Who’s afraid of Big Bad Social Media? Take our Poll.

So the kids these days are all up in arms about their different social media channels.  It’s not uncommon to find individuals with accounts for BlogsTwitter, FaceBook, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. (Did I miss any of the biggies?)  But it’s a different story when it comes to businesses.  There’s a lot of buzz surrounding social channels and how they can help build communities followers, drive traffic and create leads, but many of the clients we talk to aren’t ready to take the plunge.  Some people feel they don’t have the personnel they would need to manage the account.  Some don’t understand what kind of content they need to push out.  Some have taken half-hearted stabs at using one or two flavors of social media, been discouraged with results that fell short of overinflated projections and condemned the entire category as ineffective.

Here at Strategic Insights, we feel that a Social Media campaign, when correctly organized and managed and used as a part of a larger ongoing marketing campaign, can be highly beneficial to an organization – generating interest and awareness, improving visibility and SEO for your corporate site, building a loyal community with ongoing dialogues and, yes, driving leads and making sales.

So why aren’t you using Social Media for your business or product?  Take our brief poll and see what others are thinking.  Or leave a comment below if you need more room to vent or rant or rebuke.

Chris Griffin
Assoc Creative Director
Strategic Insights

Snow Leopard – update or wait?

Snow LeopardLike most of my office mates here at Strategic Insights, I not only work on a Mac, but I am a huge Mac-o-phile (not to be confused with an Apple Fanboy).  For the past 6 months, I’ve been looking forward with baited breath to the release of the new Snow Leopard operating system.  Not because it had anything special to offer in terms of new features – in fact, this release wasn’t touted as having many new features at all, but more of an optimization of user experience.  Still, it was new and it was Apple, so I wanted it.  (OK, maybe there’s a little Apple Fanboy in me after all.) But as the hours ticked by and the clock wound down, I found myself thinking of holding back and letting others take the fall. Rumors had started popping up about software incompatibility and required upgrades.  Plus, I don’t have a spare machine to install it on and give it a test run before throwing caution to the wind and updating my work machine. Caution prevailed and I back burnered the decision.

So now a good solid week and change has gone by and I’m once again considering the upgrade.  An office mate took the plunge on day 1 and has had a mixed experience, which might result in a complete, start-from-scratch reinstall.  Plus, less than a week after its official release, an update to the operating system has been seeded to developers to address a number of bug fixes.  This action, while responsive on the part of apple developers, does not inspire confidence.  In fact, one of the other grumblings that has been circulating around the internet water cooler for some time is that Apple was rushing the not-ready-for-prime-time Snow Leopard out the door to beat Microsoft to the punch in releasing their own Operating System update – Windows 7.

So to those of you early adopters who upgraded with a devil may care attitude, what would you recommend?  Dive in headfirst now?  Wait for the upcoming 10.6.1 update?  Or adopt an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” state of mind and stay the course with good ol’ reliable 10.5.8?  Share your experience.

Chris Griffin
Assoc Creative Director
Strategic Insights

Goodbye Flash, hello jQuery

As someone who works on the web on a daily basis, I know I’m supposed to affect an aloof, jaded attitude towards the eye-candy aspect of the web.  A sort of “been there, done that” vibe.  I should probably be saying “Sure, that’s a nice example of a fully interactive user-defined multimedia interface – if you like that sort of thing.”  The sad fact is, more often I’m like an ADHD kid off his medication – easily distracted by quick movements or something shiny.  I still find myself fixated on even the simple aspects of online animation – repeatedly clicking on drop-down menu navigations while chanting softly “menu goes up, menu goes down…”

Surely there can not be a more quintessential example of a cheesy animated .gif than the infamous bouncing ball.

Surely there can not be a more quintessential example of a cheesy animated .gif than the infamous bouncing ball.

But because of this fascination with online animation, over the years, I have tried to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies and techniques for creating animations for the web.  Years ago, options were limited.  Of course there were animated .gif files, but as the digital equivalent of flip-books, they were inherently restrictive and not especially interactive.  Or you could work with java applets, but those involved an unfamiliar programming language to learn, the cpu requirements were often unrealistic (for the time), the viewer needed the correct version of java on their machine, etc.  The results for java were fairly hit or miss.

For easy web animations, Macromedia Flash (later bought by Adobe) was pretty much the only game in town. Used primarily for simple animations based on motion tweens, Flash was easy to learn, didn’t require a heavy-duty processor and was widely supported even in its early days.  Flash enjoyed quite a heydey as the default for online animation and quickly and continually expanded its capabilities to become an object-oriented programming environment capable of complex animations, pulling dynamic content from external sources, video and audio playback, 3D animation, etc.  For a while, there was a trend for building out entire websites completely in Flash, full of motion and interaction and shiny bits and baubles.  Needless to say, I fell in love with it and used Flash at every opportunity for several years.

Then came the advent of three little letters which caused me to question my Flash fixation – SEO.  Google and other search engines came on strong and suddenly everyone was concerned about Search Engine Optimization – where does my site rank?  Flash is strong in many areas, but a core weakness has always been that the content inside flash apps is largely inaccessible to Search Engine Robots.  So, with few exceptions, the entire body of content on full Flash websites is basically invisible to Search Engines.

Now, there had been an alternative to Flash that had been quietly simmering in the background that suddenly seemed a lot more appealing – javascript animation (not to be confused with java applets – I never understood why the two were named so similarly when they had nothing in common).  Several competing and cooperative javascript libraries appeared on the scene, which allowed web developers to take standard SEO accessible HTML content and animate it using client-side javascript code.  Some of the early javascript libraries were MooTools, Scriptaculous, and Prototype.  I used each of these for various projects without favoring any of them.  There were some cross-browser issues, but for the most part, I was able to achieve simple animation effects with relative ease and without sacrificing SEO.

Then I happened upon jQuery and fell in love all over again.  The jquery javascript framework was lightweight and easy to code for.  It has an ungodly amount of developers providing open source examples and tutorials and more extensibility plug-ins than you can shake a stick at.  I was up and running and animating within a matter of minutes – all while maintaining SEO friendly site content.  jQuery has become my defacto javascript animation tool – I use it for accordions and tabs for better organization of page content, slideshows for product galleries, drawers for hiding and showing page elements, navigation dropdowns, etc.  And these applications just scratch the surface of its capabilities.

Now, to be fair, there are a number of things that jQuery – or any javascript library –  isn’t great at and Flash still takes the prize.  Javascript animation is generally fairly simple in nature and is more often used for User Interface elements rather than complex, image heavy animations.  There are definitely instances when one technology is a better fit than the other.  Still, there are areas of overlap that used to be dominated by flash animation and now can be handled rather easily by jQuery.  Check out the following comparisons as offered by DLL at LogicPool (http://logicpool.com/archives/30).

The Pros & Cons of using Flash vs Javascript:

Flash Pros Flash Cons
  • Extensive features
  • 3D Capabilities
  • Consistent appearance in supported browsers
  • Supports vector artwork
  • Built-in UI & other features
  • Many free and Commercial tools available
  • More font options
  • Not compatible with all browsers including iPhone, cells phones, PS3, PSP, PDA’s
  • Moderate learning curve to use
  • Cost of purchasing Flash software
  • Possible problems with users that have older versions of the Flash Player
  • Potentially large file size
  • Possible security issues with Flash Player
  • Tracking stats for Flash elements is limited
Javascript Pros Javascript Cons
  • Small size
  • Using jQuery or other libraries reduces the learning curve
  • Hundreds of free professional quality programs
  • Can add interactivity to web page elements and tags
  • Skinnable Form Components UI
  • Compatible with more browsers than Flash including iPhone, cell phones, PS3, PSP
  • Features not as extensive as Flash
  • Complex features may not perform as quickly as flash
  • 3D features are limited
  • Users can disable Javascript support
  • Source Code Not Protected

When to use Flash vs Javascript:

Application Flash Javascript
Slide Show X
Form Validation X
Dropdown Menus X
Tabbed Panels X
Popups & Tooltips X
Expandable/Collapsible Elements X
Video/Audio Player X
Complex Animation X
3D X
Complex Multimedia X

The available applications for  jQuery are growing daily and I look at it as in being in an adolescent stage of development, much as Flash was when it was primarily used for tweening animations.  Given another year or two, jQuery will certainly gain more ground and expand its capabilities.  Flash will likely always have its place, but even now there are jQuery scripts being used to control flash apps. (Has the student become the master?)

Designers, developers, end-users – what do you think?  Has Flash had it’s time in the sun? Are the growing capabilities of javascript animation the better alternative and will they eventually be advanced enough to overthrow Flash as the dominating force in online animation?  Or should we relegate javascript animation to niche User Interface elements and stick to Flash for the major eye-candy?

I’ll be eagerly awaiting your response.  In the meantime… (menu goes up, menu goes down, menu goes up…)

Chris Griffin
Assoc Creative Director
Strategic Insights

Desktop Tool makes Analytics even easier

If you have a website, you should have Google Analytics.  If you don’t, go install it.  I’ll wait.  Google Analytics provides invaluable information on who is using your site and how, allowing you to tailor content to meet your users needs and keep them coming back for more.  It should be a standard install item on any website out there.

Desktop Reporting - PolarisTo make monitoring your website stats even easier, Desktop Reporting offers Polaris, which brings the metrics to you.  It’s  a desktop widget that pulls down your metrics and stats for you in an easy-to-configure, easy-to-use format.  Using this cross-platform Adobe Air app, you can quickly and easily navigate through a handful of the most useful pre-defined reports for your site. There’s a free version for monitoring one website profile and a paid option for monitoring multiple profiles.

Let us know your experience – good or bad – with this app.

http://www.desktop-reporting.com/polaris.html

Giving is the New Taking

 

Corporate Generosity may be a good way to win customers over.

In the face of an economic crisis, giving away something for nothing may seem counter-productive.  But a little goodwill toward others may be just the antidote for a society fed up with corporate greed and a perception that, among corporate execs, share price is king and little else matters.

 

Trendwatching.com offers a brilliant article on how giving, sharing and generosity in general may be the best way to get close to your customers.

View the article here

Viral Marketing – it’s contagious!

Let’s say you have a new product. Something big. Earth-shaking big. This is something that will turn the world on it’s ear. You need to get the word out and create some buzz, some interest, some real awareness. You craft and hone a message to the masses, extolling the virtues and benefits of your whiz-bang creation, sprinkle in promises of enhanced lifestyles and reduced credit card debt. Tout shrinking waistlines and restored hairlines! World peace and fat-free cookies that don’t taste like wet cardboard! Tingling with anticipation of the floodgates that will surely open wide, you broadcast your triumphant message to the world!

And nobody listens.

Part of the problem lies with an overstimulated society full of artificially inflated expectations and dismayingly short attention spans. We’re overloaded! Taking into account TV and radio ads, online advertising in all its facets, billboards, bumper stickers, ads in movie theaters and on public transportation (and this just scratches the surface!), the general public is exposed to thousands of advertising messages each and every day. After awhile, it all just becomes so much white noise.

Bill Cokas, our Creative Director at Strategic Insights, has a saying I’ve always liked – “You can’t bore people into buying your product.”  Even a great product with obvious benefits needs a way to capture and sustain the attention of a largely apathetic audience. Sometimes even a compelling message isn’t enough if you can’t get your audience to listen. You need a way to cut through the white noise and single your product out.

Enter Viral Marketing.

Viral Marketing techniques use existing social networks to increase brand awareness, to generate buzz or interest, and essentially build a self-perpetuating audience for your message with the ultimate goal of increasing sales.  Viral marketing often includes a component of elitism – being “in the know” or part of a select group, with all the privileges and bragging rights that accompany membership.

Ralphie Parker in A Christmas StoryA classic example of the Viral Marketing process can be seen in (arguably) one of the greatest holiday movies of all time – A Christmas Story.  Young Ralphie Parker, the film’s main character, listens religiously to the Little Orphan Annie radio program (social network of that era) and is desperate to become part of her Secret Circle (elitist group) and receive his long-awaited decoder pin, which he can then use to decrypt coded messages (vehicle of generating buzz) which are broadcast at the conclusion of each episode.  The pin finally arrives and, filled with nervous anticipation, he is able to at last decode the cryptic communication from Annie, which he then reads with breathless excitement: “Always drink your Ovaltine.”  Viral Marketing at it’s finest.  Of course, 10 year-old Ralphie’s response is less than enthusiastic and generates one of my favorite lines from the film: “A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!”  

Of course, techniques have been upgraded as technology has improved.  Recent endeavors into viral marketing can be quite complex involving long-running campaigns that work across multiple media channels and take advantage of social trends and opinions.  For example, the band Nine Inch Nails embarked on a Viral Marketing adventure in 2007 when preparing for release of their album, The Year Zero.  The campaign started with a tour t-shirt that contained a hidden web URL.  The website at that URL contained information about a fictitious drug called Parepin and an associated government conspiracy.  Thus began a long trial of hidden clues which attracted a growing throng of followers to this ARG (Alternate Reality Game – a particular form of viral marketing). Fake websites, “leaked” info on usb flash drives found around the world, tour buttons with hidden messages and a hotline phone number combined to an exciting virtual (and viral) adventure.  Along the trail, followers were treated to free music tracks from the then upcoming album as well as experiencing the thrill of the race to discover and decrypt clues.

Another ARG example I got sucked into this past year was the Secret Device.  The flash-based website featured an other-worldly mechanical object with a combination lock.  Participants were challenged to find meaning in this puzzle and follow a series of successive clues that would allow them to unlock the combinations and proceed from one step to the next.  After each combination was found, additional clues were revealed along with an unfolding story line about a mysterious organization and mythical creatures.   Online groups of participants popped up by the dozens, each having hundreds or thousands of followers.  Players in these groups collaboratively scoured the web for combinations and were directed by the interconnected clues to news stories, photos, emails, online videos and forums.  Online social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube were all heavily utilized.  The months-long game was a wild ride, and competition was fast and furious to solve the next piece of the puzzle.  Small rewards were doled out throughout the course of the game with the promise of more to come. 

With almost zero dollars spent on traditional advertising vehicles, the Secret Device captured a rapt and attentive audience eagerly awaiting the final resolution of the game.  It clearly demonstrated how a viral campaign is able to create a huge buzz, a self-perpetuating sense of interest and brand awareness.

When the last clue was deciphered and the last puzzle was cracked, devoted participants of the Secret Device were finally treated to the prize – the great and secret end result to all their months of hard work:  A video trailer for the upcoming movie Hellboy II – The Golden Army.  In other words, a crummy commercial.

Son of a bitch.

Chris Griffin
Assoc Creative Director
Strategic Insights

Home Improvement for the Holidays

Can it be possible the poor economic outlook and the overwhelming trend toward personal budget tightening will accomplish what I thought nigh impossible – what my wife and I have battled with year in, year out for the past decade?  Will this be triumphant holiday season when my in-laws finally acknowledge that we don’t need the towering mountain of well-intentioned but largely useless heap of Christmas presents they drop-ship to our family each year?  Will we finally escape the endless parade of awkward and begrudging  “thank-you”s and the purposefully intense “you REALLY shouldn’t have”s after each unwanted gift?

By God, I think we might.

This is the year that we convinced our in-laws that instead of the usual cavalcade of gifts, a single gift of a Home Depot gift card for various home repair and improvement projects would be most appreciated.

Further, I’ll take this opportunity to claim the title of trend-setter in this regard, as many of our friends and acquaintances have rallied around this pragmatic approach to the impending holiday.  In an informal poll of friends and acquaintances, we have found that a majority of them are forgoing large gift purchases for each other and instead  favoring home improvement items.  Rather than extravagant and excessive electronics or ostentatious ornamentation, the couples we know are electing instead to give each other the gift of new carpeting.  Or a replacement set of tires.  Or a much-needed furnace repair.  

The latest HD TVs or Blu-Ray disc players are being passed up in favor of more practical car repairs and vacuum cleaners.  This year, it seems (at least to those near and dear to me) that I WANT is taking a back seat to I NEED.

And advertisers seem to know it.

As Marie mentions in her Cyber Monday post, retailers are coming across as desperate.  Further, according this article about 2008 Holiday Spending, the latest Gallup polls report that 46% of American consumers say they will be spending less this year and the projected per-person holiday spending budget is a mere $616 – down $250 from previous years and the lowest figure in the 10 year history of tracking this measurement.

So in the face of a trend toward practical purchases and reduced overall spending, retailers may find themselves competing against each other for a small piece of an even smaller pie.  Will that mean outlandish offers and deep discounts?  Or a stick-to-our-guns attitude and a substantially reduced bottom line?  A mere two weeks will tell the tale.

In the meantime, in lieu of romantic gifts for each other, my wife and I will be shopping for a new mattress to replace our worn bed, while visions of a buyers’ market dance in our heads.

Chris Griffin
Assoc Creative Director
Strategic Insights



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