Listening Is Always Key in Meaningful Conversation… Online Too

 

Listen - hand

 

In a day and age where everyone has a voice and wants to be heard, the concept of listening is getting harder and harder to put into practice. Marketers have been talking about the importance of listening for years, but it has almost become a reverse approach given the trend to be heard. So, what’s the deal? Is it a catch 22?

Just like so many other areas of marketing, there needs to be a balance in listening versus being heard. If you’re so focused on pushing your message out to your audience, then you may speak too soon and find out the hard way that you are not connecting with them. On the flip side, if you spend all your time listening to what your audience is talking about but you fail to jump in when you have the opportunity, you also miss out in effectively positioning yourself. It’s a balancing act to get it right, but it pays off.

Listening sounds so basic, but it is so hard for some people to do. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone that interjects themselves every couple of minutes so much so that you never really get to state your point? It’s one of the most annoying things, especially since the people that interject themselves usually seem to be “know-it-alls.” In the online marketing world, the equivalent of this type of behavior is, for example, when a shoe retailer reaches out to everyone with foot complaint with “buy our shoes now!” talking points. It’s annoying in person, and it’s annoying online.

So, how can you really listen and have it mean something?

First, understand what it is that you want and need to be listening to. As social networks have grown, the noise level has also grown. Define your target audience through conversations that are already happening and that you wish you were part of. This weeding process could also come, in part, from offline resources as well as online.

Secondly, identify who you should be listening to. This aspect really helps you sort through the noise. Companies should look at their customers, overall consumer trends, influencers in the industry and competitors. These perspectives will provide valuable insight into what current and potential customers want and what your competition is doing, so you can effectively engage in conversation.

Thirdly, create a monitoring system for listening. Whether you use Google Alerts, keyword lists on Twitter or other paid tracking alternatives, this will help you avoid scrolling at your computer all day long looking for conversation. Again, with so much information, you need a means for dissecting the information that applies to you and your brand.

Once you’ve implemented these practices and have some data, you will then be able to start participating in the conversation. As you begin this process, you must remember that it is a conversation. This may seem elementary, but spend 5 minutes online and you’ll know why I’m saying it – the conversation must be a natural, 2-way communication in order for it to work. You can’t shove your product or services down someone’s throat every time they mention a need. If you can be of help to them, it would be much more effective to send them a link to a blog post stating why your methodology behind building your product, for instance, is sustainable, durable, etc. as opposed to sending them a link to your product page. To make your conversation meaningful, you must set yourself up as a valuable resource, expert, or something that will keep people engaged before and after a sales transaction takes place.

Effective listening sets the stage for this type of conversation. And once you begin, it becomes natural. This is when companies can move in and capitalize on opportunities.

During the Grammy’s that took place last month, popular roast beef chain Arby’s executed this beautifully. The company’s social media manager “listened” and saw that many people were relating his brand to Grammy winning artist Pharrell Williams on Twitter. Seizing the opportunity, he jumped into the conversation not by convincing the artist to buy a sandwich or become their spokesperson, but by being relevant and contributing to what was already being said.

Arby's Tweet to Pharrell Williams

As a result, the tweet was retweeted more than 83,000 times and also included a reply from Pharrell. What’s more, other brands like Pepsi, Quaker Oats and others retweeted it too. It proved to be a huge win for Arby’s gaining the company more than 6,000 new followers.

Twitter Interaction during Grammy's

This is why listening is so important for your marketing strategy. It leads to conversation and potential wins such as Arby’s had recently. It takes time, but other than that, it’s one of the easiest but most powerful assets to your marketing efforts, so start listening.

Online Reviews: Why They Matter to You & to Search

Customer Reviews

With so much focus on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and whatever the latest buzz of the week is other social platforms often get lost in the shuffle. However, this does not mean they don’t matter. It’s these “other” networks that could be of most value to businesses. Online review sites are one area that fits into this category.

PeopleClaim, an online dispute resolution service, created an infographic back in 2012 that clearly depicts just how important these sites are:


PeopleClaim - The Review of Reviews

Though the information is somewhat dated, there are certain trends that are still true today:

– The majority of reviews posted on review sites are positive

– The majority of unhappy customers will come back if their issue is resolved quickly and efficiently

– The majority seeks reviews before purchasing and agrees that reviews make them more comfortable when buying a product or service

– The majority will more likely make a purchase on a website that has product ratings and reviews

A recent report from TravelDailyNews specifically about hotels also found that 66 percent of online hotel reviews were positive and a mere 10.28 percent were negative.

Beyond these facts, even if the review is negative, if you handle it properly, you have the opportunity to change the customer experience for the better. Last year, Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro provides a perfect example of what not to do in this scenario. In case you missed the drama, in a nutshell, the Arizona bakery was fired by Gordon Ramsay on “Kitchen Nightmares.” The company owners took to Reddit and Facebook after their story emerged and created fake accounts and responded to all comments in a very defensive and sometimes crude manner. To make matters worse, the two weren’t honest in what they were saying.

Whether it’s Yelp, Google Reviews, Angie’s List, Yahoo Local Listings, Facebook, Insider Pages, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, Amazon, and whatever else you may be listed on, you can likely contact the reviewer directly. This not only gives you the opportunity to right a potential wrong, but it also allows you to potentially create a repeat customer, and furthermore, a brand advocate.

But, unlike Amy’s Baking Company, you have to be smart about connecting with consumers. You shouldn’t respond to every comment or appear on the defensive. Sometimes contacting them beyond their comment platform, such as via email or phone, could be the best option. You must acknowledge their concern and address the issue as plainly and honestly as possible. In other words, strive to have the same customer service as Zappos.

Though mimicking Zappos’ customer service standards is a powerful goal to set, there a number of steps you can do that could help you generate more positive reviews. For starters, look at your current reviews or talk to your customers. This will help let you know if your customer sentiment is happy, or if you have work to do.

Secondly, it’s okay to ask for reviews. If you don’t come across as pushy, consumers really do respond to requests for reviews. If customers are happy, in many cases, they feel empowered and honored to know that a company values their opinion, which is a win-win for everyone.

Thirdly, build your Web presence. If you’re active on your website and across social media, consumers, especially the younger crowd, will be more likely to review something through these outlets as opposed to receiving something in the mail or email. You have to make it easy for your audience. So, being where they are makes you more accessible.

Just as we talked about before, fourthly, you must respond quickly to negative reviews. Most review forums are public, so if a customer only sees bad reviews, they’re going to have trouble a) buying from you and b) leaving a positive remark. In many cases, negative reviewers will also update their review once their issues have been resolved. Also, working in the favor of businesses, consumers may be hesitant about leaving negative reviews in light of recent legal issues that Yelp has experienced.

Lastly, understand that one review leads to another. If you’re thinking this is a good thing, you’re right, but it also requires careful attention. Just like anything else, it’s always the hardest to get the first review. But, once you get that one, the others come more easily. This is true with both positive and negative reviews, so be mindful.

Regardless of what your product or service is, it’s clear that consumers care about what their peers have to say. So, before you allocate all your time on blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc., set aside some time to plan on building your online reviews because it impacts your brand, potential consumers and search.

Display image courtesy of bloggersideas.com.

 

Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset – Your Brand

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about branding? Is it a logo, culture, or what? For most consumers, a brand conveys a particular message such as an emotional feeling, or it drives a particular action such as motivation.

While marketers know how important a brand is, it’s often harder for other management to see its significance. However, according to Steve McKee, author and president of McKee Wallwork & Company, the brand is the most valuable asset a company owns. In his new book, Power Branding, he takes it even a step further and says that, unlike other assets such as machines, buildings and roofs, brands never depreciate.

Interesting perspective, isn’t’ it? Yes, it’s true that a brand can be damaged, but it doesn’t crumble over time as a result of weather. In a nutshell, companies need to view their brand and reputation as equals. For example, if you’re a trustworthy person, you have a trusted brand. Also, the local family-owned pharmacy that’s been supplying the community with medicinal needs for the past 50 years likely has a trusted reputation. It may have switched owners, but the store’s reputation hasn’t changed.

How does a company build this kind of brand? For one, it doesn’t happen overnight. But, it starts with asking a number of questions:

–          Does your branding match your products and services?

–          How important is your company’s name?

–          Are you listening to your customers?

–          Do your branding decisions align with your business goals?

–          Can your customers find you?

–          Are you accessible?

–          Is your marketing message consistent?

As you contemplate these questions, understand that good branding is more than a sell or service transaction. Your brand is what people, including clients, remember about you. What do you want to be known for? Do these areas match? If not, you have work to do.

Develop a brand voice

If you’re not where you want to be, then start communicating toward your new goal. This means that all communication whether written or verbal convey the language you want to send out. The same idea also goes for imagery. For instance, if you’re going for a young, hip vibe and your logo contains an old-school clock, you probably need to do a revamp. Your logo is typically the face of your brand and often sets the stage for everything else. If it’s not right, then it may stop customers before even getting to your tagline.

As you develop this voice, be careful to be consistent across the board with the appearance of employees, business, and even email signatures – it all plays a role in shaping your company’s overall brand.

Promote your brand

When you first hear or see the word promotion, most people automatically think an advertisement investment. But, that isn’t necessarily what this means. Once you develop your voice, you have to distribute it. Enable your staff to be brand advocates. Keep them educated and informed, so that they can interact as and with this voice effectively.

Be active across your social media channels and on your website with this voice. If budget allows, promoted posts can only help your cause. The important thing, however, is just making sure your audience knows it’s you and can hear this voice.

Keep your brand’s momentum going strong

Now that you’re out there with this reputation, you have to live up to it. Consistency is key. If you’re going for safety if you’re a contractor or credibility if you’re a bank, you’d better make sure that you always live up to the highest standard. The promotions may only last a week or a month, but you will always be in the spotlight in terms of your customers and potential customers. You want this brand to stick. The good news is the longer you strive to meet these expectations, the stronger it becomes. It is then that the brand turns into one of those assets that doesn’t depreciate.

Display image courtesy of 1to1media.com.

 

Getting on Board with the Future of Social Media, Mobile & Tech

 

What's the Future of Social Media and Tech?

During the holidays, Fisher-Price released a baby bouncy seat called the Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat for iPad that, yes, includes an iPad holder. Is this too much? Or, is it just a natural segue into where society is headed in terms of technology. Fisher Price has been widely scrutinized by children’s advocates amid cries of “babies need laps, not apps.”

Regardless about how you feel about this particular issue, the incident feeds to bigger speculation about where technology and social media will take the next generation. It’s an interesting thought to consider.

A recent study from Ooyala, a digital video provider, found that mobile and tablet video consumption grew 133 percent year-over-year. This is huge. We’ve known for a while now that “live” TV wasn’t what it once was with the ability to record shows for later viewing and download and watch them online. But, to see this kind of growth means that user behavior is changing rapidly.

The same is true for social media. We live in a society that accepts “selfie” as a word. Instead of communicating through a note or even a phone call or email, the new way of communication is through texting or services like Snapchat.

Last summer, the Huffington Post ran an article explaining why social media is a serious threat to the professional future of today’s children. Though the article has some good points, we at SugarSpun, do not believe that social media is a hazard (Duh!). Yes, there are things that teenagers and adults alike are posting and sharing across social media that could be detrimental to their future careers. But, social media isn’t to blame for this. We, as a society, do need to do a better job of educating the younger generation on the permanency of content, but this is no different than content posted anywhere else on the Internet.

The truth is that we are definitely going through a transitional period. Communication has and will continue to change. The hottest tool today may or may not be that cool tomorrow. But, this isn’t bad. While this could mean that we’ll soon find ourselves feeling like we’re living in real-life SCI-FI film or TV show like our SugarSpun president loves so much to watch, it also opens doors for new development and innovation.

Take us, for instance. The majority of our business involves social media. Since it has blown up – and is still continuing to – it has created an entire new marketplace for people like us to create vocations around. Also, similar to when the Internet and blogging first started to emerge and began to give introverts a voice, the same is true with social media.

Business Impact

What does this mean from a business and marketing standpoint? For one, it’s clear that the next generation could likely take us to, what we currently think, is a SCI-FI level. Kids today are growing up in a world where they virtually never have to watch commercials and can always watch Netflix while driving down the road. If my 2-year-old niece can clearly navigate an iPhone and iPad and thinks that a phone call is FaceTime or Skype, then her generation is going to go even beyond a touchscreen stove.

Next Generation Whirlpool Stove

But, all this also means that if social media and technology integration is not a big part of your plan, then you need to make adjustments. We’ve said it before, and we’ll continue to say it until we’re blue in the face – social media is not going away.

It’s a new year, but have you really made changes to the “way you’ve always done business”? Yes, there is a place for consistency, as we talked about last week, but beyond this, times are changing. Having a successful, modern business today is so much more than integrating social media. It’s all about the mentality. Are you breaking down the walls and being transparent? Are you being visual by utilizing tools such as video, infographics, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.? Are you becoming an information source and expert instead of just a destination spot when a customer needs something? All these things and more will help you come through this transition period on top.

Whirlpool image courtesy of Mashable.

Recipe for Business Success in 2014

 

Recipe for Success

What do you hope to accomplish in 2014? What do you want to differently? Are there things you’d like to repeat from 2013?

No doubt, these are some of the questions that are going through your mind as you plan out 2014. It’s an exciting time for businesses, but it also comes with uncertainty and challenges.  If only there was a secret formula for instant success, right? If this were the case, everyone would be rich and happy. Unfortunately, this isn’t how it works. However, as you embark on the New Year with new goals and objectives, here are a few ingredients to include into the mix:

Some Things Can Never Change

When you cook or bake, you know there are some things that cannot be substituted. For instance, if you’re making bread, it would be really difficult to do without flour. Most people even prefer a particular brand of flour. Now, there are trends that come up here and there, but 9 times out of 10, they are just that – they don’t stick. Take the cauliflower pizza crust for example. It works, but it will never replace flour-based pizza crusts.

The same concept is true in business. While it’s important to stay modern, do not compromise your business to be fashionable. This is true even when it comes to social media. The SugarSpun team is obviously very passionate about social media, but we never advise a business to jump onto every single social platform available. First of all, no business I know has time for this. And second and most important, a business doesn’t need to adopt a platform unless it provides some benefit in return. For example, it would be impressive if your local septic tank company could find a way to effectively utilize Pinterest. It’s possible, but it would not seem to be the most logical social media pair up.

New ideas are always welcome, but if they cause you to waver from what the core of your business is, then it is wise to question them.

Trust your instincts (Or your gut like Agent Gibbs, if you’re an NCIS fan)

You know your business better than anyone else. So, if you’re hesitant about something, then there’s likely a reason why. Whether it’s a new hire, a big investment, partnership or something similar, you need to trust yourself and your experience. This doesn’t always pertain to hesitancy either. If you have a good feeling about something and you see the benefits, go for it. Don’t listen to the naysayers.

It’s the same principle that applies to an experienced cook that knows what he or she and their families like. For example, I always add a bit more garlic, salt or butter because they are a few of my favorite things. 🙂 Without the additions, I know that I will think the dish tastes a little bland, so I just go ahead and include them in.

Add a little spice

Now, this doesn’t tip does not mean to throw out the others. You have to be consistent and act according to your business experience, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything new or try a different approach.

The amount of spice, however, should be based on your comfort level. Spice may involve some risk, but remember that risk was involved in starting your own business too. The spice could be something as big as adding a new product, or it could be testing out a new promotional tool. Take, for instance, Vine and Snapchat. Brands like Pepsi and Taco Bell have had tremendous success on these types of platforms. If your audience is there, maybe you should plan a campaign.

In a nutshell, you never want to become complacent in your business or your job. Even if business is great, there is always room for improvement and for keeping the momentum strong.

As you contemplate what ingredients you’ll need to keep your business on top in 2014, check out this delicious recipe for vodka cream pasta that involves some trusty resources as well as some new zing. It is actually Rachael Ray’s “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta” recipe with just a few modifications.

"You Won't Be Single for Long" Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow      stream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (4 garlic cloves total – you can’t      have too much garlic, right?)
  • 2 shallots, minced (Or, 1 medium onion)
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces of San Marzano      tomatoes)
  • Coarse salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn (Or      more; you can’t have too much basil either)
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

To give it a little more pizazz, add a few shakes of cayenne pepper. This doesn’t make it hot, but it simply adds a rich, zesty flavor to the cream sauce.

Directions

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it).

While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Suggested sides: Caesar salad and cheesy, garlicky Hasselback bread (You will have no regrets!)

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce, basil leaves and parmesan. Pass pasta with crusty bread.

So, there you have a quick, delicious dinner recipe with which you can discuss your recipe for your business over. Happy cooking!

Images courtesy of www.well-beingstrategy.com and www.foodnetwork.com respectively.

5 Things ANY Business Can Be Thankful for This Holiday Season

Thankful

What are you thankful for? This is, no doubt, probably the one of the most asked questions of the week. There are always highs and lows for everyone, but when it comes down to it, you can always find something to be thankful for.

The same is true in business. There are good times and bad times and better years and economies than others for all businesses no matter what industry you’re involved in. Still, as we approach this season of thanksgiving, let’s consider what any and all businesses can be grateful for this year.

First of all, let’s think about the foundation of your business – passion. This is how it all began. A business is not only born through its passion, but it is also driven by it. While it’s true that passion isn’t the single factor in building a business, it does serve as a great motivational tool. If you’re not passionate about what you do, new ideas and improvements will be hard to come by.

What’s more, passion translates into commitment, which further means a dedication to create amazing products and services. This kind of passion is not something money can buy.

Another area that we don’t really like to think about, but we should be thankful for is our mistakes. You read that correctly, and no, I don’t think I’ve completely lost it yet. J

Every business makes mistakes. It’s completely natural. Even though these mistakes might come with some bad consequences, they provide valuable learning opportunities if we let them.

Alina Tugend wrote a compelling argument on mistakes over on OSU’s Eminence blog indicating that you need to make mistakes in order to advance.

“When we fear looking dumb, when we emphasize results over process and effort because we’re afraid of messing up,” Tugend wrote, “then we’re going to miss a lot of what’s fun and stimulating in life.”

Sometimes the biggest ideas of a business are the result of an unplanned circumstance or outcome. When the going gets tough, it often brings the team closer together and increases focus, which again, makes mistakes yet another area to be thankful for.

Thirdly, and going right along with mistakes, is the power to make a change. Whether you’re a business owner or a team member, you have the ability to deliver improvement. This change does not have to happen from the top. It’s great if it does, but it can actually start at any level since the impact will be seen throughout the company.

This attribute, if used, could take team members and the overall business to an entirely new level. Everyone gets in routines and ruts, but complacency does not profit anyone.

What else are you thankful for? These remaining two items that businesses should be thankful for involve the digital space. Our worlds, both personally and professionally, have changed drastically in this digital age. For all the cool innovations and gadgets it has produced, we should be thankful. From smartphones to tablets to cloud technologies and beyond, doing business has become easier.

The accessibility of doing business whenever and wherever you are breaks down so many barriers. Business can be done more efficiently and in a much more timely fashion. Information is at our fingertips so that we can research and find answers on the go. This ability of being able to respond to your biggest client over a concern while traveling with your family definitely makes innovations and gadgets something to be thankful for.

Lastly, ANY business should be thankful for social media. It’s a big surprise that we would say that, right?

In all seriousness, social media as with other innovations and gadgets has completely transformed the way business is conducted. We could seriously talk all day about the many great things about social media, but we’ll try to keep it to a minimum here, especially since we talk about it all the time.

For starters, it allows you to have a direct line to your customers and clients. This is absolutely huge. It’s no longer just about getting customers to come into your physical workplace or land on your website. Now, you can go where they already are! Social media also allows you to format content in exactly the way your clients want it. For instance, tools such as Pinterest and YouTube offer 2 very different means for reaching audiences based on user preference.

Social media also allows businesses to communicate with its audience in real-time. It provides value and solves problems when necessary. Beyond these benefits, social media creates very targeted advertising opportunities.

Although there are many other areas in which social media impacts business, it’s clear that the concept of social business has clearly taken off. While this infographic from Eloqua came out last year, it still shows how dramatically social media’s involvement in business has evolved:

Social Business Shift

As you contemplate these and other things that you and your business are thankful for, it really helps to put the season in perspective, doesn’t it?

Display image courtesy of MaryAndrey.blogspot.com.

 

Growing Your Business the Social Media Way

Growing Your Business with Social MediaEveryone wants to grow their business, right? But, in order to grow successfully, a business needs a firm foundation. While the foundational elements can be disputed among different business owners, at the center of this foundation lies the many relationships that keep the business going. From relationships with partners, vendors and suppliers to the relationships with clients – these drive the business.

Building these relationships is only half the battle. The maintaining and strengthening of them is the challenge. Since the majority of business typically comes from repeat customers, these relationships are even more important.

In today’s world, relationships do not only consist of face-to-face time, or even phone time, but a big part of relationship building happens online.  In her book, The New Relationship Marketing, Mari Smith is known for advocating this term in regards to social media. It seems rather basic, but so often businesses and marketers neglect the “social” side of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Expanding Sales

Relationships and thus, business are built in so many ways across social media. For starters, social media can be used to expand sales. Though there is still a lot of talk and misconception about ROI and social media, social platforms actually do play both a direct and indirect role in driving sales.

The indirect role, of course, comes in the form of brand awareness and visibility. It’s on this side that many leads are generated by techniques including having a presence and sharing relevant content. The direct role, on the other hand, occurs through calls to action, driving customers to your website or your brick-and-mortar store, advertising, among other creative means.

Customer Service

Another extension of growing a business through social media is with customer service. If you haven’t figured it out by now, social media is an incredibly valuable tool for customer service. Although many social platforms are useful in this area, Twitter specifically shines. Companies such as Nike and JetBlue recognize the value and have witnessed success as a result.

Customers are impatient, especially if they’ve received poor service. So, combining this with a real-time platform seems like a match made in Heaven. Businesses can set up notification alerts for high priority keywords on Facebook and can utilize social media management tools to track and respond to needs in a timely fashion.

Brands do take on a lot of responsibility when they put themselves out there for customer service, but the impact could be far-reaching. While the customer is affected by the customer service, his or her friends, followers, and network can see and, in turn, be affected as well.

Product Reviews

Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful means in referring a product or service, but product reviews are essentially the equivalent to WOM online. More than 80 percent of consumers go online to research a product before making a purchase.  In other words, if your business isn’t doing well on product review and social sites, you could be missing out on some very big opportunities.

If you have bad reviews, try to turn it into something good. There may be some truth in it that helps your business become better at what it does. Or, it could be that you have the opportunity to turn a negative customer experience into a brand advocate for your business.

Also, if you’re not listed on specific review sites or if you don’t have reviews on your social channels, encourage customers to do give reviews by incentivizing them. Customers want to feel empowered, and the outcome could positively influence you.

Above all, businesses need to understand that social media exists for a reason. Many businesses both big and small are using it to grow, so why not join the club?

Image courtesy of EmmoAllen.com.

 

 

 

Social Media & eCommerce: Why It’s the Future

As business is becoming more and more integrated into social media, translating “likes” and “follows” and “pins” into dollar signs becomes a much stronger priority. While we can go back and forth on social media ROI all day, the area we want to focus on is social media and its influence on commerce.

In a nutshell, commerce is big and ecommerce is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. Social media is also big. As the two areas have come together, the results are, as you may already know, huge.

Ritu Pant over on Social Media Today summed it up beautifully in a post from earlier this year related to social media and commerce:

The big picture: the fastest growing marketplace on the planet is unfolding in the palms of our hands on smartphones exploding with the financial power of social media.

One very obvious way that social media has impacted commerce is through real-time feedback. Social media channels, of course, allow businesses and consumers to have instantaneous interaction. The added value on the business side is that the feedback is shared on the customer’s network. When it is positive, it serves as the best form of advertising.

For customers, the interaction provides a much better means for voicing a concern or problem as opposed to calling customer service. On the business side again, this serves as a valuable opportunity to solve a problem and potentially build a brand advocate if handled effectively.

What’s interesting now is that we are starting to see specific commerce trends around social channels such as Twitter and Pinterest. According to a recent report from BI Intelligence called “The New Art of Social Commerce: How Brands and Retailers Are Converting Tweets, Pins, and Likes into Sales,” Pinterest brought in 23 percent of social-generated e-commerce sales, and Twitter brought in 22 percent. Facebook also generated a bit more coming in at 28 percent of social-generated e-commerce sales.

Even more interesting is the fact that these trends were NOT happening a year ago. Pinterest barely registered any sales, bringing in just 2 percent of sales. Facebook, however, was the dominant in this area generating 55 percent of social-related e-commerce sales.

Social Commerce Sales Chart

In a direct selling environment, these numbers don’t hold much weight. But, remember that social media is about indirect selling. Social media is about building relationships, providing a human voice to a brand, and creating brand awareness, among many other indirect approaches. So, for a supplemental channel, if you will, these numbers are actually quite noteworthy. Furthermore, as indicated by the current trends, these statistics will grow as social media grows and expands.

Another factor to think about in this regard is the fact that these social sites are still young. Just as many are still trying to figure out the evolving world of utilizing social media for business, the social networks themselves are still innovating and adapting to a changing business climate.

Facebook, for example, will likely do away with its gifts service as a source of monetization since its performance is lacking. But, Facebook Exchange (FBX), the company’s retargeting platform, appears to be providing value for online retailers. In fact, Google and Facebook actually announced recently that they are partnering in a joint advertising initiative.

According to the deal, Google’s online advertising arm DoubleClick will extend its services to include FBX. In other words, DoubleClick clients will be able to purchase ad inventory on FBX.

It’s rather ironic when competitors come together in deals such as this, but when it benefits both parties, I guess they put aside other differences. Facebook will benefit due to Google’s long-standing dominance of the online advertising market, and Google will benefit from Facebook’s proven retargeting platform. As a result, this partnership has the potential to project much more growth in Facebook and e-commerce.

Twitter is also showing that it is committed to growing retail activity on its platform since it hired its first commerce chief earlier this year.

Pinterest too cannot be forgotten in this regard. The company has made many moves including “promoted pins” recently, which show that it is a serious contender in the social commerce space.

Time will ultimately tell just how these initiatives will take off, but our bet is on growth within social commerce.

Images courtesy of AspirantSG.com and intelligence.businessinsider.com respectively.

 

Mobile: The Marketing Key in Reaching Your Audience

Collage of Mobile DevicesFor some time now, the power of mobile has been very evident. The past few years have been full of headlines boasting “Mobile Is the Future” and how “Mobile Is Taking Over the World.” Despite these catchy headlines, oftentimes the meaning behind them is perceived as simply media hype. In this case, it is anything but puff from the media.

Mobile is incredibly powerful and is growing. Think about your own personal use. For me, I use my mobile device constantly, for professional and personal reasons. In fact, be it good or bad, I almost develop a twitch when I don’t have it nearby. J

Beyond my own obsession with mobile, the whole mobile market – the hardware, software, apps, services, infrastructure, etc. – and its reach is absolutely mind-blowing. Mobile essentially connects the entire world in real time all the time. It’s actually quite amazing when you think about it. Not only is mobile impacting the tech space, but it is also affecting healthcare, finance, retail, and numerous other industries. In other words, mobile plays a critical role in the whole economy. The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) conducted a study on the full correlation between mobile and the economy and found the following key points regarding the mobile marketing ecosystem:

  …exhibits remarkable levels of investment for an industry so young: $6.7 billion spent on it by client-side marketers and retailers across all industries in 2012, a figure likely to reach almost $20 billion by 2015;

  …contributes even more impressive levels of incremental output to the U.S. economy: $139 billion in 2012, and reaching $400 billion by 2015, with at least 85% of this sales impact taking place in “off-line”, “brick and mortar” locations;

  …currently sustains over a half million jobs in 2012, and will likely support upwards of a million and a half workers by 2015, including both direct and indirect employees; in fact, every single employee in a direct mobile marketing communications role will support over 23 workers in non-mobile occupations throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia in that year.

Furthermore, Pew Internet and American Life Project recently released a report that shows how many people use cell phones and what they use them for. The usage, which include  texting, accessing the Internet, email, apps, maps and directions, music, video calls, and check-in and location sharing all showed year over year growth in recent years.

Pew Study on Phone Usage

Pew Graphs on Mobile ActivitiesFor businesses today and going forward, mobile is one of the most essential means, if not the primary resource that users utilize for email, social media, search, shopping, notes and more. When businesses do not accommodate these trends, they miss out.

While this may sound obvious, unfortunately, many businesses don’t seem to grasp that emails are still being sent that aren’t optimized for mobile. This lack of recognition or whatever you want to call it also carries over to social media as businesses seemingly ignore the fact that the majority of Facebook and Twitter users access these sites via mobile devices.

To make sure that you don’t fall into this missed boat category, there are a few things you can do to get on board with mobile. First of all, you need to do some research. Test your site out on multiple mobile devices. Make sure everything is working how you want it to work. Tools such as Screenfly and iPad Peek, among others may help speed this testing process along.

It could also be helpful to have someone who is not familiar with your web properties to be involved in the testing to really check usability. Speed is another factor that should be tested in this process, as our society has grown incredibly impatient in this real-time world.

Secondly, to make the job of marketing visibility easier, businesses really need to consider implementing a responsive design. Late last year, Pete Cashmore over on Mashable wrote convincing piece on Why 2013 Is the Year for Responsive Web Design. In the report, he explained that a responsive web design “uses ‘media queries’ to figure out what resolution of device it’s being served on.”

Very simply put, such a design allows the content to automatically resize when the browser size changes. Responsive design has become wildly popular over the past year not because it’s the latest trend, but largely because it is very useful.

The third area that businesses need to think about is social media related to mobile. Now, while marketers can’t control speed or the backend of the apps, you can control the message you’re putting out. Basically, you have to make your message as accessible as possible.

Users aren’t interested in reading a dissertation only to be led to a link and another article. Instead, you need to produce content that catches their eye quickly and that doesn’t waste their time. In addition to making your message accessible, you need to be accessible. For instance, if someone comments to you on a Facebook post, you should not wait days to respond. Again, we are living in a society when people expect real-time results.

We say this a lot around here, but monitoring is absolutely critical in social media. And for marketers, the mobile capabilities are advancing right along with the user apps, making it difficult to find excuses not to react.

While the computer will not disappear any time in the near future, the value and convenience of mobile is only going to grow. There’s no turning back now. So, you can either jump on board, or fall behind. What’s it going to be?

Images courtesy of AskingSmarterQuestions.com and Pew respectively.

 

Social Media & 2014: Early Indicators of Coming Trends

 

What's trending?

It’s not even Halloween yet and speculation about social media in 2014 is already starting. While it may seem early, it’s actually rather beneficial before the busy holiday season ascends on us. Thinking about these issues now will actually help you better prepare your strategy for the upcoming year.

Where will social media go in 2014?

It’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Although we’re not going to delve into it completely, thinking about the new year and what trends it will bring naturally leads us to look at 2013. This year has been an exciting year for social media as it has brought many new developments and trends.

One such trend relates to images and photo-sharing applications. This area has absolutely exploded throughout 2013. In fact, a recent study from Socialbakers found that photos make up 93 percent of the most engaging posts on Facebook:

Photos Most Shared

No doubt as a result of this trend, Facebook also began allowing users to embed photos into comments. Another likely result of the rise in images is the dramatic growth surge in applications such as Instagram, Snapchat, and, of course, Pinterest. The most popular pinning board also just made an announcement regarding “promoted pins” that shows it is serious about becoming profitable.

Another trend that has occurred this year has been the decline of daily deal sites. A few years ago, these were all the rave, but the fad has steadily weakened as market leaders Groupon and Living Social continue to struggle from a financial standpoint.

On the positive side, LinkedIn has had an exceptional year after making several announcements that puts it at an even better position among social networks.

We can’t talk about social media without talking about Facebook and Twitter, both of which have rolled out new features and thus setting themselves up to see even more growth. Twitter, in particular, recently tweeted out news that it had filed its S-1 to the SEC for its initial public offering, which means there will be a lot more to come in this regard.

While these events in no way cover all that has happened in 2013, they do help to lead us into thinking about what 2014 may bring.

For starters, we’ll have to watch Google+ closely. The search and advertising giant’s social network has experienced significant growth over the last year. Granted, Google is essentially automatically opting any user with a Google account into its social effort. Still, because it’s Google and the fact that the company is linking it to virtually all its properties, we sort of have to take it seriously. The fact that Google just linked YouTube’s new commenting system to Google+ only reinforces this idea.

Secondly, it appears that check-in services such as Foursquare may be on the decline. While these services may not completely go away, they do not seem as relevant as they once did. What’s more, they don’t offer much to marketers.

Thirdly, it appears that the image trend will continue throughout 2014. Consumers today are so visual that they essentially expect images when they’re searching, to read a story, etc. Going right along with this, the short video services such as Vine and Instagram’s video offering will likely grow too. Users today are busy and therefore want to gather information as quickly as possible. In 2014, I think we’ll see more marketers using these tools to reach their audience.

Furthermore, we will likely see Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn grow and develop toward a new level of maturity. With all three companies being public in 2014, they have no choice but to appease stockholders with valuable products, which in turn, works greatly in the favor of marketers.

As these changes and trends begin to unfold, the importance of social media will drastically increase. If companies fail to get on board, their marketing efforts will fall noticeably short. Social media is simply becoming more engrained into society both on a personal and business level making it a must-have for any business that wants to be successful.

Images courtesy of Thinkhandy and Socialbakers respectively.