The Most Fun Class Ever

Babson 301

Last week I had the opportunity, for the second year in a row, to teach social media marketing to a group of former NFL players under a league program call The Trust, which helps former players set up and run their own businesses.

This is the most fun class I’ve ever taught, not just because of who these guys are but because of how they learn. The group of 12 was like a brotherhood. They laughed and trash-talked each other and had a great time. They also worked hard, stayed engaged and showed tremendous eagerness to learn. And they’re wicked smart. For example, Jamall Broussard (who played for the Bengals, Panthers and Dolphins) is a derivatives trader who’s been accepted into the MBA program at Oxford University next spring.

I got to spend some time with Jordan Babineaux, who played nine years for the Seahawks and Titans and who earned the nickname “Big Play Babs.” Nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Watch him stuff Tony Romo on the 1-yard-line  in the 2007 playoffs. He’s in the video production business now.

Jordan’s brother John (didn’t get a photo – damn) has a successful health club in Silicon Valley. Leonard Stephens (Seahawks and Redskins) also has an athletic development company focused mainly on kids. Jason Kyle (16-year career with the Browns, 49ers, Panthers and Saints, runs a successful gourmet coffee chain in Scottsdale (check out the Press Coffee Roasters Facebook page; it’s great). Tommy Barnhardt (punter for 14 years with the Redskins, Saints, Panthers and Bucaneers) sells low-cal, low-carb, naturally sweetened foods for diabetics like him.

Other players in the class:

Darryl Ingram (TE – Vikings, Browns, Packers) has a business that connects student athletes to college scholarships.

Freddy Keiaho (LB – Colts, Jaguars) is a partner in a company that builds fine pools.

Ron Mabra (DB – Falcons and Jets in the 1970s) is a food distributor in Atlanta.

Bernard Robertson (T – Bears) has a financial services business.

Todd Scott (DB – Vikings, Buccaneers and Chiefs and a Pro Bowler) runs a real estate services company with 50 properties under management.

Ken Bungarda (T – 49ers) developed trading software for commodities traders and is now building a hedge fund.

Leonard Stephens (TE – Redskins, Lions, Seahawks, Titans) has an athletic training business for schoolkids.

Justin Watson (RB – Rams) owns a fitness studio and wears a Super Bowl ring.

Bernard Robertson (left) and Jason Kyle

Bernard Robertson (left) and Jason Kyle

Jamall Broussard (front), Jordan Babineaux (rear) and some grinning idiot.

Jamall Broussard (front), Jordan Babineaux (rear) and some grinning idiot.

(left to right) Jordan Babineaux, Todd Scott, Ron Mabra, Leonard Stephens and Justin Watson

(rear, left to right) Jordan Babineaux, Todd Scott, Ron Mabra, Leonard Stephens and Justin Watson; (front, left to right) Jamall Broussard and Darryl Ingram

Tommy Barnhardt

Tommy Barnhardt told me social media nearly put him out of business by creating such a strong spike in demand for his Guiltless Desserts that his company almost couldn’t keep up with fulfillment.

 

 

Marketing firm piggybacks on March Madness for fun social media “bracket”

Big sports events are a great opportunity to show off your products and services, particularly if you can apply them to the combatants on the field. Here’s a good example I that came over the transom from Blue Fountain Media, a design an online media firm.

The company decided to show off its social media savvy by analyzing the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts of each March Madness team to see how they did with social media engagement. They researched average engagement rates across each social platform. The result was a formula average engagement rates across each account, focusing only on “owned” accounts (not fan pages)

The results showed that engagement rates for social media accounts owned by brands and teams were very different. Not surprisingly, brands had lower overall engagement in 2015:

  • Facebook: 0.2%
  • Instagram: 2.261%
  • Twitter: 0.02%

These contrasted significantly to those accounts owned by college basketball teams:

  • Facebook: 0.9%
  • Instagram: 6.2%
  • Twitter: 0.3%

Here’s a nice infographic (click on it to enlarge).

March Madness social media anlysis

Five Often-Overlooked Reasons Senior Executives Should Use Social Media

connections-990699_1280“I don’t have time to build my LinkedIn profile. I already get more useless messages than I can handle anyway.”

“Why would I want to be on Twitter? It’s a lot of noise, and no one cares about what I’m reading.”

“I want to be a thought leader, but I don’t have time for blogging.”

Sound familiar? I hear these objections all the time when speaking to top executives about social media. Their concerns are motivated by a basic misunderstanding of how people use tools like LinkedIn and Twitter. There is special value to these platforms for executives that don’t necessarily apply to the rest of us.

To follow my reasoning, you have to understand the concept of “connection points.” These are details of our lives that create opportunities to establish connections with others. We constantly seek connection points in all our interactions because they create a foundation for trust. That’s why the first few minutes of any meeting, even one with people we know very well, invariably consists of small talk about stuff that has nothing to do with business. Finding common ground puts everyone more at ease.

The same applies to online interactions, and that’s why social networks can be so powerful for executives. Here are five little-known benefits to consider.

1. Finding connection points with customers and prospects – Executives typically spend a lot of time meeting with customers and business partners. It’s a fair bet that most of the people they’re meeting with do some research in advance. Because of LinkedIn’s exceptional search performance, a search on nearly any executive’s name is likely to turn up a LinkedIn profile within the top three results. That profile should be rich with connection points.

A good LinkedIn profile is a lot more than just a resume. The summary statement should talk about accomplishments, motivations, passions, and turnoffs. It should also include some personal details, such as favorite sports teams or hobbies. Schools, professional memberships and volunteer activities should also be filled out. These connection points are built-in conversation starters. You never know where a connection point is going to surface.

Customers, partners, and employees also follow executives who matter to them. By updating your profile with new responsibilities, achievements, and publications you keep these important constituents up to date on your progress.

2. Alerting the media – Why do CEOs like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk waste time on Twitter? They certainly don’t need the publicity. One reason is because they know that the journalists, analysts and others who influence audiences they care about are following them. That means they can reach large numbers of people who matter to them quickly and without the overhead and expense of press releases.

The same applies to corporate executives. As the people who are called upon to represent their businesses in public, they can use media like Twitter to communicate important business news and reinforce the image and culture of the companies they represent to the people who matter most to them. Without the red tape.

3. Cementing business relationships – When Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins tweets an attagirl to his company’s head of executive talent or thanks a customer for a great meeting, he’s doing more than just casting off casual praise. He’s reinforcing a relationship that matters to his business. Compliments are one of the most powerful ways we had to support others and thereby earn their trust. Executives have special leverage in this respect. By recognizing an associates qualities or achievements in public, we not only do them a favor but issue a warning to competitors and interlopers to back off. That’s one of the values of having a large Twitter following. When Bill Gates compliments Code.org on Twitter, he’s giving that organization a publicity boost.

4. Building thought leadership – Most organizations want their executives to exhibit thought leadership, but placing articles in management magazines is both time-consuming and unpredictable. Many executives create thought-leading content all the time in emails and posts on the company intranet. With a little wordsmithing, these can be turned into essays on platforms like LinkedIn Publishing, Medium, and Svbtle. LinkedIn is particularly valuable in this respect, because it has a built-in promotion medium through notifications. And because executives tend to be followed by other influencers, their LinkedIn posts can spread particularly fast.

5. Recruiting – In the same way that customers and prospects research the people they do business with, so do prospective employees. People want to work for people they like and admire, so creating a LinkedIn profile that showcases both your accomplishments and personality presence enhances your ability to reach people who are a good fit for your culture. Conversely, it can dissuade people who are the wrong candidates from wasting your time.

In short, a social media profile that reflects who you are rather than simply what you do creates a trust foundation that pays off in many ways. You just have to look below the surface.

This post originally appeared on Biznology.

Photo by nzchrissy2 via Pixabay

 

Here’s What 25 B2B Marketers Think Are the Key Trends in 2016

I was delighted when B2B Marketing Zone – a website and newsletter that I devour – asked me to be one of 25 contributors to its “B2B Marketing Trends for 2016” e-book.

I love this content concept, and it’s an idea more B2B marketers could adopt. Contact influencers in your market – or even your own customers or subject matter experts – and ask them for short paragraphs on a topic, then combine that content into an e-book.

Then do what Tom Pick and Tony Karrer of B2B Marketing Zone did – make it easy for people to compose posts like this one and share the book through their social networks. Your contributors will be flattered to be included and you will get to tap into their often substantial followings.

The authors identified three powerful trends driving B2B marketing right now:

–Changing buyer expectations fueled by the availability of rich information and ease of access and purchase;

–Pressure to demonstrate ROI as marketers learn to do more with less; and

–New tech tools and big data so that we can no longer say half our budget is wasted but we don’t know which half.

I picked a few quotes from the e-book that I really like. Download a free copy and find your own favorites.

Moran“2016 will be the year where B2B marketers finally realize that, while they can always make more content, their customers can’t make any more time.” – Mike Moran (l.)

“Every B2B site should produce cornerstone reference content that is comprehensive and authoritative; something that people link to and return to read again and again.” – Steve Rayson

“A buyer persona is not a zombie—but a profile based on your understanding of a real customer and their real needs.” – Ambal Balakrishnan

Williams“It’s time for B2B marketers to let go of their obsession with perfect production values and get on with just putting good content out there for customers and prospects.” – Elizabeth Williams (l.)

“Channels and tactics will come last, not first anymore, at last.” – J-P De Clerck

“Is 2016 the year of B2B brands finding a personality and sense of humor?” – Michael Brenner

Andrews“With marketing now responsible for helping to nurture and advance the buyer through 70% of the purchase cycle, there are monumental inefficiencies if the sales team is knocking on cold doors rather than closing sales-qualified, warm leads.” – Debra Andrews (l.)

“If you have 30 reps, each sharing just five pieces of content per week, that’s an opportunity to get your message out 7,200 times!” – Shannon Pham

“[Workforce brand ambassador programs are] a win/win. The company benefits from more authentic communication, and employees build personal brands.” – Cheryl Burgess

“The average click through rate is 0.1%, banners don’t work anymore and people are much more likely to trust peer to peer recommendations than traditional advertising.” – Joe Fields

Neufeld“No longer will marketers schedule an email campaign for Wednesday morning at 10 AM. Rather, marketers will configure an email campaign and technology will determine the best time and day to deliver the message.” – Brian Neufeld (l.)

“The 2015 Annuitas B2B Enterprise study found that only 7.5 % of respondents reported the skill set of marketing personnel was highly effective. Clearly, we need to do better.” – Erika Goldwater

“If your marketing is great but your product is bad, that, ultimately, means your marketing is bad, too.” – Carla Johnson

And my own contribution:

I believe B2B marketers have finally realized that merely throwing content into the ether is both expensive and wasteful. They’re adopting buyer personas, content targeting and matching content to stages of the buying cycle. I think content marketing will continue to be a huge growth area for B2B in the coming years but we’re going to get a lot smarter about how we invest our resources. Marketers are beginning to realize the buyers are people, not demographic segments, and they are appealing more to the motivations that influence human behavior.

Recent Posts: Expanding Social Authority and Enlivening Boring Predictions

This blog hasn’t been very active lately, but that’s because most of my contributions have appeared elsewhere. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve been musing about.

10 Tips for Expanding Your Social Authority in 2015 - Part 110 Tips for Expanding Your Social Authority in 2015 – Midsize Insider, Jan. 1, 2015

I go into detail on strategies to get more out of your existing social presences and where to experiment with new ones. It comes down to basic blocking and tackling, and making sharing part of your daily routine.

Organic Facebook Marketing Is Dead; Think Customer Service Instead – Midsize Insider, Dec. 22, 2014

Numerous studies have shown that organic posts by Facebook pages are reaching only a tiny fraction of the audience they used to. This may finally be a wake-up call to marketers to share Facebook responsibility with customer service and to use Facebook as a listening post and customer-retention vehicle.

Research Shows CISOs Gaining Influence Even as Challenges Mount – Midsize Insider, Dec. 15, 2014

IBM’s annual CISO survey shows that security executives are finally getting a seat at the leadership table.

20 Ways to Enliven Those Boring Year-End Predictions – LinkedIn, Dec. 16, 2014

Annual predictions are now a dime a dozen, and most are predictable, self-serving and monotonous. Instead of following the pack and issuing the same old lame set of predictions, change up your angle and approach to make them stand out. Here are 20 ideas organized into eight categories.

Rick Short, IndiumFIR B2B #20: Indium’s Awesome Engineers

In Episode 20 of the For Immediate Release B2B podcast, we speak to Rick Short, Director of Marketing Communications at Indium Corp. Indium has created a creative and successful inbound marketing campaign that connects engineers to customers to solve problems in exchange for contact information. It’s paying off so well that the company can afford to increase its focus on lead quality because it has more than enough leads in the hopper.

FIR B2B #19: Doubts about Social Media’s Lead Gen Potential

Two new surveys cast doubt on the value of social media as a lead generation vehicle. One found that the top three value propositions of social media relate to ongoing customer engagement rather than lead generation. A second found organic social media marketing and social media advertising, which have some of the lowest costs per lead, also produced the worst quality leads.

In our interview section, we speak to Don Lesem and David Wagman of IHS and Engineering360, which is one of a suite of vertical communities the B2B information provider is launching to increase customer engagement.

FIR B2B #18: John Fox on Why Marketers Need to Get Out of the Office

John Fox has led the launch or re-launch of 44 companies, resulting in double and triple-digit growth for every client served. He thinks all the talk of a radically new B2B buyer journey is overblown. The process hasn’t really changed all that much, he says in this interview, and he has provocative thoughts on what content really motivates buyers.

What You Probably Didn’t Know About Editors

New York Times newsroom, 1942This morning I spent 45 minutes cutting an article by a technology marketer by one-third. When I finished, the piece was better than when I started. And that made me happy.

I love editing, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I also love my occasional roles as speaker, prognosticator and thought leader, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about taking someone else’s work and making it better.

Editors get little credit for what they do, but like film directors and record producers, their function is essential to a quality product. Today they are more needed than ever.

I sat down to write this essay after reading Alexandra Samuel’s eloquent post on the HBR blog network. Content marketing, she writes, “has emphasized producing a high volume of content at the expense of producing content that people actually want to consume.” But repetitive, unremarkable content drives audiences away, which is the opposite of what marketers want to achieve. The solution is better editing.

There are three types of editors: visionaries, copy editors and line or content editors. Marketing departments have no shortage of visionaries. They can also hire hourly workers to sweat the details of grammar and punctuation.

What’s missing are the editors in the middle, the city editors,  the people who shape individual stories and work with writers to turn ideas into content that people want to consume. In a world where everyone is a content producer but few people know how to write, they are in desperately short supply.

There are a lot of misconceptions about line editors. I’ll address a few big ones:

Editors work mostly with copy.

This is true only if the editors are incompetent or their organization is screwed up. Good editors do 90% of their work before a single word is written. They take ill-formed ideas and shape them with interesting angles and approaches. They guide writers on sourcing, structure, voice and format. They know when more research is needed and also when to stop researching and start writing.

Editors take words out.

This is sadly truer than it should be. People are taught from their earliest school days to equate length with gravity, so overwriting in the business world is epidemic. Sometimes the solution is to take words out, but it’s often better to rephrase ideas so that fewer words say the same thing. Editing is also about knowing where gaps exist and directing the content creators to gather more information.

Bill Blundell’s The Art and Craft of Feature Writing should be required reading for all editors. A longtime Wall Street Journal writer and editor, Blundell documents the almost obsessive culture at that newspaper with packing more information into less space. The reason for taking words out, though, is to fit more information in. The Journal’s time-pressed audience wants efficiency, not just brevity.

The editor’s most important constituency is the people who create the content.

Wrong. Good editors advocate tirelessly for the people who consume the content. They need to know better than anybody about the knowledge level, interests and time constraints of the audience, and they need to remind content creators, who tend to fall in love with their own work, that ultimately there is someone on the other end reading or watching. The best editors have spent years in the field with their constituents and continue to speak to them every day.

Editing is a thankless task.

It’s an anonymous task, but hardly a thankless one. Editors take pride in seeing a product they can be proud of. They also love to see the writers, photographers and broadcasters they work with blossom in their own right. One of my most rewarding moments was seeing a writer whose crude skills I had helped shape years ago receive a Nieman Fellowship.

Finally, editors take pride in knowing that their work has benefited their audience. No one will know or care that I cut 350 words from a marketer’s overwritten article this morning, but I’ll know that my time investment saved each person who read it a couple of minutes. And perhaps they understood it better, too. That’s reward enough.

Stop Talking! I’m Trying to Listen!

Three years ago I routinely advised clients to spread their content around liberally through multiple channels as a way to reach the largest possible audience. I recommended setting up multiple Twitter accounts for different functions like customer service and marketing. And I advised linking generously to influential bloggers as a way of generating reciprocal links that build search visibility.

Today I would recommend none of those things. As social networks have grown, so has the amount of noise they generate. Spammers have corrupted the value of outbound links to much that some bloggers no longer even use them. The factors that once made social media so appealing – accessibility and openness – have become a liability.

What to Stop doing in Social Media_coverLast week David Spark launched an ebook that provides important updates on the social media practices that many of us have long taken for granted – but perhaps shouldn’t any more. Hazardous to Your Social Media Health (free with minimal registration) contains advice from Spark and 56 other veteran practitioners about 50 online behaviors that used to be cool but aren’t any more. One of my comments is included in the book, but that isn’t why I recommend it. I just think it serves a timely and valuable purpose.

Shhhhhh!

An overarching theme of the ebook is to shut up. The din of auto-posts and pointless comments about nothing in particular is drowning out valuable messages and undermining social media’s value, say several of the contributors. Democratic media is great, but when everyone is shouting at once you can’t hear anything.

David Spark

“This giant land grab of users was actually valuable when we weren’t so overwhelmed by social messaging,” Spark writes. “Now the influx is so overwhelming that we’re reliant on filters to manage the noise.”

For example, Leo Laporte (@leolaporte), who has nearly a half million Twitter followers, says he doesn’t even read his home Twitter feed anymore because it’s so clogged with useless messages. He now relies upon filtering and aggregation services like Flipboard and Nuzzle to sort through the noise.

The victim of too much noise is meaningful conversation. The opportunity to talk with constituents was the reason many brands went online in the first place, but it’s getting harder and harder to converse with an audience that’s overwhelmed with information.

Beyond Social Media

So maybe it’s time for the media to evolve beyond collaboration. Giovanni Rodriguez (@giorodriguez), CEO of SocialxDesign, suggests that the next evolution of social media will “enable people to do more, not just talk more.”

He’s referring to the emerging so-called collaborative economy, which uses social constructs to create value. Services like AirBNB and Uber either enable us to do things we couldn’t do before or make it faster/cheaper/easier to accomplish tasks. The collaborative economy is an exciting development. A couple of years ago we thought it was cool to consult our social network for advice on where to book a hotel. Now the members of our network have become the hotel.

Spark and his collaborators are particularly harsh on practices that contribute to the noise level without adding value or that have selfish objectives like raising the sender’s profile at someone else’s expense. Sections like, “Stop Blogging About Everything” and “Stop Lifecasting” drive home this point. In “Stop Sharing Without Consumption,” he scolds Guy Kawasaki by name for openly advocating the practice of sharing headlines without actually reading the content. He also tweaks the practice of content curation if it’s done simply to build one’s social profile on the back of others’ work. Much as I love Kawasaki’s Twitter style, I agree completely with Spark’s criticisms.

I don’t agree everything in Hazardous to Your Social Media Health, of course, including Stowe Boyd’s advice to stop using RSS readers and Charlene Li’s admonitions against personal blogging. Some of the listed behaviors are also duplicative or appear to have been added to stretch the list to 50, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a useful, timely and practical how-to manual for the next stage of social media development. I guarantee that in five years much of it will be out of date, but it’s sure a useful document to read right now.

Constant Contact Colocates with Small Business Customers

Great companies go beyond just providing a product or service. They think of themselves as partners in the success of their customers. Three companies that do an outstanding job of advocating for the small business customer are American Express (with its Open Forum small business community and annual Small Business Saturday promotion, among other things), Intuit and Constant Contact, the Massachusetts-based e-mail marketing company.

I often use Constant Contact’s Twitter and Facebook profiles as models for other B2B companies to follow. About 90% of the content the company posts in social networks is intended to help customers succeed in small business marketing. Less than 10% promotes Constant Contact products. It’s like that in the company’s remarkable Pinterest account as well.

Constant Contact’s Small Business Innovation LoftNow the company is taking customer advocacy to the next level with the launch of the Small Business Innovation Loft. That’s a physical space within the company’s Waltham, Mass. offices were startups can set up shop for four months at no cost and get $10,000 to spend on marketing activities. They also get free meeting space and priority support from Constant Contact’s support team. This press release has more.

Innovation labs aren’t new, but they are usually sponsored by venture capital firms or real estate companies that hope to cash in on them. In contrast, won’t take equity in the startups it nurtures. The value to the company comes from the promotional benefit and the word-of-mouth awareness that will develop as some of these companies invariably succeed and set off on their own. What better way to put your money where your mouth is?

Constant Contact makes it a point to get inside the minds of its customers and understand their ambitions, fears and motivations. That’s the secret of content marketing, however you define it. Check out this clever year-end video the company put together to celebrate its customers.

I’ve Been Writing A Lot Lately, Just Not Here

I only update this blog occasionally because most of my writing these days appears on other people’s websites. But my blog is still my home base. Here’s a round up of what I’ve been scribbling about elsewhere of later.

Social is the Future of Search (Profitecture Blog)

BuzzFeed HQ

(Photo credit: Scott Beale)

What could possibly unseat Google as the king of the Web? The answer might be incubating in fast-growing media operations like BuzzFeed (right) and Upworthy. These publishers eschew search optimization in favor of creating content that people want to share. From an SEO perspective, they do a lot of things wrong. And they’re killing it online at the moment.

Marketing’s big miss (BtoB magazine)

A new McKinsey & Co. report reveals a startling disconnect between B2B companies and their customers that should give every marketer pause to reflect on his or her priorities. The research shows that the themes that B2B companies emphasize in their marketing messages are wildly inconsistent with the factors that B2B buyers care about most.

Short on content? Repackage (BtoB magazine)

A lot of marketers are frustrated by the perceived need to turn out a lot of content, but the problem is much more manageable if you reuse and repackage creatively. Here are some ideas for how to get more mileage out of the stuff you already have.

Rewarding Bad Behavior (Godfrey Blog)

Marketing and sales organizations at most B2B companies have a relationship that can be politely described as strained. Sales complains that marketing gives them lousy leads while marketers charge that sales wouldn’t know a good lead is it bit them on the nose.

Both sides are correct. That’s because many organizations reward their sales and marketing people for the wrong things. Improve lead quality and a lot of the bad karma disappears.

Altimeter’s Brian Solis: ‘It’s the Customer Experience, Stupid’ (Huffington Post)

Brian Solis at Upload Lisboa, Portugal.

Brian Solis (right) is one of the most consistently provocative and perceptive analysts in the world of new media and social business. I caught up with him shortly before his Pivot conference in October to find out what’s on his mind. He believes few CEOs know how dramatically their businesses will change as a result of customer empowerment. And he thinks any business can enchant its customers. Even one that makes hammers.

Five Important Differences Between Paid and Earned Media (Profitecture Blog)

Many marketers treat social or “earned” media the same way they treat advertising and direct mail, but the two forms of media are very different. Earned media is more valuable because people volunteer to share your information. This benefits small and patient companies disproportionately. If you talk at customers in earned the channels the way you do in paid channels, your results will probably disappoint you.

 

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This Brand Ambassador Program Goes Against the Grain

Update Nov. 21: Social Rebate’s PR agency took issue with my opinions below, stating:

For a journalist of your caliber, I would have expected you to do more than just ‘scour the website pretty thoroughly.’  If you were interested in a story—even a story critical of Social Rebate—I would have expected you to reach out, interview a Social Rebate representative, and perhaps even interview some of the company’s small business clients. Perhaps your perspective would have changed, perhaps not. But, at the very least, you would have fairly, accurately, and properly REPORTED the story.”

The company’s founder and CEO submitted a response, which I have appended, in its entirety, to the end of this post. 


Social Rebate logo

The PR agency for a startup called Social Rebate has been asking bloggers to comment on the company’s somewhat novel approach to brand ambassadorship. I have some strong feelings about this topic, so I’ll oblige.

Social Rebate is a service that creates brand ambassadors by offering cash and rebates to people who share recommendations of products and services in their social networks. According to the company’s website:

Upon check-out, consumers are given the option to earn a pre-determined percentage back from their current purchase when they share your marketing on their favorite social network. They can immediately earn cash back just for posting — and then earn even more when THEIR friends click you YOUR posted link.

Social Rebate cites some well-known statistics to support its concept, such as the fact that recommendations from friends and peers are the most credible form of buying advice and that people are much more likely to buy a product or service if someone they know recommends it. It also claims to have more than 200 retail customers, including Sprinkles Cupcakes and SitnSleep, although I couldn’t find any mention of Social Rebate on either of their websites. To be fair, I may have to make a purchase in order to do so.

I’m sure the folks at Social Rebate researched their concept exhaustively. If they concluded that this is a good idea, then their findings contradict nearly everything I know about brand ambassadorship.

Dave BalterBoston-based BzzAgent is a word-of-mouth marketing agency whose customer list would turn any ad agency executive green. Founder Dave Balter (right) has worked on hundreds of brand ambassador program since 2001. He told me that one of the secrets of success of such programs is not to compensate people, at least not with money.

BzzAgent has a database of hundreds of thousands of consumers whom it activates to spread the word about products from the company’s clients. The only compensation brand advocates receive is free samples and perhaps an advance look at a new product. For most people, Dave says, that’s payment enough.

He adds that once you start paying people, credibility goes out the window, and that’s where I have trouble with the Social Rebate concept. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would recommend a product or company because someone paid me to do so. Credibility with my network is one of the most valuable assets I have, and it simply isn’t for sale. I imagine most people feel the same way. People who don’t are probably not folks I want to get to know in the first place.

Does full disclosure resolve the issue? Not really. Think of it: If someone recommends a product or company on your Facebook timeline and adds that they were paid to do so, what does that do to the credibility of that recommendation? In my view, such a disclosure effectively invalidates the recommendation. And I might think less highly of that individual as well.

In a harsh review on VentureBeat, John Koetsier wrote, “The problem [with Social Rebate] is that it threatens to turn a social space into a space just about commerce.” I agree, but I don’t think there’s much chance the Social Rebate concept will catch on. Human beings just don’t work that way.


Social Rebate responds:

Paul,

My name is Tom Larkin, and I’m the CEO of Share Magnet, and one of the creators of Social Rebate. I’d like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to comment on our product. Favorable or not, it’s good to get feedback from industry thought leaders so we can continue to make our product better.

That being said, there are some important points that your article doesn’t directly address. I hope that this response will serve to bring them into the conversation, and hopefully open a productive dialogue.

I appreciate Dave’s stance on product based compensation. I agree that the use of a product and subsequent review are a valid and positive form of brand ambassadorship. What your analysis fails to recognize is that the “payment” you’re referencing isn’t a payment, it’s a purchase price reduction.

The IRS, FTC and their legally affiliated entities all agree that a rebate is not income. So do we. We’re allowing businesses to engage in a transparent post-purchase agreement to engage people who are fans of their product or service to share them and get their money back.

The key here being that it is post-purchase. The person receiving the rebate has already spent their discretionary income at that particular business.  They are then given the opportunity to share that independent action with their friends.

When ask your readership to “think” about how their recommendation would be affected by getting paid, you fail to address the most important piece of the credibility establishment puzzle: DID THEY BUY THE PRODUCT WITH THEIR OWN MONEY? If yes, then they do. If not, then they do not.

I’d be happy to talk further about the issues you raise, and the lengths we as a company have gone to address them. I’d be happy to talk about our plans to harness the positive power of earning social rebates to charity. If you’d like to speak with some of our customers, we’d be happy to help facilitate that as well.

Best,

Tom Larkin
CEO and Co-Founder
www.sharemagnet.com

 

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