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12

Dec

Working Media No Longer Works On Its Own & What Brands Should Do About It

Working Media no longer works on its own.  This is far greater than a media buying challenge.  It is actually one of the biggest issues facing every marketer today regardless of size or industry.

We used to maximize the ratio of working to non-working as best we could.

Non-working media includes costs related to production, talent, promotions and fees paid to agencies.  Working media is – plain and simple – paid media, otherwise known as the dollars paid to media partners in return for media impressions.

The old calculus – or current calculus depending on who you are – referenced that 80%+ of any budget should go to fund working media.  For the day, that was completely appropriate.  It was foolish to spend money for line items not directly leading to exposure among a target audience.  For decades, we were basically buying GRPs dressed as a middleman intended to lead us to our goals: awareness, intent and purchase.

At that time, our industry counted TV, radio and print as its workhorses.  Radio and print, while still player, have been largely replaced by digital as the new thoroughbreds of the media mix – specifically: online, mobile and social.  The difference between the old guard and the new one is engagement.  Nobody has ever engaged with a radio spot or a print ad.  They may have taken action, but they could not do so within the unit itself.  Digital changed that landscape starting with the earliest banner and has been changing it again and again ever since.  Even TV, now and forever a critical factor in achieving marketing objectives, is more effective when paired with digital. 

 

THE NEW CALCULUS

 Building relationships is the new marketing.  Engagement is the means that gets us there.  Today, we must start and join conversations, and then tend to them or else we will find ourselves on the outside looking in.  We do so by bringing value to conversations.  Otherwise we are a party guest that neglected to bring a gift for our host and whose sole contribution was standing around talking about ourselves the whole night.

Value is a vague and benign term without definition.  My colleagues and I believe there are three kinds of value: 1) an offer, 2) content and 3) a service or experience.

Nike Plus is a service that delivers value.  Small Business Saturday is an experience that delivers value.  A live streamed concert is content that delivers value.  A ‘friends & family’ coupon is an offer that delivers value.

What do all of these things have in common?  They require non-working media to make them happen: production, technology, conversation management, a monetary incentive.  Line items like these can take the ratio from 80/20 (working to non-working) to 50/50 or beyond.  But funding them is critical for a brand to be successful in building and maintaining relationships with customers and prospects.

This is the new calculus.  And the math works.

Nike+ Fuel Band launched with earned media baked into the product itself.  Sync your daily fuel points and broadcast the results to your social following.  This instance of value-based marketing helped propel the product to sales so strong, it was back ordered immediately following launch.  Small Business Saturday, made offers available to American Express Cardmembers and merchants alike, and drove 67% awareness in the U.S. this year.  More importantly in terms of demonstrating ROI to the company, $5.5B was spent in small businesses on that single day and swipes of Amex cards rose 21% from the year before.  Those are impressive statistics largely driven by social marketing with value at the center.  How many ad-driven campaigns can claim this kind of participatory action?  These are just two examples, but hundreds of others play out in similar fashion.

 

WHAT BRANDS SHOULD DO

Have the guts to shift the mix. That dinner guest who talked about himself all night?  Nobody likes that guy and he usually doesn’t get a second invitation.  Serving the community must be on par with serving the brand.  The best sales pitch is not a sales pitch at all.  Your brand must not be in constant sales mode – in the age of the Facebook News Feed, doing so is both jarring and conspicuous.  Instead of Always Be Closing, try Always Be Creating.  Do so by building value into your budget: make films, give access, provide offers, host chats, lend expertise, do things that are special.  Those special things will get people to engage, share, recommend and advocate – turning non-working investment into earned media that is often far more impactful than the paid variety.

Leverage your working media to help fund your non-working investment.  For brands spending tens of millions of dollars on paid media, a great foundation is already in place.  Choose your paid relationships wisely and you can unlock many of the assets you need to make the engine work.  Yahoo!, NBC and Buzzfeed are content engines.  YouTube and Facebook are leveragable owned channels.  Twitter and LinkedIn are centrifuges for conversation.  Investing paid media dollars with these partners not only provides paid impressions, but can also be used to deliver the content and technology needed to drive these new relationships between brands and audiences.

Find ways to demonstrate ROI in the new ratios. What makes this shift challenging is that brands have a difficult time justifying it.  Spending a greater share on anything but eyeballs goes against the well-worn conventions of advertising.  So: prove it.  Start smaller if that is best – a trial, some smaller investment of funds.  Put the right measurement in place so you are creating attribution for key back-end metrics – not just awareness.  Awareness may have worked to sell television buys to CMOs for the last 50 years, but it does not and cannot stand alone as a rationale for something as complicated as changing the very ratios our industry was built on.  The value-based marketing world does not have a single source measurement champion akin to Nielsen, but it has hundreds of companies working to demonstrate this value.  Find the ones you like, throw a saddle on top and ride.

Look to the pioneers.  There is an old business story suggesting that, for years, Burger King did not scout its own locations, but rather looked to see where McDonald’s was setting up shop and then followed suit.  Following the leader saved them resources.  In marketing, many top brands have been laying the groundwork – first in trial and, now as a matter of course.  Nike, American Express, P&G, Starbucks and Pepsi have all embraced the shift.  If they are moving their dollars to reflect the new calculus, they have likely proved the theory, and it should now be safe for other marketers to do so as well.

08

Nov

#Sandy May Be The Moment When Social Grew Up

Social networking has had a number of inflection points in its short history – markers in time where so many people have discovered the value of their networks and the platforms on which they are built and maintained.  The list includes the 2008 Presidential election, the evening we learned of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and, although less critically, almost every award show on television over the last two-to-three years.

 

History may show, however, that the period tied to Hurricane Sandy may be one of the biggest events thus far for shaping how we think, feel and use social networks.  If this proves to be true, it will be because so many of us were engaged in social, so frequently, for such a concentrated period of time, regarding a matter that meant so much.  #Sandy may be the moment when Social grew up.

 

We used social networks for so many reasons during that week.  For clarity, it might be helpful to inventory them in one place – this blog post.

#1: Second Screen Discovery Engine

For those of us who had electricity during the storm, social networks made for an excellent compliment to television.  While our broadcast networks of choice were deploying their full force of 5-10 correspondents and camera crews, the information we derived from social media reached far further.  If you had 200 Facebook friends living in affected areas, you essentially had 200 reporters one the scene.  While they may not be trained journalists, they were certainly expert eyewitnesses.  And, the scope of communication was not even limited to the size of our own friend-base – it extended to their friends and beyond.  Reports came flying in from all over reach of the storm: the river is crossing over Greenwich Street, there’s 3 feet of water in my building on 23rd Street, we just lost power on the Lower East Side.


#2: Replacement for Traditional Media

The pictures, videos and stories we were getting directly from those experiencing the storm were more personal and immediate than anything we were receiving through traditional channels.  In many ways, what was the purpose of a traditional news outlet that essentially just acted like a filter for the real thing?  Further, when cable and Internet went out, those channels were useless.  But, if one could conserve enough phone juice (or find a place to plug in), social networks were the best source for news and information.

#3: Search Tool

Twitter was an especially good resource during the storm due to the searchable nature of the platform.  In the early going, queries for #Sandy revealed updates on the storm’s path and allowed us to commiserate with others around our nerves and anxieties.  At the height of the storm, concerned people were searching for information on specific neighborhoods to get eyewitness accounts from #Breezypoint or #Avalon.  In the days since, we have been able to get through the short term fuel shortage by searching for those tweeting about open gas stations with hastags such as #NJgas and #LIhasgas.  I benefitted from the reach of Twitter by finding a gas station open at 10PM Saturday night that was only 5 miles away with a relatively short 15 car wait – no small feat.  Google offered a number of tools that helped as well including a Crisis Map that relied on citizen crowd sourcing.


#4: Primary Form of Communication

Forget just being a source of news and information, when the power did go out for millions of people, social networks replaced e-mail and battery-draining phone calls as a primary form of communication.  Without landlines and Internet connections, people across the region turned to their smartphones.  Social networks became one of the ways in which we connected with others to share that our offices were closed or tell friends that could use a place to sleep.  For many, this became their main connection to the world.

 
#5: Call To Action

Finally, social networks became a place where critical causes were given a voice.  On Friday, the drum was beating loudly for the annual New York City marathon to be cancelled.  Mayor Bloomberg wanted to keep the event as a milestone towards recovery, but louder voices emerged from people feeling the marathon was an insensitive drain on resources that could be better spent elsewhere.  Those points-of-view were expressed throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter.  The Mayor’s office must have been listening to the dialogue because the event was called-off at about 5PM, a little more than 36-hours before the start of the race.

 

Of course, some of those same voices have also used social platforms to alert friends and followers to volunteer efforts going on across the region.  So many people have connected to victims we have never met through their personal stories, attached to appeals for help, and communicated through intermediaries – the people within our own social networks.

 

Summary

The adage you learn better by doing applies to the experiences of millions of people who experienced Hurricane Sandy.  The week we spent with the both storm and our social networks have taught many – and deepened the affinity of others – of the virtues of these channels.

 

There are so many ways to get involved with time or resources. Please give what you can to your causes of choice.  I could not end a blog post about how social networks have helped us through this storm without offering just one more pathway for people to take action.  Here is one that deserves our attention: https://www.wepay.com/donations/in-good-company-hospitality-relief-fund

 

 

 

12

Sep

Social Networks Bring Us Together, But Also Keep Us Apart

From my post that appeared this morning in the industry blog “The Makegood”

For all that we love about social networks, there is a glaring problem we must address: the very platforms that bring us together, also keep us apart.

THE CURRENT DYNAMIC

Before we experienced a total proliferation of media choices – before cable television, specialized websites and Google news feeds gave way to social networking streams – we were compelled to consume information meant for the masses.

In the 1960s and 70s, Americans learned about important news from sources like Walter Cronkite on CBS.  In the 1980s, we tuned-in for nightly sports scores on SportsCenter.  Even our political pundits – those who shared their opinions with a following well before we all did – delivered their product in broad forums such as Meet The Press or Crossfire.

Back then: the various networks and news outlets scheduled the programs and chose the stories & guests.  Today: we do that job for ourselves.  We are each our own network executive that green light what we see.

Due in large part to our use of social channels, we can now choose the particular outlets we want to see in our feeds each day.  If someone cares deeply about college football, alternative energy or Justin Bieber, their Twitter feed can deliver dozens of different sources on each of those subjects – and potentially, just on those subjects.

Net-net: We can each create incredibly targeted and customized feeds depending on our tastes and interests.

WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?

As we pick and choose the various sources of information we care most about, those sources deliver a stream of information that fits into our narrative of choice.  While that can be good, it also has downside implications for which we should be aware – especially now in the middle of an important political season.

Here is an example.  I have a Facebook friend who is a gun owner.  I detest guns.  In fact, I post about this point-of-view whenever our country experiences another high-profile shooting.  This friend often times replies to my posts with a rebuttal of his own (something to the effect of: guns don’t kill people, people kill people).  It riles me when he does this – to the point that I have considered unfriending him.  I typically think to myself: What right does he have to populate my news feed with his ignorance?

I am not alone.  We are increasingly removing voices that make us uncomfortable.  According to a recent study, the single biggest reason that people unfriend one another on Facebook is due to comments that the unfriender finds polarizing – the study suggests that quite often these polarizing comments are political in nature.

We tend to subscribe to (and maintain) sources of information that reaffirm our thinking rather than challenge our beliefs.  We follow streams on: Facebook to hear stories that keep us current with the friends we already have; on Twitter to provide us with information we use as currency with our colleagues; on LinkedIn to anchor us to our chosen careers; on Pinterest to see images that appeal to us; on Tumblr to be impressed by articulations of topics for which we care.

While it is human nature to gravitate towards people who share common interests and values, we have never before received so much of our information – including hard core news – from these very sources.  It is becoming more difficult to be persuaded by outside influence.  We setup a world that we care about and, at times, shut the rest of it out.

2012: A POLITICAL ODDESY

My first job out of college was at a political consulting firm.  I remember learning a rule-of-thumb early on in campaigns: 40% of the electorate will definitely vote for your candidate and 40% will never vote for your candidate – it is the 20% in the middle that you must persuade.  Based on polls during the last two Presidential election cycles, there is good reason to believe that today this rule should probably be expressed as 45/45/10.  Or worse.

Consuming greater portions of our content diet on social networks is certainly driving part of this polarization.  We filter in that which provides us with the short-term stimulus we need to make us feel validated and arm us with the social currency to share amongst our friends and followers.  We filter out everything that makes us think harder than we may want to, lest it not fit into the memes that we have set for ourselves.

As we consider how we gather information in an election year, we should be mindful of how exposed we are to the content that may persuade us.  We should – in theory, anyway – be responsible for listening to all sides before we make our judgment.

Social networks mirror democracy itself.  It is a very American ideal to choose what we consume and how we consume it.  Yet like our own democracy, we must test ourselves regularly to ensure we are doing it correctly.

11

Jul

Facebook Is Moving Too Fast and Twitter Is Moving Too Slow

From my post that appeared this morning in the industry blog “The Makegood” (http://bit.ly/PQnllq).

There are thousands of players in the social marketing space, but two companies – Facebook and Twitter – are the true north of our business.

This is actually healthy for the industry. The early Internet had three dominant portals.  Search became a mature segment around two major offerings.  Even home computing came down to Mac and PC.

We need a small number of critical players to make the market – to evolve product offerings in order to evolve the space.  For the foreseeable future – Facebook and Twitter are those two companies.

Yet, an interesting dynamic is developing and it is one that users and marketers are beginning to notice: Facebook is moving too fast and Twitter is moving too slow.

FACEBOOK IS MOVING TOO FAST

Think about what Facebook was like the first time you used it.  Now think about how you use it now.  The two versions are nearly indistinguishable from one another.  Both were built around status updates, but that is where the similarities end.  Over the past five years, we have been introduced to News Feed, Places, Ticker and Timeline along with thousands of smaller innovations.

On the surface, this all seems good – the larger moves certainly are.  Change keeps things fresh.  Evolution is smart.  New options are welcome.  But dig deeper.  Log into Facebook right now and chances are that you will see an element that did not exist yesterday – as well as something that existed yesterday that is no longer there today.

By some accounts, Facebook rolls out 60 product updates a day.  Even if that product statistic is exaggerated, ask a community manager what the actual figure is. The answer you will hear in response is most likely: too many.

Media buyers have gone from utilizing a few ad products to having dozens to choose from with endless permutations.  Technologists and creative teams are forced to monitor an avalanche of constantly revised functionality.

Facebook is clearly following a business plan that was baked-in early on: Introduce a new user feature, monetize it, repeat.  Rolling out News Feed?  Welcome to Sponsored Stories.  Announcing Edge Rank?  Follow it up with Reach Generator.

The quantity and pace of these rollouts have had unintended consequences. Marketers can be overwhelmed with the volume of new requirements.  Here is an actual post from the Facebook developer site: The enhanced auth dialog will launch to 5% of the incoming new users of apps next week and rollout more broadly in the following weeks. You can opt out to accelerate this rollout of your new users by enabling the enhanced Auth Dialog in advanced settings within the new Developer App.

Wait.  What?  (And new directives like this one occur with great frequency.)

Brands and agencies do not have time to consider the consequences of those changes because they barely have enough time to migrate their technology to comply.  Right now, for instance, brands should be trying to decide if their Facebook presence is still an owned channel where earned media can truly take hold.  But instead, most of the industry is moving at the speed of light trying to keep up with every new requirement.

At some point, users and brands may feel overloaded with the pace of change.  For many, this dynamic is already happening.

TWITTER IS MOVING TOO SLOW

Now think about how you used Twitter for the very first time compared to how you use it today.

There have indeed been some excellent user experience enhancements over the last year including the Discovery feature, the addition of images and videos within tweets and other publicly discussed enhancements that should be rolling out over the next few months (e.g.: new search functionality & evolutions to the Twitter mobile app on iPhone).

Yet, the crux of the experience on the platform is still the same: handle, hashtag and the 140 character convention.

This is not an accident and, for the most part, not a problem.  The product leaders at Twitter want it to be this way.  They aim to make Twitter less of a place where every user has to be on the inside of a secret.  So the strategy has been, in large part, to let users catch up to the platform while making the platform incrementally easier to use.

That part of the strategy seems to be paying off, as active user numbers have scaled to around 150 million worldwide.  With more active users, advertisers have more people to reach.  By that factor alone, Twitter ad revenue has gone – and will continue to go – up.

However, brands have not always known how to use the platform.  Early on, it felt like an advanced-engineering degree was required to tweet – let alone harness the platform for marketer needs.

As brands have moved further into Twitter, many have been successful when using it as a customer service tool or as a compliment to television (i.e.: keep the conversation going on Twitter).

Still, the platform today is essentially a text-based experience.  How creative can a brand get when confined to 140 characters?  Here is a tweet from The Ford Motor Company a few weeks ago: @Ford CEO Alan Mulally joins the #GoFurther event http://twitpic.com/a19imc.

Marketers have had to get creative within the rigid parameters of the platform.  Brand marketers need brand-worthy space.  Characters of text like search results, text links and tweets are terrific for acquisition and traffic driving marketing, but brand marketers want and need to create experiences like applications and tools.  They want to build the equivalent of microsites on owned channels like YouTube Brand Pages and Facebook Profile Pages.  Twitter does not offer these solutions to marketers because that experience does not fit into their current user strategy.  It may someday, but for now brand pages are just an element on a product roadmap that is innovating for users, but could innovate faster for marketers.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?

What Facebook can learn from Twitter: Take time evolving the product so users do not lose sight of why they love you and marketers understand how to engage with you.

What Twitter can learn from Facebook: Evolve the product to include more image, video and brand-friendly elements that create an environment to acquire the next 150 million users and capture the next $1 billion in revenue – brand revenue.

These two properties are charting the course for the social marketing category and, in many ways, for the digital industry as a whole.  The fact that each are focused on finding the right balance of user experience, product development and monetization should encourage all of us who care about this space.  As they go, they should each look across at the other to learn valuable lessons that bring them towards the center.  A more measured Facebook and more aggressive Twitter would serve all of us well in the end.

21

Apr

My Facebook Friends Are 72% Less Interested In Me. Here’s Why.

Something is different about Facebook recently.  My friends have been communicating with less frequency.  Specifically, when I post: fewer and fewer people have been responding.

I decided to put this feeling to the test by looking at the activity related to all of my posts since the beginning of 2012.  I counted the number of likes and comments each post received and then rolled the numbers up to look at them by month.  The following chart shows my findings: monthly “likes per post” and “comments per post.”

The trend line is obviously pointed down.  On a very steep slope.  Likes/post are down 72% since the beginning of the year.  Comments/post are down 88%.

This isn’t a fluke.  I average roughly 20 post each month.  While that might not make me the most frequent poster amongst my friends (or anyone’s group of friends), it’s certainly enough frequency to remove statistical inconsistency.

This isn’t about ego.  I have often pledged my appreciation that social networks are a place for healthy back-and-forth.  A good conversation is one where there is true dialogue.  Dialogue is affirming.  Monologue, less so.  If we are to invest time and energy into our communities, we would prefer for there to be true and active participation.

There are a few possible reasons why likes and comments to my posts are down.

#1.  I’VE BECOME LESS INTERESTING.  I’ll admit it’s totally possible.  But, as I looked at the content of the posts, it was hard to make the argument that much has changed month-to-month.

#2.  FACEBOOK FATIGUE.  Maybe fewer of my friends are spending time on Facebook? Or at least commenting actively?  According to Compete, Facebook.com usership has remained flat since the beginning of the year (168.6 million users in January to 169.9 million users in March).  While this doesn’t account for mobile usership or indicate time spent commenting, it might render this reason somewhat benign.  Many of my friends have said that they are using Facebook less, but the sheer volume of usage suggests that this isn’t necessarily true.

#3.  FACEBOOK’S ALGORITHM.  (SPOILER ALERT: I’m placing my chips on this one.)  Last September, Facebook changed the way we see content in our news feed.  It was around that time that we stopped seeing our friends’ posts strictly in chronological order and we began seeing them based on calculations made by EdgeRank, Facebook’s proprietary content management tool.  EdgeRank surfaces posts based on our connection to the posters.  The more we are connected to a friend through likes and comments, the more we see their posts.  Our other friends?  We barely connect anymore.

By Facebook’s own admission, we now see only 12-16% of the posts made by our friends.  If we take this at face-value, it means that each one of my posts aren’t being seen by roughly 84% of my intended audience.  With my likes down 72% and my comments down 88%, this certainly seems to be the case.

Why has Facebook made these changes?  Revenue.  Facebook will likely be valued at around $100 billion at the end of trading on day one of their upcoming IPO.  The company needs to generate massive amounts of revenue in order to substantiate that valuation.

The EdgeRank algorithm makes it easier for Facebook to drive revenue.  They can now artificially determine the percentage of posts that we see - whether that content is from a person or a brand.  So, how can you ensure that your posts are seen by more of your friends?  Facebook has a solve for that.  They introduced a new ad product called Reach Generator at their fMC event on February 29th.  This product is geared to help companies reach the 84% of people following their brands that used to be reached at no cost before EdgeRank entered the picture.

Brands now have to pay to reach their own audiences on Facebook.  This is a matter of influence: earned influence before these announcements and paid influence now.

All of this brings me back to my group of Facebook friends.  I am not an advertiser and will not be paying money to reach the 84% that no longer see my posts on a regular basis.  Far from being a business, I see my Facebook experience as one where I participate in conversation with my social network.  But, due to the changes at Facebook, my network has become far less social.  As the trend line continues downward, I will consider using other social channels more frequently to connect with my friends and colleagues.

While Facebook has made these changes in the interest of generating revenue from the 1 million companies that advertise on the platform, they may quickly need to reconsider the effect that those changes are having on the 850 million people that those companies are trying to reach.  Because if the people use the platform less, the advertiser dollars will follow them elsewhere.