How Gamification Drives Business Objectives

As more businesses add gamification to their repertoire of tools, the misconception remains that awarding points or badges for existing activities should do the trick. After all, who doesn’t like more points and badges?

Not so fast, says Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. By 2014, the firm estimates that 80 percent of current gamified applications in the enterprise will fail to meet their respective business objectives. The primary culprit of all those failures in gamification is bad design, says Burke.

"Gamification is built for engagement so it’s an entirely different paradigm. A lot of people in IT organizations are not going to be familiar with [it]," Burke says. "That’s OK. In fact, there is a real skill shortage in terms of understanding that process of getting to know who these players are and what their motivations are and building an experience that is going to engage them at an emotional level and help them to achieve their goals."

While gamification isn’t the only path to increased engagement, businesses that leverage this opportunity effectively can drive substantial increases in revenue. The top 20 percent of major firms in terms of engagement average 250 percent higher revenue growth than their peers, according to Gartner.

Gamification can achieve multiple objectives for businesses, including employee satisfaction, an increase in innovation, skills development and changing behaviors. These solutions are typically applied to three audiences: customers, employees or any community of interest.

With those prospects it’s no wonder Gartner expects gamification to be the primary mechanism used by at least 40 percent of Fortune 1000 companies to transform business operations by next year.

"What’s different about gamification, and I believe definitional about gamification, is that it uses a digital engagement model as opposed to the kinds of engagement models that have been around for a long time," Burke tells "The Boy Scouts have been handing out badges for a century and the military for many, many centuries."

Aligning Player and Your Business Objectives

For any gamification project to succeed, businesses need to align the goals of players with those of the organization itself. “There are a lot of misconceptions there that you can slap points, badges and leader boards on to anything and it’s going to magically become engaging,” says Burke.

"It’s a more involved process to understand who the players are, what their motivations are, what their goals are — and [then] design an experience that’s going to take them along a path to achieving their goals," Burke says.

"One of the most common characteristics is that any gamified solution that’s going to be successful invariably focuses on enabling players to achieve their goals. And by doing so achieving the organizational goals, but the organizational goals are really a consequence of motivating players to achieve their goals."

While these goals are many times aligned, the intersections of which may not be obvious to those in the planning and building stages. Burke encourages businesses to spend a long time in that first step of the process, which he calls player experience design.

"They’re engaging with you already, likely for a reason. It’s a matter of teasing out what that reason is and then focusing on how to help them be even more successful in achieving that goal, the reason that they’re there," Burke says.

Because many IT organizations place their attention on increasing efficiency with new projects, developing systems that focus on driving engagement with a design-forward approach can be a real struggle, according to Burke. Making matters more difficult for IT is the fact there are so few well-worn paths in gamification, but the good news is that these solutions are not bound by industry.

"The only real boundary for where you can apply gamification successfully seems to be in the number of players that you are trying to target," says Burke. "Gamification scales up very well, but because of that initial cost it doesn’t scale down to one very well."

How Gamification Works

Companies aren’t exactly faced with the prospect of reinventing the wheel with every gamified application they build. “Some of the biggest, most successful gamification efforts are those that are publicly available like Nike with Nike+Quirky in innovation management and Kahn Academy in education. These organizations count their users in the millions,” says Burke. In the case of Nike+, which continues to grow its user base at a rapid clip, the company reported a community of 28 million strong as of last month.

In his book, “Gamify — How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things,” Burke identifies four unique currencies of the game economy:

  1. Self-esteem
  2. Fun
  3. Things
  4. Social capital

Every business should award at least one if not all of those currencies to achieve player and organizational objectives, says Burke.

Social media is not an absolute necessity, but it can dramatically amplify the impact of gamification, Burke says. Social media is a powerful motivator that enhances the value of the achievements players gain through gamification and brings with it the opportunity to go viral.

One of the most interesting and unique deployments Burke says he has encountered in his research comes from DirecTV. The IT organization at the broadcast satellite TV provider determined its staff had become overly risk adverse and hesitant to start more forward-thinking projects due to the fear of failure. It’s a common struggle among IT professionals, says Burke, but DirecTV was determined to do something about it.

DirecTV Embraces IT Failure

"DirecTV wanted to develop a way to change the culture in the IT organization so they created a gamified solution that first-of-all focused on making failure OK and recognizing that failure is going to happen. What they wanted to do was promote more innovative approaches that inevitably carry with them a higher risk," says Burke.

The solution DirecTV arrived at began with a series of informational videos aimed at changing employees’ mindsets around failure and innovation. Awards were given to employees who took specific steps to change their behaviors on things like sharing lessons learned from projects that had failed in the past.

Now the company has “failure vault” of at least 120 cases that detail the risks and problems IT staff had with previous projects. DirecTV’s IT staff has also adopted a process called pre-mortems, which Burke describes as a “preventative approach designed to head-off failure before it happens at the outset of a project.”

With data and insights from the failure vault at the ready, these pre-mortems enable DirecTV to gain more understanding of the risks associated with each project, determine where projects have failed due to those risks in the past and take steps to mitigate those risks in the future.

Gaming Systems of Greater Importance in the Future

"Where we’re seeing the most activity right now is in employee-facing applications," says Burke. This is a change from the initial pull around gamification, which came in the form of customer-focused apps from marketing departments.

Practically every day a new gamified application hits the market, but Burke says he is already thinking about opportunities still to come. Complementary technologies like virtual personal assistance could be leveraged to great effect by personal fitness and other coaching type of applications, he says.

It may not come fast enough, but public policy and education are two areas where Burke expects gamification to gain an upper hand. “Implementing the changes that we see in society and developing changes from a policy perspective as well, I think that’s a natural opportunity,” he says.

"Education is really in the midst of reinventing itself and gamification is not going to drive that, but it’s going to play a key role in how education is delivered in the future," Burke says.

"I think that gamification will play a part in what’s ultimately going to be the democratization of education," Burke says, "particularly higher education, where the kinds of learning that have not been available to people who are either financially or geographically disadvantaged will become available."


Does Facebook Now Embody Maturity?

SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook had all the appearances and gusto of a grown-up company at F8 last week, its first developer’s conference in almost three years. The company’s rising sophistication was on display throughout the event, but it was even more abundant as founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered his opening keynote.

The sentiment sounds overly simple and altruistic, but it’s also a far cry from much of the way Facebook was built, designed and operated over the past decade. It’s not like Facebook didn’t care about its users or developers before. It certainly couldn’t have become a platform with 1.2 billion active users if that were the case. It’s just that today’s Facebook is becoming much more serious and business-like in its endeavors.

"We used to have this famous mantra. Move fast and break things," says Zuckerberg. Those days are mostly gone though, taking some of the thrill and unexpectedness out of Facebook’s sails with it.

Facebook’s New Rallying Cry

"Now what we do is focus on building the best tools and infrastructure in the industry," he says. Zuckerberg even went so far as to suggest a new rallying cry that tries to stay hip while hitting all the notes one would expect to hear from such a uniquely empowered company. "Move fast with stable infra" just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but that’s how Facebook operates now.

That new theme may not be the best calling card for developers who like to break things before building something even better to put it in its place, but stable infrastructure is important to developers who make their living off Facebook’s platform. Compared to the sometimes abrupt and more controversial changes introduced in the past, Facebook’s gentler approach somehow exemplifies all the experience and struggles of a young startup that is now the largest media channel to ever exist.

Breaking things just doesn’t work for a company that now handles 470 billion API calls a day, a 20-times increase over the last three years. That smash-it-up mentality was ceremoniously supplanted at F8 by more serious developer needs like a promise to keep all APIs stable and operational for at least two years and a new service level agreement wherein Facebook commits to fix all major bugs within 48 hours.

"The best way we can help you improve people’s lives and improve the world is provide you with a stable mobile platform," says Zuckerberg.

Users appreciate stability too, but that isn’t what creates the emotional connections that make Facebook such an important part of so many people’s lives. It only makes those connections possible and lasting.

Login Gains Privacy Controls and Anonymity

Changes to Facebook’s login product are where the needs and wants of users are most visibly outweighing those of developers.

Now when users click on the “log in with Facebook” button, they’ll be able to select one-by-one whether that app can have access to their public profile, friend list, email address, birthday, likes, and the permission to post to their account.

"People want more control over how they share information, especially in how they use their apps," Zuckerberg says. "We know some people are scared of pressing this blue button& We don’t ever want anyone to be surprised about how they’re sharing on Facebook."

With relatively few changes being made to the look and feel of Facebook overall, the most surprising development is the new “log in anonymously” product. Just like it sounds, users can simply anonymously log in to new mobile apps without sharing any of their Facebook data with the developer.

Not everyone was cheering the move at F8 though. In the halls developers voiced their concerns about the potential data vacuum that anonymous login could create, thereby limiting their ability to build valuable databases of their users.

Solidifying Power in Incremental Steps

"It’s a win for Facebook but not really a win for anybody else. Facebook didn’t say that they’re going to not collect your data if want to login," Seth Shafer, research analyst at SNL Kagan tells "They’re going to collect your data, they’re still going to use it and target you. It’s just possible that it might mean less data for developers on their side of things. It’s really hard to see how that’s a step forward."

Facebook's F8 Dveloper Conference

Shafer and others understand Facebook’s assertion that users are less comfortable sharing information with mobile apps when they’re trying to get over the initial hurdle. “Some people don’t want to log in and use their actual credentials and share data until they’ve kicked the tires on it,” he says.

"You could make that argument that in the broader scheme developers lose some data on users but then they gain more engagement, more usage, more downloads when people are more willing to try it out," says Shafer. "I didn’t think they were being overly generous by saying ‘look we respect privacy, here it is.’ Well kind of, sort of."

Still, these changes appear to incremental and small enough to avoid the backlash that usually followed every Facebook update in the past. Signaling perhaps the ultimate level of maturity in the social media space, Facebook is now solidifying its power as the arbiter of what flies and what doesn’t between its developers and users. It is also offering a slate of new tools for developers like deeper links between mobile apps and a mobile like button.

"Our goal with Facebook is to build the cross-platform platform and provide all the tools that you need to bridge these different worlds," Zuckerberg says.

By the time he finished his keynote before an estimated 1,500 developers gathered here for F8, you couldn’t shake the feeling that Facebook had turned a new chapter as a company now valued at more than $155 billion.

Developers, analysts and other attendees mentioned how much the entirely rehearsed, but well polished event reminded them of similar grandstanding performances by Apple and Google. Those comparisons will only get stronger now that Facebook, just like its counterparts in Cupertino and Mountain View, plans to organize the F8 conference every year.

By all accounts, Facebook is embracing those comparisons and basking in its role as the gatekeeper of a growing and increasingly unbundled platform. While last week’s F8 felt relatively low-key at times, many expect Facebook to put on a much splashier show with more significant updates when the company’s legion of developers ascend on Fort Mason for the next F8 on March 25, 2015.


How-to Make the Most of Your New Twitter Profile

The experience of Twitter has changed little since it first launched in the summer of 2007. Tweets are still capped at 140 characters and many of Twitter’s core features — hashtags, @replies, direct messages, favorites and retweets — have been around since the early days.

The design has gotten prettier and more intuitive over the years. Rich media in the form of images and video are now embedded within the tweets that appear in users’ timelines. Twitter’s mobile and online applications have also been updated over the years to amplify and notify users of the more relevant conversations taking place on the platform.

But until earlier this year, the profile page that acts as a stand-in homepage for all 255 million monthly active users saw little development. In what is arguably the company’s biggest and most important redesign to date, Twitter has done a complete overhaul of user profile pages and made the new features available to all users last week.

Dan Greene, senior director of U.S. online sales and operations at Twitter, highlights three features of the new profile — a media-forward layout, pinned tweets and the enlarged display of each user’s most engaging content — that will help brands better connect with their customers.

Twitter’s New Look

While the features are no different than what’s available on other social platforms, the redesign does give Twitter a more modern look while possibly reflecting even more about the company’s vision going forward. Nonetheless, this refresh was long overdue.

Now that Twitter’s new profiles are here, brands and users should familiarize themselves with the latest changes and determine how to make the most of their new home on Twitter. It’s always cool to be an early adopter or special beta tester, but it can be downright embarrassing if you arrive too late for the party.

The most obvious and drastic changes are on display in the layout of users’ tweets, photos, videos, favorites and other lists. In a homage to Pinterest, perhaps an unintentional one, Twitter organizes tweets, activity and visual content into a grid. You can also pin any tweet of your choosing to the top of your page, the first of what could be many more moves away from Twitter’s reverse-chronological infrastructure.

With that fresh design in mind, these are the top changes and tips you should be aware of the next time you use Twitter online.

"Make sure your new profile page accurately reflects your brand’s unique personality and voice," Greene writes in response to questions. "Each aspect of your profile, including the pinned tweet, header photo, and bio, is an opportunity to humanize your brand and connect with your customers on a deeper level in real time."

Get Ready for Your New Closeup

Profile photos and header images get major real estate in your new Twitter page and this is where the inevitable Facebook comparisons come around.

User photos have been bumped to 400-by-400 pixels and the header image, which now spans the entire browser, carries a recommendation size of 1500-by-500 pixels. Existing images should scale to the new size, but users are encouraged to upload higher-resolution images to provide the best visual experience possible.

To change your photo or header image, go to Settings > Profile and select “Change photo" or "Change header.” You can also make these changes to you profile, including others, directly from their profile page that can be accessed by selecting the “Me" tab at the top of the page.

Best Tweets Get a Pedestal

Twitter has also elevated the importance of more engaging tweets in the redesign. Tweets that generate more activity in the form of retweets, favorites and @replies now appear slightly larger in your feed. It’s a simple way to make your best content easy to find, Twitter says about the change.

"If you’re having trouble figuring out what to tweet, plan for marketing moments that happen everyday or during big events like holidays or awards shows by preparing your visual assets ahead of time," says Greene. "Don’t underestimate the value of a well thought out content calendar to help streamline your brand’s Twitter content strategy."

Pin It to Win It

If you still feel like one of your tweets is not getting the respect it deserves, now you can pin it to the top of your profile page. Pick wisely though and try to keep things fresh because you can only pin one tweet a time.

Greene describes pinned tweets as a “valuable tool that enables brands to highlight their best content — like a Twitter exclusive promotion, a coupon code or a featured contest winner — at the top of your profile.”

Brands and marketers are already using this feature to promote their most recent news, offers and other content they find to be most relevant for their followers.

To pin your best tweet to the top of your page, find which tweet you’d like to bring to the top, click on the More/share button at the bottom right of your tweet and select “Pin to your profile page.”

Filter Insights From User Activity

Twitter is also surfacing more data to better organize how tweets from a single user are displayed to others. Now when you visit other profiles, you can filter their tweets based on the type of engagement or content you’re seeking out.

Tweets can be viewed alone or with replies, providing deeper insights and metrics into the level of engagement each user is generating. Tweets that contain photos or videos can also be organized into a single view.

Twitter should be rolling out the new profile pages to all users over the coming weeks, but if you still have the classic look and would like to make the switch now you can do so at this page that details the changes.


Has Social Media Become the Wild, Wild West for Marketers?

LOS ANGELES - You know things aren’t going well when the moderator of a panel asks the audience if anyone understands a word of what was just said by one of his two interviewees. The delivery was deadpan, but it actually underlined the vexing challenges that are making social media all the more complex and confusing for advertisers.

More importantly, the jab accentuated the mood that was taking hold in a banquet hall filled with hundreds of marketers at ThinkLA’s Automotive Breakfast earlier this week. The at-times confusing back-and-forth between executives working on analytics at Twitter and Facebook followed a rather critical keynote by Greg Johns, senior vice president and client director of digital strategy at Initiative. There appeared to be little room for grandiosity or empty platitudes at this morning gathering.

"It comes down to what I think is the biggest challenge that we all face as an industry and that is complexity. Collectively over the past 15 years and more, we’ve done a really good job at making this very complex for all of us," Johns told the audience.

Programmatic buying and selling of ads, which Johns describes as “this idea, this promise that we will be able to automate most of this complexity out,” isn’t working out as well as everyone had hoped. “As we are on this learning curve of it, it’s actually gotten more complex than simple& It’s turning a little bit into the wild, wild west again in terms of the things we’re doing.”

Cookies and Banner Ads Time-Consuming and Less Useful Data

Not only are cookies and banner ads becoming “less worthwhile to us,” Johns says, “it’s making the reporting that we spend so much time putting together really become less useful to us.” The rush to know all data has manifested itself into what he calls the “80/20 problem” wherein marketers spend most of their time building and compiling data instead of gleaning useful insights from the data.

Although television is more fragmented than ever, the disparate infrastructure of online and social media is still no match for the reigning king of media. “We have to get that focus in place,” says Johns. “We have to find our own filter.”

Brands and marketers need to create “intricate campaigns that can blow away what you can do on 55-inch screens. Unfortunately I think these are the exception, not the rule in our industry. We just can’t scale,” he adds.

Simplicity Remains Elusive for Social Media Marketing

Despite all the work and investment that has gone into digital media, simplicity seems just as hard as ever to come by for marketers and brands. Indeed part of that is due to the growing number of tools and platforms by which ads reach consumers. But, at the same time, these ads are trying to track down users who increasingly spend more of their time on mobile apps from the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

"When you think about data you can offer up a lot of complexity," says Jonathan Lewis, manager of monetization analytics at Facebook. "We want to surface data but we want to do it for the right purpose … to simplify your life instead of adding complexity."

Lewis encourages marketers to focus less on likes and more on core metrics that lead to a lift in branding and ultimately sales. “Focusing on just social metrics as an outcome leads you potentially to undesirable outcomes,” Lewis says.

"Measuring the digital environment is harder than you might think," Lewis says. A big reason why is because advertisers are rarely disciplined in how they approach a campaign, he adds.

The same rules generally apply for retweets on Twitter. Tim Perzyk, the company’s regional head of U.S. research and sales analytics, says marketers are skipping ahead by assuming that a share of voice matters. Retweets, for example, primarily speak to advocacy, he says.

Focus on Scalable Business Objectives

Perzyk and Lewis both spoke about their respective company’s responsibility to help every advertiser achieve business objectives that matter most to them. “We’re trying to create tools that are as flexible as possible for the different approaches and strategies that you need,” Lewis says.

"Across all those objectives, there should be a focus on scale," Lewis says, echoing earlier comments from Johns. "Doing small programs is good, but doing large programs that make a measurable difference for your business is what you should be focusing on."

These experimental or narrow campaign “pet projects” can be fun, but advertisers need to develop campaigns that are repeatable and built on consensus, says Johns. “Innovation still has its place, but it can’t be just metastasizing everything we do.”

The challenges associated with campaign measurement and other unnecessary complexities are effectively a “forcing function” that motivates Facebook to continue building a better platform, says Lewis. “We can actually evolve as a platform and do the thing that matters most to your business.”

So what can those in the industry do today to begin effecting positive changes? Johns, who oversees digital strategy for Hyundai and Kia, admits he doesn’t have all the answers but says the most important goal of all is to simplify.

"What are we going to stop doing in order to do these new things?" Johns says. That’s the conversation he said he and his colleagues need to start having.


Is There Any Digital Marketing Value in New Breed of Social Apps?

As the debate rages on over how much a retweet or like is really worth, an entirely new crop of social media apps are sprouting up with hardly any marketing value attached to them at all.

After focusing on growing their user base for many years, the stalwarts of social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others — have begun to hit their stride with growing revenue streams thanks to a burgeoning class of ad products that deliver a clear return on investment for advertisers.

The path to revenue for ephemeral and anonymous apps like Snapchat, Secret, Whisper and Tinder is less defined. If any of these new social apps succeed in making revenue, they will have to travel down roads less traveled. After all, stickers and other quick-revenue schemes will never justify the sky-high valuations many of these companies are attracting among investors.

"These new entrants and these native social environments have really rich, built-for-mobile experiences with the potential for great ad units," says SocialWire CEO Bob Buch. How these apps get to that point and whether brands will ultimately flock to these platforms en mass is still unclear though.

Snapchat Leads the Pack

Snapchat, the obvious leader in social ephemerality, has made the most progress in opening up its platform as a new playground for advertisers. Major brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Juicy Couture and HBO have taken advantage of Snapchat’s “stories” feature to broadcast their snaps to all users.

Unlike traditional snaps, which can be shared with friends in real-time and appear for no longer than 10 seconds before they are removed from the recipient’s device, stories can stay visible for 24 hours and be replayed numerous times before they disappear.

But for all the innovation and new use cases made possible by Snapchat, the company is sharing very little about its plans for making money. “In-app transactions followed by advertising, that’s the plan we’re sticking to,” Evan Spiegel told Forbes earlier this year. “It’ll make sense in a Snapchat way … but it will not be stickers.”

Snapchat and others like it aren’t doing themselves any favors by encouraging brands to purchase ads that disappear without so much as a hint of targeted advertising involved. But they do bring others advantages to the table.

In Snapchat’s case, it can effectively guarantee engagement because users must keep their finger on a photo or video to view it.

"Snapchat is a platform that ultimately allows communication," says Cameron Yuill, an angel investor and entrepreneur in the ad tech space. "You identify yourself on Snapchat. That makes it easier for marketers to market to & I think that’s where Snapchat wins."

Where’s the Value in Anonymity

Yuill says he sees very little runway for advertising within the framework of anonymity, however. Whisper and the latest Silicon Valley phenomenon Secret are designed around the premise that users will share more when they are unassociated with their identities and hopefully more truthful, albeit controversial with what they share.

While he and others are fascinated by the conversations taking place on Whisper and Secret, Yuill concludes that Secret in particular is “just a huge time waster” that no brand marketer wants to touch.

"On Secret, if your identity is kept secret is there any real value for marketers there?" Yuill says. "The things that I see people responding to on Secret are generally controversial topics. I don’t think any marketer wants their brand to be alongside someone talking about their sex life or that sort of thing."

A ‘New Wave’ of Marketing Evolution

Buch takes a more positive view, calling these anonymous and ephemeral social apps “strong identity platforms” because of their capability to match phone numbers and email addresses with actual users at the point of initial contact. “You’re always logging into Secret and so they always know in a much stronger way who you are, and therefore the ways they can target you is much stronger and more compelling than the open web,” he says.

"It’s really a new wave of marketing evolution," Buch says, adding that he remains confident in the capability to monetize these apps once they reach critical scale and begin innovating more frequently with ad products unique to their respective platforms. "The real value is going to be down the road. It’s going to be first-party data."

While the business propositions for Tinder and Secret remain fluid, Whisper is beginning to experiment with ads based on the keywords users include in their posts. For example, brands who purchase the rights to specific keywords on Whisper could encourage users to include one of their branded images as a background for their post.

Still, the inherently anonymous nature of all activity on Whisper is why Yuill and many others don’t buy into this approach as a viable business model. “From a pure marketer point of view I don’t see how you can move from anonymity and the sorts of things being posted. It just doesn’t fit,” he says. “Where’s the value on each of the users if you’re supposedly anonymous?”

Like other pioneers of social media that got their start years ago, each of these apps are young enough and have enough funding to focus on growing a massive audience for months or years to come.

Only time will tell if any of these ephemeral or anonymous apps will become businesses in their own right. However until that time comes, the executives and investors backing these companies may be hoping for acquisition offers from the big dogs that have already cracked the code for revenue in social media.


Twitter Readies Design Changes As It Unveils New Ad Offerings

Twitter is in the middle of a major development cycle that will culminate with a series of new features, design changes and ad products. There are multiple objectives at play, but Twitter’s most pressing needs — increased user engagement and ad revenue — are driving almost every move the company will make for the foreseeable future.

Advertisers that have been anxiously waiting for new ad products from Twitter got their first preview last week in the form of mobile app ads, a format that’s been successful for Facebook of late. The mobile app promotion suite, which is still being tested in private beta, combines Twitter Cards and Promoted Tweets to encourage users to install new apps or re-engage with apps that may be languishing on their mobile device.

Ads for mobile apps are an obvious next step for Twitter. While Facebook hasn’t broken down how much revenue it generates from these ads, there’s no question the format played an important role in Facebook’s rapid ascent on mobile.

Twitter is expected to widen the offering over the coming months, but in the meantime users are already seeing mobile app ads from some of its early beta partners such as Spotify, HotelTonight, Kabam, Deezer and SeatGeek.

MoPub Rises to the Surface

Twitter also announced a deeper integration with MoPub, the mobile ad exchange it acquired last October, which gives advertisers the opportunity to run marketing campaigns on and offTwitter. Thenew interface now enables advertisers to run simultaneous campaigns on Twitter and MoPub at much greater scale. MoPub’s exchange reaches more than 1 billion mobile devices and fulfills more than 130 billion ad requests inside Android and iOS apps every month.

MoPub gives Twitter the scale it desperately needs for mobile advertising. So in a roundabout way Twitter can now claim an audience reach that approaches that of Facebook. Of course, Facebook is testing ways to sell mobile app install ads outside of Facebook as well.

"Twitter has always been pretty aggressive in testing out new ideas and especially on the advertising side," says Nate Elliott, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. "I think this is something that’s been brewing for quite a while."

Still, Twitter’s approach to advertising and the overall user experience of the product has been much slower and deliberate than Facebook’s. While Facebook made dozens of ad products available to marketers before culling its offering in an attempt to remove unnecessary confusion for marketers, Twitter has been testing its innovations more thoroughly, says Elliott.

"Twitter is much more deliberate and takes much more care in the rollout of its ad products," Elliott says. However, he says he’s not sure that either company has struck the right balance yet.

Twitter’s Future Depends on Ecommerce

SocialWire CEO Bob Buch says Twitter’s success will largely depend on its capability to make waves and gain traction in ecommerce. “I think ecommerce will either be big for Twitter or Twitter will not be successful at advertising,” he says.

"It’s a must have. What marketing platform online has been successful without a large chunk of their advertising revenue coming from direct response? That’s what marketers use the Internet for," Buch says.

With new products and features in its pipeline, Buch says he’s confident that Twitter is on a clear path to turn around its ecommerce business.

"I am still bullish on Twitter," he says, calling the platform unique for its capability to drive users in to stores in real-time. "I think there’s a huge opportunity there … The key complaint that marketers have is the lack of targeting. Their targeting has not been as good as Facebook’s but that’s going to fundamentally change."

Oddly enough, for Twitter to attract more revenue from retailers and consumer packaged goods brands it has to encourage users to jump off the platform in a way. “All you want is someone to get to your site as fast as possible and buy stuff,” says Buch.

Twitter is expected to introduce a series of other ad products. Indeed, some reports suggest the company is readying as many as 15 units to be released before the fall.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a dozen ad products in ad testing right now," says Elliott of Forrester. "I’d be surprised if they roll all those out."

New ad units are well and good, but Elliott is also holding out hope for better metrics from Twitter. “Facebook surrounds marketers in metrics that don’t mean anything,” Elliott says. “I really hope Twitter doesn’t make Facebook’s mistake here.”

Twitter on the Cusp of a New User Experience

While innovations on the advertising front abound, Twitter’s platform and the experience it provides users are both long overdue for a refresh. A limited pool of users are already seeing what Twitter has in mind, assuming plans don’t change before a wider rollout.

Under the current framework, user profiles are going the way of Facebook with richer media and full bios appearing in a single screen. The new design will also impact timelines by putting less focus on the traditional chronological feed. Tweets and other media will be spread across the page in a more complex presentation that mirrors newer services like Pinterest.

While the redesign hasn’t been pushed to all of Twitter’s 241 million users yet, other new features like uploading multiple photos in a single tweet and tagging other users in photos have been released in the meantime.

In an industry where copycatting has become prevalent and almost expected it’s no wonder why Twitter is following Facebook’s lead on user experience design. Elliott applauds Twitter’s determination to create a more compelling platform for users, but says it also has an opportunity to break new ground for marketers. Following Facebook’s advertising model too closely would be a mistake, he adds.

"The reality is that Twitter is still in an earlier stage in terms of building out a service and building out an ad offering," Elliott says. "Twitter still has a long way to go in encouraging users and marketers."


What Does a Social-Media-Meets-Virtual-Reality World Look Like?

Now that Facebook has placed a $2 billion bet on the future of virtual reality, many are left wondering just what an alternative universe might look and feel like on social media.

Last month’s acquisition of Oculus, Facebook’s second multi-billion-dollar deal in as many months, has likely done more for the perceived value and viability of virtual reality than any moves prior. With Facebook’s resources and obvious interest now at the ready for Oculus, the speed of innovation and go-to-market strategies for virtual reality should rise on all fronts.

Facebook and VR

But why Facebook decided to enter the virtual reality market in such a big way now and what it could possibly be planning is largely unknown. While previous acquisitions like Instagram and WhatsApp served to solidify Facebook’s dominance in social media, its visions for Oculus are even more grandiose.

The company is now playing the long and short game with equal fervor — a mix of offensive and defensive moves that could keep Facebook growing tomorrow and well beyond a decade from now.

"I think in this play for virtual reality and social media, Facebook is trying to overcome a few things that are becoming a glaring pain point for them," says Mike Templeman, CEO at Foxtail Marketing. Declining engagement and the sense of guilt many feel over their time spent on social media both had a big part in Facebook’s decision to buy Oculus, he says.

"When people socialized on Facebook there’s that stigma of you’re not interacting in the real world," Templeman adds. Bringing virtual reality into the picture would boost engagement and remove some of that anti-social stigma almost immediately, says Templeman.

"You would be entering an alternative reality with a social experience," he says. Ultimately, that sense of altered reality could give users a more compelling reason to come back regularly.

Facebook Ready for the ‘Platform of Tomorrow’

In describing his reasons for making such a massive bet on a still unproven technology platform, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he believes virtual reality is the foundation for a “new social platform.” Now that more than 1 billion people are using Facebook’s mobile apps, the company is “focusing on building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile,” he told investors during a conference call.

"Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, consulting with a doctor face to face, or going shopping in a virtual store where you can explore and touch the products you’re interested in, just by putting on goggles in your own home," Zuckerberg says.

"By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures," he adds.

Science Fiction Becomes Social Reality

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe says the opportunity for a social experience in virtual reality was not something he expected early on, but the potential pairing became more obvious as the platform grew. “Virtual reality definitely sounds like something out of science fiction, but science fiction has a habit of becoming fact,” he says.

Technology’s long dance with history also has shown that those visions of a more connected future go through many changes on their way to becoming reality. As such, what virtual reality may look like five years from now could be very different than what’s possibly today.

"You’re going to see faces, you’re going to be able to move through space and people are going to lose themselves," says Templeman of Foxtail Marketing.

"I think it’s actually a scarier prospect getting into social media… Socializing is what people live for, it’s what they strive to have," he says.

The Makings of a Marketer’s Dream

"We pay right now for a square inch of space on a person’s monitor and we pay really good money for that. In the virtual reality world you’re going to engage with consumers in a whole new way," he adds. "If people are going to be living and socializing in a virtual reality world it’s a marketer’s dream."

Chris Roberts, a senior consultant at the design and development firm Cambridge Consultants, says virtual reality has the potential to bring our interaction on social media closer to real life by fully immersing ourselves in the same environment as the people we’re interacting with online. While virtual reality has tried and failed to get off the ground in decades past, he believes the ongoing advancements in technology will help elevate virtual reality to a more widely adopted platform.

"Your conversations would no longer have to be analog, as they are now, but become digital and occur on multiple levels as participants join the conversation and add facts and opinions to it based on the conversations and discussions at hand," says Alan Guinn, managing director of the Guinn Consultancy Group.

"This is a fascinating topic and is only as limited as one wants to make it," he says.

When people first experience a fully immersive virtual reality world they get goosebumps, says Iribe of Oculus. “You see how big this could be, and how social it is, and the impact it could have on other industries.”


Facebook’s Declining Organic Reach a ‘Real Nightmare’ for Marketers

Facebook can’t be faulted for following the same path as other mass media channels that came before it with regards to advertising, but there are many marketers who are still hoping for something different this time around.

Over the past couple weeks numerous reports have surfaced indicating a sharp decline in the organic reach of Facebook posts. The slowdown is nothing new. In a short pitch for ads in April 2012, Facebook calculated the average organic reach of page posts at 16 percent of all fans.

So what’s changed? A survey last month of more than 100 brand pages by Ogilvy concluded that “it’s only a matter of time” before the organic reach of content published by brands is “destined to hit zero.” The analysis found that organic reach of those brand pages was hovering at 6 percent, marking a 49 percent decline over a four-month period.

The organic reach of brands with more than 500,000 likes was barely hitting 2 percent in February, according to the Social@Ogilvy report.

"Right now we’re very mad at Facebook," Dave Martin, Ignited’s senior vice president of media, said earlier this week at the Mobile Media Summit. "The reason we’re so mad at Facebook is because Facebook won’t allow us to share content with our followers and fans as we could a week ago."

Pay for Play? No Thanks

The pay-for-play option isn’t exactly paying off in spades either, he says. Now when Ignited purchases ads for its brand clients on Facebook it “takes longer and costs more than it ever has and our engagement scores go down,” says Martin.

Worse yet, because there’s so much uncertainty about the genuine interest of many brands followers, far too many ads are simply “reaching people that don’t even care,” he adds.

"It’s become a real nightmare because your fans and likes can’t even find you in some cases," Martin says. "When I post to Instagram I have a much better idea of how many people I’m going to reach."

The rules have changed and as a result agencies now have to spend more money for their clients on Facebook, says Mike Vaccaro, chief client officer at Digitaria.

He says he wants to believe that the ongoing changes to Facebook’s algorithm are not driven by financial interests alone. Of course Facebook wants to make as much money as it can, but it also wants to give users the best experience possible, he says.

Dancing Between User Experience and Revenue

"It’s their world and we live in it — and we have to adapt to it," says Vaccaro.

While frustrating, these changes aren’t all bad for marketers. The declining organic reach of page posts on Facebook could present agencies and brands with new opportunities elsewhere. On the whole, this is good news for other social networks, says Martin.

"I think we’re going to kind of see a resurgence" in marketing on other platforms, he says. "We’re going to see a lot of advertisers migrating into other channels and testing with more dollars."

Because so many changes to Facebook have been met with concern or outright dismay by marketers, one could wonder how fast the sky is really falling now. However, this latest outrage also enjoys the backing of new data from various research firms.

A Window Opens for Other Social Networks

"Brands and agencies are now openly talking about their discontent. Every day I talk to brands that are disillusioned with Facebook and are now placing their bets on other social sites," Forrester analyst Nate Elliott writes in a research note.

Some marketers are coming to the conclusion that “the paid ads Facebook encourages them to buy often lead to fake’ fans generated by like farms,’” he adds.

Ignited’s Martin shares these concerns. “You can buy fans and followers and likes incredibly cheaply, and the more cheaply you buy them the less they’re worth,” he says. “That can’t be the only thing you’re looking at& I’d rather have 1,000 fans that are worth $50 each instead of a million fans that are worth a penny each.”

The proper response to these changes, according to both analysts and marketers, is to develop a wider social media strategy. The capability to build large communities of engaged fans was a “critical aspect of Facebook’s early appeal to marketers” and many brands have invested millions toward that objective, writes Marshall Manson, managing director of Social@Ogilvy for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

"Facebook Zero is a reality now facing every brand and business with a presence on the platform," he adds. "Action is required, and specific decisions will need to be made with regard to content planning, paid support for social media activities, audience targeting and much more."


Google Plus Outperforms Twitter (Really)

Google Plus naysayers, especially those in marketing, may want to give the platform another look, according to a new report from Forrester.
While Google’s answer to the social media boom is still only one-quarter the size of Facebook, its user base is on par with Twitter and even more popular than Instagram or Pinterest, the firm reports.

For all the criticism lobbed at Google Plus, there is still a significant payoff for marketers who engage on the platform. And the benefits go well beyond the widely reported lift in search optimization that few companies other than Google can provide.

Google Plus Doubles the Engagement of Twitter

Forrester looked at the social profiles of 50 leading brands and found that while Facebook delivers the most fans, the companies have also collected an average of 90 percent as many followers on Google Plus as they enjoy on Twitter. Moreover, the engagement rate for those companies’ pages on Google Plus receive nearly double the rate of likes, shares or replies as Twitter.

The average number of fans on Facebook for those top brands surpassed 9.2 million, according to Forrester. Twitter is hanging on to a slight lead in followers over Google Plus with an average of 836,924 followers or about 85,000 more than Google Plus among the top brands surveyed by Forrester.

Despite being called a “ghost town” last month by The New York Times, Google Plus is larger than Twitter and delivers almost twice the engagement rate. In its latest report, “The Case for Google Plus,” Forrester also calculated the number of user interactions with brands’ posts as a percentage of each brands’ fans or followers.

Google Plus Almost on Par With Facebook

Facebook delivers an engagement rate of .073 percent to Google Plus’ .069 percent and Twitter’s .035 percent, Forrester reports. Google’s social network is almost on pace with Facebook despite a significant gap in activity and interest among users.

As of November 2013, each Google Plus user spent an average of seven minutes on the site while Facebook users were enthralled with the world’s largest social site for more than six hours on average, according to Nielsen data cited in Forrester’s report.

A subsequent survey of 60,000 U.S. residents by Forrester found that 22 percent visit Twitter and Google Plus at least once a month, but both are still well behind Facebook’s 72 percent.

With those numbers it’s no wonder why 82 percent of the top 50 brands maintain Facebook fans while only 64 percent maintain a presence on Google Plus. Those brands also post on Facebook 56 percent more often than they post on Google Plus, Forrester found.

That lack of activity among users doesn’t have as negative an impact on marketing pursuits as one might expect. “Google Plus can deliver bigger audiences and deeper engagement than you think — and even offers marketers clear advantages over Twitter,” Forrester analyst Nate Elliott writes in the report.

Elliott encourages companies to begin syndicating content from Facebook to Google Plus and to make a better effort to promote their presence on their home page and wherever else they might include links to other social networks. This missed opportunity is not limited to small or less savvy companies, he adds. Neither Disney nor Nike link to Google Plus on their homepage, but in Disney’s case its Google Plus followers are already engaging more often than its Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

"The bottom line?" Elliott writes. "If you’re not actively marketing on Google Plus, it’s time to start."


Why CIOs Shouldn’t Worry About March Madness Productivity Losses

The long-term benefits of an engaged workforce can outweigh company losses in productivity during March Madness. Here’s why business leaders should see these 19 days of hoops as an opportunity.

Your dreams of a perfect March Madness bracket may have gone bust, but the friendly competition among coworkers in office pools is likely hitting new heights as the tournament approaches the final stretch.

CIOs and IT managers might be concerned about all the social media activity and online viewing taking place over these 19 days of college hoops mania, but the subsequent rise in employee engagement should not be overlooked.

Prior to the first tip-off, the NCAA projected 7.7 million social media comments will be made about the tournament during telecasts. The NCAA also reports at least 1.5 billion online conversations will occur about its corporate partners throughout the tournament. Out of the 189 million viewers expected to watch games on television, online or mobile, 149 million people are expected to watch the tournament on TV at home.

Every year research firms publish fresh data about the money lost due to a dip in productivity during March Madness. With an estimated 50 million people participating in office pools this year, one firm calculates at least $1.2 billion was already lost for every unproductive work hour during the first week of action.

March Madness: Hazardous to Business or Just a Game?

"There are distractions every day at the office, but the first week of the annual men’s college basketball tournament is particularly hazardous to workplace productivity. While March Madness distractions may not alter the nation’s quarterly GDP numbers, you can be assured that department managers and network administrators notice the effect on work output and company-wide Internet speeds," John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, writes in the firm’s latest report.

While it may be hard to overlook those statistics, employers can be reassured that there are positive benefits of March Madness as well. These short-term losses in productivity and revenue can easily be parlayed into long-term gains for companies that appreciate the power of a more engaged and enriched workforce.

"March Madness can be a fun event. People should have fun at work and be fun at work, but being happy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re engaged," says David Fagiano, COO of Dale Carnegie Training. "Engagement is driven on an emotional level so you need to win the hearts and the minds of people. When you win the minds of people you get commitment, but when you win the hearts of people you get belief."

That can quickly translate into an even greater belief in the company’s direction and long-term strategy, he adds. “People are focused on driving objectives that they believe in,” says Fagiano.

Of course, it’s not all about happy feelings and good times. Companies with engaged employees outperform other companies by an average of 200 percent and enjoy net revenue gains as high as 50 percent, he says.

"I think you have to start with the realization that you’re not going to prevent people from sneaking a peak at 2 o’clock tomorrow or whenever," says Fagiano. "I think it’s accepting reality and building camaraderie, which will build a sense of engagement."

Building a sense of teamwork through company brackets during March Madness is a critical opportunity, Fagiano adds. “Control it, use it, rather than being afraid that it’s just going to run rampant.”

His message to IT managers and CIOs is simple: March Madness could impact as much as half of the workforce, but it’s a short window of time that can be capitalized for more long-term benefits.

Camaraderie Is Worth a Little Lost Productivity

SnappyTV CEO Mike Folgner says his company’s pool of brackets is the chatter of the office on Monday mornings. “For me it’s the camaraderie,” he says. “Giving each other a hard time is well worth any distraction or productivity that might result out of it.”

Trying to limit distraction during events like March Madness is a lost cause. “It’s going to happen either way so you might as well get some cultural bang for your buck,” says Folgner.

SnappyTV is tracking the volume of social activity around each game or moment and sharing that data with its customers. The company is also powering many of the social features in Turner Sports’ official NCAA March Madness Live app, showing users the volume of tweets throughout the course of a game and identifying spike in activity around key plays.

Twitter is also promoting social activity around the tournament with a page listing the official handles for teams in the hunt and visual map of the country that shows the top states in which users are mentioning the hashtag #MarchMadness.

You can also follow the NCAA’s March Madness account @MarchMadness and get upset alerts, channel change notices and clips from the tournament’s official broadcast partners @MarchMadnessTV.