Blockchain Lets This Startup Trade Gold That’s Still in the Ground

Blockchain Lets This Startup Trade Gold That's Still in the Ground

  

A number of Blockchain Projects have focused on Trading Bullion

During the past year, a number of blockchain projects have focused on trading bullion, but what about gold that's still in the ground? That seemingly unlikely business model is precisely the aim of a new partnership announced last month between Orebits, a startup providing asset-digitization for precious metal reserves, and blockchain product provider Symbiont. The deal would see the creation of so-called smart certificates, or smart contract investment instruments, tied to proven gold reserves (supplies of the metal known to be in the ground, but that haven't yet been processed). Despite the physical restrictions of the gold itself, the smart certificates, known as 'orebits', can now be freely traded and exchanged as tokens on a blockchain platform provided by Symbiont. Michael Zimits, Orebits’ president, and COO, told CoinDesk that each of the certificates will be backed by five ounces of proven gold reserves.

He said:

"Orebits derive their value from the price of traded gold, providing exposure to the price movement of the precious metal without having to deal with the physical properties and logistical concerns of holding the asset in tangible form."

As for how someone might confirm the gold reserves are real, Zimits explained that the smart contracts house this information directly. "This documentation is made available on the distributed ledger as part of the smart contract and includes geological surveys and findings, geologist verification, registered chain of custody, corporate documentation and owner background verification," he said.

As such, the partnership represents the latest effort to bridge the worlds of gold and blockchain. So far this year, companies like Euroclear and long-standing institutions like the UK Royal Mint have revealed plans to launch marketplaces enabling gold exchange via the technology. In this light, Orebits is the latest entry in what is proving to be an attractive use case for blockchain, and further fits into the broader trend of enterprises seeking to leverage blockchain tech to open new revenue streams.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Tencent Joins China Blockchain Race With New TrustSQL Platform

Tencent Joins China Blockchain Race With New TrustSQL Platform

  

The Chinese Internet giant Tencent

is building its own Blockchain for enterprise-level services. Its platform, TrustSQL, aims to provide all the tools necessary for developing Blockchain applications for businesses. “It is found that the meaning of the Blockchain is that it can build a more reliable Internet system, fundamentally solve the value exchange and transfer in the existence of fraud and rent-seeking phenomenon,” a translated portion of Tencent’s whitepaper by Investopedia reads.

“More and more people believe that with the popularity of Blockchain technology, the digital economy will be more authentic and credible and the economy and society will become more fair and transparent.” Composed of three layers – core chain, product service, and applications – TrustSQL will include support for all manner of Blockchain-enabled tasks, including “digital assets, shared books, proof certificates, stock swaps and proprietary transactions,” the publication quotes the whitepaper.

Tencent has been somewhat off the radar in terms of Blockchain innovation until now. While fellow Asian tech giants such as Baidu and Samsung have been active in the research field, the company was identified as a potential loser in the ever-evolving regulatory setup in China. Tencent, as part of the so-called BAT group along with Baidu and Alibaba, is known for its tenacity in disruptive financial technologies, with all three outfits working at breakneck speed to update the Chinese domestic market before traditional banks.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Considerations when Pursuing Patent Rights in the Blockchain Technology Space

Considerations when Pursuing
Patent Rights in the Blockchain Technology Space

  

A blockchain is a subtype

of distributed ledger data structure, in which transactions are grouped into “blocks” that reference each other in cryptographic hashes.  Technologies are developing that implement blockchains to solve all sorts of problems related to transactions: privacy, security, data integrity, double-spending, dynamic/smart contracting, payments, interoperability, etc.  I started in this space at a time when there was very little published literature on blockchain technologies, including published patent applications. Times have changed; now patent applications for blockchain technologies are readily available, with many patents granted.  Blockchain technologies are a red-hot investment and development space right now and will be for at least the next couple of years. Many blockchain technology innovators begin with the same concerns. These concerns inspire the following five points of considerations for innovators in blockchain technologies who are interested in securing intellectual property rights.

Time is of the essence.  In 2011, the United States passed the America Invents Act, which was legislation that changed the patenting regime such that between two competing inventors filing an application for patent rights in the same or similar invention, generally the first inventor to file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the one who gets to claim patent rights on the invention.  Development in the blockchain technology space is moving at break-neck speed; a  compilation shows that since 2014, there are at least 275 patent applications in the blockchain technology space (and this list is missing quite a few groundbreaking publications).  Notice that blockchain-technology patents granted in the US tie the inventions to the physical computer processors. 

That’s yet another Alice-inspired patent application drafting adaptation.Strongly consider filing a provisional patent application as soon as feasible.  A provisional patent application does not need to be as detailed as a nonprovisional patent application, thus they are drafted quicker than are non-provisional patent applications.  The earlier a proper patent application is filed, the smaller the body of “prior art” from which the USPTO can pluck references to use against the invention’s patent application. Because time is of the essence, inventors will want to be organized enough to so that their patent attorneys can directly get to the meat of the innovative features of the invention. Patent attorneys benefit greatly from white papers and commented code. The attorney will be more efficient if s/he is able to reference well-drafted technical specifications. Great organization is a leg up in the race to file to the USPTO.

Find an appropriate patent attorney.  Not just any patent attorney– one with a technical background in computing applications.  The laws surrounding software-implemented inventions are quite convoluted and complex since the Supreme Court case Alice (2014) took us all down the rabbit hole.  So much so that many patent attorneys, who do not understand software applications well enough to understand the highly nuanced evolution of case law in this area, will say bizarre and wholly misleading things like “software can’t be patented.”  The intended meaning of the statement is absolutely false; software-related patent applications are granted nearly every Tuesday by the USPTO.  Likewise, if a candidate patent attorney gives the aura of being a master in this patent space, s/he does not have the mindset serve any blockchain technology client.  This space is developing so fast– no one understands or can hope to understand all of it anytime soon.  For now, all attorneys (even those with highly relevant computational technology backgrounds) must lean heavily on their inventors to understand the relevant aspects of blockchain technologies–things are moving rapidly for blockchain technologies.  That being said, though, an attorney who has worked with some clients in this space likely will have some foundation upon which to build an understanding of the invention.  When interviewing attorneys, ask about their relevant technical backgrounds.

If the patent application is simple, it’s stupid. Inventors and their patent attorneys should study granted patents in this space (most of which are well post-Alice!).  Not a single granted patent application in this space is written such that a layperson can easily understand the invention. This is absolutely appropriate because these applications are judged by the examiner under these criteria: they must be written so that a ‘person having ordinary skill in the art’ (PHOSITA) would be able to replicate and innovate off of the allowed patent application after the original invention’s patent term runs out.  Even with a software development background in network science, parallel computing, and trade-settlement technologies, and experience with blockchain technology patents, there are many concepts in the blockchain technology space that are still challenging for me.  I take care to probe my inventors as a PHOSITA.  Be careful about how much the attorney simplifies a patent application in the software-related arts space; it’s this dumbing down that’s led to the rejection of patent applications for truly innovative and nonobvious inventions (and began a progeny of absurd case law interpretation, a la Alice).

But do keep it neatly comprehensible. Remember that examiners and judges at the USPTO that will be reading the patent application, and that an assigned examiner might not know much about blockchain technologies yet.  Good patent applications for cutting-edge technologies set definitions early and conspicuously in the patent application. Define blockchain!  Blockchain networks and distributed ledger systems are not synonymous.  There is even disagreement as to the whether or not ‘blockchain’ is a concrete noun.  If consensus protocols are integral to the invention, patent application drafters should take care to define and describe them.  Many rejections of patent applications are as result of indefiniteness in the language of the application.  Drafters should not assume a USPTO examiner is just going to do an internet search and learn about these fundamental definitions on some widely-used wiki.  Have consistency between the language of the claims and the specification part of the application.  Claims inherit meaning from the relevant sections of the specification.  Patent prosecutors can and remind examiners of that when the examiner strays from proper claim interpretation.

Many inventors will pursue patent protection on the down low as they try to figure out what exactly they’re going to do with the invention.  Maybe the inventors are ultimately going to altruistically share the rights of to the technology for the greater good (altruism is a central cultural ideal and consideration in the original blockchain technology space or to get the network effects of a robust network of nodes.  No one yet knows for sure, however, what the future of blockchain technologies will look like. This is why inventors and their investors may want to bundle the rights in their IP now so that their choices for disposition are not foreclosed at the outset. As examples, opportunities may be foreclosed by another entity claiming the invention or the inventor’s own public disclosure.  Many inventors pursue patents for “defensive” purposes.  In any case, attorneys are bound by the highest level of confidentiality and may not act in ways that are averse to their client’s interests and wishes.  Patent attorneys in this space should seek to understand the culture of inventors and inventions in this space.

Blockchain technology innovators, in my experience, have great foresight and can understand many advanced concepts in patent law, perhaps because one must understand the economics of incentivization/gamification to implement true blockchain technologies.Raina Haque is the founder and lead patent attorney of Erdos Intellectual Property Law. Her technical background is in software engineering and bioinformatics. Prior to joining the legal profession, she was a business analyst and software engineer at a major Wall Street financial firm for global portfolio trading technologies. She was a research fellow at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in the Neurotoxicology and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance labs. At Wellesley College, her alma mater, she majored in bioinformatics. She serves the intellectual property needs of high tech and design clients. For more information, or to contact Raina, please visit her firm profile page.

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

How Blockchain Startups Will Solve The Identity Crisis For The Internet Of Things

How Blockchain Startups Will Solve The Identity Crisis For The Internet Of Things

  

The popularity of technologies

like the self-driving car and Amazon Echo are rising; it’s not hard to imagine a world where your coffee maker knows when to summon your morning Uber to work, and it arrives with groceries and laundry detergent, ordered directly by your refrigerator and washing machine, as they have recognized that they were low on supplies.This future will be powered by a set of inanimate objects connected through an emerging network known as the Internet of Things.  However, just as the security around the transfer of data between humans and companies is required to safeguard humans from identity theft, the same will be required for objects within the Internet of Things.

Identity protection is an emerging area for the Internet of Things. Millions of inexpensive consumer devices ship with a default username and password, but some of them end up in your house. Last winter a piece of software called Mirai herded hundreds of thousands of home routers and cameras into the most potent botnet ever, which then generated the first terabit scale distributed denial of service ever seen. What if there were a solution that permitted companies to reliably identify their customer’s devices without putting them in the position of holding customer data? What if there were a way to ensure IoT devices only accepted configuration from their legitimate owners? I talked to HYPR CEO George Avetisov about their biometrics and UniquID CEO Stefano Pepe about their device identity work to get a better feel for how blockchains will be used to solve these problems.

The service HYPR provides is a framework for passwordless authentication via biometric encryption. They don’t develop biometric devices, the focus of their innovation is creating a distributed, secure system based on existing, tested technology. We've covered the concept of cryptographic fingerprints here previously. Any digital item can be subject to some sort of cryptographic hash, then the hash can be used to check the validity of a digital item without the validator needing to have a copy. As an example, your phone's fingerprint reader does something involving a scan and a company that has access to a hash of your fingerprint's digital representation can validate you, but they don’t have the ability to impersonate you.

Digital fingerprints are just the start. HYPR supports all types of biometric data, from simple authentication algorithms for facial and voice recognition to more complex algorithms such as the way you type on a keyboard, the rhythm when you text on your phone, or how you walk on the street. Your home, your car, and your office all have access requirements and there is probably some degree of smarts already included. HYPR positions IoT vendors to include biometric authentication without a huge investment in expertise, money, or time to implementation.

A big part of HYPR's innovation is complete distrust of the internet for transmitting biometric data itself, which never leaves the user's cell phone. A single phone might get cracked and the biometric data used, but there is no path to hitting millions of victims in a single event. Where does the use of a blockchain fit in all this? It will serve as a distributed, trustless store of biometrics validation data. There are several implications and not all are obvious. A blockchain based system is resistant to denial of service attacks that cripple centralized businesses.  Why?  Because instead of bringing down a single server farm hosting with the authentication data, a DOS attack would have to identify and bring down many blockchain nodes hosted by several parties within the same permissioned blockchain environment.

Equally important to DOS protection is business process interoperability. Avetisov explains, “We are building use cases around associative forms of identity through the blockchain.  Right now you can not authenticate between two different corporate entities, such as a bank and a car insurance company because there is not a shared identity between the two companies.  Each company has a different identity stack that is not interoperable.  By using a blockchain, you can have an interoperable ledger for identity between multiple entities without a complex infrastructure.  An insurance company can prove your identity to a bank or a credit card can prove your identity to a streaming service all through biometric data.”

How does it all work?  While the exact mechanics have not been finalized, it would involve each company acting as a validator of the data within the network running nodes that are constantly accepting biometric data. When a company that is not running a node wants to authentic a user, they would look to the network and the nodes would provide data on the last time stamp that a particular user could have been identified with a particular device accepting biometric data.  If the user can prove they had a device that the network has agreed is associated with their identity within a recent timeframe, the user is then authenticated.

The value here is that different companies can identify users based on their specialized identity stack and provide authentication to others without sharing any of their personal data.  Converting your customers to use biometrics is a complex, expensive project. But if 70% of your customers are already using a system from another company, and that system has been built with an eye on assisting third parties to make the jump to biometrics, the barrier to entry is dramatically lowered. Cost savings begin in quarters rather than years.

What sort of benefits accrue if diverse businesses authenticate their users with the same biometrics system? Here's a scenario Avetisov offered that's a nightmare today, but which would have a happy ending in a biometrics enabled world. Children don't typically have identity information until their later teen years when they start driving, so there is a three to five year window where they are allowed to roam widely without a formal ID. If they're brought to a hospital injured and unresponsive there is a delay while they are identified, wasting some of that golden hour in treating shock and trauma. A biometric solution accelerates that process and a blockchain allows that medical institution to authenticate through the identifying information collected from other companies.

These use cases could be implemented using Bitcoin's blockchain, but HYPR has chosen a private solution. While individuals are using biometrics to authenticate, they do so with large entities, and HYPR has focused on serving the needs of banks, health care, and insurance providers.  For these enterprises, regulation around data security is a great concern.  While a public blockchain with hashed or encrypted data provides high levels of data security, it is still unclear how managing data in such a way would fit within the current regulatory framework.  As such, private or permissioned blockchains are the fastest way to market without the need to educate regulators.

While HYPR is focused on how to build an interoperable environment for humans to be authenticated via various IOT devices, UniquID is building technology that identifies the devices themselves while they are offline through a very clever use of blockchain technology and smart contracts.

Pepe offered an interesting example of how an offline smart contract might work, “If you want to rent a Zipcar, what happens if neither your phone or the car cannot connect to the internet.  You can’t unlock the car with your smart phone unless the owner of the car comes with the keys in his pocket, drives the car out, and brings the car to a place to download a certificate. This is the only way for the car to establish a secure connection with your phone.  However, with UniquID there is a very different scenario.  Both the car and the smartphone have a UniquID wallet on the blockchain. Zipcar creates a smart contract on the blockchain that unlocks the car for a specific smartphone when a token is received in the car’s wallet.  The smartphone downloads [all or a portion of] the blockchain with the smart contract already executed.  Then when you go to the car without internet, your smartphone uploads the missing blocks of the blockchain that the car does not have, with the executed smart contract, and the car unlocks for the person with the correct smartphone.”

Through this innovative use of blockchain technology, devices do not have to be connected to the internet in order to communicate, identify and authenticate with each other in a secure way.  This is an important mechanic for devices to be able to capture real-time data and communicate with one another in real time.  

Unlike HYPR, which can be built on either a permissioned or public blockchain, this use case relies on the security provided through the proof of work mechanism of a public blockchain.  A private blockchain environment, particularly a small one, may have vulnerabilities that a motivated attacker could exercise, modifying data in ways an offline node could not detect. A public blockchain’s security mechanism, proof of work consensus, costs the same amount to fraud, whether online or offline. Global bitcoin mining capacity is 3.75 million terrahashes per second. Translating that to something you can visualize, an AntMiner T9 will do 12.5 terrahashes per second, costs $1,140, weighs twelve pounds, and consumes 1576 watts. You’d need 300,000 of those to match current global Bitcoin capacity and theoretical attacks could be done with 10% of the total – a hundred and twelve tons of gear consuming 37 megawatts of power costing $34 million.

If you’ve got a $20,000 vehicle but it would take the purchase price of a 220’ yacht to steal it, such attacks are going to remain at the proof of concept stage. However, it is important to note that a downside to the current layout of this plan may require a device to download an entire blockchain, which would be cumbersome for a small IOT device. UniquID has very ambitious plans on how to improve device identity and communication through a new type of secure network that will act as alternatives to SIM networks and certificate authorities that I call decentralized certificate authorities.  Unfortunately, UniquID has not yet released a white paper describing their service, so we’ll save that for another article.

You can see how these technologies will be required for a future with an Uber ordering coffee maker, a grocery ordering refrigerator, or laundry room that makes sure you’re always ready to do the next load. Humans will be identified by biometrics, devices by unique attributes like MAC addresses, likely in combination with the unique attributes of the human that first uses them, imprinting to their new owners the way some newborn animals do with their mothers.  When a service needs to leave a message for a device that isn’t always on if it’s small it’ll be placed directly on a blockchain, while larger data say a software update, will be left as a URL on the blockchain and a cryptographic fingerprint of the file.

We’ve had robotics on factory floors for two generations, lines of carefully laid out systems assembling goods. That sort of automation is going to spread from within a single organization to across multiple enterprises, reaching out to consumers, and eventually imbuing the entire supply chain with situational awareness, speeding deliveries and reducing the need for human interactions.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Blockchain Tracker: Blockchain’s Role In Digital Advertising

Blockchain Tracker:
Blockchain’s Role In Digital Advertising

  

Although it’s still in its infancy stage of being used

outside of the financial arena, blockchain technology is slowly showing signs of impacting other industries. On the tip of everyone’s tongue in the digital advertising arena is blockchain technology. Just as recent as this January, ethereum-based blockchain technology company adChain partnered up with decentralized application studio ConsenSys with the goal of specifically developing a blockchain solution for the online advertising industry.

ConsenSys’ Founder, Joseph Lubin, commented in the joint press release about how blockchain technology adds value to digital advertising: “There is tremendous value and disruption potential of this technology beyond FinTech. The development of smart contract-based applications in digital advertising is an ideal use case for blockchain. Supply chains and value chains are ideal use cases for Ethereum, as it enables many cooperating and competing participants to work fluidly together on a shared platform that they can all trust to realize an efficient and fraud-resistant n-sided marketplace. We’ve been iterating on the adChain blockchain implementation for a year and believe adChain will significantly change the way advertisers and publishers operate their supply chains to exchange ad impressions.” Developed through the Swiss non-profit organization, The Ethereum Foundation, ethereum is a blockchain platform that’s defined as “a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.”

As such, it should come as no surprise that the digital advertising realm is beginning to use blockchain to help prevent fraudulent advertising. The first example of the technology’s use in digital advertising comes from Los Angeles-based startup company MetaX. It seeks to fight ad fraud via its new adChain protocol, which enables its own supply chain to adapt in a scalable, trustworthy and secure manner via blockchain. MetaX’s Co-Founder and CEO, Ken Brook, understands how quickly the digital advertising arena is growing and thus believes standard industry procedures just won’t cut it. “Blockchain has a number of exciting implications for digital advertising. Fraud prevention is a natural first application given the transparency and security blockchain brings, and because fraud is such a major issue for the advertising sector,” he said.

Another avenue blockchain technology is being used for in digital advertising is ad-delivery verification. While trust in advertising isn’t at its highest point, some are touting that blockchain has the ability to be used to see if advertisements are being delivered and whether or not they’re going to the correct place. Blockchain also allows advertisers to track who opened the ad, where it was opened and what possible conversion rates are from the promotional push. Through all of this, blockchain ultimately helps out two parties, which include the digital advertising industry, with its budgeting, and streamlining its services and consumers with transparency into ad practices. By removing any third-party interference, access to information on how advertising works internally and the paths it takes to reach consumers will allow the public to likely have more control over incoming targeted messages.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Reasons Social Media Marketing Is Still Underrated

Reasons Social Media Marketing
Is Still Underrated

  

The numbers on social media marketing are impressive.

More than half of small businesses in the United States are planning to increase their social media marketing budgets in 2017, and the number of businesses using social media marketing has increased, year over year, for more than a decade.Still, social media marketing remains underrated. Business owners and marketers frequently treat it as a second thought—something for an intern to handle, rather than a strategically deep mode of building your reputation and attracting new traffic. Some have even abandoned the idea altogether, refusing to spend any time or money on a strategy that nets a positive ROI for up to 92 percent of businesses that use it. So what’s the deal? Why isn’t everyone on board with the strategy?

The "fad" angle.

Believe it or not, some people still believe that social media—or its use as a marketing strategy—is still a fad just waiting to fizzle out. This is an argument I could have understood back in 2007 when social media platforms were only in use by a small percentage of the population. But now that Facebook has reached more than 1.2 billion users and is still growing, with a corporate foundation that rivals those of Apple or Google, it’s a hard argument to defend. Users have gotten used to the idea of socially interacting online, and platforms keep evolving in new ways to maintain their interest.

You get what you pay for.

Psychologically, people tend to place more value on things that cost more money. For example, in a blind taste test of identical wines whose only difference is price, people claim that the more expensive (yet compositionally identical) wine tastes better. Take this principle to social media marketing; it’s free to claim and build a business profile and to post regularly (as long as you aren’t leveraging paid advertising). Because of that, people don’t value it as much as they do paid advertising. They’re also less likely to pay a professional to work on a social media campaign, knowing that—technically—anyone could do it for free (even if they never actually do it).

Unmeasurable effects.

The return on investment (ROI) of social media is hard to measure, and I’ll be the first to admit it. One of your biggest goals is attracting a large following of people who are enthusiastic about your brand, and improving both your brand’s reputation and brand awareness. These aren’t as objectively measurable as on-site conversions, but they can and do lead to greater consumer interest, which manifests as sales eventually. Trying to pin down an exact value for all these benefits is next to impossible, even for the pros, so the value of a social media campaign is almost always underreported.

Anecdotes.

People also use anecdotal evidence as a basis for their opinions about the strategy. For example, they may know of another business who used social media and didn’t see any results, so they stay away from it in the present. However, these anecdotal examples often don’t examine the types of tactics these businesses used, and they certainly don’t represent the average across multiple businesses.

Apples and oranges.

Ironically, these same business owners often cite the fact that anecdotal evidence can’t prove a strategy’s effectiveness for everybody. They point to major influencers or big businesses in the social media world and explain that social media works for them because it fits naturally with their industry, or because they have the resources to invest in a heavy campaign. It’s true that some industries may be naturally inclined to perform better on social media than others; tech companies and consumer-facing businesses are two good examples. However, social media marketing can be used by practically any company—it may just require an adjustment to your approach.

Poor targeting.

Some businesses look at their own results and use those results as a gauge of the long-term potential of their campaign. But they may not realise that their strategic targeting is interfering with their results. For example, if you buy 1,000 followers using some super cheap follower-adding service, but only 4 or 5 of them ever interact with your posts or visit your site, it could be that the remaining 995 don’t belong to demographics relevant for your business, or that you haven’t been using the right engagement strategies to cultivate interest. Don’t underestimate the potential of a well-researched, strategically focused campaign.

 Lack of investment.

Effective social media marketing can’t be done on a whim. It needs to be planned, researched, and strategically executed. That means you’ll need to spend a significant amount of time or a significant amount of money to see results; and since many business owners aren’t willing to make that investment, they never see a fraction of their potential results. By that point, they’ve seen what a small investment does, and they’re unwilling to make the jump to a larger investment.

Social media marketing isn’t an “underground” strategy; it’s talked about heavily (and I should know), and there’s no shortage of content covering its feasibility and best tactics. But the perceptions of marketers and business owners are still lagging behind the evidence, and they’re only hurting themselves in the process. The more you learn about the effective implementation of social media marketing, the more plainly beneficial it seems—but you have to treat it as a legitimate marketing strategy if you want to research it appropriately.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Ways to monetize your social media followings

Ways to monetize your
social media followings

Turn your social media presence into a way to generate revenue — even if you don't have a massive following on Facebook or Twitter.

   Social media has not only revolutionised the way that people communicate

and stay in touch; it has completely transformed business and marketing practices as a whole. Over the past five years, social media websites have become some of the largest and most meaningful pieces of the digital marketing puzzle. While many still maintain that social platforms are for communicating and not slinging products, others would vehemently disagree; just look at Facebook, Instagram and other networks’ efforts to integrate e-commerce options.

Generating revenue is, by many standards, the sole reason why many attempts to accrue millions of followers; massive awareness often leads to either sponsorships or sales. Either way, cash is the ultimate goal. But is it possible to monetize moderate social followings that don’t reach into the hundreds of thousands and beyond? You bet it is. If you’re ready to start having your social followings work for you, here are five ways to turn your social presence into a bona fide stream of revenue.

Create an online course that educates your followers

E-learning is a gargantuan industry that’s poised to grow exponentially over the next several years, reaching $325 billion globally by 2025. Those who have been watching this trend know that now is the time to double down on their own expertise and create a course to offer their audiences. Kajabi, an e-learning platform that boasts a wide array of powerful features for marketing, selling, upselling and hosting digital learning courses to students, recently published a story on its blog about one of its “heroes” (a person who turned their passion into a profit through Kajabi’s offerings) that clearly shows anyone can turn their social audience into customers and advocates.

Makeup and design artist Tiffany Bymaster was introduced to Kajabi by her mentor, who had already achieved massive success through the platform. Bymaster had no email list or social following at the time, but knew her skill set was stellar. She began making videos on how to grow a person’s outreach process — mostly just to help herself become comfortable in front of the camera. Once she set up her Kajabi website, these videos actually became part of her course training materials. From there, momentum started to build as her social presence grew and her online training program took flight. Today, Bymaster has now launched three successful programs which have earned her $80,000 in the past six months. Bymaster is a perfect example of leveraging social to create revenue, as her method incorporates my next two points.

Unveil new products and services to your followers

In order to generate sales from your audience, you need to have something to sell. By posting about new products or services on social media, you are giving your offering a much larger platform to reach prospective buyers. If you want to significantly extend that reach, start running Facebook ads for your products using Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences. This will allow you to target the most relevant individuals to help boost your sales. If you want to add a layer of “exclusivity” to your product releases, you could give your social audiences early access to products and deals so as to create a sense of urgency and privilege.

Integrate video into your marketing stack

Video content is en Fuego. Everywhere you turn there is video content, articles about video content, and even videos about video content; it is becoming inescapable. Nearly every social platform is currently generating billions of video views per day; even Snapchat has broken the 10 billion daily view marker. The point is that video content is becoming a marketing necessity — especially when you consider that explainer videos increase a prospect’s likelihood to purchase by 1.81 times.

Videos help increase your chances of monetizing your audience, as the content is engaging, educational and often entertaining — the marketing trifecta. Leverage this by creating video content about your products and using live streaming services like Facebook Live to connect with your audience and explain exactly how your product will help them reach their goals and make life simpler.

Become an affiliate to market products to your audience

Affiliate programs are another sales model that is increasing in popularity. Becoming an affiliate advertiser for brands like Amazon is a relatively simple endeavour which allows entrepreneurial-minded folks to acquire advertising materials for various brands to market to their audiences. These adverts can be circulated across an individual’s blog, website, and yes, social media accounts. Affiliates are paid a commission based on the revenue their particular set of ads generates.

Just be sure when you are promoting these links to your social followers that you are honest with them about your affiliate status and the items you are highlighting; pandering will get you nowhere, except maybe unfollowed. Create long-form reviews on products, and let your followers know your honest opinion; as a bonus, you can even create video content on these items to boost your engagement.

Create a Facebook shop and sell right through social

Social media platforms are integrating all sorts of shopping options for brands and consumers to take advantage of. One of the most comprehensive and in-depth social selling toolkits comes from Facebook. By using Facebook’s shop section, you can list physical products directly on the platform for followers to browse and buy. It just doesn’t get any easier to reach so many people in such an efficient and effective manner.

Selling has never been so easy

The digital age affords brands and entrepreneurs a vast array of options for generating income in a much less back-breaking way than past generations. These are only a few of the many ways that you can monetize your social following and build an online business.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Essentials for a Winning Social Media Marketing Strategy

 

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

The Cold, Hard Truth About Social Media Marketing

The Cold, Hard Truth About Social Media Marketing

  

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Does Your Company Really Need to Focus on SEO?

Does Your Company Really Need to Focus on SEO?

  

Q: Is search engine optimioptimisation important to your digital marketing strategy?
A: Yes and no
.

Firstly, let’s break down SEO as I think businesses and marketers have a tendency to overcomplicate it, which results in an overwhelming feeling of "this isn’t for us" or "we don’t have the expertise/time for this." Actually, SEO is quite simple when you dispel the SEO myths and break it down to its core fundamentals: on-site (changes you make to your actual website) and offsite (things you do outside of your own website). On-site SEO is simply the process of making your website search-engine friendly. This includes tactics like optimising your title tags, publishing great content and being strategic about your website’s structure.

Offsite SEO is the process of getting validation from other websites that your website is useful to searchers. The best way to do this is by earning backlinks — in other words, having other websites link to your website (Note: it’s very important that you don’t try to earn what Google calls "unnatural" links — this could result in a penalty if done at scale!)

If that doesn’t make sense, perhaps my blind date analogy will work. Let’s say you’re at work and you see a cute guy or girl that you like. They showered, combed their hair, put on good clothes and perfume, and you like the look of them. What they’ve done is nail their on-site SEO. In other words, how they look on face value to the searcher — or in my analogy, the person looking for love. Naturally, you ask another colleague what the deal is about this mystical human. You learn that they completed their MBA at Harvard, are on the lacrosse team, and they volunteer every summer for a charity you support. What they’ve done is nail their off-page SEO – meaning, other people are telling you they’re great meaning your opinion of them is validated.

In my opinion, the most important component of SEO is on-site SEO. These are things that you can control, and on-site SEO factors quite literally tell Google what your website is about so that they know where to rank it in its search results. As for off-site SEO, it should always be secondary to nailing your on-site SEO. You have control of what’s on your website, so it’s much easier to focus on getting this right first, evaluating the results, and then look into whether off-site SEO is something you should think about doing. When it comes to improving your on-site SEO, the best place to start is by optimising your content for both users and search engines.

Content is important for a few reasons. First, if you don’t have great content, then you have nothing to share on social media, via email marketing, on your website, in ads or on affiliate sites to grow your marketing funnel. These are all core components of digital marketing and are the primary reasons you should be investing in creating content. It benefits your business on so many levels; it’s not just for SEO. When publishing content, the secret to maximising any on-site SEO benefit is being strategic with the keywords you’re using and the way you’re optimising for them on the page itself. Learn how to select the best keywords to drive more traffic, and then make sure you optimise your web page for those keywords to make sure you’re capitalising on all your hard work from an organic search perspective.

But most importantly, creating great content is actually what causes other websites to link to you. Consequently, this improves your off-site SEO metrics because people are more likely to link to your content as a useful resource or reference it as point of discussion. So focusing on great content kills two birds with one stone: it improves your on-site SEO and your off-site SEO. However, there’s a problem: Most people don’t really know what good content is. You may be thinking, “Oh, those people… I’m not one of them.” I’m sorry to break it to you, but you probably are. Head over to your company’s blog or Facebook page now. Do you see any posts that talk about the product or service that you sell? If you do, then you’re probably not doing content right to attract more traffic at the top of the funnel.

Here's one example. I wear glasses. If you’re an online glasses retailer, you most likely create content around new trends or top styles. For example, you might have a blog post titled: “10 Best Glasses Frames for Oval Faces.”Now, this may work for attracting people like me to your website, because I’m already aware of my problem (that I’m short-sighted), and I’m considering my options for solving that problem (I’m thinking about purchasing the solution). However, the largest opportunity for most businesses to scale their traffic and database is to use content to also attract people that don’t know they need your product yet. So, using the same glasses example: what would people that need glasses, but are not aware of this need, search for online?

They may search for things like:

  • Why do I keep getting headaches at work?
  • How to stop squinting at work?
  • Why are my eyes blurry?
  • What are those black dots I see on my eye?

An online glasses retailer that creates great content would already know this after doing buyer persona research and identifying their persona’s challenges. If you’ve not done so already, here’s a great free tool to create buyer personas for your business. They may create a blog post that has a few reasons why you may get headaches at work. Some advice they could give to appeal to this persona at the start of their buyer’s journey could be:

  • Leave your desk every 30 minutes and go for a walk
  • Turn your computer brightness down
  • Look at something in the distance every 10 minutes
  • Get an eye test to check on the health of your eyes

This gives the target buyer the option to solve the problem for themselves, without directly trying to sell to them too early. And in the event that walking, turning the brightness down, and looking in the distance doesn’t work, they may very well get an eye test and then buy some glasses from you after remembering how helpful your content was.

Now this is an exaggerated and accelerated example of someone moving through the three stages of the buyer’s journey: awareness (of problem), consideration (of options) and decision (on which product/service to use). However, the point is, when you create content that helps people and is great quality, they’re much more likely to share it on social media, link to it from their personal blog and tell their colleagues about it. If you can pair that with thorough keyword research and a solid on-site SEO strategy, then you have a much better chance of ranking well in Google’ search results.

So, while SEO is an important part of digital marketing for attracting traffic at the top of the funnel, it’s by no means the most important — SEO works best when you implement it as part of a wider content-led marketing strategy. Focus on creating great content and you’ll see benefits not only on the SEO front, but across all of your digital marketing activities.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

The Social Media Expert