Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Social Networks Improve Business Performance

McKinsey says that social networks are “extending the organization;” that’s a key take-away from their fifth annual study of the use of technology in organizations.

They continue to identify the key benefits of effective use of technology as increasing speed to access both internal and external knowledge, reducing communication costs and both increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing marketing costs. In terms of technology usage, they identify 4 types of firms: developing, internally networked, externally networked and fully networked. It should come as no surprise that few enterprises identify themselves as fully-networked while the largest number identify themselves as externally networked.

In this chart they collapse the benefits into internal, customer and partner/supplier benefits. Fully networked organizations have seen the greatest increase in payback from social technology. McKinsey warns, though, that it can be difficult to scale the benefits in a large enterprise. It is clearly worth the effort. They found improvements in market share, operating margin and market leadership from the use of specific technologies. See that detail in Exhibit 5 of their report. See an interactive version, showing changes over the last 4 years, here.

The report also features a chart showing what kinds of technologies are being used for what purposes. Again, it’s no great surprise to see social networks, blogs and video at the top of the list in terms of most overall usage. Many of the firms are using wikis; more than you would see if the emphasis was solely on external audiences. This reinforces the point that you need to select technologies carefully, based on use and audience, before you invest time and effort in them.

The McKinsey report has some data on adoption of technology by industry. Dion Hinchcliffe has an excellent post that includes data from a similar study by IBM and examples of success in healthcare, manufacturing, finance and insurance. He makes the point that across industries have examples of increased worker productivity and efficiency through the use of social networks.

Why is that? Business Intelligence expert Ken Chow has a provocative answer. Writing in the Information Management newsletter he says:

the next evolutionary force that will impel the BI market will come by way of technologies that overcome these limitations [heavy architectures, long development cycles and high costs] and deliver high-value information to people in much more productive ways. Information delivery of the future will include the collaborative and social mechanisms that already dominate our personal interactions.

We are familiar with these social tools and we already know how to use them. Chow continues:

Tools built into social media sites allow users to convey opinions, emotions, share data and interact with greater abundance, speed, transparency and collaboration, making the pros of this approach in BI readily recognizable.

I remember in the “early days” giving the advice that businesses should test social tools internally, learning to use them before deploying them to interact with their customers. That advice has now been upended. Firms are making extensive use of social platforms to deal with their customers, and rightly so. Now they need to take a strategic look in how to use some of those same tools internally to create a more efficient and effective business.

Article first published as Social Networks Improve Business Performance on Technorati.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mobile is the Choice of Multitaskers

Are you seeing more QR codes on your TV screen and wondering who scans a code while watching TV? It could be up to 80% of the mobile Internet users who responded to a recent study by Razorfish!

Multitasking is hardly a new phenomenon, but laptops, smart phones and tablets have taken the activity to a whole new level. An earlier study by Yahoo!, which interviewed over 8 thousand Internet users and over 5 thousand mobile users, found a whopping 86% of mobile users (92% of mobile users aged 13-24) viewing mobile content related to the TV program they were watching. That is too many multitaskers to be ignored!
According to the ReadWriteWeb graphic, a fair amount of the multitasking activity is communication, specifically social networking or texting (about brands or TV programs, I wonder?). 70 percent is use of apps, many if not most of which connect to the web, and 37% is plain old web surfing. That’s a lot of people conducting a lot of potentially brand-related activity! Neither study breaks out search as a separate activity, but given the explosive growth of mobile search, I have to believe that there’s a lot of searching buried in the surfing data.

Specific types of content are also more likely to stimulate sharing. This graphic from the new Razorfish report shows what they are. I see a strong reflection of target audiences, many of them young. My hypothesis would be that young men are heavy sharers of sports news; moms are heavy sharers of food content. What about reality? Everyone, or is that sharing somewhat female also? These are questions the marketer needs to pursue for her own brand.

Marketers can direct the activity and conversation by creative promotions and learn from their results. For example:
• Pepsi gave a free bottle of Pepsi Max who shared an ad with their friends using a Yahoo! social tool called IntoNow.
• The “Old Navy Records” campaign offers incentives including free music to people who tag ads with Shazam.
• A Heinken app allows users to play along with soccer games, trying to predict who will score in the next 30 seconds.
Read more here. And while you do, notice that these campaigns use special tools/applications to create just the right context for social sharing.

There are two important take-aways:
• It’s more than just not ignoring mobile; it’s also creating content that can move seamlessly from one channel to the other, as the Timberline scan tag and mobile site I described in my previous post.
• Then it’s devising ways in which to get people to interact with programming content or with advertising.

Marketers need to follow the lead of their customers. They are sharing web content. How does the marketer make content worth sharing and participate in the brand-related conversations?

Article first published as Mobile is the Choice of Multitaskers on Technorati.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Timberland Aces Social Media

Timberland’s Sundance Film Festival Night Out events add to the company’s already deep experience in social and mobile. They’ve had a mobile site since at least 2009 and are leaders in social in aspects from their interactive Facebook page for this promotion (see the Photo Contest tab also) to their use of 2D bar codes. Note that their “Go Out and Be You” tag line appears throughout the material, one way in which they integrate their marketing communications.

The event came to Boston last week and store manager Sara Keneally was gracious enough to include my social media marketing students in the invitation-only event. They went, they saw, they bought, and they came away with a host of ideas that can be applied by other organizations, large and small. They’ve posted videos; the Boston video gives a good sense of what happened there from DJ to the stylist outfitting attendees in Timberland merchandise to the photographer snapping their pictures.

The next day they sent attendees a thank-you email. It included their picture taken the night before (good system at work here) and encouraged them to go to the promotion’s Facebook page, upload their picture, and register for the Girlfriend Getaway Sweepstakes in which the winner and three friends get to attend the Sundance Film Festival. Entering, of course, requires that applicants Like the Timberland Facebook page. It has over half a million Likes at the moment.

For attendees and non-attendees alike they produced a print publication featuring merchandise and promoting the events and the sweepstakes. Old media, you say? The print document has a Microsoft tag on the final page. When you scan the tag, it takes you to a mobile landing page. The landing page has a video, encourages the viewer to Like the Facebook page, and links through to the Women’s page on the Timberland site, nicely optimized for mobile. Try it yourself and see. The only drawback is that you have to download the Microsoft Tag Reader if you don’t already have it. They give the link in the promo, but it would really be nice to have standardization in the 2D barcodes so we don’t have to have separate apps.

The centerpiece of this promotion is the Girlfriend Getaway Sweepstakes. I count media channels that include website, mobile website, special Facebook page, a partnership with the local-oriented Lucky style magazine, PR of various kinds, the live events, email followup, outreach via print and the web to women who didn’t attend the live event, and I’ve probably missed some. I didn’t see any encouragement of live Tweeting the event or a related hashtag. Would that have extended visibility or would it have detracted from the fashion focus of the event? They also don’t seem to be using Foursquare aggressively, another option; but again, in this instance, would it have been worth the extra effort?

And that’s the final point. There were many working parts in this promotion and it required professional PR support. Integration was key. But marketers large and small can study this promotion, learn from it, choose the pieces they want to focus on, integrate them, and DIY their own SOLOMO (social local mobile) promotion. The pieces are all there; it’s a matter of creativity and effort, and Timberland excelled at both.

Article first published as Timberland Aces Social on Technorati.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mobile Will Rule for Holiday 2011

Advice to retailers on preparing for the holiday selling season has been around since late summer. I’ve been collecting it but was stimulated to write this post by an email from my friends at Unbound Commerce, announcing that there is still time (barely) to get a mobile site for the holiday season. Important dates are coming soon.

According to Media Post, in 2010, the top five days by conversion volume include Cyber Monday at 16% [Monday November 28 this year; the deals start promply at 12:01 am]; Black Friday at 23% [Friday November 25 this year]; Tuesday, Nov. 30, 17%; Sunday, No. 28, 17%; and Dec. 6, 17%. See their advice on integrating paid search and mobile.

Here ‘s a quick summary of some of the platform-specific advice I’ve found:

Email. Review your last year’s holiday email campaign reports to find out what went right and what went wrong. Here’s a set of tips with a link to a holiday email guide.

Paid Search. With Google far ahead as the leader in online advertising revenue, the importance of paid search can hardly be overstated. If you want to optimize your PPC holiday schedule consider developing a bid boosting plan as recommended by Search Engine Land.
Online Display Advertising. Facebook is coming up fast as a purveyor of highly targeted display advertising. Large, multi-location merchants can target by demographics, lifestyles and activities. Small local merchants can make good use of the geo-targeting available on Facebook. Like Google AdWords, Facebooks ads are self-service and available to all.

MOBILE. That’s one place where all the advice givers find consensus, no matter what their industry. Mobile is going to be huge this year; retailers miss out at their peril. Leapfrog gives good advice that makes two points that many of the experts stress:
1. The holiday season is time for selling, making customer acquisition jump out front of retention for a few short weeks.
2. The LOMO (local mobile) part of the equation is due for a break-out this season as more consumers use their smartphones to search for stores and merchandise nearby.
The website Entrepreneur has good mobile marketing advice; the more you can accomplish by the holiday shopping season, the better!

For small businesses specifically: Entrepreneur has good advice about integrating your email, social media and mobile efforts. Small Biz Trends has advice for preparing for the holidays—operations as well as marketing.

Happy Holidays!

Article first published as Retailers Still Have Time to Prepare for Holiday 2011 on Technorati.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Importance of Social Search

My friends at Overdrive Interactive recently issues an ebook on social search. It does an excellent job of laying out the ways social media marketing can improve search rankings on the two largest search engines, Google and Bing. They also did an interesting test on the subject which highlights the differences.

The graphic highlights the closed-loop process. It supports the value of the effort put into SMM. At the same time, it suggests that tying this activity to business outcomes will often be difficult. In the case of sales leads, as long as their source is identified, they can be tracked through to conversion, verifying the importance of leads that come in from social media. Increases and fans and followers can be tracked, but remember that's a “so what?” Appearances in social search and the impressions created are going to be more difficult to track and especially to link to sales. Tools are improving and that time will come also. In the meantime, good landing pages that encourage people to register an provide contact information are essential.

Two recent studies highlight the importance of search in the purchase process and thereby provide indirect support for social search. GroupM called it “The Virtuous Circle”—wish I’d thought of that first. Their study early in the year found that 58% of potential purchasers started with search while only 24% started with the company site. 51% of the searches converted compared to 48% for search and social combined in the purchase process (which they found to generally be 15 days) but only 1% for search alone. A followup study by GroupM, reported in Media Post, showed 86% of shoppers using generic search terms before the shopping trip and 90% clicking on the generic results when compared with branded search.

It suggests that we should all be following social search best practices because search is still key in the purchase process. Some of those, according to Overdrive are:

• Create compelling content that is worthy of being shared and use sharing tools to encourage your visitors to share.
• Keep your social profile updated.
• Be sure your website and blog are socially enabled. Overdrive also has an excellent ebook on the use of chicklets.
• Understand how your content looks on the various platforms.
• Keep up to date. The controversy surrounding Google’s ‘Panda’ update is a good example.

The wheels of social media marketing continue to spin, and social search is one thing driving them!

Article first published as The Importance of Social Search on Technorati.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Using QR Codes to Trigger Retail Sales

Wilson Kerr of Unbound Commerce is an expert in helping retailers mobilize their sites and develop Facebook commerce for excellent customer experience and incremental sales. He made an awesome presentation to my social media marketing class last week in which he argued that mobile commerce is exploding and all ecommerce retailers need to become mcommerce retailers also. The factoids in this Ad Age poster support his argument. If you’re interested in drilling down for details on any of them, visit the page and click on the Mobile Marketing tab.
Once a retailer has mobilized her site and is open for mcommerce, the trick becomes to attract people to the msite, at anytime from anywhere. I was struck by Wilson’s concept of “Trigger Point Marketing.” It’s sort of like POS promotions that we all learned about in Marketing 101, but now the point of sale is anywhere! The media channels for Trigger Point Marketing are all the usual suspects including Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS. Two that are getting a lot of attention at the moment are QR and NFC codes.

I wrote about the similarities and differences in February when Google dumped QR codes in Places listings for NFC codes. NFC codes are operationally more complex, requiring a Places decal to be delivered to the local retail establishment. The program has been on a steady roll-out since April of this year. NFC have a lot of potential advantages, including tap-and-go payments, but for now QR codes are more accessible to the individual marketer or business. All you need is a free reader and qrcode creator and there are many of those available on the web.

Wilson’s slide shows some applications and there are many more. Home Depot has partnered with Martha Stewart’s lines to post QR codes in their stores—the POS concept again. When a shopper uses a smart device to scan the code he is taken you to the appropriate web page on one of the MSLO sites for detailed product information. That’s pretty cool for the US, but the really visionary application is Tesco’s virtual stores in Japanese subway stations. Here’s a video that you really should see. The US isn’t there yet in several ways, but if busy Japanese commuters love the concept can Europe and the US be far behind?

Your basic QR code has also gone social. Here’s one (yes, I made it myself and it wasn’t hard). I thought about putting it on my blog, but I remembered Wilson’s advice that it’s silly to expect people who are sitting at a computer to grab their mobile phone and scan a QR code on the screen. I settled for a simple “Follow Me on Twitter” icon for this blog, but try this tag for yourself to see how it works.

I was interested in an article on iMedia Connection this morning opining that the QR code might be dead. My experience parallels Sean X Cummings' informal survey; few people understand them and that's a problem. It would be resolved over time with wise use that adds customer value. One of his points is that agencies are using them stupidly, on moving buses for example. That certainly doesn't help the cause.

For my own part, I’m off to order new business cards with a QR code on them! What other applications can you think of that provide genuine value?

Article first published as Using QR Codes to Trigger Retail Sales on Technorati.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Social Media Marketing Isn't a Popularity Contest

For social media marketers it must be about monetizing their social media activities. Part of the inspiration for this approach comes from Wilson Kerr who made a stellar presentation last week on the subject of monetizing mobile media—more about that later. David Carter’s presentation the week before, based on the Social Funnel ebook from Awareness, laid the groundwork. In my blog post I quoted Jeremiah Owyang as saying not to show engagement metrics to C-level executives; they are interested in business results, not a popularity contest.

I watch social media marketers in all markets struggle with this issue. So I decided to pick out one case study each from B2B, B2C and NP. I’ve intentionally chosen small, not terribly well known companies. It may sound easy for Dell to make sales with its Twitter program and Taco Bell to sell chalupas and burritos with coupons distributed on its Facebook page, although it’s less easy than it sounds. But my point is that small companies, even individuals, can do important things in social media if they keep their eyes on the prize—monetizing their activities.

The biggest monetization opportunity in B2B is far and away the generation of qualified leads. Breaking Point is a cyber security firm who says its products “harden the resiliency of vulnerable converged networks and train cyber warriors” to prevent and deter cyber attacks. Are your eyes glazing over already? It’s incredibly important but at first glance it may not seem to be a candidate for social media marketing. Using a corporate blog, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and a revamped PR strategy, they joined in the online conversation, staking out a position as a respected industry source. After 6 months, 75% of their leads were coming from the inbound traffic generated by these social media activities. Their blog is well organized—a video, a list of topics, the appropriate social media chicklets, and posts that only an IT security professional could love. That is their target audience, after all! Read the details and 5 other excellent B2B case studies in the HubSpot/Marketing Sherpa presentation.

Depending on your age and gender, you may be equally unmoved by the funky shoes that Canadian B2C entrepreneur John Fluevog sells online and from a growing number of retail stores in Canada and the US. According to Australian marketer Ginger, whose blog is credited with this captivating image, Fluevog reported that sales increased 40% in 2009, the year of their entry into social media marketing. If you search the corporate name, John Fluevog Boots & Shoes Ltd., you’ll find an array of social media activities including reviews and a lot of local marketing using Google’s Places. If you look at their Facebook wall, you see a few administrator posts but mostly customers showing off their shoes and loving them. On their Twitter page they cross promote offers seen on the Facebook page and actively respond to customer questions and issues. This nicely integrated social media program (see the links on their wall page) takes time, but not a lot of money. It’s within reach of any small business.

The social media space can be productive for non-profit (NP) marketers also. Dave Morin’s birthday wish is a great story of what a single individual can accomplish. His wish on October 14, 2010 was to raise $10,000 for the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital by the end of the year. He actually raised the $10k within 24 hours! The fundraising continues, with almost $14K to date and mention of a new initiative focusing on children’s health worldwide. In the interest of full disclosure, Dave Morin is hardly a novice. He was a Facebook executive and headed their Causes fund-raising function, which now operates separately. One can assume that he had a large network of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections with whom to share his message. If you look at the list of contributors, though, most of the $14K has come from small donors. As you can see on the Causes page the largest donor is $1K and I only saw two of those. Reaching many small, often new, donors is the power of online fundraising. I look forward to the day when I see a case history of a NP who used traditional methods to grow social media small donors to traditional large donors and bequests. That should happen over time for NP organizations who harness the power of social media marketing.

There it is—a three market perspective on monetizing social media marketing. Questions, comments and links to other case studies welcome!

Article first published in condensed form as Social Media Marketing Isn't a Popularity Contest on Technorati.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Understanding the Business Value of Social Media Marketing

Last week David Carter, Founder and CTO of Awareness, provided insights about how the field of social media marketing is maturing. We are a long way from completely understanding the business results for social media efforts and an even longer way from fully integrating them into a single-source set of marketing metrics. But real progress is being made in understanding and communicating business outcomes.

Awareness has a new ebook, with the lengthy but descriptive title “The Social Marketing Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing.” That is, after all, what we as marketers want to do, and we have to link our efforts to actual revenue generation, not just to having a bunch of people who like us! This is the funnel; the entire book is well worth reading. Note that they start with what is essentially segmentation. Their definition of a social profile is the “aggregated interests, comments, and overall behaviors of a fan, follower, or RSS subscriber to a branded social network platform such as a brand’s Facebook fan page, Twitter profile, or blog.” The definition alone is challenging; it requires a full view of the person’s behaviors in social channels which is a big order for the social media metrics capabilities of most firms at this point. However, in order to influence, the marketer must first listen to what the customer is saying. That’s a keystone of SMM strategy.
Next, the marketer must have clear goals that impact the business. Those can range from qualifying and nurturing sales leads to providing excellent customer service and more. Then there are a variety of engagement strategies that marketers can use including engaging in conversation and collecting feedback. Most marketers will find that they need to use all these engagement strategies at one time or another. Which they use will depend as much on the stage of the customer’s relationship with the firm (customer lifecycle) as on the marketing campaign or on the product. This all fits nicely with the organization of Awareness’s social media hub software—publish, manage, measure and engage.

In his presentation he talked about these stages:
• The first is a robust content marketing strategy, deploying (and “repurposing”) your content widely across the web. A large firm will need a robust content management system to both facilitate and control the content marketing process.
• It is essential that the marketer first listen, then engage in the conversation the customer wants to have—not the product-oriented conversation the marketer wants.
• Collecting feedback required monitoring and, carefully done, leads to the social profile.
• Then measure results that can be linked to business outcomes.
The presentation represents reflections on the state of our art from a respected practitioner. Take a look.

In it he asks the question that all marketers must keep asking themselves—for their corporate SMM strategy as a whole and for each campaign they run: what stage of the customer lifecycle do we need to impact? If you buy my argument that all SMM is lead generation, then the practical question becomes “what is the definition of ‘conversion’ for this particular SMM activity?” Is it a fan for our Facebook page, a qualified lead for our sales force—what exactly? Can we link it directly or indirectly to our SMM activities? Those two questions help focus the mind of the social media marketer.

It also leads me to my favorite quote from the ebook. Jeremiah Owyang says, “Don’t give engagement data to executives, as it doesn’t measure the actual effect on business goals.” Ouch; I wonder how many of us have made that mistake.

Social media marketing is moving in the direction of proving its actual business value. It has a way to go, however, and all of us should play an active role in moving it forward.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

BeKnown to Promote Your Career

Last night I had the pleasure—and fun—of being part of the Networking in the Social Age event hosted by Monster’s new BeKnown Network. It was moderated by Matt Cooney, Social Media Manager at Monster and, I’m happy to note, my former student. Joining me on the panel was a group of young, talented, social media pros: Ryan Paugh, Chief of Staff of the Young Entrepreneur Council, Brent Turner, CTO and VP Product Development at MIT’s Technology Review and Kristen Haley, Social Media Producer for Beantown Social. All of them are experienced in several aspects of the social media world and deeply engaged in it. The panel discussion was live-streamed on the BeKnown Network and I expect it to be archived there soon.

The discussion provided a lot of interesting insights. The most compelling one for me was the sense that, while the large social networks have their place, smaller and more intimate communities may be the wave of the future. Whether it’s a closed Facebook page, or a professional group on LinkedIn—open or closed—or whether it’s a community on any platform of people who are passionate about a subject, these smaller communities have a lot to offer both personally and professionally. @profstrahler Tweeted during the live stream and he pointed out some of the other high points. Thanks, Doug!

It was a good event, the first of many by this new network, I hope. I’ve always worked to help my students prepare for their job searches and career development; having a resource like BeKnown should be a real asset. Take a look at their mission statement on the sidebar of the event notice. Expanding the notion of job search to one of career management that helps people improve their lives is a great vision. The tight integration of the network with Facebook is going to provide a lot of opportunity. The BeKnown landing page has a great video introduction; it is an interesting perspective on merging your personal and professional communications and still controlling messages so they are directed to only the people you want to receive them. Of course they have a mobile app so you can do this on the go, and do it in many languages. Fascinating concept!

I look forward to watching this develop and seeing ways it can benefit today’s students and young professionals. Good going!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Discovering the Facebook Like Button

Harry Gold, CEO of Overdrive Interactive, gave a great guest lecture in my SMM class last week. The wide-ranging presentation was based on his Advanced Social Media Marketing seminar. I can’t do justice to the entire presentation, but there was one part that particularly struck me.

I’ve seen the Facebook Like button on web pages and thought, “Isn’t that cute?” Well it turns out that it’s a lot more than cute; it essentially makes a Facebook fan page out of every product to which it’s attached.

A recent study of brand-related Facebook behavior for Constant Contact by Chadwick Martin Bailey has stunning data. Here are some key factoids:
• 78% of people who like brands like fewer than 10, so they are engaged with those brands.
• They mostly read brands’ posts and newsfeeds.
• 51% of fans are more likely to buy the brand
• 56% are more likely to recommend the brand to a friend after becoming a fan.

As you might expect, 59% don’t interact with brands on the big social nets but 56% of people under 35 do, and it’s primarily on Facebook. Don’t ignore older demographics; they may be more loyal and more likely to purchase. Check it out for yourself.

The Facebook Like button for web pages has been around since March 2010 but some quick research says that many sites like retailers who target teens and young adults aren’t yet taking advantage of it. Levis is a brand that gets it. Here’s what you need to know.

First, you don’t put the Like button on a home page or a page with multiple product thumbnails. I suppose you could, but it would be meaningless because there are multiple items of content and the “likes” would be meaningless. Encourage viewers to like your brand; that is valuable as the CMB data shows. In the case of individual Like buttons, you want them to like a single product like the skinny jeans pictured. Now that jean product has its own fan page!

When a visitor likes the product is when the action begins. As Harry’s illustration shows, the user activity shows up on the Facebook News Feed of her friends, with detailed information about the product and a link back to the product detail page. That’s already great visibility, but there’s more! Now the marketer can easily message the likers. That goes to their News Feeds, thereby reaching their friends. That is huge! Inside Facebook says,

Millions of websites and social games have implemented Facebook’s Like button social plugin, yet relatively few are taking advantage of the capability to publish news feed stories to users that click buttons that represent real-world objects. That creates a lot of capacity to reach fans and friends of fans that marketers like Levis are beginning to use.

Surprise, surprise—there’s a privacy issue also! The tool allows Facebook to collect web browsing data for its likers; this WSJ article has a link to all the articles in their What They Know series, which is excellent. The collection of user data has come to the attention of the authorities in Germany where it has been declared illegal in one German state. Wonder who will be right about privacy concerns about Facebook in the end—Zuckerberg or Germany?

In case you were wondering, Google is following a similar path with its +1 button. That adds another tool, which shows up in a number of places including search rankings for friends identified on the user’s Google profile. Apparently if you want to it to go to one of your Google+ circles, you have to share it manually—for now at least.

Marketers may need to exercise some caution in communicating with likers. In particular, all the data seems to agree that you shouldn’t overwhelm even your best friends with posts. Make them relevant and control the frequency.

This is fascinating stuff! Many thanks to Harry Gold for bringing it to my attention!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Do You Believe Zuckerberg's Law of Social Sharing?

It’s being equated to Moore’s Law of early Internet days; the now-validated prediction that computing power will double every two years as costs fall by half. I don’t know whether it meets that standard, but here’s what Zuckerberg originally said in 2008:

“I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before,” he said. “That means that people are using Facebook, and the applications and the ecosystem, more and more.”

My attention was drawn to this by a recent infographic on a Bloomberg Business Week site—more about that in a minute. The infographic is too large to reproduce easily, but it has some interesting factoids. Of course, the growth numbers are based on the Z. prediction; it’s not clear whether they used actual Facebook numbers to validate them. Whether the sharing figures are accurate (and who could tell with precision anyway??) the phenomenon is real. I found some other interesting things while looking around.

The consumer behavior behind sharing is important. There is a recent study by Nielsen for AOL that is worth paging through. Among other things, it finds that email is still the most-used sharing tool although social networks, especially Facebook, are gaining fast. Most Internet users share but they share different content on different networks. That’s interesting and important to the marketer who wants to have her content shared.

The difficulty of doing that was brought home to me by this chart. It is the multichannel options for the ShareThis multichannel bar. I use the simple icon on this site and it’s reliable and it produces interesting analytics. They’ve also added a real-time widget that other bloggers or website owners might enjoy. There are a lot of options here: how does the marketer select the best ones? Start with any analytics you can get. You might want to test different options of a multichannel sharing bar, although you don’t want to confuse your visitors. Finally, you might resort to marketing research among key users or the most avid sharers on your site. You have to understand the behavior of your own target audience.

Marketers also struggle every day with issues of keeping up with their discipline, given the torrent of content. I ran into two interesting services. The infographic I referred to was created by Summify, a personal service that creates a daily summary of news from the user’s social networks and sends it by email, to the desktop, or by mobile. The infographic was posted on a BBW beta site called Business Exchange. It describes itself as a social sharing site, with items “filtered by like-minded professionals.” Those professionals can view, comment, and suggest new topics. I don’t see a distribution tool, but if there’s not one, it will probably come.

These services represent two different and interesting approaches to taming the torrent of social sharing. They fall short, however, of actual content curation, adding expert judgement to the equation, as practiced by Huffington Post and others.

It’s a big world, full of content. The job of marketers is to make their content entertaining, relevant, and worthy of social sharing. A big job indeed!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Falling into Social Media and Internet Marketing

Wow; it's September 1 already, in case you haven't noticed! Where did the summer go??? A hurricane that thankfully did less damage here than other places and a lot of work on a text that is coming well and hopefully will be ready for use in the spring semester. Debra and I feel strongly that the Internet is changing so rapidly that we have to keep the book as current as possible--hard as you can guess!

I'm back to thinking about social media strategy. This presentation has some updated thinking and data. I'll return especially to inbound and content marketing and metrics over the near future. In the meantime, enjoy a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Social Media Welcomes a New Country

I intended to shut down the blog for the summer with a summary of some of the recent changes on Facebook. This is more important and it’s an interesting commentary on the power of the media for good.

If you missed the reporting in October when George Clooney and John Prendergrast of the Enough Project were lobbying in Washington, D.C., you need to watch this video. If you saw the reporting then, it is worth watching again to see that what they, and others, were trying to do apparently worked. Clooney’s comments about the prevention of suffering without spending money on an avoidable crisis are powerful.

Watch the video here.

The visible outcome is the establishment of the new country, South Sudan, this Saturday, July 9. There is a welcome ceremony planned on social media. You can like the Facebook page, or Tweet using the hashtag #Welcome193 (South Sudan will be the 193rd nation to join the United Nations). Or you are welcome to post a link or part or all of this blog post on your own blog. But do something, and as you do, think about the power of social media.

The blog will start up again sometime in September, roughly coinciding with the beginning of the Social Media Marketing course at Harvard Extension for the fall semester.

Have a wonderful summer!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Creating Brand Awareness on the Internet

In my last post I promised one more rant before I shut down for the summer—a continuation of my long-term campaign against awareness as an objective, on the Internet in general and in social media in particular.

I wrote about the issue two years ago in the context of metrics. At the time, it seemed quite reasonable to me that if you want to measure the accomplishments of Internet marketing programs you need to set behavioral objectives and collect the behavioral data to measure them. That still seems a perfectly logical argument to me, but it doesn’t make my point explicitly enough.

What I’ve seen in the interim is two-fold. First, endless students who tell me they want to create awareness (of their brand, presumably) in social media or on the web in general. I keep pointing out that it requires marketing research to measure awareness and that takes time and money. If people do something—register for your site, sign up for a newsletter, become a fan of your Facebook page, whatever—they are aware, aren’t they? Ok, the awareness and the behavior can be almost simultaneous, but the behavior is a manifestation of awareness. Not only that, any of the actions I suggested—and many others I can think of—put the marketer in a position to communicate further with the customer/prospect. That’s what I meant in the last post when I said that attitudinal awareness objectives on the Internet simply constitute leaving cards on the table. I like that phrase; it captures the foolishness of the way many marketers still approach the Internet.

The second think I’ve seen is practitioners setting awareness objectives even though I think they understand the argument for behavioral objectives. Behavioral objectives imply measurement. They know that the necessary marketing research to measure awareness objectives is unlikely to be done, hence no measurement. That constitutes hiding behind awareness as a hard-to-measure objective.

Actually, there is a third issue. Most of us have grown up practicing and teaching traditional mass media. That is still the mind set of most marketers. More so older ones, but also younger ones who should know better.

The lack of understanding of the fallacy of awareness on the Internet often leads to a major strategic error. It especially shows up in something like “we want to create awareness in social media.” The question is how do you get people to your social pages in the first place? They have to be aware before they initially visit the page and sign up to be your fan. How do you create the level of awareness and interest that gets them to your page or to your website? Oops, we hadn’t thought about that! Actually, what they often have not thought about is that it’s going to require some money to make this happen.

Yes, there is such a thing as social sharing and it can create awareness. A recent study from ShareThis and Starcom MediaVest suggests that social sharing can create substantial referral traffic. How many of the referrals are to customers who previously had no contact with the brand? That doesn’t seem to be a question the study, based on the ShareThis database, can answer. Actually, I’d like to see the entire study because I don’t understand some of the explanation in the blog. However, their data seems to make it clear that sharing is not likely to create viral content and that people only share in one or two content categories in which they are particularly interested or expert. The latter is what we’ve known about WOM in the physical world for a long time; the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’d like to encourage you to think about this issue by doing some reading and listening. First, the Bain online branding study “In Search of a Premium Alternative” in which they point out the predominance of direct response ads on the Internet and decry the lack of online advertising alternatives that break through the clutter. Then you need to listen to Randall Rothenberg’s introductory speech to the “Future of Display Advertising” conference last week. He builds on the Bain study and recent announcement of new “Rising Stars” ad formats, designed to allow more creativity and impact in the online branding effort.

But don’t leave it at that. Take a look at the 6 new formats on the IAB site. Look at how many options they give for viewer behavior—from watch a video to download a mobile app—and everything in between. Again, the point is to encourage viewers to take action—action that can be measured. No need for awareness objectives here!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marketers Could---but Should They?

Marketers are faced with an overabundance of options for all types of strategic decisions. This is especially true of channels choices. By that, I’m mostly referring to communications channels, but the same principles may be true of e-commerce channels.

The current atmosphere reminds me of the mid-1990s when companies were waking up to the Internet and asking, “Should we have a website?” It quickly became, “We must have a website because everyone else does.” It was bad reasoning then; it’s bad reasoning now. Only now it’s, “We must have a Facebook page because everyone else does.”

Now every business or non-profit organization has a website. Many of them aren’t very good. They don’t fulfill the business mission and they don’t provide good customer experience. So sadly, before marketers have fully comprehended the issues of ‘traditional’ online marketing, they are faced with the explosion of social networks. And they are FREE! Clearly, we’ve got to do that!!!

I’ve been pointing out for quite some time that social media marketing is not free. It takes skilled people who are committing time to it. So nix the free argument.

We’re back to square one. There are a lot of channels to choose from. Marketers COULD use any or all of them. The real question is which ones they SHOULD use. And notice the consistent use of plural. You do not reach any target audience today with meaningful impact in a single channel. Multiple channels must be assumed.

That makes the real question how to choose the correct combination of channels to accomplish marketing and business objective. I’ll make my recommendations; your additions are solicited.

First, there is your target audience. We know the general outlines. Younger people are more likely to use social networks; older segments are slower to go online, but according to Pew, once they are there they eagerly search for information and engage in gaming, for example. It is important to remember that these are generalizations and the specifics of both demographics and use behavior can change from one product category to another.

Second, there is your position in the value chain. Are you a manufacturer? If so, is your Internet objective to support your retailers and distributors or it is to open another channel to reach customers directly? Are you a dealer or distributor who needs to communicate with and develop loyalty among B2B customers? Are you a small retailer who wants to participate in the frenzy of local marketing? In these cases, channels have been defined and the different channels imply vastly different marketing strategies.

Third, there are your specific marketing objectives. Do you want to sell things? Do you want to generate sales leads? Do you want to grow your social media followers—which is nice, but not enough. What is your PURPOSE (potential marketing uses) for having social media followers? This is about marketing effectiveness, not about bragging rights. Please don’t tell me you want to generate awareness. I’ve written about that before and plan to update my campaign against awareness objectives for Internet marketing soon. The Internet is about generating desired behaviors among targeted audiences. Leaving it at awareness is simply leaving cards on the table.See the video on the McKinsey Quarterly (free registration required)>

The pressing strategic issue is, “Which of the 4Ps comes first?” Ok, I’ll accept that you usually have to have an offering first. But then what? Does your choice of channels (multiple but integrated) determine the outlines of your promotion, including creative as well as the service and tech infrastructure you have to put into place? Take a look at the section of this Eric Schmidt video in which he talks about ‘designing for mobile first.’ He’s talking about disruptive business models, but it also has a strategic lesson for marketers.

As I write this, I realize that we marketers have a semantics problem that we must be clear about in order to make wise strategic channels choices. There are channels of distribution from the traditional Manufacturer > Wholesaler > Retailer to Manufacturer Direct via E-Commerce. Those are choices that, once made, are difficult to change for reasons of both infrastructure and relationships.

Then there are communications channels choices. There are a myriad of those from television ads to a Facebook page. Some of those can be specific to a particular marketing campaign—television advertising, for example. Others, like a Facebook page, need to be maintained once they are established, with involvement in marketing campaigns as required. The point is that the communications channels choices are more temporal than the distribution channels choices, although they have their own elements of stickiness.

My point is that the choice of communications channels sets the direction for a lot of the marketing work that must follow. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Real World Social Media Spin-Off

This post is from the Tweetstream of @mattrhodes from the UK agency Fresh Networks. He and his colleagues come up with things I would not be aware of otherwise, and I'm grateful!

I'm also an Anglophile and a huge fan of the National Trust and all they do, so their take off on Farmville definitely caught my attention.

What a clever concept! The idea of letting people become sort of virtual farmers and have control over this farm is fascinating. What a good way to get people involved in the production of their food and the protection of the land on which it's grown. This is also a different take on Community Sponsored Agriculture and a really engaging one. Plus who can resist a cow who looks this sweet?

All in all, it's something I'm going to enjoy following and hope some of my friends will get some good ideas.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Barcode Marketing II-Creating My Own Barcode

In part 1 of this saga, I advanced my knowledge about using smartphone apps in shopping and promotional settings. What I was really looking for, though, was the answer to the question, “Can I do this myself?” Not that anyone cares that much, except that if I can do it, anyone can!
First, the terminology. The series of lines known as bar codes are featured on all products that move in distribution channels today, and they are essential to maintaining inventory all along the supply chain. However, in spite of the fact that they hold a large amount of data, they became too small for newer applications like mobile shopping and proLinkmotion. A new generation was introduced, the 2D or matrix code. I first misinterpreted this as saying that the QR code and the familiar bar code were different animals. Not so, as this list shows. There are a variety of 2D codes and there is no real standardization. Selecting one that can be accessed by the most common readers is key, as I suggested in the previous post. As a commenter suggested, standardization is needed—and I heartily agree.

Note that the Barcode generator page contains a barcode generator that appears to be useful only if you have a numerical barcode already. If you don’t, this post tells you how to get one. If you want “free,” it is not necessarily unique and just for your own use, say in a retail store to maintain inventory. I’m also not convinced that “free” is as easy as this post suggests, although there are low cost solutions available.
I used the Kaywa QR code generator to create the QR code shown in this post, on the sidebar, and at the bottom of the page (same qr image, different sizes for different placements). It is one of the solutions featured by Mashable, which has written extensively about barcodes. See the demo slideshow on their post to get started. I use the text option in order to get a message into the code.

My own experience so far has been twofold:
1. Not all codes work on all scanners. In many cases it appears that the code has to be registered with the reader’s own database to register properly.
2. Changing the size of my code made a difference in readability. I’m told that the code is more readable if it’s on a white background—thanks, Charles.

Another piece of personal experience is also puzzling. I have had good luck reading QR codes in print media. Lynkee is my favorite reader, although I’m finding print codes generally easy to read. Reading the codes on paper seems to be easier than reading them on screen; maybe that’s the white border issue.

That said, I’m sorry that Google Places has eliminated the ability to print out a QR code poster from its listings. That was easy, and it worked for me. According to ReadWriteWeb, Google is moving to NFC technology in partnership with MasterCard and Visa, working on an e-wallet, apparently.

You’ll see more QR codes around. Home Depot has just started a promotion—in print and in store—using the Scanbuy solution. It will be worth following, but I’m interested in DIY efforts.

Anyone in the mood to make their own QR code poster for their blog or office or store window?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Barcode Marketing I - Promotional Opportunities

In this week’s Internet marketing class I played a Tesco ad that plugged both barcode marketing and Tesco’s new app, which has social shopping potential. The ad is fun, but it doesn’t emphasize the social aspect.

Consider this quote from Tesco’s agency:

Let’s say that three of your friends had bought tickets to [a concert] and advertised the fact on Facebook. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to receive an alert letting you know that they would be going to the concert and offering you the chance to buy your own ticket? This is a simple extension of current functionality but already the end user is having their possible needs preempted.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? You might want to read the post for some other ideas including the possibility that your friend Susan might be getting a cold. That one sort of creeps me out.

It will be interesting to see where Tesco goes with the social shopping aspect. They’ve experienced privacy push-back before, so they may proceed with caution. What most interested me about the video, though, was the happy consumers shopping with their smart phones in various settings.

A recent chart from eMarketer shows shoppers using their smart phones for a variety of purposes. Looking for deals is high on the list. Here’s a Reuters video that talks about the marketing implications of Tesco’s barcode app. So barcode marketing, which is essentially promotional, is clearly a growing marketing activity. Who are the enablers?

There are numerous agencies out there that develop mobile promotions (search ‘mobile shopping agency,’ for example). I was interested in DIY barcode promotions, so I kept looking. I found this really interesting case study. A mobile agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon hosted an art exhibit in their own space to test aspects of barcode promotions. They attached a barcode to each piece of art and encouraged viewers to scan them for information about the artist.

By now I had several barcode scanners on my iPhone, so I tried them all. None worked, so I made the correct assumption that I had to download the app from StickyBits in order to read them. That was only the beginning of my annoyance.

It’s a free app on iTunes. No problem there. It wanted me to sign in with Facebook Connect, which I don’t do. I don’t know whether my friends are interested in this stuff, and I don’t want to bug them. That proves I’m old, I know, but I just don’t use it. So I set up an account with StickyBits, no unusual information requested, but annoying on a smart phone. Then after a couple of other now-typical screens—Can I send you push info? No. Can I use your current location? Yes, although that could be a mistake from a privacy perspective.

Having satisfied those screens my scanner was operational and I scanned one of the artworks. The amount of information was disappointingly small. Yes, I know this was a test, but they could have made it more useful to the artists. The test performed as expected, though. Relatively few of the attendees used the barcodes and the ones who did were relatively young and computer-savvy. Read the post for yourself: it’s quite interesting and you can just click on the works of art featured to see the information provided (and consider the possibilities) and to see how few people scanned them.

I see another important lesson from the TenFour case study. Using a bar code format that isn’t recognized by the best-known barcode readers is going to present a problem. The user can prominently post the download link, but it still will probably inhibit use. My phone is already cluttered with apps—how about yours?

My investigation took me down many other paths looking for an answer to a basic DIY question, “Can businesses/non-profits do this for themselves without an agency?” The answer is “yes,” and I’ll follow up on that in a forthcoming post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is This the Ultimate Local Marketing?

This email crossed my desk on Wednesday. I looked at it as possible spam, then I realized that the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce legitimately had my email address, so I read it. I had never heard of Try It Local, but it didn’t take me long to find it on the web.

It’s an interesting concept. This program is specifically designed for Chambers of Commerce who want to bring business to their towns. Local marketing programs are ideal for the small businesses that make up the core of chamber memberships around the country, so that seemed reasonable.

The deal of the week floated into my inbox today. It’s for a well-regarded local restaurant, although I must admit that I found the size of the deal underwhelming. Many of the features are similar to Groupon (Boston page), Gowalla and other location-based services. The main difference is that there does not seem to be a minimum number of purchasers to establish the deal. I’ve gone back to the offer several times while writing this and people are buying it in numbers that seem reasonable for this resort area in the off season.

So this platform may not be as social as some of the others, but that also seems to suit the small business environment. There are, however, social elements. The ad for what I think is a chamber of commerce publication shows “likes.” It has icons that link to the restaurant’s web page and Facebook page. It has no easy-to-use Share icons, which I think is an oversight.

But all in all, it seems well done. It appears to me to be the ultimate local marketing (for now at least) because of the program sponsorl. Chambers of commerce know the small businesses in their area and should have the trust needed to get small businesses to participate. That may not be too much of an issue. At one promotion per week, I wonder if there will be a queue lining up to participate in what seems to be a business-friendly promotion , run by a local entity not an unknown firm somewhere. That seems likely!

And that may be the main downside. Are consumers becoming so accustomed to these deals that they won’t buy anything unless there is a promotion attached to it? It happened with cars. It could happen with local businesses also. And is that in any way different from the sales and promotions they currently offer? I’m not sure. What I am pretty sure of is that this email-based program costs them less than advertising in their local newspaper. The one that loses here is the newspaper.

Try It Local points out that the program offers benefits to the chambers also, so it appears to be a win-win for them and the local businesses. For the moment, it is the most truly local deal program that I know of. Do you know of others that have a similar model?