(Updated) Um, Facebook, This isn’t Great

Engagement with brand content is evidently dropping  pretty dramatically. As a guy that went all in on Facebook when i was in a seat to influence a lot of media spend, this is concerning. For brands, it’s obviously bad. For consumers, it’s probably a win of sorts.

These numbers are even more striking when you consider engagement is significantly down even though brands are almost certainly spending more money to promote their posts to combat plummeting organic reach. Facebook’s ad revenue reached $2.27 billion in Q1 2014, up 82 percent from Q1 2013.For brands on Facebook, these are dark days. They can choose to spend more money to reach fans they had already accumulated in the past, but Facebook will likely decrease branded reach even further.

But, this also speaks to challenges in the FB ad model from the brand perspective. It seems like Facebook is  resorting to limiting organic impression supply (by tweaking the algorythm to lessen brand reach), making it more important for brands to pay to get the exposure.  The main reason i believed Facebook was a great platform was the  combination of organic and efficient paid reach. With the constant tweaks to the organic reach black box, that mix (of organic and paid) gets less attractive and FB becomes just another paid ad platform.

UPDATE 6/18/14: I think i buried the lede here. The point i was REALLY trying to make is that it looks like Facebook is losing one of the aspects that made it so attractive in the first place: It enable brands to build deeper relationships (that’s good) while also building a more modern media mix, one that delivered a beneficial combination of owned and earned media and paid. The less organic reach a brand can generate, the more they have to pay to get the reach, the less attractive the original value proposition is.

via New Report Reveals Just How Drastically Brand Engagement is Plummeting on Facebook | The Content Strategist, by Contently.

The BlockChain is the Beauty Inside Bitcoin

I need to come back and write up a clear article on this, but i’ve been digging deep into Bitcoin. Not the cryptocurrency part, but the actual protocol behind it. The think i’m curious about: What else could we apply the blockchain concept to. That is, what kind of decentralization can happen when there is a secure, transparent, open, scriptable, public ledger holding the system together.

Lots more to think about,  but here’s a couple important articles for my own future reference:

 

Lessons For Marketers in the NYT’s Leaked Innovation Report

The New York Times 2014 Innovation Report is an extraordinary document. Extraordinary in that it  exists at all, for one thing. But, also extraordinary for the honesty and candor in the analysis provided by the authors.

We’ve all watched the news business getting transformed over the years by blogs, the web, Google, etc. Now we can read the report from inside a pre-eminent news organization, written by a handpicked group of leaders given the mandate to tell the truth to power (well, their bosses).

But, at the same time, it’s an exceptionally useful document for marketing leaders who are struggling to thrive in a time of rapid, seismic changes. Digital, however you want to define it, is creating almost unlimited opportunities to create new growth, reach new audiences, and work in different ways. Call it creative destruction, transformational innovation, or just reinvention; we’re all going to have to deal with it. The news business is at the front of many of these changes, but eventually all business, from cars to cereal will have to deal with them. So, we can learn a lot about what to do (and what NOT to do) by reading this report carefully.

While it was unfortunate that this document was leaked, we nonetheless have it as a story of a great organization at the mid-point of a life-or-death struggle. Here are just a few lessons  brand builders can take away.

Be Honest With Yourself, First – One of the more remarkable things about this document is that it doesn’t seem to hold many punches. It calls out specific projects, departments, etc. Its a seemingly honest assessment of what’s working and not working. Not self-flagellating, but also not overly optimistic about what’s really going on. Marketing leaders should take on this kind of assessment every other year, at least. A hard look, done by trusted mid-level leaders, those with enough understanding of how things really work on the execution level but also have a broader strategic sense about what the organization can be and needs to get there.

Understanding how Disruption Works is the First Step to Disrupting Yourself - With everyone talking about innovation all the time, you’d assume everyone understands what “Innovation” really is. But, wisely, the writers spend a couple pages outlining Clay Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation process. And, they even provide a cheat sheet for their new competitors. As leaders, we should understand that disruptive innovation actually is kind of predictable and it will hit every industry at some point. Get your teams to understand this, and it’s the first step to creating the kind of innovations that disrupt the business on your terms vs. waiting for someone else to do it to you.

Reconsider What You’ve Always Taken For Granted – The report advocates a recommitment to audience development strategy, to re-examine how they are getting the news in front of people.  For generations, the Times could assume an audience existed, was reachable in a predictable way, and cared about the product. But, that audience is easily swayed, distractible, and, in the end, not so easy to reach. Now, the Times has to re-learn how to reach it’s audience, weaving a news set of skill into the newsroom. All leaders should be rethinking the parts of the model they’ve always taken for granted.

Digital First is Much More than a Buzzphrase - For the times, it’s a flip from “a newspaper that also produces a rich and impressive digital product” to “A digital publication that also produces a rich and impressive newspaper”. That’s over-simplified, but that mental model flip is one that most marketing organizations need to make if they haven’t already made. A mobile, digital way of building the brand that is amplified at scale by traditional media is  “digital first” for most marketers.

Culture Change is a Mofo - This is really a document describing wrenching culture change in slow motion. The capabilities, the technology, the tools will all be relatively easy to update. But, the talent, the leadership, the skills, the mindset needed to thrive in a digital-first world at the Times will be incredibly difficult to weave into the organization. The leaders will have to remake their culture from the inside without losing the best of what got them there.

Finally, the real story here is that the leaders of this organization recognized they were out of synch with their times and they turned to 8 trusted insiders to figure it out. That’s courage. We can all learn from them.

There are dozens and dozens of smaller nuggets in the document. It’s so rare for a business leader to get a peek into another organizations’ strategy development process that i imagine this will be a document i go back to and re-read multiple times.

Here are a couple other great writeups:

Managing Startups: Best Blog Posts of 2013 | Platforms and Networks

Managing Startups: Best Blog Posts of 2013 | Platforms and Networks.

This is about everything you need toread for the next couple weeks. Tremendous resource for anyone thinking about working in a “lean”, “agile”, “fast”, “iterative” or whatever mode.

Meta comment: Eisenmann’s blog is a great, living reminder of the power of blogs. With all the focus on shorter, faster, more ephemeral media (i’m looking at you Snapchat, instagram, Twitter), it’s very worthwhile to reflect on the core idea behind blogs, blogging, great posts and the whole concept of publishing for an audience.

 

Why Didn’t Honeywell Invent Nest? The Value of Purpose

Evidently, Nest is worth a couple billion dollars in the minds of investors. That company didn’t really exist a couple years ago, but investors see the potential and Nest is a good example of how a purpose-lead company can spark new growth by reimagining old businesses.

But there are higher risks, of course, with hardware-focused products like Nest, compared to software-only investments, due to the more costly ramp up for such products. But said one investor, “This is a company that could change how we live our everyday lives,” noting the tight integration with mobile phones was a key step in the evolution of such devices.

via Nest Raising Huge New Round From DST, Valuing Smart Home Startup at Upwards of $2 Billion | Re/code.

Why didn’t Honeywell invent Nest? There is no doubt the halls of Honeywell are filled with incredible technologists. They have installs in god knows how many homes in the US and around the globe. Is it because their business model is so heavily focused on resellers and contractors? Is it because they forgot what business they are really in (e.g. “we’re in the comfort business” vs. “we’re in the thermostat and electronics business”). Is it because the actual product would have cannibalized the rest of the line? Perhaps the actual Nest product wouldn’t have been a big enough opportunity for a 72Billion dollar company. Finally, perhaps the leaders at Honeywell have a really healthy and profitable thermostat business already in place and didn’t see a chance for a significant change in their growth curve from real innovation from their core products.

Here’s a clue,  from Nests “about us” page that reveals how purpose guides their approach: 

About_us___Nest

Simple. Beautiful. Thoughtful. They’re focused on “unloved” things. They know no one loves their thermostat.  But, their purpose is to make things you’ll reconsider and then fall in love with. It’s a design approach and a laser focus on the consumer mindset. They are an end user oriented company that has empathy as their core lens. Tech, coding, sales, marketing and everything else come afterwards. Rethinking old problems to help consumers is core to their culture.

Now, check out Honeywell’s “About us” page (actually, there are a number of Honeywell “About us” pages. This one is for their consumer products):

About_Us_-_yourhome.honeywell.com

While it’s great that they are customer focused, it’s pretty clear that their customers are NOT consumers. They’re focused on resellers, builders, etc. They are designing products they know their real customers will buy, not products consumers are going to fall in love with.

Business school students will be reading case studies about Nest for years to come. It’s going to be interesting watching Honeywell’s response. Not only do they have a product challenge, but they are going to have a business culture problem, as well. They can compete on technology, but will they be able to get over the internal cultural barriers that will make it difficult to truly put the consumer needs first? Will they be able to reconnect with their core purpose as a way to re-orient their product and marketing efforts?

Where I’m Going Next: Unlocking Innovation for Modern Brands

Though the digital revolution really began in the early 90’s, we’re just beginning to get our arms around what’s possible for brands and marketers. Meanwhile, the future of brands, of brand building, of marketing is being invented, right now, every day.

For instance, as I write this post, the digital marketing headlines center around the founders of Snapchat turning down an acquisition offer from Facebook, holding out for a better offer.

It should be noted, they have no revenue.

Snapchat didn’t exist three years ago (and, if you are reading this in 2017, Snapchat may not exist anymore). Yet, some observers agree they may be worth more than  the rumored $3 billion dollar Facebook  offer.

Has the business world gone crazy, or is it truly possible to invent, design and grow disruptive, innovative businesses that fast?

For those of you not living in the digital space, the pace of change may seem disorienting. But trust me, it will never be slower than it is right now.

Unlocking Innovation: The Next Phase of the Digital Transformation

I’ve been involved in the digital business in one way or another since 1995 when I was teaching classes on “What is the Internet” or “Understanding the World Wide Web”. I’ve done a lot of the jobs required to bring web and mobile experiences to life, from coding and designing to advertising and promoting. I’ve lived through a couple boom and bust cycles.

I’ve seen Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and whatever Web 3.0 was supposed to be. But, based on my experiences, I believe we’re in the early stages of the most important cycle for most businesses: Accelerated innovation through new products and services.

In today’s landscape, smart business leaders see the massive opportunity for innovative products and services that weren’t possible even 5 years ago.  Bold, modern marketers are recognizing that there’s never been a better time to build brands through useful, helpful services and content.

So, they are looking for ways to reinvent, to unlock new ways to grow.

In almost every category, I’m seeing examples that should appeal to the soul of modern marketers who recognize growth can come by re-examining all aspects of their business in light of the digital transformation hitting them: their business model, their go-to-market strategy, their consumer communication model, the products, services and content they offer and their brand, overall. Just a few examples of bold innovation I’m seeing.

  • GoPro has built an incredible business and brand in a space that should have been owned by Sony, without much paid advertising (marketing model innovation)

  • RedBull has become one of the largest providers of action sports programming (media model innovation)

  • SpecialK has built and delivered a diet plan around their cereal brand (brand building innovation)

  • DollarShaveClub.com is working on disrupting the men’s grooming accessories business through price, brand and distribution (business model innovation)

Brands Need a Different Kind of Partner to Spark Innovation

To unlock real transformational growth and innovation, smart marketers need partners that aren’t satisfied merely to work on this year’s campaign materials. As a matter of fact, I’m seeing some of the most exciting ideas happening when companies work with smaller, more experimental firms at the front of the change.

Fortunately for marketing leaders, there is a growing number of great firms out there. The marketing service companies that support the brands (i.e. the ad agencies, PR shops, design shops, management consultancies) are going through their own, difficult transformations, too.

As a result, new kinds of firms are emerging, focused on dreaming up new businesses, inventing whole new products or services, or planning out alternative marketing models; Firms that are purpose-built, designed from the ground up to be agile, fast, data driven and iterative.

The agency disruption is leading to the kind of collaborators who help marketers answer that age old strategic question, “what business are you really in?” and then bring those new ideas to life, in market, to drive growth.

These new model, smaller firms are alternatives to legacy agencies which are trying to compete on strengths (scale, global network, heavy investments in “creative”) that aren’t as valuable anymore. And, in many cases, the operating models and cost structures of legacy firms make it almost impossible to move quickly and to work with the best collaborators available across the globe.

An Amazing Time to Build Brands and Businesses

Disruptive innovation is hitting just about every industry. New collaborators arising to help marketers win in a changing landscape. Has there ever been a better time to be in business?

So, marketers, we have a choice: are we going to wait and watch and react when it hits your category? Or are we going to drive the change. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a driver.

My Next Phase: GoKart Labs

I’ve recently left one of America’s great brand building companies (General Mills) to join a company not many know yet. GoKart Labs (gokartlabs.com) is a small, stealthy company that builds real businesses and drives remarkable innovation. We build our own businesses (Sophia, Kinly, a couple in the pipeline). We build them with our partners (BringMeThenews.com). And, we will use our business building chops to grow yours.

Your ad agency can’t do what GoKart does.

We’re built to invent new products and services, help you find and grow your customer base or help you generate whole new business models. We’re designed for market acceleration, not conference room creative conversations. Then, we’ll help you design, develop and deliver the digital experiences that build your brands. And, finally, our growth hackers can help you find customers through the truly agile marketing we use to grow our businesses.

Now, as I buckle up for this next phase — both mine and the web’s — I couldn’t be more excited. I’m excited to bring what I’ve learned working with some of the best marketers and brands in the world.

I’m excited to learn from the many entrepreneurs and business leaders in and around GoKart Labs. And finally, I’m excited to be part of a crew of collaborators inventing new businesses, products and innovations. I’ve got my foot on the gas and I’m ready to drive.

What I Read

I've gotten a number of requests lately (in a very strange coincidence) asking what i read regularly. It's a fairly eclectic list, i guess. Some of these have been in my list forever, some are recent adds.

I generally start the daily consumption with headlines from a couple of core sites. These are my daily early morning reads. Cyclingnews.com is my first stop, where i get the latest news on the professional cycling community and my favorite sport. I also read the headlines and a story or two from Techmeme.com, where you'll get the freshest headlines. I'll also check out the headlines on CNN.com, NYT.com, and Wall Street Journal.com.

I've been really closely watching the rapidly changing editorial/news world. So, about every other day, i'll check out a couple leading content sites for headlines, functionality changes, interface chances, etc. I'm a fan of TheDailybeast.com, Huffingtonpost.com, AOL.com, gawker.com, theawl.com and, for the latest headlines, i read www.mediagazer.com. I've also started reading xojane.com, because i'm a secret fan of Jane Pratt. Forbes, Fast Company  and the Atlantic Wire are really, really great and i should read them more frequently than i do.

I'm a music fan, so i'm almost always listening to Pandora.com throughout the day. NPR.org and Minnesota Public Radio are both dynamite sources for music fans. And, i'll check out www.pitchfork.com or Rollingstone.com occasionally. I also like The SixtyOne because of the awesome/unique interface and the music discovery.

I try to stay up to date on the advertising industry, so i read a couple sites pretty regularly. Advertising Age is the go to. But, Adweek has gotten much better with its recent relaunch. Both are pretty much every other day reads for me. There are a handful of blogs i read pretty regularly where, on average, the writing is much more valuable to me than the industry gossip and puff pieces. Two that are pretty much essential reading are Paul Isaakson and Faris Jacob. And, there are a couple agencies that are doing a great job sharing their knowledge, for example Zeus Jones and the BBH labs team. There are lots more, but that's a pretty good list. 

I spend the most time reading up on internet culture and emerging thinking about how the net is changing everything. There are dozens of regular sites i go to every month, so i wont list them all, but a couple of ones that everyone could learn from include: Clay Shirky (smartest writer on the web), Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine, and Doc Searls.

Other tech news- I read Techcrunch.com and Mashable.com pretty much everyday. Techcrunch.com and Techmeme.com a couple times a day. I like to check out the headlines a couple times a week at Hacker news and Ars Technica.com.

I also read a bunch of OG bloggers, folks who have been blogging since they were called Weblogs. I've learned so, so much from these folks, including most of of what i know about digital culture. I still think the best blogs (not tumbleblogs, though) are the best of what the web has to offer in a lot of ways. If you want to understand what blogging is all about, the give/take, thoughtful analysis, and the interesting stream of smart links, you should read Jason Kottke's Kottke.org, Andy Baio (Waxy.org), and Anil Dash (www.dashes.com). You could also learn a lot from Matt Haughey, Heather Armstrong, Paul Ford, and John Battelle. There are hundreds more, but that's a good list.

There are some general cycling culture sites i check out pretty regularly: Lance Armstrong's twitter feed, Chris Carmichael's twitter feed, Fat Cyclist, and Bikesnob NYC.

And, because i'm in the food business, i look at a lot of food blogs. Dozens. I won't list them all, but here are a couple great sites that are representative of the ones i love: SeriousEats.com, one of the very best multi-author blogs out there, Tastespotting.com, Foodgawker.com, our own Tablespoon.com (Go Erin!), MPLS' Heavytable.com,101cookbooks.com.

Finally, the timewasters i love: the Onion, Buzzfeed, Facebook, twitter, and, the ultimate in web uselessness, AbeVigoda.com

The Digital Brand Advertising Maturity Model: Phase 1 -”TV on the Internet”

A lot of big brands are still trying to figure out digital marketing. They are taking a hodge-podge approach to their efforts, with a little bit here (SEM), and little bit there (their website) and maybe a little excitement dashed in (their facebook presence/twitter stream). But, before big, mass market brands can truly wrap their heads around the concept of being "modern brands", they should get comfortable with what they are doing with basic web display advertising. That is, "TV on the Internet".

TV on the Internet

Big, slow, classic mass-market brands have built their whole marketing model around TV. Their planning calendar is driven by their TV buying and TV production cycles, delivering "campaigns" that are like carpet bombs of 30 second tv spots. Their research tools, processes, and partners are designed to deliver the one true "insight" that will make a great TV spot. The creative messaging is driven and shaped by all the tools they use to conceptualize, vet, test and create their TV spots. The marketers and researchers there have built – literally- whole careers on being great at managing and guiding these processes, blending, when it's done well, the science of marketing and the art of advertising together to create breakthrough work that infiltrates our culture. Via TV.

It's a big, well oiled machine that we all take for granted, and we assume, because the machine has always worked so well, that it will also output great digital marketing. But it can't create great digital marketing. Because it was designed.for.creating.TV. That doesn't means the digital marketing that comes out of this systems is bad. It's just not what digital marketing could be.

Before brands shoot for "great", it's worth understanding what "good" looks like. Here are the characteristics of digital campaigns that are "TV on the Internet":

  • A single, broad target - Typically, defined by demographics, like "Moms with kids in the house, 30-55".
  • Key Objective: Awareness – These campaigns are really very much like TV, in that they are  designed to deliver an impression. And that's pretty much it. All the cool interactive stuff that you can do online? Clicks, conversions, online ad driven actions don't really matter in these campaigns.
  • Creative: Persuasion – The goal of the creative is to persuade and change attitudes, not drive action.
  • Campaigns: The campaigns tend to flow at the same rhythm as TV; run for a couple months, and then go dark.
  • Media: "Set it and Forget it" - These campaigns don't get optimized when they run. They are planned and run and aren't really optimized that much over the course of the campaign. 
  • Media: Focus on Reach – Like TV, the main objective of the media buy is almost always to maximize the number of people reached by the message. The placement – where the creative runs – is important, but generally, reach is favored over relevance.
  • Measurement: Offline impact – These campaigns don't measure impact by what happens online.  Like all ad efforts, the most value is placed on what happens offline. Cash register rings. Sales in the big box, or the market, or the retail outlet. 
  • Learning Cycles – The learning cycles of "TV on the Internet" campaigns, as far as i've seen, tend to be like an annual cycle. The iteration and learning cycles tend to be six to eight (or up to 12 months). 

 But, while digital marketers might scoff at these campaigns, they work for marketers for a couple important reasons:

  • They are relatively easy to manage – Agencies and marketers can work and execute these campaigns pretty easily, assuming the marketers don't try to over-work the banners.
  • They work – A lot marketers are finding that banners work well. At the very least, they drive brand metrics. But, they also drive sales offline, too. 
  • They are predictable – Brands can these campaigns pretty easily, and they are getting more and more predictable in their ability to drive results. 

These aren't the sexiest digital campaigns. You'll never see these on the front cover of AdAge. But, these campaigns can form the foundation of great brand-building efforts. They can drive regular results, can be pretty predictable, and can provide marketers with "ground cover" to do more, innovative, and more interesting things.

But, "Modern Brands" should be providing more than advertising, more than their own message. That's the next phase in the maturity of digital brand marketers. 

Next up: PHase 2- Data Driven Brand Marketers

 

 

Wanted: A Turnkey Solution to test display ads (Fast, Iterative Learning w/Real Dollars)

I realize this post may open the floodgates of email from the gajillions of readers of this blog, but the "lazyweb" could solve a  problem i've been wondering about. (And note, this is my personal page, and it in no way reflects the opinions or positions of my employer and is not a solicitation of a proposal) 

The Setup:

A lot of the brands i come into contact with are classic, big, mass-market brands. They focus mostly on TV or some sort of instore promotion as a way to grow their top-line sales. As a result, they put tremendous amounts of time and energy into getting their advertising message perfect. This creates a planning cycle that often starts 18 months or so before the :30 second spot airs. 

As these brands move to online advertising, their planning cycles aren't really changing that much. Digital gets planned along with the tv, the creative is often linked explicitly to the tv in the name of "integration", and therefore the digital creative is often planned at least 8-10 months before it "runs". And, a similiar amount of energy/time/planning goes into getting the digital message (the words, the visuals, the consumer "target", the tone, the call-to-action) perfect before they launch. Its' like we're planning our banners like we plan our TV spots. 

Note: It's going to seem counterintuitive to many of us, but the majority of these campaigns focus only on awareness. That is, they aren't concerned about a click, or any sort of action. These are mass-reach, impression driving campaigns, not CPA/CPC, response based campaigns. 

The Challenge: 

We should be able to plan and execute our digital display ads so much faster and cheaper. The growth of exchanges and the proliferation of ad networks has created a flood of cheap, not-quite-free banner space (see: Mediamath, contextweb.com or, for better, higher quality contextual placement Brand.net). There are amazing tools out there that make it easy to do data-driven targeting of the creative unit. There are crazy powerful tools that make it easy to dynamically create, in real-time, creative units from a library of images, messages, and other creative elements (see: Teracent, X+1). And, there's a growing supply of providers who can match up in display impressions w/back office sales data (at least for the industry i work in).

With all this data, all this display space, all this measurement, why isn't there a product that brands can buy that enables them to do the following: 

  • Have a known period of "testing" (like two months)
  • Put a known amount of working dollars into the market (not much money, mind you)
  • Have a set of two to four consumer "targets" to test
  • Have a set of two to four different creative messages to test
  • Have a known result to test against (in this case, cash register rings in the store, not clicks, necessarily)

The goal: Come out of a 1 to 2 month test, with a higher degree of confidence that they've got an advertising message that will drive instore sales with a specific consumer segment. And, all this by putting a significantly smaller proportion of the annual marketing budget (like a fraction) to work, before the bulk of it is committed.

The desired outcome: Risk management for the main campaign; a higher confidence in the combination of message, media placement and consumer target. And, do this in a way where the brand doesn't have to work that hard at it, where it's NOT a big production, and where the brand can learn fast. 

The need: 

This has got to be productized, like something a brand could (almost) buy with a few clicks. This should be something that a brand could buy, a) in a turnkey way b) for a known amount of money c) with a known amount of "working" dollars required. This would be delivered as a service, with some support from the vendor in designing, producing and executing the program. It would be delivered in a standardized window (e.g. 1 month of planning, 1-2 months of testing, 1 month of analysis) with known/consistent deliverables (that would enable cross test comparisons)

There's got to be a productized version of this out there somewhere.

No brand would be interested in:

  • Some technology that the internal/external IT group or agency group can use
  • Smarter ways to buy media
  • Buying media directly from exchanges and or networks
  • Brands won't want to hear about your dynamic, real-time, multivariate testing capability. they'll want this to work automagically
  • Dynamic optimization
  • Your agency creative, strategy or production services
  • Campaign management tools
  • CPC tools or SEM mgmt tools
  • Any sort of customized project from some agency

They'd be looking for a turnkey solution that can be bought off the shelf. There's got to be something like this out there….But i've looked, and i can't find it. 

Lazyweb, any ideas? 

 

 

From Buzz to Something Real: The Peril of “Earned Media”

Like most marketers, we're trying to figure out just how real the promise of "earned media" is. Truly earned, positive exposure for your brand is almost unicorn-esque: it takes a fantastic product, a clearly articulated brand story, and a lot of elbow grease to get it started.But more and more, we're talking to brands about how "earned media" can be a powerful benefit from great marketing.

But, we're nowhere near close to being able to answer the legitimate questions we'll be getting from smart marketers about how to equate the value of earned media to the stuff we're hoping to displace. So, when marketers ask "what's the value of earned media", we don't have the tools to really answer that question.

We know, generally, that exposure for the brand that we don't have to actually pay for is good. But, can you put a media value on the amount of blog posts, tweets, mentions, comments, etc? How do we go from vague "buzz", to real, legitimate "media value" from the conversation?

(Yes, i know the whole question is kind of crass. But, it's still legitimate. More importantly, as paid media gets less effective/efficient, we'll need to understand how to prioritize our efforts in the social space. Which brings us back to how to value the conversations… )

Here's the nut that needs to be cracked:

* the promise of "earned" media is that it could, theoretically, replace "paid" media, if we could get our arms around it.

* to get our arms around it, we need to be able to track the activity over time and see real trends emerging from the data and, eventually, make connections in the data, leading to legitimate insights

* to track it, we need a consistent definition of "earned media", and a clear, consistent categorization of the forms that earned media takes, from blog posts, tweets, comments, "likes" etc.

* To measure it, we need to see the differences over time, and equate some sort of value to each of the instances we see it. Even if that value is relative (*this* is better than *that*) and not financially quantifiable. Ideally, we'd be able to identify some causal relationship between "earned" media and cash register rings. But, until then, we'll need some sort of objective way to rank/force rank the desirability of the forms earned media takes.

* all we have – right now – is an "impression" as the common media unit. We have to be able to do better than that.

So, what I guess I'm looking for is a tool that will help us track and categorize the "earned" media we're getting like we track our paid media. I've got all sorts of tools that show me activity, some that can show me sentiment, and one or two that can give me semantic insights in the deluge of text. But, how do i know how much it's worth? It's the unicorn tool, i'm afraid.