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Apr 30, 2009

At Century 21, Social Media Is the New TV

  • $27 million slashed from TV ads
  • Shifting millions to creative online campaigns - rich-media banners and online talk shows.
  • The Twitter account is broken
Real Estate Company Shifts Spending, Focus to Online Radio, Twitter

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since pulling all its national TV spending in January, Century 21 Real Estate has been making digital the focus of its marketing efforts in a bid to make lead generation more efficient. This week, the company is venturing into the next phase of its digital transition via online radio, social networking and Twitter.

Beverly Thorne
Beverly Thorne

For the past month, the company has been using a new online radio show, a co-production with BlogTalkRadio called "C21 Talk Radio," to brand the conversation around the housing market. Senior VP-Marketing Beverly Thorne said consumers are made aware that Century 21 is the brand behind the show. However, the program is built around an unbranded online forum section, designed for prospective buyers to have an open discussion, with no personal identification or follow-up phone calls from Century 21 brokers.

"This is very much Century 21 beginning the conversation, and a great forum for a radio talk show, with great queries and a very open conversation for that to be a two-way dialogue," Ms. Thorne said.

That dialogue will reach an even higher corporate level tomorrow, when Century 21 President-CEO Tom Kunz will take questions live from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST.

Opening up the show to consumers was essential to preventing it from coming off as a self-serving take on the housing market, Ms. Thorne said. "It is not Century 21 talking outwardly in a single direction. It's a bi-directional conversation with a lot of consumer-generated questions." The only potential restriction is use of inappropriate language on the show's online forum. Otherwise, "we will not usurp a consumer's expression," Ms. Thorne said.

Alan Levy, president and co-founder of BlogTalkRadio, said more brands are tapping into social-media platforms such as online radio because of their ability to create a long-form dialogue. "We're able to aggregate scale to these conversations. Here you can actually have a conversation that's more than 140 characters," he said. Of course, Century 21 isn't turning a blind eye to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all of which are part of the company's new C21 Communities social-media platform. Century 21 is hosting its first Tweetup today, in San Francisco, under the Twitter tag @c21sftu.

Beyond banner ads
Ms. Thorne was searching for something that had legs in the digital space beyond banner ads when she had the idea of doing the online radio show, which represents a "fairly small percentage" of the company's overall 2009 marketing spending, according to a spokesperson.

The web has increasingly delivered the most efficient leads for Century 21 in recent years, she said. The company slashed its measured national TV spending to $12.4 million in 2008 from $39.2 million in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence. And although Century 21 is increasing its online marketing investment, it anticipates an overall decrease in year-over-year marketing spending, with a shift of more than $12 million out of national TV this year.

Century 21's online 'Mother-in-Law' campaign logged more than 32 million impressions in two and a half months.
Century 21's online 'Mother-in-Law' campaign logged more than 32 million impressions in two and a half months.

Despite a collapsed general housing market, the company finished 2008 with a 200% increase in lead generation and is continuing on a "very positive trajectory" for 2009 thus far, maintaining triple-digit growth among new customers without the reach of broadcast or cable, Ms. Thorne said. "TV is a diffused medium, and while it reaches a lot of folks, it's not people necessarily involved in buying or selling real estate."

Perhaps Century 21's most successful recent foray into the digital realm is "Mother-in-Law," an online campaign that ran in the fall, with creative handled by McGarryBowen. The humorous banner ads featured an interactive map of available properties based on proximity (or lack thereof) to family members. The two-and-a-half-month campaign logged more than 32 million impressions, with a click-through conversion rate of 2.73%. "Hopefully most consumers are not striving to live away from their mother-in-law, but if they want to live within the interstate, they can see graphically what available properties are within a five-mile radius," Ms. Thorne said.

Apr 28, 2009

Analyst changes tune on a Microsoft-Yahoo deal

Stephen Shankland

Updated 10:30 a.m. PDT with comment relating to Yahoo's new management.

Throughout 2008's on-again, off-again talks between Yahoo and Microsoft, many financial analysts declared the belief that some sort of deal--either Microsoft acquiring Yahoo outright or later just its search business--was a matter of when, not if. One report released Tuesday, though, shows at least one change of view.

Jim Friedland of Cowen & Co. said the relative financial results of Yahoo and of Microsoft's online-services business (OSB) gives Microsoft a bad bargaining position. Specifically, he said operating revenue from advertising dropped 16 percent annually for Microsoft in the first quarter of 2009, compared to a 12 percent drop for Yahoo and a 5 percent increase for Google.

"OSB's profitability has deteriorated substantially due to ballooning depreciation from underutilized data center capacity combined with unprofitable ad deals whose already poor performance has been exacerbated by the recession," Friedland said in a research note. "We believe Microsoft's underperformance in the Internet business limits its options in negotiations with Yahoo, and we have updated our view of the likely outcomes: (1) no deal--70 percent probability; (2) a search-only deal--10 percent probability; (3) an exchange of Microsoft OSB and cash for a large stake in Yahoo--15 percent probability; and (4) a purchase of 100 percent of Yahoo--5 percent probability."

Compare that to Friedland's October opinion, which predicted three possible deals: "In our view, Microsoft is unlikely to allow increasing OSB operating losses to continue in perpetuity, and we expect the company to implement one of the following strategies within the next 18 months: (1) the purchase of 100 percent of Yahoo; (2) the purchase of Yahoo's search business; or (3) the exit of its online-ad and access business, potentially by exchanging MSN/Live.com for a minority stake in Yahoo."

In addition, Friedland added in an interview Tuesday, the arrival of Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz also may make things harder for Microsoft.

"The previous management team bungled Microsoft's generous acquisition offer last year. Yahoo's old management may have been more open to a search-only deal to create a near-term value driver for shareholders in order to compensate for its initial mistake," Friedland said.

"We believe that new CEO Carol Bartz will consider all potential transactions. However, Yahoo is in a solid financial position and Bartz is negotiating from a position of strength. Yahoo has a number of competitive challenges, but it doesn't need to do a deal and there are some serious strategic risks to selling its search asset," he added.

Regarding a search-only deal specifically, Friedland was skeptical.

"In order to get a search-only deal done, we think Microsoft would be forced to offer Yahoo high guaranteed minimum payments and pay a high traffic acquisition rate," the ad revenue shared with Yahoo, he said. "We also believe that the integration of the Yahoo-Microsoft search assets could be challenging. Further, a search-only deal could initially result in an increase in Microsoft OSB's operating loss."

What, exactly, is behind Friedland's assessment of Microsoft's online weakness?

"Microsoft OSB generates a run rate operating loss of $2.3 billion and has been unprofitable for the past 13 consecutive quarters due to: (1) the signing of unprofitable ad partner and toolbar distribution deals with companies such as HP, Facebook, and Verizon Wireless; (2) aggressive spending on R&D, which has not yielded any killer apps...; (3) expensive marketing initiatives, like Live Search Cashback, that have not reversed share loss; (4) an aggressive build-out of data centers ahead of demand that has not materialized; and (5) a secular decline in high-margin dial-up revenues."

Amid Constant Deluge of Requests, Marketers Must Work Harder to Persuade People to Join Their Pages

Ed: With the massive change, deluge of surveys and irrelevant data - are brand marketers simply lost?

by Emma Hall 

LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Welcome to social-media message overload.

The constant barrage of invites to sign up for this group or download that app are starting to wear on social-network users, presenting big challenges for the brands and marketers who are looking to use these sites to aggregate fans and cultivate relationships with customers.

LOVE IT OR HATE IT: The strong opinions of Marmite provide fora fun discussion space.
LOVE IT OR HATE IT: The strong opinions of Marmite provide fora fun discussion space.

Nearly a third of social networkers say they are fed up with the constant requests to join groups and try new applications, according to research by the Internet Advertising Bureau in the U.K. That means marketers will need to work harder and keep innovating if they want to harness the consumer power of social networks and persuade people to join their sponsored sites or pages.

When asked "What do you dislike about social networks?" by far the highest response, at 31%, was that there are too many invites to install applications, followed by 16% who said "when advertising isn't relevant to me." Slightly more than 5% complained about messages from brands and another 5% actually lamented the addictiveness of social networks. About 12% said they had no complaints. The research showed that 7% of respondents sign up to find out about brands.

"From a marketer's perspective, social networks look brilliant on paper," said Alistair Beattie, head of strategic planning at AKQA, London. "It's a switched-on crowd with a huge amount of time who hold brands close to them. The difficulty is that they regard this as their space. We have all become our own source of entertainment. ... But there is a resistance to being advertised at in our own spaces."

Keeping spam down
Amy Kean, IAB senior marketing manager, said, "Despite [social networking's] popularity, this study shows that respect for the user is just as important in social media. Users will not respond to spam or irrelevant advertising." And controlling those intrusions will have to become a higher priority for social networks, said Union Square Venture's Fred Wilson at Ad Age's recent digital conference.

"One of [social networks'] biggest costs is 'environmental mediation,' or keeping the bad people at bay," Mr. Wilson said.

AKQA had success with a Marmite group on Facebook. The savory spread's advertising message is "Love it or hate it," so the group works well as a discussion topic for social networkers. Fans post recipes, discuss weird and wonderful ways to enjoy the sticky black spread, tell tales of conversion to the taste and share frustrations about not being able to purchase it outside the U.K.

Too often, Mr. Beattie said, advertising on social networks is "still a traditional interruptive approach where brands are piggybacking on content that people value."

The IAB research found that exclusive content, which appeals to 28% of social networkers, and a genuine interest in the message, which attracts 37%, are the keys to a positive response from consumers on social networks. And because only 5% say that they actively dislike messages from brands, there are big opportunities for marketers who can hit the right notes.

"To be popular, brands need to have a personality and be someone that people want to be friends with," Mr. Beattie said. "The guiding principle is to offer things that are not available elsewhere, things that give social kudos or bragging rights. Brands are part of the fabric of people's lives and ultimately most are happy to be identified as friends of a brand."

The IAB study of nearly 2,000 internet users also showed that social networks are taking on extra relevance in the current economic climate. Forty-one percent of members say they now place even more value on ratings and reviews from family and friends on a social network. Mobile social-networking is also on the increase. Updating social-network sites via mobile handsets is increasing, with 25% of all respondents logging on to check or update their pages.

Apr 26, 2009

Twitter Keeps On Growing Through Asia - Especially in Australia

australia_logo.jpgWe know that Oprah Winfrey's brought a lot of new users to Twitter in the U.S., but according to Hitwise, the popular microblogging service is currently seeing some of its most impressive growth outside of America. In Australia, where Oprah Winfrey doesn't command the same kind of daytime television audience, Twitter grew over 1,000% since the beginning of 2009, and its annual growth since last April tops 3,200%. In Australia, Twitter is now the 37th most visited web site.

Twitter Loves Celebrities

According to Hitwise, 38% of the top 50 searches for 'twitter' in Australia include the name of a celebrity. Lindsay Lohan leads the charge, followed by Ashton Kutcher, Miley Cyrus, and Australia's own Hugh Jackman. While Kutcher's much publicized race to 1 million followers increased Twitter's share of daily visits in Australia by 10.6%, Oprah's first tweet only registered a 2.46% increase

Twitter is also seeing similar growth in other Asia Pacific markets. In New Zealand, the official home of RWW, Twitter's share of daily visits increased 305% in 2009, and it is now the 49th most visited web site there, and its growth rate in Singapore is comparable. Only Hong Kong is lagging far behind these other markets.


Twitter is Sticky

One interesting phenomenon about Twitter is that new users tend to stay on the service. In Australia, according to Hitwise, the single largest spike in visits came one day after the Queensland Election in March, and interestingly, Hitwise did not record a drop in numbers since then. This bodes well for Twitter, which, thanks to the hype around Oprah Winfrey and Ashton Kutcher, was able to pick up a lot of new users who typically wouldn't have been too interested in joining Twitter.

Oprah Effect on Twitter

Oprah Winfrey, the icon that can turn any book or product into a best seller, posted her first Tweet on Friday on her show. There's been muchdebate among loyal Twitter users about whether this spells the end for Twitter's coolness, as soccer moms sign up in droves.

So what was the Oprah-Effect on Twitter? The following chart shows daily visits to Twitter from 1st January to 18th April (Oprah's first Tweet was on the 17th). 
Oprah Twitter.png

Share of US Internet visits to Twitter increased 24% on Friday, April 17, the day of Oprah's first Tweet. Comparing visits with the previous Friday, visits were up 43%.

Hitwise clickstream data reveals that on April 17, 37% of visits to Twitter.com were new visitors (as opposed to returning). The service typically has a high ratio of new visitors as it is still very much in a growth phase. However, the percentage of new visitors was 5% higher on Friday than the previous day and the average for March. To give a benchmark, Facebook's ratio of new visitors was 8% in March.

The search term "oprah twitter" was the #35 highest search term with the word "twitter" last week and the #7 with "oprah". Considering that our search data is weekly and that the show only aired on Friday, this is impressive.

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