Surfing Social Media

surfing_social_mediaBack when Zuckerberg was a but a tween and Twitter was yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye, the customer of a multivariate testing SaaS vendor ran an interesting promotional test: 20% off any purchase against buy one refrigerator and get another free. To everyone’s surprise, refrigerators flew out the door. Turns out, the Joneses found out about the deal and told the Smiths who came in on it with them. Each family went home with a half price fridge.

What a testament to the power of testing, we all said. Who knew you could move such a large item with such a promotion? What we all thought we learned was that you never know what you don’t know. And you’ll never know unless you test.

What we didn’t talk about was what this test revealed about our audience: that it is networked and collaborative. Fast forward a few years to the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the social web is the biggest shiny object to hit marketing since TV. Yet social media marketing ROI remains unproven for many.

What the testing anecdote above reveals and what’s important to note about social media is that it has a life of it’s own, whether marketers like it or not. Smart social marketing is the deft leveraging what is already there. Like surfing. Navigating social media works best when marketers start returning to the basics: Find an unmet need and fill it. Social media marketing is observant, responsive and adaptive more than it is engaging and impressive. The success of your social media strategy will be measured by how useful your audience declares it to be.

(Marketers? Useful?)

As marketers scramble to unravel the knot of social media, their frustration mounts each time they apply old marketing expectations to the new consumer organism. (Old: Build market share. New: Build relationships.) Many marketers hate the whole idea of social media, as noted by Matt Jones in his Why I Hate Social Media for AdAge.

Not only must marketing expectations adapt to the social marketplace, but the entire business model must also. The last 100 years have rewarded the quest for scale (Ford, Tide, Clorox). But like a wave folding over on itself, that scale has turned into commoditization, razor thin margins and enslavement to the retailer. Walgreen’s distributes 60% of all the Tide in the US. Retail owns the relationship with the Tide customer, not P&G. Not as great a business it was in say, 1962.

Letting go of old marketing expectations and embracing the social marketplace is not only smart marketing, it’s smart business. Most are convinced that the history writers will credit mostly lack of adaptability to the extinction of the great 20th century behemoth brands.

It’s not a stretch to see the potential folly in, “Who cares what it is? Just dive in and we’ll all figure it out later.” But this is the early adopter’s chief maxim. And if marketer’s return to their core purpose of finding unmet needs and filling them, they too will find themselves again at the forefront of adaptability.

Twitter Value Prop: Addiction?

addictionI’ve been wondering what the Twitter value proposition to me is for some time. I get what Twitter is, and yes, I Tweet, but I’ve never been entirely sure why Twitter should matter to me. Apparently, many share in my quandry, says Silicon Valley, The Harvard Business Review, Nielsen and others.

By a number of measures, Twitter’s metrics look pretty dismal. User engagement is low and customer retention even lower. Numbers like these beg the question, what is the real and compelling value to a business or consumer in using the Twitter application?

Even the CEO says what he’s shooting for in a relationship with his audience is addiction.

The Utility of Social Media

oprah_facebook

Facebook’s arrival as a lifestyle brand was cemented the moment Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah. Having been on Facebook for several years as an Internet marketing professional, one can’t help but notice the sudden barrage of old high school friends (stay at home moms) having suddenly found me on Facebook. A noticeable shift in the FB demographic has taken place in the last six months.

Which makes the brand now part of popular culture, properly cited by Steve Rubel as the key motivation for recent advertiser interest in Facebook. Advertisers from Palm to Sprint are plugging Facebook in TV spots, aligning themselves with the social media icon that touches 200 million everyday.

But even brands who cozy up to Facebook in TV spots don’t promote their own page in the spot. They give no compelling reason to visit them on Facebook, no call to action, in fact no instructions on how or what to do it even if the viewer wanted to connect with them on Facebook. Which infers that that the advertiser isn’t so interested in having folks visit them on Facebook. Which infers that they have yet to realize, quantify or otherwise evaluate the benefit of Facebook interactions.

Again, the social media ROI dilemma.

Social media is difficult to quantify and always will be because it’s a brand play. A positioning play. A PR play. Twitter, Facebook and media-sharing sites are places to listen (market research) make impressions, join and steer conversations, publish information, and drive brand image. Every day, social media looks more and more like broadcast media, facilitating one-to-many interactions.

Because “online marketing” including SEM, SEO, email and affiliate marketing, has grown up as a direct marketing discipline, it doesn’t know what to make of Facebook and Twitter. Neither are demonstrated lead gen or new traffic generating vehicles. Yet as emerging web-based, interactive channels, social media responsibility often falls to the “online marketer”, who ROI-driven by nature, is skeptical (ahem).

Online marketers who are responsible for the total online presence from AdWords to social media often leave the company Twitter profile to an afterthought. A wise friend said to me back in 2005 when the whole of the Internet was surging toward investments in direct, data-driven marketing, that in the total mix, “there will always be a place for brand, there will always be a place for direct and it’s a mistake to divest entirely in brand marketing online.”

Word of Mouth Marketing: Everything Old is New Again

dale_carnegieThumbing through the Site library, we came across some nice pointers given by Andy Sernovitz in his Word of Mouth Marketing of 2006:

  • Reply and respond.
  • Thank people who say nice things about you.
  • Fix problems and make people happy.

Puts to mind advice from a marketing trailblazer of another era, Dale Carnegie. First published in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People seems as relevant today as ever. Leafing through our – ahem – 1980 print edition, Mr. Carnegie’s advice is spot on for anyone engaged in word of mouth, buzz marketing or social media marketing today:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Give honest, sincere appreciation.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage people to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other people’s interest.
  • Make others feel important, and do it sincerely.

The Truth About Viral Marketing

cellCheck out what Marketing Profs had to say about viral marketing. For once, the math looks right. 10 people tell 5, or a million tell 500K. So many expect the opposite – 5 people to tell ten each.

I also liked Dunay’s reference to Duncan Watts’ theory, also noted in Site’s Random Acts of Social Marketing post of a few months ago. Watts says it’s the network itself, not any individual contributor that makes the most difference in the successful spread of a virus. Today on MarketingProfs, Dunay rightly cites not the message content, not the viral mechanism, but the network properties of the “bored at work” segment as the determining agent in the spread of a meme.

Although, message content that includes information about a public figure with a personality disorder (Perez Hilton, W., etc.) does help!

Twittering Mad Men

betty_draperI was thrilled to find a replacement for my dearly departed loved ones, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos in Mad Men, my new crush. I was a slow convert, but to steal a line from Peggy Olson, “It stays with you.”

Also entertaining has been the back and forth between AMC and Twitter over the Mad Men cast that showed up as personae on the Twitter messaging network. It appears AMC made a stink at first, but then starting drinking the social media Koolaide, in the end, applauding this kind of fan engagement.

It’s also been speculated that AMC is really behind the Twitter cast of Mad Men in the first place. Their Twitter profile pages do look suspiciously on-brand and well-packaged. It would surprise me if AMC were as social media un-savvy as the affair would lead us to believe. Getting upset by the fact that community engagement has a life of its own is so over.

Social Media Strategy and Executive Blogging

imgres-3More and more, execs are being prompted by their boards, their PR staff and their agency partners to blog. They know the importance of social media. They’ve seen the number of social media-focused panels triple and quadruple at their favorite marketing conferences from ad:tech to TED. They are beginning to listen seriously to what their customers are saying about their products and brands with social media monitoring tools and are even facilitating more consumer-driven dialog by building community platforms for customer feedback and ongoing dialog.

But when it comes to writing their own blog, marketing execs often are slow to start because they don’t know what they want to say.

I thought this recent post by the CMO of Prosper, an auction-based peer-to-peer lending site (and, yes, a Site client), was a terrific example of exactly what a marketing executive blog post ought to look like:

1) It’s timely. The subject of the post is an initiative Prosper was to launch that week.

2) It’s personal. The post speaks to Catherine’s personal and direct experience with the initiative.

3) It’s a gateway to more content. The post includes a number of links to other parts of the site giving readers a number of avenues for more content.

With all the pressure on CMOs today for accountable, metrics-driven, move-the-needle marketing, it can be difficult to justify pausing your bottom-line focus to write a blog post.

But to my mind, executive participation in social media is a crucial part of a comprehensive social media strategy. Even if we have the listening technology, analytical staff and community marketers to build a relationship marketing nirvana, publishing our thoughts about the business, the brand or the industry and inviting public comment should always be a part of our social media marketing plan.

Random Acts of Social Media Marketing

imgres-4
An interesting debate about the nature of social trends has been launched by Duncan Watts, a network theory scientist who challenges much of Malcolm Gladwell’s assertions about social trends in his breakout best-seller, The Tipping Point.

Central to the debate is the relative importance of influencers – those critical dialed-in, friend-laden, early-adopters behind whom the rest of us tag along mimicking their behavior and consumption habits. Gladwell’s Tipping Point expands upon a several decades-old theory that puts extra weight on these anointed influential few who marketers and politicians love to court. Indeed, if we agree that “one in 10 Americans tell the other 9 how to vote, where to eat, and what do buy”, all we have to do is find and persuade that 10% and we’re home free.

Hogwash, says Watts. The emergence of a social trend is governed more by the social environment at the time than anything else, he says. Like a wildfire, if conditions are right, the meme spreads no matter who started it or who carries it.

Having cut my marketing teeth before the Internet was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, this view has appeal. I still recall with wispy reverence the hollowed maxim that “the job of the marketer is to find a gap in the marketplace between what exists and what is needed and fill it.” The implication being that the marketplace is more to be surfed than manipulated.

Marketers of emerging technologies, of course, can’t look around for appetites to satisfy, they have to create them. They champion technologies that no one ever has heard of let alone needs. The benefits of many Internet technologies – especially social media technologies – are a challenge to articulate in the early going because their utility depends upon wide-spread adoption. It’s like always being the first telephone salesman in town (“Tele-what? Who would I call?”). If I were that guy, I too would target the visible, the connected, the influential town elite and hope that telecommunication catches on in Peoria.

But I’ll tell you what else I’d do. I’d target a few people at random as well, because when it comes to pushing memes through a network, what I like most about what Watts has to say is that it’s the random connections that seem to make the most difference. Highly connected network nodes, or network influentials can connect you quickly to all the contacts in their particular cluster – the president of the Rotary or Junior League in our small town example. But it’s the random traveling salesman or church choir member who may not fit into a well-defined social cluster who spreads the growth of a trend to places you may never have imagined.

May the Best Community Manager Win

hillary_obama

In The Vanishing Establishment, Nicholas Confessore cites decentralized organization and fundraising as one of the major assets of the Obama campaign. Hillary, he observes, has been left vulnerable by her old-style, establishment-cozy program of reliance upon an elite few for the core of her support. While she has tapped the relatively small number of heavy-weights in her corner for all they can legally provide, he can continue to collect a little bit from everyone in a widely distributed base of everyday folk.

Razor-sharp focus on high points of leverage was once standard practice for business, government, the media – you name it. Sharply hierarchical organization has long been the vehicle of choice in wealth and power creation from the Roman army to feudalism to the corporation of today.

But these times, they are a-changing. Something to note about what the influential of today seem to have in common: They all pay heed to the self-organized and highly distributed. From Wikipedia to terrorist activity we’re discovering at warp speed that self-organization can work much more effectively than strict hierarchy, and especially so in the production of information goods. And what is politics but the information goods business? Obama, with his highly distributed, self-organized power base, seems the more successful purveyor of information goods to my eye. We shall soon see.

As marketers, we are also in the information goods business. We are also finding out that distributed networks of input drive better and faster product and marketing innovation. Witness Dell’s Idea Storm, a forum for Dell users to share ideas for product improvement. Dell launched Idea Storm after it discovered that a self-organized community of Dell customers and prospects already existed and they were already connected. They were sharing their (sadly, upleasant) Dell experiences on YouTube, blogging about the brand and influencing purchase behavior by a disturbingly large degree. Dell responded to the crisis by harnessing the power of the already connected community and facilitating its growth with Idea Storm.

As she chips away at Obama, it’s becoming ever more clear that Hillary can’t seem to find purchase. Where Obama deftly harnesses the power of the already connected community, Hillary re-tools her message. Where Obama delivers a resonant brand experience to voters, Hillary lodges a “features war”, attacking his product attributes. Where Obama gains momentum, Hillary plays catch up.

As marketers, as business people, we are wise to take a lesson in community management from this increasingly interesting voting season and that is this:

This way of communicating with your community doesn’t work any more: “Listen to me – I’m (better, smarter, faster, more experienced).”

This one does: “Listen to me. I am one of you.”