All posts by Tom Edwards

How We Used Google Maps APIs to Help Hunt Monsters

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Editor’s note: Tom Edwards, EVP Strategy and Innovation for TMA Digital Engagement, was a guest blogger on the Google Geo Developers blog today, speaking to TMADE’s use of Google Maps APIs in building a website for GameStop to promote the launch of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Congrats to our GameStop team for a successful program and a post on the Google Geo Developers blog!

If you’re going on a monster hunt, it’s a good idea to bring a map. And if you want to build buzz around the release of a new game, you should have the right tool as well—in our case it was Google Maps APIs. We built a website for GameStop to promote the launch of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, an action role-playing game from Warner Brothers and CD Projekt RED. After a visitor logs in to the promotional website, she is dropped into a map of the world and collects clues about where to find monsters. The goal is to be the first person to find each monster and win a prize.

Witcher3-5.20.15-A

The game’s launch deadline required us to build the site within a tight timeframe. We chose Google Maps APIs because they provided the tools we needed to build our maps quickly and easily. They also let us focus on the site creative rather than get bogged down with technical issues. We use the Google Maps JavaScript API for the front end, to start the experience and immerse visitors into the virtual world. Then, with the Google Maps Street View Service, we allow users to search for monsters. We took images of the monsters and used overlays to drop them into familiar surroundings.

We use the Street View API to plant the user in a random location somewhere in the world, then visualize their surroundings, including monsters and trails of blood. We set a randomly generated starting point to the map based on five predefined locations. From there we have event listeners in place for ‘mapView: bounds_changed, streetView: visible_changed, streetView: position_changed, streetView: pov_changed, searchBox: places_changed’.

When the user has initialized Street View, we make a call to our API to see if any monsters are within a defined distance from the LatLng of our monster data set. We continue this test any time the position_changed event is fired until a monster is within range. At that point, we update the class of a div that sits above the map view. Each monster is assigned a specific CSS class, which allows us to easily make tweaks.

Witcher3-5.20.15-B

Google Maps made it easy to combine the real world of Street View with imaginary creatures from the game. Our goal went beyond just our users having fun — we wanted to build a site that would create genuine excitement around the game and give people a taste of monster hunting in the real world.

3 Things to Consider After 72 Hours with the Apple Watch

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Seventy-two hours ago, I was among the 22 percent of lucky customers whose orders were fulfilled for the Apple Watch. Many have asked I summarize my thoughts about what I like, what I think needs work, and what marketers should consider when creating an Apple Watch experience.

What do you like about the Apple Watch?

From Apple’s first announcement last September to receiving it on launch day, I have consumed a significant amount of information about what to expect from Apple’s latest technology. Yet, all of my research did not prepare me for the full experience.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 3.11.47 PM

The watch is beautifully designed and the 42mm face is just the right size. The interface is very smooth and responsive, and I am getting a good feel for which elements add the most value for me and how I want to extend my iPhone experience.

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Setup was incredibly easy and primarily facilitated through the Apple Watch app on my iPhone. After language selection and visually pairing the Apple Watch and iPhone, I dove into setting up my application preferences.

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The key thing to consider if you are looking to invest in an Apple Watch is to understand that it is NOT an iPhone on your wrist, but it is an extension of the iPhone experience. It WILL streamline lightweight tasks such as messages, notifications, and quickly reviewing email.

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I like the flexibility of the interchangeable watch bands; it literally takes seconds to completely change the look of the watch. Third-party band options are already appearing on eBay, and I have ordered a second Apple Watch band myself.

Tom Edwards Apple Watch

What needs work?

Outside of the passcode keypad, there is not a consistent input mechanism beyond voice. Responding to messages either consists of predetermined phrases, emoji, or voice response. This is fine 90 percent of the time, but for those times when it is not convenient to speak your response it will require you to pull out your iPhone. #FirstWorldProblems

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The same goes for making and taking calls on the Apple Watch. Be prepared to look like Dick Tracy when you are speaking into your wrist. Calls are better meant for taking on your actual iPhone.

Dick-Tracy

One surprise was Facebook was noticeably missing from the Apple Watch app store on launch day. You still receive notifications from the app, but there is not a native Facebook Apple Watch experience as of yet.

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One additional missing element is a browser experience. There are third-party apps that provide an abbreviated browsing experience, but there is not an official Apple Watch browser. Siri is voice-based, and any search query that is not tied to an existing app function is handed off to the iPhone.

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I have experienced accelerated battery drain on both my Apple Watch and paired iPhone. Also, Handoffs between the watch and app can be awkward in some third-party apps. Upon initial setup, a number of applications have to be preconfigured via the iPhone prior to working with the paired Apple Watch.

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How can marketers benefit from the Apple Watch?

For brands that have a native app in market, the Apple Watch can provide a way to extend the value of the application if marketers focus on creating utility. From a shopper marketing standpoint, Target’s focus on list creation is a good example of taking a single element of the app experience and using the Apple Watch to drive a specific user behavior.

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Target’s Apple Watch app initial user experience

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Target app example of highlighting item location via Apple Watch

I have used the Starbucks app extensively over the past 48 hours. The “glance” tells me how close I am to a Starbucks location as well as extends their loyalty program, and I can leverage Passbook for quick payment for my morning Americano. I have been impressed by the ease of use and the value the app is bringing me through a simple experience.

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The key areas of focus for marketers are understanding how to leverage both short and long notifications to influence certain behaviors while also leveraging the most relevant data to visualize – via a glance – to sustain ongoing wrist engagement.

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American Airlines is simplifying the boarding experience

By focusing on extending apps through the lens of consumer value and lightweight interaction, marketers can capitalize on staying at the top of mind through a user’s wrist.

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Uber’s Apple Watch experience

 

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Art + Science = Facebook’s Anthology Program

Written by: Tom Edwards
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I recently attended the latest Facebook Openbook event in NYC. The topics included the latest video product updates and the unveiling of the new Anthology initiative.

Openbook

Anthology is a creative brief based program that combines the insights and scale of Facebook with the reach and relevance of large publisher partners.

Anthology

Facebook is providing access to insights rooted in detailed analyses of target audiences to inform publisher creative. Their goal is to combine art and science to inform the creation of highly relevant and shareable content that drives business.

Facebook Anthology Purpose

There are seven initial partners in the program:

1. Vox Media – Millennial-focused media entity targeting sports (SB Nation), tech (The Verge), gaming (Polygon), real estate (Curbed), food (Eater), and retail/shopping (Racked)

Vox Media

2. Vice Media – Millennial-focused media entity that creates over 6,000 pieces of content daily across 10 primary channels covering news, music, tech, food, sports, and fashion, all by young people and for young people

Vice

3. Oh My Disney – Brings the ability to leverage assets and properties of Disney in short-form content that is designed to be shared

Oh My Disney

4. The Onion – Satirical news content creator

The Onion

5. TasteMade – Mobile-centric video network that reaches 25 million people monthly

tastemade

6. Funny or Die – Original and UGC comedy and pop culture content creator

Funny Or Die

7. Electus Digital – Properties include Collegehumor.com, Dorkly (Geek Culture), and Nuevon (Hispanic)

Electus Digital

In the unveiling, each publisher partner had created a mock “anthology” based on Facebook insights and a hypothetical brand/agency creative brief. Each anthology program had its own unique creative slant based on the insights provided by Facebook and the unique perspective of the publisher.

ForD Anthology

In the future, the publishers will produce the content and partner with Facebook to distribute the content through both Facebook’s media network and their own distribution properties.

anthology example

The Anthology program can be beneficial for brands and agencies alike. It is a quick way to collaborate with some of the most relevant millennial-focused publishers, as well as leverage proprietary user data and insights provided by Facebook.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Is Today Mobileggedon? 5 Things to Know About Today’s Google Update

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Today is the day Google is rolling out a major update to its mobile search algorithm. Some are proclaiming this “Mobileggedon,” others the “Mobilepocolypse.”

The reality is that this is a major update that will boost the ranking of mobile-friendly pages. There are five things to know about how this update may impact your brand.

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1) The update only impacts mobile search results. This is a mobile first update and will only impact results from mobile queries.

2) The update does impact all languages. This is a global roll-out. Those that manage pages across locations should take note.

3) The update applies to individual pages vs entire websites. This may not be apparent initially, but makes sense as a whole. Google indexes pages and queries map to intent which extends from the relevance of the content on the page.

4) This is one dimension for how Google will rank a mobile search query. –This update does raise the importance of a mobile-friendly experience, but this is not the only signal being considered.

5) Strong content can overcome… For now. User intent based on the query is still an important factor. If the content on a non-mobile friendly page is considered the most relevant for the query it will still rank high for now.

It is important to take the necessary steps to create an optimal experience not only from a search perspective but also from a user experience standpoint.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

10 Key Takeaways from F8 2015

Written by: Tom Edwards
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I attended the F8 Facebook Developer Conference 2015 last month, and below is a recap of the 10 key takeaways from the annual developer conference that outline the current and future state of plans of one of the world’s largest tech companies.

F8 2015 Top 10

Current State

The primary theme was that Facebook is a “people first” company. Facebook is now positioning its core offerings as a family of applications that are designed to align with how people are naturally using technology to engage and share.

F8 2015 Current State

It was quickly noticeable that each platform now plays a very specific role in the Facebook ecosystem. WhatsApp will continue to be a modest messaging platform, while Instagram will maintain a focus on simplicity and creative expression. Facebook Messenger is quickly being positioned as the primary mechanism for one-on-one communication, and direct connection to businesses and groups continues to be of great importance for 700 million people who want to collaborate around specific topics.

Meanwhile, the core Facebook experience is focused on further extending its video capabilities while setting the foundation for their future — to support more deeply immersive forms of content, such as virtual reality.

Enhanced Messaging

One of the larger announcements from the conference was the expansion of Messenger as a third-party development platform. This is an important move for Facebook, especially since WhatsApp confirmed during the conference that they will not be providing API’s anytime soon on their product road map.

F8 2015 Enhanced Messaging 1

Third parties can now reach and engage over 600 million active users. With the Messenger Platform it is possible to drive discovery, engagement, and attribution through images, videos, GIFs, and sound clips.

Applications can either be stand-alone apps designed to enhance conversations, or it is possible for a brand application to create a workflow to share content through messenger and deep link into the messenger optimized experience in their native application.

F8 2015 Enhanced Messaging 2

Facebook also announced the beta launch of businesses on Messenger, which is how Facebook envisions brands and consumers engaging directly through enhanced customer service. They hope that this will add value to the consumer through templates that can showcase product details and enhanced order details.

Embedded Video

Facebook users are viewing over 3 billion videos per day, and Facebook took another step toward challenging Google-owned YouTube for market share by launching a new embedded video capability.

The new feature supports view-count synchronization, full-bleed video, and includes social actions in video such as “like” and “share.” Also important to note is that the desktop version is Flash-based and mobile is HTML5.

F8 2015 Embedded Video

In recent Facebook briefings there have been discussions about Q3 introducing sequential storytelling into the fold. This is one area where the current embedded video option is lacking compared to YouTube. YouTube currently has the ability to create annotations, and now has “cards” to create connections between assets.

Importance of Advocacy

With all of the talk about Facebook and their other brands’ lack of organic reach, it was confirmed that for users, the News Feed is still what determines the content that is served. This confirmed that peer-to-peer sharing remains the most viable option for content-centric brands.

Another central theme was tied to the sharing of content and, with that, the importance of creating relevant and engaging content that inspires consumers to share. It is also important to create content that is tailored for the specific audience and to utilize the ideal application from the Facebook family delivery and discovery.

F8 2015 Importance of Advocacy

While most social brand personification strategies have taken a back seat now on Facebook’s primary platform due to the shift toward reach and frequency, leveraging consumer and employee advocates — as well as groups — are still viable means to distribute a message outside of paid advertising.

State of Plug-Ins

Social plug-ins have been a staple of the Facebook ecosystem for years. The Facebook social plug-ins team outlined their intentions to redefine the experience of many of the standard plug-ins in order to create a richer mobile experience.

The first step will be to relaunch Facebook moderation tools to allow greater flexibility and an optimized experience for moderation that includes bulk actions and custom lists — and is being rewritten from scratch.

F8 2015 State of Plug Ins

The team also outlined they are testing a new form of comment mirroring that aggregates comments from external news articles to the Facebook page, and vice versa. This is a significant point to consider, as this will align different audiences and shift the potential engagement that happens on-page.

Instagram

The Instagram team reiterated their focus on being community-first, and maintained that simplicity matters above all else when it comes to their product roadmap and the overall experience of the application.

The team confirmed that the Instagram News feed is 100 percent deterministic, meaning that the content posted from your followers will appear in your feed. Based on this feedback, the idea of potentially adding features such as a “regram” button is not currently part of the plan, as the goal is to keep the experience as uncomplicated as possible.

F8 2015 Instagram

They reiterated that Instagram is not a distribution platform for brands. “Likes,” “follows,” and comments will not necessarily drive additional visibility within the platform due to the deterministic feed and the lack of any type of “regram” functionality. For brands, the ideal approach is to curate against existing behaviors, and create a relationship with passionate fans that showcases their view of the brand as the core asset in order to fuel your branded experiences.

Omnichannel

In recent years, Facebook has increased their focus on shopper and direct response capabilities. They stated that they view omnichannel as the future of commerce, and that they are positioning their cross-channel approach as the ideal for brands.

Facebook highlighted the size of their network, the persistence of logged-in identity, and their cross-platform approach as to why they should be considered as a holistic omnichannel offering.

F8 2015 Omnichannel

A key point of discussion was tied to cross-screen attribution without proxies. With their SDK and conversion pixel, they stated that they have the ability to capture accurate measurement tied to their real users.

Future State

The most intriguing aspect of F8 was the insight into the future of Facebook strategy as outlined by Mike Schroepfer, CTO, Facebook. In his keynote speech, he discussed the three core areas of focus for the near future: Planetary connectivity, natural interfaces, and immersive experiences.

F8 2015 Future State

In the near future, services that scale and planetary connectivity are key areas of focus for Facebook. One of the key initiatives is tied to the Aquila, their unmanned solar drone. The drone is designed to stay aloft for three months at a time, in order to deliver connectivity for remote regions.

Information overload was also an area of discussion for the future of Facebook. The goal is to build contextual systems that deal with information overload. One approach is the use of artificial intelligence built around the concept of convolutional neural nets that essentially create deeper associations between content elements at a faster rate than a simple algorithm.

The last of the three core pillars of the future state of Facebook is tied to the importance of creating and enabling the consumption of immersive content such as virtual reality. One of the crucial direct points was the fact that 3D spherical videos will be supported in the Facebook News Feed. This is setting up for the immersive virtual reality experiences that are to come.

Parse + IOT

Facebook’s Parse was also a primary area of focus. Facebook acquired Parse in 2013. Since then, they have been working to leverage the platform as a service that offers to provide additional rapid development services to mobile app developers, such as user management, push notifications, and analytics at scale.

F8 2015 Parse + IOT

Now with over 400,000 apps built on Parse, the Facebook team is extending Parse to connect Internet of Things experiences. Facebook wants to make it easier for developers to leverage data from connected devices into their applications.

Many other tech heavyweights are investing in IOT data solutions. Apple, Google, and recently IBM have all been vying to unlock the key to leveraging IOT data.

Facebook’s approach is to connect devices and software that share common elements in order to increase the probability of systems working together. This could then lead to Facebook becoming the data aggregator between devices, software, and data used to create unique experiences across devices.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality played a key role throughout F8 2015. Facebook referenced virtual reality as the next evolution of content experiences.

They showcased different applications from their teleportation stations that showcased what was happening in Menlo Park, as well as their more immersive Crescent Bay demos that showed off the full capability of the Oculus Rift.

F8 2015 Virtual Reality

Facebook also spent a portion of their presentation simply showcasing the physiology associated with virtual reality, and why the timing is now right for progression in the field: The cost of technology to create affordable consumer products is feasible, the experience is compelling, and there is broad industry participation as well as a long-term commitment to advancing the technology.

Facebook did a great job of balancing the short term vs. the future state, while ensuring that they are bringing their developer partners along the way. By shifting toward the family of apps strategy — as well as building toward connected devices and immersive experiences — Facebook is in a position to remain relevant well beyond whatever happens with the core Facebook platform.

 

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360 and check out this post on iMedia Connection.

Emotive Robots Key to Unlocking IOT Potential

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Over the 15 years of my digital career, I have witnessed significant technological innovation and massive shifts in consumer behavior based on the impact of innovation. Highlights include the evolution of the personal computer, the now ubiquitous smartphone, and the explosion of consumer-centric social media.

Apple-iPhone-generations

Looking to the near future, the current rate of exponential technological advancement will continue to accelerate, and we are primed for another significant leap forward; the concept of emotive computing is about to enter the lives of early adopters and has the potential to shift our behaviors once again.

During SXSW 2015, the personal side of robots session presented by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal caught my attention. Her session focused on the potential impact of emotive computing as the next wave of computing innovation.

emotive computing

Emotive computing is based on systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate elements of human behavior. The key to the concept is the alignment of both emotion and cognition as the drivers of adaptive behavior.

I have followed Dr. Breazeal’s work at MIT since the late ’90s when I first heard about the Kismet project. Kismet was designed to be one of the first socio-emotive AI. The core focus was to move past simple cognitive skills and align psychosocial elements into the robot’s ability to understand and treat people as people.

MIT Kismet

During the session, Dr. Breazeal discussed the evolution of Kismet to the next iteration of the AI, Leonardo, as well as how emotion + cognition should be the basis of intelligence and adaptive behavior – which is key to creating an emotive AI.

leonardo ai

The advancements made with Kismet and Leonardo have set the foundation for a new type of consumer device that is focused on delivering multiple levels of utility while also demonstrating adaptive behavior.

Reviewing the current landscape of personal robots, we see mostly single utility or cognitively-driven robots. They enhance our lives by the tasks they complete but are weak in their ability to conceive emotional engagement.

personal robots

This is where I begin to consider the current product/market fit for socially emotive AI. When you start to consider the Internet of Things or the Internet of Better Things, there are key components missing that would unlock new levels of value, which would lead to mass adoption. Most of the current ecosystem is comprised of single-utility solutions that are neither interconnected nor adaptive.

Internet-of-Things

Initially, my assumption is that the IOT would benefit from a central hub that is built to scale. The basis for the hub has already been approached by Amazon with Echo. But the current technology tied to virtual assistants is built around search and retrieval based entities with limited capabilities to learn.

virtual assistant

With the rise of emotive computing, it is feasible that the core hub for the connected home could be an emotive AI. Toward the end of her talk, Dr. Breazeal revealed that her current initiative as founder and Chief Science Officer of Jibo is to deliver such an entity into homes sooner rather than later.

Jibo is being touted as the first “family robot” and positioned as a support and an enhancer to humans. The IndieGoGo crowdfunded robot raised over 2.2 million dollars and the first run is currently in production. Jibo can see, hear, speak, learn, assist, and relate to individuals, and is going to be the first mass-produced emotive AI.

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Jibo is also going to be built on a comprehensive developer ecosystem. With toolkits and a full SDK available, the focus is on creating a scalable content delivery platform.

Jibo SDK

I have talked a lot about how the IOT needs to be navigated with the consumer at the center, and I have shared my view of the #databaseofyou as the key to unlocking marketing value from the IOT, but little did I know that the database would actually reside within an emotive AI.

Evolution of Social Marketing Future - Tom Edwards

From a marketing perspective, I am very interested in the adoption and advancement of Jibo. If an emotive AI becomes the primary hub for the connected home, then it also becomes a potential content delivery platform that is the key connection between brands and consumers in the connected home.

By leveraging the full SDK and potentially certifying content, brands could provide contextually valuable experiences delivered through Jibo, or potentially new skills that extend the utility of the robot.

This is obviously speculation on how to potentially leverage emotive computing to create marketing value, but it is important to begin understanding that a significant shift is coming and that it may have just arrived in a small robotic form.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Extending Virtual Reality at SXSW 2015

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Another year, another SXSW Interactive is in the books. Each year I look to get inspired, reconnect with publishers and 3rd party partners and look for new or incremental innovation that can add value for my clients. This year, one of the areas that caught my attention was the advancement of 3rd party integration and applications tied to virtual reality experiences.

In 2014, one SXSW exhibit in particular received a lot of attention for creating an immersive Virtual Reality Game of Thrones experience courtesy of Oculus Rift. 2015 did have its share of branded experiences tied to Oculus, see Samsung below, but a majority of 3rd parties were focused on showcasing how they create value through integrating VR and mobile devices as they prepare to go to market.

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Samsung – I had the opportunity to experience the Samsung Gear VR headset while at SXSW. The Samsung Gear VR is powered by an Oculus Rift headset that integrates with the Galaxy Note 4. The approach of serving as an extension of an existing device that can scale through various media and applications is the right approach to allow optimal personalization of experiences through devices and media entities that consumers already consume.

The #GalaxyLife VR exhibit was a rich experience that I definitely enjoyed. My tour featured a Mountain Dew branded snowboarding adventure. There are pros and cons to the experience as it was immersive, although the audio was a bit lacking. If you have not tried the core Oculus Rift experience and this was your first foray into VR it is an impressive experience. For the average consumer, consuming media, be it VR cinema, gaming or 360-degree experiences can all be achieved through the Samsung Gear headset.

This type of VR experience is ideal for branded integrations as the experiences are tied to the mobile device and with the right SDK, it is possible to extend immersive content experiences through the Samsung Gear VR.

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Google – One of the more unique takes on a similar premise to the Samsung Gear VR came from Google. Google Cardboard is a simple, inexpensive way to enjoy VR-based experiences through either Android or iPhone devices. When the Google team handed me the device, it was about the size of an iPad Mini. After a few minutes of folding I had an instant VR viewer that I could view media from VRSE or other Google Cardboard supported applications.

As with most things Google, there are Android and Unity SDK’s available to easily integrate Cardboard into existing VR applications to ensure that it is supported. The experience is surprisingly rich and the fact that it is inexpensive and also supports iPhone VR applications is a plus. Google Cardboard is a great tool to introduce younger audiences to enhanced VR experiences. It definitely passed the test with my crew of 12, 10 and 7 years of age. And with the simple design, I am not concerned about how they would handle the device.

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Intel and 3rd Parties – The SXSW Gaming Pavilion featured multiple extensions of the Oculus hardware with various groups working to create new integrations that could bridge the gap between traditional gaming and VR. Intel and CybertronPC showcased one of CybertronPC’s gaming rigs that supported an Oculus experience. This experience drew quite a crowd as onlookers wanted to catch a glimpse of PC gaming + Oculus.

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Another 3rd party that caught my attention was Sixense’s STEM System. This was a Full-Body Presence VR system vs. just an Oculus Visual experience. The system provides motion controls, haptic feedback and additional spatial awareness in the VR experience to create a full-body controlled experience in game. The demo featured a lightsaber duel, think Microsoft Kinect in terms of open-space, body-controlled motion but with a fully immersive Oculus Rift visual experience.

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We are inching closer to mass consumer availability and I have been impressed how much has been developed within a single year. I still have my doubts as to whether or not Facebook’s Oculus Rift based experiences as they exist today will appeal to the mainstream consumer. We are still at the nascent stage of the technology and I do believe that augmented, virtual reality and digital overlays will become a part of our lives as some point in the next 10 years – it just may not be a bulky headset, it may be something as simple as a bionic contact lens.

Bionic-Contact-Lenses-3

I definitely enjoyed playing with the new hardware and look forward to what the future may bring at SXSW 2016.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Why Your Brand Will Love Snapchat in 2015

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Each year I like to dive into a specific platform that can make an impact for brands in the coming year. In February of 2014, I published “2014: The Year of Tumblr.” This prediction was recently validated, as TechCrunch released data showing that Tumblr just overtook Instagram as the fastest-growing social platform.

In 2015, Snapchat is the fastest growing social app. I have received numerous client requests for POVs on the platform, and I was recently briefed by the Snapchat team. What the team unveiled takes the platform to the next level for brands interested in reaching the 14-to-28-year-old demo in 2015.

Snapchat is already the fastest growing social app heading into 2015.

Here are the five reasons to consider Snapchat in 2015:

1. Heavy usage by younger audiences

According to Business Insider, nearly half of Americans aged 12 to 24 have used Snapchat.

A majority of campaign briefs called out some form of Millennial as the target, and Generation Z began to regularly appear toward the end of the year as well. Combine the penetration and rate of growth with new offerings that are designed to further enable brands on the platform, and Snapchat is important to consider for the right brand.

Snapchat launched in 2011 with a heavy emphasis on teen and 20-something users, and it has quickly gained traction over the past few years. Snapchat’s sweet spot is between 14 and 28, with a slight female lean. The numbers are impressive, including the fact that almost 50 percent of U.S. users aged 12 to 24 have tried Snapchat. The company now sits at 100 million active users with 50 million users in the U.S.

When it comes to frequency of use, the platform is even more impressive, as 60 percent of the active users are on the app daily, with frequency numbers as high as 22 times per day.

For those not familiar with Snapchat, one of the unique elements of the platform is that content “disappears” after a short period of time that is set by the content creator.

Users also have the ability to “doodle” directly on the content to quickly personalize it, as well as add filters and comment on top of content.

To give you further perspective, check out this Snapchat infographic that our team developed in 2013. You can see the explosive growth since then.

If that’s not enough, there are more than 700 million snaps sent everyday. One of the key behavioral factors is tied to the fact that there is a sense of urgency with the content, as it will eventually disappear.

2. Brands are active on Snapchat?

When it comes to the various use cases of Snapchat, users can chat with one-to-one messaging and live video chat, they can consume a feed of directly sent snaps and messages from friends, capture photo and video (filter, doodle, caption), and interact with the story feed.

While some brands go the route of directly sending and feeding snaps and messages, one of the key areas of focus recently has been tied to the “story” feed.

Here is an example from Taco Bell showcasing new products directly to its followers:

The “My Stories” feature was introduced in 2013 and has become one of the most popular features within the app. “My Stories” allows users to link multiple snaps together over a 24-hour period. This feature alone is driving more than 1 billion views a day and has become the “go-to” for brands emphasizing a one-to-many strategy on the platform, versus one-to-one messaging.

Here is an example of McDonald’s using multiple snaps to reveal a new product:

3. Snapchat and advertising

When it comes to an approach to advertising, Snapchat is more like BuzzFeed than Facebook. It focuses on contextual relevance of the content to drive impressions versus a highly-targeted approach. Both have their pros and cons, but Snapchat recommends that relevance and authenticity are the keys to success when it comes to advertising within its platform. Furthermore, it has recently introduced the ability to position sponsored content in the friend feed.

A sponsored post is for a period of 24 hours and can be up to 20 seconds of premium content. From a viewability standpoint, Snapchat counts a view as two seconds of consumption, and it states that the biggest difference is its model is built around the idea of connected engagement versus reach and frequency.

Here is an example of sponsored content from the recent “Ouija” movie:

4. Snapchat is opening up opportunities for brands and event sponsorship

One of the latest additions and one of the bigger brand opportunities is tied to the new “Our Story” offering. “Our Story” is a location-based collaborative story that leverages content from events and allows others not attending to directly experience the events. A user at an event has the ability to upload a photo or video snap, and Snapchat drops a Wi-Fi geofence around the event. Content is then aggregated and the “Our Story” content prompt is located in the story feed next to friend content. The video below helps to clarify this new offering:

There is also an opportunity for brands to “sponsor” the “Our Story” events. This comes to life in the form of 10-second interstitial title snaps. The sponsored content is then interlaced through the user-generated content and clearly identifies the sponsor. One key point to consider with this type of offering is to leverage authentic event content versus pre-produced content. This better aligns the message and makes it more contextually relevant.

Check out this example from Samsung tied to the recent “American Music Awards” show:

5. Snapchat partnerships

It was recently reported by multiple media outlets that Snapchat is in negotiations with Comedy Central, Spotify, Vice, and other media publishers for the upcoming launch of “Discover.” “Discover” will most likely serve users articles, music, and videos produced by media companies. This will create an additional avenue to drive contextually relevant native advertising to further monetize the platform.

In addition, Snapchat recently partnered with Square to release a peer-to-peer payment prototype. The prototype allows users to store their debit card via Square to quickly process a payment or send cash to a friend’s bank account through the chat feature. Users can type the dollar sign, an amount, and hit the green button. It is available in the U.S. to those 18 or older with a debit card.

With its diversity of use cases, ease of use, sense of urgency tied to the consumption of content, and focus on enabling brands and partnerships, Snapchat is primed to have a very big 2015.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

 

 

BERLIN: the logo of the brand “Snapchat”, Berlin” and “heart shape design for love symbols” images via Shutterstock.

2015 Will See The Rise Of Dark Social

Written by: Tom Edwards
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dark-social

Dark social is the sharing activity that is somewhat invisible to traditional analytics. It’s the culmination of referrals and sharing of content that originates from instant messages, emails containing links, and most recently, the rise of ephemeral social communication platforms such as Snapchat, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

A majority of focus today is on social broadcast platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. With the tides shifting toward ephemeral social communication applications as a key driver of sharing, the attribution data of the share — and all of the value that comes with it — is essentially untapped and, in some cases, simply unknown.

According to a recent Radium One study, 59 percent of all online sharing is via dark social. Furthermore, a whopping 91 percent of Americans regularly share information via dark social methods. This study also showed that 72 percent of sharing is simply users copying and pasting long URLs and either emailing or texting the information.

There are a significant number of conversations — and more importantly, potential intent— from a marketing perspective that are simply being ignored and untapped. Currently, there’s an over-reliance on retargeting. Dark social could represent an opportunity to bring balance to the equation.

What makes cracking the code with dark social in 2015 even more paramount is the sharp rise in adoption of ephemerally charged, socially-centric communication apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Kik. The convergence of social and mobile is here and the percentage of content shared through dark social will continue to rise at an exponential rate in 2015.

A few pioneering brands have incorporated sharing functionality with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users sending 50 billion messages a day. FTW, a USA Today sports site, introduced a WhatsApp sharing button to its mobile experience recently, and almost immediately saw shares from WhatsApp climb to 18 percent of the site’s overall sharing activity. Furthermore, 53 percent of shares came from “dark social” vs. 47 percent through traditional social mechanisms.

Snapchat, another ephemeral application, is the fastest-growing social app heading into 2015. With a user base of 100 million active users, 60 percent of whom engage with the app 22 times per day, Snapchat represents another dark social platform that should be considered in 2015. This is especially true with the upcoming strategic partnership model that will incorporate multiple media outlets into the platform. This will convert the experience to include more content from external networks and publishing partners.

And there’s Wechat, with a global audience of 600 million users, 180 million outside of China. It is the fifth most-used smartphone app worldwide. All of these essentially represent the next wave of dark social that will quickly raise dark social sharing’s current percentage of 59 percent of total sharing even higher in 2015.

Outside of the applications listed above, there are many more that are growing quickly, including Kik. Even Apple’s AirDrop is being used to share images and messages with school-age kids.

And there are more on the way — hybrids of the hybrids — like Mark Cuban’s Cyber Dust, which essentially combines elements of WhatsApp and Snapchat, boasts high levels of privacy and security, and is, as Cuban recently commented,  “troll-proof.”

Moving forward, there are ways to begin building a dark social strategy. In addition to simply relying on URL-shortened links, brands can employ advanced Google Analytics against long-form links.

It’s also important to consider what integration options are available from the social communication providers themselves, the type of data and analytics available, and how these will be aligned with existing measurement framework.

Taking these steps will ensure that while we’re testing and learning, we can begin to formulate how these platforms will go from experimental to a reliable part of the marketing mix.

Understanding how content is shared when not immediately visible will be a key metric in 2015. Dark social is on the rise, and the more we can harness its power, the faster we can build connections and leverage intent to drive conversions.