Conversational Marketing Is Hot – Again. Thanks Facebook!

Here at FMP, we’ve been reflecting on the advertising-related news out of Facebook late last month – as well as the larger trends that both drive and are driven by Facebook’s phenomenal rise.

When we first read of Facebook’s new strategy around marketing as a conversation, it sounded familiar – a fact noticed by Cnet in its coverage:

Today here at fMC, its first-ever marketing conference, [Facebook] announced a number of features to help brands better engage with their audiences….The social network hopes to drive advertisers away from broadcasting static messages, instead encouraging them to build dynamic conversational marketing pieces. While conversational media isn’t exactly a new concept (companies like Federated Media have been doing it for years), the scale and personality that Facebook adds is unprecedented.

We agree, scale and personality are crucial. But many folks don’t realize that here at FMP, we’ve got both in spades. First, we’re connected to literally millions of independent publishers, who make their living by the force of their personality. And second, those publishers, taken together, gather hundreds of millions of audience members.

We thought it was high time to tell the story of how we got here.

The Garage Where It All Started

Early Years: Innovation

At FMP, we’ve always prided ourselves as leaders in the practice of digital marketing, marked by a series of important ‘firsts’ that other companies often pick up and make their own.

We first integrated Fortune 500 companies into independent blogs back in 2005, and throughout 2006 helped them understand the power of “paid, earned and owned” media, in particular as it related to the web’s then-indisputed king of attention: Search. In 2007 we introduced many of those same companies to something called Facebook, by teaching them how to effectively leverage their paid media to reap the benefits of earned media. We also introduced them to independent developers working on early versions of the Facebook platform.

At the same time, we were honored by the Webbies for our role in developing content-driven ad units, some of the very first “social ads” driven by “content marketing.”

In 2006, we published a series of articles, since combined into a white paper, in which we coined the terms “conversational media” and “conversational marketing,” concepts that embraced and extended “social media” and identified “the conversation” as critical to how marketers engage audiences.

In 2007, we took “CM” – an embryonic concept that had more than a few folks scratching their heads – and created a new industry event around it – FMP’s Conversational Marketing Summit. We are glad we did, because the conference has taken off, and is now one of the premier digital marketing events of the year (this year’s is May 14-15 in New York, the kick off event to Internet Week).

In 2008-9, we were first to integrate brands with Twitter, and first to bring brands into live festival events via real-time digital media, thanks a partnership with Outside Lands, Microsoft, and Intel. And we played a central role in developing (and continue to develop) American Express OPEN Forum, perhaps the most celebrated content marketing platform ever created.

In the past few years, we’ve helped Mazda give a car away on Foursquare, helped Bing integrate Twitter into its results (which later morphed from a marketing campaign to a real business deal), and developed and executed countless “content marketing” programs. In 2009, we developed the “Ad Stamp” suite of integrated, large-format social display units, the precursor to AOL’s “Project Devil” and eventually the IAB’s “Rising Stars” – units that only this year have become standard in the industry.

Our record of innovation even brought us, earlier this month, to the headquarters of the largest and most respected marketer on the planet, Procter & Gamble, where the CEO and CMO joined us for a day of case studies, learnings, and conversations with more than 25 speakers and 1500 P&G staff.

Along the way, FMP’s partner mix has evolved, and we’ve watched proudly as many of our early publishers rose to become massive successes – FMP’s alumni include Ars Technica (acquired by Conde Nast), Celebrity Baby Blog (acquired by Time Inc.), Techcrunch (acquired by AOL), and many, many others.  While a traditional media company might rue the day a partner finds an exit, we celebrate these events – it proves our model of “powering the Independent Web.” Should one voice decide to become part of a large media platform, there are always new points of view ready to be heard.

The Present Day: Innovation Plus Scale and Technology 

FM HQ in SF (Now in NY, LA, Chicago, and many other cities as well...)

More recently, we’ve been acquisitive ourselves, with an eye toward scaling both our reach and our technology platform.

In 2010 we acquired Text Digger, and through that company’s technology and FM’s own talented team, we developed a new product called Conversation Targeting, which allows brands to reach relevant conversations across Federated’s network of sites. Scores of the most noteworthy brands on the planet have signed up and the results are truly extraordinary (watch this space for research on that very subject soon). That same year, we acquired Big Tent, the web’s best community site (its founder now runs community across all of FMP), as well as Foodbuzz, one of the largest communities of foodies in the world. From those acquisitions has sprung our curated “Daily Buzz” sites in Tech, Moms, Style, Luxe, and Healthy Living.

Lijit's Got Scale!

With our acquisition of Lijit Networks in 2011, we are on the path to effectively combine our premium conversational marketing programs with Lijit’s programmatic buying expertise and massive reach (it’s the #1 network in the US, according to Quancast, with a reach of  more than 193 million consumers across both the PC and Mobile web). You’ll hear more about this as we continue to evolve and integrate the two companies.

Also, in the past month, we’ve officially rolled-out another industry first by allowing advertisers to interact with the enormous landscape of in the form of the innovative new WordAds platform. This partnership allows us to connect brands to millions of highly active publishers, who write, passionately, about every imaginable topic. Just in case you were wondering, has a reach of nearly 64 million people in the US alone.

Those are some big numbers: 193 million, 64 million…but what about that original business of Federated Media itself? Well, according to Comscore, we’re the fastest growing property in its top 20, with more than 70 million uniques in the US – and that’s without integrating our Lijit acquisition.

Our latest innovation is our partnership with Zemanta, which has resulted in a new “Content Desk” product, allowing brands to work directly with relevant authors as they write in real-time to integrate sponsored content. By combining best practices in content marketing with new authoring tools, FMP helps brands target exceptionally relevant authors and conversations at a scale not previously possible.

Given all that history, and all our scale, Facebook’s push into conversational and contextual marketing is welcome news here at FMP. It both validates our approach, and drives demand for truly independent, high integrity content that can be cycled through not just Facebook, but many other “dependent” web platforms such as Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo.

FMP has been doing conversational marketing programs almost as long as Facebook has been around. Leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, and other Facebook executives, along with founders and CEOs at Twitter, Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn have been active participants in our Conversational Marketing Summit and Signal events. We believe, fervently, that the Internet thrives when massive platforms like these serve as ecosystem partners to what we call the Independent Web.

The social web is fueled by the Independent Web, and vice versa. We call this the Yin & Yang of Audience – which is not coincidentally the title and subject of our Signal event in San Francisco on March 21st.

If you can’t join us there, not to worry, we’re always open to hearing from you. Send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or, of course, “like” us on Facebook. We’d be honored. And thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “Conversational Marketing Is Hot – Again. Thanks Facebook!

  1. Good job, John. Always a step ahead (as outlined here). Kudos to you and your dynamic (and hard-working) band of talent!

  2. Good stuff John- innovating around integrations, conversational marketing, real content targeting, etc around passion communities at scale is not easy- love how your team is filling the space fro brand advertisers between major social platforms, independent publishers and away from just banner media.

  3. While a catch-phrase is a catch-phrase is a catch-phrase, I’ve got to say that “conversational marketing,” as described, has very little to do with “conversation” per se.

    Conversation is bidirectional and realtime. Conversation “builds” and does not simply push.

    When I think of the potential of “real” conversational mobile marketing, I really see a very different product and offering being needed. In many respects, I’d entirely avoid the social media sphere, which is more like “tiny shouts” than “conversation.”

  4. I disagree. it’s about how you execute, and whether you are committed to using media as a platform for conversation. I believe it can and is being done, but certainly could improve!

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