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Posts Tagged ‘features’

What Does Web Design Say About Your Small Business?

13 Dec


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

If you’ve ever been horrified by the design of a small or local business website, you’re not alone. There are so many aesthetic travesties out there, and worse, many small businesses still don’t even have a website. One recent study concluded that a paltry 54% of small businesses maintain a home on the web.

Your business doesn’t need an elaborate multimedia site, but you do need an eye-pleasing and informative destination. After all, you wouldn’t (purposefully) hang an ugly sign on your storefront or office. Why would you present an ugly website to your prospects?

With this in mind, we spoke to some professional web designers about their favorite small business websites. They explained why these sites make sense for each company and why the design is an asset to their business.


Make Business Personal at First Click


Go Realty Website

Jacob Gube, a web developer and the founder/chief editor of Six Revisions, looks at North Carolina real estate firm Go Realty’s website as a way to personalize a sometimes impersonal industry.

“They put a great deal of emphasis towards humanizing the process of buying a home,” said Gube. “To most real estate companies, you’re customer record ID #67343, budget range $200,000 to $225,200, but to Go Realty, you’re the Johnsons with a baby girl named Amy. They convey this personality through their site design.”

Gube notes Go Realty’s very welcoming website that puts people first and properties second.

“The home page has a beautiful image slider that flips through photos of the people they’ve dealt with, with short descriptions of their stories. They have a Fan Mail section that flips through messages from happy clients,” said Gube. “When you see all that, as a prospective home buyer and client, you’d think, ‘Wow, these guys will take care of me.’ ”

When it comes to something as personal as purchasing a home, this is a smart design choice. While it may be the inclination of many companies to put products front and center, a page of property listings can be less inviting than a satisfied customer.

“I think for a real estate company, they have a truly unique angle and they have a web design that manages to convey their core message,” Gube noted.


Accentuate Your Products With Complementary Design


Hardgraft Image

Shopping carts and product galleries have become staples of the e-commerce landscape, but that doesn’t mean they have to look stale. If you sell attractive products, make sure they live on an attractive website.

Tim Van Damme, a freelance web developer based in Belgium who knows a thing or two about web aesthetics, cites online retailer Hardgraft as a case study in minimalism and product display.

“Their website is beautifully designed, featuring just a couple of products with large, beautiful photographs. They’re clearly targeting the more fashion-aware web nerds this way,” said Van Damme.

The site sells cases and sleeves for electronics, as well as handbags and wallets. The sleek modern products sit nicely on a clean, modern website. The presentation is complementary, and there’s nothing to distract the eye from the merchandise. A site like this expresses organization and straightforwardness — qualities your customers are always after.

“Their products are pretty expensive, yet every conference I go to I see multiple of them in the audience,” Van Damme noted.


Sell to the Right Consumers, Visually


If you’re targeting a certain customer demographic, good web design can help.

Kelli Shaver, a web app developer who specializes in user interfaces and experiences, points to Gazel, Inc., purveyors of unique, organic bath towels and robes. Its website evokes a sense of luxury that befits the customers who can afford these products.

“Clearly the site is targeting environmentally conscious consumers with expendable incomes and sophisticated tastes,” said Shaver, noting Gazel is not your typical e-commerce website. “The focus seems more on educating customers about the products than simply selling those products. The combined effect of the colors, typography, textures, and photography just feels expensive and high-quality.”

In essence, the site “feels” like the products it’s selling, and that goes a long way toward user experience, according to Shaver.

“Nearly everything about the site is inviting. Rich, warm colors and earth tones give the visitor a feeling of calm,” she said. “The slide show on the landing page, in addition to showcasing some of the company’s product, also brings in a lot of texture.”

The takeaway here should be that if your customers feel at home on your website, they’re more likely to browse and buy. That may seem obvious, but think about who your customers really are as you develop your web presence. Your web designer won’t know this, so be sure to communicate it effectively. The branding payoff can be big.


Informational Sites Don’t Have to Be Boring


SWFWMD Image

If you thought some small business websites were rough, visit a government agency online sometime. They can be notorious for bad design, poor navigation, and a general disinterest in Web 2.0 functionality.

Not so with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, says Chris Coyier, a web designer and blogger at CSS-Tricks.

“The home page is OK, but the site actually gets better and more interesting the deeper you go,” said Coyier, noting the exceptional layout of the recreation page, and the pages for individual locations administered by the department.

“The most important part they got right was thinking about what the mindset of an actual user of the site is like — in this case, me,” said Coyier. “It’s easy to browse by featured locations, type of activity, and specific regions, all of which were of interest to me, so it was fun to click around.”

This site could so easily have gone with black and white bullet lists, but instead went the extra mile to draw the user in with design.

“The aesthetics are totally appropriate for an outdoors kind of site — tans and greens and browns with flourishes of plant life,” said Coyier. “The location-specific pages are amazing. Everything I would want to see: photos, maps, specifics on what you can do, rules, etc. The visuals are great, but the information architecture is the best feature.”


More Business Resources from Mashable:


- 5 Design Trends That Small Businesses Can Use in 2011
- 10 Free WordPress Themes for Small Businesses
- 5 Beautiful Tumblr Themes for Small Businesses
- 10 Free Drupal Themes for Small Business
- 5 Big Social Media Questions from Small Business Owners

Image courtesy of Flickr, Mike Rohde.


Reviews: Flickr

More About: business, design, small business, web design, Web Development

For more Business coverage:

 
 

7 Tips for Succeeding as a Social Media Strategist

08 Dec


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

The role of social media is expanding rapidly and many organizations of all types are trying to stay afloat amidst the changes. Meanwhile, a small group of innovators pulls the industry onward.

In the past few years, the social media marketing role has become increasingly present, leading the way to more strategic social media programs. Enter the social media strategist.

Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst at Altimeter Group, a digital strategy consulting firm, recently spoke at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit about the career path of the corporate social strategist, touching on current responsibilities and challenges, as well as the future of the role. His presentation was based on months of research funded by Altimeter, in which 140 enterprise-class social strategists across various industries were interviewed. Other online sources, such as LinkedIn and blogs, were consulted to gather job descriptions, profile work histories and catalog the ebb and flow of new hires in the social media space.

Owyang presented seven key tips for building a successful social media program and focused on how social media strategists can facilitate those successes. Read his tips below and add your thoughts in the comments.


1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive


Owyang pointed to a funny, but oh-so-true anecdote that happened while he was collecting research for this study. While interviewing a social media strategist, the phone conversation was stopped abruptly as the strategist confessed, “Jeremiah, I’ve gotta go. There are two people standing in front of my office demanding Facebook Pages.” If they didn’t get the Pages, they were going to build them on their own.

While it’s somewhat hilarious to imagine two professionals camping in front of their colleague’s office until they get their doggone Facebook Pages, it’s equally as sad to realize that these instances actually happen in the corporate world. If this is happening in your organization, take a step back, look at the chaos, take a deep breath and then do something about it.

“A proactive mindset is required,” Owyang said. “You cannot wait for the company to catch up to you. You have to go to the business units and tell them what is required [to participate in your company's social media program] before they ask you for a Facebook Page. Make a list of requirements: dialogue, ready for conversations 24/7, ongoing commitment, two-way communications. Make it clear what’s expected, before they ask you.”

Being proactive and having guidelines will help alleviate stressful moments like the one described above, where being reactive is usually status quo.


2. Be a Program Manager, Not Evangelist


As social media programs become more sophisticated, Owyang believes that employees currently in the social media evangelist roles will move on to “the next thing,” evangelizing new technologies. But with an ongoing need for social media programming, a new role for social media program managers will emerge.

“Quickly switch hats,” Owyang advises social media strategists who want to stay relevant to businesses that have evolving needs. “It’s time to take off the evangelism hat and put on the program manager hat. A new skill set is going to be required, and a program manager is responsible for resources, timelines, Gantt charts, ROI models, analytics, data modeling, resource management, project management. It’s a very different skill set than the evangelist role that we’ve seen before.”


3. Educate Your Business Units


“Educate your business units ahead of time, and give them the information that they need,” said Owyang.

He is an advocate of testing employees to measure digital and social media proficiencies, pointing to Intel’s Digital IQ test as a great example of aptitude measurement. “You can take this online test before you participate in social media and become certified in that particular program,” he said. “That’s one of the more advanced programs that we’ve seen.”

In its official Social Media Guidelines, Intel clearly defines Digital IQ training as a responsibility for all employees taking part in social media on behalf of the company.

It’s important to not only lay down guidelines, but to also provide training for employees who want to learn more and get involved in the social media program.


4. Organize for Success


Five ways companies organize their social media teams

During his presentation, Owyang presented five models in which companies organize their social media teams — decentralized, centralized, hub and spoke, dandelion and holistic, as pictured and described above. He highly recommends that social media programs be organized in hub and spoke or dandelion models in order to scale.

In the hub and spoke model, there’s typically a cross-functional team that’s serving multiple business units, with the strategists at the center of the formation — 41% of the organizations that Owyang interviewed fell under this category.

Within large companies with multiple brands or units, such as Microsoft or HP, the dandelion (or “multiple hub and spoke”) model is common, where multiple social media strategists lead individual business areas or brands across the company.

There are three steps necessary in order to reach a hub and spoke or dandelion organization, according to Owyang:

  1. “Set up governance: policies, legal, some executive buy-in.”
  2. “Roll out processes: who does what, where, when and how — a triage system. How does information flow through your company? Publish that diagram on the Internet.”
  3. “Launch an ongoing education program.”

“If you do those three things in that order, it’s very likely your company will form in hub and spoke with you in the hub,” stated Owyang.


5. Be an Enabler


It is unrealistic to think that one strategist can stay at the center of every social media effort or that he or she could even hire enough community managers to stay on top of an entire enterprise’s social activity. In light of that reality, Owyang believes that it is crucial for social media strategists to slip into the mindset of an enabler. He explains:

“Remember, social media does not scale. You cannot manage every social media program, campaign or effort. You now have to become an enabler to teach the business units to do it on their own — that’s the only way you’re going to be able to scale anyway. You become an internal consultant, an internal resource to help the entire business.”


6. Deploy Scalable Social Media Programs


Communities, advocacy programs, social media management systems (like CoTweet and HootSuite), and Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM) — the practice of connecting social networks to your existing CRM system — are all worthwhile social media efforts, according to Owyang, because they are scalable.

“Dialogue does not scale,” Owyang reiterated multiple times. “One-to-one communications does not scale… You can’t possibly do it. What scales? Community programs — getting your customers to do the work for you. Advocacy programs — Microsoft MVP, Intel Insiders, SAP Mentors, Oracle Aces, Walmart Moms — those are advocacy programs, when you take your best customers and you give them a platform and let them do the work for you, and you don’t pay them. Those are scalable programs.”

While it’s important to set up channels for communication with customers, make sure your programs can expand as the company and community grow.


7. Transcend Marketing


The report found that 71% of social media programs fall under the domain of marketing or corporate communications. In order to make an impact, though, Owyang says that social media programs must transcend marketing. Strategists should take note and act accordingly.

“Over time, think about how you can be more than ‘marketing,’” suggests Owyang. “Think about how you can apply [social media] to support and service and the physical, real-world customer experience — and improve products and experiences.”

Owyang’s seven insights into succeeding as a social media strategist should have social media programs shaping up in no time. What would you add to his advice? Let us know in the comments below.

View Jeremiah Owyang’s WOMMA Summit presentation below:


More Business Resources from Mashable:


- HOW TO: Define a Social Media Strategy for Enterprise
- Social Media Success: 5 Lessons From In-House Corporate Teams
- HOW TO: Get the Most Out of a Coworking Space
- How the Fortune 500 Use Social Media to Grow Sales and Revenue
- Beyond Viral: How Successful Marketers Are Embracing the Social Web

Image copyright of Gary Michael and courtesy of WOMMA.


Reviews: CoTweet, Facebook, HootSuite, Internet, LinkedIn, pages

More About: business, corporate social media, Corporate Social Strategist, Jeremiah Owyang, social media, social media strategist, social media strategy

For more Business coverage:

 
 

5 Ways to Sell Your Expertise Online

29 Nov


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

As a small business owner or entrepreneur, the lessons you learn are valuable. Not only will those lessons help you succeed in your core business, but that expertise has value for your peers. Sharing your expertise and becoming a thought leader in your industry can help you to attract new customers and develop lucrative, long-term business relationships.

Beyond that, however, your expertise can also be utilized as a separate revenue stream in its own right. In 2008, the folks at software company 37signals announced that they had turned their expertise into revenue streams worth more than three quarters of a million dollars in just a couple of years. Here are five ways that you can follow in their footsteps and leverage your existing expertise too.


1. Newsletters


You may already have an e-mail newsletter, and it’s probably a great tool for customer retention. There’s a lot of value in being able to reach out to customers with news about your products or services, offer discounts and provide value-added content that keeps people interested. But have you considered offering a more premium, paid newsletter? Whatever your business, you likely have expertise that people will be willing to pay for. Restaurants could offer a monthly newsletter with recipes using seasonal foods, for example, or a gym could offer a weekly newsletter with exercises and tips on staying healthy.

TinyLetter and letter.ly are two new services that allow you to quickly and easily create and sell subscription-based e-mail newsletter.


2. Consulting


The lessons and skills you’ve acquired over the course of building a successful business have immense value to your peers. People will pay for that knowledge if you offer it via a consulting service. While many startups are bootstrapped using funds raised by consulting gigs, it’s unlikely that as a busy small business owner you’ll have the time to put hours into consulting. Still, by setting aside a few hours each week or taking on a couple of consulting clients, you can build a healthy secondary revenue stream and potentially be introduced to unique investment opportunities.

One easy way to sell your advice is Ether. Ether is a web app that provides users with a toll-free 888 telephone number that forwards to your existing phone line. You set when the number is available and how much you want to charge, then you just open for business during your “office hours.”


3. E-Books


E-books are old school and they take a little more upfront investment, but they’re potentially very lucrative. 37signals pulled in $350,000 by selling downloads of its first business advice e-book, Getting Real. People could be willing to pay for your expertise, as well. A mechanic, for example, could sell a series of e-books on do-it-yourself auto and motorcycle repair. If you’re a pet groomer, what about an e-mail about caring for dogs? Think about what you know and about how it could be expanded into a 40- or 50-page book.

Once you’ve created your book, you can sell it as a PDF download using a service like DPD or PayLoadz. For a more complete, end-to-end solution, try TradeBit, which offers a marketplace, or Lulu, which can also turn your e-book into a printed book.


4. Webinars


Webinars might be the ultimate way to sell your expertise. By holding a paid webinar, you’re literally charging people to watch you talk about and demonstrate whatever it is that you have to share. Because you’re offering people access directly to you (the expert), webinars are worth the money to your peers. Software like WebEx can allow you to stream presentations, audio and video to up to 3,000 participants. You can take questions from your audience in real-time and the platform offers built-in ecommerce, so you can charge for access.

Also check out solutions from GoToMeeting and Adobe, though you’ll have to handle payment yourself.


5. Online Courses


If live events aren’t your cup of tea and static e-books don’t convey your message clearly enough, another way to sell your expertise is by offering an online course. Using an app like Litmos, Odijoo or WiZiQ, you can create and sell web-based classes that not only share your expertise but teach it step-by-step. You can include multimedia in your courses, additional reading material (maybe you could even include your e-book as required reading), and provide tests so that participants can assess their progress.

Have you ever made money by selling your expertise online?


More Business Resources from Mashable:


- The State of Small Business Online Marketing Budgets [REPORT]
- Why SMS Marketing Still Makes Sense for Small Business
- Are Groupon Stores and Do-It-Yourself Deals Worth the Risk?
- 5 Invaluable Marketing Lessons from an Epic Campaign for… Cream Cheese?
- Social Media Marketing: 5 Lessons From Business Leaders Who Get It

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mgkaya


Reviews: adobe AIR, iStockphoto

More About: adobe connect, consulting, dpd, ebooks, email newsletters, Ether, expertise, gotomeeting, letter.ly, lulu, newsletters, payloadz, small business, tinyletter, tradebit, Webex, webinars

For more Business coverage:

 
 

5 of the Best New User Experiences of 2010

28 Nov

Mashable Awards Image

As part of the ongoing Mashable Awards, we’re taking a closer look at each of the nomination categories. This is “Best Website User Experience.” Be sure to nominate your favorites and join us for the Gala in Las Vegas!

When it comes to user experience, designers and developers must do much more than present their users with a “pretty face” web page.

The user experience (UX) of a site or app involves much more than looks; the UX is something that lingers on after the user has left your site. It lies in ease of use, perceived value, whether desired goals were achieved and so much more. The user interface (UI) is only part of that larger experience, but it can contribute much to a user’s impression of the app.

In writing about the best web designs of 2010, form and function each played a large role in determining our choices. But when we think about user experience, function takes absolute precedence.

What sites and apps were the most interesting, the most useful, the most innovative of the past year? In this post, we examine five groundbreaking new UX/UIs from 2010 and discuss how each one expands our expectations of the user experience.


1. Quora


One of the earlier launches this year, Quora was a buzz-heavy private beta service in 2009. As a product of some of the best design minds at Facebook, the site was almost guaranteed to have an excellent UX from the start.

We love Quora’s elegant interactions. It looks simple; it prompts instant and easy engagement; and it takes the hide-and-seek elements of a Q&A site away, leaving the user with a trove of relevant information at his or her fingertips.

We’re not the only ones who love Quora’s design. For a bit of meta navel-gazing, read this Quora Q&A on why people like Quora’s design.

Initially, another thing that made Quora’s UX so excellent was the quality of its membership. Have a question about Facebook? A Facebooker would likely answer it. Questions about venture capital? Here are some actual investors to talk to you. Marketing? Ad execs were on the site, too.


2. Hipmunk


One thing we loved about Hipmunk from the start is that it took a traditionally bad user experience — airline flight search — and made it into a good one.

This startup reimagined the most important element of online flight search: how results are displayed. It took a convoluted, multi-entry/multi-exit process and made it simple to behold and linear to walk through, creating a user experience that is far from the stress-inducing nightmare flight search once was.

The company has also hinted it will be turning its eyes toward other types of travel services soon, possibly hotel search. We can’t wait.

To get the big picture, check out the video above, and the excellent interview blogger Robert Scoble conducted with Hipmunk co-founder Steve Huffman.


3. Seesmic Desktop 2


Seesmic launched a new iteration of its popular desktop app just a couple months ago. Dubbed Seesmic Desktop 2, the application also included an entire marketplace of plugins, making SD2 an all-in-one social media access point — a great set of features for run-of-the-mill social media narcissists, as well as businesses that need more control and monitoring tools for their web efforts.

Seesmic’s Silverlight-built, Mac- and Windows-compatible product also came wrapped in a gorgeous and functional UI with elegant and subtle details, making it a joy to behold as well as a pleasure to use.

During some turbulent times for third-party applications, Seesmic founder Loic LeMeur proved his very salient point: If you make a great product, build in great functionality, and give users a great experience, you can still build a business on someone else’s platform.


4. Flipboard


Flipboard launched this year as one of the first iPad apps that sought to reimagine social media for a new form factor.

The tablet gave designers and developers a chance to think about lean-back, glossy, high-end design experiences. Of course, magazines had a heyday; their content is already almost a perfect fit for the iPad. But when you think about social media content — those messy, spaghetti-like, intertwining and overlapping feeds of drama, irrelevance and the occasional gem — you begin to see what a challenge the makers of Flipboard had on their hands. Could social media be both beautiful and functional on a tablet?

Flipboard integrates personalized Twitter and Facebook feeds to build a social magazine for each user. In an initial review we called it “gorgeous and a pleasure to use,” and the app has continued to rack up the platitudes from social media junkies around the web. Its core value proposition is more than just its beautiful, mag-like design; it makes the experience of reading social feeds simpler, faster and better.


5. Roku


Without a doubt, 2010 has been the first big year for Internet-connected living room devices. We’ve seen cool things in the past from PlayStation, Xbox and Boxee; however, 2010 brought something new: affordability and ease of entry.

Roku’s set-top boxes start at just $60; already priced to win. Each model also comes with built-in WiFi and they are easy to install — they practically set themselves up. They connect to some of the most popular Internet content providers, including Netflix, MLB.tv and now Hulu, as well.

The Roku UI is simple, clean, bright and intuitive; it reminds us of the more user-friendly gaming interfaces, like that of Nintendo’s Wii. It’s a design language that says, “I’m not technical; I’m fun.” Very quickly, the design itself fades into the background and the content becomes all the user notices.

In a word, Roku’s UX is amazing because it makes something that was supposed to be complicated and scary (bringing Internet content to the living room) inexpensive, easy and a pleasure to use.


What Are Your Picks?


Those are five of our favorite user experiences from 2010; we’d love to know what impressed you this year. In the comments, tell us about the apps, devices and websites that you’ve loved using throughout 2010 or nominate them for a Mashable Award.


The Mashable Awards Gala at Cirque du Soleil Zumanity (Vegas)


In partnership with Cirque du Soleil, The Mashable Awards Gala event will bring together the winners and nominees, the Mashable community, partners, media, the marketing community, consumer electronics and technology brands and attendees from the 2011 International CES Convention to Las Vegas on Thursday, January 6, 2011. Together, we will celebrate the winners and the community of the Mashable Awards at the Cirque du Soleil Zumanity stage in the beautiful New York New York Hotel. The event will include acts and performances from our partner Cirque du Soleil Zumanity. In addition, there will be special guest presenters and appearances.

Date: Thursday, January 6th, 2011 (during International CES Convention week)
Time: 7:00 – 10:00 pm PT
Location: Cirque du Soleil Zumanity, New York New York Hotel, Las Vegas
Agenda: Networking, Open Bars, Acts, Surprises and the Mashable Awards Gala presentations
Socialize: Facebook, Foursquare, Meetup, Plancast, Twitter (Hashtag: #MashableAwards)

Sponsorships are available. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

Register for Mashable Awards Gala at Cirque du Soleil Zumanity stage (Las Vegas - 2011 International CES convention) [Ticketed Event] in Las Vegas, NV  on Eventbrite

Thanks to our sponsors:

Mashable Awards Gala Partner:

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Mashable Awards Category Sponsor:

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Research In Motion is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative wireless solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market. Through the development of integrated hardware, software and services that support multiple wireless network standards, RIM provides platforms and solutions for seamless access to time-sensitive information including email, phone, SMS messaging, Internet and intranet-based applications including the BlackBerry® wireless platform and the new BlackBerry PlayBook. For the latest on the BlackBerry PlayBook visit the Inside BlackBerry Blog.

Mashable Awards Gala VIP Lounge sponsor:

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Mashable Awards After Party Sponsor:

Research In Motion is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative wireless solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market. Through the development of integrated hardware, software and services that support multiple wireless network standards, RIM provides platforms and solutions for seamless access to time-sensitive information including email, phone, SMS messaging, Internet and intranet-based applications including the BlackBerry® wireless platform and the new BlackBerry PlayBook. For the latest on the BlackBerry PlayBook visit the Inside BlackBerry Blog.


Reviews: Boxee, Facebook, Foursquare, Hulu, Internet, Mashable, Seesmic, Twitter, Windows

More About: best user experience, best ux, Flipboard, hipmunk, ix, mashable awards, mashable awards 2010, quora, UI, user experience, ux/ui

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4 Misconceptions About Marketing in Social Games

27 Nov


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Social games, like FarmVille, Mafia Wars and MyTown, racked up a number of high-value brand partnerships during the past year, and the social gaming industry in general is seeing huge interest from investors and consumers.

The top 10 Facebook games, for example, all have more than 10 million monthly active users each, with FarmVille leading at 62 million monthly active users, followed by FrontierVille at nearly 37 million and Zynga Poker with nearly 33 million. Granted, these are small portions of Facebook’s total network of more than 500 million users. But with a budding industry like social gaming, these are still impressive numbers, especially given the growth that these games are experiencing — all of the top 10 games were launched after 2008, with the top three games being launched after mid-2009.

The U.S. population alone is also a good indicator of user adoption — one in five Americans over the age of six have played an online social game, according to a recent study.

Increased user activity has spurred attention from investors. From an acquisition point of view, we witnesed Disney’s $763.2 million acquisition of Playdom, Electronic Arts’s $400 million acquisition of Playfish, and Google’s acquisition of Slide. Regarding investment, the big winner this year is Zynga, having now raised a total of $366 million.

Brands are taking notice and acting quickly, implementing innovative ways to advertise in social games and capitalize on the rise of virtual gaming.

Carree Syrek, a partner in social media strategy at Mindshare, a global media and marketing services company, recently spoke at ad:tech on the common misconceptions that companies have about marketing in social games. Here’s are the four concerns she discussed.


1. My Audience Doesn’t Play Social Games


Brands often look at social gaming as something that only a niche group of gamers partake in, but multiple surveys show that social gaming actually appeals to a much broader audience than most would expect. One early 2010 survey found that the average social gamer was a 43-year-old female.

“One of the biggest things that I hear when I talk to brands is ’social gamers are moms. They’re middle-aged moms,’” said Syrek. “But actually, this is not the case. Each of the games or the worlds that you’re in have very specific audiences that you wouldn’t necessarily see unless you dug a little bit deeper.”

Syrek pointed to the disparity between FarmVille and Mafia Wars demographics as an example of diversity among social gamers, as presented in the 2010 PopCap Social Gaming Research Results.

  • FarmVille pulls an audience that is 62% female, 33% of its audience is between 18 and 34 years old, and the average income is between $60,000 and $100,000. The FarmVille audience is also 84% caucasian and 7% Hispanic.
  • Mafia Wars’s audience, on the other hand, is 51% female, with 28% of the audience between 18 and 34 years old, and the average income falling below $30,000. Seventy-one percent of Mafia Wars users are caucasian, while 17% are African American.

Syrek clarified that raw numbers don’t explain the full story, pointing to index numbers as a way to better understand an audience. Index numbers are used in marketing research and indicate the strength to which a certain demographic is represented on a site or service, generally with a weighted base number of 100 representing the average Internet user.

“There are different ways to segment for ethnicity if you’re going after specific markets,” she stated. “The numbers in parentheses [as pictured above] are index numbers. So, you can see that even though, say in Mafia Wars, the African American segment is only 17% of the people who play that, their index is 198. So, you’ve got a really receptive market there that you can tap into.”

“The point is that you can actually dig deep, and you can find the proper environment for your target demographic,” stated Syrek.

Before writing off social gamers as middle-aged moms or male teenagers, be sure to look at the types of games out there and learn about their audiences — you may find that your audience is present on a few niche social games.


2. Virtual Worlds Are Not for “Serious” Companies


“I think it’s important to note that there’s a place here for everyone. It’s not just about the Jolly Green Giant being in FarmVille… it doesn’t have to be that literal, and there are spots for everyone here to play,” said Syrek.

It is a misconception that advertising in social games is only territory for entertainment brands or brands that want to be seen as “fun.” On the contrary, many serious brands were discussed during Syrek’sad:tech session.

Linda Gangeri, manager of national advertising for Volvo Cars of North America, discussed Volvo’s recent campaign on MyTown, in which Volvo’s strategy was to “leverage location-based services to deliver Volvo-branded messaging and virtual goods to people checking in to competing dealerships.”

Upon launching the Volvo S60, the Volvo marketing team decided to test virtual goods as a way to build awareness for the new vehicle.

“It was a 30-day campaign from September 1 to September 30,” explained Gangeri. During the 30-day period, 5.3 million Volvo-branded checkins were reached, 1.3 million Volvo-branded virtual goods (including a steering wheel, a wheel, the Volvo iron mark and the S60 vehicle) were delivered, and 20,000 clicks to “See the S60 in Action” were logged, for a click-through rate (CTR) of 1.5%, which is much higher than the CTRs that the rest of the marketing industry is accustomed to.

“It gave us the opportunity to dig deeper, to immerse ourselves in an environment where people are having fun [and are] engaged, and then to take branded items, embed them and expose them to this huge audience of people,” said Gangeri, happy with the results of the campaign.


3. It’s Always About Capitalism


Within social gaming, the virtual goods market is the top revenue driver for social game creators — virtual goods makes up 90% of Zynga’s revenue, for example. Social gamers are willing to buy digital goods in order to improve their positions in the games. This is great for game creators, obviously, as they are technically selling nothing. Users buy fake shovels and tractors to tend to their fake fields. There’s a lot of money in that — the U.S. virtual goods market is predicted to pass $2 billion in 2011.

While the money is certainly there, social gaming and the virtual goods market aren’t always about capitalism. In fact, Syrek mentioned four examples of social good on social gaming platforms:

  • Pet adoptions in YoVille raised $90,000 for SF/SPCA during the spring of 2009.
  • Teddy bear purchases in Mafia Wars raised more than $100,000 for Coalition for the Cure (Huntington’s Disease) in March 2010.
  • The Pandaren Monk pet in World of Warcraft generated $1.1 million in donations for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
  • To date, Zynga players have raised more than $3 million in connection with Zynga.org social partnerships, the majority of which has been directed to the welfare of women and children in Haiti.

These cases illustrate that social games could be a good route for for-profit or non-profit businesses hoping to raise a little awareness for social good projects.


4. Social Games Are a Fad


Social networking dominates most people’s time spent online, but next in line is online gaming, Nielsen reported in August. Of course, social gaming only accounts for a portion of that sector, but still, the fact that social networking and online gaming dominate online activity is a nod to the growing importance of social gaming.

Syrek pointed to the 2010 PopCap Social Gaming Research Results to validate her argument that social gaming isn’t a fad. The study found that 24% of U.S. and UK Internet users play social games at least once a week, and that most social gamers play other genres of games, including casual and hardcore games.

In another portion of the session, Manny Anekal, director of brand advertising at Zynga, illustrated that users are spending a lot of time playing social games. FarmVille users average a whopping 68 minutes of FarmVille play per day and Mafia Wars users average 52 minutes per day on the game, according to April 2010 Cisco Security Intelligence Operation data, for example. It’s no secret that social games are engaging (and addictive), but who knew users were spending so much time tending to virtual farms and brawls?

While it is admittedly difficult to decide if social gaming is truly a fad or not, data points toward its continued and growing popularity.

What are your thoughts on marketing in social games? Let us know in the comments below.


Reviews: Facebook, Internet, Yoville, zynga poker

More About: Branded Virtual Goods, business, facebook, farmville, frontierville, social game, social games, social gaming, virtual goods, virtual world, Zynga, zynga poker

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Why you need to jump back into Facebook

17 Nov

I’ve been saying that I don’t really use Facebook, for several years now. I find it noisy and hectic. But I’ve decided to dive back in and I thought I’d talk you through why I’m making the jump back in.As we all know, Facebook is growing more quickly that anyone possibly imagined. When I interviewed Mark Zuckerberg at FOWA London 2008, they had 150 million users. He said they wanted to be the platform that the entire world uses to connect to one another. Now, just two years later, they have over 500 million, and I’d say he’s on his way to doing just that.

The active community on Facebook is just to vibrant and exciting to watch from the sidelines now. I’m going to jump back in and I’d strongly urge you to do the same. The opportunity to connect, encourage and be encouraged by your comrades in the web industry is just too much to ignore.

With that in mind, here are a couple things I’m going to start doing …

1. Update Your Page

I was impressed with how quickly Doctype have grown their Facebook page. They’ve basically been kicking our ass ;) so I asked Nick Pettit (one of the newest Carsonified Teamies) what their secret sauce was. Here’s what he suggested:

  1. Add a profile pic that is 200 pixels wide and 600 pixels high. This is the maximum size allowed and it really adds the wow factor to your page. Also, when people search in Facebook and your page comes up, you get a lot of screen space as your pic is bigger.
  2. Don’t auto update your Facebook status with Twitter or any other tool. I was doing this until recently and I’ve disconnected Twitter from Facebook now. When people see that it’s just a copy of a Twitter status update, it feels impersonal and not nice. Make the effort to update your status on the Page every day.
  3. Ask questions as a Status Update on the page and then tweet and invite to people to answer the question. Here’s an example.

2. Check In with Facebook Places

I’m going to start using Facebook’s Places Checkin as often as I can. It’s a great service and it’ll be a nice way to connect better with my Friends on Facebook.

The Facebook iPhone app is a great way to do this.

3. Get Active

The most important thing to do is log in every day and start clicking around. The more you update your status, interact with your friends on Facebook, ‘Like’ things and ask questions, the more you’ll be drawn into the community, and other people will take notice of what you’re doing.

The Takeaway

The community on Facebook is getting too big to ignore. If you want to succeed in the web industry, you need to jump in and get involved.

 
 

Top 5 Web Font Design Trends to Follow

21 Sep
This series is brought to you by the Intel AppUp℠ Developer Program, which provides developers with everything they need to create and then sell their applications to millions of Intel Atom™ processor-based devices. Learn more here.


The world of web fonts and web typography is exploding. After years of struggle, we’re finally at a point where using real fonts on the web is a viable option.

For web designers, this is huge news because it means a greater degree of control over how content is displayed. For end users, it means a richer web experience.

Thanks to web services like Typekit, Fonts.com Web Fonts, Webtype and others, the opportunities to integrate real fonts on the web is getting better all the time.

Let’s look at five of the biggest trends taking place with web font and web typography design.


1. WOFF as a Standard


The Web Open Font Format, or WOFF, is edging ever closer to becoming the de facto standardized format for using fonts on the web.

Backed by Mozilla, Opera and Microsoft, WOFF allows TrueType, OpenType or Open Font Format fonts to be embedded into web pages.

Right now, WOFF support is built into Firefox 3.6 and above, Google Chrome version 5 and above, Internet Explorer 9, and will be supported in upcoming versions of Safari.

Jason Santa Maria and his Friends of Mighty built Lost World’s Fairs as a way to showcase IE 9 and its support of WOFF. This fantastic piece of typographic web art really shows just how great type can be made to look on the web.


2. Big Foundries Jump on Board


When Adobe announced that they were partnering with Typekit back in August, it was a big move. Historically, the biggest font foundries have led the resistance against getting fonts on the web.

Adobe’s decision was followed recently by the new company, Webtype, a partnership of Ascender, Roger Black and Font Bureau. Similar to Typekit, Webtype offers a way for designers or end users to get high quality fonts for use in their own designs.

Last week, Monotype Imaging formally launched Fonts.com Web Fonts and brought many of the most famous Monotype, Linotype and ITC font families to the web.

At this stage, nearly every major foundry is either offering fonts with web usage licenses or is considering making their fonts usable on the web. Eighteen months ago, that wouldn’t have been a reality. Today it is.


3. Better Letter Control with Lettering.js


When creating the Lost World’s Fairs project, Friends of Mighty realized they would need to have a way to better control individual letters and words to offer proper spacing and better kerning.

Thus, Lettering.js was born. Lettering.js is a JavaScript plugin that allows developers and designers to better control individual letters without having tons of messy markup.

As Dan Rubin recently remarked on Twitter, Lettering.js may just end up having a bigger impact on typography on the web than anyone is expecting.


4. Mobile Support


Fonts.com Web Fonts service and Typekit both offer support for multiple mobile browsers. This continues to increase as more and more mobile browser makers support various aspects of @font-face and draft specifications like WOFF.

It’s not just enough for fonts to look good on the desktop, as more and more web usage shifts to the smartphone, having readable, legible and properly spaced typography on mobile devices will be a bigger and bigger area of interest.

Already companies like Monotype and Typekit are working to make sure that fonts look their best on a number of different screen types and sizes.


5. Font Support in Web Apps


One of the most interesting recent advancements in the web font world has been the ability to choose web fonts when customizing an aspect of a web app. Thanks to Typekit and Google’s Web Font Directory, it’s easy for developers to build these tools into their product.

Already many Tumblr themes are coming with Typekit support and new web services like About.me give users the option to customize their typefaces for various aspects of their profile.

This is a great use of typography on the web because it gives end-users direct interaction with fonts and lets them see directly how different fonts look together and at different sizes.

Web typography is on a tear and we’re at the beginning of a new era of a more beautiful, more legible and more customizable web.


Series supported by Intel AppUp℠ Developer Program

This series is brought to you by the Intel AppUp℠ Developer Program, which provides developers with everything they need to create and then sell their applications to millions of Intel Atom™ processor-based devices. Learn more here.


More Dev & Design Resources from Mashable:


- HOW TO: Be a Hybrid Designer/Developer
- 6 New Mac Apps for Designers and Developers
- Flash vs. HTML5: Adobe Weighs In
- 10 Free Web UI Kits and Resources for Designers
- Top 10 Accessories for Typography Nuts [PICS]

Image courtesy of playgrounder.com


Reviews: Firefox, Google, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari, Tumblr, Twitter

More About: fonts, fonts on the web, monotype, typekit, typography, Web Design Trends Series, web fonts, webtype

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FarmVille vs. Real Farms [INFOGRAPHIC]

10 Sep

With all those millions of Facebook and iPhone users tending to virtual crops and sharing them with friends, have you ever wondered how their toils stack up against actual real-life farmers?

How does our output of digital (and decidedly less tasty) tomatoes compare with our worldwide production of real tomatoes? And perhaps most importantly, who are these casual croppers, and are they anything like their plow-toting counterparts?

We broke it down by the numbers and put some of these FarmVille trends in perspective for you.

Go on. Harvest it.

FarmVille Infographic

What do you think? Does FarmVille ignite our romance with all things pastoral? Are digital crops poised to overtake real ones in terms of GDP? What does all this mean for the fate of humanity?

Share your wisdom in the comments.


More Gaming Resources from Mashable:


- 5 Fun FarmVille Accessories
- 10 Classic PC Games That Found New Life on the iPhone
- Why the Social Gaming Biz is Just Heating Up
- Why Games Are the Killer App for Social Networks
- 10 Cool Konami Code Easter Eggs [PICS]


Reviews: Harvest

More About: facebook, farmville, games, gaming, infographic, infographics, iphone, social games, social media, stats, trending, Zynga

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