by Michael Mothner
Founder & CEO
2008 was a momentous year in many ways. From the roller coaster ride of gas prices to, essentially, the end of investment banks, from the collapse of the stock market to the historic election of our first African American president, it has been a year to remember. Now, we take a look back at some of the big themes of 2008 through the lens of an internet marketer.
1. A New Model of Political Marketing was Born
The 2008 presidential election was a historic milestone in many ways, but, for me one of the most powerful themes was the Obama campaign’s truly amazing use of the Internet to help get his message out, raise money and ultimately drive votes of his supporters.
His campaign created a brilliant logo that invoked patriotism and excitement. His website was a model site in clear messaging, logical navigation and calls to action (namely donating!). He used Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Wikis, emails and even text messaging to reach out to his supporters virtually anywhere they might be.
Nearly half of the record $265 Million that Obama raised came from donations under $200, and nearly all of that was through his website. And it wasn’t a one-way street; the campaign utilized social and collaborative marketing to solicit opinions, collaborate on campaigning and generate excitement in the campaign.
2. Twitter Goes Mainstream but Nobody Knows How to Use It
With over six million registered users, Twitter has officially moved beyond the early-adopter stage and can be considered a tool that is here to stay. However, the more I get into Twitter, the more I feel people have not figured out how to use it the way it was intended.
Many frequent Twitter users seem to be using it as a two-way instant messaging tool with the audience of the other followers, but without threading of the conversation; this is a disjointed experience. Other Twitter users simply tweet too darn much; if you are following a good number of people, it is unwanted noise to have to know when everybody is hungry or tired. Keeps it interesting people!
With the acceptance of Twitter as a powerful communications tool, marketers and spammers will inevitably follow. This may shake the very viability of Twitter going forward. A few weeks ago I tweeted about a great burger joint I visited and a few minutes later I was contacted by a guy with a blog about burgers. One can only imagine once the mainstream or even spam marketers start abusing this ability, Twitter will have to seek out ways to prevent a spam-fueled spiral.
Finally, I, personally – and I imagine I am not alone in this – haven’t figured out how to reconcile Twitter and Facebook status updates. You can synchronize them using the Twitter Facebook application, but not all of my tweets are correct for status updates and vica versa. For me, Twitter skews business and Facebook skews personal, but there is a solid amount of overlap, and it makes no sense to go to two places to do an update. One solution would be a twitter application with the option to post to Facebook updates but, overall, I see inefficiency with having very similar updates in multiple locations. This will be something that I believe will become magnified in 2009.
This Twitter/Facebook status dilemma leads many to the conclusion that Facebook should or will buy Twitter. Rumors swirled that Facebook made an offer to buy Twitter a few months back, but Twitter rebuffed the offer because I believe they did not want to be purchased for illiquid Facebook stock and questioned the valuation. My prediction? In 2009 Google purchases Twitter. They have the ad platform to best monetize twitter, and have the means to make such a purchase. Twitter is an important web 2.0 property and I think makes a good fit with Google’s portfolio.
3. Video Search Becomes a Very Big Deal
In August of this year, Comscore reported that YouTube’s search traffic surpassed that of Yahoo, making it the world’s #2 search engine. This is a big deal for a number of reasons. First, it means that Google – which of course owns YouTube – now controls the top two search engines, which is an astronomical amount of power. Secondly, this means that video search is now, without a doubt, a force to be reckoned with.
However, the popularity of video search has far outpaced both the understanding of marketers on how to capitalize on this type of search and YouTube itself on how to properly monetize it. I believe that in 2009 the truly savvy advertisers and marketers will figure out how to harness the power of video search to drive branding efforts, engage users and even succeed in direct response sales and lead generation.
4. Search Advertising Dominates Social Network Advertising
I am frequently asked about the viability of Facebook as an advertising platform. On the surface, it is a marketer’s dream. Early this month it crossed 130 million active users worldwide and is adding users at the mind-boggling rate of 600,000 new users per day (that was not a typo). And these are not just accounts; these are active users with a high level of engagement. 13 million users update their status at least daily, 700 million photos are uploaded monthly, and 19 million groups exist on the site.
Facebook’s advertising platform – on the surface at least – is phenomenal. With a few keystrokes, you can target by gender, age, region or zip code, political preference, music or movie taste, sexual preference and education. Want to place an ad targeting just single men who are college graduates in Los Angeles between 25 and 30 years of age? Done (there are 3,880 of them as of today, by the way).
Combine the unprecedented reach with amazing demographic targeting options and we should have a tool that makes marketers very, very happy. Unfortunately, the results in many of our tests simply just aren’t there. The reason? In my opinion, this boils down to a fundamental difference between a Google and a Facebook.
When I go to Google, I am going for the purpose of ultimately arriving at a different website, one selling the product I am seeking or answering the question I am asking. So the keyword-based advertising that will bring in perhaps $20 billion for Google in 2008 is directly integrated with the experience I am seeking from Google. Put differently, Google is a connector, and their advertising is part of this connection-making. In essence, I am going to Google so that I may engage with their advertising and find what I am looking for; it is a paradigm that I believe has no parallel, and is in no small part responsible for Google’s success.
When I go to Facebook, in stark contrast, I am going to engage with Facebook; I specifically do not want to be linked to another website and I do not want to view ads. This is a monumental difference and why I believe that Facebook will never be the “next Google.” They can no doubt succeed in monetizing their billions upon billions of page views and advertisers will ultimately find success with this. However, they will always exist within the Catch-22 that traditional media finds itself in: there is an inverse correlation between the amount of money they can make (the more ads that infiltrate the experience) and the satisfaction of their user.
2008 was a year that economists, political historians and even sociologists will be dissecting for years to come. For many, it will be a year happily forgotten. Regardless of our feelings, time charges forward and 2009 will be what we make of it. Here’s to success, happiness and discovery in the New Year.