online social networking

Even If You’re Not Doing Social Media, You Should Still Be Doing This…

In an effort to better involve themselves in social media, many brands still attempt to decide which channel to hop on.

It’s easy to do this. It’s easy to be attracted to whatever the bring and shiny object may be at the moment. Brands can be like little, distracted squirrels when it comes to social media. Some have already tinkered in places like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while others simply haven’t invested the time and resources to figure out which one will serve them best. Many are wondering if Instagram, Vine and Pinterest can help them be better and do more. Most brands have fundamental challenges with the platforms because, while they are free to connect and engage with, it takes a tremendous amount of knowledge, patience and effort for it to bear juicy fruits. With that, the popularity of online social networking has also brought with it the complexity of paid media as well. For a lot of this more corporate content to rise above, it must now be boosted and supported with significant media dollars. We’re seeing everything from fan acquisition paid media strategies to companies that are paying to promote individual posts and tweets to garner attention. It sounds a lot like traditional media… and that’s because it is. Still, there are many brands (especially in the small and medium-sized business space) that are experiencing great returns by simply being present, helpful and interesting to customers and potential clients. If all of this sounds complex, it is because it is complex. The best way to understand this brave new word of marketing is to think of it as a publishing platform. Brands can create content (in text, images, audio and video) much in the same way that a publisher can create content, and brands can advertise on these publishing platforms as well. The biggest paradigm shift (that most brands still fail to comprehend) is that within this model, brands can also be the publisher or build their own publishing platform (meaning, they are no longer at the mercy of the publisher to run the content or negotiate the ad space with). It’s enough to make any business throw their hands up in the air and give up entirely. 

A way to step back, but still win at social media.

When asked where to start with social media, most gurus, thought leaders and ninjas will tell brands to listen. Spend some time on these channels listening to what consumers are talking about. Are they mentioning your brand, your competitors or the industry that you serve? It is sound advice and something that many brands can start doing right at this moment. There are free tools (like Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts) that can give you a semblance of what is being said, but times have changed. Social media is now close to fifteen years old (older, if you really want to get specific about when the popularity of blogging first took hold). There has been many layers of maturation in the space. Now, brands can (and should) be doing a lot more than just listening, when they decide to take the plunge into social media. In fact, if you’re still on the fence with social media, there is one big, major and fascinating thing that you can do to better understand not just social media, but how your brand is competitively performing in the marketplace: invest in a social media analytics tool.

Start with social media analytics.

This isn’t about measuring your brand efficacy in digital marketing (at least not yet), it’s about taking the first step (and making that first step a lot more power and profound than simply listening). Now, as a brand, you can gather insights about your business, your competitors and the industry that you serve like never before. Last week, eMarketer posted a news item titled, Marketers Adopt Social Media Analytics Tools, that looked at some new research on how close to two-thirds of companies in North America have adopted some kind of social media analytics tool (and how the increase has really taken shape in the past two years). What makes this research so compelling to brands who are not immersed in the digital marketing and social media space is how these tools are being used by organizations. According to the article, here is the breakdown:

  • Campaign tracking – 60%
  • Brand analysis – 48%
  • Competitive intelligence – 40%
  • Customer care – 36%
  • Product launch – 32%
  • Influencer ranking – 27%
  • Owned/earned media analysis – 18%
  • Product innovation – 11%
  • Category analysis – 11%
  • Risk management – 3%
  • Partner monitoring – 3%

What is this list screaming to you?

All of these activities. All of them. Can be used for every kind of business and you don’t need a social media presence to benefit from the results. I would argue that augmenting your current marketing and communications strategies with social media is smart, but that’s an entirely other conversation piece. Think about what these new (and constantly improving) social media analytics tools can tell you about everything that you are doing to grow your business. Even if all you are doing is taking out local ads in the newspaper and on radio, a good social media analytics tool can let you know how that campaign is tracking (are people talking about it online, sharing it, etc…), it can tell you how well your brand is perceived, what people think of your competitors, how well you are handling customer service issues and so much more.

Beyond listening. Beyond doing.

Sadly, most brands see social media analytics tools as an engine to better understand how they are performing in social media. Instead, the true opportunity is in understanding just how powerful and profound these tools are in giving you a true temperature check on the overall health of your business and the brand. Have you had success on Facebook? What about Twitter? If your peers are trying to talk you into (or out of) using these channels to build your business, it is in your best interest to start with a strong social media analytics tool and from there start building a true marketing strategy that is driven by your business goals. No need to to hop on the latest craze, and no need to just listen to chatter any longer. Do yourself, your business and your future a favor. Start paying attention to everything that is going on in the social media space, and use these analytics as a barometer for what’s happening in your business and what you can do – with each and every passing day – to improve it.

Social media analytics… it’s not just to see if Facebook is working for you anymore.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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The Secret Life Of Social Media

Shhhh, don’t tell anybody anything (even though I just posted this secret online for anyone to see).

It has been brewing for some time, and it’s a difficult trend for businesses not to understand and embrace. As much as our social lives are now made public in everything from 140-characters of text on Twitter to long-form videos that we post of ourselves on YouTube, there is a growing mass audience (and developers behind them) that are creating an entirely new (and private) layers to social media. And, if all goes according to their plan, it could very well be the proverbial needle to pop the balloon of how brands have attempted to market to consumers using modern technology.

What’s the hottest thing happening right now?

It’s Snapchat, of course. Isn’t it? Lauded by the younger generation because they can send each other photographs/mini videos via smartphones and tablets that are incinerated once viewed (leaving no trace for parents, etc…). The app has become so formidable, that Facebook offered to buy them late last year for a reported $3 billion, which Snapchat turned down. Turning down $3 billion dollars buys a lot of attention and street cred. The private online social network continues to grow, as brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Acura and others have been jumping on board to figure out if Snapchat’s community of 30 million-plus users (and growing) cares to get this type of micro-disposable content from brands. Maybe, it’s not Snapchat that is the hottest thing anymore. One could argue that the hottest thing happening right now, is the fact that Facebook bounced back from this rejection and managed to acquire the cross-platform mobile messaging platform WhatsApp for an astonishing $19 billion two weeks ago. With close to 500 million users and growing, WhatsApp is, in its purest form, BlackBerry Messenger (which, of course, is now available for Android and Apple users as well) that works on any mobile device and any mobile carrier. In fact, the deal was so massive that it completely over-shadowed the fact that a similar messaging platform, Viber, was also recently acquired for $900 million by Rakuten (a Japanese online commerce platform).

Think about it: private pictures, videos, messages and more. That doesn’t sound very social, does it?

While companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter monopolize the growing areas of online social networking, what we’re beginning to see is continued growth and interest in private online social networking. The types of content, conversation and sharing that is done outside of the public limelight. Sometimes anonymously. Sometimes between two friends. It just doesn’t feel like the place that brands can insert themselves to monetize a growing user base, does it?

I have a secret to tell.

While they have not been acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars (yet), the San Francisco based startup Secret (that was founded by two former Google and Square employees) is getting tons of attention, followers and fans. In short, you can write anything that’s on your mind, add photos or colors to the background and customize this content while being able to share it – free of judgment – and without attaching any of your personal information or profile to it. It feels like a more modern, mobile and more social version of Post Secret (where individuals physically mail their anonymous secrets on the back of a postcard to a group that then scans and shares the most creative ones online). While Secret isn’t the first or only app like this, it is currently getting the lion’s share of media and consumer attention. Do you really want brands to share secrets with you? Does that even make sense? Secret follows in a long line of increasingly popular platforms that are moving towards more private, restricted and personal interactions. Path (which launched back in 2010) seemed like a more mobile version of Facebook with one major distinction:Path only allowed a maximum of 150 connections (which followed Dunbar’s number theory that human beings can only maintain a total of 150 true relationships). Small stuff, right?

What matters most to you: Public life? Professional life? Social life? Personal life?

What we’re now seeing is motion away from all of this publicness that we have been experiencing at the hands of social media for the past decade, or we’re simply seeing the mass development of a completely different type of private online social networking. In fact, if you look at where the venture capital dollars and user growth is currently happening, we could well arrive at a juncture which finds consumers much less interested in the public chest beating of their semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments on social media, and a much more focused desire to use technology as a communications platform to add more personal meaning. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp could substantiate this (why wouldn’t they want to own both the public and private online social networks of consumers?). So, while Ellen may have broken Twitter with her a-list selfie stunt from the Oscar’s, we may be at the nascent stages of seeing a brand new type of social media play that is small, intimate and, seemingly, impermeable to brands, advertisers and media companies. A place where twerking could well find it’s perfect home… behind closed doors and not out in public.

Are private online social networks the future of social media? More interesting will be how brands will react and engage with this new reality. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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The End Of Customer Service

Now that everyone complains… nobody cares when there is a complaint.

There was a time (not that long ago), when someone’s complaint online would be rocketed to the executive office, changes were made and brands were being held accountable for their foibles and mishaps. It was the early days of social media (nearly a decade ago). We had the Slashdot effect and more. It was a time when Jeff Jarvis complained about his experience with Dell (now, a story that lives on in infamy as Dell Hell) and it (along with other similar stories) demonstrated that the power to publish a story online had ramifications well beyond the usual “write a letter to the company” and hope that they respond. Back then, you would do an online search and see massive corporate websites vying for search engine optimization over someone with a blog and a bad customer experience. Online social networking took hold and these stories were further exasperated. Brands went from private responses to very publicly trying to resolve customer service issues.

David meets Goliath.

It’s hard not to face the reality that the vast majority of brands came into social media and digital connectedness kicking and screaming. They made very public concessions and apologies. Several organizations have since restructured how their marketing, communications, customer service and more interact with each other and with consumers. Transparency, speed-to-response, bringing a sense of humanity to the brand have all become corporate cultural pillars that every brand now lives to embody. It’s not easy. Remember back when the sentiment was that a brand needs to respond to everything – positive, negative and neutral – everywhere?

But, there’s something else.

Do brands really care anymore? Are there now so many people online, in so many places that it has become both impossible to keep up and, to be raw, not all that important for brands to respond because of the sheer volume? Did the whole United breaks guitars actually do any material damage to the brand? There are some many customer reviews online, that it is often difficult to make heads or tails of something. I’ll often find myself wondering about how brands respond to customer service online, because the same/annoying passive-aggressive type of customer service calls are now being embodied in the digital channels. In fact, when I have a customer service issue, I am prone to not post it online, as I don’t feel the need to leverage my community to get a response or a desire to publicly call any one brand out. I simply want a response and resolve to be done privately. The desire for brands to force this outing on social media is bewildering to me. This past week, Chris Brogan was ranting about his own customer service issues with Dell (you can read about it right here: Update to my Dell Hell Story).

Social Media Cowboys.

Brogan’s raw frustrations or issue with Dell and their products isn’t the crux. The real point of focus lies in the corporate integration. Forgetting that this is Dell, that this is Chris Brogan and that all of this is very public, what we’re seeing is a failure of integration. I loved his use of the term “social media cowboys”, because it speaks volumes to the real challenges that a brand faces in a world where consumers are both the center and the true omni-channel of a brand experience. Sadly, most companies have some kind of social media cowboy. It’s an analytics package, it’s a social media monitoring tool, it’s a real-time marketing command center, it’s a handful of work-from-home helpers, it’s a four person team working within the communications or customer service center to be listening and responding to trending issues. In short, it all means nothing, if it’s not integrated into the core product/service. Having a handful of emails (or people) run through the organization with their hair on fire because someone with any semblance of an audience (like Chris Brogan or anyone else) is demanding answers doesn’t change how a brand operates. It creates a dissonance with how everything else runs.

Sadly.

What have we learned? This is what really made me sad and frustrated after reading Chris’ post: we have not learned much after all of this time. And, for all of the talking that has been done, not much has changed. You would think that Dell (which is often held up as a case study is excellence for social media and monitoring) would be able to nail something so basic. So, left to our devices, I’m wondering how many true strides brands have really made in an effort to be better, to be more transparent, to be more human and to connect more with their consumers? Ultimately, how many brands have built a better organization, in a world where every voice now has a stage and an audience?

I’m hoping this isn’t the end of customer service.

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Facebook Is Looking Smarter Than Ever

Facebook is looking smarter than ever. It happens in a flash.

It seems like only yesterday, when everybody was complaining about Facebook’s lack of a mobile presence. Their initial strikes at a mobile app were simply lesser versions of their Web-based…

What Does Facebook Do Next?

I had an interesting conversation the other week with a senior marketing professional of a major corporation that represents many brands.

They had asked me what I thought the percentage was of posts that get through to the News Feed on Facebook from brands to people who have liked the Page? You would think that the answer is 100%. You would be wrong. There is so much sharing happening on Facebook, that the company throttles access to the News Feed (not just for brands for people too). They do this as a way to preserve and balance the diversity of content that we see on it. They also do this, so that brands (and individuals) don’t monopolize the feed. The more cynical might argue that Facebook does this as a business model. If you want more access to the News Feed, you can buy your way in with sponsored stories. I’ve heard brands say that anywhere from 12% – 18% of their posts make it through organically (without paying to promote it). It’s kind of shocking that a brand will spend so much time, money and effort to get as many likes as possible and only be able to connect with about 15% of their content/efforts, even if 100% of those people have agreed to stay connected. It is the Facebook business model: once you get a follower, you have to pay to connect with them. This senior marketing professional of a major corporation said that he is seeing percentages drop as low as 2% for some of the brands that this multi-national represents. Another analytics marketing professional told me that they are seeing the same meager numbers.

What is Facebook for brands?

I then asked the frustrated marketing professional what they are going to do about it? Are they going to allocate more dollars for advertising and sponsored stories? Are they going to continue paid fan acquisition strategies? This was their response: “we’re treating Facebook for what it has become: an advertising platform. Nothing more. Nothing less.” If you’re going to read one article this week, you may want to check out the Business Insider piece titled, Facebook Is A Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight. It’s definitely a negative piece and slanted (so take it with a grain of salt). It’s hard to not argue that Facebook is still a viable and valuable place for brands to be, but it does point to a contentious issue that Facebook is grappling with: if everyone is sharing everything on Facebook, how realistic is it to assume that anybody is really seeing anything? From the article: “In August, Facebook revealed that ‘every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.’ Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible. Facebook knows it has a problem. It planned a major redesign that gave users more control over the News Feed. But it was scrapped when the first batch of users showed low engagement with the new design.”

A victim of their own success?

The people who populated, connected and grew Facebook were none concerned about the marketers or how the organization was going to find a business model. Much like any online success, once the exponential growth rates start kicking in, it becomes nearly impossible to manage success. Brands will often ask me how to best define if something has “gone viral,” and my standard answer is: when you can’t handle the results of your work. Success in the online sphere is often overwhelming to the point of near-collapse. The Business Insider article also points to newer challenges facing Facebook (couldn’t resist) like mobile as the real social platform. You don’t need to stay inside Facebook’s walled garden to share a photo (Instagram or Snapchat), to chat with someone (messaging or WhatsApp) or play a game. The social nature of the smartphone and the apps make switching from place to place completely frictionless. As mobile becomes the more dominant screen in the consumer’s life (which it is), Facebook is going to have to do more than nurture an acquisition strategy to maintain their relevance and dominance in the online social networking sphere.

What makes Facebook interesting.

For marketers, Facebook is interesting because so many people are there, connected, sharing and spending a lot time with it. For Facebook, it is attempting to ensure that as it grows, it can still enable each user to have a higher and more valuable level of engagement. Somewhere, in those last two sentences, lies the answer to what Facebook can do next. If the WestJet Christmas Miracle viral video sensation of the past few weeks has shown us anything, it’s that 30,000,000 (plus) people will spend a whole lot of time connecting with a brand, if it can tell a good story, add value to their day and give them a moment of thoughtful pause. Facebook has millions upon millions of people who are spending a whole lot of time engaged on the platform. When brands start using that opportunity to truly connect, instead of abusing that moment with an impression and repetition-based mass media mindset, they probably won’t see Facebook solely as an advertising platform, but rather a place where deep and powerful marketing connections can be built, nurtured and leveraged.

Facebook is not collapsing.

Most brand’s Facebook strategy is failing. They’re just looking for someone to blame. It seems to me like Facebook is throttling the News Feed in a bid to keep their consumers engaged and sheltered from brands doing very boring or traditional things. As this platform becomes more powerful on mobile, Facebook is going to have to be even more diligent in this process. Does this mean that Facebook is faltering, or is it that brands aren’t doing the very hard work of figuring out how they can add value to the online social network?

The more consumers share, the less consumers will see. Brands have to find their own way in this cluttered world. Obviously, more clutter is not the solution.

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3 New Ways To Think About Amazon, YouTube And LinkedIn

Are you experiencing any digital marketing fatigue?

Thinking about what’s coming next? Curious about what is around the corner? Just this week, three interesting news items emerged that demonstrate some big shifts in three of the major online social channels.

  1. Amazon Adds Ability to Buy Goods From Within Mobile Apps. Buying virtual goods in-app is nothing new, but buying physical goods in-app? This is the convergence of a movement I discuss in-depth in my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, about how physical becomes digital and digital becomes physical. Now, developers will be able to create applications that enable consumers to buy physical goods from within the app and receive a commission for these sales from Amazon. From the Bloomberg news item: “Imagine a developer of a nutrition and fitness app can now offer their customers the ability to purchase vitamins, supplements and fitness gear within the app, directly from Amazon.” This a big deal for brands. Brands can create an app of full-on utility, but have the flexibility to sell (and make money) through in-app purchases. This adds a dynamic new layer to e-commerce and the convergence of marketing and commerce.
  2. Forget Amazon. YouTube Is Where Shoppers Do Research. Back in 2008, the big news was that YouTube had become the second largest search engine in the world after its parent company, Google. This data point still surprises many people who see YouTube as a simple online video platform. When considering a purchase or wanting to see a product demo, where do you turn? More often than not, somebody, somewhere has created a video of almost everything. This AdWeek article further substantiates that as YouTube matures and more and more consumers find it increasingly easy to create video content (you can shoot it and upload it directly from your smartphone), that YouTube morphs into a destination for product discovery, review and a massive engine of influence. Who would have thought that YouTube’s commercial value extends to become a heavy influencer in the purchase decision?
  3. Ad Agencies Love LinkedIn but Not SlideShare. What social media tools do marketing agencies use to hustle down new business? It turns out that LinkedIn is the clear winner. From the AdWeek article: “46 percent of 300 agency honchos described LinkedIn as the ‘most important’ social media vehicle for generating new business leads, well above blogging (24 percent), Facebook and Twitter (both at 14 percent) and Google (just 2 percent). The same poll, though, found that only 21 percent use SlideShare to market their agencies to prospective clients. Interestingly, SlideShare has been around nearly as long as LinkedIn–seven years compared to 10. So, both are ancient in the realm of social media, but obviously LinkedIn is a bigger name in b-to-b networking.” The reason LinkedIn is so popular? Apparently it’s this big, because it requires the least amount of effort to maintain effectively. That’s a (somewhat) sobering (and sad) statement, but everybody is looking for shortcuts. What makes this interesting is how our virtual and physical networks are not only blurring, but how multi-million dollar deals are now being brokered through relationships that have been initiated because of the power of social media and online social networking.

Don’t always look at what is coming and what is new.

While reviewing these three disparate news items, it was refreshing to get a new perspective on how these channels are both evolving, and how they are maturing as engines of marketing and commerce. The smart marketers will take these three news items and (hopefully) get creative by thinking about new brand solutions. It feels like some new and exciting opportunities that can be capitalized on as everyone else continues down the same, old path because they’re not paying attention to just how much the audience is evolving over a short period of time.

Fascinating stuff. 

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Bitcoins And The Future Of Business

Facebook is a license to print money.

As far as social media goes and the growth of online social networking, it’s hard not to have Facebook be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of new media, at this point. The company claims well over…

Is Marketing About To Get Really Creepy Or Really Good?

Apple acquired a company last week. It’s something to pay attention to.

There is still one slightly unchartered territory that will – without question – be the last mile in marketing. It is the ability for a brand to deliver contextual and highly targ…

Grow Your Company Or Be Active On Social Media?

Should the CEO blog?

It seems like a question rooted in 2008, but now that blogging could include things like tweeting, creating videos on YouTube, updating a Facebook profile or taking part in LinkedIn, it may well be high time to start asking these …

Finding Your Start

This week has been about starting.

The past few blog posts have been about finding the nerve to start or about thinking and acting like a startup (whether you’re just getting started or if you’re a lumbering giant in your industry). In the blog commen…

The Paradox Of Choice And Advertising

You can’t have it both ways.

Someone is going to have to break the bad news to the consumers. You can’t have it both (and every) way. Sorry. Yesterday, I Blogged about the "do not track" button that would stop media companies from tracking a…

Karma lets you send gifts by phone to Facebook friends

A new app from the founders of Tapjoy is emerging to combine mobile and social commerce on iOS and Android devices. The app, called Karma, makes gifting to friends a breeze, by integrating with a user’s social graph on Facebook and suggesting gifts for them.

Facebook plans to release a new premium ads product Feb. 29

Facebook is planning to upgrade its premium ads on February 29, with the goal of boosting performance by 40 to 80 percent, according to documents obtained by iStrategyLabs’ Peter Corbett.

Sky News joins the anti-social media brigade

A new policy from Sky News bars reporters from posting anything other than work-related content on Twitter, and even forbids them from retweeting anything that doesn’t come from a Sky account. As with so many other similar policies, this completely misses the point of social media.

Facebook filling the gaping hole in its mobile strategy

It looks like Facebook wants to address the big weaknesses in its mobile business model before it has to deal with nagging questions of its investors. According to FT, Facebook plans in March to include sponsored posts in its mobile news feeds.

Poll: The older you are, the more you hate Facebook Timeline

Facebook is in the process of converting all user profiles to the new Timeline design. But according to a new poll, the majority of people aren’t so keen on the new look. 70% of all respondents disapproved of Timeline, as did 90% of people over 65.

Facebook just revealed its Kryptonite: mobile

In its IPO filing Facebook mentions the word “mobile” 123 times but didn’t use the term in positive ways. In fact, Facebook’s S-1 filing is one big warning to investors: Its growth is being driven by user behavior that it has so far failed to monetize.

Facebook has nothing to fear, except itself

According to Edward Aten, founder of Swift.fm, Facebook is recreating and competing with nearly every significant Internet product of the last few years. It’s an unprecedented pivot that threatens Facebook’s core products and may eventually benefit the very same startups Facebook is trying to crush.

Facebook wants to rewire the way the world works

In the letter to shareholders included in Facebook’s IPO filing, co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes it clear his vision goes beyond just a social network — he wants to fundamentally rewire the way the world works, from interpersonal interactions to commerce and even government.

It’s here: Facebook files for $5 billion IPO

The most highly anticipated initial public offering in today’s tech world is officially happening. Facebook filed S-1 documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday afternoon to raise a maximum of $5 billion. According to the filing, Facebook made $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011.

Twitter begins larger rollout of enhanced brand pages

Twitter on Wednesday switched on enhanced brand pages for accounts owned by National Public Radio, NBC News, Volkswagen, and others. This is the first batch of premium Twitter pages from companies other than the handful of launch partners who unveiled enhanced brand pages in December.