“But the question a smart manager has to ask is, can I afford not to do this? Can I really afford not to engage with my readers? Am I willing to let the news conversation happen without my newsroom involved in it?”
- Jeff Sonderman, Digital Media Fellow at the Poynter Institute, “To Bot or To Tweet, That Is The Question” from ReadWriteWeb
Automation and social media can be a dangerous combination. With the multitude of shiny new social management tools available, it’s never been easier to “set it and forget it” across an entire digital ecosystem. Many times, after a brand sets up its initial social media presence, the tendency is to have all content sent to all channels using the least amount of resources.
Up until recently this was the approach of the New York Times. The Times has now implemented a team of social media editors in order to more directly participate in the ongoing online news conversation. This conversation extends into every business niche and major industry online. It’s unlikely that avoiding the conversation can, in any way, improve a business.
Not having any social presence is one way to avoid that conversation. Another way is having a branded presence and automating the content. There is a reason that so few of the world’s biggest brands have automated streams on Facebook and Twitter. Usually, when a social media strategy is a bot strategy, it’s going to attract bots. If a brand wants more human followers, it needs to behave like one in the social channels.
Over time, interacting actively and engaging in the space will bring more business and provide a better return on the social investment.
“This paper isn’t about digital; it is about opportunity – the opportunity that the mass migration of consumers to social media presents brands: to reallocate their marketing budget to reflect this shift and thus driving deeper engagement with their consumers.”
- Brian Dargan, head of digital strategy at XM-Asia, “Asian firms in ‘digital denial’” from Warc.
Judging by the omnipresence of Facebook and Twitter call-outs on everything from bus stops to radio ads to phone calls with relatives, the adoption phase of social media’s penetration is mostly complete. Social is a part of everyday life for most people. This isn’t only the case in the United States, but all over the world.
The evidence is everywhere. Thais are flocking to social media despite an absence of 3G services. Latin American searches increased by over 20% this March over last year and Facebook was the region’s second most used search engine after Google. Most of the developing world is going to bypass computer ownership entirely as it opts to use mobile devices for internet activity.
A recent whitepaper, ‘“Paid to Made Media” produced by a Singapore-based digital agency XM-Asia, emphasized this international social adoption trend and offered insight into how all brands (global and local) should be allocating their marketing budgets. What type of media should a brand be focusing on online?
When weighing the amount of consumers on these social channels, the value of one type of media emerges above others: earned media.
Now that social participation is happening on a mass level, the value of consumer advocates has never been more important. While it doesn’t mean abandoning a paid media budget entirely or not owning a quality branded presence, the size of the marketing pie should reflect the tendencies of the customer. It is the job of the marketer to nurture this advocacy and enable customers to easily and seamlessly share their experiences with the brand.
“For those who are measuring it, social media is showing positive ROI. Based on the survey results, The overall average ROI reported by CMOs who are measuring it is 95 percent. One-quarter said they have achieved 100 percent ROI. Higher percentages were reported, too. Twelve percent said they have achieved 200 percent ROI; two percent reported 1,000 percent ROI.”
- Lisa Arthur, “Study: Marketers Reporting Social Media ROI of 100, 200, Even 1,000 Percent” from Forbes.
Social media is growing up. From today’s LinkedIn IPO to the nearly global acceptance of Twitter and Facebook as the most popular places to spend time online, social has gone a long way from being a series of shiny objects to standing as a solid center of attention in the online marketing space.
Marketing Sherpa recently released its 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report. In stark contrast to even two years ago (when CMOs reported almost no ROI across the board for social), the average return on social investment for over 3K+ business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketers was just below 100%.
It’s easy to conclude, with some certainty, that the brands experiencing these sky-high ROI from their social media have a robust, long-term strategy that makes sense for their brands. In fact, many are likely the same ones who reported almost no ROI two years ago. Their dedication to the medium, stemming from the increase in users on those channels, has paid off.
The illusion of social has always been that “anyone can do it.” The sentiment that social is quick and easy experiences the same pitfalls as any marketing strategy that promises results based on fast, minimal effort. Instead, it is the long-term, consistent, customer-savvy efforts that will yield the best results.
Social media is here to stay. If they want to see positive ROI, a brand’s strategies should follow suit with a responsible, long-term focus.
“It’s not ten years, not five years away, it’s a couple years away–tops–where social is literally so imbued into the experience that it’s just another ranking factor like anything else.”
- Stefan Weitz, director at Bing, “Bing’s Social Search Won’t Always Rely On Facebook ‘Likes’” from Fast Company.
This week Bing announced that it would begin to allow Facebook factors to integrate and influence its search results even more heavily than before. The move is an effort to better filter search results based on two main approval factors: friends (Facebook Likes) and the majority (“Collective IQ”). Bing’s is making social more of a integral part of its search results, rather than just an additional layer.
It’s been said that the web doesn’t have a problem of information overload, but a problem of filter failure. Both Bing and Google have recently subscribed to the philosophy of improving that filter with social data. The news is further evidence of the growing trend in helping filter the internet’s information based on the approval of experts, majorities and friends.
Digital marketing experts are often divided about directing resources towards social instead of search. If the hundreds of millions of social media users weren’t reason enough for a brand to carefully consider social, the effects those users are beginning to have on search should be. Social is quickly becoming synonymous with search. Which leads us to believe that brands that want to succeed digitally, a social strategy is no longer a question or an option, it is now essential.
“Depending on how mentions are used, there may even be an expectation that the person tagged in a comment comes and leaves a reply of their own (in other words, you can call people out).”
- Jason Kincaid, “Disqus Brings @Mentions To Comment Threads” from Techcrunch
Comments have been one of the slowest components of Web 2.0 to evolve. For what felt like forever, you had to register (often times exposing yourself to unsolicited emails) to leave a comment (for approval) that you would eventually forget about. Even the notification system of an email when someone commented on your comment, seemed roundabout.
Recently, the two largest social networks on the web have been leveraged to take comments to the level they should have been at years ago. Both Facebook’s “Comments” social plugin and Disqus (which now includes a more robust Twitter integration, including @mentions) have improved comment systems by leaps and bounds to offer social commenting.
Not only are these new improvements to the comment sphere great for marketers looking to make (tasteful) product or service plugs, but they also present a greater opportunity to unearth true influencers.
Gone are the days of counting Twitter followers and deeming someone an expert. Places like Quora and the recent comment platform improvements reveal not only who engages with the latest news or opinion bits on the web, but who now becomes an ongoing participant in a discussion and can offers insights. Consider it an additional (or even more heavily weighed) metric for the ongoing influencer algorithm. Vocal topic enthusiasts can often be the first to become vocal brand enthusiasts after they are introduced to a product or service give the stamp of approval.
Discussions online are becoming more authentic and more useful everyday. Brands should begin to consider combing comment threads as a community management best practice and use them as a place for marketing outreach and influencer discovery.
“The recession has redefined the consumer’s relationship with retailers, and social and mobile applications have accelerated this change. Consumers are challenging retailers to be creative and deliver a multi-channel experience that stands out.”
- Alison Paul, U.S. retail sector leader at Deloitte via “US Shoppers Get Digital” on Warc.
Online marketing is experiencing a huge demand for multi-channel experiences. Developing a healthy Digital Ecosystem is the foundation for delivering this experience. For marketing purposes a Digital Ecosystem aligns strategy, creative, user experience and organizational components of a campaign or brand’s online properties. This disciplined approach to all digital touch points, there is an emphasis on engagement, collaboration, sharing, transparency and trust-building that can be an unmatched advantage for organizations looking to build true digital engagement.
With mobile rapidly replacing the stationary model of the desktop or the tethered laptop computer, a brand’s ability to cater to a specific mobile experience is becoming a priority. “Among the 32% of people owning a web-enabled smartphone, 43% had used it while in bricks and mortar outlets ‘to assist in their shopping’, and 37% would like to have done so, but faced connectivity issues,” sites a Deloitte survey of 1,050 American consumers.
How does a brand become mobile sensitive within their Digital Ecosystem? It is important to remember that mobile is no longer just about check-ins and badges.Can non brick-and-mortar brands offer a strong mobile component to a campaign? In what ways should a mobile optimized website differ from a traditional home page? How much of a role does location play?
There are campaign specific answers to all of these kinds of questions. A degree of creativity may be required to meet the challenge of mobile. One thing is certain—it’s even trickier to have a true multi-channel experience without a mobile component.
“With Twitter at 50 million Tweets per day, Facebook with 60 million daily status updates, plus check-in data from Gowalla and Foursquare the volume becomes staggering. Between just those websites we’re talking about 1,000 pieces of information per second.”
- Bryan Menell, “Big Data is the New Frontier” on Dachis Group.
The size of the social data space is staggering. With an increasingly high percentage of internet users liking, tweeting, reviewing, commenting, mentioning and blogging, there is a lot of information to digest. For businesses, particularly marketers, this presents new opportunity to hone in on some of the data to gain insight into almost any demographic.
Internally, “Big Data” is parsed at a micro-level for each and every brand or product , even if they have only been playing in the social media space for a couple of months. With most editorial calendars coming out with half a dozen Tweets and a pair of Facebook posts per day, there are thousands of interactions tidbits to measure. At the conclusion of a campaign, it’s important to analyze these interactions.
Can we see what worked and what didn’t? Who can we rely on to collaborate with? What new communities can we tap into?
In terms of influence, not all followers or fans are created equal. Some are potential partners or superfans, who have interacted with your brand more in the past and who have a bigger audience than others. If you’ve already made the digital handshakes and established relationships with certain influencers, continue to build with them going forward. Whether its leveraging pre existing relationships, building robust contact lists, and prioritizing your messaging, analyzing your brand’s “Big Data” can go a long way to improving for future campaigns.
In the digital ecosystem of any brand, each little piece plays its part. Finding a way to organize and analyze those pieces is becoming essential.
“For most of these questions, experts weren’t going to be the best source for advice,” said Adrian Graham, product manager, Facebook Questions. “For more unusual questions, you can get advice from a broader group of people, but to keep it most relevant we filter the answers to show you first what your friends think.”
Since Yahoo Answers became an abyss for real insight, a need has existed for a more intelligent online Q&A site. The frontrunner in this race for better answers to better questions has been Quora. Quora exists as a curiosity network with an answer refining community. Mainly, it is a place to collaboratively seek and provide expertise.
Aside from experts, there are two types of opinion and recommendation that people generally trust — majorities and friends. From Yelp to Amazon, almost any type of product or business has a wealth of reviews from hundreds or even thousands of users, establishing majority opinion across the web. The last in-demand side of the Q&A equation, friend opinion, has received an ideal platform.
Facebook Questions recently launched for both personal profiles and business pages. Whether it be for crowdsourcing, market research or just to drive engagement, Questions presents an opportunity for brands to finally poll fans naturally (without an app approval process). Like all Facebook tools, Questions comes with the largest built-in user base online. Users can “add an option” to these realtime polls and every time a user answers a question, it spreads to their newsfeed.
The open-ended, seamless feature is a step in the right direction for brands to become better friends with their fans by doing one simple thing: listening.
Not only does Facebook Questions serve a longstanding need to have a quality polling service available to marketers, it also offers the hard sought ability for brands to find out what their fans actually think.
“The first people that do it probably have their heart and head in the right place,” says Allen Adamson, managing director at WPP PLC’s branding firm, Landor Associates.. “But as you go further along, more people try to jump on the band wagon. Doing good becomes less substantial and more of an attention grab.”
Cause-Tied Marketing Requires Care, The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Adamson’s comments aren’t completely off, the quick-thinking online community will jump all over a company that tries to exploit a crisis through marketing “donations.” Bing was burnt on twitter after outraged citizens lashed out at their Japan charity/marketing ploy. Perhaps not ill-intended, the tweet may have been rushed out by Bingers, eager to be a part of the early-responders camp, as Adamson recommends.
His emphasis on being “the first people” is a dangerous requirement for any brand looking to tastefully give back during a crisis. Speed usually comes at the sacrifice of calculation, especially online. To achieve the hard-sought victory of assisting during a crisis and gaining deserved kudos from consumers, brands need not race to respond. Instead, careful thought and consideration should be the priority. Does this fit within our existing socially conscious mission and will our consumer base be inspired to help?
If brands have to try to force it, they are best off avoiding a branded crisis call-to-action.
“Don’t spend thousands on your website design until you have a great story to tell. No one on the planet will support your cause because of your rotating sliders and fancy opt-in forms. But they will if you can get them to feel something.”
Emotional elements can be essential points of success in any charity’s content approach. Without adding a personal element to a nonprofit, it’s tricky to get people to care. Yet, when considering emotional appeals to use with any charity marketing campaign, it’s important not to overdo it. Adding a human element to a campaign can bring out the best in your brand, but it can serve as a warning sign to the masses of skeptical givers and online philanthropists.
The digital divide creates a fight for many charities and nonprofits to build trust. There’s always a chance that anything you come across online can be a scam. With every major natural disaster there are sure to be opportunists looking to pounce on the human desire to help those in need. Any content intended to stir emotion should be paired with appeals for trust including statistics, partner information and an emphasis on organization transparency.
Getting people to feel something is important, but so is gaining their trust.