The Best Digital Marketing On The Web

August 27, 2010

(This is NOT a sponsored post. I did not receive any kind of payment for this.)

Did you know that is currently doing some of the most creative, innovative, and spreadable digital marketing on the web right now?

On July 13, 2010 I received this email:

from Vivian Harcourt
date Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 2:03 PM
subject Content contribution.

Vivian Here,

I’m with a company that makes and distributes infographics. I was wondering if you’d be interested in posting our infographics and we’ll pay you $10 for each infographic you post.

Here are some of the works we’ve done with other blogs:

I could send you 3 a week. We’ll provide you content as well as pay you. All you would have to do is link us when you have uploaded, and provide us with your paypal and we submit payment.

What do you think?

Much Appreciated,

Hrm? A little suspicious, isn’t it? I don’t receive many soliciting emails for my blog, and more importantly I never reply because I don’t do advertising. This one was intriguing, though.

It turns out that this was a solicitation for a very special kind of banner add. One that would appear as a compelling piece of content, presented directly inline with your original blog content, but would link back to the advertiser’s site – Advertising disguised as content.

I visited the links and immediately recognized the work. You probably will, too. These fun and well-designed infographics have been popping up all over some of the most popular sites on the web.

What do you think? Is this a smart strategy for earning a lot of impressions and clicks for a very low cost? Or is this a shameful bait and switch by the publisher on its readers? Or both?

Mashable, iPod Revolution, May 5, 2010

Urlesque, Rickroll, June 1, 2010

Buzzfeed, History of Memes, August 26, 2010

And I’m sure you’ve seen others like this.

So what do you think? Is this a clever new kind of online advertising? Should we all be trying strategies like this? Is it unethical for publishers to use these graphics without explicitly labeling them as sponsored content?

Let me hear it in the comments.


SXSW 2011 – Thunderdome 2: Electric Bugaloo

August 23, 2010

This is the last week for voting on panel submissions for SXSW 2011. Bud Caddell and I would like your vote – Community Thunderdome: Branded vs. Unbranded, You Decide.

Of course we’re not the only ones who are hoping to make it to Austin next March. Here are a few from my colleagues at Undercurrent, friends from The Bucket Brigade, and other internet and blogger friends. There’s a ton of very smart people and exciting ideas in here, and I really hope that I’ll get to hear them all present in Austin. Please vote for them, and hopefully we’ll get to make the trip together. (and take over the universe in the process : )

And, of course, Community Thunderdome: Branded vs. Unbranded, You Decide.

I’m sure that there are other good submissions that I’ve left out. Feel free to add them in the comments.

Thank you to everyone who’s voting, and good luck!

SXSW 2011: Back To The Thunderdome

August 16, 2010

Hey, man, we’re, like, gettin’ the band back together!

Please vote for our panel submission for SXSWi 2011 – Community Thunderdome: Branded vs. Unbranded, You Decide.

Bud Caddell and I are hoping to return to Austin next year, to share with you the sequal to our 2010 panel: Web Video Thunderdome.

Last year’s panel was very well received. We were even fortunate enough to be ranked 15th overall in attendee satisfaction according to the feedback cards.

Bud and I have been doing a ton of thinking and work around how to engage crowds and communities in meaningful new ways, and we think that this will be a hot topic for 2011.

Panel Description:

Mike Arauz and Bud Caddell had so much fun at SXSWi 2010 comparing branded vs. unbranded web video, we want to return in 2011 to look at the latest pressing challenge for brands: how do we work with a community? In a digital world, the effectiveness of our marketing efforts depends on our ability to engage and empower a network of individuals connected by a shared interest. Brands today must learn how to harness crowds and collaborate with communities to find meaning within culture, to market products, and simply to make money. Who’s doing it the best and how do you judge that sort of thing? We’ll look in depth at examples from the last 6 months and break down how brands did it, how people participated, and what was accomplished. We’ll split the programs into categories and the SXSWi attendees will vote on who did it best.

Questions We’ll Answer:

  1. Who had the most successful consumer engagement program this year?
  2. Why was it so successful?
  3. What can we learn from it?
  4. What are the key principles of organizing collective action?
  5. What can I do to make this part of my work?

Please vote for our panel submission for SXSWi 2011 – Community Thunderdome: Branded vs. Unbranded, You Decide.

There are also a ton of other exciting panel submissions from many friends and colleagues. I want to give everyone a fair plug, so I’m going to break up those over a couple separate posts.

Please help us spread the word! Click here to share the panel page with your Twitter followers: “Vote for @mikearauz and @bud_caddell panel – Community Thunderdome for SXSWi 2011!”

The Ethics of Online Secrecy

August 10, 2010

facebook privacy ethics rights

Do we have the right to observe others without their knowledge?

Fifty years before Facebook came along this question would have been a much easier to answer. The answer would have been a quick “No. Of course not.”

In the physical world, this point of view still holds true. We don’t assume it’s our right to follow someone around town, hiding behind trashcans and bushes to mask our presence. But how does this point of view shift when we get on the web?

Recently, my girlfriend introduced me to a fascinating debate currently underway in a relatively small niche social network / blogging platform. It’s a closed system composed of mostly alumnae of the same university, and each person has a profile to which they can publish any length of text, including links, pics, and videos. Very much like any blog, except a bit more like LiveJournal in its closed-off-ness and how the posts tend to be very referential to each other in more of an ongoing community dialogue than just a collection of personal commentary.

Historically this platform has had a function available that enables users to see who is reading whose profiles; i.e. if I opted in to this feature, other users would be able to see that I had read their profile, and I would be able to see which users were reading my profile. But, this is a strictly opt-in two-way feature. Only the people who have opted in can be seen by others.

Not at all unlike Facebook, some people prefer to read other profiles anonymously, without the performer knowing that they are out there in the audience.

But, a few weeks ago, one of the super-admins floated the idea of automatically opting everyone in – by default – to the non-anonymous version of the system. In other words, everyone would be able to see everyone who had visited their profile, and no one would  be able to visit anyone else’s profile without that person knowing.

As you might guess, not everyone was comfortable with this situation. Imagine if one day Facebook announced that they had changed the rules, and suddenly we each had a Visitor Reports page that listed which other users had checked out our profile recently, what they checked out, and how frequently they visited. For an instant it might be awesome…before we quickly realized that everyone else had it, too. Suddenly all of our exes, first-grade crushes, ex-friends, workplace crushes, arch nemesis and mortal enemies, and all the other people we keep tabs on would see that we had been visiting their profile. I suspect we’d see a previously unimagined level of outrage from the Facebook user community.

Which leads me in a very round-about way (Forgive me. You take two months off from blogging, and it takes a little time to get back in shape.) to my original question:  Do we have the right to observe others without their knowledge? The scenario above, and imagining how it would be treated within Facebook, leads me to answer emphatically, “Yes. Absolutely. …on the web.”

What is it about the web that flips this long-held social norm on its head? Why do we guard our browsing habits so closely? Why are we scared of what Google might have to share about us? Why do we feel that it’s our right to look at someone’s Facebook photos without them knowing?

Comments very welcome.

Gone Fishin’

June 11, 2010

I’m going to be on vacation until June 22nd. And in my universe, that means no blogging.

But, I promise to return with a refreshed brain and plenty of new inspiration.

In the meantime, check out my brilliant colleagues at Undercurrent.

(And don’t forget, today’s #makeachartday!)

The Tenets of Digital Strategy

June 8, 2010

Mike Arauz - Tenets of Digital Strategy

(click for full-size image)

I’ve been kicking these around for a little while. Would love to hear what you think.

Process should be…

Integrated – an ongoing part of the design process, not just the beginning


Iterative – continually tested and readjusted based on observed interaction

Experiences should be…

Self-sustaining – powered by the interaction and social engagement they create, not by paid advertising and PR


Mutually Beneficial – serve the needs and satisfy the values of both the brand and the people with whom the brand wants to connect

One more thing…

Design for Networks

The effectiveness of our work is dependent on our ability to engage and empower networks of people connected by shared interests.

Community Centered Collective Action Design Framework

June 3, 2010

In order to get any group of people to work together towards a common goal, you need to find the answers to these questions:

  • What do you want people to do?
  • How will they do it?
  • Who do you want to participate?
  • Why will these people participate?

This should be the starting mindset for any brand or anyone designing experiences that are intended to engage a community of likeminded people.

When brands attempt to work with groups of individuals outside the brand, i.e. consumers – or as I prefer to call them: people – things start to get a little bit more complicated.

Too often, what brands set out to accomplish is out of whack with what any group of people outside the brand would be interested in.

Brands need a method for aligning what’s important to the brand with what’s important to the community of potential participants.

(Click for full-size image)

This approach has four parts, which synch with our guiding questions of Who, What, How, and Why.

What is the shared interest that brings these people together and defines their collective identity? (Hint: the answer is not “our brand”)

What is an aspect of our world that this community would be inspired to help change? (Hint: it can be big or small, as long as it’s a specific outcome that is inspiring to the community)

What are the beliefs that guide this community’s decisions? (Hint: look at the kinds of information that strengthen bonds between members and gives members status within the group)

What are the common modes of interaction and communication within the community? (Hint: pay closer attention to what people do, than to the platforms that enable it)

Once you’ve developed a deep and comprehensive understanding of the network of people you want to work with, you’re ready to begin building the experience.

At MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, researchers Thomas W. Malone, Robert Laubacher, Chrysanthos Dellarocas, and Greg Little, have spent the last four years analyzing examples of collective intelligence enabled by the internet, and have developed a model they call The Collective Intelligence Genome (I highly recommend that you download and read the full paper available here.)

(Click for full-size image)

I’ve adapted their model slightly to be a bit more suited to marketing. I’ve renamed the four pillars: Goal, Participants, Tools/Methods, and Motivations. And I’ve expanded their list of Why genes beyond just Money, Love, and Glory in order to encourage a more holistic approach to thinking about what a community will find compelling. The Motivation genes I list were adapted from Jane McGonigal’s research on why people play games, and Daren C. Brabham’s research on the Threadless community.

Goal: What specific collective action is the group contributing to?

  • Create – the group needs to create something new
  • Decide – the group needs to choose

Participants: Who is the group of people who will be working together?

  • Crowd – a loosely organized, widely distributed group of people, typically unrestrained by place or time
  • Hierarchy – a group organized by a management structure, with specific roles and responsibilities for each participant

Motivations: Why will each person within this network be compelled to participate?

  • Money – in exchange for a monetary reward
  • Glory – for the opportunity to gain public recognition
  • Expertise – to hone their skills and get better at what they do
  • Social – to spend time with people they like
  • Satisfying work – the feeling of accomplishing meaningful tasks
  • Be part of something bigger – the sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves
  • Personal passion – because this is something that they love to do

Tools/Methods: How will the group be enabled to participate?

(Tools/Methods: Create)

  • Collection – each participant contributes in small pieces on their own
  • Contest – used when there is a limit on how much needs to be created
  • Collaboration – used when individual contributions necessarily affect each other

(Tools/Methods: Decide – Group Decisions)

  • Voting – each participant votes for their favorite choice, most votes wins
  • Averaging – each participant rates independently, and the aggregate ratings are averaged for a final rating
  • Consensus – participants engage in direct dialogue with each other to agree on a precise outcome
  • Prediction Market – participants place bets on what they expect to happen

(Tools/Methods: Decide – Individual Decisions)

  • Market – participants spend money to express their choices
  • Social Network – participants trade in social currency to guide and express their choices

These elements, or genes, can be thought of as ingredients to be mixed and matched in endless combinations to create experiences suited to different needs and project exigencies.

Our powers combined… we end up with an actionable framework for designing experiences to catalyze collective action among a network of individuals connected by a common interest, aligned with the interest of the brand, that looks something like this:

(Click for full-size image)

Thank you for making it to the end. You’ve just earned 1,000 Bonus points for determination!

This is still a work in progress. Comments are very welcome. What are example of this that you’ve seen or built yourself? What questions arise as you attempt to put this into action? What other thoughts can you share?

Presentation: Design For Networks

June 1, 2010

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of visiting Bend, OR and speaking to the wonderful folks at Ad Fed of Central Oregon. I spoke about the importance of designing experiences for networks of connected people instead of just for groups of individuals.

In this presentation I discuss why I think this is important, what are some things you should know about empowering people to share, cooperate, and organize collective action, and a few examples from work we’ve been doing at Undercurrent and other brands.

View or download on Slideshare

Watch the video recorded live of me presenting, produced by Pinnacle Media.

The last section is a practical framework I’ve been developing for engaging a community to work towards a shared outcome. The framework combines The Collective Intelligence Genome from the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT (highly recommend that you go read this paper) with a lens for aligning brand intention with a cultural understanding of the community.

(Click for full-size image)

I’ll be revisiting this framework in another post later this week, but I’d love to hear your initial impressions of it, and questions that it raises for you. Comments welcome.

One-to-Some: A New Mode of Communication

May 20, 2010

This is not a post about Facebook; plenty of thoughtful folks have already covered it, danah boydTim @ Made By Many, and Gavin Heaton to name a few, and I agree with pretty much everything they’ve written. This post is about the future of communication.

We’ve had one-to-one communication forever. Mass-media created a revolution in one-to-many communication. And the internet has shown us the power and possibility of many-to-many communication. We are slowly starting to see the formation of a new kind of communication, which – for lack of a better term – I’m calling one-to-some communication.

The promise of the social web is a fundamentally new form of communication in which each of us can move fluidly between one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many communication with each bit of information we share.

Imagine the drawing above scaled to thousands of connections, within an endless network of other thousands of connections. All constantly adapting intelligently to the information that is being passed.

As our connections to each other become constant and pervasive, the ability to dynamically access different groups of people from our network and seamlessly control the information we pass on to them on the fly, will create a radical transformation in our society’s relationship to information.

We’ve already seen a glimpse of it on Twitter. Look at how information spreads through Twitter. It spreads faster, to more people, and more efficiently to the people who consider the information relevant to their interests, than any method of communication we’ve ever seen.

Here’s how I define social media: the enhanced experience of all media in the context of a self-authored digital network of personal relationships, i.e. a Social Network.

Consider how we currently pass information through our networks. Information comes in to us from any of the hundred or even thousands of sources that we continually monitor across multiple channels, and some of it is deemed worth passing on to other people we’re connected to through digital technology. Sometimes we may only want to share it with one person and we turn to email or perhaps IM. Sometimes we want to share it with a small group and we turn to a group email, or a closed forum or message board, or even a closed chat room. Sometimes we want to share it with a broader audience, and we use tools like Twitter or Tumblr. Sometimes we’re not really interested in who we’re sharing it with, but we appreciate the added value we can create by sharing in a public place like Delicious, Reddit, or Digg. We may want to add our own opinion and share it with the world, and we use our blog or maybe another medium like photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube.

Our ability to control who we share things with in this scenario is a complete mess. There are massive redundancies, as connections are repeated and reestablished on each platform, and through different means. And often the method that’s most convenient for us to send information out is not the preferred method for someone else to receive the information, so the communication fails. And most importantly, we have no good, clear, reliable way to even see what our entire network looks like. We don’t even really know who we’re connected to.

Now imagine that just as there is a standardized method of publishing information, i.e. the internet, there was a standardized method of managing our network. If there was a universal open standard for our identity (which has been toyed with, but not widely adopted yet) and for our connections, then the world of developers could begin building all kinds of ways to help us understand and navigate our constantly changing networks.

In our existing digital world, moving information from Point A to Point B is easy. The internet has done a fantastic job of creating an open and adaptable system on which brilliant people have developed a zillion different ways to share information.

As the social web matures, the challenge we face is no longer how to share information more easily, but rather how can I more easily control whom I share information with.

This is the need we have that Facebook should be addressing. We don’t need their help to share information. We need help managing our connections and how we control the flow of information through that network. Ironically Facebook is in a commanding position to lead and dominate this crucial emerging service need, and, yet, it’s the aspect of their service that they’ve either done poorly or actively avoided.

As David Weinberger put it:

The social networking site that will do for the connections among people what the Web has done for the connections among sites is awaiting its own Tim Berners-Lee.

Designing For Networks

May 18, 2010

If you  only use the internet in order to raise awareness, and perhaps to influence perception, then you are missing out on what the web was made for: to enable large networks of people to come together for effective purposes through sharing, cooperating, and organizing collective action.

Next Thursday, May 27th, I’ll be speaking at AdBite in Bend, OR (get info and tix here).

The subject of my talk will be Designing for Networks. In a digital world, the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is dependent on your ability to engage and empower a network of individuals connected by a shared interest.

It is time for marketers to stop thinking of consumers simply as groups of individuals, and to start thinking of the people they hope to connect with as a powerful network tied together by shared goals and aspirations. It is the marketers job to figure out how the brand can support and work together with this human organization to create an experience that is mutually beneficial to both the brand’s business objectives and the desires of the network.

Throughout the history of traditional advertising all most marketers could hope to accomplish was to capture a consumer’s attention. If you were particularly lucky or talented you might persuade a consumer to favorably consider the product or service you were trying to sell. These accomplishments, necessary as they may be, were limited by the capabilities of the media used to deliver the messages. As marketers transitioned their practices to the Internet, they brought all of their same assumptions and limited vision with them to this revolutionary new medium. For over a decade now, most marketers have yet to see beyond the boundaries of traditional advertising, and have only focused their online efforts on capturing attention, influencing perception, and occasionally gathering especially loyal customers.

During the same time period, digital technology has invaded every corner of our lives. It has become an integral aspect of how we access information, how we communicate, how we entertain ourselves, how we document our lives, and how we organize collective action. The Internet has fundamentally altered not only how we behave, but even how we see ourselves as a society. As Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, said at MIT’s Futures of Entertainment Conference in November 2008, “the increasingly widespread practice of people coming together for effective purposes” is changing how audiences or crowds perceive themselves and what they’re capable of. Consider how a generation of people who have grown up taking Google, Linux, and Wikipedia for granted see themselves differently. They recognize the power in many people coming together, each making small contributions, and the potential of their collective work adding up to something huge and meaningful.

In his 2008 book Here Comes EverybodyClay Shirky argues that while more familiar technological advances like the printing press, telephones, radio and TV enabled revolutions in one-to-one and one-to-many communication, digital technology has created a revolution in many-to-many communication. This means that groups of individuals are coming together to share, cooperate, and even to organize collective action in ways we’ve never imagined before.

Consider this a call to action, and a strong warning. Getting consumers’ attention, changing opinion, and even managing relationships is only the tip of the iceberg. Digital technology has created an incredible opportunity: the ability to collaborate with a powerful legion of people waiting for the tools to empower them to realize a shared vision.