How To: Kill A Brand With Social Media

Posted on May 14, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Marketing, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

Brand_AxeSocial Media is the new darling of many brands, the silver bullet that will fix all ills. While some brands have made major in roads in discovering a new method of expanding their ability to reach their customers and potential customers some have quite obviously become so over enamoured with Social Media that they have forgotten the basics of managing a brand.

Lack of Alignment

While most Twitter users are aware of the amazing job that Frank Eliason has done for ComCast on Twitter, acting as a one person rescue squad for their customer service issues, the rest of the brand has not aligned with this new way of doing business. A quick search on google for customer service at ComCast continues to result in many more horror stories than it does in success stories. Why? Because having one or two people creating a good impression on one platform is not enough. If there is no brand alignment behind the philosophy of listening and responding then all of the Social Media efforts in the world will not turn a brand around.

A search on Facebook brings equally crushing results, of the first ten (page one), one is fairly obscurely related to ComCast, Six are Anti-ComCast groups, One is a fan page for ComCast technology, one is a fan page for ComCast Interactive Capital and one appears to be a group for past employees.

Twitter is Not Social Media

As popular as Twitter is, it still only has a 5% penetration, being on Twitter, even if you do it well is not a Social Media Strategy. Twitter is at best a small part of an overarching strategy that includes not only the tool set, comprising tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube etc but also the internal education and alignment that ensures these tools are part of a much broader “Social” focus within the organization.

Brands like Zappo’s aren’t good at things like Twitter and Facebook because they have some awesome marketing department working 24/7 to provide thrilling content. They are good at Social Media because their stated aim is to be the best service company in the world, they just happen to sell clothing and footwear. When you start with a socially focused goal like that, it’s hard not to be a success in Social Media.

Which brands do you think have focused too much on the platform and not enough on the philosophy?

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Will Facebook Sell Recommendations?

Posted on April 15, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

As Facebook continues to evolve it is interesting to note how much attention they have given to the development of the Fan page concept. Originally Fan pages were a very limited, cut down version of the personal page. They had much less functionality and their ability to provide a communications platform was minor.

The recent revisions of Facebook were overshadowed by the new look homepage which met a lot of resistance from users when it was first launched. With all that attention the other changes have been largely overlooked. Fan pages have become identical to the personal page. They can have all of the same content artifacts (pictures, video etc.) they can even be programmed to take other tools through the Facebook Markup Language (FBML).

The latest development which I really took notice of yesterday for the first time was the inclusion of Fan pages in the “People you might know” section. I find this interesting for two reasons, firstly Fan pages arent limited to People, so under People I might know now appear branded products. Secondly, I see this as a move toward monetization of friend recommendations by Facebook.

Here is the current recommendation list for me:

fansuggestionsOf these three, one is a business run by a friend, so that’s fair enough, one is someone I have never heard of and the other is the comedian Chris Rock. A quick google search told me Anthony Robbins is a Life Strategist – who knew? Well apparently someone in my friends circle, or at least that is my assumption. People you might know is usually based on 2nd order friendships, in other words, friends of friends, I actually use this quite a lot as it’s a good reminder of people I want to connect with and haven’t yet. The addition of Fan pages is interesting to me because Brands that have fan pages that friends have become fans of already show up in the righthand sidebar of my homepage. Now they are showing up as “recommendations” – what would a brand pay to appear in that list?

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You’re A Competitor – I’m A Fan

Posted on April 9, 2009. Filed under: Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

Rally Towels

Social Media has brought a lot of new opportunities to build stronger connections with customers. That’s what everyone talks about. How wonderful all this transparency is and how being able to engage with customers will only strenghten the buying relationship. While all of that might or might not be true (a lot of variables involved in that broad statement), what is certainly true is that it is now to get a greater level of transparency into companies than it was before.

Friend or Foe?

More and more companies are including things like a Twitter stream and a Facebook fan page in their marketing communications strategy and while it has always been possible for your competitors to read your sales material, now they can become fan’s too. Why would you choose to do that? What possible benefit is there to you to becoming a fan of a company that is your competitor, especially in a recession when everyone is scrambling for the dollar spend?

Actually there are several reasons to become a fan of your competitors and this is a lesson that brands can learn from watching the behavior of their latest media darlings – bloggers. One of the most common practices of bloggers is to leave comments on the posts of other bloggers, some of these other bloggers are in the same space as they are, they are in essence competitors for readers. So why leave a comment? because it includes a link back to their blog and is an open invitation for readers of that post to take a look at their blog.

Become A Fan

Apply the same philosophy to becoming a fan of your competitor and suddenly you just gained visibility to all of your competitors current fans, some of whom are probaby customers. Now you just provided them with an alternative. On facebook there is no way to control who becomes a fan of your page, unlike friending, there is no request, it is a user based choice to become a fan or not. Now of course, your fans can see who you have become a fan of and that provides your own fans with an alternative doesn’t it? Well they could have found them on their own but now you have found them for them, score one for you and your transparency. Rather than offering them an alternative provider you just proved that you are willing to show them how transparent you are, and after all isn’t that what Social Media is all about?

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Is Making Friends Social Engineering?

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , |

Dr. Frankenstein and His Monster

Two sessions at SXSWi that I attended have had me thinking for a few days now. They were seemingly unconnected, one by Brian Brushwood of Scam School and one run by David Armano & Russ Unger on the topic of Friendship is Dead.

The Right Words

It occurs to me that the language that we are using to using to describe friends & friendship has been overtaken by the way in which people employ activities that used to be described by them. The one that, for me, exemplifies this is “making friends”. As children we were encouraged to “make friends” with other children, as adults we are impressed with the ease that some “make friends”.

Whilst the concept is popular, and has a clearly understood meaning, I wonder if it has not been overtaken by the technology now employed by so many to “make friends”. Social Networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc. have made Making Friends, easier even for those who were previously lacking in real life social skills. The ability to be physically removed from a situation allows everyone to be more social.

However, are these friendships “made”, are they in fact manufactured rather than grown? I would argue that real friendships are the result of an organic process, not a manufacturing process. The technology that has brought people closer together has also enabled people to employ ever increasing amounts of social engineering to “make friends”. Social Engineering, Transactional Analysis and other behavioral theories cover the same basic principles and when online behavior is compared with these theories there are some obvious correlations.

Influence

There are six generally accepted methods to influence a person’s behavior, liking, reciprocity, authority, scarcity, commitment & social proof. If you map just three of these to behaviors on Twitter for example, and look at what Twitter users see as “good behavior” recommending someone by mentioning them in something like the #followfriday posts or by Retweeting their posts, these actions can be seen to be both acts of liking and acts of reciprocity. When you examine the Twitter ranking tools they all place a high value on these types of activity. These acts of “friendship”.

To become influential on a social network requires not a friendly nature but simply an understanding of social engineering. Guy Kawasaki, in an article in Entrepreneur, talked about how to increase your Twitter followers, one method he recommended was to @reply to A listers (or SMores as he refers to them), not because they would respond but because others would see you in a conversation with them and make the assumption you had a relationship, this is the use of Authority.

There is more to it than Numbers

Of course its easy to read this post as simply me being cynical, and actually I am far from it. My own experience of using Social Networking has been very positive. Facebook allowed me to find old friends and extend relationships with new ones. However, not everyone online is using Social Media with the same intent. Numbers have become increasingly more important, especially as Marketers see the potential in Social Media. Businesses run on numbers, so measuring Influence on the basis of numbers becomes an easy way to identify people worth connecting with. The number of readers a blogger has, the number of followers a Twitter user has.

I argue that these are manufactured, that they are transient, and relate more to popularity in the celebrity sense than they do with Influence. That is not to say that influential Social Media users don’t have large numbers of followers, but there is not necessarily a direct correlation. That is where it becomes really difficult to measure influence.

Friends or Influence

So are we seeking to make lots of friends or are we seeking to increase our sphere of influence? Is the aim to be seen as a friend to all, or to be seen as influential? Is there room for both? Can we “make friends” to increase our sphere of influence and still be geniune?

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Tasting The Rainbow: Skittles & Brand Ownership

Posted on March 12, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Marketing, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

Skittles.

Again this week I am provided with the thoughts for my post by Marketing Profs newsletter – “Get to the point”. Last week it was their coverage of the Cenk Uygur story and his view of the branding issues surrounding Michael Phelps and Kellogg’s.

Today, I was equally amazed to read the following comment in their newsletter, entitled “When the Crowd Attacks”, it tells the story of how Skittles tried to be involved with the Social Media crowd and got their fingers burned, Marketing Profs close the newsletter with the following advice:

What’s the lesson here? Simple: Don’t be afraid to let users help shape your brand, but remember it is still your brand. As in any healthy relationship, sometimes even prospects need a little pushback.

“Your brand”, if it were their brand then why would companies try to court public opinion and why would it apparently impact brand based organizations so heavily?  Just as companies have very little sway over their stock price because the value is controlled by those willing to buy or sell the stock so companies have little or no influence over their brand. Far from being “your brand”, in the world of Social Media, a brand belongs to whoever wishes to use it to exert influence.

A company that thinks they own their brand are likely to face a very sharp wake up call – Motrin anyone? Motrin displayed all the traits of a company that thought it owned its brand, the influential “mommy bloggers” proved them wrong. So did Skittles get their fingers burned by trying to play along with the Social Media crowd? As far as I can see they got some mileage from their campaign and then it ran its course, what they were guilty of was not recognizing the limited life that their campaign has. This is the world of Twitter, blogs & Facebook. It moves at the speed of crowd-thought, which is much faster than most organizations can compete with. In my opinion Skittles did the right thing, they tried something new, different and hopefully they have learned from it. That’s a lot better than many companies who are currently paralyzed trying to work out how to be involved with the “cool kids” at the Social Media party and not end up with a virtual wedgie.

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Snake Oil Certificates

Posted on February 23, 2009. Filed under: Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , |

This past week I happened across two different people offering Social Media “Certification”.  I was interested to see what these offerings consisted of and what these two people’s level of involvement in the field was.

After doing just the most perfunctory research on both individuals it became very apparent that they were Snake Oil salesmen. One was charging $800 for an online course the other $1495 for a similar online course both staged over several weeks. What amazed me is that neither of their websites cite any customer success stories, or particular personal achievements in Social Media. In fact when I dug a little deeper one of these so called experts had only 2,500 twitter followers, and 150 “friends” on Facebook.

They were of course the author of several e-books on the topic, apparently that made them qualified.  What troubles me more than the fact that they are selling their knowledge, is the fact that they feel qualified to “Certify” others in Social Media.

Disclaimer: Before continuing I feel it is only fair to point out that I too sell Social Media consultancy to organizations and companies as part of the services my company offers. So as I say I am not concerned with someone making a living at Social Media.

What concerns me is that having seen so many people lose their jobs in the Marketing field and so many companies looking for Social Media guidance these Snake Oil salesmen are muddying the waters and taking advantage of people desperate to find something that sets them apart. When going for a job interview, having a certificate that says you are a qualified Social Media practitioner would certainly do that, however, quite probably not in a good way.

If these certificates were being offered by someone in the field who had proven skills then I would probably be at the front of the queue to sign up. In a field that changes all the time you can never believe you know it all. However, these people are too busy to setup “schemes” like this, they are out there doing.

So if you really want to know how to get “qualified” in social media what is your best avenue, where should you spend your money?  My recommendation would be to attend the conferences where the best practioners are giving sessions – SXSWi, SOBCon, Blogword etc. go and meet the people who are the thought leaders in this field. Read what they and others are writing on a daily basis and then practice with your own brand.  Find out what works, and what doesn’t and don’t rely on a piece of paper that someone printed out that says you are now an “expert”.

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How To:Get Your Blog in the “A” List

Posted on February 10, 2009. Filed under: blogging, Facebook, Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

With Social Media tools being so readily available now it seems that some people are getting very obsessed with ranking tools.

I have written about these several times, Twitter Grader, Twinfluence and Facebook Grader most recently.  I decided to do a little experiment whilst at the same time promoting my blog.

I used the “NetworkedBlogs” application on Facebook to add my friends to my blog network.  Its a very easy tool to use. You simply send an invite to your friend network on Facebook which asks them to join your network. If they do it displays your blog thumbnail on their profile page and adds them to the list of “Fans” for your blog.

It allows you to include a personal message with the invite, which I like to do, emphasizing this is really from me. That it gives the invitee the opportunity to not only see what I am writing but also what I am reading – I currently have 30 or so blogs in my network, so this is a virtual blog bookcase.

One of the things that NetworkedBlogs does in their application is provide a list, by topic of the Top 50 blogs.  My blog appears in the Social Media list.  What I wanted to show with this post is the subjective nature of these types of lists.

Take a look at the screenshot below

Social Media List

Social Media List

You will see that my blog appears immediately above that of Scott Monty, Ford’s Social Media evangelist. WOW, right, my blog is more popular than that of Scott Monty! I have made it, I’m on the “A” list. No more waiting for restaurant reservations or perhaps at least invites to cool parties at SXSWi.

Thankfully, both for me and those who know me, I am a little more grounded than that and a lot more cynical. Of course my blog isnt more popular than Scott’s (btw if you haven’t already started reading it, you really should). What this shows is the small group of blogs that are being measured. I am sure Scott receives thousands of readers a day, my readership is no where near that level.

This is what happens when you take a very small sample of data and extrapolate it to show importance, influence and popularity. Without lying I can state that my blog is now rated as the number 11 blog in Social Media on Facebook. Everyone knows that Facebook has 150 million users ergo I must be popular, influential and important.Don’t get me wrong I am not dissing the NetworkedBlogs application, it has actually brought me several new readers, for which I am always grateful, but in reality I am not in the “A” list, nor anywhere near it. If you would like to join my blog network please do 🙂

So the next time you are impressed by the fact that someone quotes a Social Media “rank” or “Score” dig a little deeper and find out just how that is being measured.

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Social Media Ranking Tools – One Step Beyond?

Posted on January 21, 2009. Filed under: Business, Facebook, Observations, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , , |

Recently those wacky folks at Hubspot released another of their Grader tools. This one is for Facebook. It joins the others in their stable of Press Release, Website & Twitter.

I like Hubspot, I like some of their tools. I use Press Release & Website Grader as they provide a pretty decent overview of a press release or website and allow you to focus in on the areas that can stand some improvement.  They are great tools for small companies that can’t afford to call in an expensive consultant.

When Twitter Grader came out, I wrote a post about it and did a comparison between it and Twinfluence for Mashable. At the time, I pointed out that this smacked somewhat of a high school popularity contest but that there was some use for it in terms of an approach that can be learned for engaging in Twitter.  When I used Twitter grader there were currently 5000 Twitter users being graded, so whatever grade you achieved it had to be measure against that fact. Right now it measures against just over 1m Twitter users. That seems a reasonable sample, actually its less than 25% of all Twitter users, so even now its real value is limited.

Enter Facebook Grader – this, in my opinion is one tool too many.  Firstly it is even more skewed as it is an early tool and currently is only measuring against just under 7000 Facebook users – that is 0.04% of the Facebook community. So basically the number it produces is, to all intents & purposes meaningless. Now I agree that for some these tools can be seen as “fun”. Sure why not. However, there are those who will take these tools seriously and use them to convince others that they are some kind of Social Media whizz just because they scored XX on one of these sites. Worse still, companies looking for some measure of success might actually start using this as a metric against which to assess their Social Media campaign.

What I do like about Facebook grader, Yes there are somethings, is the fact it analyzes your profile and points out where you have gaps in it.  Perhaps you missed the part on your profile for “Hometown” or “About Me”.  These are good things to point out and are more in line with Press Release Grader & Website Grader. But please take away the numerical score or at least make it relevant to something else.  More to the point, please take away the Facebook “Elite”.  Social Media is not about “Elitism” it is about community. Perpetuating the myth of popularity equaling Elitism is serving no good at all.

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Social Media Evangelists – The Special Forces of New Media

Posted on December 18, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Cover for the 2007 reprint of The Green Berets

2008 has seen the rise of the term “Social Media” appearing in a variety of places that it hasn’t appeared before, most notably in the list of skills claimed by individuals, whether as in house evangelists or external consultants. So what does it take to be a Social Media Evangelist?

Special Forces Training

This might seem an extreme analogy, what do gun-toting, clandestine troops, featured in movies & TV shows have to do with New Media?

Well firstly put aside the images from TV & the silver screen. Special Forces are not sneeky assassins they are called special for a reason, that reason is the breadth of their skills. To be selected they must pass a testing assessment course, much of which has little or nothing to do with “soldiering” directly and more to do with being able to cope with ambiguity. This is where the analogy starts. Often having positioned themselves within an organization or branded themselves as an external consultant, a Social Media evangelist will be told, “We need to do something Web 2.0” – how is that for ambiguous?

The Skills

Linguist

One of the first things that a Special Forces operator has to be is a linguist. They learn at least one and sometimes several languages relative to their area of operation. Social Media Evangelists have to be linguists as well. They need to be able to communicate in both the language of the organization and Social Media and build a comfort level that bridges the gap between the ability of the “locals” to speak the new language and do it in such a way that is perceived as threatening.

Negotiator

This is an incredible important skill, for both SF Operators and SM Evangelists. Whilst the “locals” might have series of demands, needs & desires, the specialist needs to be able to filter this wish list and establish what is possible, what is advisable and what needs to be removed from the list and most importantly be able to negotiate this new list and define why this is the way it should be done. There are bound to be internal conflicts as different parties want to be involved in the changes, working out these conflicts is where the negotiator excels.

Educator

Hollywood & TV often portray SF operators charging in to save the day, whilst there can be no doubt that these situations have existed, most often SF operators work behind the scenes, providing amongst other things education. This again is a primary role of the SM Evangelist. It is not enough to have knowledge of the SM landscape, to know the tools or how to use them. This knowledge must be shared and shared in a way that makes sense to the recipients. Using knowledge only to inflate their own sense of worth diminishes both SM in general and the SM evangelist in particular. The ability to teach new users not only of the benefits of using SM but also the tactical use of the tools, their appropriate use builds not only a broader user base it enhances the user experience of everyone involved in SM. Properly educated organizational users will be better able to engage with their customers and prospective customers – that means us.

Weapons Expert

Ok, so you knew it had to be here somewhere, no mention of SF operators could be complete without a mention of their weapons expertise. No I am not suggesting that SM Evangelists suddenly go out and arm themselves, at least not with guns & knives. However, they do need to be experts in the weapons of their trade, SM Tools. This is difficult, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, FriendFeed and all of the other services, platforms and tools that are available is it truly possible for one person to become experienced in all of them? I would say probably not for every situation, however, knowing the capabilities of these tools, and more importantly the limitations is essential. A SM Evangelist is quickly distinguished from a SM Enthusiast by their recommendations. If they propose that all platforms suit all organizations and all strategies, they are not a specialist. Knowing when & how to deploy particular tools, who within the organization is best placed to utilize the tool and for what purpose is the skill of the SM Evangelist. This is where they can bring real value to an organization.

Anthropologist

The ability to meet the “locals” who have perhaps little or no knowledge of your “country”, or worse still they have only a media presented version and have already determined what you are capable of is the challenge facing both the SF operator and the SM Evangelist. How they overcome this will vary on the situation but a strong sense of cultural sensitivity is essential. Knowing why you are there what the “locals” are looking for and assisting them in meeting their goals will only come from a truly anthropological perspective. The ability to stand outside the internal politics, social pressures, and the vested interests of certain parties to see what is really needed, what will really work and then being able to translate that in to an actionable plan that takes into account all of the knowledge gained through observation and interaction.

The list of skills is not meant to be exhaustive. The skills displayed and used by SM Evangelists will vary from case to case and different skills will be called for in every situation. These are the basics. It should also be remembered that SF Operators do not work in isolation, they work in teams, with specialists spreading the knowledge across the team. Perhaps this is the most successful model for SM as well. An organization seeking to develop real advantage through SM will build strong teams that encompass all of these skills. Equally individual consultants might be advised to recognize where their own skills are not complete and partner with others who have the skill set they are missing, combined they become a phenomenal force.

The whole point of developing and deploying SF teams is as a “Force Multiplier”, this is and should be true of employing, whether internal or external, SM Evangelists. They should act as a force multiplier for an organizations SM strategy.

Are you an Evangelist?

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Twollow: SOLD

Posted on November 25, 2008. Filed under: Sales, Social Media, Technology, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

twollowlogoLast week I posted a review of the Twitter tool Twollow. I was interested to see that it almost immediately went under the auction hammer. The tool that took 24 hours to build, took only 7 hours to sell. Bidding started at $25, with the tool finally being sold for $1,750.00. I am surprised by for two reasons, one, it was developed in 24 hours which means the developer realized $72 per hour. Second, it was obviously built for sale. This is an interesting trend. Almost akin to the House flipping market and I wonder if it will follow the same pattern.

Tools for Sale

Will we now see a rush of tools for Twitter brought out simply for resale? I will be interested to see what happens to Twollow – there is no disclosure of who bought the tool. Considering it was really a work in progress and needed quite a bit of remodeling it might not have been the bargain that someone thought.

The model that was used was very interesting. Build & launch a tool. Garner blog coverage for it, on the auction site there were 6 different blog sites with articles about the tool, including this one. Then put it on an auction site like Sitepoint.

Facebook reportedly offered $500m for Twitter this week. An offer that was turned down by the Twitter team. $500m is not a bad offer for a company that is barely 2 years old with a tool that has really only started to gain popularity in the later half of 2008. If we take the interest by Facebook as an indication, tools that support Twitter and extend its functionality and usefulness, will ultimately attract the same type of attention. Tools that support business functionality are already starting to appear, last week I posted on Mashable a HOW TO using the Xpenser tool, which utilizes Twitter functionality to track business expenses.

Twollow had none of these to offer. There was no business functionality, no extension of existing Twitter use and yet it managed to attract both publicity and bids. One can only imagine the interest that a tool with both business and personal functionality might attract.

Tweetlater is a good example of one such tool, and one to watch.  It has been extending its functionality over the past couple of weeks.  Going from its original one trick of allowing you to schedule Tweets to adding Keyword tracking and @replies digests so that you don’t miss important replies.  I think that Tweetlater would raise a lot more than $1,750.00 if it came under the hammer.

Twitter Tool Realtor

Perhaps there is an opening for a Twitter Tool Realtor? After all Twollow was a single function tool, the software equivalent of a Shotgun Shack, and that sold in 7 hours. A Twitter Tool Realtor could bring together developers with purchasers who could then take the tools to the next level.

What Twitter tools would you buy, and how much would you be willing to pay for them?

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