Visual Social Media, Big Data, & Paid Advertising Converge at ClickZ Live New York

I spent the better part of two days picking up the latest information about search, social media, and paid advertising at ClickZ Live New York, which took place at the New York Marriott Marquis last week. While I saw many attendees taking copious notes, I decided to listen (rather than take notes) and tape the sessions I sat in on. I found a couple of trends that stood out and those are what I want to discuss today in this column.

First, organic social media is now dead as far as large brands are concerned. I got this strong impression while listening to the opening keynote with Tim Goudie of the Coca-Cola Company. Rather, the question brands are debating is how much to invest in paid social media advertising to produce an acceptable measure of lift to organic impressions (yes, that’s right – paid and organic impressions and social sharing have a symbiotic relationship). Even more important, paid social media was necessary because brands like Coca-Cola are now more interested in reaching the right customers rather than just anyone they could reach. Goudie spoke about various initiatives such as sustainability and physical fitness that are important to Coke’s consumers, and how recently run campaigns have been successful in attracting new customers to the company’s sustainability website. Goudie’s session ended with thoughts about what storytelling and messaging works best for the various audiences that Coke is trying to reach; for example, while branding in online videos works best for older audiences, for Millennials, branding was dropped out, in favor of interesting visuals and compelling stories.

Second, I listened to a session which I enjoyed more than I expected to, about “Capturing the Consumer in a Constant Stream of Content” by Matt Gentile, who is the director of social media at Century 21. Social media inspired by the market real estate is a subject that hasn’t usually generated a lot of viral content, but Century 21 had done some very interesting viral campaigns, including one around the fictional character Walter White of Breaking Bad, whose New Mexico house was up for sale during the telecast of the final episode of the show more than a year ago. Using innovative and quickly produced short videos and a targeted paid social media advertising campaign, the realtor was able to generate an enormous amount of what it considers to be quality visitation to its websites and affiliated realtor network clearly traced back to the above for mentioned campaign. As Century 21 has gained more experience with social media campaigns, they have learned to better cooperate to produce effective and scalable marketing messages that can be deployed very quickly and inexpensively. The session ended with some short but high-quality micro-videos that were often produced quickly to better leverage news and cultural events that are happening in real time.

Third, I covered a session that was a little off the beaten track for a marketing conference, but which I was very interested in knowing more about called “The Data Revolution – Crowdsourcing International Decisions,” led by Mitchell Toomey who is a senior advisor in the innovation and capacity group at the United Nations in New York. Toomey was one of the most articulate speakers I’ve heard at the ClickZ conference, and he spoke about the uses of data to help the world, so those who attended were very interested in what he to say about the matter. The United Nations has actually taken the lead in creating online surveys and data sets (which are available to everyone for download) that inform public policy by informing decision-makers on the prime desires of the populaces in various countries around the world.

While international and domestic policy is so often shaped by ideology and economics that has little to do with what citizens really want, the UN’s data projects show that it is now possible to use modern technology to find out the exact needs and ranking of common needs such as health care, education, jobs, and so on at a level that was not possible until now. Therefore, Toomey suggested that our political institutions are often based on past limitations in gathering knowledge of voice of the people is no longer a limitation, but the institutions still haven’t caught up, yet there are small glimmers of hope in recent examples of political representatives (often at the United Nations) who, armed with the actual information (the survey data the UN is collecting has more than 7 million participants who have filled out the survey so far), are now in the position to inform pending decisions, often in real time. Finally, Toomey quickly pointed out (prompted by a question from the audience) that the perception of the United Nations is much stronger in underdeveloped nations where the UN is doing work, than in developed nations such as the United States and most of Europe, where the UN doesn’t run any programs for the population. As a result, people in the United States, in particular, are often unaware of the great work the UN is actually doing (and therefore, tend to value its efficacy less than, perhaps, they should).

Fourth, during the last day of the conference I walked in on a jam-packed session just before lunch on “Branding in the Age of Visual Discovery” that focused most closely on Pinterest as a platform for social discovery, with Vikram Bhaskaran, the director of strategic partnerships for Pinterest speaking for the Pinterest platform, and Jessica Woodbury, the senior manager of social media and customer engagement at Alex and Ani. Vikram spoke very eloquently on the way that Pinterest was unique in social media in that the platform would cease to exist if brands did not curate and create content on it, and that brands, overall, are welcome on Pinterest in a way that is absent in other platforms. Furthermore, Pinterest was liked by this speaker to be an “aspirational search engine” that has the unique distinction of being the only platform about the future rather than the past or present. Even more than Google, Pinterest sees itself as a platform that can capture the data and image around almost any object in the world and make it easier to search for and share. While advertising on Pinterest has been open mainly to large brands who are pre-approved, the platform is now allowing anyone to run advertising. The session ended with a lively discussion with Woodbury from Alex and Ani who talked about the results of using visual social media to promote the Cranston, Rhode Island-based jewelry business. One trend that Alex and Ani is participating in is using social signals from Pinterest to decide what the most popular products are, and then physically offering the same items at strategic locations in the actual store locations.

After lunch I attended a session of video SEO titled “Hacking Video: Advanced Video Marketing for SEO and Social” by Allen Gottfried, manager of Internet and online Strategies at Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in nearby New Jersey. Of all the sessions I attended this one most overlapped my own experiences with online video. Gottfried’s session was very comprehensive and directed at practical tips that so many video creators typically overlook but that have profound impact on how well video content will be surfaced by search engines, particularly YouTube Search and Google Search. This session also informed the audience on new offerings from YouTube (cards), Facebook videos and embeds, and clever strategies to use local search to highlight videos to niche local audiences that rank well in search engines because competing inventory from local competitors are often missing or so sparse that great results are much easier to obtain. In terms of the creation of online videos, practical tips such as shooting the video horizontally from a mobile phone rather than vertically, are common sense, and yet many of us forget to do just that (me included). By the time the session was over, the audience was very stimulated and asked him several questions, all of which he answered, leaving the audience with a strong impression that video marketing is both a simple craft and a profound art; the craft part could be taught but the art needs to be observed, evangelized, and then imitated, until it becomes second nature.

The last presentation I attended was about a subject I’m very interested and teach as faculty member at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College – programmatic advertising. In a session titled “The Fusion of Programmatic, Social, and Big Data” led by Jeremy Hlavacek, who is the vice president of Programmatic at The Weather Company, the speaker’s own vision of the future of advertising was presented. One of the first things I noticed was Hlavacek title – the head of programmatic advertising is a position that I don’t think many people hold in any corporation as the understanding of what programmatic actually is still confuses most people. A quick search I ran on LinkedIn of those who deal with programmatic (or run it) and a director or CXO level show less than 1,000 results. On the other hand, those who are directing advertising digitally, but who are not involved with programmatic, number more than 2 million, according to the query I ran in LinkedIn. Roughly speaking, perhaps only .04 percent of advertising professionals know anything about the area of programmatic, and are doing anything actively to use it. Yet the term “Programmatic Advertising” was voted by the American Marketing Association as the hottest term in 2014, according to Jeremy Hlavacek (that’s amazing – the hottest term, yet just a handful of marketers have any idea about what it really is or how to do it).

The gist of Hlavacek’s presentation was that third-party data providers are producing probability models of audience behavior that is not as accurate and that the newer systems of collecting data (that also inform programmatic) are capable of much better information that is more accurate and actionable – and that the availability of such data would revolutionize marketing, and to some extent, already is. On the other hand, he feels that the era of online advertising that we live in is becoming too crowded, so much so that people are turning off to advertising and that there is a limit to what people can be inundated with, as the modern advertising trading systems can produce data even faster that Wall Street and its traders can produce financials that move markets (and we already have an idea about the vastness of Wall Street’s massive datasets and split second decisions, sometimes even deciding the wealth of nations). He drew a parallel between the glut of our advertising today, and what happened in New York City more than 100 years ago, when every billboard in New York was covered with ads from local businesses – it got to be so much that people finally asked the city government to legislate against the advertisers – and wondered if people will get so disgusted with the overabundance of online ads we have now, that we will do the equivalent thing now, to limit technologies excesses. It is clear, however, that programmatic advertising, which is the automation and scaling of every aspect of buying and selling attention of online audiences, will improve, and in some ways, perhaps go back to older models, similar to the way television media buying works today – when it finally all settles down, perhaps in a few years from now.

Overall, I was very happy with the quality of the ClickZ conference in New York and even managed to have my photo taken with TrustRadius, a ClickZ Live sponsor, as I was on my way out the door, and I highly recommend readers attend one of the upcoming events, if and when you have the opportunity to as you will walk away with actionable insights, just as I did.

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