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Comcast and Tivo: The Model Is In Ads as Service

By - January 29, 2009

Yesterday at the NAPTE show TiVo CEO issued a call to action to the television business: get a new business model, or suffer the same fate as the newspaper.

I think he’s right, and I’ve got some ideas about what that model should be. I’ll be posting more on this, but the short overview is this: Television should respond to the exhaustive knowledge it has of our viewing habits, and create a model that trades value for engagement. I sketched this out a while back in my post “TV and Search Merge” but that was more than four years ago. A lot has changed, and I’ve learned a lot more about how marketing works. So look for another Friday sketch, tommorrow, outlining my more considered thoughts on the subject.

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Hirschorn on the End of The Times

By - January 07, 2009

Michael Hirschorn, who I have worked with on failed print endeavors (Inside, the magazine, back in 2000), writes a thoughtful piece on the end of print journalism, and in particular the New York Times, in – irony alert – the Feb. issue of the Atlantic, which – double irony alert – I read online and would never have seen otherwise, given I no longer subscribe to the print version.

The NYT Co. is an investor in my company. I wish them only well. But I do differ somewhat with Michael when he writes:



Regardless of what happens over the next few months, The Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon—sooner than most of us think—the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company.



I believe the print edition will continue, but in a very different form. Print, as I’ve been saying since the days of Wired, will continue in the digital age, but it will have to pass new tests of value before it can survive. Print has to justify the costs associated with print, now that there are options for information beyond print.

The key issue Michael raises is “how will great journalism get done without institutions like the New York Times?” He goes on to answer that the model of journalism itself is due for an overhaul, and I cannnot agree more. In fact I’d go way, way further than he’s gone. More on that in an upcoming post.

15,000 Words You Might Have Missed

By - December 31, 2008

Book Open-8

One of my readers noted that I’ve written a lot of off-blog stuff, and I’m rather proud of it. And I’ve noted (in my “How did I do 2008” post) that I did not really make the progress I wish I had on my book. But working with partners like Amex, I wrote nearly 20 column-sized pieces – around 15,000 words – and nearly all of them are sketches toward the book I hope to write. Here are some of the pieces I wrote elsewhere this year:

American Express Open Forum Blog

It’s Time to Put This Myth To Rest

In which I argue that marketing works in social media.

Leadership In Troubled Times

When things go wrong, take responsibility.

As The World Turns..Inside Out

My opening post on the economic troubles this past Fall.

Think Local, Act Conversational – It Just Might Save Your Business

How conversant is your small business?

Product Development IS Marketing, And Vice Versa

The title says it all.

Take 48!

A new policy we put in place at FM, picked up on by the WSJ.

Every Great Business Is An Argument

What’s your argument?

Three Steps to Becoming A Web Conversationalist

Some tips on getting conversant.

More On Search and Your Business

A few “Search 101″ tips.

Linking Search, Conversation, And Your Site

How it all fits together.

The Successful Business Owner Is a Great Conversationalist

How good are you?

You’re In the Media Business Now.

This is my core argument for all businesses, regardless of industry.



Future of Search – Sponsored by Reuters

Is Microsoft Cashback the Future of Search?

Where Microsoft got it right, and wrong.

A Search Is Not Just A Search

Toward a new interface in search.



Thought Leadership Series – Looksmart

Shifting Search from Static to Real-time

My Twitter moment.

Algorithms and Community: Voice Wins

At the end of the day, we’re people first.

What We Lose As Search Gets Personal

A case for a common search experience.

On Marketing in Social Media, and Meals

By - December 29, 2008

Pete Spande, who runs the East for FM and therefore toward whom I am favorably inclined, has written a brief but very true post on the myth that marketing in social media should somehow be free. It’s not free, just like throwing a great social event isn’t free, but it can be very efficient and it can certainly help get marketers to their goals, if done right.

Social Media Marketing is like entertaining in the physical world. If you want to share an experience with a group of people (either personally or professionally) you need to go to where the people are and get their attention or entice them to come to you. In either case, you have to invest something to get a return.

Pete argues there are various ways to get this done. Many marketers take his first approach (pull out all the stops), usually by attaching themselves to well known celebrities (come hang with LeBron in our Officially Sanctioned NBA social media play! (ooops, this site is no longer active!).

This approach (have the Foo Fighters play! Let folks know Britney will be showing up!) usually fails, and has given social marketing a bad name inside many major brands. “Hey, we tried a deal with (Facebook, MSN, Google, etc) and while a lot of people showed up, no needles really moved, and it all seemed to dissipate as quickly as it started.”

That’s because this approach is pretty much more of the same old sh*t – create a social media execution that has very little value as an organic community, pay a large site a fair chunk of dough to push traffic at it, and then watch as the traffic bounces off it as if it were a heat shield.

There’s another way to do it. A few in fact. I’m particularly a fan of two approaches: First, finding the true leaders of a community you care about, and engaging them in a dialog about how best to join the conversation they lead. What you come up with just might be something like HP’s VoicePosts, Intel’s embedding code and support of BB’s OffWorld, or American Express’ Open Forum.

Secondly, I like the approach of determining you have something valuable to add on your own, and you might become a publisher in your own right, as long as what you build is truly valuable. That’s how you end up with Microsoft’s CrowdFire, or Asus’ WePC.com (or come to think of it, American Express’ Open Forum again.)

Social media marketing is about brands acting, well, social. Which means they need to show up to the party with a nice bottle of wine, if that’s what the party calls for. They need to come ready to have a dialog, and add value to the event. Of course, if they show up with Britney, we won’t complain, if she respects the vibe of the community. If she can’t, well, she probably shouldn’t come in the first place.

A Biosphere of Minds

By -

From the wonderful Kevin Kelly:



While we have not yet made anything as complex as a human mind, we are trying to. The question is, what would be more complex than a human mind? What would we make if we could? What would such a thing do? In the story of technological evolution – or even biological evolution – what comes after minds?

The usual response to “what comes after a human mind” is better, faster, bigger minds. The same thing only more. That is probably true – we might be able to make or evolve bigger faster minds — but as pictured they are still minds.

A more recent response, one that I have been championing, is that what comes after minds may be a biosphere of minds, an ecological network of many minds and many types of minds – sort of like rainforest of minds – that would have its own meta-level behavior and consequences. Just as a biological rainforest processes nutrients, energy, and diversity, this system of intelligences would process problems, memories, anticipations, data and knowledge. This rainforest of minds would contain all the human minds connected to it, as well as various artificial intelligences, as well as billions of semi-smart things linked up into a sprawling ecosystem of intelligences. Vegetable intelligences, insect intelligences, primate intelligences and human intelligences and maybe superhuman intelligences, all interacting in one seething network. As in any ecosystem, different agents have different capabilities and different roles. Some would cooperate, some would compete. The whole complex would be a dynamic beast, constantly in flux.

Make you think of anything?

An Interview With @comcastcares

By - December 06, 2008

Comcastcares Pic

Perhaps the best example of a company leveraging new media to turn nasty customer complaints into happy customer evangelists is Comcast. Yes, you read that right, Comcast. This nifty piece of conversational jujitsu has been accomplished in large part by Frank Eliason, better known by his handle @comcastcares on Twitter.

I’ve been following Frank’s work on Twitter for a while, it seemed he was always listening to what folks were saying, and when folks (inevitably) ranted about Comcast service, he jumped in, and almost always seemed to fix the problem. Then it happened to me, in October, my service started acting deeply flaky, and I complained about it.



I quickly got a response, and when I moved to a new place last month, he helped again. Then just this weekend, my new Internet service started acting flaky again, and in ten minutes, Frank had assessed the problem and helped me fix it, calmly, intelligently, and in the grammar natural to social media.

I wanted to learn more about Frank and Comcast’s efforts in this area, so I emailed him and asked if he’d do an interview. Below is the result. Thanks Frank!

So question one: How did you end up being Comcast’s Twitter agent? Whose idea was it, and how long have you been doing it?



I started at Comcast back in September, 2007 managing a small service team. Starting on my 4th day we reached out to a few bloggers via phone after they made a post. Based on comments on the web, we were seeing success. Starting in December we started posting on a few blogs. This brought a new round of success. In February I was asked to create a team and make this a full time job. My title evolved to Director of Digital Care. Responsibilities included blogs, forums, and moderating our own help forums. At the time we started a daily newsletter. A VP from our Southwest Area, Scott Westerman (@ComcastScott on Twitter) responded one day in February that we should check out Twitter. We started watching it, reaching out via phone on occasion. In April we began to Tweet regularly.

The service we get in Twitter is superior, in my experience, to calling the support number. You quickly access the issue, you get things done – for example, sending a service rep out right away, or finding the right information to solve a problem. These things take forever and don’t work very well in traditional channels. Can this scale past Twitter? Are senior execs at Comcast paying attention to what you are doing?

We are working hard to improve the overall experience for all our communication channels. We view social media as simply another communication channel similar to phone, email or chat. I thank you for the compliment regarding my service, but I do know others with in the phone and email channels that are much better than I. One of the ways we are making the improvement is through improved tools. One of the tools is something called Grand Slam. Now I have been using this tool for awhile. It makes everything much easier. We are in the process of rolling this out to everyone. You can think of it has a dashboard of the technical aspects of your service. Everything is in one place. It also provides other diagnostic tools that are a click away. As a good example, here is a blog post from this week on Crunchgear:

http://www.crunchgear.com/2008/12/01/truly-comcastic-service-for-real-this-time/



I know from experience this is from this tool. She was able to analyze the signals which were good, but then she ran a ping test and most likely a traceroute to the modem to determine that something was incorrect. Not only is this good for the Customer it is also good for our technicians so we are looking to make the corrections at the right area.

This effort to improve the service for our Customers stems right from the senior leadership of Comcast. They are dedicated to seeing this happen. In terms of the work of my team, they are very supportive and they have cited my team as examples of what we should all be striving to do for our Customers.

The folks on Twitter might be called “influencers” in the world of tech media and the web. How are they different from other folks you’ve helped? Have you noticed an “amplification” effect of helping them in terms of the Comcast brand?

We monitor the entire web to assist when we can. This is done through searching blogs, help forums, other social media websites and Twitter. In terms of how many we helped, that is a little hard to completely assess because in Twitter we sometimes fully resolve via tweets. In forums and blogs we will provide a response if we can but sometimes we will call or shift to email. Our email address (we_can_help@cable.comcast.com) also sees a lot of activity from people that have located it on the web. We have estimate that since the start of the year we have assisted over 10000 Customers. This is based on the amount of emails we have resolved, the number of tickets we have worked with other areas to resolve, and analysis of some of our tweets. Since actively tweeting I have had 19,895 public tweets and 5,925 private tweets. I also have over 5500 followers.

I really do not help anyone different whether it be a person on the street, someone who randomly sends an email, or those I meet on Twitter. What people see with me is what they get. There are a number of people on Twitter that like to blog and certainly share their life events. We have built relationships and we are a part of their life so we have seen 1 or 2 blog posts about our efforts. But I am a simple service guy, that is not my goal or objective. I just want to help if I can.


But you are a director, right? What did you do before Comcast? How many people do you manage?

I am Director of Digital Care. Today (I manage) 7, but I am in the process of hiring 3 additional.
Prior to joining Comcast I was a manager of Quality Assurance and Customer Satisfaction for a bank. 


Congrats on hiring in this economy! Would you be willing to answer questions in comments here?

Yes.

Thanks Frank!

gOS Cloud: Search as Interface

By - December 04, 2008

Gos Cloud

There is something so reassuring about seeing an emerging operating system play, based on Linux, that so blatantly declares its navigational interface to be search, specifically Google. gOS, which debuted early this year on a $199 PC sold at Walmart, announced Cloud earlier this week. I managed to miss it till now. More here and here.

Me On Ad Nets

By - November 06, 2008

For your consideration:

The part that people don’t yet fully understand is that “vertical ad networks,” at the end of the day, are still ad networks. Ad networks are a vital part of the online media ecosystem. They provide publishers with additional revenue on inventory that isn’t otherwise fulfilling higher CPM sponsorship programs, and they provide direct-response marketers with additional reach at cost-efficient rates. Vertical ad networks offer a bit better targeting because they focus on a smaller set of sites.

While vertical ad networks may improve efficiency for direct-response advertisers, who determine success based on some variation of cost-per-click, they are not solving the needs of brand advertisers. Ultimately, vertical ad networks serve advertisers and will compete with everyone else who serves DR advertisers, from Google to the other ad networks. The excitement over “vertical” ad networks will erode as CPMs on those networks chase the DR metrics.

Looks Like Myspace, eh?

By - November 05, 2008

Facebook with loads o ads:

Facebook-With-Ads-1

The author Andrew Chen notes that with “experimental” ad budgets (ie stuff like Facebook’s nascent “engagement ads” and the like) getting slashed, this might be what Facebook looks like soon.