Skepticism on Gallup’s Gloomy Social Media Assessment

A new Gallup study appears to throw cold water on the whole concept of social media marketing, but I’d be careful about taking the findings at face value.

Gallup asked 18,000 consumers about the influence of social media on their buying decisions. Sixty-two percent said social media has no influence at all. Only 5% said it has a great deal of influence. That’s a pretty grim assessment, given that US companies spent $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, a number that’s expected to triple by 2018. You can download the entire 60-page report here.

The sound bite from this research is summed up in the title of the Gallup blog post: “Americans Say Social Media Have Little Sway on Purchases.” However, a closer read of the study raises questions about exactly what respondents were thinking when they answered the question.

Influence of Social Media on Purchasing Decisions - GallupGallup is a first-class research organization and its methodology was no doubt rock solid, but even Gallup admits that “question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error and bias.” The report doesn’t specify how the questions were phrased, but from the summary report we can infer that researchers used a rather narrow definition of social media.

More than Marketing

The summary specifically mentions the influence of “social media institutions such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter,” and also refers to “social media campaigns.” These indicate that researchers were thinking in terms of social networks, which are only a subset of social media. The reference to “campaigns” also indicates that they were thinking more about branded than peer communications. In fact, the social media section of the report focuses almost entirely on how brands communicate with customers. There is almost no mention of how customers use social media to communicate with each other.

This distinction is important, and here’s where the report presents a bit of a contradiction. The authors take pains to note that family, friends and experts are the most important influences on buying decisions and that people primarily use social networks to keep in touch with those closest to them. Yet they also say social networks don’t influence decisions very much.

Without knowing exactly how the questions were asked, I would speculate that the terms the researchers used have caused confusion in the minds of respondents. If you ask the average person to define “social media,” you’ll get a wide variety of answers. Most people probably think of Facebook or Twitter, but not of blogs, customer review sites, video and other tools that also come under the social media umbrella. I know of no research in this area, but five years ago Google took to the streets of Times Square to ask 50 passersby what a browser is. The amusing results showed that very few had any idea (see video below).

When I speak to audiences I often ask who has made a recent travel reservation or product decision in which customer reviews have played a role. Typically about 95% of the people in the room raise their hands. Ask any hotel manager about the importance of reviews to business success and you’ll get an earful. Social media has completely transformed that industry.

TripAdvisor currently lists more than 150 million travel reviews on its site and Yelp has 57 million reviews of local businesses. Someone is a paying attention to this stuff. These services may not meet everyone’s definition of social media, but the function they perform is the same.

Marketo Tells How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation

Marketo: How to Use Social Media for Lead GenerationI often cite marketing automation vendor Marketo as a shining example of a company that gives away great information as a way to promote its business. Marketo recently contacted several B2B social media marketing pros to get their tips on how to generate leads with social platforms.

They report encouraging results. For example, 58% of marketers who have used social media for more than three years say it has helped boost sales. The marketers quoted here (I’m one of them) offer advice on how to create unique content that stimulates engagement, which is the currency of social media marketing.

Check out “How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation.” It’s a quick read and I think you’ll find some useful takeaways.

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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.

A Nice Collection of B2B Marketing Stats and Videos

Earnest is a U.K.-based B2B marketing agency that says its mission is, “to chase out the humdrum and bring a lot of love and passion to B2B marketing.” Its work certainly bears out that goal. Earnest’s B2B campaigns have a lot of B2C energy inside them. Its research and how-to presentations on SlideShare are an excellent resource for companies that want to get into content marketing.

Here’s its latest collection of recent trends and statistics: This is the year that was in B2B Marketing crunched. Be sure to check out the links to some of the year’s best B2B videos on slide 37. You can also download the presentation as a PowerPoint if you want to borrow a few of these stats.

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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How to Get Salespeople Aboard the Social Media Train

One of the most common frustrations I hear B2B marketers express is about the difficulty of getting salespeople interested in social media. Outside of prospecting with LinkedIn, few sales pros are willing to make the investment of time to learn and use tools that promise a payoff months or years down the road.

Jeffrey HoffmanJeff Hoffman says he knows precisely why salespeople are so reluctant because he was one of them for a long time. Hoffman, who runs the Boston-based MJ Hoffman and Associates sales training and consulting agency, shared four ideas for getting salespeople off the social media dime in a presentation at the Inbound13 conference in Boston today. I think they’re worth sharing.

Hoffman listed four characteristics of salespeople that make them poor candidates for social media success:

They’re reluctant to share. Information is competitive advantage in sales. Whispered tips from insiders and competitive intelligence can make the difference between closing the deal or losing it. Many salespeople see no upside in sharing information, which is a practice which is essential to building social capital.

They’re short-term thinkers. Sales pros are driven by quotas, which are measured in monthly increments. Telling them that social media prospecting will pay off in a year or two doesn’t interest them. They’ve got a quarterly quota to meet.

They express only neutral opinions. Anything that ticks off the prospect can sabotage the sales, so salespeople are trained never to express strong opinions, especially negative ones. How good is a competitor’s product? It’s great, but we’re different and let me tell you how we’re better. The problem is that visibility in social media accrues to those who have strong opinions to share. By keeping their opinions to themselves, salespeople limit their potential social capital.

They’re natural quarterbacks. Salespeople are lone wolf decision-makers. They want to be given goals and also the latitude to figure out how to achieve them. If you know any successful salespeople, you know what I mean. Don’t waste time collaborating on a solution; give them the ball and they’ll run with it.

Lemons into Lemonade

So how do you convince people to be more social media-savvy when their natural inclinations go against the grain of everything they need to do? Hoffman says you turn a handicap into a virtue. Here’s his advice for dealing with each of these anti-social behaviors in order.

Reluctant to share? Make it a contest. Sales pros are naturally competitive, so make the process of building social capital a game. Set measurable goals like the number of Twitter followers, number of LinkedIn connections of number of contributions to the corporate blog, then put rewards in place. People will try to cheat, but that’s OK. The point is to get them involved.

Break down long-term goals into short-term milestones. Using the technique above, share the numbers with your sales team as social quotas. Post a leader board that shows each rep’s progress toward that goal. Make sure everyone can see the rankings. Salespeople take pride in beating their quotas, so make sure they know their up-to-date progress toward this one – and also everybody else’s.

Make it safe to express opinions. Ask for a blog entry on what they like best about sales, why they came to work for your company or 10 reasons to love the local football team. Find topics that enable them to exercise their opinion muscles without risking backlash. As they gain confidence (and see response), they’ll feel more comfortable venturing outside their comfort zone.

Turn quarterbacks into captains. Give sales reps the same control over their social capital as you do over their territories. The conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn will go on with or without them. Don’t change quotas, but create incentives for sales brought in through social channels. Then let the reps figure out how to achieve them.

The one theme that runs through all four of these tactics is competition. Sales people respond better to challenge than they do to opportunity, and better to short-term than to long-term goals. Make the process of building social authority a game and let the instincts of your sales people take over from there.

 

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When Bad News is Good

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Consider the case of Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author of the controversial new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethAslan was interviewed by Fox News’ Lauren Green last Friday, resulting nine of the most bizarre minutes in television journalism history. Green, who had clearly not even cracked the cover on Aslan’s book. repeatedly questioned the author’s credibility as a Christian religious scolar based solely on the fact that Aslan is Muslim. MediaMatters reports that her bias against Islam goes back many years.

As a rule, public relations professionals advise their clients against getting involved in a confrontational interview such as this, but in Aslan’s case it has worked out splendidly. As of this moment, his book is the top seller on Amazon. Twitter is recording about 10 tweets per minute mentioning the author’s name. The story on BuzzFeed (linked to above) is approaching 4 million views and nearly 6,000 comments have been posted to the coverage on Huffington Post. Scores of articles have appeared in mainstream media. YouTube views are over 1 million.

Reza Aslan is making out like a bandit. The Fox interview virtually guarantees his book will be a bestseller. Getting attacked by Lauren Green is the best thing that could have happened to him.

What’s the lesson here? In today’s hyper-caffeinated media market, you have to make a scene to get noticed. Aslan’s book was controversial before he went on Fox, but had this interview not occurred it probably would have received little mainstream notice. Pairing him with a questioner with a Christian fundamentalist agenda was a recipe for dynamite. The author was clearly prepared to be challenged. The fact that Green bungled the whole interview so completely was just his good luck.

The story is a microcosm of the new media industry. Outlets like Fox thrive by pushing an agenda. It doesn’t matter to them if their tactics occasionally look stupid. Their core audience will stick with them regardless. Watch Lauren Green’s popularity soar in the wake of this incident. Many of Fox’s ultra-conservative viewers will believe she was only saying what too many others are afraid to say. In the echo chamber of extreme media, it’s almost impossible to go too far. Far from being cowed by this incident, Fox will only be further emboldened, just as Rolling Stone has profited from anger over its recent controversial cover photo.

There’s also a lesson for professional communicators. If you want to get noticed, you have to be outrageous. This new fact of life frustrates many of us who believe our work to be thoughtful, serious and worthy of informed debate. Authors can hope for thoughtful reviews in the Wall Street Journal, but that isn’t going to sell 100,000 copies of their books. If the opportunity to  engage with immediate extremist media emerges, grab it. An attack may be the best publicity you can ask for.

 

 

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Attack of the Customers Roundup, July 25, 2013

Recent stories of customer attacks, bad business behavior online and advice on how to prevent the latter.

Don’t ignore customer service on social media

Social media gets discussed ad nauseam as a marketing tool, but it does have other business applications. In the case of customer service, that’s something apparently ignored by many businesses.Only 44 percent of the top 25 online retailers respond to complaints on Facebook within 24 hours according to the data compiled by Desk.com. 
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3 Easy Steps To Turn Business Failures Into Customer-Generating Positive Case Studies

Ever go public online with something your brand will regret later? Alas, it’s human nature. But there are ways to combat that! The plain fact is, we all have the ability to knee-jerk ourselves into orbit a wee bit past the Alpha Centuri moon. I do it, you do it, we all do it. The challenge is to sit on your hands until that extraordinarily compelling urge *disappears* so you can comment without being in the red flare of unstoppable…
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Revisiting the Facebook ‘Other’ folder disaster

Facebook has a folder for messages into which it unceremoniously dumps email from people who don’t normally contact you. Because hardly anyone ever checks this “other” folder, many very important messages to missed. Every once in a while, a writer will ask his readers to go check their “Other” folder to crowdsource the discovery of surprising messages that have been sitting there. Recently, New York Times columnist David Pogue asked the question, and the…
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Slow Social Response Times Prove Annoying to Millennials

A growing number of consumers around the world are contacting brands through social media channels, to the extent that customer service and audience engagement is now seen as one of the top organizational areas where social tools carry the most heft. Results from a new study [download page], conducted by Havas Worldwide, suggest that consumer expectations are high for social responsiveness, and that brands that fail to meet those expectations risk alienating a large portion of consumers. 
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Not Dead Yet: Blogging’s Popularity Surges Among F500

There’s no fluff in the press release, so I’ll just excerpt it word for word. Nora Ganim Barnes and her team at the Charlton College of Business Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth continue to produce some of the most consistent, rigorous and comprehensive research on social media adoption by both small and large businesses. And they’ve been doing it every year since 2008, which makes the trending data particularly useful.

It’s no great surprise that this year’s report shows a broad-based increase in adoption of all types of social media. What is surprising is the sudden popularity of corporate blogs. After stagnating at just above 20% for three years, use of corporate blogs has shot up to 34% of the Fortune 500 in the last two years. That’s nearly a 50% increase.

This comes just as many of the digerati are writing off blogs as yesterday’s news. Maybe the technology isn’t very sexy, but the utility sure is. Blogs are search engine magnets and search is still the killer app for people researching purchases. It will be for a long time. Be careful of dismissing mature technology just because it isn’t cool any more. Did you know that e-mail still has a significantly higher conversion rate than any other B2B Web traffic source?

Read more and download the full report at “2013 Fortune 500 Are Bullish on Social Media.”

In the past year, the Fortune 500 have increased their adoption of blogging by 6%, their use of Twitter for corporate communications by 4% and their use of Facebook pages by 4%. Sixty-nine percent of the 2013 Fortune 500 use YouTube, an increase of 7% from 2012. These was among the key findings of the latest benchmarking study conducted by Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D., Senior Felow and Research Co-Chair of the Society for New Communications Research and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The new report is the outcome of a statistically sound study of the 2013 Fortune 500 list. The study examined these institutions to quantify their adoption of social media tools and technologies. This is the seventh year that Barnes has tracked social media usage by this sector, and it is the only statistically sound longitudinal study of its kind with every company in the Fortune 500 included. Key findings of this study include:

• In 2013, 171 companies (34%) had corporate blogs showing the largest increase in use of this tool since the 2008 study of the Fortune 500.

• Companies that blog include two of the top five corporations (WalMart and Exxon), leaving the other three (Chevron, Phillips 66 and Berkshire Hathaway) without a public-facing blog.

• Three hundred eighty-seven (77%) of the Fortune 500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. This represents a 4% increase since 2012.

• Facebook, new to the Fortune 500 list, has the highest number of followers on Twitter, followed by Google, Starbucks, Whole Foods Market, Walt Disney, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines.

• Three hundred forty-eight (70%) of the Fortune 500 are now on Facebook. This represents a 4% increase since 2012.

• In 2012 one hundred fifteen companies (23%) had neither a Twitter account nor a Facebook account. This year that number has dropped to eighty-four companies (17%).

• Approximately 40 companies of the Fortune 500 are now using Instagram, Pinterest and/or Foursquare.

Charts

Fortune 500 Corporations  With Public-Facing Blogs Slide1

A Content Marketing Gem from Marketo

Marketo's Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book

Marketo calls the Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book “30 pages of pure, unadulterated marketing activity fun!” It is that. It’s also brilliant.

The theme of fun runs throughout this e-book, and the content maps perfectly to Marketo’s message that marketing is fun again. There’s a crossword, connect-the-dots, Mad Libs, a comic book, word search, a word jumble and all the standard fun-book activities, but the marketing them runs throughout and the content is highly relevant to professional marketers. I was delighted to be included on page 12, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. The Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book is one of the cleverest pieces of content marketing I’ve seen in some time.

Congratulations to Jason Miller and the team and Marketo that dreamed up this gem. There’s even a “This Book Belongs To _________________________” on the cover. Hilarious! BTW, if you get five other people to download the PDF Marketo offers to send you a printed version and a box of crayons.