Agencies: Don't Forget To Sell

Yesterday, I published a blog post at iMediaConnection's blog and I hope you'll check it out: The Modern Agency Still Sells, Right?

I am particularly proud of this piece because it has the potential to jolt agency employees out of their social media fascination. I contend that some agencies are losing their focus in the web 2.0 world.

They've forgotten to work for the sale.

The initial idea for my post came from Phil Johnson's Ad Age article, Agencies Should Be Defined by What They Know, Not What They Make. I was alarmed by the focus on marketing agency knowledge, rather than a focus on creating something (ads, copy, even social media opportunities) to fulfill a client's business objectives.

From my post:

Clients aren’t comforted by what you know. They’d rather see how you turn that into sales.

Agencies that use social media, then foster loyalty and trust, and then turn that into sales – those agencies will triumph. But agencies that dabble in social media without even considering ROI or sales…think Pets.com 2.0.

Marketers and advertisers who consider sales not lofty enough of a goal would do well to remember David Ogilvy’s number one obiter dictum from Confessions of an Advertising Man:

“We sell – or else.”

What do you think? Am I off base to warn agencies about their potential social media amnesia? Has the role of the agency really moved from selling in a web 2.0 world?

Check out the the post and feel free to leave a comment below.

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Measuring Social Media ROI - It's Not A Web 2.0 Myth

Yardsticks

Not long ago, I declared that I'm f*cking sick of the "ROI of social media" debate. The post got some attention, including a follow-up on ReadWriteWeb.

Good. It's a conversation that needs to happen.

But in past posts, I neglected two topics:

  1. A history of media metrics, thereby illuminating how much has changed and how important this is
  2. The role of agencies as guides through a web 2.0 world

Today, I rectify that with a guest post on Critical Mass' Experience Matters blog entitled Why Your Social Media ROI Is Broken– And How To Fix It. (Disclosure: I am employed by Critical Mass.)

Who Should Read This And Why

If you work in or with an agency, I recommend this post. It describes an agency's changing responsibilities to their clients - how to help clients understand social media and find success with their web 2.0 ventures.

Most importantly, I hope it gives you courage to face this moving target. Here's a description of the changing marketing world from my guest post:

We are moving from a period of raw quantitative measurement (i.e. How many unique visitors did we have?) to a qualitative period (i.e. Did our social media engagement create more trust which in turn created more sales?). Trust, loyalty, and brand advocacy aren’t intangible anymore.

Is your agency at least aware of these changes? How have they advised you regarding social media metrics?

Trash Your Crappy Web Metrics And Grow A Pair

This is not the time for timid marketers. If you aren't ready to try new things and risk your neck everyday, please allow the rest of us to move past you.

Let me put it to you straight: web analysis allows you to determine the real ROI which, in turn, allows you to see what tactics are working and which aren't.

Not the tactics that your boss likes or that tested well in focus groups - the tactics that really work.

Personally, I recommend facing these new challenges head on. It's tough, but how else will you know if you are really reaching your goals?

What About You?

I would love to hear from you on this topic. Do you measure your social media outreach? If not, what is holding you back? If you do measure social media, what are the elements that you measure? Are these personalized to your goals?

In short, how's it going out there?

Please check out Why Your Social Media ROI Is Broken– And How To Fix It and leave a comment there or here (comment section below). I look forward to hearing from you.

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Shared Media Versus Social Media - Defining Interactions

sharing-1

Last week, my buddy Rick over at eyecube.wordpress.com wrote an intriguing post about "shared media."

He makes a case for the term "shared media" rather than "social media." It's a worthwhile post and I encourage you to read it. It's always a good exercise to step back and consider exactly how we define our actions.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in his post, but I think we need to cut down on the variables to get to the meat of this discussion. I think we easily get bogged down by the complexity - paid vs. earned, social vs. viral, etc. - but let's strip away some of this and talk about how we act and interact online.

Disregard medium

It's becoming less and less important how people consume content. Website, iPhone, whatever - let's put the medium of content transfer to the side for a moment.

Disregard payment

While it might matter to the content creator and the paying third party, content consumers have never really cared about the difference between paid and earned. Consumers know that Super Bowl commercials come at a very high price, but they watch them because they're entertaining. Likewise, wouldn't you have watched the "Where the hell is Matt" videos just the same, regardless of whether Stride placed their logo in the final frames? Content is content is content.

Disregard pro vs. amateur

To the well-documented chagrin of newspapers everywhere, consumers care less about whether the content creator is a professional or not. In fact, there are more than enough studies to state definitively that consumers trust amateurs more than professionals (for evidence, read Groundswell and others). Hell, get rid of the author entirely

Forget pro vs. amateur - let's get rid of the author altogether. Sure, I visit Chris Brogan or Mitch Joel's blog for great content, but it's because of the consistently excellent content, not the man behind it (sorry guys). Consumers judge the value of content based on the content itself. In a past life, I was an apostle of structuralist literary theorist Roland Barthes and his Death of the Author essay. I concur with Barthes that "[t]o give a text [or content] an Author" and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it "is to impose a limit on that text."

What's left?

Getting down to the basics, there isn't much left. There is the content, the consumer, and what they do with that content.

It seems to me that there are three possible scenarios.

  1. Media: Consumers read content, find it boring or unworthy of passing on, and the interaction ends. (I'm talking about the interaction between content and consumer. I disagree with Adam Broitman that this is social media in the sense that not responding is a response, i.e. the consumer "saying" he or she is not interested in the message.)
  2. picture-1

  3. Shared media: Consumers read content, share it with others, but content isn't capable of sparking much interest or debate. While one consumer has shared, the act could not be defined as "social" in that other consumers stopped the process. (Imagine a chain letter where no one passes it along except the originator.) picture-2
  4. Social media: Consumers read content, share content with others, and those others continue to share it. The content itself isn't social - but the interactions around that content certainly are. picture-3

Big difference, right?

So, going back to Rick's post, I would contend that, while sharing is certainly important, it isn't the highest level of engagement. I contend that "social media" is still the better term, as it is the highest level of interaction between consumers and content.

The gist is this:

All social media is shared, but not all shared media is social.

What do you think? Does this intuitively make sense? Maybe it's not shared versus social - perhaps there's another term altogether that you prefer. I'd love to hear your comments below.

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Small Business Owners: Your Customer Service IS Your Marketing!

yakov

Remember Yakov Smirnoff?

He was big in the '80s and used to tell jokes like this:

In America, you can always find a party. In Russia, The Party can always find you!

See the switch-eroo there? Clever, right?

I was thinking about that after I read the Network Solutions report I referenced in my last post about whether social media marketing was viable for small businesses. My riff off Smirnoff went something like this:

Before the internet, marketing hid poor customer service. In a web 2.0 world, customer service IS your marketing!

Not quite as catchy as ol' Yakov, but still possessing that kernel of truth, don't you think?

Where Are We And How Did We Get Here?

The Network Solutions data (PDF) showed that small business owners were largely successful with customer service, but that overall marketing and innovation was ranked the second lowest of six success attributes.

So, in my last post, I took the four lowest qualities in the marketing and innovation category (from Network Solutions data) and compared that with a large study of what social media marketing does well (Michael Stelzner data).

This comparison proved that social media marketing just might help your small business. (If you're shaking your head and muttering "No Duh" as you read this, hang with me.)

So What's The Next Step?

Logic then dictates that we examine just how social media marketing could help your small business.

If you've read Now, Discover Your Strengths you know that your best option is not to obsess about improving in areas you have little skill. Instead, you want to leverage what you're good at. And remember what Network Solutions' data said small business owners succeed in?: Customer Service.

What the hell do customer service and marketing have in common? These days, almost everything.

Here's the secret: Your customer service IS your marketing. If you take nothing else from this post, remember that!

Let me show you. I'll take those four worst attributes of small businesses' marketing and innovation and create scenarios where your customer service becomes your marketing.

A Closer Look

Problem: Finding efficient ways to advertise and promote your business.

Solution: Remember how Craigslist basically crushed the classified ad business? Likewise, don't think of advertising as a huge line item in your budget. Let your good work be your advertisement.

Ask your best customers to put in a good word for you on Yelp.com or Angie's List. Better yet, offer a small discount on a customer's bill - no strings attached - and just mention that you're listed on those sites. Some may not post about their experience, but evidence in Yes! says that a lot of them will. (It's a good book, by the way - read my review here.)

"Approaching the potentially cooperative relationship in this way [unconditional and no-strings-attached] should not only increase the likelihood that you'll secure their cooperation in the first place, but also ensure that the cooperation you do receive is build on a solid foundation of trust and mutual appreciation, rather than on a much weaker incentive system" (page 59).

Problem: Converting marketing leads into buyers.

Solution: Ug, "leads." Could there be a more self-serving term? They aren't individuals or customers or even users, but leads?

What if you could make them come to you? What if you spent less time cold-calling "leads" and more time being the go-to expert?

Become a resource on Twitter or answer questions on LinkedIn. Join an industry group on your favorite site or get active in a forum discussion.

Here's the thing: rather than trying to convince people to hire you, instead convince them about how good you really are. Isn't that the point? You didn't start your small business to become a salesperson (well, most of you). But if you become a resource for a community, you will be the first person community members call when they need help.

Problem: Positioning your organization as having the same capabilities as big organizations in your industry.

Solution: Again, maybe I'm missing something. Why are you trying to make your small business seem big? Why not focus on the benefits of a small business?

Have you been watching The Office in recent weeks? The main character left his corporate behemoth and started the eponymous Michael Scott Paper Company.

He didn't try to convince people he could do everything Dunder Mifflin did. Instead, he focused on what his small team could do: provide real value, excellent customer service, and those 5am paper deliveries in the Korean church bus.

What's the equivalent for your business? Be agile, hungry...and successful.

Problem: Identifying new prospective customers.

Solution: In a sense, you could use elements of the other three problems to attract more customers. You can also create a destination for prospective customers who would be interested in your product.

For instance, let's say you're an expert on high-end coffee beans. Start a blog and go relentlessly after keywords like Kona and Jamaican Blue Mountain. Write posts about the product and show your expertise (just don't be a jerk about it). Prospective customers will search for those keywords and find your amazing posts - Bingo!

Readers who comment on these posts should be of special interest. Sure, they're even more likely to be prospective customers, but they could also be brand evangelists or someone who could teach you a vital aspect of the business.

Convinced yet?

Just yesterday, The Chicago Tribune published a story about small businesses who found success with social media marketing. Here's what Andy Sernovitz, chief executive of GasPedal, a Chicago consulting firm specializing in word-of-mouth marketing and social media, had to say on the subject:

"Because of the viral nature of social media, companies that take the time to communicate are likely to see their goodwill spread. One simple technique for building relationships involves responding to positive mentions by saying 'thank you' and following up on negative mentions with an apology and a solution to the problem, Sernovitz said."

Excellent customer service - even if the product is momentarily sub-par - creates goodwill, positive conversation, and might even improve your business.

Are you more convinced about my Yakov Smirnoff riff now?

Before the internet, marketing hid poor customer service. In a web 2.0 world, customer service IS your marketing!

What a country world!

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Frank Lloyd Wright As Social Media Marketer

robie-house1

BG and I recently watched a documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright and I found that it related to the work we do in social media marketing (natch).

There were two instances in particular that related to social media marketing. But I need your help in making sense of it all.

An Open Plain

The documentary explained that before Wright, rooms were frequently closed off by doors. Each room in a home had a purpose and each purpose was discrete. You eat in the dining room and that room alone; sliding doors separate the dining room from the sitting room and library.

Wright's homes, however, have an open feel. You can often see through several room at a time - your view is rarely blocked with doors or hairpin turns. The corners aren't obtrusive. There is a flow and openness that many find appealing.

Of course, this made me think of old and new media. In earlier times, we relied on journalists to provide the news; it's what they did and they alone could do it. We staffed a PR person to speak to the press, and only with canned, pre-rehearsed statements. There was a strict hierarchy to be obeyed. The org chart was scripture.

Hasn't social media marketing changed all that! Now, some blogs outrank The New York Times in search engines. Peter Shankman's HARO directly connects journalists and sources. A Zappos employee - any Zappos employee - is allowed to speak to any member of the press.

Amazing things happen when walls -  literal or virtual - are broken down.

Technology As Benefit Or Impediment

Later on in his life, attention shifted from American architects to modernists in Europe. They build sleek, austere buildings, using different industrial materials. It was a 180 degree shift from the organic feel of Wright's work.

Sour grapes or not, Wright hated these buildings, claiming that the modernist architects were using technology for technology's sake - not to improve the building or make it more livable, but simply because it was new. He felt their designs were lifeless, especially compared to his natural homes with their autumnal hues.

How often do we fall into the same trap? Did we join Twitter and Pownce and Orkut and any number of other networks because they improved our lives or simply because they were the shiny new object? Does that iPhone app really help your clients and their customers, or are you building it because it's new and exciting?

Technology can easily become an impediment to communication and community, rather than a facilitator, especially these days.

What Do You Think?

Are these apt observations or am I grasping here? I wonder what you think.

I also wonder where this is going. One of the last projects of Wright's career was taking on the challenge to build a $5,000 home - a house for the mass, a democratic architecture. But he couldn't do it. Wright always ran over budget. He could never give everyone what they wanted for the right price without compromising his standards.

Can that example relate to social media marketing as well? Is our lesson that community cannot be faked? That customers simply cost $X to retain or engage? That our tools (i.e. blogs) might be free, but the investment in time and energy for quality connections will remain high?

What do you think? Is open architecture like our flatter organizations? Is our obsession with technology like the European modernist architects? What is on the horizon for social media marketers?

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When ROI Measurement And Actual Effectiveness Are Mutually Exclusive

roi-vs-effectiveness

In The 2009 Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Guide, MarketingSherpa explains a conundrum marketers are facing in a web 2.0 world:

What do you do when the ability to measure your return on investment (ROI) is mutually exclusive to the effectiveness of a particular campaign?

In other words, how do you sell a tactic up the chain of command that you know will work but can't provide definite numbers? Or conversely, how do you dissuade a course of action that has proven ineffective, but which your executives embrace because they understand the number of impressions or "hits" or lives interrupted by the campaign?

It's a difficult predicament, to be sure. And it appears that's the situation most marketers are facing.

Known Badness vs. Unknown Goodness

Traditional PR and marketing has never had much measurability, but it is a known entity. What was the return on investment for your PR firm to make unsolicited calls on your behalf? How many sales resulted from your Times Square advertisement? Traditional marketing has always had terrible measurability.

But, it's what your boss knows. Now, we have new technologies that can show an amazing array of ROI statistics, but they're new. They're "untested." They might fail. (Because that never happens with old media!)

Yes, I Can Back That Up

Don't believe me? Take a look at the report.

The executive summary shows that most marketers think the ability to measure ROI (also reported the second most significant barrier to social media adoption) has "nothing to do with the effectiveness of the tactic" (page 6).

In fact, MarketingSherpa goes on to say that:

"Marketers obsessed with only tracking social media results quantitatively are missing the point and may find themselves employing much less effective social media tactics for the sake of measurability."

How about you? Would you rather fail than tell your boss she's wrong?

Budgets Going...Up?

So, are marketers telling their bosses about social media? Quite possibly, yes. But marketers might not be educating their bosses as much as they need to.

MarketingSherpa reports that "social media and email are the only to tactics on which more companies are planning to increase spending than are planning to decrease spending" (page 4). This matches Forrester's recent report entitled Social Media Playtime Is Over. They report even higher numbers, saying that over 50% of marketers will increase their spending on social media in the coming year.

If you're a social media marketer and think this sounds great, think again. Just because marketers expect the amount they spend on social media to increase, that does not mean it'll be a lot. In fact, B.L. Ochman says that Forrester reports three-fourths of marketers expect to spend less than $100K on social media marketing tools.

Read the conversation B.L. includes at the end of a recent post. I think she correctly portrays a set-up for failure, where marketers are expected to spin social media gold from corporate hay, stymied by every other department in their company.

So What Do I Do?

As a social media marketer, you have the proverbial wind at your back. You must seize this opportunity, but don't forget to lobby for the resources and permission you will need later.

Personally, I recommend buying MarketingSherpa's Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Guide. Their research is among the best, their arguments are persuasive, and, to be honest, it's expensive enough for your boss to trust it. Or buy Forrester's report. Or another one like it. But, do something.

We have fought for so long to be taken seriously. Remember being scoffed at five years ago when you claimed Facebook would be huge and a decent marketing tool? Remember when Twitter was just a fad? You get it. You see further down the road than most people. (Strategy is part of your job, after all.)

Well, part of your job is also being an educational resource for your boss and her bosses, too. Buy them a report. Send them information from sources they trust. Hell, reserve time on their schedule and read the damn stuff to them. But make them listen.

Otherwise, you will be one of the poor marketers tasked with doing "something viral." If you hear "we need a Facebook page" and don't hear mention a strategy or goals, you are about to get screwed.

But this is your chance! We finally have the green light to participate in social media marketing in a responsible way! But leverage the resources you need (don't forget staff time!) and the backing to make it all possible.

Then, come back and let us know how it went!

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(Note: I am a MarketingSherpa affiliate which means that I make a little beer money if you buy the report. But I'd tout their work even if I wasn't. It's great stuff, period.)

7 Ways Authors Can Avoid Being Scammed By Online Book Promotion

book-signing

Online marketing can be very useful, but when does it become a time suck? Are there industries where online marketing is more likely to fail? Or are any potential failures just the result of bungled efforts?

I recently read this article about an author's problems marketing her novel online: One Author Speaks Out About The Bad Side Of Online Promotions. It was interesting to read a post that contained both missed opportunities on the part of the author as well as justified limitations to her online marketing efforts.

The author in the blog post felt as though she had largely wasted her hours of online promotion for a recently published book. I would like to offer the following advice both as a humble rebuttal as well as in hopes of helping other authors think about their online promotions.

Lessons To Be Learned

There are a lot of lessons illustrated in the author's blog post. Here are a few that jumped out at me, along with corresponding quotes from her interview:

"I blogged, guest blogged, blogged at Amazon, podcasted, was interviewed by books bloggers and book review websites, joined Facebook, and Twittered. I also joined several networking sites and writers organizations associated with my genre."

Lesson #1: Don't spread yourself too thin. I'd recommend only participating in the number of social networks where you can provide value. It sounds like the author was spreading herself across the entire internet, rather than focusing on a targeted community and fulfilling a need they had.

"I concentrated all of this effort in the month my book released and the two immediately following."

Lesson #2: Don't wait until the book is out to build community. This is possibly the biggest mistake for any author. Waiting until your book is published before starting your online community building is like waiting to buy flood insurance until after the waters recede - you should have thought of it before the big event. Work in advance to build an audience so you can all start promoting the book once it hits shelves.

"For three months, all the time I normally spent online and more was focused on Internet promotion: 3 to 8 hours a day...This interview, for example, took me 9 hours to write."

Lesson #3: Need to manage expectations and time. Authors should plan to spend a good deal of time with promotion, depending on their motivation, size of potential audience, and other factors. (Good) online promotion takes a real investment of time. That said, 9 hours on a 6 page interview seems way too long to me. If that's a regular occurrence, you should consider honing your verbal skills and complete other interviews orally.

"...I was able to track the outcomes of individual interviews. The results were shocking. After an interview posted on a website claiming thousands of unique visitors per day, exactly one person followed the link to my website."

Lesson #4: Clarify your goals. Earlier, the author stated that the goal of her online promotion was to increase name and book title recognition. If so, then don't judge your success on CTR or web traffic. Determine what you want, figure out success metrics (ask "How do I envision success"), and then execute.

"I know some will say I'm missing the point; that the objective of all this activity is to build the author's long-term [i]nternet presence and establish a brand. But to a newly published author, 'online promotion' is synonymous with 'sales.' It has to be."

Lesson #5: Community leads to sales, not necessarily vice versa. If you only go online for the sale, you will fail; if you go online to provide value/access, you will make the sale. Consider David Meerman Scott - he is active in the community and gives most of his content away for free. Crazy? Nope. He knows that he attracts fans through the free content and he makes his money selling books to this targeted, pre-engaged audience and by speaking to them at conferences. A short-sighted attitude toward sales will kill you online.

"Once content is posted, it doesn't go anywhere. It just sits for awhile, then disappears. By contrast, articles and blog posts made at the major online magazines and newspapers show up at dozens of other websites within minutes."

Lesson #6: All traffic is not the same. Besides showing a somewhat alarming naivety regarding search, this quote implies that all online traffic has roughly the same worth. For most authors, a targeted focus on niche audiences is far more likely to yield interest, buzz, and sales.

"[N]o one even knows if Twittering and social network sites sell books."

Lesson #7: Social networking sites don't sell books. You sell books. Read that sentence again and really take it in. It might be the most important thing you find in this post.

With that in mind, consider that Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff compares the traditional sales function to "energizing" in their fantastic book, Groundswell. Instead of hard-line sales tactics, social networking "[m]akes it possible for your enthusiastic customers to help sell each other" (page 69).

Or, if you're still pessimistic about the power of your online connections, consider this excellent article by David Alston called "Social Media ROI - What's the 'Return on Ignoring'?" Alston makes the convincing, even simplistic, case that doing nothing will result in...nothing.

"But what does "return on investment" really stand for in a business? Roughly translated, it means the value we expect to get out of all the effort we put into something. It's the definition of the output (return) from an input (investment).

But here's the trick: ignoring the input, or doing nothing in social media, will surely guarantee no return at all."

The Right Attitude

I don't want it to sound as though the author was clueless; that's certainly not the case. Throughout the blog post, I marked sections where I thought her concept of social networking and online marketing were correct.

For instance, as an unschooled professional, she taught herself a lot about the importance of search. Despite one or two missteps, she does present search accurately and astutely as a marketing tool. In fact, she may not give herself enough credit for the results she had (which were fairly fantastic).

Readers could also tell that the author had a long history of being online, even if she wasn't marketing herself this whole time. Familiarity with the online channel greatly decreases the learning curve for online marketing.

And finally, she seems to have a good understanding (more than me, certainly) of the relationship between author and publicist regarding online promotion. If she's to be believe - and I have no reason not to - the book publishing promotion world still seems centered on in-store and other offline promotions. On the flip side, she also understands that relying on a publicist for online connections would be a mistake.

Worth A Read

In general, I enjoyed this post because it gave me a lot to think about and showed insight into a field I know less about, though am interested in.

The point of this post is to help other authors avoid the pitfalls she went through. Was this helpful? Or did I skip over an essential lesson? Please leave your comments and suggestions for other authors below.

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Humbugs And Hammers And Twitters - Oh My!

hammer

I would like to tell you a story about a craft fair and I hope it will teach you something about Twitter and other new media. Do you think I can do it? Let's see.

OK, imagine you're at a craft fair. Make it something out in the woods where everything smells like pine and cider. You are walking along, looking at the different crafts laid upon rows and rows of tables by the sellers.

All of a sudden, you find yourself at one craftman's table at the end of a row. He looks dour...no, make that downright angry. His brows are knotted up and his lips are pursed. He looks like he's about to burst. And, perhaps against your better judgement, you ask him what's bothering him.

And does he ever let loose! It turns out this craftman has been a carpenter for decades - he calls himself an expert at least. And his problem is with the hammer. Not one in particular - all hammers. Every single one. He thinks they're stupid. He thinks they are useless. This carpenter has got no problem with screwdrivers and wrenches and levels. But hammers - he can't stand 'em.

The Twitter Connection

That's how I feel when I read posts like 6 Thoughts About Twitter by The Ad Contrarian (who also goes by Bob). Like I'm reading a post by an angry carpenter who hates hammers.

I'm not saying that guys like Bob are totally incorrect. I'll be the first to agree that some of the things Biz and others have said about Twitter are kinda...out there.

But I'm still at that craft show thinking, "So, who cares?" I mean, you can yell and scream all you want about how a hardback book is the best thing to pound nails into walls. You can really believe that and I won't begrudge you. (Heck, I'll even watch you bang a Shakespeare tome against the wall without saying a word.) But me, I'm still going to use a hammer.

No More Metaphors

Maybe I'm still relying on metaphor. My point is this: tools are secondary and it doesn't make a lot of sense arguing against (or even for) any particular one.

You can pound nails into your wall with a hammer or with a hardback book, but if the wall is flimsy, the whole thing is going to collapse.

In the same sense, you can tweet about your brand, but if your brand or product sucks, Twitter ain't gonna save it.

Twitter is a tool. I like it. I've seen a lot of people do a lot of good with it (and a few people embarrass themselves with it too). But it's  just a tool. If your message is off-target or you don't excite your audience or your product explodes into flames (and it's not insta-logs), then Twitter is beside the point.

Not A Tool, But A Business

Maybe you can glimpse the value of a tool like Twitter, like this New York Magazine writer did, but are more interested in it as a business. OK, fair enough - this is a different conversation.

He saw the value, being in the Twitter offices when US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson river a few weeks ago. He also touched upon the successful venture capitalists who have invested money in Twitter, despite the lack of a public business model. So in a sense, he does mention the product and the business in the story. But really, who cares about that, right?

Instead, the author focuses on the really important stuff. You know, like the fact they stock the office with organic cereal and have a vintage Atari console and a television tuned to the fireplace channel and have meetings about "open-source mumbo jumbo" (actual quote).

Does that tell us about Twitter or its business? Not really. But it does tell us that the author likes to sound like a condescending douchebag.

Two Wrongs Don't Make It Right

So what's the connection? In both instances, there was a bunch of negative ink thrown at a new media tool; at the equivalent of a hammer. A HAMMER!

Both articles denigrated a new tool without offering real reasons nor a better alternative. The authors take potshots at the people who use the new tool, but don't take much time actually, um, using it themselves. Plus, going beyond Twitter as a tool, the New York Mag article was supposed to be about the business, but instead it was a hodge-podge of vapid commentary, atmospheric details, and anxiety of the new.

Think about the hammer metaphor again: imagine articles that insult the instrument itself, the people who use it, and the people who made it - without focusing on how people use the hammer in the first place.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on these guys? Or do I go too easy on them? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

(Oh, and how did I hear about these two articles in the first place? Twitter, natch.)

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Super Bowl 2009 Ads - Social Media Engagement In The Second Half

tigers-win

As you've probably read, I am reporting on social media engagement during Super Bowl 43. Here are the results from the first half. Let's get right into the second half here:

  • Coke (Avatars): No engagement
  • Bridgestone (Jump around): URL (Bridgestone.com) - very small font
  • Denny's (Serious Breakfast): No engagement
  • Monster.com (Moose head): URL (Monster.com)
  • Budweiser (Jake): No engagement
  • Race To Witch Mountain (Movie trailer): URL (Disney.com/WitchMountain)
  • Transformers 2 (Movie trailer): URL
  • Careerbuilder (Hate your job): URL (Careerbuilder.com)
  • Coke (Nature): No engagement
  • Kellogg's (Frosted Flakes): URL, vote where they donate money at FrostedFlakes.com
  • NFL (Usama): URL, NFL.com/SuperAd
  • Heineken (This is a sword): No engagement

Fourth quarter:

So what do you think? Will customers continue to interact with these brands after the big game? Was $3M per commercial worth it?

My Take

I'm shocked at the percentage of advertisers who shelled out $3M for a 30-second spot, but didn't even list a URL. Advertisers paid that much to get into America's living rooms, but did not take the opportunity to enter it again.

Despite my high hopes, this year's Super Bowl was not the stellar social media outing it could have been. Out of the 54 commercials shown during the actual game (kick-off to end of game), 17 had no online engagement at all - not even a URL. Almost one-third - 31.48% - planned for no interaction with their customers after the game.

Rick Liebling at eyecube has a great idea about other ways to spend that money. I think brands would be better off if their marketing departments cared more about creating brand advocates like Rick mentions, rather than a quick one-off during the big game.

I'd love to hear what you think. Which advertisers do you think used their 30 seconds to create a conversation with their customers? Whose conversation will continue in the coming weeks and months?

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Super Bowl 2009 Ads - Social Media Engagement In The First Half

family-watching-television

$3M for a 30-second ad?

Sure it's crazy, but unlike in years past, advertisers have the opportunity to make that $3M work for them long after Super Bowl memories have faded.

First, there's the initial press. TNS Media reports that Super Bowl advertising has huge holding power. Data shows that people do wait to see the commercials all the way through the game. Then for a few days after, you get tons of online conversation swirling around your brand. (TNS was also able to rank the total media coverage last year - it will be interesting to see if these 10 brands lead the pack in terms of social media integration this year.)

But, for all its holding power, the Super Bowl is over within a few hours. How do advertisers get their money's worth? How do consumers create dialogue with select brands?

Getting The Most For $3M

Of course, the real way to really get the most for that $3M is to engage your customer. I mentioned previously some of the ways to engage your audience online and I've been tracking these attributes during the game. Here is what I have been watching for:

  • Pre-game engagement: Could customers submit their own ads in hopes of having it shown? Was there any aspect of user-generated content (UGC)? Did the brand allow customers to vote on which ad was shown?
  • During-game engagement: Was a URL displayed during the ad to drive traffic and attention to the brand? Where there opportunities for real-time interaction? Were customers encouraged to vote or otherwise voice their opinion?
  • Post-game engagement: Were there opportunities to engage the audience after the game? Could customers join a social network? Could they sign up for a newsletter featuring advance product information?

The Run-Down

Here's my list for the first half of Super Bowl 2009:

Second Quarter:

  • Land of The Lost (Movie Trailer): URL (LandOfTheLost.net)
  • Doritos (Power of crunch): UGC (Crash the Super Bowl)
  • GoDaddy (Danica): URL, commercial continued online (GoDaddy.com)
  • Pepsi Max ("I'm good"): URL (RefreshEverything.com)
  • Pedigree (Get a dog): No engagement
  • Budweiser (Horse brings branch): No engagement
  • Budweiser (Horse love) - 60 secs.: No engagement
  • Star Trek (Movie trailer): URL (StarTrekMovie.com)
  • Gatorade (Mission G): URL (MissionG.com)
  • Cars.com (Confidence): No engagement in commercial, but ad protagonist does have Facebook page
  • Hyundai Genesis (Yelling):
  • eTrade (Babies): URL (eTrade.com)
  • [Good call-out to NBC.com and Hulu]
  • Pixar (Up): URL, Verbal ask to go to Disney.com
  • Bud Light (Chalkoard): No engagement
  • H&R Block (Death): URL (HRBlock.com)
  • Teleflora (Talking flowers): URL (Teleflora.com)
  • Cheetos (Pigeons): URL with prominent written call-out (Cheetos.com)
  • Monsters Vs. Aliens (Movie trailer): URL (MonstersVsAliens.com)
  • Sobe (3-D dancing lizards): No URL, but bought Google ads against Monster vs. Aliens and sending traffic to branded Sobe YouTube channel (hat-tip @Scorecard)

Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave comments below if I left anything out or misreported on an ad. If you'd like to follow along in real time, you can find me at @MarketerBlog. I will post the second half's analysis directly after the game.

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What A Handful Of Pepper Has To Do With Your Social Media Strategy

ground-pepper

Let me tell you a story about what a handful of pepper has to do with your social media strategy:

BG has two nieces who I absolutely adore, aged 2 years and 8 months. I know everyone says this, but my future nieces are really just about the smartest and most cherubic children I've ever seen.

BG and I were over for dinner last week and BG's sister was preparing the meal. The 2-year old (TYO) was standing on a chair helping her Mommy in the kitchen. This is when things got interesting.

BG and I look over and TYO was standing on the chair agog but motionless. Is she choking? Is anything wrong? "TYO, what's wrong?"

It turns out that TYO had seen the ground pepper contain on the counter and gotten a particular thought in her head. I imagine it went something like, "Things I put in my mouth around BG and Mommy and Uncle DJ are usually tasty - how bad could a big handful of this black, flakey stuff be?"  So she palmed a large handful of ground pepper and sent it down the hatch!

What Does This Have To Do With My Social Media Strategy?

It's early 2009 and many of you are planning your social media strategy for the year. Maybe you've planned out a blog or started a Twitter account. You have subscriptions to Chris Brogan and Joseph Jaffe, and you think everything is gonna go great.

It occurred to me last week that you are, in a way, similar to TYP contemplating her clenched fist. You are about to embark on a new and exciting journey, venture into unknown territory. What's in your hand? Is it ground pepper or M&Ms?

Personally, I hope to grit your teeth and swallow whatever it is wholeheartedly. I've said it before: Social media is not for cowards. I hope you go for the gusto with your social media strategy.

But Wait, It Was Freakin' Pepper!

Sure, for TYO, it was a handful of pepper, but that's not important. Maybe you'll get M&Ms, who knows? But you're looking down at your closed fist of social media and thinking, "This is going down my gullet right now."

Hey, you know what? You might fail. Like, really fail. Like, face-plant at the skatepark, fail. Like suck down ground pepper like hot coals, holy hell, I cannot believe that just happened, I think I'm gonna die, damn that hurts pain.

And you won't be alone. A lot of people will fail at social media this year. Honestly, that's not terribly important.

What is important is that you learn from it. In fact, I think you'll learn more if it turns out to be pepper in your hand.

I've said before that failure is not fatal and it's true. If you would have looked into the eyes of TYO the moment after it happened, you'd know that more important lessons were being learned - lessons about avoiding future missteps, about learning from mistakes, about what it means to not only learn from a bad experience but to change your behavior in a positive way because of it.

Like Nike Says...

With this new year still fresh, I hope you're contemplating bold moves. And while I hope you succeed, I hope that you learn from any failure you may experience. The weak will give up. They will swallow the pepper and run the other direction. My hope for your 2009 social media plan is that, if you should find yourself chewing back a mouthful of blisteringly hot pepper, that you take it and learn from the experience.

Anyone can experience pain, but if you want to succeed, you will learn from it. Maybe your pepper is a scathing article. Maybe it's a demoralized boss. Maybe it'll be your own stupid actions (I've been there, believe me).

Take it from TYO: everyone takes down their share of ground pepper. It's what you do with it that's important. I hope you turn your pepper into M&Ms. I know it's possible - I see it everyday.

Epilogue:

After TYO swallowed the pepper, an emergency glass of water and many kisses were deployed. I'm thankful to say no one was harmed in the incident and I think everyone learned something from the experience. That said, it was a pleasure to see TYO indulge her curiousity. I wonder what a handful of ground pepper would taste like to me...

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A New Business Model For A New Era

businessmen

I think Mitch Joel is one of the brightest minds in social media. But today, I've gotta take issue.

Mitch recently responded to a new Pew Research Center poll showing that television has been overtaken by the internet as a primary news source. I highly encourage you to read Mitch's thoughts here: Breaking News On The Internet. His concern is that new media (blogs, Twitter, etc.) has overtaken traditional media too quickly for a replacement advertising model to be accepted. After all, who is going to pay for all of the content online?

Now, I almost always think Mitch is right on target. But his recent post harbors some assumptions that I've been hearing more and more often from a lot of sources, but which I think are detrimental to social media marketing in its current incarnation.

In other words, it's not just Mitch - we all need to be careful about how we consider social media and how it relates to a business model.

Here are 4 assumptions I hear in the marketing community that need a good debunking:

  1. Traditional media and new media are selling the same thing: It's simply not true, so let's not talk about the two systems as though they were. TV and radio were made to sell ads; the internet is advice and expertise. Rick at eyecube said it well: "Television isn’t a medium for telling stories and disseminating information, it’s a medium for selling ads. As such, the goal is not to produce quality programming, the goal is to produce programming that will attract the most eyeballs." He goes on to make salient points about the quality that results as such, but my point is to take caution when comparing apples to oranges.
  2. The old business models were correct: Sure, advertising worked, but that didn't mean it was good. As long as a terrible product brought eyeballs or cash with them, do you really think the fat cats cared? In the old business model, marketers were shills. But now, good products tend to succeed and bad products tend to fail (and at a faster rate too). The old model sold people Ford Pintos. Now, we recommend Amazon.com to our friends. Who would want to return to the old model?
  3. Advertising is the only business model: The most surprising aspect of Mitch's post is that advertising is the only business model mentioned. There's no talk of a donation model (open source software), a merchandise model (Toothpaste For Dinner), a gimmick model (woot.com), a subscription model (The Bitterest Pill podcast), a community outreach model (Lululemon), a recommendation model (Zappos), or any other type of business model. None of these companies engages in advertising on a large scale (if at all), yet they are all very healthy businesses.
  4. The lack of a business model is a bad thing: Why? Unlike TV and radio, the content is already great. Mitch kind of admits this in both the Pew post and one from a few days earlier, named Bad TV, respectively:

    “Any idea how long it took channels like newspapers, radio and television to optimize their product to make it so appealing to advertisers? Most advertising professionals would argue that all of these channels are still working at it.”

    "[T]here is so much good content on the Internet that it is overwhelming. Where both [a DVR and an online news reader] enable you to avoid a lot of the noise, the Internet just has way too much relevant and good content - no matter what your varying interests may be."

    In other words, the hard part has been done: good content is everywhere! That's great! People find new ways to make a buck everyday online, so don't worry about it - the hard part is creating good content and cultivating an interested community.

Mitch says the internet is growing too fast - for whom exactly? Obviously not the viewing public, especially the young, if you read the Pew survey results. Obviously not us social media early adopters. So who? The suits? The record labels and the movie studios? Everyone else who tries to make a buck off of the content producer? Hey, screw 'em.

Out Of Whose Wallet?

Despite the assumptions I drew from Mitch's post, his main point is this: Who is going to pay for all of the content we consume online?

It's a valid question. Of course, good content has a price tag. But I think we've gotten too used to advertising paying for everything and it's turned advertisers into editors. That mentality won't work in this new era.

And Mitch and others get this, I think. In a post on Christmas Day, he wrote about a potential journalistic endeavor: "Hustling for banner ads is not going to generate the revenue that you were hoping for, and by focusing on this - instead of the quality and relevance of the content - it is only going to cause you to be distracted."

So let's not get distracted because of the business model. Tell business owners and old-school marketers this for now: Provide content, then build trust, then rake in new business. It's uber-simplified, but that's how you provide content at a profit.

This Isn't Personal

I count 10 blog posts in the last year alone where I had nothing but glowing things to say about Mitch. He and other new media folks are providing a light in the darkness to millions.

My concern is only that we keep moving. Sure, let's talk about business models and figure out how we can all provide the most use for our clients and make an honest buck doing it. But let's do it in a spirit that fits the new era, one where we don't get tripped up comparing things to how they were in the past.

Why? Because we're in a freakin' awesome point in time! Social media marketing is creating more honesty, value, and conversation - and I suspect that both Mitch and I would agree that's a wonderful thing.

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Marketing During A Recession: Social Media Tipping Point?

Marketing during a recession is a multifaceted topic and that's why this week has been devoted to subjects like how recessions are opportunities to gain market share, the illusion of stability in marketing, the role of risk and of failure.

I would like to end this week-long series by asking whether the recession can tip social media marketing into the mainstream. Could we see a widespread embrace of blogs, Twitter, and other forms of social media? Answer: probably, but not positively.

Embracing New Media Out Of Desperation?

Budgets are drying up, but the online channel is cheaper and easier to measure than traditional PR and print advertising. Television and the automotive industry - not usually bastions of innovation - are two examples of industries putting a bigger percentage of their marketing budget into digital (despite the ever-shrinking total budget).

As Lisa Hoffmann says, necessity is the mother of bravery. She claims that "[t]ight budgets will prod [small businesspeople] to do what all the preaching and prodding won't."

Likewise, Julie Power states that "recession could transform Twitter from an influential fringe network to a mainstream marketing movement."

I think they're right - that the recession will cause business to look toward new media, that it could transform it into the marketing mainstream. That's why I predict 2009 as a year of false starts and quickly abandoned Twitter accounts.

Winner And Losers

Don't get me wrong - winners will emerge and knock our socks off with their social media campaigns. Heck, not even just "campaigns." They will understand social media in such a way that they'll forget a short-term campaign and just add social media directly into their corporate DNA.

But of course, others won't. And that's fine. I'm reminded of a quote from Bruce Barton, former Chairman of BBDO: "In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, they have to." It's a prescient warning to go against human nature. You are not safer in the foxhole. Hunkering down will leave you with nothing when you emerge.

There are plenty of smart people claiming that marketers will stick with the tried and true methods in 2009 and they have valid points. Companies will still sink millions of dollars into Super Bowl ads and maybe that works for them.

But the ones who include new approaches, who take the advice of people like Lisa and Julie, who experiment and figure out now exactly how their audience wants to interact - those will be the winners after 2009.

Social media is the wild west and there is the opportunity to eat up some real market share. Remember, it was the early adopters who made most of the money in the Gold Rush of 1849.

Ending The Series

I hope you enjoyed this series about marketing during the recession. If so, I urge you to subscribe and send along these posts to your friends or co-workers.

And please leave comments or suggestions below. Did I get it terribly wrong this week? Feel free to share your thoughts with the community. And thanks so much for reading.

P.S.: Lisa and Julie are great folks to follow on Twitter, by the way.

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My Q&A With Paul Richlovsky Of Fathom SEO

I recently spoke with a good college friend who now works at Fathom SEO, out of Cleveland, Ohio. We discussed objections to participating in social media, the perils of cutting online marketing budgets, ways to gauge website health beyond rankings, and the state of the SEM industry.

You can read the full interview on Fathom's blog. I encourage you to check it out and leave comments, especially if you have stories that illustrate or refute any of my points.

For instance, I have recently been giving a lot of thought to the effects of the economic downturn on marketing budgets and allocation of funds. Tangentially, I've also been considering the role of risk in our profession. This question is one example where those two topics came together:

Give me the best reasons why companies that need to trim advertising budgets in these tough economic times should not cut their Internet marketing funds.

The best reason not to cut your internet marketing funds is because it has been repeatedly proven that the companies who cut marketing during recessions lose market share to companies who don’t.

This is from a recent MediaPost article that puts it pretty succinctly:

“It's well-documented how companies leverage downturns in the economy to effectively market themselves. In the 1970s, marketers like Revlon and Philip Morris increased their advertising to gain market share. Today, companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Verizon, News Corp and PepsiCo all increased their first-quarter ad spending.

The typical response to cut back on ad spending when the economy slows down is understandable. However, advertisers with strong brands, stable monetary resources and compelling value propositions can take share from their weaker competitors by effectively targeting their advertising.”

That doesn’t mean you need a huge pile of cash, either. These days it’s cheaper than ever to retain or expand your marketing during tough times.

How much do you think Bill Marriott’s blog is doing to attract customers? How much do you think Frank at Comcast has insulated the company from (more) online disasters? We’re talking, what – minutes a day for Bill and one salary for Frank? And their worth to the company and brand is through the roof.

Creative companies will not need to risk their market share during this or any recession. They will need to be brave and creative, sure, but the online channel wasn’t meant for the timid anyway.

Go to Fathom's blog to read my full interview with Paul. And please let me know if this Q&A was helpful or not. Thanks for reading.

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The Rare But Vicious Attacks Of The Online Customer (And What To Do About It)

I thought I had a marketing death-match for you. I had it all plotted out: Mitch Joel versus Hobson & Holtz. Battle of the marketing giants!

But, like so much that starts out grandiose in the mind, the premise quickly whimpered and died. Here's what happened...

Mitch Joel of Twist Image recently wrote about the small number of customers who complain online - 7%, in fact. He cited a Harris Interactive poll which also was in line with an earlier Bazaarvoice study. Most customers just don't seem to complain online. When they do comment on service, most times it is an incredibly positive reaction.

I howled after I read this because Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz of the For Immediate Release podcast had recently detailed the crippling damages that occurred within minutes of a well-deserved Twitter rant against uHaul (tune in around minute 14).

I had them now! Which was it: Do customers complain online or don't they? What's the effect? I thought I had my two spiders in a glass jar and was preparing to shake the bottle for my own amusement.

Reality Sets In

However, after another (more) careful reading, I realized that they were likely more in agreement than disagreement, though they do bring different aspects to the table.

Mitch is correct not many people complain via online social networks. Though the ones that do are quite damaging because the legacy of that complaint theoretically lasts forever.

But Neville and Shel are also correct in that squeaky wheels can be...pretty damn squeaky. Their examples of David Alston's tweet about uHaul was spot on - this one guy (and the many, many subsequent tweets from other outraged uHaul customers) likely costs them thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes.

Online Complainers

So how can online complaints effect your business? Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when forming an online complaints strategy (you do have one of those, right?):

  • More damaging: Due to the medium, online complaints can be more damaging to your business. They last forever and influence potential customers much more than other complaints.
  • The all-important search engine: One of Mitch's commenters discussed a company who had to change their name due to the volume of bad press Google searches returned. Remember that Google ranks blogs right up there with "legitimate" press (tongue firmly in cheek).
  • Gift to your competitors: David Alston's uHaul story actually had a happy ending. For him and Penske, that is. Make sure you monitor your competitors and take advantage of any situations where they ignore or mistreat a customer.
  • Combat SM complaints with SM: By having a social media outlet, you can address problems quicker and avoid hugely damaging posts. Learn from Delta Skelter and avoid these fiascoes in advance. 1) Create a social media outpost - be it a website, blog, whatever. This is your main hub where customers go to ask questions. 2) Monitor social networks for comments. This could include a daily Technorati blog search, setting up Google alerts (for you and your competitors), Twitter searches, and staying alert on Yelp.com. (The jewelery store where I bought my fiance's engagement ring recently emailed to thank me and give me money off my next purchase - through Yelp. That is smart business.)

The Secret To Not Getting Complaints In The First Place

It's not rocket science. Deliver a good product in a timely manner and you'll succeed, right? Well, sorta.

We know that online customers don't complain as much (online) as you would suspect. But when they do complain, it is loud, long, and strong. Isn't there a way to mitigate these complaints in the first place?

I'm a big fan of Seth Godin's "Think Small" idea. If you think small and are connected to the people at the heart of your business (that the customer, not a HIPPO), then you can be too small to fail.

Angry customers who are leaving don't get heard... that news is heard by the poor shlub reading a script at the call center. 90% of the angry customer mail that people forward to me (I have enough for a lifetime, thanks) is angry because the (former) customer is tired of being ignored.

And if you think you don't have the resources to do this, let me assure you - you can't afford not to pay attention to what your customers are saying. (Heck, in the most dire straits, pay your teenager to alert you to negative comments. Not to respond - just to alert you.)

Sorry, No Battle Royale

I may not have been able to hold the Joel vs. Hobson & Holtz battle of the marketing giants, but I hope this post was still helpful to you. One good way to stay up to date on marketing information is to read the best material. I highly recommend all of the marketers I mentioned in this post.

What do you think? Am I full of it, or have you used these tactics successfully in your own business? Share your comments and suggestions with the community.

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I'm F*cking Sick Of The "ROI Of Web 2.0" Debate

I have a confession: I am f*cking sick of the "What's the ROI of web 2.0 or social media" debate.

Not that I don't think we shouldn't talk about it - we should - but I'm sick of convincing everyone that there is one at all. If done correctly, you will see a return on investment. We can debate what the metrics should be, but you will succeed if you are open, honest, and provide something of value.

So can we stop talking about the ROI of web 2.0 tools as though it were an ephemeral mist?

I see a track-record of failure for the naysayers - those who prefer to sit on the sidelines while others take chances (and get the rewards). Here are a few examples from the naysayers:

  • They didn't understand the value of blogging platforms. "Who cares about all the navel-gazers?" That was until Jason Calacanis sold Weblogs Inc. to AOL for $25M in 2005.
  • They didn't understand the value of e-commerce. "No one's going to give up their credit card information online!" These naysayers didn't have much to say about Amazon.com's $476M net income in 2007 though (source: Wikipedia).
  • They didn't understand the value of podcasting. "How does that relate to business?" I don't think Gary Vaynerchuk worried about that though. He created WineLibraryTV.com and increased his business 10 fold to the tune of $45M per year.
  • They didn't understand the value of online word of mouth. "The 30-second spot is still king!" I can imagine their surprise when the marketing team at Warner Brothers told 7 rabid Harry Potter fans/bloggers about their new theme park. The result was 350M people hearing the news, all without out-bound media relations, marketing stunts, or expensive advertising (Source: The New Rules of Viral Marketing by David Meerman Scott).
  • They didn't understand the value of social networks. "Friendster never did me any good." Then in September of 2007, Microsoft valued Facebook at $15B. With more than 50 million users and 200K joining every day, this doesn't look like a fad.
  • They didn't understand the value of Second Life or other virtual worlds. "It's just a bunch of weirdos with time to kill." But engagement speaks for itself. The Weather Channel recently developed SL attractions that engage users for an average of 30 minutes per visit. Drew Stein, CEO of Involve 3D, builders of The Weather Channel's virtual experience, had this to say: "It's not like a commercial, where maybe they watched and maybe they didn't. You're talking about a user actually paying attention, and you can time it. That's hard to replicate in any other medium" (Source: Fast Company).

So seriously, can we stop debating whether social media and web 2.0 tools have an ROI?

The question for your company is not if they have a return on investment, but how you can get that return on investment. That's the challenge for your marketing team. And if they start whining about how unnecessary or unworthy web 2.0 is, prepare to join the other nay-sayers in the gutter of business.

I'm not the only one frustrated by the debate. Geoff Livingston explains why we keep going through it:

Often, companies want to know what they will get for $xxx,000 of social media engagement. What’s the ROI?!?!? And we play the game because we have to justify corporate expenditures in this era. But somewhere the soul of social media gets lost in these discussions.

From what I gather though, the audience of this blog is fairly split between marketers who get it and marketing folks and small business owners who want to get it. Today's post is venting with the first group. In my next post, however, I will address the second group.

If you're in the second group, you feel the wave approaching. You know social media tools are a big thing but you're not quite sure how they apply to your business and how you sell it up the corporate food chain. That's fine - welcome to the discussion and good for you for having the cajones to figure it out.

My next post will give you some ideas about how to think of social media in the context of your business and provide enough web 2.0 ROI for you to sell the idea to your boss. One good way not to miss it is to subscribe.

Update: That next post I mentioned can be viewed on ReadWriteWeb: 5 Ways To Sell Social Media To Your Boss.

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Google, Social Networks, And The Future Of Search

Would advertisers pay more to reach you rather than your mother? How much are your clicks worth?

These are the questions posed by Heather Green in a recent BusinessWeek article: Making Social Networks Profitable. Green lays out intriguing possible scenarios in which Google could redefine advertising through social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

It represents either trivial speculation or one of the more profound changes in modern advertising and PR.

I've developed one theory about Google's possible plans. It seems to make sense given Google's track record and recent trends. But really, I'd love to hear from you - whether you think this theory is guaranteed to come to fruition, completely bunk, or just so-so.

But first, let's examine influence ranking and then go through how Google could use this to revolutionize search and social networks.

The Problem of Influence

Google has a patent pending on technology for ranking the most influential people on social networking sites. Take a moment for the implication of this to sink in.

While intriguing, this prospect and Green's article start with some questionable assumptions. For instance, what is influence?

Two ideas are particularly tenuous. "Well-connected chums make you particularly influential. The tracking system also would follow how frequently people post things on each other's sites." However, we all know from personal experience that just because a person is vocal and has a lot of friends on MySpace does not mean they are influential. Quantity of friends and frequency of interactions are not specifically markers of influence.

Her third and final idea of influence - that of getting your friends to click on articles or videos you send - may be worthwhile. Unlike quantity or frequency of social networking activity, your friends' clicks do indicate their trust. However, as an advertiser, I would be less interested in clicks and more in the resulting purchases. It's an incomplete metric at least.

(Just before I was about to hit "publish" on this piece, I saw Joe Marchese's excellent piece critiquing Green's take on influence and the use of measuring it at all: Google To Decode Social Networks. It's a must-read if you're interested in influence ranking - especially the last paragraph.)

What's The Use?

Green hypothesizes that Google could identify the most influential members of groups and both sharpen and expand advertiser's targeting. She believes they will better target with the same old display ads they've been using.

I respectfully disagree.

The hypothesis of sharpened and expanded targeting is hardly a departure from Google's current practice. Sure, social networkers tolerate banner ads now, but this makes the ads more invasive and especially abuses the most influential ("[Nike] could work with Google to plop an interactive free-throw game on the profile pages of the community influencers").

This course of action would set off twin firestorms from privacy advocates and those concerned about social networking monetization (they aren't getting paid by Nike, after all). Plus, it's not really an advancement. Google tends to make bold leaps, not timid advances into an area they already dominate.

Maybe there are other ways Google can use social network information.

Google Today

So how could Google use a patent that ranks influential people (assuming they can) on social networking sites?

I started sketching out at a very basic level what Google does. This is what I came up with. Primarily, Google organizes and prioritizes information on websites and display ads.

  • Google parses information about websites:

User provides search terms + Google provides search algorithm = SERP

  • Google parses information about search terms:

User provides search terms + Google provides ad serving mechanism = AdWords

Google Tomorrow

This is how the system currently works. But if the next step moves forward as Green describes, the user will tacitly provide social networking profile information rather than a search term. So the equation becomes:

User provides social networking profile info + ? = ?

What would Google provide and what do they hope to achieve?

Well, it seems likely that they will provide some tool to sort data - in this case to determine an influence ranking. If Green is correct about their patent filing, the equation becomes:

User provides social networking profile info + Google provides influence ranking/search algorithm = ?

And what could they serve up? I think it's going to be experiences.

User provides social networking profile info + Google provides influence ranking/search algorithm = Real-life experiences

Experiences?

Right now, Google dominates the web. They have the most robust search and ad serving capabilities. Since 99% of their revenue is derived from advertising, where can they go but into the real world? How else can they provide something worthwhile for their advertising partners?

Imagine this:

I'm walking in my neighborhood, chatting on my new Gphone. At the same time, Mastercard is sponsoring a concert featuring my favorite band just a few blocks over. All of a sudden, I get an ad on my phone with information about the concert and a digital coupon if I can bring along two more friends. I use Google to locate a couple of my friends in the area and we head to the show.

In this scenario:

  • I win: I get to see my favorite band and get a cheaper ticket to the show.
  • Mastercard wins: By delivering uber-targeted messages, they get more brand exposure (along with the residual effect of pleasing the influentials). Plus, they don't get charged for ad impressions that don't result in a ticket purchase.
  • Google wins: They rake in the money for all of the ads served.

This advertising scenario takes the best of what Google does (parse and deliver information) with what advertisers want (targeted messages and accountability) resulting in a very pleased customer.

Influentials could be rewarded by the discounted tickets I described or a number of other ways. Perhaps initial messages go out to them a week ahead of time to build buzz. Maybe their ad reception radius is larger.

Think of all the information contained in a social networking profile. You've got location (ad: the store you just passed is having a sale!), alma mater (ad: another Stanford alum is sitting at the bar!), favorite books (ad: Borders is having a Nabokov sale!), and much, much more.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems possible, if not likely, that Google would take a giant leap to extend their reach. What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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(Photo courtesy of ricki888c via Flickr)

The End Of Email - Celebrating The Imminent Death

Courtesy of flippabotamatic via Flickr Email is dying, mark my words. It will soon go the way of Morse code, the ham radio, and hand-written letters.

Whisper it to yourself: "No. More. Email." It's scary, but freeing at the same time. It sounds like heresy, doesn't it?

So how can email be dying? Emarketer reports that almost a quarter of Americans check their email upon waking in the morning and more than a third check email throughout the day. But there is evidence that email will soon be a thing of the past.

Here are the reasons why you and your customers have numbered days with the ol' email address.

  • They aren't getting your email - Email recipients simply aren't receiving your message. Jupiter Research (now with Forrester) reports that 17% of the U.S. population changes email addresses every six months. You cannot maintain or build a relationship that way. This churn is steadily (and increasingly) chipping away at your list.
  • They don't care about your email - Email's value is decreasing. Open rates have declined for the last three years and 60% of subscribers don't interact with your email messages at all. (The joint M+R/NTEN study examined non-profits - I think it's safe to say that the results for businesses would be even more dismal.)
  • They opt for Facebook over email - I have seen personally and professionally a move toward communication via social network rather than email address. By self-selecting a social group, the individual avoids spam. Quantcast reports a decline in Hotmail traffic corresponding to an increase in Facebook traffic (Yahoo and Google results inconclusive). (Seb Chan has some good ideas about why this is.)
  • They might like microblogging more than social networks - As astute marketer Rich Brooks says, "While there will always be the telephone and email for us 'old folks,' a lot of important conversations will be going on exclusively in the social media arena." Even though email takes less than a minute, the ambient awareness offered by microblogging platforms like Twitter and Plurk allows for a lifestream rather than direct contact or lengthy carbon copy lists.
  • They switched from an address to a URL - You just aren't a good marketer if you haven't read Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. If you have, you know that one out of six of your customers is a "creator" - someone who regularly blogs, uploads video, or keeps a website (pg. 43 and 131). With their online home changing from inbox to blog/avatar/podcast, your customers are more find-able than ever before. The dominance of search accentuates the importance of a home base website.

Your customers don't get your email and, when they do, they likely don't care enough to open it. They prefer their regular hangouts like Facebook and Twitter over a boring email address. And finally, who needs an email address when they have a Google-indexed, searchable contact page on their website?

Do you notice how all of these are similar? What is shared by all the nails in email's coffin?

Customer Empowerment

The theme that connects all of these trends is that the customer is more in charge. Hence, you cannot be shocked then at the increasing prevalence of these developments.

Marketers are no longer interrupting customers' lives with sales pitches. Instead, they (or the good ones, at least) are concerned with providing value so that the customer will want to visit their site. The push economy has replaced the pull economy.

Are you seeing similar development in your business or personal life? Is it possible we could abandon email? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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IDEA 2008 - Why I Am Going And Why You Should Consider It

Courtesy of Activeside via Flickr Because of a post about engagement design that I wrote in late August, I was awarded with a free ticket to this year's IDEA 2008 conference.

First, I'd like to thank Melissa and all the good folks at IDEA for the award and the chance to participate. I am terribly excited.

Second, I wanted to explain why I'm going and suggest that you consider it as well. As some of you may know, my career was primed with years of studying literary theory, then I spent almost six years in politics. My path to online marketing was not so direct, to say the least. While persuasive writing was always a part of that, I had to learn more than I ever would have expected.

I taught myself bits of HTML so I wouldn't have to wait for the I.T. guy to fix my problems. I kept up with tech news because that was sudden the means of communication. I veered into unexpected territory to stay ahead of the curve. Likewise, I predict the next important things we need to learn as marketers and online folks in general will be covered at IDEA 2008.

Grandmas On Amazon

A few years ago, the online experience was radically different. Read some books published in the mid-1990s and you'll see what I mean. It was a major project just to get a website up and running, never mind e-commerce and regular communication with your customers. Dynamic content was still a dream.

So we spent most of your time educating. But now, due to that education, extensive broadband access, lowering of prices across the board, and a general acclimation to the web, we have moved well beyond those early days. I'm willing to bet that your mother or grandmother could (or does) use Amazon.com. That is no small feat.

Changing Times

In the web 1.0 era, websites lived in the I.T. department. Now, they're housed in marketing. Before we were educating the customer; now, the customer is telling us exactly how he wants to interact with our brands online (and we've finally got the metrics to prove it).

Which brings me back to IDEA 2008. The design, usability, and information architecture topics covered at this conference will the next big things we need to learn.

While I haven't taken an art class since college, I recognize that I need to sharpen my eye for design. While I think I know a good amount about user experience, I need metrics and tests to back up my assertions these days.

Just as I taught myself HTML and learned the business of web 2.0 from the ground up, so too will I need to be fluent in engagement design and good information architecture. And likely, so will you.

The Goal

Of course, the goal if all this is now firmly centered on the customer, where it ought to have been in the first place. All of this is to ensure that they find what they're looking for and get it without any trouble. In other words, marketers better learn to provide value and a good experience, rather than interrupting it with their sales pitch.

I'm excited to go to the conference; the program looks spectacular. After going to an IA conference hosted by Adaptive Path, I am looking forward to hearing from their Co-Founder Jesse James Garrett. Also of particular note is local web 2.0 celeb David Armano from Critical Mass. While I'm sure all of the speakers will be brilliant, I am especially looking forward to hearing from these guys.

If you're already going, I encourage you to join the LinkedIn IDEA 2008 group and then look for me at the conference. (I'll be the only guy there named "DJ" guaranteed.)

And if you can't be there, try to follow along. The conference has a Twitter account and you can follow me at @MarketerBlog. I will do my best to provide live tweets about the conference.

I hope to see you there!

(Sidenote: Besides my free ticket, I get no compensation from the IDEA folks. I'm no shill; I really do believe all of this.)

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Social Media Best Practice: Be Vigilant

Courtesy of David Dasinger via Flickr Mitch Joel of Twist Image and the Six Pixels of Separation blog/podcast recent threw out an interesting challenge: Name your social media marketing best practice for businesses.

Personally, I don't intend to slice hairs about the phrase "best practices." If you're reading this blog, you probably have a good idea of when things go well in social media and when they don't (or at least you're interested to learn). Let's take our best practices from the times when things go well.

My best practice is Be Vigilant.

Vigilant is defined as "keenly watchful" and "ever awake and alert," but I would argue there is also an element of stalwartness, a sustained resolution to continue onward. In involves keeping an eye on the horizon, but not forgetting to measure each step. To me, it's very British. Perhaps you envision another version of vigilance.

But how can someone stay vigilant when it comes to something social? It doesn't seem to fit.

I contend that there are two ways to stay vigilant when it comes to social media: either it comes to you naturally or it requires great discipline.

You probably know into which category you fall. But let's go through some of the qualities of these two paths and some possible barriers to success that you may encounter.

Social By Nature

Mitch mentions in SPOS #119 that social media is something he likes to do and is probably why he's one of the most prolific social media marketing voices out there. Mitch says:

"This whole chaos thing [of his office move] leads me to the fact that I don't consider podcasting and I don't consider blogging work. It's really my moment to sort of actually relax and take it easy and do something creative, so I enjoy it thoroughly."

Similarly, social media may feel like an understanding of something you have always known - that you quite naturally share information about your life or work.

The struggle I see the most among natural born social media types is one of focus. Business requires focusing on why you are using social media, not just on how cool it is.

Communicating is great, but those who come by it naturally need to remain vigilant about their social media strategy. How does Twitter help my business? Do I really need a MySpace page these days? Is Digg my prime audience?

Being vigilant for you guys means constantly aligning the fun communication tools with your business objectives. Constantly reassess whether social media is helping your business. Consult your website metrics to ensure that it's pulling in the traffic you want. If it's not, social media might not be worth your time.

Those of you who flock to social media because it's "who you are," pat yourselves on the back. Congratulation, you have the far easier task of simply exploiting for business that which comes naturally. Discipline is much tougher.

Social By Practice

Maybe you don't wake up thinking about your next blog post. Maybe you don't feel the need to stay in touch with everyone you meet. Maybe you've always been quieter, more reserved than others around you.

For these marketers, I would first urge you to question why it is you're compelled to enter the social media space in the first place. Sure, social media has been the buzzword in marketing circles for awhile, but that does not require that you jump into the pool. If you sense you're doing it because everyone else is, stop.

However, if your business requires it, there are ways to enter the social media fray, even if you aren't naturally inclined. Try these steps to stay vigilant in social media:

  • Make it easy: Install the del.icio.us and Stumbleupon toolbars to your Firefox browser. This makes it a one-step process to collect and share interesting websites.
  • Put it in one place: Create an account at Netvibes and create widgets there for all of your social media tools. Keep track of (multiple) Twitter, Digg, and FriendFeed accounts (and many others) - all on one easily-customizable page.
  • Create goals (within reason): It's tempting in a post about vigilance to suggest making goals for yourself - X number of tweets per day, for instance. But what if you're too busy? Or it's a slow news day? Get in the practice of sharing only when you have something of value.
  • However, value comes in many forms: Something mundane in your life might be terribly interesting to someone else. Notice all of the news that comes across your desk, share some of it, and then figure out what your audience responded to and what they ignored. Continue to refine your offerings, giving your followers information they value.

The Gist

Social media are just tools. Whether you cleave naturally to them or not is an important question. But remaining vigilant - to stay focused or to stay engaged - is a challenge for anyone in this particular marketing space.

Did I forget anything? How do you stay vigilant? Please feel free to share suggestions and comments below. I can't wait to hear how you remain vigilant with social media.

If you are a blogger, consider writing a post about your social media marketing best practice. Get the details over at Mitch's blog.

In the spirit of sharing, I'm going to tag WMBN founder and admirably prolific eyecube author Rick Liebling, smart and creative web strategist Josh Klein, brilliant marketer and all-around truly nice human being CK, and the impressively tenacious Harry Hoover. They are all people I respect and admire, and I'd love to hear their thoughts on this subject.

Let me know how you remain vigilant with social media!

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