Monetising Social Media

Author: Hamish Anderson

The rise and rise of social media platforms has caused much excitement amongst marketers and consumers alike. The ability to reach out and connect with like-minded individuals (as a consumer) or to better communicate and listen to your target audience has proven invaluable to a large number of people and businesses. Consumers now have the ability to share opinions and advice through micro-blogging platforms such as twitter. They can share their location with friends through apps such as Foursquare or can share pictures effortlessly through numerous portals such as Facebook, MySpace or Picasa.

Knowing this, companies have strived to engage their audience using these platforms, providing feedback, answers, conducting competitions and so forth. But where one of the bigger opportunities – in my opinion – has laid dormant is in the use of applications like Foursquare. Whilst Foursquare itself may be able to monetise it’s platform, to date, it has not been easy for companies using the platform to generate solid income from it. And therein lies the problem (for companies on Foursquare or other social platforms).  Sure, companies have used it as a tool for promotions (eg http://mumbrella.com.au/42-below-uses-shaggy-for-one-green-bean-social-media-birthday-chase-34182) or to create ‘loyalty programs’ (http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/12/foursquare-gets-lucky-magazine/), or to stay in touch and have more ‘loyalists’  but no company has been able to monetise it to the advantage of the user and the company.

Enter a relatively new player….ShopKick, which is in its beta phase in America (partnered with Best Buy, Macy’s, American Eagle, Sports Authority and major malls for now). Similar in many ways to Foursquare – in so much as it uses a check-in system – the Shopkick model seeks to:

  • Be a platform for consumers to share (check in locations)
  • Provide benefit to the customer/user through timely presentation of data
  • Give firms/marketers the opportunity to be part of the conversation with marketers.
  • Monetise social media

Shopkick’s aim

According to their own website, “shopkick is the first mobile app that gives you rewards and offers simply for walking into stores. You can collect kickbucks and bonuses at nearly all places around you”.

And looking at the demonstration http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/03/shopkick/ it really does look simple to use and pretty cool. However, unlike Foursquare, which requires you to manually check in to receive points, with Shopkick simply switching on the app and walking into a participating store is enough to start collecting points and receiving specials available in that outlet.

So, as a business you now have the opportunity to install the hardware which will allow you to stream specials to customers and reward them, even if all they do is window shop through your store. Quite cool really. Not only can businesses like Best Buys on-sell advertising space to manufacturers (giving them a revenue stream), but they can have some assurance that those who receive the specials are actively engaged with the messages.

Furthermore, by sending out timely specials, those who have the system installed in their place of work can transmit messages aimed at increasing sales conversion, which could have huge benefits for the shifting of slow moving items, or increasing transactions at slower periods of the day.

Whereto next?

I think Shopkick represents a timely and necessary movement forwards in the monetisation of social media. Whilst there are inevitably some flaws in the model – sharing your status with others – it does seem that there are some serious opportunities as well.

Where I see opportunity for Shopkick is in learning from user behaviour. Users can scan products for further information, can use codes to redeem specials, earn points just by walking into the store etc. Surely Shopkick should gather and harness this information so that into the future they can target promotions, discern penetration figures and improve the process to the point where everyone using the application is receiving information relevant to them. And past this, the ability to perhaps share points with a contact of theirs (truly capitalising on the social media principle) would reap large rewards too. Or to allow customers to provide real time feedback via social media on products so that the store/manufacturers can have the ability to answer concerns, respond or so forth. After all what is social media, if it is not a communication enabler?

At the end of the day however, it is pleasing to see that social media is progressing and that there are some smarts being applied to it. Watch this space to see how this model will progress, or leave a comment if you have some predictions. We welcome your thoughts.

Is Place Search Costing Google Revenue?

Author: Mike Hagley

Over the past week if you’ve carried out a search for a local business or service you may have noticed some changes.  It’s called Place Search, and it’s an interesting move by Google – interesting for a number of reasons.

Google Place Search Screenshot 1

Place Search example: new map preview location

The map preview uses advertising space

Previously, Google would show ‘Local business results’ (and map) within the organic search results.  Now, with Place Search, Google has moved the map preview to the right hand side of the page, chewing up a massive piece of advertising real estate.  The map even follows you as you scroll down the page, covering the ads, showing AdWords advertisers even less respect:

Google Place Search Screenshot 2

Google Place Search example: scrolling map feature

Place page results combined with organic results

As well as a new location for the map preview, Google has added a number of new formats for serving Places listings.  One particular design combines a business’ Place page result with its organic result (along with an image) almost doubling the size of a regular organic result.

Why implement Place Search if it could lead to a reduction in AdWords revenue?

Possibly the answer lies in the rise in the usage of mobile devices for both web searching and social networking applications like Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook’s newest add-on, Places.  Earlier this year, Google reported a 500% increase in mobile search from 2008 until EOY 2009, and an alarming 50M Google Maps for Mobile users.

If we look at a mobile search result, the first two listings are advertising, followed immediately by the Place page results (image 1 below).  Notice that the Place page results are positioned above the organic results.  Conducting this same search on a PC has different results, and it seems that Google are giving a higher weighting to Place results on mobiles than on PC based queries.

Mobile Place Search Screenshot

Mobile Place Search example

OK, but how will Google make up for the lost AdWords revenue you ask?  The next innovation in Google advertising…

Boost Ads

Searchengineland explains Google Boost Ads as ‘automated AdWords for small business’.  Boost Ads are a paid search ad for your Place Page, and it’s currently being testing in a select few cities in the USA.  Businesses will be able to set a monthly budget and Google will automatically select which keywords for which your ad is shown.  Boost Ads will be shown alongside AdWords ads, and are clearly targeted to the small business that isn’t currently advertising on Google.

Boost Ad content

Example of a Boost Ad

So while Google may be losing advertising revenue with Place Search in the interim, I believe it’s a smart move to promote Google Places to small businesses, making it very easy for them to sign up for Boost Ads once available in all locations.

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