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Posts Tagged ‘Internet

Nice paywall, Mr Murdoch; now what are you going to do about Google?

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So after all that talk and months of planning, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp has finally unveiled his grand scheme to make his newspaper websites turn a profit.

And it is, er, a paywall.

NewsCorp’s The Times will charge £1 a day or £2 a week for access.

Bit of a disappointment really. I was at least expecting some form of tiered charging system, a la the Financial Times. But on a global level, a micropayments system, similar to the ones used in online gaming, does seem to have traction.

Can it work? I asked that months ago on my old Media blog. And frankly, we’re no nearer any answers. It seems crazy to think that people will pay £1 to read a news story they can read anywhere else for free. The BBC is still out there, of course, and even if it goes through with plans to scale back its online content, there is still the Guardian, which has pledged itself to a free-access future. The Times is really going to have to show it can deliver value-add content, or rely on a very loyal minority. And let’s face it, Murdoch’s online track record isn’t exactly sparkling.

Still, the sums involved are pretty substantial, according to the Guardian:

Assuming that only 5% of daily users convert to the paywall system – a standard metric for paywalls – that would bring in £1.83m if they each buy a £1 daily pass. At a 10% conversion, it would net £3.66m per month for the two papers. If more people of those choose to buy the weekly pass, the revenues would be lower.

Compare that with the £40m made by The Guardian’s web division in the last financial year, according to outgoing CEO Carolyn McCall.

The big question now is what to do about Google. We all know that if you paste a headline into Google you can bypass a paywall – just try it with the Wall Street Journal. Should The Times block Google and protect its paywall but hurt search traffic? Or should it be like the WSJ and just pretend nobody knows about that?

There’s been a lot of sabre-rattling toward Google from NewsCorp, suggesting it might seriously pull back from Google. Instinctively that feels like a mistake, and something that could seriously set The Times back years. From personal experience I know that news sites get more than half their traffic via search. What’s more, The Times seems to be looking for one-off payments rather than tying people in to annual subscriptions. That approach will require regular traffic through the site.

One thing’s for sure, though. If Murdoch starts making money from this, there will be a lot of others following him. And the more of them that do so, the less free competition there will be for The Times.

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Written by davidtiltman

March 26, 2010 at 11:32 am

Why social media will not win the election

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Back in January, I was asked by a marketing consultant how important I thought digital would be in the upcoming UK general election. He obviously expected me to gush about how important Twitter/Facebook/YouTube would be, and seemed slightly shocked when I suggested that for all the noise around social media, the election could be more traditional than we thought. And a recent lunch with an agency boss working on one of the party’s campaigns confirmed to me that the parties recognise that online engagement can only be the start.

So it was with interest that I read the piece in this week’s Economist that flagged the limitations of social media as a political tool. It makes a number of good points, including the argument that Twitter is good for reaching journalists, but email reaches the actual voters. The upshot is that developments such as myconservatives.com, WebCameron and the left-leaning blogs can have an impact (including galvanising activists), but are, for now, unlikely to win a party an election on their own (though all parties still have to engage in these channels, otherwise they lose share of voice to their rivals).

Here’s why:

1. British politics is not US politics. The Obama campaign in 2008 made everyone aware of the political implications of social media. But the UK political environment is very different. We have become more presidential, but we do not elect presidents; we elect parties. We do not have the intense build-up of primaries – party leaders are decided by their parties, and are not chosen as part of the campaign build-up. That means political discourse between parties and the general public is generally less focused on a single point in time (an election) and more focused on general points-scoring. Elections can be called any time within a five-year parliament by the prime minister, so the campaigns are shorter, sharper and often more tactical.

2. Even for Obama, social media was only the start. The Obama social media drive served to establish him as a candidate and gave him considerable resources to mount a challenge. It did not on its own win him the election. TV, print, radio, outdoor and email (the 21st century equivalent of shoe leather) were all major parts of his campaign. This blend of digital evangelising and old-school politicking was developed in the primaries and continued into the main election campaign.

3. Social media is great at knocking things, but it’s far harder to build political enthusiasm. The parties have shown pretty deft use of some social sites to respond instantly to their rivals’ moves and to discredit them. John Prescott has proved an ace Twitterer, and Labour’s activists have been pretty effective at mocking the Tories’ campaigns via spoof posters. Any slip by the parties, once magnified by the echo chamber of Twitter et al, could damage their reputation; but success can be far harder to shout about and publicise, especially given the levels of cynicism there already are around politicians. The TV debates featuring the three party leaders will be fascinating – we’ll see how the successes and failure on the night are reflected in cyberspace.

4. It’s easier to build enthusiasm around single issues than complex political messages. The Facebook campaign behind Rage Against the Machine at Christmas showed how single issues (such as ‘don’t let Simon Cowell be Christmas number one’) can thrive within social media. Arguably, Obama’s ‘Change’ message gained momentum like a single issue and only later had to concern itself with actual policies. In the US, of course, the campaign is focused on the president. British political parties remain strange coalitions of interests, and presenting them like a single issue is far harder. You might buy into David Cameron, for example, but still have your doubts about Nicholas Winterton. A British general election puts them both up for the vote simultaneously. It’s interesting that Cameron has attempted a ‘Change’ message without being able to build it into a cause the way Obama did. He’s not personally as engaging, and he’s held back by his party.

That said, Labour has shown signs of using a single-issue approach – for example, its recently launched campaign to save Sure Start children’s centres from spending cuts.

5. The election will be won in key marginals. Social media campaigns have been causing some interesting headlines at a national level, but actually British governments are made and broken in a relatively small number of marginal seats. And a vote in these seats goes not just to a national party, but to a local politician. That means local issues and local personalities can come into play, factors that are below the national radar but need actual on-the-ground campaigning to address.

6. Old people vote more. Fact. Purely on an age basis, the more likely you are to use social media, the less likely you are to vote. And for the reasons already stated, there’s no sign of a sudden rush of young voters into the polling stations a la Obama.

Overall, this election promises to be the most fascinating since 1997, and the marketing tactics at its heart have become far more sophisticated. The rise of social media has made the national-level PR battle far more interesting, but the eventual incumbent of Downing Street will have to use more old-fashioned tactics as well.

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Written by davidtiltman

March 22, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Six reasons internet measurement is rubbish

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The greatest fallacy in digital marketing is that the internet is the most measurable medium. It’s not. Yes, it’s the medium with the most data (absolutely phenomenal amounts), but making sense of that data to get a true picture of what consumers are actually doing (ie measuring it) is still far from an exact science.

Last week I journeyed into the heart of data geekery, spending two days at the biennial I-com conference in Lisbon, a conference dedicated solely to online measurement. I’d be lying if I pretended my brain didn’t hurt by the end of it. But several themes emerged over the course of the conference that deserve recognition outside this specialist world. For marketers (precious few of whom actually attended the conference), sorting this stuff out will be vital if they’re ever going to spend serious money online. And for publishers, this stuff is key to the way they will sell online performance.

1. Even the things you think you know, you don’t. One of the key problems with measuring online activity is that the data comes from machines, not humans. Linking up what we know from humans (ie panels) with the data deluge from the internet is tricky. The result is that we often assume the machine data tells us things it doesn’t.

Take unique users for example. Sounds like a pretty basic piece of information, and something most campaign metrics seem to look at these days. But as one speaker pointed out, measurement of unique users is usually based on cookies. Now people use multiple devices to access the web (mobile, home computer, work computer etc etc), and each has a different cookie. Also, they are increasingly using multiple browsers on single device, adding even more cookies. Some users, said the speaker, had around seven separate cookies. So what does that make a unique user?

2. Clicks are pointless. This isn’t new news, but that doesn’t stop click-through rates being used as a measure of campaign success. Yes they’re easy, but they mean absolutely nothing unless an ad is purely a direct-response piece. What’s more, click-through rates are declining fast; that means campaign measures based on clicks are looking at a diminishing audience. Also, there are, said one panellist at the conference, no correlations between click-through rates and other brand scores.

3. The last click tells you little. All the action is still around the last click – this particularly applies to search, where search engines make their money from people clicking on links. But much of the hard work in terms of taking people through the purchase funnel comes much earlier – and this bit is really hard to measure. Doron Wesley from Cheil/Samsung admitted at the conference that the brand had not even started to look at so-called ‘attribution’ – working out where and when a consumer interacted with a brand online and what the influences on purchase were. If a brand like Samsung can’t do this, not many others can either.

Search is an interesting one, because on the surface it is so measurable. But in truth it is still extremely difficult to measure search’s total impact. How do you measure ROPO (research online, purchase offline)? Or even the branding impact of search activity?

4. People can’t even agree what needs measuring. Many years ago, when I first started writing about online marketing, an agency boss told me that the medium needed reach and frequency measures like TV to get marketers interested. Imagine my surprise when I find the exact same argument is raging in 2010. In Lisbon it was the GRP system that holds such sway in the US that caused debate – does the internet need to adopt GRPs to be able to get marketers interested? There’s no consensus here – everyone knows the internet needs some sort of standard measurement currency, but nobody can agree on what that should be.

5. Increasingly the action is in social, but that’s even less measurable. Social media is increasingly used as a PR tool. Terms such as ‘engagement’ and ‘conversation’ abound. But what does that mean and how do you work it’s delivering.

The last couple of years have seen all sorts of buzz-tracking services launch, and some were at the conference. But they didn’t really have an answer when one delegate asked why, when he asked five different word-of-mouth measurement companies to track his Superbowl ad, he got five different responses. These services sell themselves as tracking tools, but actually they are hugely reliant on human input to categorise brand mentions on social media. They’re better than nothing, but they’re still flawed.

6. Don’t even start on mobile. The mobile expert that appeared on stage simply described mobile measurement as ‘icky’. Nuff said.

As Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer, put it:  “Right now, we’re in the dark ages.” And as one of the few clients at the conference told me, without a proper currency online that allows some sort of comparison between media, he cannot advise heavy spend in digital.

So next time you hear an agency lazily praise the measurability of online media, it’s time to ask a few hard questions.

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Written by davidtiltman

March 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

This is the news, as seen everywhere else

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Here’s a fascinating post from the Nieman Journalism Lab (h/t to Youku’s @kaiserkuo for digging it out). It’s a write-up of a study into the way news is reported then reprocessed in the modern, connected media. The study took one story (the tracing of the China hacking attack on Google to a couple of schools) and analysed the way the information appeared then spread among the news media. It used Google News to identify 121 unique stories in publications of various sorts (Google News discounts articles that simply reproduce text).

Among its findings were that of the 121 stories, just seven were primarily based on original reporting, and only another 13 included some amount of original reporting. The rest were rehashes, largely of the original New York Times piece.

Does this matter? The write-up is a little ‘o tempora, o mores‘, lamenting the decline of modern journalism. That seems to me a very US attitude. In the UK, where we have much lower expectations of our newspapers, we’ve known that many of our media sources are not always bravely forging their own paths but are quite happy rehashing whatever is already in the public domain.

However, it is depressing that so much of the news we read is simply rehashed, not just by blogs but by ‘proper’ publications. What if a piece is incorrect? How far round the world can it get before anyone notices? And from a PR point of view, how do you repair the damage once untrustworthy information is ‘out there’?

And it’s also depressing that the best examples of journalism appear still to be the places they’ve always been – the seven news sources that actually went out and got their own take on the story were The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Tech News World, Bloomberg, Xinhua and the Global Times. Excluding the two from China, which might be expected to do their own reporting, it’s four newspapers, a news wire and a specialist site. Maybe that’s not surprising, but given the financial pressure newspapers are all under it raises a worrying question: if the crisis in the media world continues to hit their reporting, where in God’s name is the news actually going to come from, aside from press releases?

All things being equal, a shrinking media sector would see the rehashers go to the wall and the ‘proper’ journalists shine. But when were things ever equal?

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February 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Social media is crap – AdAge says so

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Awesome article on AdAge this week on the limits of social media. It’s by a guy called Jonathan Salem Baskin, and he warns brands against blindly piling cash into social media and out of channels which, though unfashionable, have at least delivered results in the past. He also takes a swipe at the social media ‘gurus’ forever lashing out at the luddite marketers who just ‘don’t get it’. Here’s a choice excerpt:

I know all too many CMOs who find criticizing the social-media lobby something like debating the dialectic with avowed Marxists – you’re never right when the very premise of your existence is wrong, and it gets old being told that your visceral concerns are a result of your failure to perceive class struggle or to tweet enough. Nobody with responsibility for a bottom line has ever felt comfortable with social media as a replacement for traditional advertising. Arguing that consumers “buy more” if you “sell less” just smacks of another five-year economic plan for the glorious motherland.

While he’s obviously hamming it up a bit for effect (as I have done with the headline), he makes a very good point – and one that goes for media owners as well as brands.

A case in point – my own dabblings in Twitter last year for Media. When we set up a Twitter account we were just experimenting with the medium, watching what other media owners were doing and seeing what worked for us. Coming from a publishing background, where what you want is people reading the words you’ve sweated blood over, we began by pushing out our headlines with links to the stories.

At the time, I remember being told by the experts that this was the wrong way to go about it. That we wouldn’t be respected if all we did was pump out links. That we were no better than an RSS feed. One of our competitors even tweeted that we had completely misunderstood the site. But what did we actually want to do with Twitter? While it’s great to make a few people feel warm and fuzzy and engaged, we didn’t have the staff to devote to doing this consistently. They were too busy doing proper journalism. The stuff they’re paid for. What we wanted was for people to read our copy, driving clicks that allowed us to sell ads.

A year on? When I left Media the Twitter feed was one of the website‘s biggest drivers of referral traffic. We abandoned automated headline/link tweets early on to be a bit more ‘bloggy’, but the purpose of the feed is still to generate clicks through to the content. Funnily enough, most serious publishers do exactly the same. And it seems to work with what a lot of people in our business use Twitter for – finding and sharing interesting information.

And the competitor? Funnily enough they’re pumping out links to their own content now.

So kudos to Mr Baskin for having the cojones to suggest the Emperor may not be as fully clothed as we’re told.

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Written by davidtiltman

February 24, 2010 at 3:04 pm