By all reports, Foursquare and their closest competitor Gowalla are turning down daily inbound proposals from top brands looking to tap into the power of this new way to track lift. Traditional agencies are likely shuddering, and for good reason. Perish the thought that they finally have to step up to this new level of measured return and quantify results! I can just imagine them responding to the brand contact, “What do you mean you want us to run a campaign that tells you how many people acted upon the offer and where and when and how much money you made from your spend“? Heaven forbid.

Foursquare is using Mobile Proof of Presence to finally unlock the Pandora’s box that allows branded locations to run real checkin-based incentive campaigns that reward loyalty, showing them who was in the store or business, when, and what they redeemed as a reward for interacting with the location/brand while there. These metrics can then be tied to increased sales of real products during the time the incentive was offered. Voila! Lift.

This checkin movement is being sped along by a flood of energy and momentum linked to the  long-unrealized potential of mobile marketing, generally. Foursquare, for example, is not so much seeking this as fuel for growth as they are receiving it and serving as a catch basin for this torrent of brands finally able to get metrics empirically linked to real, tracked incremental visits by real people with real money to spend.

Gowalla, Loopt, WHERE, WeReward, and the rest are hot on their heels and there is a lot of loot to spread around. Speaking of loot, Pepsi recently launched their own, branded check-in platform called Pepsi Loot. That’s how hot this space is right now!

 

Pepsi Loot Checkin App

Consider this, Foursquare was founded in March of 2009 and has not yet spent the original $1.35 million they took to get started.  They are still a small, scrappy company that is admittedly barely in control of the tiger they have by the tail. Yes, they have location validation (cheating) issues to address that could cloud metrics and naysayers are squealing about narcissism and privacy. Still, Foursquare is growing larger by the minute and the larger they get, the more likely it is they will perfect the algorithmic tools the big brands have long been looking for.

Also, watch for the big boys (Apple, Google, Nokia, Yahoo, Facebook, etc) to step into this game in a big way, as the realization sinks in that Mobile Proof Of Presence checkin campaigns linked to real incentives tied to products people buy every day might finally be the “lift” mobile marketing has been looking for (and brands are demanding).  They better hurry.

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For an inside look into Foursquare and the forces behind their success, take the time to watch this excellent and revealing video interview with their CEO, Dennis Crowley. BTW, he was just crowned the “King” of social media by Wired Magazine (UK).

Foursquare Potential: CEO Crowned Social Media King

 

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the Founder of Boston-Based LBS consulting firm Location Based Strategy, LLC. He checks in on the forces shaping location based marketing often and can be reached at Wilson@LBStrategy.com.



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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the founder of Location Based Strategy, LLC a Boston-based consulting company dedicated to location-based marketing and business development. You can “become a fan of” Location Based Strategy on Facebook.

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Now that the collective tech/social media world is coming off the sugar rush of Facebook’s big Open Graph announcements of last week, I thought I’d take a fresh look. I should say that I am 41 years old and an active user of Facebook. I certainly see the powerful implications of sharing subjective information across a social network (graph). What I am not 100% sure about is if anyone is stepping back and questioning the viability of their approach.

Facebook made an audacious and smart positioning move to grab the social media high ground, but what are the real benefits to consumers? To Brands? To Facebook? Did Facebook really just “Win The Web”, as the New York Times proclaimed?

Not New News

First of all, last week’s thunderstruck, gushing over-reaction of adoration among industry insiders and press seems somewhat odd, given that Facebook introduced the Open Graph concept at the Developer Garage of October 28, 2009. Here’s an article by Nick O’Neil that outlines what he rightly categorizes (at the time) as “part of a broader move by Facebook”.

From Facebook at the time: “The Open Graph API will allow any page on the Web to have all the features of a Facebook Page…it will show up on that user’s profile and in search results, and that page will be able to publish stories to the stream of its fans.”

So, why then the wild enthusiasm and assertions? Perhaps the youthful Zuckerberg-lead Facebook team best-embodies the promise of social networks to finally dethrone some of the entrenched ad-supported superpowers like Google.

A Google Killer?

Is this move so profound that it will allow Facebook to collect enough information to power a “social search engine” and, as such, topple Google? There is no doubt that Facebook is in a position to learn, store and categorize opt-in personal preferences of individuals and utilize them to great advertising sales advantage. But there are major differences between these companies.

Google makes $23 Billion annually by giving people useful personal and business tools and serving effective and unobtrusive contextually ads in exchange for the use of these tools. Google increased Gmail users by 43% last year and their list of services is impressive, and growing. Google also has direct connections with the local retail points of sale that are so important for tracking incremental purchases and, as I have written about, is well-along the path toward deciding on the right way to collect, measure, and capitalize on these metrics.

Facebook, on the other hand, is not useful. Yes, I said it…fun, interesting, and a novel new socially relevant way to correspond with others with shared commonality. But useful? No. Over 37% of all people signed up for Facebook are inactive. That’s 150 million of them. Facebook made an estimated $650 Million last year and certainly has a lot of traffic, but they have not yet capitalized in a way that comes even close to challenging Google. The fundamental value proposition Facebook offers consumers is different. Try not checking your Facebook page for a week and see what happens. Facebook is a nice to have and, as such, needs to be incrementally more thoughtful about what they do and how they do it.

Size Matters

There were other implied assertions Facebook made last week that I question. Namely, that growth and unique appeal can coexist. Facebook has rocketed to popularity by mimicking the same voyeuristic appeal as the original printed freshman facebooks most of us used to peruse the social landscape back in college. But, after freshman year, the book became irrelevant. Why? Because the size of the graph made the details of the graph highly relevant. If the network grows and becomes indistinct, it loses its effectiveness and the stream of information becomes cloudy and irrelevant in the context of a broader network (no longer wow’d by the initial relevance).

For brands, the “fan page” acts as a tighter circle of consumer interaction and an opt-in sub-network, within the broader context of the web. Consumers have to “become a fan” and the thoughtful act of doing this makes the sub-network powerful and relevant to the brand and others within it. Facebook’s switch to the “Like” button was designed to make it easier for people to convey their preferences. This also has the potential negative side effect of broadening the input stream of consumers to specific sub-networks and clouding the waters  by making the size of the pool exponentially larger and, as such, less meaningful. The more the merrier for Facebook, as this grows the audience to whom they will serve ads to and pads their knowledge about every Facebook user. But it could dilute the opt-in pool for brands and clog the feedback loops.

The Like Button Is Too Easy

The sharing of subjective opinions and preferences based on real world interactions with products and services is the real power of social media (and location based marketing). Ratings and reviews are the best example of how consumers interact with real places and share input, currently, but it does not take much imagination to see that real-world interaction with a wider range of products and services is coming soon.

Providing this subjective input takes a minute or two and this fact (especially when consumers are mobile) serves as detergent to flip or casual positive or negative inputs. The “Like” button allows instant input, with less thought, all designed to rapidly fill Facebook’s master database. Great for Facebook and their advertising machinery plans, but the user experience (in the form of people’s news feeds) could-well become clogged with a deluge of “likes” that become less impactful in direct proportion to the times the too-easy “Like” button is used.

Personal Preference Profile Probes

What Facebook has announced is very smart, but it requires compliance by companies and brands. They are essentially telling any company that has a web page dedicated to something someone would “Like” to infuse Facebook code into that page, with specific metadata tags that categorizes the real-world product shown. This is very good for Facebook, but it essentially means web pages need to insert little  “probes” under their skin that feed a stream of data back to the Facebook mothership. Will companies and brands do this?

They might, but they also might realize that they are turning over the keys to the kingdom to the same barbarian at the gate who will then come back and charge them advertising fees based on the personal preference profile metrics they delivered on a silver platter. They could also do things in the future with this “holy grail” (the personal preference profile) that we can not conceive of currently. My point is that brands should not jump on this before they carefully consider the implications of the volume of valuable opt-in metrics they will be delivering to Facebook, and the benefits.

Content websites should be careful too, as Facebook is sure to sell advertising based on consumer preferences for something they read. Again very good for Facebook, but it could mean a thorny editorial/sales line in the sand gets crossed if readers get hit with ads for products related to an element of the content that does not resonate with the consumer targeted or if the ad seems to imply a paid connection between the editorial content and the advertiser.

Three Things Not Announced: Location, Location, Location

In a surprise to many (including me), Facebook made no mention last week of location-based marketing and framed their announcements around web-based open graph linkages and, more specifically, the integration of “like” button code on product pages to tap the power of personal preference aggregation. While the “visionary” open graph high ground move got the press, the real pot of gold lies at the end of the point-of-sale rainbow, reached by linking marketing to incremental tracked sales. Brands make money by selling more products in stores, period.

It was widely speculated that the reason Facebook did not announce checkin functionality or QR codes or NFC to link updates with real-world physical locations last week was that they might buy Gowalla or Foursquare. We now know that Facebook was about to launch a “door sticker” campaign to reach out directly to merchants and is using, of all things, SMS short codes to track consumer interaction and link it to location.

I personally think this is just the beginning and Facebook will dive headlong into the location-verified Proof Of Presence Metrics game soon. But can they pull it off? A simple location-enabled “Like, with comments option” might not be the right move here. This is too flip, to fast, to easy. Again, good for Facebook as they seek to remove friction for aggregation of personal profile preferences for who, what and where, but I am not sure members of the social graphs want to hear about every checkin and every store or venue or brand that those in their network simply “Like”.

My Friends All Like Different Things

I know the people in my social network and I am certainly more interested in hearing their preferences and opinions than the blanket ads I see every day, foisted upon me by those charged with selling the products. This, of course, is the power of social networks to shape consumer behavior. But I also have a solid majority of pals who are not on Facebook. The two I reached both gave me the same answer, which was, essentially, “Facebook is stupid. It’s full of asinine egocentric banter and takes way too much time to deal with”.  I sympathize and often have to weed though posts about spilled milk (literally) and inane random thoughts.

But I also use Facebook for business and have made an effort to be a fan only of pages conveying important, relevant information. I, for one, do not intend to fill my feed with all my “Likes” and hope those who fill my feed will hold off too. Aside from the obvious volume implications, I am not going to be swayed by the fact that someone “Likes” anything. Now, if they took the time to write a review or checkedin on Gowalla and stopped to rave about something and this was posted with intent, I’d be inclined to take a look. But the click of a “Like” button is too fast, to flip, and too easy and we all like many, many different things, for different reasons.

I know brands and companies have a different Facebook opportunity to potentially take advantage of, but the people making these social media marketing decisions are usually personal Facebook users as well.

Considering The Implications

Facebook has the traffic and the momentum to do some powerful things. I just hope the collective Social Media/LBS/Mobile world can stop for a minute and consider the positive and negative implications of not just the “open graph”, but the site-integrated Facebook metadata tags that, if implemented, will feed consumer preference back to the now-warming Facebook ad engine. Agencies should consider this move on behalf of their clients carefully. I hope Facebook users consider the long and short term implications of sharing so much about their personal product preference profiles with Facebook, the privacy issues this raises, and the effect of potentially having volume and size dull down the interactions with others within their network. And, I hope Facebook considers the user experience implications and that they treat the heavy crop of rich realtime opt-in metrics they will/hope to reap with consideration. Easy is not always good.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the founder and principal consultant at Location Based Strategy, LLC and is signed up for both Gowalla and Foursquare.

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Badges, Passports, the Creator, the Founder, the Mayor, getting a Pin, picking up a raccoon..This is the language of the newest phenomenon to hit the location-enabled social media marketing world.

I am talking about Social Networking Games. No longer only for geeks and geocachers, these are real tools for seeing where your friends are, in real time, as they “check-in” to locations and share what they are doing. Since the device knows where it is, you can only check in to a location you are visiting. While mobile location sharing is not new, incentives that tap our competitive side offered by a “game” are, and this makes all the difference.

The “game” element is that you earn virtual rewards in the form of pins or badges to fuel participation and interaction with real locations. If, for example, you are the first to register a place you want to check-in to, you can literally put that location “on the map” and into the game and your name is forever associated. If you visit the most, you are awarded for this. Locations can be linked into logical routes and in-game “trips” can be created to, for example, hit every pub along a certain street or visit all the parks in a certain city.

Privacy note: The posting of check-ins are controlled by you. Obviously, you can also chose not to check-in. If you are concerned about privacy or your security, be sure to only check-in when you want to share your location with your friends. Duh.

Austin-based Gowalla and NYC-based Foursquare are the two current leaders battling it out for run-up supremacy. Gowalla secured $8.4 Million from Greylock Partners in December 2009 and Foursquare took in $1.35 Million in September of 2009 from Union Square Ventures. Both are on the iPhone App Store and have (or will soon have) apps for Android and RIM as well. These apps are fast and slick and easy to use.

I am not a “gamer” and the last video game I played was Galaga back in 1984. As such, I was surprised to find that I was eagerly checking-in with Gowalla everywhere I went. It did not feel like I was “playing”, but more like I was “using” the platform. In several cases I was the Creator of a new listing. I want to get my family signed up, so I can see if they are nearby, and link my Gowalla account to both Twitter and Facebook, instantly expanding my trusted network. It’s very viral.

As information is shared with others you know and trust, the power of the platform quickly becomes apparent, to both individual users and the businesses that serve as the real-world context for these place-based interactions. Instead of trying to explain it, here’s a true story:

Real Example: I was in little Buena Vista, CO on Feb 10 and stopped into the new Eddyline brewpub. The food was great, the place packed, and I asked owner Brian about Gowalla. He had not heard of it. I pulled out my iPhone and created a new Spot in Gowalla, describing the grass fed local beef they use and how great the pumpkin ale I was drinking tasted, and checked-in. I literally put the location of the business on the Gowalla map. Brian pulled out his laptop, pulled up Gowalla and found the entry I created 30 seconds before. He was blown away and immediately said he would offer promotions through this new platform. Here is the spot I created: http://gowalla.com/spots/539684. If you are ever in Buena Visita, check in, try the pumpkin ale, and tell Brian I said Hey!

Small businesses like the Eddyline makeup the majority of check-ins, and these game platforms can serve as a bridge between online paid search ads and real incremental sales tied to increased foot traffic through the door. Tracking this is the holy grail of mobile advertising.

Google is, not surprisingly, all over this trend and their recent Favorite Places “doorway quick response code sticker” program shows that they value the importance of quantifying incremental foot traffic/sales. Their recent investment in Boston-based social scavenger hunt gaming platform SCVNGR is something to keep an eye on, as is veteran location sharing platform Loopt. (An interesting Google side note is that they bought an early social media game called Dodgeball from a Dennis Crowley back in May of 2005 and did nothing with it. The same Dennis Crowley co-founded  Foursquare.)

Remember, traditional paid search or banner ads drive click-throughs to websites, which must then serve up a store location or map interface. This works on your desktop or laptop, but is broken in mobile. Most large brands do not even have a mobile website. Almost no smaller businesses do.

These social networking games make location (and time) the primary force for interacting with a business, for the mobile consumer who is looking for single-click location-based subjective information they can trust, and that is actionable.

Business owners can watch check-ins,  see what users frequent their business and when, and open a door to real feedback from people they know were there. If they choose to, they can offer specials or reward loyalty via real merchandise. Every business owner should ensure their location(s) are covered by Gowalla and Foursquare. If they are not, they should simply register and enter their own location(s) next time they are there.

Large national brands should consider the implications of not owning the input of their locations and the information conveyed. While Foursquare has recently allowed content owners like Zagat to “bulk load” locations, these platforms are in their infancy and there will likely be some exciting opportunities for big brands to participate. If this happens, the current rewards and incentives for check-ins might-well move from virtual goods to real goods in an organized way. Coupons, incentive cards, loyalty programs, sweepstakes, etc could all be tied in.

These social networking games have huge potential, especially as they mature and invest their recent VC infusions into new functionality.

They bridge the gap between “attract online customers to your website” and “attract mobile consumers your place of business and prove they were there“, and they make it fun.

Because of this, I do not think it’s a stretch  to assert that these social networking games very well could be a key that unlocks the door to ROBO (Research Online Buy Offline) quantification.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the founder and principal consultant at Location Based Strategy, LLC and is signed up for both Gowalla and Foursquare.

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Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the founder of Location Based Strategy, LLC a Boston-based consulting company dedicated to bringing the power of location-based marketing to companies and brands.

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Social media marketing is hot hot hot. While the disjointed components have risen and fallien with the VC tide for some time now, a coherent roadmap is emerging for marketing a brand, product or service via social media. No longer just a fad for college kids or a way to virally promote your fart app, social media is emerging as a powerful and rapidly growing low-cost, high-reward force for driving sales.  The price tag is appealing and there is no barrier to entry.

With billions now being bet by the major players on the need for brands to have a mobile ad strategy, social media has evolved in the wings from a nice-to-have to a must-have for every company that sells anything. From a local pizza joint to a consumer packaged goods goliath, the power of human interaction to spread a marketing message though trusted social networks at very low cost is suddenly here (and increasingly measurable).

When did this shift occur? I am not sure, but something clicked into place in the opening months of 2010. Maybe it was Google buying Admob or Apple grabbing Quattro or the first real cold beer handed out for a virtual Foursquare Mayor’s badge, or some combination of forces. Regardless, mobile marketing seems to have finally broken through and social media is at the tip of this spear.

Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Yelp. WordPress. YouTube. Foursquare. Gowalla. Myspace. Constant Contact. These are not fads. They are content-generating warp drives that harness the aggregated power of specific, personal product and service interactions distributed by a trusted collective of consumers who all opt in to play a role.

Brands can no longer just pitch the merits of their product at consumers. Push is out, pull is in. Consumers want verified, trusted information from people like themselves and know where to find it. They want it stamped as trustworthy and valid not by some pitch-team that dreamed up the slogan at a corporate offsite, but by the members of a social network that they can literally see, and that they chose to join. They have an insatiable appetite for the real interactions that generate a buzz they are a part of. How big is this appetite? Facebook‘s 350 million users post and share  3.5 Billion pieces of content to other members of their “friend” networks, each week.

Consumers know the members of their social media networks and trust their opinions. They can search for information quickly and easily to support these assertions and then walk into a business to buy something armed with more information than the salesman pitching them the product. This is a game changer and calls out the importance of what social media expert and blogger Mike Troiano calls, “Scalable Intimacy“.

Mike describes social media this way, “Social media..is about investing in relationships that create more measurable economic value than they cost. It is about engaging with the people who collectively decide whether to buy or not buy your product, like it or dislike it, recommend it or trash it, shape it or ignore it.”

As noted by Dharmesh Shah of social media software leader HubSpot, a great way to illustrate the power of social media marketing is to enter “(any brand) sucks” into Google. Or note that new social media marketing agencies are springing up, just to hold the hands of brands that tremble on the doorstep of this new frontier. Or consider the fact that 80% of the content read on the web today is not read on the site that originally published the content.

Most companies do not even have  mobile website, let alone an interactive social media hub for managing the way the blogosphere is distributing and discussing their product or service. There is a big opportunity here and a lot to learn.

How to get started? Check your city for informal networking groups like Mobile Monday and attend events, sign up for personal accounts and learn the ropes, ask questions, think about using social media to promote a non-profit you volunteer for, read blog articles from experts like Dharmesh Shah, Mike Troiano, and other thought leaders in the space. Of course, you can always hire someone to help out..

Still not sold? Still unsure if social media marketing is something you need to include in your corporate strategy? Just watch this video:

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