Marketers See Value But Remain Wary About Social Media

This article originally appeared in BtoB magazine.

For the past year, business professionals have connected to each other online as never before. Now marketers are trying to figure out a way to monetize these new networks.

The MySpace effect finally seeped into the business world, triggering explosive growth for the new darlings of social networking: Facebook and LinkedIn. Both networks had breakout years, with Facebook breaching the 60 million-member mark. LinkedIn, with 20 million members, broke from the pack to become the place where business people make contacts, find jobs and develop professional relationships.

Social networks are proving to have the kind of stickiness that marketers have long dreamed of. People give up all kinds of details willingly in the name of furthering friendships. Facebook’s early 2007 decision to open its platform to developers has created a gusher of 16,000 new applications. While few have gained much traction, marketers are pushing ahead in hopes of inventing a megahit like Scrabulous.

The battle for supremacy in the broad social network market is effectively over. MySpace and Facebook together account for 88% of all visits to social network sites, according to HitWise (LinkedIn wasn’t included in those totals). Although MySpace holds a three-to-one advantage in total visitors, users actually spend more time on Facebook, according to comScore Inc. Emory University surveyed its incoming freshmen last fall and learned that 97% had Facebook accounts.

YOUTUBE A BIG WINNER

Another big social networking winner is YouTube, with 66 million videos. Although widely perceived as a playground for backyard videographers, YouTube has had some notable b2b successes. IBM’s tongue-in-cheek “Mainframe: Art of the Sale” videos have grown traffic to its associated blog tenfold. JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman took to YouTube to explain the February 2007 crisis that left thousands of travelers stranded.

Social networks are now springing up in vertical professional communities. Sermo claims to have 50,000 members in its online physicians network. Big winners overseas are virtually unknown here. They include Orkut.com (Brazil), Cyworld.com (Korea), Mixi (Japan) and Grono (Poland), to name a few.

Now the vexing question is how to market to these groups.

Social networks have remained stubbornly resistant to promotional campaigns. Many experts believe that’s because the intensely personal interactions between members prohibits traditional interruption marketing. MySpace has made the most progress. Researcher eMarketer expects it to generate $820 million in advertising this year, nearly four times the estimate for Facebook.

But there have been disappointments. Google’s subpar fourth-quarter results were blamed, in part, on MySpace advertising shortfalls. And recent data has indicated that social network traffic is leveling off.

B2b marketers have been wary about social network campaigns. For one thing, the conversation is unpredictable. Reliable metrics still don’t exist and the paucity of success stories has also dampened enthusiasm. Then there was the outcry over Facebook’s social shopping experiment, called Beacon, which let members see each other’s purchasing activity, sometimes without their knowledge. Marketers wrestle with how to engage an audience that shuns messaging.

Social media thus stands at an awkward transition stage: businesses overwhelmingly understand its importance but are unsure of how to take advantage of it. While 78% of respondents to a Coremetrics survey said social media marketing is a way to gain competitive edge, they’re spending less than 8% of their online marketing budgets there.

BLOGS GO MAINSTREAM

They aren’t nearly as curmudgeonly about blogs, however. Corporate activity in the blogosphere has ramped up even as the hype has died down.

Recent entries into the blogosphere include Marriott, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota and Wal-Mart. Even the Transportation Safety Administration has gotten into the act, giving five midlevel employees the green light to blog on behalf of the organization about the practices that befuddle frequent travelers.

There’s a trend here. B2b marketers are finding that employees can be powerful and persuasive advocates of the company message. Microsoft and Sun both claim to have more than 5,000 employee bloggers, and corporate giants like Southwest Airlines and Kodak have structured their blogging initiatives around ordinary employees and even customers.

The surprise social media winner has been podcasting. Those downloadable radio programs have turned out to be a hit with time-challenged business people.

Emarketer estimates that the U.S. podcast audience grew 285% in 2007 to 18.5 million people and will hit 65 million people in 2012. More importantly for b2b marketers, Arbitron reported that 72% of podcast listeners are older than 25 and 48% are older than 35. General Motors, Purina, HP, IBM, Kodak, Wells Fargo and many others are using them to reach business influencers.

It all adds up to a chaotic scene, although there are signs that consolidation is setting in and the flood of new services is slowing.

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Slides and Video Cover What You Need to Know About Search

A client asked me to prepare a one-hour seminar on the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), and I thought it was worth sharing. This is more than your standard chalk talk. I pulled together slides from several presentations I’ve used over the last few years, updated them and wrote a complete script, which is included as slide notes in the in the PowerPoint. You can download the presentation and read the notes or watch the video.

I’m not an SEO expert by any stretch, but I’ve learned a lot by osmosis. For those who are mystified by Google magic, this deck will get you up to speed. If you’re already a guru, skip it and head to more advanced sites like Search Engine Land, SEOmoz, TopRank or Biznology.

Thanks to Mike Moran, HubSpot and McDougall Interactive for permitting me to steal from them.

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Interesting Threads in Dell’s 2013 Social Media Predictions

I happen to be one of the 14 people quoted in this Dell e-book, Social Media Predictions for 2013, but that’s not why I’m pointing out to you. I have great respect for every one quoted in this book, but what’s interesting is the common themes that emerge. For example:

  • Several of these experts see a strong year for Google+, while most believe Facebook is in for slow growth or even decline. I agree completely. The more I use G+, the more I like it. In contrast, I think Facebook is increasingly a place for backslapping and trash talking without the means to sustain meaningful conversations. In other words, I think the novelty of Facebook is wearing off. BTW, Pinterest and Tumblr also draw a lot of praise.
  • There’s a strong subtext of the need to make interactions more meaningful and personal and for brands to unleash their people to speak as themselves. Stop using social media as another kind of fire hose and start using it for listening, which is its most basic value.
  • There are some good quotes on context and sourcing. Basically, stop throwing content against the wall and start making it more meaningful. Geoff Livingston’s comments on creating trusted content are particularly good.
  • A couple of the interviewees call for more civility online, which is something I think we can all support. I like the way Shel Israel phrased it: “It seems to me that that people on social networks were adversely influenced by the…recent presidential campaign. They feel the best way to be right is to demean people who disagree with them.”
  • Lee Odden’s passage on hash tags is a riot: “#lets #just #stop #with #the #hashtagging #of #every #word #in #a #tweet #OK? #You #keyword #spammer #you.” Completely agree.

Here’s the embed, which links to the document on SlideShare.

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Attack of the Customers Press Release

I’ve read thousands of press releases over the years but don’t believe I ever wrote one until now. It was more difficult than I expected! Links and tweets are appreciated, but Amazon reviews will get you undying devotion.

New Book Explores Recent Epidemic Of Online Customer Assaults on Businesses

 ‘Attack of the Customers’ Helps Marketers and Business Owners Manage and Prevent Reputation Threats Carried on Blogs and Social Networks

Attack of the CustomersCustomers are taking their complaints about companies and products to the Internet in record numbers, and a new book tells what is driving this trend and how businesses can avoid being victims of customer attacks.

Attack of the Customers,” by award-winning author Paul Gillin and customer relationship management pioneer Greg Gianforte, arrives as online attacks are becoming a top concern for business and government leaders.

“A lot of attention has been focused on social media’s capacity to aid in awareness, marketing and positive brand perception,” said co-author Paul Gillin, “but little has been written to date about its dark side. Brands have been piling into Facebook expecting to reap a bounty of positive PR, but they forget that these channels can be used to tear down as well as to build.”

Recent research has shown that 70% of large companies have experienced an attack on their reputations during last two years.“Decision-makers believe that social media has made managing crises more difficult and more expensive,” Gillin said. “We wrote this book to address the increasing need for corporations to understand how people express dissatisfaction online and how to distinguish between everyday complaints and potential crisis scenarios.”

Attack of the Customers analyzes the motivations and goals of people who drive negative campaigns and offers guidance for how to respond to and prevent online attacks. Using dozens of case studies from consumer and B2B brands, the book classifies attackers into four categories – Casual Complainers, Extortionists, Committed Crusaders and Indignant Influencers – and provides coping strategies for dealing with each.

The book also documents step-by-step how some recent notable attacks developed and the critical factors that transformed them from minor brush fires into international news stories.

Capacity to Destroy

Attack of the Customers analyzes customer-driven negativity campaigns like the 2010 Pampers Dry Max Facebook crisis and the 2012 beef-industry “pink slime” hysteria to identify lessons brand owners can apply to understanding customer motivations and preparing response strategies. The book also looks at the growing influence of online customer reviews sources like Yelp and Amazon on businesses ranging from electronics to hospitality services and tells how business executives can use peer reviews to their advantage.

Readers will learn:

  • Why businesses’ common responses to customer complaints often make matters worse;
  • Why complaining customers are some of an organization’s most valuable assets;
  • How vocal critics can be turned into raving fans with an active response strategy;
  • How to organize a team to identify and respond to attacks in minutes; and
  • How to create a culture that puts customers first.

“Delighting the customer is the only sustainable source of competitive advantage today, because product differentiation is fleeting and price differentiation is unprofitable, ” said co-author Greg Gianforte. “Failure to deliver exceptional customer experiences is simply failure.”

Attack of the Customers is available through major online retail outlets and in Amazon Kindle format. Learn more at AttackOfTheCustomers.com.

About The Authors

Paul Gillin, co-author, Attack of the CustomersPaul Gillin is a writer, speaker and online marketing consultant who specializes in helping businesses use content to reach customers. A popular speaker and writer, he has addressed more than 150 conferences and groups and published more than 200 articles about social media marketing since 2008. His four previous books about social media and online communities include The New Influencers, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, The Joy of Geocaching and Social Marketing to the Business Customer.

Paul is a columnist for BtoB magazine and a director of the Society for New Communications Research. He blogs at PaulGillin.com and NewspaperDeathWatch.com.

Greg Gianforte, co-author, Attack of the CustomersGreg Gianforte has started five successful software companies. He founded RightNow Technologies in 1997 with a mission to rid the world of bad experiences. The company enjoyed 15 years of continuous growth. At the time of its sale to Oracle in 2011, it had more than 2,000 large customers, 1,100 employees and $225 million in annual revenue.
Among his awards are Ernst & Young’s Pacific Northwest Entrepreneur of the Year and the Leader Award from CRM magazine. He was inducted into the CRM Hall of Fame in 2007. His books include Bootstrapping Your Business and Eight to Great: Eight Steps to Delivering an Exceptional Customer Experience.

Contact information:

Paul Gillin

508-656-0734

paul@gillin.com

Twitter: @pgillin

Greg Gianforte

greg.gianforte@gmail.com

 

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Social Marketing Wisdom from the Insurance Industry – Really

I was privileged to be on a panel with some outstanding social media practitioners from the insurance industry at the 2011 Social Media Conference for Financial Services put on by LOMA LIMRA this morning. Financial services firms – and insurance companies in general – are often seen as boring, but what these companies are doing within the confines of a heavily regulated business is anything but that. Farmers Insurance for example, hasn’t accumulated 2.3 million Facebook likes by boring people.

I actually think insurance is a fascinating business. It involves taking calculated risks about the unexpected. Insurance companies need to know a lot about the world around us, because their business deals with so many variables, from accidents to earthquakes to the chance of being hit by a meteor. This morning’s audience of about 100 social media practitioners truly believe in the value of new platforms to reach their customers, although they have understandable concerns about the many regulations that govern what they can say.

Here are some notes I took away from the three speakers on my panel.

Gregg WeissGregg Weiss (@greggweiss) of New York Life says the company’s social media content strategy is driven by constantly asking, “What can we do that isn’t about life insurance?” This was a theme that was borne out in every presentation: It’s not about the company but about what motivates customers.

A sampling of what New York Life has done:

New York Life Protection Index on FacebookNew York Life has carefully cultivated more than 100,000 likes on Facebook. “We believe 60% of our Facebook fans are prospects,” Weiss said.

His best story actually had nothing to do with insurance but everything to do with using social marketing to build loyalty and word-of-mouth awareness.

He told of buying a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts: milk, no sugar. But when he got to the office, he found the beverage was loaded with sugar. “I couldn’t drink it.” He tweeted his dissatisfaction. Within two minutes he had a reply tweet from the head of corporate communications at Dunkin’. She asked for a phone call, during which she apologized and offered a gift card, which arrived in the mail two days later. “I tweeted about Dunkin’ Donuts’ great response,” he said. “It was a huge win for them. “

His  advice to social media marketers: “Think big. Everyone in this room has the power to change things at your company. That’s incredibly empowering.”

Quotable: “The VP of Social Media at New York Life is the hundreds of thousands of people who have online relationships with us.”

And finally, “Seek a higher purpose. I hope someday to hear a story of a kid who got to go to college because a parent bought a life insurance policy from us.”


Kelly Thul (@kellythul), State Farm.

Kelly Thul, State FarmState Farm got started in social media when it set up a blog to find New Orleans-area employees and agents who couldn’t be located after Hurricane Katrina. “Within 24 hours, that blog was key to our locating ever agent and employee,” Thul said. Today, State Farm is all over Facebook, with pages for the corporation, careers, Latino customers, the Bayou Classic football event and an innovative youth-oriented forum called State Farm Nation (right), where people can “discuss life’s challenges and opportunities, connect with others facing life-shaping decisions [and] find helpful tips and information.” With 1.3 million likes, it’s doing pretty well.

State Farm Nation on Facebook

The insurance company’s YouTube channel has had more than five million views, many for its TV commercials. The ads have spawned parodies, but Thul says the company is pretty sanguine about them. “If people care enough to have a bit of fun with you, that’s OK, as long as it isn’t brutal,” he said.

State Farm evaluates social media opportunities using four criteria:

  • Relevance to business strategy;
  • Role clarity: who is responsible for talking and responding;
  • Measurement criteria;
  • Activating platforms.

These four criteria provide a framework for making a rapid and relevant decision about new platforms and opportunities like Google Plus.

Words of wisdom: “People want to be heard. If they believe you’re listening to them, they’ll like you a little more.”


Theresa Kaskey, John Hancock Financial ServicesTheresa Kaskey (@TheresaKaskey), Director of Brand Management and Strategy at the John Hancock Financial Network, joined the company without any plans to get involved in social media. John Hancock had no social media strategy at time. Today, it’s 80% of what she does. There’s been a long education and adoption process, but company management is buying in, she said. John Hancock recently launched its first blog, Build4Success, and it’s posted nearly 40 videos on YouTube. Unlike the other two speakers on the panel, who speak primarily to consumers, John Hancock Financial Network’s audience is financial advisers.

YouTube has been one of its early successes. “We created more than 80% of our launch content in one day,” Kaskey said. “We had a meeting of our advisers and brought them into a room one by one to talk about how they delight their customers.” It’s been a low-cost, high-return recruiting success.

Words of widom: A key element of successful social media programs is “It’s not about us.”

Facebook Grows Up

Thumbs-up logoThe race to socialize the Web got more intense this week with a major new announcement from Facebook that plays to its strengths at Google’s expense. This is shaping up to be an epic battle and the good news is that users stand to benefit regardless of who wins.

On the surface, Facebook’s move to make its famous “Like” button a fixture on many other websites seems unremarkable.  But it’s really the tip of the iceberg for future services that Facebook calls “Open Graph” and which will strengthen its position as the power broker of the social Web. Moreover, the way Facebook is approaching its strategy is a notable evolution from its past behavior.  This company is growing up fast and Google had better be on its toes.

What does it mean to “socialize the Web?”  As I’ve written in the past, the next great evolution of the Internet will be to move beyond static websites and toward services that travel with the user.  The most important of these will be persistent connections to the members of one’s social circle.  Basically, the experiences and advice of the people we trust will become part of our information-gathering experience, influencing and guiding us whenever we choose to consult them.

Facebook’s new features are an important first step. Visitors to a partner website will now be able to register their recommendations by pressing the famous blue button and having that endorsement added to their Facebook profile as well as to the destination website.  Their friends will then be able to see that opinion when they visit the parter site or check the person’s profile or news feed on Facebook.

Services that choose to partner with Facebook will benefit from immediately adding content from Facebook’s 400 million-plus members with minimal effort. They’ll also enjoy easier cross-enrollment with the social network. Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn have all been nibbling around the integration issue with features like Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, which enable people to log onto one social network using credentials from another.  Now Facebook is making this cross-registration so easy that it says it will discontinue Facebook Connect entirely.

Services like the consumer review site Yelp, which is one of Facebook’s early partners, are positively bubbly about these new developments. Yelp believes that the addition of Facebook friend recommendations will deepen the quality of its reviews and juice its membership. Yelp members will benefit from having their friends’ advice appear next to that of the strangers who now contribute most of the site’s content. Another partner, CNN, stands to gain from having Facebook members recommend stories and drive traffic to its website without any additional promotion of CNN’s part. Meanwhile, Facebook made it clear in its announcement that the “Like” button is just the first of many possible extensions of its service to other partners.

Good Citizen

One aspect of this week’s announcement that particularly impressed me was Facebook’s decision to work with partners.  CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) declared that “In the first 24 hours alone we’re going to serve one billion ‘Like’ buttons on the Web,”  meaning that Facebook has done its homework to enlist partners that will give its strategy instant legitimacy. This is an impressive evolution for a company that has a history of being arrogant and difficult to deal with.  It also demonstrates that Facebook is aware of the need to add value to other services instead of trying to steamroll them.

Contrast that with Google, which has appeared positively inept in some of its recent web socialization attempts.  Google Buzz has none.  Google Wave, which sounded good in theory, has been a flop in practice. I don’t know anyone who uses it. Knol, which was once seen as a competitor to Wikipedia, is all but invisible. Sidewiki attempts to add integrate friends’ recommendations into the Web browsing experience, but implementation is awkward and website owners may see it as more of a threat than a benefit.

In short, Google’s reputation as a good partner seems to be giving way to the kind of go-it-alone approach that’s typical of market dominators. This is happening just as Facebook is learning the value of collaboration. All in all, this is not a good omen for Google. While a company with 70% of the search market is in no immediate trouble, history has shown that even dominant companies can fall fast when the rules change. Facebook is trying to change the rules.

Why is Facebook’s initiative good for Joe and Jane Web user? Because it continues to move the value equation toward quality content. The more that online success is tied to peer endorsements, the more incumbent it is upon content providers to deliver value that others can recommend. The influence of marketing dollars continues to ebb while the influence of good information grows. What could possibly be bad about that?