Matthew Knell's posts

Jul 2nd 2012

"Home of the Brave" Comes to AOL this Independence Day

Shawn Efran is an Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV producer, who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for CBS's "60 Minutes." He is the Executive Producer of "Home of the Brave" and the founder of Efran Films and we are honored to have him share the story of the series here.

Most of us don't know what it means to hear the crack of a bullet past our ear, or to climb into a Humvee and wonder if this is your last ride. Most of us can't imagine running towards the person shooting at us, or returning home to find yourself ducking every time a door slams.

But the men and women who serve our country do and most of their stories have never been told.

"Home of the Brave" is a 12-part AOL video series that lets our soldiers, sailors and Marines tell their own tales in the way they tell them to each other -- with the grit left in.

You'll hear the stories of:

  • David Bellavia, who received a Silver Star for engaging half a dozen enemy fighters in an effort to protect the lives of his fellow soldiers.
  • Father Paul Shaughnessy, who volunteered to go into a vicious firefight without a weapon so he could bring spiritual comfort and last rites to Marines in battle.
  • Thomas Hudner, who crashed his own plane in an attempt to rescue an African-American colleague at a time when America was viciously divided by race.
  • April Burson, a rare female medic, who helicoptered into dangerous and uncertain conditions to save the lives of her fellow soldiers.

This Independence Day, please join us in listening to the men and women of the armed services. To view the series trailer, visit AOL On.

Earlier this year, AOL launched Homepage for Heroes, a site to recognize, honor and support those who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. The multi-phased initiative will allow AOL users to engage in supporting troops through donations of talk-time minutes, letters to the troops and job opportunities. Visit www.AOL.com/heroes for more information.

Jun 15th 2012

On the Go: Living the Mobile Life with Mandar Shinde

As more and more consumers start to make their mobile devices their primary devices, AOL has adjusted to these changing times with new products and solutions for a mobile first audience. Mobile apps have been at the forefront of a number of product launches, creating unique mobile experiences like Editions, Engadget Distro, AOL.com for iPad, the soon to be released Huffington. and new versions of Winamp and Moviefone.

Leading the charge to make sure all of these products are effectively monetized with our brand advertisers is Head of Monetization for AOL Mobile, Mandar Shinde. AOL is the 4th largest mobile property in the US*, and the work of Mandar and the AOL Mobile team is responsible for that reach, and ensuring AOL capitalizes on the Mobile marketplace.

Why does AOL put such a focus on mobile? Mandar thinks the opportunity and the timing is finally right, which can be seen in its increasing popularity: "There are more than 100 million smartphones in the US already creating more broadband connections on these smartphones than home broadband connections. There are probably 40 to 50 million tablets that are continuously replacing home desktop usage."

Mandar is aware that as users move to these screens, its imperative advertising will move to these screens – at end of the day it's a reach and frequency game, and that will never change. Mobile also provides a new set of tools that will cause both branders and performance buyers to reach this audience and goal themselves differently. Tools that desktop never had like calling, calendaring, and mapping. For example, Mandar knows that Mapquest on desktop is a planning tool while on Mobile it's a navigational utility – each attracting a different set of advertisers (desktop being more CPG/Brand centric before the purchase cycle and Mobile being more local driven to find a local food chain or a local hotel chain).

In his role focused on monetization, it's imperative that products meet the needs of advertisers and marketers as well. "With a personal device that goes with the consumer everywhere, it's just a matter of time before advertisers will find the right mix to reach their audience on the go. Mobile users tend to have a specific purpose (directions, food, etc.) or snacky behaviors (airport, subway, etc.) along with their ability to know their location. Contextual , and emotionally driven advertising becomes a logical fit sooner than later."

What trends should we expect in 2012? Mandar is putting his money on the continued growth of the tablet as a dominant home device. "We can expect close to 125 to 140 million smartphones in the US alone by the end of 2012, and around 75 to 100 million tablets to go with them. I think the release of Windows 8 will make an impact with the amount of developer base they will bring to Mobile and finally put some pressure on iOS and Android."

Along with being intimately involved in the development of AOL's Mobile products, Mandar is an active user of them as well (along with his young son): "I love our Distro and Moviefone Apps for iPad. Distro is awesome. Being a geek and a follower of 'show me the new hottest thing', Distro is awesome for me to download every Friday, and then consume in mass quantities when I am flying up/down the coast. Moviefone on the iPad on the other hand is just a natural tablet design that makes one think if all products could be designed so.... simply! My 3 yea- old has even figured how to get movie trailers to play! We are in the middle of an industrial design change and Apple is really driving it but there will be more players"

As you can see, Mandar's family is extremely important to him. Ask him, and he'll tell you how they inspire him to be better: "I love spending time with my son - observing him learn and grow makes me wiser every day. He just started his pre-K and swimming classes, so there is plenty to keep me very happily busy."

"My wife taught me that one can follow their hobbies keenly while keeping their career path intact (she is an engineer manager by profession but managed to follow her hobby and made it a second career as a stock photography model before our first child). She really put the ball out of the park when she did her first half marathon after our child was born (for someone who hated running). She has taught me that there is always time for personal achievements and work/life balance remains key."

Learn more about the products and services Mandar and the rest of the AOL Mobile team work on at http://mobile.aol.com/.

*comScore Media Metrix - Mobilens, March 2012; based on custom category built by AOL

May 9th 2012

Mashable Connect 2012: A look back

Big brands, small brands, and political and social leaders gathered from all around the world at Mashable Connect, a three day conference at the Walt Disney World resort this past weekend. The diversity in experience of the conference attendees and speakers allowed for great opportunities from people of different disciplines to connect and discuss universal issues impacting the digital media landscape.

The first day of presentations started with a bang, as Ethics evangelist and Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig gave a stirring talk which started with tales of local citizens in NC trying to overcome poor broadband quality being stopped by telco lobbyists. Lessig also shared examples of inequality in access to copyrighted academic material and ended with stories of how social media helped to create leaderless contingents like Occupy Wall Street and the groups that helped to defeat SOPA/PIPA and forced advertisers to quit Rush Limbaugh's show en masse.

Other selected highlights of the first day:

  • June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED, described how their media company had to turn themselves inside out to foster the growth of their worldwide community which started when TED decided to make its content available to the general public. TED talks have now been viewed more than 800 million times.
  • American Express SVP of Digital Partnerships & Development, Leslie Berland, took a look back at how American Express transformed their organization, and described their successful Sync campaign launch with Jay-Z at SXSW.
  • Alexander Ljung, Founder & CEO, SoundCloud, presented a compelling argument as to why sound will be bigger than video, adding that "sound is the key to being human".
  • Mashable's Christina Warren led a discussion on the The Evolution of the Second Screen with Randy Shiozaki, Co-founder, TVplus, Miguel Monteverde, Vice President, Digital Media, Discovery Communications and Scott Rosenberg, CEO & Co-founder, Umami, that reviewed the opportunities and struggles of TV networks and application developers trying to provide companion content to their TV shows.
  • Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist, bit.ly, offered a look at the nature of real-time content and how what we click on is often very different than what we share.
  • Burt Herman, Co-Founder of Storify, talked about how big media organizations (like us) are using Storify to curate the social web and find small stories in big ones.

After an evening of networking opportunities (including a chance to ride the newly refurbished Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios, day two offered more stories of digital transformations and gamechangers:

  • Joe Trippi, showed the influence of social media in political campaigns, specifically the Howard Dean campaign, the Obama campaign, and most recently the Nigerian presidential campaign of Goodluck Jonathan, believed to be the first president to announce his candidacy using social media tools.
  • Mashable's Lauren Indvik led a conversation with Scott Havens, Senior Vice President, Finance and Digital Operations from The Atlantic about how his company has embraced a digital first approach in their operations and its impact on users and profits.
  • In undoubtedly the most buzzy (and to me, most inspiring) session at Mashable Connect, Cindy Gossip, Founder & CEO, IfWeRanTheWorld.com, offered advice on how brands get marketing wrong, how the new creativity is informed by data, and how Action Branding is the next wave in digital marketing.
  • The audience was capitivated by 14-year-old, Author, Teacher, Speaker, and Activist, Adora Svitak, who shared some real advice how brands can offer her generation opportunities to help change the world for the better.
  • Joe Fernandez, CEO of controversial online reputation service Klout spoke about how he thinks social media is the "democratization of influence", and how Klout now is "just a benchmark", but someday could be a great way to really help people.

After two days of inspirational talks and networking (and great hospitality by the Disney Parks and Resorts teams), I was left with three key takeaways:

  • Motivated people are still the driving force behind both the successes and failures in the digital media space.
  • No matter the cost, product or service, there is always value in storytelling.
  • Bringing people together who are motivated and excited to be there, and treating them well usually results in a great conference.

To see more from Mashable Connect 2012, visit my Storify stories for day 1 and day 2.

Apr 26th 2012

A Look Back at Our NewFront

On Tuesday, AOL was excited to be part of our first-ever Digital Content NewFront. In front of a crowd of hundreds of guests including digital marketers, agency representatives and friends of AOL, we presented new offerings and original programming from AOL Video, and the latest innovations from The Huffington Post scheduled to debut later this year, including the launches of "Huffington.", a new iPad magazine app, the Huffington Post Streaming Network and "GPS For The Soul", an iPad app designed to sense your tension level and provide you the right content to lift your mood.

We wanted our NewFront experience to be unique, so we decided to do things a little differently. Splitting the audience into two groups, we created separate experiences for the first half hour, with each panel repeating for the other audience after the half hour was up and the groups switched.

Experience #1, kicked off by AOL's SVP and Head of Sales Jim Norton and led by Janet Balis, SVP & Head of Sales Strategy, was called Powering Ideas, and explored the ways that digital is at a crossroads, and AOL is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. Janet shared how AOL builds valuable partnerships to drive results that can move clients' brands forward. Janet took a look back at the content behind Powering Ideas in a post from earlier this morning.

Experience #2 was called Powering Brands, and focused on how AOL is powered by its amazing collection of brands.

After an introduction by AOL Chief Revenue Officer and President of AOL Advertising Ned Brody, Jim Stengel, former Chief Marketing Officer of Procter and Gamble, member of the AOL Board of Directors, and author of "Grow", led a conversation about brand ideals that featured AOL and Huffington Post Editors Michael Hogan (Entertainment), Susan Kaplow (Life and Style), David Kiley (Autos), Christina Norman (Black Voices) and Tim Stevens (Engadget). The editors explained the power and value of brands created through their content.

Next up in Experience #2, Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief, The Huffington Post Media Group, gave an update on the growth of the Huffington Post, and highlighted 4 new Huffington Post product launches:

  • Huffington. - A new magazine app that takes the best of the Huffington Post and presents them in the perfect mobile setting.
  • HuffPost Streaming Network - a 24/7 livestreaming network that will combine Huffington Post's editorial philosophy and strong community into a uniquely social video experience
  • GPS for the Soul - an app that will measure your stress level and connect you to content that you need to "restore your balance".
  • Causes - connecting the Huffington Post community brands to help drive awareness of what really matters, through programs like Global Motherhood, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson.

In the final session, led by AOL CEO and Chairman, Tim Armstrong, we introduced The AOL On Network, a new video platform that offers premium content across 14 content channels including food, business, entertainment, style, tech, travel, health and others, and reaches nearly 57 million U.S. consumers.* Read more about The AOL On Network in our blog post from yesterday.

During Tim's session, we were joined by an amazing group of guests on stage:

We then capped off the event with a special surprise. Through our partners at Ford, we were able to give away a new Ford Mustang Convertible to a lucky attendee of the event, and pledged to donate $1 for every mile the winner drove in their car for the next 5 years on behalf of our friends at St Jude's Children's Research Hospital, for whom our friend Marlo Thomas is very passionate about.

All in all, it was a great day for AOL and we hope it was for our attendees as well. Read what the social web was saying in our Storify recap by clicking here or viewing it above.

* comScore March 2012; total U.S. viewers

Apr 17th 2012

Reaching a Million People One Tweet at a Time

When we had the opportunity to rekindle our relationship with TOMS to help celebrate this year's One Day Without Shoes, we spent a lot of time of trying to think of the right way to extend our relationship. In 2011, we had over 1,000 employees all around the world kick off their shoes to raise awareness for children who don't have them.

At first, we considered the idea of doing something twice as big. And then ten times as big. And then 100 times as big, arriving at the number: 100,000. We decided interacting with 100,000 people to tell them about the One Day Without Shoes message would be the number that we would rally our employees and customers around. But how do you count people "we told about something"? It's relatively easy in social media to measure likes, followers, comments, and retweets by using some basic social media analysis tools - but what we were doing was something a little bit different. Each one of these social actions would contribute to the number of people we "told about something", and our goal was really just to reach people with the message.

We then turned to our friends at Simply Measured, and took a look at what reports they had available to help us and found that they were able to measure "Reach", a calculation that measured the potential audience size for our tweets (i.e. how many people may have seen our message through Tweets made by ourselves and others sharing the campaign). Reaching people through Tweets was something we do every day, but previously we'd been unable to quickly and effectively measure this on a campaign basis. Simply Measured has been a great partner to work with, and have even shared a bit more about the methodology used to measure our metrics in a case study on their blog.

The end result was a set of tactics that included ways for all sorts of different users, across a few different platforms, to help incite people to join the movement:

  • We donated a TOMS One Day Without Shoes mail sign in page that ran from April 7th to April 9th. The sign in page reaches an average of 10 million impressions a day**
  • Our about.me team encouraged consumers to change their profile pages to help raise awareness and blogged about the event.
  • AOL Advertising offered up a Style Your Sole party to the agency who was able to best evangelize their employees to share the word.
  • MapQuest donated advertising space on top of every map today to raise awareness about the campaign.
  • AOL Artists around the world are pledging to go barefoot with AOL as well. Check out AOL Artists' Tumblr for updates on which artists are going barefoot and to see them in action.
  • We shared the campaign in taxicab spots that ran in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston (check out the video below).

All of these calls to action had a social component that would allow users to take an action, and then easily share what they were doing.

We launched our campaign on March 18th, with an initial goal of reaching 100,000 people by April 10th - the day of One Day Without Shoes. That day, we were lucky enough to have TOMS Chief Shoe Giver Blake Mycoskie join us to tell the story of TOMS and One Day Without Shoes. After the event, we started to invite our employees to contribute tweets about the topic, and offered a few tweets from our AOL Twitter account, and to our surprise, we were over our 100,000 reached goal in less than 18 hours. In the tradition of thinking big, we decided to reset our goal to one million. Sure enough, by the end of the campaign, we had some stats to be proud of that we want to share. In total, we reached:

  • A potential audience of more than 1.2 million people on Twitter
  • Around 20,000 people through About.me, where more than 600 people changed their profile to a special TOMS background. (read more about their success)**
  • Millions through the TOMS messaging on MapQuest and on AOL Mail.**
  • Nearly 200,000 people who visited the TOMS page on AOL Impact**
  • Hundreds of employees took part in events all across our offices and shared the news via Twitter

It was great to see so many people respond positively to our campaign and us to learn a lot more about how social content can spread.

Reflecting on AOL's contribution, Blake added, "Because of AOL's continued support of One Day Without Shoes, we were able to make an impact. Through this year's partnership, we built a program with highly measurable results. We can't thank enough everyone that participated, and because of your contributions, we were able to bring so much more awareness to our cause."

We hope you were able to take part in TOMS One Day Without Shoes and if not this year, then mark your calendar for next year! Learn more about the TOMS One for One movement at TOMS.com.

(Photo by Eileen O'Brien)

** Internal AOL Data

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