Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My beef with Twitter

The news that 60% of Twitter users ditch the site within their first month of membership comes as no surprise. Why? Simple: because most people are too lazy to use it.

While Facebooking or MySpacing requires little effort, Twittering requires frequent upkeep if you're going to use it the right way. Some people log into Facebook daily. Others less so. The point being that Facebook serves its purpose regardless of your frequency of use. Twitter, on the other hand, needs constant attention to work effectively.

I've read countless articles about Twitter's effectiveness as a business development tool for executives. But I keep going back to the central question of how business execs are able to effectively use Twitter while simultaneously running a business, tending to clients, working with staff, etc. Does this seem paradoxical to anyone else? Did an extra half-hour get tacked onto the workday that I don't know about? Would Twitter stand a chance in a better economy, or is it prospering today because businesspeople have too much time on their hands?
On that note, back to work...


Many on Twitter are quick quitters, finds study
More than 60 percent stopped using the free site a month after joining

SYDNEY - Today's Twitter users are often tomorrow's quitters, according to data that questions the long-term success of the latest social networking sensation used by celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Britney Spears.

Data from Nielsen Online, which measures Internet traffic, found that more than 60 percent of Twitter users stopped using the free social networking site a month after joining

"Twitter's audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month's users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent," David Martin, Nielsen Online's vice president of primary research, said in a statement.

"For most of the past 12 months, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30 percent retention."

San Francisco-based Twitter was created three years ago as an Internet-based service that could allow people to follow the 140-character messages or "tweets" of friends and celebrities which could be sent to computer screens or mobile devices.

But it has enjoyed a recent explosion in popularity on the back of celebrities such as actor Ashton Kutcher and U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey singing its praises and sending out "tweets" which can alert readers to breaking news or the sender's sometimes mundane activities.
President Barack Obama used Twitter during last year's campaign and other prominent celebrities on Twitter include basketballer Shaquille O'Neal and singers Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.

Twitter, as a private company, does not disclose the number of its users but according to Nielsen Online, Twitter's website had more than 7 million unique visitors in February this year compared to 475,000 in February a year ago.

But Martin said a retention rate of 40 percent will limit a site's growth to a 10 percent reach figure over the longer term.

"There simply aren't enough new users to make up for defecting ones after a certain point," he said in a statement.

Martin said Facebook and MySpace, the more established social network sites, enjoyed retention rates that were twice as high and those rates only rose when they went through their explosive growth phases.

Both currently have retention rates of about 70 percent with Facebook having about 200 million users.

"Twitter has enjoyed a nice ride over the last few months, but it will not be able to sustain its meteoric rise without establishing a higher level of user loyalty," said Martin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A downside to dialogue? Seriously?

For comparative shoppers, online reviews are a blessing. They're free, they're plentiful, and in most cases, they're brutally honest. For my part, I rarely make an online purchase, book a hotel room, or choose a seat on a flight before running point with,, or

Despite the usefulness of these sites, I've long been frustrated by the bias inherent in a one-sided forum for debate. And on the Internet of all places?

It's nice to see take the lead in giving businesses a voice; one of the best things about the Internet community is its ability (willingness?) to self-correct. I hope other sites follow suit. Online back-and-forths could prove to be a powerful marketing tool for businesses.


Yelp lets business owners talk back. Dialogue or argument?
The popular online consumer-review website will allow business owners to respond to negative reviews.

San Francisco

They’ve criticized his coffee – it’s “burnt” – and condemned his chai tea – “downright terrible.”

Like many of the small businesses critiqued on Yelp, the increasingly popular online review site, Aziz Benarafa’s Progressive Grounds Coffee Shop has been voiceless in the face of cutting comments from a few unhappy customers.

But soon Mr. Benarafa, and other small-business owners reviewed on the site, will be given a chance to defend themselves against the often harsh criticism from Yelpers, as the cadre of influential reviewers are called.

The move to let businesses respond to review has been met with both applause – mostly from businesses – and some hesitation from loyal Yelpers who fear the consumer site will lose its bite.
More broadly, this could mean that business getting its say is the way of the future for websites that began as grassroots resources for consumers.

“All along we’ve been thinking about the business end because it’s an obvious part of this discussion,” says Stephanie Ichinose, Yelp’s spokeswoman. “We kept hearing that businesses wanted a public way to respond to reviews.”

But, she says, “We are very careful because it could become a shouting match.”

Yelp set out in October 2004 to become the destination for consumers to hear from other consumers about local businesses. As it grew in popularity and influence – about 20 million visitors look up businesses monthly – some scorned businesses began to complain. They wanted a chance to respond to negative reviews or correct the record.

On Thursday, Yelp sent a message to its most active reviewers, the Yelp Elite, about the move to give business owners a more prominent voice on the site. Yelp wanted feedback from loyal reviewers before the plan goes live, says Ms. Ichinose. She expects the new feature to be active in about a week.

Businesses have been able to privately e-mail reviewers, post basic information about themselves, and to even sponsor their Yelp review pages. Yelp insists that when a business becomes a sponsor, it’s still at risk of having bad reviews show up on the site.

Will other popular user-generated sites follow? Rob Enderle, a Silicon Valley technology analyst, doesn’t think so. “You want accuracy, you want a vetting process,” he says, pointing out that rival businesses sometimes plant negative comments. But, he adds, “You don’t necessarily want to see an argument.”

He worries that while Yelp’s move might be attractive to vendors, it might turn off users who are just looking for frank reviews.

“It sounds like a good idea,” he says, but in the end it may look like either the reviewer or the business owner is wrong. That can be confusing for the user, and would only make the site, Yelp in this case, lose some credibility, he says.

As for Benarafa, he’s happy to have the chance to defend his San Francisco coffee shop. Progressive Grounds Coffee Shop has done fairly well by Yelp standards – with 104 reviews it has garnered a 3.5 out of 5 star rating.

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” he says. “Why not? It just takes a few minutes and if I see something I don’t like, I’ll respond.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Shocking Moment

Don't want to harp on this Frost/Nixon thing, but I think we witnessed the financial sector equivalent of the landmark 1977 interview last night.

Check this video out, courtesy of Comedy Central. Skip to 5:30 for the start of the interview. I was shocked when watching this, and not because of Stewart's language or Cramer's embarrassing blank stares. I was shocked because we've never seen this John Stewart before. He was Russert-esque at a time when our country needed it most. Kudos to John Stewart:

With print media struggling, TV and Online news sources will battle for market share. Many studies show that young people in particular prefer online news (probably because it is on-demand). But young people also like drama and online media just can't deliver the sort of drama we saw last night. The bottom line: I believe TV will become just as important a source of news consumption as it was in the 1960's.

But in the end, the fact is that this video will live forever online. The Internet serves as an archive for the ages. 20 years from now, financial classes around the world will watch this video when studying what fueled this fire.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

David Frost Would've Been Proud

Saw Frost/Nixon over the weekend. Terrific flick - I highly recommend it. But what struck me most was what the film was not about. Going in, I was anticipating an in-depth look at the Frost/Nixon interviews - the preparations, public reaction, etc.

As it turned out, the movie is far less about the interviews themselves, and far more about the power of television. Just as he demonstrated in his shaky debate performance in 1960, President Nixon was no match for an opponent who understood the medium of television. In '60, it was JFK. In '77, it was David Frost. Nixon lost both times. Badly.

So, watching President Obama's press conference tonight, I couldn't help but recognize that BHO understands the power of TV. Not necessarily in the oratory sense - so far, the President's prepared speeches have translated far better than his 0ff-the-cuff remarks - but rather on a macro/strategic level. Going into tonight, he knew that he had one chance to sell his stimulus package.

Rather than wasting hours twisting arms on Capitol Hill, BHO took his case to the airwaves. He bypassed the 100 senators who will actually vote on this bill in favor of the 40 million people who watched him speak tonight.

That's television.


Saturday, February 7, 2009


A note to all our Twittering friends out there: we love ya, but when on classified government business in a war-torn country, it's probably best to abstain from disclosing your whereabouts to the world.

Well, at least he's not on the Intellegence Committee.
Oh, wait...


A congressional trip to Iraq this weekend was supposed to be a secret.

But the cat’s out of the bag now, thanks to a member of the House Intelligence Committee who broke an embargo via Twitter.

A delegation led by House Minority Leader
John A.[Photo] Boehner , R-Ohio, arrived in Iraq earlier today, and because of Rep. Peter Hoekstra , R-Mich., the entire world — or at least readers—now know they’re there.

“Just landed in Baghdad,” messaged Hoekstra, a former chairman of the Intelligence panel and now the ranking member, who is routinely entrusted to keep some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

Before the delegation left Washington, they were advised to keep the trip to themselves for security reasons. A few media outlets, including Congressional Quarterly, learned about it, but agreed not to disclose anything until the delegation had left Iraq.

Nobody expected, though, that a lawmaker with such an extensive national security background would be the first to break the silence. And in such a big way.

Not only did Hoekstra reveal the existence of the lawmakers’ trip, but included details about their itinerary in updates posted every few hours on his Twitter page, until he suddenly stopped, for some reason, on Friday morning.

Since it’s already a matter of public record, here are some of Hoekstra’s twitter dispatches, typos and all, delivered in just 140 characters or less: “On the way to Andrews Air Force base.12 hour flight to mid east. Be back on Mon instead of tues. Votes mon. I’ll keep you posted,” he wrote on Feb. 4.

In his last dispatch today, he wrote: “Moved into green zone by helicopter Iraqi flag now over palace. Headed to new US embassy Appears calmer less chaotic than previous here [sic].”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

All the news that's fit to post

I just discovered the "Talk to the Newsroom" portal on the New York Times website. Very cool. A great example of how the world's leading news outlet has embraced new media and - in the process - is confronting some important questions about the newspaper industry head-on (see the first question and answer below). But what's most telling about this Q&A session is the extent to which the Times goes beyond reporting news by actually gathering news. In my own research, I've come across almost a dozen reporters who have filed stories from Baghdad in the past couple of months. That's journalism.


Talk to the Newsroom: Jill Abramson, Managing Editor

Jill Abramson, managing editor of The Times, answered questions from readers Jan. 5-9, 2009. Ms. Abramson was appointed managing editor in 2003 after serving as Washington bureau chief. She joined the newspaper in 1997. Previously, she was an editor and investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal. She is a graduate of Harvard College and co-author of two books: "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas" and "Where They Are Now."

Could The Times Become Simply a Curator?
Q. Should The New New York Times evolve from being primarily a content creator to being primarily a curator of vastly proliferating online content? Many undiscovered yet high-quality blogs exist on the Internet. Those blogs could feed content to The Times at virtually no cost, while wire services such as The Associated Press could provide basic news. The New York Times could retain a small staff of editors and writers to fill any gaps. Is this a realistic prospect?
— John Mihaljevic, New York

A. Certainly, I agree with you that there are many high-quality blogs and other news content on the Internet. If you look at The Times's alternative home page, Times Extra, you will see that we do curate some of the best material from other sites and sources and that we actively guide our readers to this material. Our opinion editors curate material and commentary from some of the smartest blogs and cite them on The Opinionator, which is another way The Times serves as a curator of non-Times content. There are plenty of other examples, too.

We not only view ourselves as curators but also as convenors, and we are about to launch a new venture on, jointly managed by editors from the news and opinion sides of The Times, to include more outside commentary on the news by various experts. Broadening the ways in which we can convene and curate the best journalism and the most intelligent conversation about it is very much part of our core mission, and we are constantly adding new material to our Web site.

However, none of this is a replacement for our news-gathering. Sure, there are other news organizations that gather the news, but few that consistently meet The Times's standards of excellence. Last week, our business section included an article about news organizations retreating from coverage of Iraq. The Times believes the story is still unfolding and remains vitally important. So we maintain a fully staffed news bureau, at great expense, in Baghdad. We know our readers expect first-class international coverage from The Times and deserve Iraq coverage that includes all of the angles, from the challenges to the United States military, to the complex politics of the country, to the changes in Iraqi society. With other news gatherers retreating, what would happen if The Times left it to others to do the first-hand reporting? We view our work reporting the news around the world, from the China earthquake to the financial meltdown on Wall Street, as a public trust that contributes to an informed society. This will always be journalism's highest calling.

There's more!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Did they get fries with that?

Burger King just launched a new “Whopper Virgins” ad campaign featuring its self-proclaimed “world’s purest taste test.” The test asks indigenous people from the most remote areas of places like Thailand, Romania and Greenland to compare and choose the tastier of the two: a McDonald’s Big Mac or the Burger King Whopper. And while some may say the Burger King Whopper makes for the tastiest meal, I would argue that the corporate giant’s new campaign is just plain tasteless. I will admit, the ads are clever.

But at what cost? This article by Barbara Lippert of AdWeek addresses these sentiments:


Burger King defiles its 'Whopper Virgins' in a tasteless new campaign
from Crispin

Published: December 8, 2008

Crispin Porter + Bogusky might call its new "Whopper Virgins" Burger King campaign the "world's purest taste test." But really, what the agency has expertly concocted is the world's most tasteless

taste test.

You probably already know the story. "To find out about America's favorite burger, we had to leave America," says the copy at The site, and the culturally tone-deaf teaser spots released last week, feature documentary footage of a team trekking by snowshoe and helicopter to find remote populations -- farmers in Transylvania, the Inuit in Greenland, the Hmong tribe of Southeast Asia -- where the indigenous people are, curiously, shown wearing their native dress.

How isolated are they? The Hmong, we're told, "don't even have a word for hamburger." The handpicked "virgins" are not only given their first bites of the mass-produced Whopper sandwich, but they are also asked to ignite their own burger wars by comparing it to McDonald's Big Mac.

I've always maintained that if you really want the inside scoop on the best fast-food burger, you should ask a guy who speaks Hmong Gu Mba.

Really, what does this prove? If your palate is accustomed to local, non-processed, non-trans-fat-filled food, these Whoppers, tasty and addictive though they may be, would be mass-market weapons of intestinal destruction. It's kind of cruel. Also, in proper taste testing of pre-made food, there's so much complicated criteria -- from "mouthfeel" to bun flavor -- that this is like asking someone who's never seen a moving image to be an Emmy judge.

But BK sees a certain purity in this madness. Russ Klein, president of global marketing strategy and innovation, says in the press release: "During a time when consumers are craving it most, honesty and transparency are the heart and soul of this campaign. By embarking on a voyage of this magnitude that held no guarantees and left us open to vulnerabilities, we took a leap of faith that our signature product would win people over at first bite."

See, that's where they get in trouble -- claiming it's transparent. Attention-getting, yes. Diabolically clever, uh-huh. But it's advertising, and there's nothing honest about it.

To begin with, taste tests are great as media magnets and marketing moves, but they're notoriously unscientific as acts of research. I remember a guy who worked on the original Pepsi Challenge telling me that the "subjects," stomping around a mall somewhere and given paper cups filled with dark fluids, most likely couldn't taste the difference between a Pepsi and some lemon Pledge. It was all in the setup.

Second, it's disingenuous. Burger King has already colonized the world with Whoppers -- and carefully considered how to reach every inch of the globe. Yet this campaign pretends as though it hasn't. (It's even an established part of business for franchisees abroad to cater to local tastes -- adding an egg and onions to Whoppers in Israel, for example, or offering beetroot instead of mayo in Australia, and on and on.)

But even more manipulative is that this taste test is presented as a "documentary." That suggests some kind of journalistic endeavor that seeks to unmask hypocrisy or combat ignorance -- neither of which this does. The teasers and early Web videos merely play up the "noble savages" angle -- the virgins who must be Whopperized.

Stacy Peralta, who has made award-winning documentaries, from the skateboarding film Dogtown and Z-Boys to his latest, about gang strife in L.A., has done a brilliant job with the photography here. The National Geographic-caliber pictures of the countryside and the locals in their funny hats are gorgeous. The problem is that the obvious power and beauty of the shots just underscores the frivolity of the underlying strategy of spending millions of dollars in production to deliver burgers to indigenous peoples. (The Hmong are shown being transported to an actual BK restaurant, but how did they get the burgers to the remote locations in Greenland and Romania? We're talking thousand-dollar burgers at the least.)

"Whopper Freakout" was honest and genius because it showed that the absence of the Whopper caused visceral outpourings of grief and loss among passionate customers. This is the opposite: It forces the burger on people who were innocent of its existence.

You do have to give the creative team props for figuring out a way to wrench the Whopper out if its usual context and see it in a fresh way.

My original thought was that these people would probably prefer schools and hospitals to prefab burgers. And in fact, BK has shown some sensitivity in this area. The company says it worked with local authorities after the shoots to make donations to the communities, including educational supplies and children's toys to schools in Thailand and Greenland and funds toward the restoration of a 17th-century church in Romania.

And the post-teaser payoff spots will show delicious moments of humanity, with the locals eating and smiling. So, we see that it's a small world after all.

But guess what? Every time, the virgin in question picks the Whopper! Maybe they should have assembled the testers on a mountaintop in their native garb to sing about it.