Privacy in the digital age

Original cartoon by the US gov’t. Hat tip to Andy Baio.

Privacy, a need constantly demanded  by movie stars and other celebrities, has taken on a new meaning for the common man, who spends a large part of his/her day online. But do we really care about our online footprint or is this brouhaha just being generated to control the growing power of the internet and the media?

The government on its part is trying to be our knight in shining armor, passing along the ‘Do not Track Bill’ – providing consumers with the option to opt out of being tracked.  I think providing options is always a great, its important to have the choice. But on the flip side there are reasons why a bill such as Do not track impedes the growth of the internet. John Battelle in his book The Search, makes a great point that Clickstream data allows companies to identify what you are interested in and helps provides a better experience on the internet.

We all spend a large part of our days surfing the net, posting details of our day-to-day life on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, post pictures (often without privacy settings), check-in using Foursquare, so how concerned are we really with privacy. According to privacy expert Larry Ponemon most U.S. adults — 60 percent —claim they care about privacy but will barely lift a finger in an effort to preserve it. They don’t alter Facebook privacy settings, they don’t complain when supermarkets demand their phone numbers and they certainly don’t insist on encrypted e-mail. I was shocked to read about Gary LosHuerto experience of hacking and informing people they were on an unsecured network and those individuals did nothing to alter their behavior.

Statistics thus far show that the opt-out rate has received relatively low response. The click-through rate is just 0.002% and of those people who do follow the link, only 10% opt out of the ads, according to DoubleVerify, which recently won a contract from the industry trade group to license the icon for ad clients. Two other companies, Evidon and TRUSTe, also provide the service. Evidon, which has the longest set of data, is seeing click-through of 0.005% with only 2% opting out from 30 billion impressions. At this point, advertisers’ fears consumers would opt out of behavioral targeted advertising appears to be slightly overblown.

So how do you feel about the issue? Are you concerned that some company is going through your private information or are you just taking a wait and watch approach?

The Future of Money

I remember first reading about the concept of money in history class and the transition from the barter system to coins to paper money. It all seemed very exciting and that was also when I first shocked my parents by asking for pocket-money. The latter wasn’t very well received. So reading about Jack Dorsey‘s startup Square sparked a number of questions in my mind.

Square essentially wants to replace cash registers, wallets and loyalty cards with mobile apps and a smartphone. As I see it the need is to reduce the hassle of carrying your wallet, particularly plastics everywhere you go, the benefit is a lighter freer and possibly more spendthrift customer (i.e. you). At the moment the software can be loaded on to an iPad.

As long as the customer has Square’s mobile app, the merchant can complete transactions with absolutely no plastic. Square stores payment details in the app, and by sharing your name when checking out, the transaction is processed and you get a text-message confirmation. Neat huh.

But this is not exactly a new concept, just a modifications on whats already in play in the Far East. Japan has long been phasing out the hassle of coins and bills with microchip-laden “smart cards,” which let people make electronic payments for everything from lunch to the daily commute. Other nations, led by South Korea, already have mobile commerce payment schemes in place that let people punch keys on their cell phones so that the devices trigger transactions. According to a Mastercard study, there is a possibility the technology is likely to be accepted in the US. Of Americans who use mobile phones, 63% of those aged between 18-34 years are open to using their device to make purchases. But there is a sizable chunk of the population who are wary of the technology. So its important to gain the buy-in of the remainder and show its efficacy.

Square, as the article suggests, is likely to face significant competition from the big guns, namely Visa and Mastercard. These players have spent decades building the vendor relations and scale necessary for the operation and that is a clear strategic advantage that is hard to replicate by new entrants. However, by nabbing Visa as a strategic investor, I think Square has bought itself some time. Visa, Google and Mastercard are also getting on the act.

Here is a video introducing Google Wallet and retailers perspective.

Square also seems to be focusing on smaller businesses, and this is a hot market to focus on. Especially if it can find a way to partner with players such as Foursquare, GroupOn and Living Social.

On a macro level, we need to consider how this is likely to impact the economy as a whole. In the long run, US consumers need to reign in their spending, yes it will do a lot to circulate money but I wonder if adopted on a large-scale how this would impact the US.

But enough with the gloom. On a brighter note, the day we start using virtual wallets, enjoy intergalactic flights and teleport between locations is possibly not that far. Ahh Gene Roddenberry would be so proud.

Is technology taking over our lives?

Always connected

So I am a self-professed gadget freak. I obsess about my laptop not being fast enough, and it annoys me that each time I get a new iPod, apple release a new version weeks later. I can seldom go without being connected to my network and the days that my Time Warner internet connection is down for even 30 mins leaves me panicking.

But I increasingly find it intriguing how groups of people out and about in the most exciting city in the world, are glued to their devices rather than noticing the Manhattan skyline. I noticed this family in Union Square the other day, and they were all staring at their iPhones/Blackberry and did not even seem to notice the gorgeous day and the farmers market set-up in the square.

Which got me thinking, if technology was developed to make our lives easier and simpler, what went wrong?

I read an article a while back which talked about how technology addiction was taking its tool in Asia.  According to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, the number of cases brought to it for consultation on online games-related concerns rose to 1,692 in 2010, up from 1,437 in 2009, many of them involving youths. Apparently technology addiction is a real illness, and the effect its takes on your life is as real as someone coming of cigarettes or even drugs. A University of Maryland research described students’ thoughts in vivid detail, in which they admit to cravings, anxiety attacks and depression when forced to abstain from using media. Wow that really is serious stuff.

I don’t have answers to all these facts, but it just makes me think that maybe every now and then we need to take a step back and just enjoy the people and the world we live in. So lets all think over this and keep a watch on how the people around us behave and act, you might be surprised over what you may learn.

They hit Like…now what

So your customer hits the like button on your Facebook (FB) page, your fan numbers grow and then what. This was the theme of an article titled – So you like my brand on Facebook. Now what? – on Adage.

In an earlier post, Why is social media important?, I mentioned that several firms are tasking their advertising/media agencies with setting up a FB page. But getting someone to click a button should not be the end goal. Fortunately, some firms are setting precedent for best practice. Here are some examples:

Adobe – Adobe Photoshop, currently has 2.18 million fans on FB, enlisted its product managed team to run its page. The team regularly asks fans what they want and learn what topics and ideas resonate with them. Thus far, Adobe has accumulated over 2 million lines and has over 3,000 comments. In addition, it regularly provides tips to get fans coming back to the page.

Adobe has been able to use its page to not only drive engagement but also use it as a vital product development and crowd sourcing tool.

Coca-Cola – The company takes a bold move towards engaging its FB fans by displaying user created content to drive the wall feed. The fan page was originally created by two fans, who just loved Coke. Rather than buying the page, Coke decided to work with them to build and represent the brand. Coke knows that its brand is an icon for consumers and most use collect and create art project out of it, so its photo album features user creations as well as pictures of its employee, and Coke products pictures from across the world.

By creating a community where consumers can display their creative talent and share their connection with the brand is what makes Coke’s FB innovative truly unique. Link to the article.

My perspective: Getting users to like your page is the first step, but it shouldn’t be the end purpose, it is a means to achieve your objective and it needs a focussed approach and the investment to make it successful.

Social Networking and its role in Marketing Strategies – a look at some platforms

Social networking sites present an increasingly attractive way for companies to establish direct contact with a proportion of their customer base, market themselves, and build brand awareness. This post analyses four social networking sites – Facebook, Twitter, My Space, and LinkedIn – and discuss their potential as a marketing tool.

Facebook (FB) – With more than 500 million active users, and  550,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors in May 2011. FB is the largest social networking site in the world. According to statistics released by the company, half of its active users log in on any given day, spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook and connect to 80 community pages, groups and events.

FB also caters to a range of demographics including 18-24, and over 55, indicating the potential to use FB as a marketing tool. Companies or fans can create a product or brand specific page, and users can sign-up with the click of a button. Some of the elements that can be integrated on the page include engaging fans/members using regular updates and polls, posting pictures, designing special applications, featuring new product/brand and receiving feedback, running contests and giving out coupons, answering questions via the discussion forum, and by posting pictures and videos. FB users can also send each other gifts featuring a company’s product and/or brand prominently on their own page and these shows up in their status updates. Given the diversity of applications, there are few barriers for companies to leverage the site irrespective of industry. The key is to keep the fan base interested and involved, with continued activity on the profile, ensure a distinct, coherent, and consistent message, and not force the conversation in any one direction.

Twitter – Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ site. It is now the second most popular social networking site and had 95,800,000 estimated unique monthly visitors in May 2011. As compared to other sites such as FB and MySpace, some feel Twitter lacks dynamism, but there are benefits to this medium. Twitter is a good method to track the popularity of a company’s brand or product and stay part of the conversation. Zappos was the first company to use a Twitter aggregator that pulls in all mentions of the company on a page created on its site. This is also a way to promote the brand, people mentioning the brand, and display their experience. Twitter is also a good place to interact with customers, provide regular news, provide customer service, highlight offers, and provide new product information. In order to capitalize on Twitter, company representatives should establish a twitter account and begin to post regular updates on the site. It is also necessary to post engaging material to increase interaction with followers. Companies can track their followers, gain insight into their behavior. When using Twitter it is important to be responsive to tweets.
MySpace – The third most popular social networking site, had 80,500,000 estimated unique monthly visitors in May 2011 . The site is skewed towards a younger demographic, and focuses on music and video content. Aquafina uses its profile to provide customers with entertainment and supports the independent film community – its profile features short film and it provides film festival updates, and had 8732 friends as of May 20,2011. By focusing on this targeted community, Aquafina has been able to generate intense brand loyalty and word of mouth. However, MySpace might not suitable for every business, and has up until recently seen a drop in popularity. In order to tap the site, it would be necessary to find an interest community such as musicians, gamers, filmmakers, or photographers and find a way to interact with them and build a loyal fan base. It is important to ensure minimal clutter on the MySpace page, as that is a common issue with the site, and acts as a distracting element.
LinkedIn – The fourth most popular social networking site, LinkedIn had 50,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors in May 2011. As compared to the other sites critiqued in this paper, marketing opportunities for companies using LinkedIn is slightly limited. The site is primarily used by professionals  for recruitment, business development, and relationship development/networking purposes. All Fortune 500 companies have a profile on the site and represented by a variety of employees ranging from the CEOs to junior staff. The site is best suited for small businesses, which can use the “Full View” option to promote their organizations. Google prominently displays LinkedIn in searches and this can be very beneficial for small businesses, allowing interested parties to view a company’s profile. LinkedIn provides the ability to connect with sites such as the company’s blog, twitter account, and display company presentations.

My perspective: Social networks provide companies with an interactive forum and depending on the marketing strategy, a host of social networking sites can be used to spread the company’s message. It is good practice to have a consistent message, and link various sites to the company’s home page and among each other to direct fans/users to content. Establishing guidelines is another very important task, and employees assigned to the task need to approach aspects such as posting comments, and links in a consistent manner.

The memory pill – Multiplatform Advertising

I came across an interesting piece of news regarding ESPN, on Advertising Age yesterday. What was particularly interesting is its plans to launch more cross-platform / multi platform ad units.

As part of this initiative, ESPN will distribute its sports content on multiple platforms – and they have the stats to prove it might just work in attracting more eyeballs and shoring up recall rates. Approx. 2.2 million interact with the ESPN app every day, and its live-streaming service has attracted 50 advertisers. ESPN is especially counting on Nielsen’s efforts to measure iPad video viewing that will allow it to convince advertisers to extend campaigns across multiple platforms by showing it the numbers.

While most statistics readily available online are relatively dated, it does show that multi platform advertising, offering increased frequency (number of times a viewer is exposed to an advertising), results in higher conversion ratesclick for details. According to a Nielsen study, simultaneously surfing the web and watching TV is getting more and more common. In 2009, 12.8% of Super Bowl viewers and 8.7% of Oscar viewers simultaneously browsed the Internet, but in 2010, that number shot up to 14.5% and 13.3%, respectively. So it’s no surprise that ESPN and I imagine most/more media companies are likely to push or rather recommend multi platform campaigns to their advertisers.

In fact, IBM has developed a tool for media networks to develop an effective media mix and leverage multi platform advertising. IBM® Cognos® is a cross-platform advertising transformation and analytics solution that can help firms turn unstructured data into usable business information, aiding marketers to figure out how best to invest.

My perspective: Consumers of media are inundated with messages, and most know how to ignore advertising (whether getting a snack during the commercial break, ignoring the banner advertising on web pages, and hitting the forward button on the DVR). Multi platform advertising helps ensure that the advertisers message is put in front of the right audience several times so they can actually remember the campaign.

Lost in trans(portation)!!

New York – the City, the Big Apple, Melting pot, there are many nicknames for this city and its many wonderful attractions and people. When I first came to the city (about eight months ago), one aspect of the city that scared me in particular was the subway. I was afraid to go down into the belly of the beast. I wondered what was with all these lines – A,B,C,D, 1,N,Q,R….How do I get my ticket? How do I know whether I need to go uptown or downtown?

I constantly found myself on the wrong train, often heading in the wrong direction. I spent many a night waiting for the C, only to realize it don’t operate at that time. Yes, painful lessons but I am smarter for it today, well thats until I need to go to a new part of town.

You see in India and Delhi in particular, we didn’t have a public transportation system as well priced, and well connected as NYC (more on this later). Most people have cars, and others take a rickshaw, DTC bus (best of luck getting on those), carpool or take a taxi (these are rather overpriced). In Delhi, the government would need to offer a significant cash reward for the middle/upper middle class to take the metro (started in 2002) and ditch their cars, so I find it all the more enthralling that the  subway is so popular in New York. But I digress.

Over the last couple of months I have come to admire the efficiency of the subway, and the diversity it holds in its narrow tubes and its many stations. On any given day, I see people from all around the world and hear several different languages. I had a professor that called the subway the ‘great equalizer’, and I could not agree more. In the subway, no matter the designation/title/bank balance we are all equal, jostling for a seat and therein lies its beauty.