Understanding Eye Tracking

Eye tracking is the process of measuring a person’s point of gaze or where they are looking. This is made possible through an eye tracking tool that monitors and measures eye positioning and movement. It’s not a phenomenon; in fact it’s been around since the 1800s but it’s just as important today as it was centuries ago. Today, researchers and marketing executives should be employing eye tracking mechanisms to better understand whether their websites, marketing campaigns, and layouts are working and engaging users as they were intended.

Our class readings included findings of an eye tracking study of newspapers conducted by Poynter that I think are still relevant to marketers today. Some of the findings were that photos attracted attention, eyes followed common patterns of navigation, color appealed to readers, and images more viewed more often than text. Sure, these are not ground breaking findings but they still hold true today, and for media beyond newspapers.

Indeed, there is more to track today than just newspaper layouts. For instance, within an average webpage there are a number of elements that can attract a viewers’ attention. Marketers would be wise to find out where viewers’ eyes land first: Is it the flashing text, buttons, navigation bar, or Google Ads?

This is just a primer on eye tracking and I will share more interesting thoughts on this topic during my presentation later this week.

For now, my questions to readers are:

-Have you used eye tracking for your websites or media?

-Would you think about employing eye tracking for your portfolio websites? 

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A Closer Look: Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is something you may think you know little about. However, you may very well be a part of crowdsourcing and not realize it. If you contribute photos or illustrations to iStock or Dreamstime, design artwork for 99designs.com, write entries for Wikipedia, or write reviews on Amazon.com, you have engaged in crowdsourcing to some extent. Essentially, crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a collective group of the public at large. Rather than hire an employee to do the work or outsource to another country, an executive can go online and find the right image he’s looking for, for far less than hiring a professional photographer, as was the case with one subject in this WIRED magazine article. The article explains crowdsourcing by demonstrating its devastating effect on one guy who had much of his work taken away from him. At the same time, crowdsourcing has provided an income for thousands of other people. Nonetheless, the article cites how hard it is for professional photographers to compete with $1-dollar-per-photo crowdsourcing websites.

Executives are not the only ones engaging in crowdsourcing. With the advent of the Internet, the media has begun featuring news produced by citizen reporters or “I-reporters”. I remember seeing plenty of online and TV advertising for citizen journalists both by BBC and CNN a few years ago. These media outlets, which are fighting to stay relevant, don’t have the budget and resources to hire reporters to go across the globe to cover a story. Instead, these outlets can call on residents to be the eyes and ears of a location and bring the story to the media. Indeed, the quality may not be amazing but it is one way to develop content for a struggling media outlet for relatively nothing.

Questions for readers:

-Are you involved in crowdsourcing? If so, elaborate. If not, why not? Are you considering it (this question goes especially to my classmates who have their Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, web design, and SEO skills down, and are in an ideal position to contribute their newly-acquired skills.)?

-Have you ever sought out a crowdsourcing company to get something done? 

Virtual Image: A Closer Look

Reputation management is something that every person can gain from. In today’s world where everyone’s information is online, managing one’s reputation and image is crucial. Employers who Google their recruits or locate them on social media networks are not unheard of. In some cases employers ask applicants for the credentials to their social network profiles so they can take a closer look at their potential new hire—which is illegal, I’m quite sure. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that researching an applicant’s background online is standard procedure in many HR departments both in the U.S. and abroad where I have been subjected to it.

What about in the business world? How does the ubiquity of the Internet affect corporate communications? Does it enhance a brand’s image or hinder it? This week’s reading included research on the topic. In “Drowned Out? Rethinking corporate reputation management for the Internet” published in the Journal of Communication Management, I gained a better understanding of the world of corporate reputation management. Essentially, as someone who has worked in the corporate communications field for a few years now, I am playing a role in helping to manage the reputation of the company I work for. However, like the study points out, the challenges of the Internet reinforce the value of effective corporate reputation management and the Internet has made good PR more important, not less. Basically, if companies want to make the most impact, they need to leverage the Internet as much as possible, and embrace it as a valuable new communications and reputation-building tool.

Questions to readers:

-As many of you work within the communications realm, are any of you taking part in corporate communication management? In what ways do you do this?

-How are you managing your own personal reputation online? Have you used www.beenverified.com? Have information online ever presented a problem in your life? 

A Closer Look: Mobile Analytics and Apps

Mobile analytics is the topic of our class lecture this week and we had some interesting reading material, which included astonishing data provided by Cisco, such as the fact that global mobile traffic grew 2.3-fold in 2011, more than doubling for the fourth consecutive year. Furthermore, the average smartphone usage tripled in 2011 and consumption per user stood at about 150 MB per month, up from 55 MB per month in 2010.

Indeed, the number of smartphone users worldwide is bound to grow considering smartphones constitute only 12 percent of global handsets in use today (or at least in 2011). That means that 88 percent (likely less now that we’re approaching the end of 2012) of cell phone owners will likely convert to smartphone users when they upgrade handsets in the coming years, which will undoubtedly increase global mobile data traffic exponentially.

What does this mean for marketers? What does it mean for companies that are trying to engage with their customers in new ways? Certainly it is another medium to make money—through applications, mobile services, and well-targeted advertisements—as well as a new platform for companies to win people over. For marketers, they will need to use analytics to understand who is using their mobile sites or applications, for how long, why they bounce, and what contributes to a conversion, among other details, much like web analytics. Brands can also use smartphones to woo potential clients with interactive and innovative sites and applications. They can further develop a customer’s loyalty with properly-working applications that add value to someone’s life (New York Times and Wall Street Journal have developed apps that improve my life and further strengthen my affinity to these media outlets).

As our other reading material pointed out, smartphones also open doors in the healthcare world—by providing information to people without access to doctors or helping patients track their health. In fact, according to the required reading, health-related applications are a fast-growing segment, with thousands available to all smartphone users regardless of phone type (Android, Blackberry, or iPhone). While reading the report, however, I wonder how helpful these applications are when you consider the radiation emitted by these devices. Having elderly patients use smartphones and other technology to track their every move means that there will be a lot of technology in or around their body, i.e. potential for increased radiation exposure.

My questions to readers this week are:

-What mobile application has improved or changed your life? Which app can you not live without?

-How should radiation levels be taken into consideration when developing healthcare applications? Is it even something to consider?

A Whole New World: Second Life

Second Life’s homepage. I’m not sure what they are trying to advertise.

What if you could lead a double life? Let’s say, change your name, divorce your spouse, switch careers, move to a new country, and even alter your gender if you feel like it. That’s just plain exhausting and perhaps a bit reckless, however. Not many people are interested in risking it all by taking a leap of faith and changing their life drastically. Well, unless they are like me and decide to move to a new country thousands of miles away from home (from the U.S. to Lebanon), study a new language (Arabic), and switch careers (from American network news to global management consulting). However, for the less adventurous there is another option. People can actually lead a whole new life through something called Second Life without even leaving their chair.

I’m sure you have heard of it as it’s been around for nearly a decade. For those of you who don’t know much about it, Second Life is an online virtual world where users create their own avatar and environment, and can virtually interact with people who are located around the world. To use Second Life, you’ll need fast Internet and a strong graphic card, neither of which I have (Lebanon’s Internet is pitiful and my work computer isn’t meant for gaming, thank God).

Nevertheless, per my class assignment, I gave Second Life a chance last night and created my own avatar to see just how it worked. Albeit slow because of my Internet connect, Second Life reminded me of two computer games from my childhood—SimCity, a city-building simulation video game, and Doom, a gruesome science-fiction, first-person shooter game, which both came out in the 1990s. Yes, as a kid I got away with playing Doom because my father thought it was an appropriate after-school extracurricular activity. Doom and Second Life share a virtual landscape that avatars can explore in first-person. However, with Second Life you can interact with others, shop, build homes, do business, and basically do whatever you might do in real life. I don’t think I’ll ever log back in to Second Life—even if I had a speedy Internet connection and computer that could process the graphics. It’s just not my thing; I don’t have enough time in the real world to accomplish my goals—why start distracting myself with a virtual world?

I know that Second Life is a major business today, however, my questions this week are:

-Why is Second Life so popular today, nearly a decade after it was launched?

-Do you think people should spend more time in their actual life than Second Life?

-What is the psychological impact of Second Life? Is it healthy to spend hours online in a virtual world?