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.