Random Thoughts

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Well, it’s that time of year again.  What did we all just DO?  Where is it all GOING?  Here are a few of my predictions.  Most of them I truly feel will happen, but some of them I just really really hope to have happen.

  • Social Media will stop being a bunch of tools and will start being a legitimate strategy. We all know it, and have lamented it before.  Too many people have completely ignored strategy when using social media in the past few years and have just started grabbing at the shiney new objects in front them.  Social media will actually be viewed as part of your overall communications strategy, as it should be.  Which means, now more than ever, if you just start clicking buttons and throwing up Facebook pages, you’ll be behind the eight ball, and fast.
  • Data will be huge. Not just to sit and prove ROI for your marketing department.  The fact that we can measure so much more in the digital space means that we’re going to see such awesome research and data analysis on things on like behavior and social trending… just plain interesting “stuff”….we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg.\
  • Social media marketing will explode in the higher ed space.  We’ve felt the energy rising on this one all year, and it’s really close to spilling over.  Simply put, if there’s any industry that has a pre-established and enormous audience that likes to be communicated to online, it’s higher ed.  Just get there.
  • Social media marketing will start becoming more prevalent in the B2B space, primarily in industries we wouldn’t have imagined. Think manufacturing or construction.  More people are accepting the wide-range of possibilities that fall under “social media marketing” and realizing that there really are benefits.  They might not be Facebook or Twitter, or they might not be externally-facing, but they’re there.
  • These industries will have front runners. What I mean is that a lot of the industries mentioned in the above prediction won’t enter the space en masse, rather a small group of companies will start to play around, and they’ll gain the advantage.  A lot can happen with a 6-month or 1-year head start.
  • Cause Marketing will not only be used a lot more, but people will stop scoffing at it as a simply a marketing ploy, and actually accept that it’s still good for society and that companies can still be very passionate about social issues, whether they’re benefiting financially or not (obviously this doesn’t include extreme cases).

Happy New Year!

What do you think the next year brings?

We’re always saying that technology is changing everything…and it is. We’re connecting with new people everyday through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and so many more internet media services. Everything that we could bring online, we have; stores, banks, books, maps, mail, even schools, all have a strong presence online. Dating has shifted online as well.

Online dating is one of the more controversial internet services. I have no personal stance on internet dating, as many people have great success with it, but it just isn’t for some.  My interest in online dating is in the social implications - aren’t online dating websites social media platforms?

Online dating websites, such as match.com, bring people together based on a limited amount of information, which is self-disclosed. They allow users to reach out to other people they do not know, and try to connect with them.

So far, aside from the agenda of the users, online dating sites aren’t any different from other popular social media platforms, such as Facebook.  Dating sites have the potential to affect our behavior and life experiences.

Online dating has turned an often awkward process into a streamlined progression similar to online shopping…but shopping for people. An algorithm brings you matches based on your interests, and it takes into consideration much more quantitative data indicating compatibility than a friend who was setting you up with her second cousin might.

The appeal of online dating is that you will be matched with someone who has similar values, interests, and goals. Ok, it’s really more than interests and goals. Match.com specifically asks about your astrological sign, body type, whether you’re a “meat and potatoes” or “keep it healthy” kind of person, and on and on - even whether you might want kids in the future.

With all that personal data, you should meet someone compatible! For many users, the best benefit is bypassing all those bad dates and bad break-ups, as many relationships end because one person doesn’t want kids, and the other does, and it took them 15 months of dating to realize it. Great, cut to the chase! With online dating, it’s all out on the table. If you know you want kids, and you come across a match that doesn’t, toss ‘em. You just saved three years of your life…Right?

On the other side of the coin, something to consider is the actual effectiveness of a data-based match. There may be a match for several explicit goals or ideals, but is it enough to make for compatibility? Two women can be very different in their personality, but both want to have kids.

Also, the issue of self-disclosure not only affects online dating, but most internet social media platforms. Profiles are designed with attraction in mind, and like Facebook profiles, they are can often be an embellishment of the person it really represents. Does he really like long walks on the beach, or is that what he thinks a potential connection wants to hear? Is she really a “fit build”, as self-reported?

So my question is this: is the efficiency of social media, including online dating, better than the wasted dates, or even wasted years of an ultimately unsuccessful relationship? Or, if we leave our fate in the hands of technology, will we miss out on those learning experiences because with compatibility matches, it’s more likely that the first one could be the right one? Is it even that the first one IS the right one?

If we are using technology to better other daily aspects of our lives and make them more efficient, should we apply it to dating, which is arguably the most time consuming, costly, and draining component of our lives?

What do you think about online dating in terms of social media?

A recent blog posting on ReadWriteWeb about why we tweet shows that many of us use Twitter for purposed-based activities, such as obtaining news, information, or work-related activities, rather than just for fun.

The fact that people are actually using Twitter as a resource and are paying attention to the information is a double-edged sword for businesses: you have the opportunity to hear what your consumers are saying, but you have to be willing to listen and hear what they are saying as well.

Generally when a company enters a social media platform, they are capitalizing on the opportunity to tap into the wants, ideas, and invaluable feedback from your consumer base, and realize that it outweighs the damage control that is involved when a problem is brought to light.

Recently, a Twitter user was sued by her management company for an allegedly “malicious” tweet. Of course there are two sides to every story, but I am going to look at it how it was perceived, which is all that really matters in terms of CRM and publicity.

The management company was reported to have said “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization,” as the Twitter user was reportedly not contacted about her tweet. I will not begin to get into the ethics and standards of whether or not tweets should be held to journalistic standards, or if they are just an extension of our free speech, but I will point out this reaction caused that tweet to be exposed to millions of people, rather than just the 20 or so people following.

In terms of brand management and customer relations, social media should be used as a tool to help improve a business. This situation is a perfect example of how a social media presence could have been used for a proactive valuable exchange, being that the woman’s tweet wasn’t directed at the management company, and the company found it of their own accord.

A social media presence is not about keeping track of what is being said about your company, and quickly squashing anyone who speaks negatively; it is about keeping track of what is being said, and if negative comments are found, using it as a competitive advantage to see how to resurrect the situation, and also how to prevent it in the future.

There will always be nay-sayers and bad-mouthers, and part of collecting valuable feedback is also dealing with some difficult people and situations. I think brand management via social media can be best utilized by appreciating any and all feedback in order to improve future interactions, not by forcefully silencing any negative comments.

How should companies manage negative comments? How proactive do you think a company’s brand management plan should be?

We talked a little bit today at SMB15 about getting over legal hurdles within a company in order to use social media, and how to convince decision-makers - the legal department - that it’s worth it.

A lot of great points were made, however there’s one piece of the conversation they left out, and one that I feel is really important (and should be considered first) when approaching this process internally.

You first have to have a legal structure that has considered social media before you talk about jumping over hurdles.

We work with a few clients in the higher ed space, which, in case you didn’t know, has legal walls and red tape up the wazoo.  We’re often confronted with the “legal department” problem, and if it doesn’t completely stop the process, it’s a cause for major hesitation.

What I continually say to these clients and anyone in this position is:

  1. Your current legal system has not considered social media as part of the business, therefore, it hasn’t considered it as something that needs stipulations.
  2. The first reaction to something that is not currently built into the legal framework of an organization is to say no to it.
  3. It usually follows that the way it is handled is on a case-by-case basis with the attempt to fit it somewhere into this system that was not built to support it.
  4. Therefore, your first order of business is to sit down as a team to decide on how social media fits into your organization, and what legal framework needs to put into place to support that effort.

Blog posts should not have a 2-week approval process just because legal is trying to determine how those blog posts should be considered with a system that has, until then, only support traditional pieces of marketing content or media.  It should have a 2-week approval process (which, by the way, makes your blog posting obsolete, but that’s another issue) only after legal has set out rules and regulations that govern the use of social media within the organization.

Social media needs to be accepted as a business process, and built into the legal system before you can begin to have the right conversations about what’s legally working and what’s not.

Don’t just try to cram a social media program into your existing legal structure.  Push legal to update that legal structure to support your social media program.  If it means making a separate argument for social media just for legal, so be it.

The important thing is to make legal an important part of the social media integration process of your organization from the get-go. Don’t wait until you reach your first hurdle.

I recently had a conversation with someone about numbers and social media.  It was not unlike many conversations I’ve had before.  I was asked to defend my mere 2,000 Twitter followers against someone else’s 5,000 or so.  Doesn’t that make them better at social media?  To his credit, he was merely playing with me, and was not necessarily a numbers guy himself, but many people DO base your skill level on this!

My answer is flat out no.  I’m a huge proponent of value.  Value, value, VALUE.  I can’t even say it enough.  And that’s why I’m very picky about my own numbers and my company’s numbers when it comes to what that audience means for me and Other Side Group in the long term.

As an example, let’s talk about my Twitter following.

So firstly, I don’t think 2,182 is so paltry in terms of followers.  Secondly, I feel that over 75% of my followers (basically, the ones I’m following back) are of high value.

I have not actively sought additional followers since I reached the 300 mark or so. Which means almost everyone past that followed me.  Which then means that, as mentioned above, the 75% that were not spam, found me worth following in the first place. I’m offering them something.

What type of qualities in a follower or fan do I define as valuable? Everything that we say is important in social media:

  • They are seeking value from the people they go to
  • They engage in discussion and conversation
  • They seek two-way communications
  • They are actually listening to the people they are following - in this case me - because of these things.

I follow people that I know will have great ideas, pass along great articles or resources, respond to me when I’m seeking advice or answers, be receptive to my discussion and advice-giving, and want to have “meaningful” online relationships.  That’s what I’m here for.

Fred Wilson had a great post about total users versus active users in which he said:

“Your best advocates are always your most active users. So focus on them, make them successful in your service, focus on growing that number, and the non-active problem will take care of itself.”

In my opinion, you should work from the get-go to get users that have the most chance of remaining active and engagement in the long-run, which further lessens you having to “deal” with the problem of non-active users.

A few more numbers that I would be interested in, or that I’d love people or potential clients to be asking me (and that I care about when people tell me their social media “numbers”):

  1. I am regularly “nominated” by at least 5 people each week for #followfriday.  Now, some people will scoff at it, but at the very least I feel this is testament to the fact that I am offering them at least some reason to follow me.  Yes I have to work at it, but it’s worth it to me because they’re loyal and I know I can go to them when I need to.
  2. When I need answers or advice, I get responses to questions within minutes from people following me.  They are engaged in their community (of which I’m a part) and they want to give back.  I love this, and I thank them.
  3. When I invited people to the Other Side Group Facebook Page, I could have easily sent it to every one of my 700+ friends and Boom! I would have an envious fan following for a firm our size.  But I didn’t.  I went through each of those friends and decided who I thought would actually value what we were doing and providing, who might interact with our content, etc.  That’s all that matters to me.  We’re at 113 fans right now, and it slowly grows every day with new people who are being exposed to our information through those initial fans.
  4. I was able to organize - which means find speakers, find sponsors and promote - an event that brought 150+ attendees in the short span of about three weeks using almost solely my following on Twitter and Facebook.  I’m not tooting my horn, I’m highlighting how darn powerful that is! (Thank you guys!).

These are just a few examples, but my biggest question remains.  Why don’t people ask more about the value of these networks rather than just the numbers?

We talk a lot in marketing about Reach (R), Frequency (F) and Impact (I).  From my observations, too many people are focusing on just the R and F when it comes to social media marketing.

R and F cater to the 0.5 second blasts that people send out, which are usually memorable for perhaps 1 second total by the majority of “listeners.”  This can be useful for general brand awareness.  But what about the I? The brand IMPACT?

More emphasis needs to be placed on the I and how to achieve that, because that’s really all that matters in the long run.  This is the only way to achieve long-term brand loyalty.

I would venture a bet that my 2,000 Twitter followers have way more Impact than someone who went out and aggressively sought followers from anywhere just to get their numbers up, which is what I see time after time again. [I've met so many people at social media networking events that say things like "yeah I just reached 5,000 followers."  Great, I say, what's their profile?  What are they doing for you? Will they still be around in and paying attention in six months?

This may not matter as an individual (although it may), but it becomes poor strategy (or no strategy!) when it comes to business.

Case in point:

I recently spoke to a company that was marketing the fact that they were "social."  What this meant, to them, was listing on their homepage the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans that they had.

Well, that could be great if it weren't for the fact that the way they GOT those fans was by running a promotion for a giveaway of a prize completely unrelated to their product offering.  The "fans" rallied behind the brand for the prize giveaway, and once the prize was given out and the contest ended, the majority of the fans were completely uninterested in the product offering, and those that may have been were left idle because of a lack of sales follow-up on the part of the company.

This is a waste of money and a missed revenue opportunity.  Period.

Yet they still tout their numbers on their homepage.....

So let's start talking about value more when you're both increasing your own social media presence and when you're analyzing others.

What do you think about numbers?  Are you getting value out of your numbers?  Are you wishing you got more value?  Have you found a straight numbers approach to social media useful in anyway?  We'd love to hear from you!

It’s a different world out there as more people are tweeting, meeting and friending left and right. The explosion of social media has brought a lot of light to the online community for purposes beyond practical use. However, some people are very hesitant to get involved because they are wary of sharing personal information.

Any internet user should definitely be smart about what information they are displaying, but to cite a great point from a fellow social media user, Mattan Ingram, there is a difference between privacy and security. Before you put up the paranoia guard, there are a few things to keep in mind:

You get what you put into social media
If new media is being used solely for purposes that the general public is not interested in, then it’s not as much of a concern that you will be “discovered” and “passed on”.

Viral marketing is only really successful if many links on the communication chain are interested in passing the information on. If someone is too paranoid to be followed by or chat with a stranger on Twitter, then it will be impossible for them to really understand and utilize social media effectively because that is the beauty of social media. The rise of social media increases open two-way communication. As Mattan said,

“The more transparent society is, the better and healthier it will be. We just have to get through the adjustment period. Transparency is not just top down, Big Brother style. It goes both ways.”

This applies to many areas, from consumer-business relationships to government-citizen relationships. The paranoid resisters are actually the ones that could benefit the most from social media; yes by putting up a profile on Facebook, you allow others a snapshot into your life, but in turn you’re also allowed access to theirs. Again, this can apply to individuals, businesses, or government.

We are not lost behind the computer screen. You still have your identity and it is an extension of your being
In a different vein, some people use social media interactions to hide behind a computer screen and act in a completely inappropriate fashion…Ever read YouTube video comments? It’s best not to if you want to keep faith in mankind. To be honest, many of these people probably would never say those things face-to-face, but for some reason have a really nasty internet alter ego.

Be it comments on other peoples’ blogs, YouTube videos, or other opinions, some people really take their comments to the level of just blatantly offensive. This deters a lot of people from using social media because they just don’t want to deal with arrogant rude people, or are afraid then of voicing their own valuable opinions.

Now with more streamlining, such as Facebook Connect, where a Facebook user can use their account to log in to other 3rd party websites, instead of making a separate one for that site, our identities are following us online. This may again strike a note of paranoia in some, but if you think about it, it could actually make the internet community closer and safer.

Of course there will always be weirdos, people who make multiple fake accounts, hackers, etc, but isn’t that say the same for face to face interactions? There will always be people who cut you in line, people with road rage, criminals, etc., but as long as you are smart with what information is put online, just the same way you lock your car door, then we can continue to be comfortable in the online community. For example, if you are reading a review on Citysearch, it has more merit when you can see their Facebook profile and know there is a real person behind it, even if it is a stranger. It eliminates the internet unknown, which is what strikes fear in some.

Where does this leave social media?

While not everyone is on board, there are plenty of people who see new media and internet services as an opportunity for information and positive communication. I consider E-mail, Instant Messaging, and other internet based communication as an opportunity to think about what you say before you open your mouth, instead of saying something completely distasteful, and not having to deal with repercussions, or anyone seeing who the person behind the screen is.

I must say that opinions are great. I like when people don’t agree with me because that is the basis of a good conversation (read: conversation, not a YouTube comment battle). However, when people take disagreements out of context and make personal insults, they are not going to get anything of value from their social media presence, and will also deter others from interacting.

Even though social media is being stunted by two angles, paranoia and terrorizing others, by nature, social media is working on breaking down these barriers. Paranoia is being resolved as more people begin to see that these platforms are used for listening to others, gaining insight/opinions, and communicating with people they normally wouldn’t. Online bullying is being battled inadvertently by creating more ties between different internet platforms. There will always be some resistance, but ironically it could be that as social media grows, it has the potential to resolve some of the current oppositions.

How do you feel about social media? Have you embraced it yet? How can we help make the online community more constructive? Please feel free to share thoughts, comments, ideas.

Social media is a great marketing tool for businesses because it has little initial cost. However, what many do not take into account is the man-hours needed to establish and maintain good communication with the community, be it followers, fans, or friends.

Recently I came across an article about Fortune 100 CEOs’ lacking presence on social media. The obvious explanation is that the CEO of P&G or Bank of America has a little free time in the to day to Twitter, much less than Ashton Kutcher who updates quite frequently.

Something else I read on Mashable, informed me Twitter for Busy People is saying that’s not an excuse anymore. Twitter for Busy People allows you to glance over the most recent tweets of the people you’re following.

This interface by Blue Java has many useful applications, such as:

  • It helps prevent less active twitterers from being pushed off the page by that one person who updates what they ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and every thought in between.
  • For larger follower bases, it allows you to see a smaller picture of a larger volume. This is useful to make sure you are interacting with a broad range of followers, not just a few very active users.
  • It allows the user to see a glimpse of a feed or update, which helps discover and determine relevant conversations.

Reading about this new interface reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend last week. She has been a Twitter user for awhile, but uses it solely for personal use. We were sitting on the couch, and I was in a clicking frenzy, toggling between Twitter accounts on Seesmic Desktop.

When I finally stopped, in my exasperation, I asked if there was an application to subscribe or prioritize certain people’s updates, and, in doing so filter, out others. She looked at me and asked, “Why would you follow them if you don’t want to read all their updates?” Good point. Clearly, Twitter accounts for businesses are approached differently than personal accounts, but her question haunted me.

Remembering the article on Fortune 100 CEOs not having an active presence on Twitter or Facebook, many of the CEOs were criticized for not having a presence on social media. It was thought their lack of presence could be taken as disinterest or being distant.

So why are we being so critical? Is it better to not be on at all if you’re not going to do it right? We are always disinterested when we find out that a celebrity is not really tweeting his or her own updates. Is the same for business Twitter accounts?

One of the key strategies to a successful social media campaign is interacting personally and individually with your follower base. If new interfaces allow us to only see a small piece of our follower picture, it seems to undermine the whole foundation of social media. My friend’s question made me realize that in my wishing for an app to prioritize and filter updates, we could be taking the social out of social media.

We are always hearing tips and tricks for social media, but regardless of how much or little you know, it’s pretty understood that having an existence on social media is not enough. If you are not executing effectively, it can translate to wasted resources, or even a negative impression of a company. Are we eventually going to have filters to prioritize certain chosen followers, and the others are merely numbers? How then do we determine who should be chosen to follow?

If information on social media platforms is becoming one-way, without the open flow of communication back and forth, it is no different than traditional marketing. It is important to keep the social aspects of social media as a priority, or else we risk losing the outreach and communication, what made social media effective to begin with.

What do you think about the direction of social media? How do you think these new tools, interfaces and applications might change social media?

As in any profession, our jobs are never done when it comes to learning. 

Learning can come in many forms: industry articles, conferences and seminars, internal training sessions, or going back to school.  But there’s a different type of learning that requires being very conscious of yourself not as a marketer, but as a consumer.  The age old “Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

I call it Subjective Learning.  No, this isn’t technical, and probably somewhere in psychology or something there is a different (and more formal) definition of this.  But the idea is that you have your own personal feelings as a consumer that could be valuable when it comes time to make decisions as a marketer.

For instance, why does one direct emailing campaign cause you press delete, while another one causes you to sign up for a two hour free webinar during the busiest day of your week?  Is it the content?  Was it the subject line?

We need to actively identify ways in which data, content, info and….well…marketing campaigns either reach us or don’t.  And while you certainly don’t want to run a marketing campaign solely on what you feel as a consumer (that’s like running a one-person focus group!), these actively sought out pieces of information can be very valuable, especially when it comes down to the little things like the updating of your Facebook Pages status, or a company Tweet.  What’s going to make people come to your page or Retweet you?

So, be a little subjective in your information gathering and it could really help you hone your skills as a marketer.

What are some of the things you’ve noticed as a marketer when you put on your consumer shoes?

Universities seem to finally be getting the picture that use of social media is vital to reaching their core constituents, especially given that Facebook and other social networks have surpassed e-mail as the best way to reach many of the university’s core audiences: students and alums.

Yet despite the idea that Facebook and Twitter are gaining popularity, universities still struggle with how much prominence to give these tools.  Brad Ward’s blog had a great post on this subject in February, with some intriguing preliminary research on how social media tools are built into university Web sites.

Of almost 1400 schools investigated, only 20% had any kind of social media component built into their homepage, alumni page or admission page. While that seems like a pretty good amount, consider the fact that that leaves a whopping 80% of universities and colleges that don’t have any kind of social media component on any of these three key pages! What is even more amazing is that only 56 schools… 4%  of the schools… had a social media component on more than one page. That means if alums get to your site they see it, but potential students don’t, or vice versa. These schools have forfeited huge chunks of their visitor population.

Our question today is… why? If schools recognize the importance of online tools, why aren’t they using them better? And if they’re not using them, what is the main barrier to adoption? Are there more professors and admissions people using these tools but higher levels of administration don’t buy it yet, or are there perceptions of this being a fad and schools are hesitant to jump as far as including these tools where the primary core of their web traffic would actually see and interact with the tools?

How are you seeing social media being used in higher ed?

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