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Why YouTubers are Cashing In (hint: they are worth it)

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Why YouTubers are Cashing In (hint: they are worth it)

moneyteen I've read more than a few articles that sensationalize the large dollar amounts that Digital Influencers are making. I've also overheard many people having conversations about this that indicate they think this is frivolous. I want to tell you that when I hear anyone snicker at what Digital Influencers are making, I automatically think:

  1. That person is out of touch with the reality of marketing today - these kids in their bedrooms with their iPhones making videos are who people listen to (especially Millennials, who everyone seems to want to reach).
  2. That person is going to regret their dismissal of Digital Influencers when they are priced higher than the current market rates for other forms of advertising.

Just because you don't understand why this is happening doesn't mean it isn't happening. And it's only the beginning.

Doing The Basic Math

The simplest way to describe the value is by presenting the basic math. When you work with a Digital Influencer, you are getting more than someone sitting in their bedroom for a few hours recording and editing a video. You are getting video production/editing/direction, talent, natural amplification AND celebrity/influence.

If I was to conservatively price out a basic YouTube video looking for 100,000 views (equivalent views to a mid-range YouTube influencer with around 200,000 subscribers), it would look like this:

Scripting/production/shooting/editing - $5,000 (for really basic stuff) Hiring basic talent (with charisma) - Average $250/hr - ACTRA says you have to pay for a full 8-hour day - $2,000 Boosting - Assuming the CPV (Cost per View) is $0.05 = $5,000 for 100,000 views Influence/Celebrity - hard to price this, but Kim Kardashian makes $100,000/hr for appearances and Snooki makes $25,000. Neither of them show up on the most influential list. Let’s be conservative, though, and say $10,000 for the appearance.

That nets out to a very conservative estimate of value for a YouTuber with 200,000 subscribers (and ~100k views/video on average) to $22,000 per video.

And when I say that I was being conservative about this estimate, think about the costs of a 30-second TV spot - which is reaching fewer and fewer people (and, in my opinion will continue to decline in relevance...if there ever was much anyway). According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the average cost of a 30-second spot on television in 2011 was $354,000. That's a pretty penny.

So, when Jerome Jarre, who has 7.2 million followers (and rapidly growing) on Vine is reported to make $35,000/vine, I say those brands get a helluva deal! Don't tell Jerome, but he should be making $500,000+ if he was charging for just the boosting capability (his vines see >10million unique views)!

I guess the $1,000,000 offer he turned down was a good move after all:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIuJOYceU3o?wmode=transparent]

The Bottom Line

When you hire a Digital Influencer, you aren't paying for the few hours they take to record the video or the quality of the camera or editing work. You are paying for their SOCIAL CAPITAL, which in their world is VERY tangible.

You can see their subscriber numbers and the way their audience is deeply engaged in everything they do (from what they are wearing to who they listen to and beyond). They've spent years building deep trust with their audience by investing in them and being open and transparent. According to a study by Variety, Digital Influencers rate higher than Hollywood celebrities in influencing purchases.

To dismiss them for being too young or their work being too fun/easy or their content being too casual is to completely miss the reality of the situation: your brand should have invested in digital content years ago. Just one 30-second spot would fund anywhere from 1-10 YouTube stations for a full year (depending on your production investment + complexity). That sort of investment would mean a smaller long-term investment, bringing that efficiency that many companies look for today.

The building your own audience ship hasn't sailed quite yet, though. Condé Nast, under the amazing leadership of Dawn Ostroff, is investing in a better digital content strategy on YouTube and it's really paying off. Their audience is growing rapidly as are their organic views. Much of their content is modelled on the types of videos the audience enjoys: entertaining, funny and authentic.

I still believe that working with Digital Influencers is one of the strongest short term marketing tactics you can deploy today and going forward, but it's also important you learn from them and invest in becoming an influencer yourself.

Let me know how you are investing in an audience below.

[title image credit: Thinkstock]

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How to be Creative

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How to be Creative

fairydust_vert
fairydust_vert

My work is fundamentally creative. There are loads of analytical pieces, but at the end of the day, marketing is about making a connection with human beings who are not as predictable as marketers would like to think. Yes, there are lots of studies on consumer behavior and human drive and we can move the needle by tapping into those things that motivate buying behavior, but so is everyone else and the companies that 'win' the loyalty and sales are the ones that are more creative.

Content marketing, which is the focus of my current consulting, is all about being creative. There is a good amount of noise out there: companies writing blog posts, producing video series and posting regularly to social media channels, and most of it really doesn't matter. It follows formulas and delivers the same old same old that we've read a million times before. There is nothing to distinguish one inspirational quote from another. There is no point of view.

So I am to dig deeper. Provide something different. Something valuable. Something thought provoking. I shoot for remarkable.

But thought provoking, valuable and remarkable take time. They take long hours of thought. And, frankly, most brands don't want to pay for that. We just got them to the point that (many of) them are realizing that content is important and some of them are willing to pay something for it, but that's only a small piece of it. Stopping there would be like giving someone a bathing suit and expecting them to swim across the Atlantic.

Francis Moran, a colleague of mine, recently likened the current state of content marketing to the early state of radio. Anyone with access to the tools could claim expertise in radio, but as it evolved, it was apparent that there were very few examples of radio shows that could hold an audience. And you need an audience to pay the electric bills.

One of the shows that stands out to me is This American Life with Ira Glass on Public Radio. There are very few radio shows that I can listen to for a full hour each week and even fewer that I will go back to listen to multiple times, but this is one of them. There is just something so incredibly entertaining and thought provoking about it.

And then this weekend, another colleague of mine, Mitch Joel, pointed out aGoogle Talk with Ira Glass in which the interviewer asks where he comes up with the programming week after week (for >18 years!) and Glass' answer is amazing:

Somebody will pitch a story that we all feel very excited about and that doesn’t go with any of the themes we have going on at the time, so we’ll just say “Let’s use that story as an anchor for some show” and then we’ll concoct a theme that could plausibly contain it. And sometimes we’ll come up with 2 or 3 different themes that could plausibly contain it and we’ll have other stories left over from other shows that we couldn’t use and see if we can glue anything to it and then we’ll start on a search. And that search could take up to 3 or 4 months often and sometimes even more. Finding ideas for stories is very inefficient.

One of the things when you start to do creative work that nobody ever asks is, “Where are ideas going to come from?” And you have this idea that they are just going to be sprinkled on your head like fairy dust…but you just have to surround yourself with a lot of stuff and a lot of ideas, because ideas lead to other ideas. So at one point, we’ll just go on a massive search…

Then he goes on to describe a very complex process with all sorts of questions and nuances that are unique to every story and every episode, including having to kill about 1/3-1/2 of every thing they start. And he adds:

You really can’t tell what’s going to work until you start to make that thing. It’s like you want lightening to strike as an industrial product (in the same spot) every week, and to do that, you just need to wander around in the rain...a lot. 

This is the key to creativity. It's not a linear process and it's not predictable. You need to give it space and lots of encouragement. If you are held to pumping it out like a factory, you are probably not going to nail it. And it doesn't come to you at the most opportune times.

In one of my favorite TED Talks ever, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a fantastic story where poet Ruth Stone would hear a poem thundering over the hills while she was working and have to "run like hell" to find paper and pen to capture it in the moment.

Creativity requires:

  1. Surrounding yourself with inspiration, stories and ideas. I'd say that most of those ideas should be on-topic (if you are trying to come up with a great story on wearable tech, surround yourself with conversations, articles and experiences on wearable tech), but you should also step outside of the narrow topic to get inspiration (think about it from the perspective of parenting or fashion or education, for instance).
  2. Space to breathe and  grow. You'll go down a million paths that will lead you nowhere. There is no fairy dust.
  3. A purpose. You need a direction. A point of view. A raison d'etre. For Ira Glass, it's the constant search for stories that will change people's perspective. Having an end goal or a point of view will help focus you enough on what you want to convey. Then you just have to deal with the how.

As you are probably already thinking, this process is far too free-flowing and unpredictable for most companies out there. It's why most artists are starving and why the world is full of mundanity.

The good news is that there is a happy medium to be struck between completely unleashed creative, interesting content - that is "inefficient" as Glass puts it - and completely lifeless outputs of formulaic, mundane content. But the current pendulum favors the efficient (while complaining that the ROI is less than desirable on this particular output). What we need to work on is the message that it isn't just any content that works. It's content that actually adds value (a term that is understandable to organizations). And adding value takes more thought than a 2 week RFP or a couple of brainstorms.

(The last creative agency I worked with operated on last minute series of brainstorms to come up with ideas for clients. I added some sanity to this by bringing market research to the meetings and presenting insights, but the output was still horrifying enough for me to back away from the whole circus. In an ideal world, agencies would work as partners with clients and evolve ideas over time rather than be given a creative brief, then expected to go into their creative cave and come out with brilliant ideas.)

And brilliantly out of the blue, Jeff Bezos' wildly popular appearance on 60 Minutes provides a fantastic example of a company that is winning and will continue winning by having a purpose, taking time and surrounding itself with inspiration (they spend a good deal on R&D, a dying department). Bezos asserts of their crazy sci-fi drone idea that it'll be 4-5 years before it is reality. But their incredible commitment to customer-centricity helps them get creative in their approach. It's how they became the market leader and how they will stay there.

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No, Social Media Doesn't Drive Sales...but that's not the point

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No, Social Media Doesn't Drive Sales...but that's not the point

socialmedia_notwhatitmeans
socialmedia_notwhatitmeans

Okay, maybe I'm overstating it. Some sales are driven through social media channels. I know I've bought books and songs and contributed to Kickstarter campaigns many times because a friend shared a link and I thought, "Hey! That's awesome! I should buy that!" I've even tipped a bigger purchase in favor of a friendly recommendation on a social network. But I can count on one hand the number of times  I've bought something pushed to me by a brand I follow on Twitter/Facebook or the like.

But that's not the point.

The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger's Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I'm not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I'd guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.

There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren't authentic. But the most salient point here is:

You cannot force word of mouth.

It doesn't matter the media or the amount you spend on it...some stuff just doesn't spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference - whether it's a billboard or a paid tweet - it's never guaranteed to work.

So I'm continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn't work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what's really going on:

socialmediastrategyinfographic
socialmediastrategyinfographic

What's really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It's not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some super bowl ads go unnoticed - and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!

You are probably asking yourself, "Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?"

Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for it...and sometimes they are too late for it.

But why pay for marketing when the results aren't guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it's better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.

There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won't have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:

  1. analytics - you can't really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you can tell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through...and who liked it...and who shared it...etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
  2. feedback - it's right there in the comments. It's also there on Twitter. Oh...and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and their blogs and in forums and...well...that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
  3. relationships - you aren't going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It's really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.

What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They'll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they'll lowball agencies and consultants ("I pay you whatfor a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!"), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they'll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it's yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).

All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, "Meh. Social media doesn't work for me."

And completely miss the point.

You want to know the ROI of social media?

Number one. It's the ability to listen. It's priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.

Number two. Serendipity. It's opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo's dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.

Number three. Community instead of merely customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it's real and authentic and it spreads.

(and there are dozens more...but you get the point, right?)

So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Facebook...no...Pinterest...no...Polyvore...no Snapchat drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.

That's not the point.

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5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER

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5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER

Notlistening
Notlistening

Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.

I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:

1. "It's our policy."

Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."

The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.

And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:

a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;

b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;

c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.

If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:

A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).

Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.

2. "It was in your contract."

Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.

I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.

Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg&w=420&h=315]

Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.

3. "See our answer here [with link]."

Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.

Scenario:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]

Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!

This would be better:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?

@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?

@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/

@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.

@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!

Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.

4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]

Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.

Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.

Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.

The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.

5. [Silence]

It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.

I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:

A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist

@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again! 

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?

@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?

@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.

@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)

@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.

@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.

Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.

...

So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience).  In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.

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If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

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If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

followtherules
followtherules

[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]

I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn't just that it's too self-promotional (though much of it is "me me me"), it's something more.

And then today it occurred to me:

ENGAGING SOCIAL CONTENT HAS A POINT OF VIEW.

The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.

But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.

Oreo's audience was merely humming along with their 'cookies as a character' campaign until one day, they posted this:

gay-oreo-cookie
gay-oreo-cookie

...and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular.  They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.

And Coke, one of the most 'liked' brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM

But when it comes to this type of post...their engagement blows through the roof:

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM

441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)

And though they aren't my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn't just about having a strong voice/tone. It's about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.

Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and 'best practice' guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won't take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.

One of my favorite people in the world, Nilofer Merchant, describes this in her concept of Onlyness. She describes it like this:

Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.

When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can't deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.

But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?

Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It's your accumulated experience. It's YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can't pay someone else to do it.

This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It's not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for.  If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM

And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn't working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can't quite understand because your product is superior. I'll bet if you look real close, you'll smell something different. That's the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven't read a best practices article in their lives because they don't have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don't worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company's core values.

If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by 'social media gurus' who haven't ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM

But you have a choice and it's right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.

Be the case study, not the company that reads it.

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Can't Buy Me Love: following the social engagement protocol

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Can't Buy Me Love: following the social engagement protocol

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 12.05.22 AM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 12.05.22 AM

The other day, I was meeting with an associate who was relaying to me his frustration with influencer marketing:

"Tara, influencer marketing just doesn't work. I made a deal with the most influential person in this network and he posted his shining endorsement of my product and I got very little results." He lamented, "He has over 200,000 followers!"

I asked him what else he did in the influencer's community to build up relationships and he looked at me sort of puzzled. He thought the relationships this influencer had would be enough to get the attention of the majority of his followers.

"But they seem so engaged!" He added.

Sure. They are probably very engaged...with the influencer dude. But that doesn't mean that they will jump on every little thing he writes about every company. I told my associate that I have over 45,000 followers on Twitter, but only a small portion of them joined up on Buyosphere...and it was MY COMPANY! I have relationships with various people who follow me for various reasons. Some of them liked my work on Coworking and early BarCamp days. Some of them started following me when I worked in San Francisco with Citizen Agency and our cool clients like Slideshare and Tripit and ran all sorts of 'web 2.0' events out of our awesome Citizen Space. Some discovered me through speaking, through my books and other writing and interviews. Others may just have happened upon me on a good day when I said something witty. Either way, I don't have the undivided attention of my 45,000+ followers.

Every day, I build relationships within that audience and no amount of money can actually make those relationships transferrable.

I'm not a fan of influencer marketing. I think it's lazy and short-sited. It's also highly unrealistic. We trust influencers. That's what made them influential in the first place, but we don't automatically trust their associates. And we can sniff out a paid endorsement a mile away.

But I *am* a fan of building out relationships in active networks - which can be entered by building relationships with influential types that operate within that network. It's a longer term, more intensive task, but it pays off big time. You just need to follow relationship protocol and slowly climb the Social Engagement Ladder:

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 12.24.24 AM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 12.24.24 AM

Each step of the Social Engagement Ladder respects the state of mind of the person whose attention you are trying to get and trying to skip steps will only lead to frustration. You wouldn't walk up to a person you've never met and expect them to marry you. You wouldn't ask a new friend to help you move. Social networks are built on relationships and even if they are online, they are still relationships. In fact, you probably need to be even more patient and take even more care because you don't always have those non-verbal cues to work off of.

Here are the stages and their characteristics/instructions:

STEP 1. AWARE

“I’ve seen you around” This is the stage where there is little to no brand awareness other than a quick glance.

SCENARIOS:

  • Sees a friend interact with your page on their FB feed.
  • Comes across you in a search.
  • Reads an article where you are mentioned.
  • Heard a friend mention you in a conversation.
  • Saw an ad for you or your product go by.

REALITY:

Probably forgot your name 5 seconds later. Barely made a blip on their radar

YOUR MOVE:

Impress more of your current customers and keep getting the word out.

DATING ANALOGY:

Flash a nice smile. You aren’t even close to getting his/her attention.

STEP 2. INTERESTED

“I recognize you” Brand awareness is starting to build. People remember your name.

SCENARIOS:

  • Has seen a few friends interact with you on their FB feed.
  • Sees you in several articles.
  • Sees your ad pop up quite often.
  • Has heard from more than one friend that they are using your service.

REALITY:

Growing more aware, interest being piqued...but still apprehensive. Can be spooked/turned off. Brand awareness/interest, but no affinity.

YOUR MOVE:

Approach cautiously, but in a friendly manner. No aggression.

DATING ANALOGY:

You catch his/her eye. He/she smiles back. Slowly make your move towards her/him. Think of something non-douchey to say.

STEP 3. INTERACTED

“I’ve checked you out” You have their attention. Not yet undivided. But you are moving in a great direction.

SCENARIOS:

  • Clicked one of the FB feed posts and checks out your page.
  • Clicks on a link in one of those articles to check out your website.
  • Clicks on an ad.
  • Asks a friend for more information and why he/she recommends you.

REALITY:

Warming up and opening up to you and should be greeted with open arms.

YOUR MOVE:

Greet customer with open arms. Listen a lot. Learn.

DATING ANALOGY:

Buy him/her a drink. Have a great conversation. Ask him/her to dance. Flirt. Time to ask him/her out for that coffee.

STEP 4. ENGAGED

“I’m hanging with you” This could be a very long stage, depending on the customer, your product and your moves. It's mostly your job to help them remember every single day why you are in their life and that you enhance it. If most of your customers linger here, great. It's a good place to be.

SCENARIOS:

  • Liked your page.
  • Comments on posts. Likes.
  • Joined your site.
  • Bought your product.
  • Dined at your restaurant.
  • Customer.

REALITY:

Every day should be a day to remind that customer why they got this far with you. You are rockin this relationship.

YOUR MOVE:

Don’t screw it up and take him/her for granted.

DATING ANALOGY:

Things are going very well. Coffee moved to dinner moved to drinks and so forth. Don’t screw it up and take him/her for granted.

STEP 5. EVANGELIZED

“You are the bomb!” OMFGBBQLOLYAY! This is a rare and beautiful stage. Heaven.

SCENARIOS:

  • Sharing your posts.
  • Recommending to friends.
  • Retweeting you.
  • Writing recommendations on social networks.
  • Defending you to naysayers.
  • In love.

REALITY:

Very few customers ever make it here. When they do, you should be finding all sorts of ways to celebrate them. (and feel good that you made it here!)

YOUR MOVE:

Help make it easier for your customer to be your #1 fan. Thank them.

DATING ANALOGY:

Enjoy. :)

IT REALLY IS JUST THAT SIMPLE

So I told my associate that "influencer marketing" is a crock, but influence is real. It just can't be bought. It has to be earned. It takes finesse and empathy and all of that stuff that nobody can sell you or really even teach you.

Okay, so it's not simple. It's a completely different way of doing marketing than they told you in school and there are really no short cuts. And dammit, it's fun and amazing and there are bumps along the way, but they are way interesting. Until customers are replaced by algorithms and robots, you'll have to approach them as a human. ;)

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Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook

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Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook

EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk  on a blackboard
EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk on a blackboard

Yet another article has come out yesterday on how Facebook is a waste of time for marketers because posts only show up for 8-16% of their followers. As someone who has been in marketing for over 15 years (online marketing for 14 of those), these posts irk me. To me, they show a low understanding of how human beings engage with media and demonstrate that old perceptions of customer ownership persist, even through the Social Era.

General Facebook Stats

First off, here are some basic statistics on how people use Facebook. The average Facebook user has 229 friends and likes 40 brands. They spend an average of 1.5 hours/week on Facebook, accessing it from 7,000 different devices. 58% of Facebook users return daily. And 65% of people who like brands on Facebook do so for the coupons/savings they can access. (source + Facebook Insights 2012) There are 50 million Facebook pages that post 36 times per month - 2.5 million of those that are promoted through Facebook ads. (source) And 40% of people's time spent on Facebook is on their newsfeed, while only 12% of their time is spent on profile and brand pages. (source)

image from PhotoDune
image from PhotoDune

If you haven't figured it out mathematically, Facebook is NOISY for most users. I'm a super user (outlier), so I'm not the best example, but I have 3,233 friends (I try to weed them out to only people I've met from time to time, but it keeps growing), like 898 pages (don't know when THAT happened, oy), am part of 49 Facebook groups (some are SUPER active) and have a public page where I've grown 64,864 followers (who can comment, like and otherwise engage with my profile unless I limit visibility on a post). Facebook's Edgerank helps me a great deal. Sure, I don't see everything and I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of uber important life events and sales and launches, but it makes my experience on Facebook a little more sane.

My Mom, who defines herself as a luddite, has 174 friends on Facebook, 6 likes and is part of 1 group. She doesn't have a public profile, so doesn't have 'followers'. She still finds the amount of posts and news on Facebook to be overwhelming at times, so she created her favorites so she would always see what's happening with her family as we post items. She has created a filter ON TOP OF the Edgerank that Facebook provides to help her manage the posts from all of her friends.

I can understand that a brand who thinks that every like is an undivided attention endorsement would think that 8-16% of their followers seeing their posts means that Facebook is ripping them off. But anyone who thinks a little bit and understands how this works should get that Edgerank IS FOR THE USERS not for the marketers.

How Edgerank Works

edgerankformula
edgerankformula

Edgerank isn't some plot against brands who don't pay for advertising on Facebook. All it does is favor posts that are popular and relevant, whether it is a personal profile post or a brand page post. It also understands what users have engaged with previously, so if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on certain friends' posts, those friends (and brands) will show up more often.

Here is a frequently passed around definition of how Edgerank works:

"EdgeRank is an algorithm used by Facebook to determine where and what posts appear on each individual user’s news feed in order to give users relevant and wanted content.

The three variables that make up this algorithm are:

  • Affinity Score - Facebook calculates affinity score by looking at explicit actions that users take, and factoring in, the strength of the action,  how close the person who took the action was to you, and how long ago they took the action.
  • Edge Weight - Facebook changes the edge weights to reflect which type of stories they think user will find most engaging.
  • Time Decay – The determines the time passed, if they’re old they probably don’t appear."

(source)

And, yes, a brand page can use advertising to improve their Edgerank. That's how advertising works. You pay for the ability to cheat the system. As the saying goes, "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product," but I would also add that advertising is the price you pay for an unfair advantage. It's the way of balancing the universe. You can pay to be at the center of it. ;)

Why Marketers Really Hate Edgerank

There are several reasons why marketers* hate Edgerank:

  1. There is no instant gratification - even if you are a content maestro, it takes time to build an audience without advertising. For my clients, I use advertising to underscore great content instead of in place of it.
  2. Retro TV Commercial
  3. They think a 'Like' means the Facebook user is endorsing undivided attention - the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons why people like brands on Facebook and, since the average user likes 40 brands and has 229 friends, there is no such thing as undivided attention (or if there is, it's rare...and a bit odd). The reason your posts aren't showing up on their newsfeeds is because they aren't engaging with them.
  4. Marketing people aren't generally content people and vice versa - I sat down with a journalist friend of mine who has been hired by a big fashion retailer to do their content. She's really brilliant at it, but had very little knowledge as to how to use the tools and how to promote the great content she was producing. They wanted her to do both content AND marketing and didn't understand that those two talents are very different and usually require two roles. People conflate them all too often and though you may find the rare individual that can do both well, it's best that you split the role for maximum oomph.
  5. Most marketers are still stuck in the old one-way paradigm - helloooo! It's the social era! This means that even old one-way mediums (billboards, television, radio, magazines, etc) need to get more multi-way in order to survive. So stop treating the social tools as bullhorns. Seriously. This is why you are failing at them. Facebook should be 50% listening, 25% responding and 25% talking (more or less).
  6. Campaigns should be part of content, not the other way around - content done in brief spurts and ebbs and flows just doesn't work (see #1). It takes time to build an audience, engage them enough to keep them coming back and delight them to the point of wanting to share to their own friends (they have their own audiences and goals). I've talked about how content bursts with long silences between hurt your audience on YouTube, but it works the same way in many social mediums and Facebook's Edgerank is one of them.

Marketers have to learn to work with content people (photographers, videographers, writers, journalists, graphic designers, artists, etc) on their strategy. Creativity and strategy are intertwined. In fact, the strategic process should look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM

...and you should enter this loop at learning. (note: I usually remove the launching/promoting part until a few cycles of learning, planning, implementing, learning, planning, implementing...)

The beauty of Facebook is that it is inexpensive and content rich and sky is the limit when it comes to creating engaging content AND everybody is there, hanging out, looking for great distractions. In addition, I don't believe there are many brands that do it right, so you have every opportunity in the world to raise the bar. Don't blame the tool, especially when it's implemented features that benefit the users you are trying to reach. Take a closer look at your own content. Are you engaging? Are you creating content your fans would be excited to share? Are you creating value? Improving knowledge? Lives? Are you making your customers' lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better? Or are you just adding to the noise?

Abandoning Facebook would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's a great tool if you understand that it isn't a billboard. And remember, it's much less expensive and gives you all sorts of ways to hear from your audience and understand who you are hearing from (which is very difficult with a billboard).

So stop writing 'woe is me' posts and start respecting the medium and your audience. Trust me, you'll change your tune.

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* I really shouldn't lump all of us in the same boat. I love Edgerank and think it's a beautiful and user-centric feature for Facebook. It just makes me work harder to create engaging content and I love a good challenge. I know there are great marketers out there who get this, too.

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