Making Widgets and Gadgets Work For You

Back from another classically Ad:Tech lunch, and it’s time to talk about something we’ve been hearing a lot about this conference. Widgets! I’m seated right up front so that I can get every word. Also so I can see. Someone remind me to order new glasses, I’m blind as a bat here.

Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research) is moderating this panel consisting of Hooman Radfar (Clearspring) [Coolest. Name. Ever. – Lisa], Jane Felice (comScore, Inc), Ed Davis (ESPN Digital Media Community), and Kent Schoen (Facebook).

Lots of people here are already using widgets or are planning to use widgets. Like 75% of the audience.

What’s the difference between a widget and a gadget?

Ed: Widgets are separated into two categories: public consumption or private consumption. It is meant to be consumed in a browser or on a desktop? Does it tap into the social graph or not?

Hooman: Gadgets are a specific branded term–it’s a Google thing. The real distinction is between a widget and a social platform.

Kent: We call them applications and we focus on the platform. It’s to be able to leverage a core set of functionality. The goal was to open things up and recognize that we’re not the only ones with good ideas out there for connecting with customers. Why are you getting into this in the first place? What are your goals? That will help define your strategy. In some cases it’s just about getting the brand out there, but more often it’s about the brand doing something for the user. Think about what you want to get out of it and on what time horizon. Make sure that you’re allocating enough time to get to your goal.

Jeremiah: We look at why people use widgets and it’s a very different reason than why they use a search engine. So, why widgets?

Jane: Content based widgets extend your brand’s reach and you get to place your brand on other sites instead of just being limited to your own. You get to engage the user. There’s plenty of ways to monetize them which isn’t to say that everyone is.

Ed: The case for widgets is that our users, sports fans, come to us for information but they spend time in other places too. We look at the Internet as our playground, or at least we can be available. Is it just our site or everywhere? We want to be available. First it’s about offering something good for the user.

Hooman: Widgets are a platform for folks to reach audiences where they are. You need to extend your presence outside your site. You should reach your audience and go where they are. It’s paramount. You need great compelling content to do so and widgets do that.

Kent: The opportunity that we saw was to give people a chance to bring their content and experience to our users. We want to give users the opportunity to decide how they want to be presented to. There’s a decision to be made about whether or not you want to have an immersive experience.

Jeremiah: It’s about reach and it’s about fishing where the fish are. Why are you creating a new site when there are 80 million people on Facebook waiting for you?

Jane: Measuring widgets is an evolving thing. There are no standards, lots of different kinds of widgets. They look at measuring engagement. There are challenges with measuring them because they’re not in just one site or location. The viral widgets, we don’t know where they’re going to end up.

Jeremiah: What makes a widget successful? What are the pitfall and challenges?
Kent: In terms of success, you have to ask what you’re trying to get out of it first. It’s easy to say its only numbers adopted but that might not have been the goal. It could have been about just targeting a niche. What’s going to be success for you? Does it need to be millions or just a couple hundred thousand?

Hooman: Agrees wholeheartedly. They measure across networks. If you extend your reach by 30% is that success? You might not need a million, you might only need 1,000. If you’re a movie, you might not care about longevity. After your movie opens, if no one else adopts, then it doesn’t matter.

We’ve had the benefit of running hundreds of gadgets. The biggest issues are cross-platform capabilities and measuring across platforms. Some of them don’t even give you numbers. You need to know what you’re allowed to do, what the policies are and they change.

Ed: You have to be clear that it only works if people like what you do. If a user doesn’t find it valuable and doesn’t take it and put it somewhere, it’s a failure. So you have to be sure that your widget gives value to the end user. Right now people seems to think that you can just do a ‘rising tide lifts all ships’ sort of thing and it doesn’t work like that with widgets. They have to provide some premium content to the user or they’re not going to use it.

Jane: Measurement is always a challenge. Connecting it from the widget to the impact later. If a widget was sent out into the world and a month later there was a rise in queries on those terms, for example, that’s measurable.

To sum up: Audience reach, short term/long term, add value, measurement, creativity for a new medium–you can’t just use a banner ad and call it a widget.

Ed: One of the interesting things in the space is that you can experiment. ROI is less difficult to justify because you’re just experimenting and it’s new.

Kent: There are tons of things that you can call successes. Things that engage interest, are targeted, drive traffic–like the NYTimes quiz or the TripAdvisor application.

Everyone is going to have their own notion of success. It’s usually a balance of accomplishing the goals of the campaign. Success looks like presenting something out there that feels valuable to the users. It’s going to vary based on the user.

Jeremiah: How do you monetize?

Hooman: We have an end to end platform with advertisers. We help them with creation, measurement, distributions. It’s the whole thing. Think of it like an ad unit, like banners or rich media.

Ed: For us there’s ad inventory but there’s also just pushing out our other new content, “hey did you know we just started this new fantasy league”, etc?

What do you mean by widgets should be simple?

Hooman: We found that people try to compress a lot of functionality into a widget and the value proposition isn’t clear. When you keep it simple and easy to understand that tends to work better.

Are there limits of serving ads through a widget?

Hooman: It’s kind of Wild West right now.

You’ve talked about cross-promoting. Have you seen impact on the search cloud? Have you seen the search lift? (this is Mark Silva, who is tweeting the whole thing. He’s right in front of me.)

Ed: Yes, that’s definitely the case. There’s definitely an SEO result.

A woman asks a very long, confused, FAST question about a Dell campaign. I think it boils down to ‘can someone else pay an application creator for ad space’? Kent basically says yes. Their business is centered around the platform, not on being the sole owner of all this.

Jeremiah: Thoughts on Open Social?

Ed: I think anything that delivers on the promise of building one thing that helps you deliver across a lot of environments is good. We’re definitely looking at it. It’s an interesting protocol. If it delivers, then use it.

Hooman: We’ve been using it since it was just Google/Orkut. The reality though is that it is .7, it’s not ready. I think you should invest and investigate it. But it’s not ready yet.

Kent: We keep an eye on it. We feel like we’ve had an open ecosystem. At the end of the day, a standard is useful if it’s something that people adopt.

Jeremiah: So if everyone goes along with it, will Facebook?

Kent: Jury’s out. You have to look at it at the end of the day, what does it mean? If you have to custom flavor every environment in spite of the common standard, maybe that’s not worth it.

Hooman: Even the ones that are using open social are doing it differently. They need to figure out how to make that 80/20 happen.

What is your take on privacy policies? Mentions Blockbuster being sued by Facebook.

Kent: Privacy policies are critical to Facebook. We want to make sure our users feel comfortable.

I haven’t seen many applications that drive direct response. Most of it is brand advertising. Why are big brands reluctant to get involved in widgets? [Yes, that question is as contradictory as it sounds.]

Hooman: I think there’s been a fair amount of direct response or at least ecommerce. The world is big. I haven’t experienced a reluctance on the part of big brands at all. We’re actually overwhelmed.

Ed: We hired a third party to build our widgets. We have a very small team so we needed help. Our widgets are very specific and focused. Now we’re working on things that are lot more customizable and tailored and they offer opportunities for advertisers.

Which content types have proven the most engaging in widgets? Video, Live data streams, friend behaviors?

Hooman: I think it depends on the difference between social applications and widgets. I think micro social apps have done well. I think video and feed based do best. Is it for you? Just on your dashboard or for everyone, on the sidebar?

Ed: For us: The faster the data was updated, the more adoption. People really notice if you’re updating once every hour or once every minute. The faster was the better.

Jane: We can work with you to look at what would make the best response. We have very accurate data.

Opinions on Adobe Air?

Hooman: I think it’s a great platform. We’re supporting Air. He’d definitely look at it. Write once, run anywhere–it’s really a great promise that they’re delivering on.

What about mobile gadgets?

Jeremiah: Everyone knows about SDK and Android, right? There’s a lot of reuse opportunities with widgets and gadgets.

Kent: We’ve already integrated mobile into our experience. We want to make sure that you can hook in via mobile.

Hooman: We’re looking at going cross platforms including mobile. He says mobile is going to be big in the next couple years. The audience laughs. Flash won’t work but Flash Lite will.

What’s best practice for seeding or distributing?

Kent: It goes back to expectations and timeline. You need to promote it. Think about how much you think it’s going to take off virally, what you’ve put into it that it’ll do viral spread. [Jeremiah asks how Facebook is protecting users from spam] One, get that application off your profile. Two, block it. There are always going to be people who will abuse it.

Hooman: We have a widget promotion channel.

Ed: The widget take rate is an impulse thing, we think. That’s how we get our distribution is through contextual promotion. You see a score and there’s a call to action, ‘here, take it with you’

Jane: We’re just here to quantify it, we don’t distribute.

Hooman: We had Cramer show our widget and the response was incredible. TV works.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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