The FTC Targets Social Media with Updated Guidelines: What Marketers Need to Know

In 2009, the FTC rolled out some guidelines to accommodate the world of new media. The online marketing sector raised many questions and concerns at the time but has learned to work with the recommendations. But, the FTC isn’t done with this area.

The commission recently updated its guidelines and now calls for “clearer” disclosure of influencer/brand relationships. To be fair, the primary message the FTC is trying to send hasn’t changed. The challenge is that, as the commission is being more specific, online marketing, and especially social media marketing, becomes a lot harder.

Understanding the Guidelines

This information can be a lot to digest and is already bringing anxiety to the marketing community. But, it’s important toBrian Clark understand, first of all, that these are guidelines. They aren’t rules or regulations. As Brian Clark, the CEO of Rainmaker Digital and founder of Copyblogger Media explained to us, endorsement guidelines were around even before the Internet existed. Yes, the Web and social media have complicated these areas since the online arena isn’t as clear as mediums such as radio and TV. But, the intent of the FTC to protect human interest still exists:

The Guides, at their core, reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.

In addition, the Guides say if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed. For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.

Say you’re planning a vacation. You do some research and find a glowing review on someone’s blog that a particular resort is the most luxurious place he has ever stayed. If you knew the hotel had paid the blogger hundreds of dollars to say great things about it or that the blogger had stayed there for several days for free, it could affect how much weight you’d give the blogger’s endorsement. The blogger should, therefore, let his readers know about that relationship.

Another principle in the Guides applies to ads that feature endorsements from people who achieved exceptional, or even above average, results. An example is an endorser who says she lost 20 pounds in two months using the advertised product. If the advertiser doesn’t have proof that the endorser’s experience represents what people will generally achieve using the product as described in the ad (for example, by just taking a pill daily for two months), then an ad featuring that endorser must make clear to the audience what the generally expected results are.

The Enforcement Factor

This is the area that is of the biggest concern for many marketers. How will the FTC enforce these guidelines? Realistically, it would be next to impossible for the commission to monitor all this activity online. Still, this doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. While we may not agree with the guidelines, it is important that marketers take them seriously.

Rebecca Lieb “FTC or no FTC, disclosure is always important. It doesn’t help brands in the long run to be suspected of trying to trick or dupe consumers,” Rebecca Lieb, recognized marketing author, speaker and principal of Conglomotron LLC, explained to us.

“These new FTC guidelines could also be termed “best practices” for marketers to operate effectively, as well as transparently, on social media. Upfront disclosure is always preferable to accusations of intentionally trying to hoodwink an unsuspecting public.”

In the past, entities like the commission would focus on large brands to showcase their authority. Small businesses shouldn’t sit idly by though. Any business could fall under scrutiny.

The Threat to Social Media

Another extremely challenging area for marketers with this update to the guidelines is how the FTC is asking the disclosure take place. Twitter, for instance, has a strict character limit. Still, the guidelines say: “…a disclosure on a profile page isn’t sufficient because many people in your audience probably won’t see it.” As a result, the disclosure would need to happen within the 140-character limit tweet, which may take away from the message.

According to Clark, a corporate Twitter account can freely promote its own products and services. But, disclosure does need to be apparent when the promotion is coming from an employee.

Correct tweet: I’m so proud of all the new features in our <cool product>.

Incorrect tweet: Check out <cool product>.

“When you’re promoting a client, or a company you have an investment in, or a product you’ve been paid to pitch (even as an affiliate), you have to disclose, period,” he went on to explain. “That’s always been the law in earlier mediums, so it’s consistent. It’s just that we’re all the media now.” (Emphasis added.)

Despite the extra effort on the part of marketers, this update is not likely to impact social media adoption by businesses. Social media is simply a natural part of the marketing mix, and its benefits outweigh these additional challenges.

Takeaway

While these guidelines aren’t exactly welcome to the marketing community, the industry needs to be prepared to take these on just as it has other challenges. Lieb reminded us that there were similar outcries when the FTC challenged email marketing and search advertising. The FTC lays out these types of guidelines to encourage the industry to self-regulate. The changes aren’t wanted, but marketers will find a way to continue connecting with their target audience, even if it requires multiple tweets to get a message across.

Most importantly, marketers need to stay educated on these issues. Change often brings new challenges, but by staying informed, it’s possible to turn these challenges into opportunities for you and your client.

Understanding the Three Primary Goals of Social Media

(Five years later, this article is still one of Jen’s most popular observations, driving tons of search traffic each week. We thought we’d revisit it with an update, a new intro and a bit of relevant perspective. Enjoy!)

It seems a little funny to think that five years ago I was writing about the need for businesses to recognize that their social media investment needs to be about more than the teenage “everyone else is doing it” mentality. Why is it funny? Mostly because all these years later we still have that conversation with prospective clients on a regular basis.

Despite the ongoing need for that conversation, the truth is we’ve come a long way in five years. We’re starting to understand more about how to value social media efforts as well as how to properly measure them. We’ve seen the introduction of new metrics like Amplification, Applause and Conversation that now exist alongside more easily understood metrics like Economic Value.

How does your brand hold up with these new metrics? Give us a call today to help conduct a social media audit.

With metrics to hold us accountable, it’s becoming easier to not just build, but to measure, adjust and recognize the success (or failure) of a particular campaign.

Still, in order to build a measurable plan, you have to have an idea of the types of things you can accomplish in the realm of Social Media. So whether you’re coming at things from the marketing side or the PR/communications side, whether you’re part of customer service or product development, or whether you’re just a tiny little business looking for exposure, you can’t get anywhere without an idea of what’s possible.

That’s why it’s essential to understand the three key areas of business that can be impacted most effectively by social media and to use those as your starting point.

Three Primary Social Media Goals

When we look at online marketing, there are three broad categories into which nearly all social media related goals can fall. They are usually aimed at:

1. Building/Strengthening the Brand

2. Driving Conversions

3. Increasing/Monitoring the Presence

Starting at this broad level and thinking about the goals you have for your business can help you begin to write up a list of realistic ways in which social media might help you reach those goals.

Let’s take a closer look at these three areas and how they might apply to your social media efforts.

Goal #1: Building the Brand

When it comes to building and reinforcing your brand, social media is one of the most powerful tools available. It gives you the strongest and broadest opportunity to both find your target audience and to engage in conversation with them. It opens the door that can allow you to shape the way your brand is viewed and to leverage consumer opinions to aid that mission.

These days, you have no choice but to differentiate yourself from your competitors unless you have an exclusive product. Otherwise, you’re forced into the unwinnable battle of competing for the lowest prices and the fastest shipping. Think about the things that make your company different from your competitors – your Unique Value Proposition. This is the thing you want to use social media to shape conversation around and build awareness of.

If you’re a service professional, target a specific niche and build a content marketing strategy around it. Demonstrate your expertise in working with a certain type of client and then seek out those types of clients to have conversation with. Look for new ways to connect with them and encourage your current clients to socially share your articles with their networks.

If you sell a product, ask yourself if your want your company to be known for its products or for the lifestyle your products are associated with. Then formulate a content marketing and influencer outreach program based on boosting the conversations about those topics.

Goal #2: Drive Conversions

One of smartest reasons to use social media is for the potential boost it can have to your conversion efforts. Whether you’re looking to drive sales, increase leads or simply drive people to action, conversions are an easily trackable goal in the realm of social media.

Sit down and write out a list of all the potential actions someone might take while engaging with your company’s website or while interacting online.

Obvious options like buying products or generating a lead spring to mind, but don’t forget about other valuable actions like subscribing to your newsletter, sharing a piece of content or downloading a white paper. The latter actions play into content marketing, and although more subtle, can often have the most impact on the bottom line.

Read over your list and think about the different ways you might be able to use social media to increase conversions for each item. Often times, this is the best way to start planning your social media efforts.

Goal #3: Increase Presence

Finally, we come to the goal most often associated with social media outreach efforts – increasing the conversation about your brand. After all, social media is all about the conversation. It’s about the only space in the world where consumers talk to each other and to companies in an environment that can be tracked, sorted and followed-up with. This makes social media a prime outlet for PR-driven companies who want to know what customers are saying about them.

Setting up even a baseline of social media monitoring can go a long way toward helping you follow these conversations. Whether you’re launching a new product and aiming to get people buzzing about it or trying to reach out to a new target audience to share information about one of your best selling services, it’s all trackable.

When it comes to the conversation people might be having about you online, ask yourself a few questions.

· Who do you want to hear talking?

· What do you want them to be saying?

· Who do you want them to say it to?

These are your starting points for setting up key goals within the realm of increasing your presence.

You’ve Set the Stage, Now Start Building a Plan

Looking at your business with each of the above goals in mind will help you set the stage for your social media efforts. If you’re small business looking to take your social media efforts up a notch (or maybe even just get started,) take the time to define at least two goals from the categories above. Once you’ve identified your desired outcome, you’ll be a lot more ready to start mapping out the path to get there.

If you are a larger company or an agency working with a variety of brands, sit down and rethink your existing strategy with these three areas in mind. Have you established measurable goals related to these three areas? If not, consider the ways you might be able to tighten up or fine tune your efforts through the establishment of new goals. If you know you need a change but aren’t sure where to start, let SugarSpun help you get back on the right track. It’s never too late to consider a change in direction or to fine tune your approach.

 

Joe Shmoe’s Guide to Social Media Image Dimensions

Social Media Image Dimensions Header

In social media, size does matter, especially when it comes to image dimensions. It’s definitely a challenge to keep up with all the networks and the various sizes they have for each component of an account. But, if you want to effectively represent your brand, you need to get it right.

We decided to take some of the burden off of you and create a cheat sheet of all the sizes needed for the most popular networks! If you need any further help building your social marketing strategy, we can help with that too!

Social Media Image Dimensions

How to Really Connect with Your Facebook & Twitter Audience

Connecting on SoMeAs social media has grown and evolved, the reasons people use it vary. In the past, many users would keep their Facebook accounts more personal and reserve LinkedIn for strictly business. Though some still try to stick by these rules, the lines have gotten blurred. I often hear people say they would like to delete their personal Facebook accounts but can’t because their attached to their business’s page or because that’s how they keep up with their family. What’s more, people seem to be going back to the idea of wanting a more private network such as Instagram. What do you prefer?

It’s actually a bit of a catch 22. We marketers wanted social media to grow. We wanted to draw consumers in and convince businesses that they should adopt marketing through their social channels. Yet, as this has happened, each network has become much more saturated making marketing much harder.

News & Social Media                                  

In a new study from the Pew Research Center and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation called “The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook,” 63 percent of the more than 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed said they viewed both Twitter and Facebook primarily for news. Understandably, Twitter is considered the best channel for breaking news with just 31 percent going to Facebook for news to break.

Pew & Twitter and Facebook's Impact on News

Other interesting findings from this study include:

  • The rise in the share of social media users getting news on Facebook or Twitter cuts across nearly every demographic group.
  • When it comes specifically to news and information about government and politics, Facebook users are more likely to post and respond to content, while Twitter users are more likely to follow news organizations.

Marketing Impact

Does this information matter to marketers? Yes! Marketers need to know the reasons their audience goes to each social channel. Now, most small-to-medium-sized businesses do not always relate to hard news, but since statistics show a large portion looking for news, marketers need to tailor their content accordingly. Here’s how:

1. Avoid Fluff Content

Audiences everywhere have gotten smarter, but this is especially true for social media audiences. No one has time for fluffy, salesy content. It doesn’t make people want to follow your page or buy your products or services. Instead, it turns people off.

2. Be Authentic

If people have their eyes opened for news, they don’t want to play games. This doesn’t mean that humor can’t be incorporated, but it does mean that every business should have a clear and direct strategy. In other words, don’t post just to be posting. Keep your goals in mind, watch audience trends, and honestly communicate with your audience. It’s really not difficult, but so often, marketers neglect being real, which can severely hurt them.

3. Piggyback on News Event (But Use Caution)                                                                                                                      

When possible, use a news event to your advantage. For instance, if a famous person passes away, use an inspirational quote from them and turn it into a meme. Another situation could be that your state or the government is passing legislation that could help your industry or businesses in general. Political involvement can be controversial, but if your business is passionate either way on an issue, you should let your voice be heard. If you have correctly identified your audience, they will likely support your stance as well.

It’s important to understand that the “when possible” mentioned above has to carefully be taken into consideration. It’s up to the business, but we would not recommend trying to piggyback on the recent SCOTUS ruling or Iran, for example. While these are no doubt very popular topics on Facebook and Twitter, these topics could alienate your business. Your posts could go viral, but not in the way you want. And, when it comes to social media, bad publicity is very real and brings a host of reputation management issues.

Doing this correctly is more about taking a tragedy and creating an online contest to give your audience an opportunity to contribute. Or, creating a meme as suggested above. It’s also about thinking on your feet like Arby’s did with Pharrell Williams during last year’s Grammy awards.

Ultimately, connecting with your Facebook and Twitter audiences depends on how well you know them. Studies like the one from Pew Research Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation help to show trends that may create opportunities for better engaging with your audience. But, it’s up to you as a marketer to do your research and see if it applies.

Trader Joe’s Kona Coffee Cookies Copycat Recipe: AKA Taste of Subtle in Social Media

Shortbread cookies are warm fuzzies to me. They speak of blue tins full of dress-up jewelry – the tasty companions to pretend tea parties or a deliciously buttery counterpoint to a simple cup of tea. For some unknown reason, however, I’ve never tried to duplicate the store bought version. It’s silliness, really, because the recipes are simple! While I hesitate to use the words fool-proof because I am quite good at what not to do in a recipe, they are extraordinarily easy. I’ve just never felt the urge to duplicate a recipe.

Until now.

It all started with a last minute trip to Trader Joe’s to grab desert for an impromptu get-together. We picked up the Kona Coffee shortbread cookies on a whim with a flurry of other goodies in our hands. That night, I discovered yet another snack to go on my Trader Joe’s crack list. (There are several on that list, by the way. Have you tried the dark chocolate mint creams? Absolute top of my list. Of all lists. Any list.) I became addicted to Kona cookies. But, a few months later, I moved away from the convenience of a Trader Joe’s just down the street. So what’s a girl to do?

Why, do a Pinterest search, of course!

I have a confession to make. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must tell you that I don’t like coffee. I quite honestly think it tastes like dirt. The only way I can drink it is when I have a little coffee with my cream and hot cocoa. Oddly enough, I like the taste of coffee in things like ice cream or cookies.

While I’d like to believe this little revelation adds credence to the deliciousness of the Kona Cookie recipe, it occurred to me that I like coffee in my cookies like I like sales on social media – a little goes a long way. In looking to find just the right recipe, I realized the right proportion of coffee in the recipe was important. No one wants to bite into coffee grounds, no matter how sugary it is, least of all me.

[editor’s note: What Tammy’s not telling you is that her first attempt at making the frosting for these cookies included a misinterpretation of the word “strong coffee” in the directions. Rather than brewing coffee and using it to make the frosting, she dumped the strong coffee grounds into the frosting. As such, we most definitely learned that NO ONE wants to bite into coffee grounds, no matter how much sugar you add.]

Social media was never meant to be a platform to push your company or your products. As strange as it may seem now, it’s a social platform where you get to make yourself – your brand – more personable. This is your chance to be more than just a company or a logo. You now have a voice that has potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people because you are human and relatable. Here, the bottom line isn’t money; the bottom line is building community.

I’ve seen far too many companies treat social media like just another place to advertise, another version of a TV commercial. Now I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t advertise or put your product out on different platforms. What I am saying is, like my coffee cookie recipe, too much sales at the wrong time in the wrong place can quickly turn things from sweet and enjoyable to outright bitter.

Here’s another way to say it.

As marketers, we sometimes catch ourselves getting caught up in a client’s desire to constantly tout how amazing the company is that we’re promoting. As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of the customer. We can forget that it’s not simply about what our clients want; it’s about who we’re talking to and what will reach them best. On social media, where people go to be informed, catch up on things around the world or to soak in the gamut of emotions created by photos and videos, constant in-your-face sales is the last thing they want to see. Consumers have become adept at tuning it out; something you are trying to avoid as a business owner investing time and money into social media.

The general guideline to follow is the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time, share information or relevant pieces that will engage your customers; and 20 percent of the time is for you to focus on your brand or a call to action. Build the relationship with your audience first so you can establish credibility. You need to earn the right to sell them your product.

There is a time and a place for everything. Just because you can sell, sell, sell doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so all the time. Thank goodness Trader Joe’s gets that concept with their coffee cookies.

DSC_0005
Recipe from Kris at Umami Holiday

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 Tbsp. coarsely ground Kona coffee
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped for seeds
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 c. AP flour, sifted
  • 1 c. powdered sugar (for the glaze)
  • 2 Tbsp. strong (brewed!) coffee
  • ½ tsp. instant espresso powder (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place the unsalted butter into a stand mixer and mix for 1-2 minutes on low, or until glossy and creamy.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, kosher salt, vanilla seeds and coarse coffee grounds and mix until uniform at low speed, then scrape the sides of the bowl and mix on medium for 4-5 minutes. The batter will lighten in color (the color will be similar to cookies n’creme bars).
  3. Add the sifted flour and mix until combined, then scrape the bowl and mix for another 1-2 minutes on low.
  4. Scrape the bowl to combine the dough into a ball in the center of the bowl. Place plastic wrap onto the counter, then put the dough ball onto the plastic wrap. (You won’t need to brush flour on your hands, as the dough will not stick to your fingers.)
  5. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough ball, then flatten the dough into a 7 x 10 inch rectangle using either your hands or a rolling pin.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  7. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350ºF.
  8. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Take the dough from the fridge and remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Cut the dough into 1 x 2 inch rectangles.
  10. Place the rectangles on the parchment paper at least 2 inches apart.
  11. Bake for 14-16 minutes, turning the pan halfway through bake time (7 minutes). The cookies are done when the edges are golden-brown.
  12. Remove the cookie sheet and allow the cookies to cool on the pan for 10 minutes.
  13. Move the cookies to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.
  14. For the glaze: Mix the powdered sugar, strong coffee and espresso powder (if you have it) with a spoon until the glaze is a nice, caramel color.
  15. Spoon the glaze onto half of the cookie and spread evenly, then place on parchment paper to harden.
  16. Will keep for 4-5 days if left in an airtight container. (Good luck with that–mine disappeared before I could test the theory!)

SugarSpun Notes: The glaze was an adventure. I couldn’t get it on the cookies right without it pooling into one big glop. Hearing my cry of distress, Jen stepped in and performed her magic with glazing by drizzling in perfect lines. Some taste testers liked the cookies with the glaze, others liked it without. I recommend you experiment for yourself.

3 Social Media Lessons Every Marketer Should Keep Close

With a vast amount of available information on social media, society as a whole, and especially marketers, sometimes forget just how young these platforms are. Now, we know that social media dates back to the days before Facebook and Twitter to forums and other chat rooms, but still, the social media industry is very young.

On one hand, the youth is positive because it brings energy, excitement and a new perspective. However, the flip side of this understands that the platforms are continuously evolving. In other words, a marketer can’t rely on the same strategy and tactics for 5 years or more. For instance, just this week, Twitter began experimenting with showing “favorites” directly in user feeds. While great for marketers in getting possibly more eyes on particular tweets, the change may go away, especially with users complaining.

This is why marketers have to stay on top of their game and evolve with social platforms. Otherwise, their marketing efforts would be obsolete and very ineffective. Marketing with social media is really a constant learning curve, which is why we all have to regularly remind ourselves of certain lessons.

A Quiet Audience

In most cases, when it’s been a while since you’ve received a comment, reply, message, retweet, it can be more than discouraging. In fact, some marketers will even want to stop everything they’re doing a start from scratch. But, even though you may not always hear from your audience, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there and that they’re not listening.

When we talk about listening as a marketing activity, we put great emphasis on quietly listening before taking action. This gives you the opportunity to observe, watch other reactions and prepare for when it is time for you to act. So, why should it be any different for our own audiences? Well, it’s not. Sometimes our audiences are just taking in the information we feed them, and it’s okay.

Excitement Spreads – Utilize It

There is no disputing that word-of-mouth takes on a whole new level with social media. For instance, think about the recent news of Robin Williams’ death, which spread like wildfire. Where did you see it? It’s likely safe to say that it was on some form of social media. Once this new is distributed to the masses, it’s really difficult to go back and change it.

While Robin Williams’ passing was sad news, good news also spreads quickly across social media. Simply put, don’t put any secrets out on social media. But, for marketers, this can be used to your advantage. You have the opportunity to tap into that news by producing an article that ties it in, making a related spoof video, a related meme or any number of other tactics.

As a word of caution, marketers do have to be careful of being respectful and tactful on certain news items. For example, it would have been distasteful to create a meme related to Robin Williams’ death. Unfortunately, some brands have made this mistake and have faced backlash as a result.

Marketers should utilize trends on social media even related #MondayMotivation, #ThrowbackThursday, or #FridayFunnies. Users love this type of content and will share your inspiration and excitement.

Social Was Made To Be Social

A recent study from Harvard neuroscientists shows that it is rewarding for humans to share information about themselves. Interestingly, talking about ourselves is just as appealing as food and money are to us.

Bragging reaction on brainFor anyone who’s on social media this news should come as no surprise. Yet, in marketing, we should know that we can’t talk about ourselves. We have to produce content that adds value to our audience.

A good rule of thumb to apply is what has become known as the 4-1-1 rule that was initially equated to Twitter. This says: Tweet 4 pieces of relevant original content from others and re-tweet 1 relevant tweet for every 1 self-promoting tweet.

4-1-1 Rule for Social Media

Ultimately, by making your story about your audience, it will subtly benefit you more than any piece of self-promotion could have. Social media was meant to be social, so please be human and social.

It’s these types of lessons that we sometimes neglect but that are critical in moving our marketing efforts in social media forward.

Reputation Management: Why Credible Influence Always Wins

Woman Shouting into Megaphone

Trust is an interesting concept online, isn’t it? The Internet has quickly become the most desirable resource for information. We, as consumers, depend on websites, stranger reviews and much, much more for answers and tips ranging from sickness to brand recommendations.

Remember the “French Model” State Farm commercial from a couple of years ago? We all laugh when we see it, but do we really believe that “They can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true”?

Today, with so much information online, discerning the credible and the non-credible can be quite the challenge, which is why reputation management plays such a vital role. What are people saying about you and your business? Is it accurate? Unfortunately, a lot of the information online is not.

What’s even more unfortunate is the fact that a lot of misinformation is done in the name of marketing! Now, there are marketing tactics that can be done to build a reputation online. But, these are very different from the culprits behind the fake reputation builders, also known as crowdturfers. These fake reputation builders on social media have grown similar to the content farms that plagued the search industry a few years back.

Buying Twitter Followers Fiverr

A paper was released recently that outlines this behavior. In partial support from Google, researchers from Utah State University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University came together to not only shed light on the serious matter that it is, but to also offer solutions for detecting this behavior.

“Automatically detecting crowdturfing gigs is an important task because it allows us to remove the gigs before buyers can purchase them, and eventually, it will allow us to prohibit sellers from posting these gigs,” the paper reads. “To detect crowdturfing gigs, we built machine-learned models using the manually labeled 1,550 gig dataset.”

While these fast reputation-building techniques may be tempting, they don’t win. Especially since this new research shows how to detect them, they will be even less effective. In order to truly win in this game, you must build a viable reputation the old-fashioned way – through hard work. While it is hard work, it’s not as difficult as you may think. In all honesty, building reputation and influence in today’s digital world can actually happen rather quickly.

Do your research

For starters, you have to know what’s already out there. Conduct market research. Google yourself and your brand. Do you like what you find? Are your public profiles up to date and consistent? This is the logical starting place to understand what needs improving before you start making changes. Otherwise, your efforts could be ineffective.

Identify what you want to be known for

As you do your research, see if there is a particular theme. Does one part stand out across the board? This could be anything from customer service to a quality such as speed or reliability. Whatever this theme may be, combine it with your own goals. Everyone sets expectations for themselves and their businesses that they would like to achieve. Now is the time to identify what it is that you want to be influential about.

Be influential, trustworthy, social, human, etc.

From this point on, the fun begins. This is where you actually get to implement and act on who you are. For instance, if you want to be known for transparency, be transparent! You can’t fake this characteristic. If this is who you are, then it will come naturally.

Furthermore, as you’ve identified your theme, make sure that you are distributing this focus across your social media channels. Participate in conversations about relevant topics, publish content and more to reinforce your niche.

As you push this message out, remember to be human and social. You may have a remarkable niche, but if you’re not distributing it in a “real” way, it could harm your reputation. You should have a strategy, but don’t get too caught up in corporate speak. If you do, you may have trouble building trust. This is the fun part, so keep it exciting.

Monitor!

Lastly, you must monitor your efforts. Monitoring is one of the biggest parts of reputation management. With real-time communication, a reputation could be damaged in a matter of seconds. After all the hard work you put into this, a less than stellar reputation is not what you want, so monitor.

There are multiple tools both free and paid that help in this area as well. Also, Andy Beal and the Marketing Pilgrim team are always producing helpful content for reputation management and particularly monitoring.

Google+: To Be or Not to Be – That Is the Big Question

 

Will-ferrell-i-didnt-want-google-i-said-it-4-times

Can you believe it’s been 3 years since Google introduced its social media platform Google+? In its 3-year lifespan, Google has put tremendous priority on its social hope. Before Google+, the search giant pushed other social players including Orkut and Google Buzz. There were also brief moments with Dodgeball and Latitude. However, none of them could quite reach the competitive level of Facebook.

Though Google+ was initially thought by many to be a threat to Facebook, new reports and events question its livelihood. What do you think? Do you use Google+? Does it benefit you and your business?

In the early days, Google+ appeared to hold viability. Respected social media personality Chris Brogan advocated the platform and even wrote the book, Google+ for Business. Google really put a strong emphasis on it with CEO Larry Page tying employee bonuses to the success of the company’s social platform in 2011.

While it’s been clear that Google saw vast potential in Google+, the company appears to have been somewhat overly confident. Google released some misleading statistics and received a backlash for fudging its growth numbers.

More recently, Google began embedding Google+ into each of its products making it nearly impossible to use services such as Gmail and YouTube without adopting the social network. We wrote about this last year and pointed out some user concerns:

Many people feel that Google+ has been forced onto them for Google’s benefit and not their own. This is why Google+ numbers have been somewhat skewed in the past as well. Google+ has also recently faced scrutiny for integrating Google+ further into YouTube… Now, users comment using their Google+ profiles, a.k.a., their real names in most cases.

In April, the platform faced another blow when the network’s leader Vic Gundotra left the company. Known as the father of Google+, questions started arising as to whether he was giving up on the social service. The recent birthday has only given people more of a reason to raise questions. Some reports have speculated that Google has plans to reorganize Google+ and break it down into separate services such as video chatting, instant messaging and photo storage.

Another event that raised even more questions was the fact that Google+ had no mention at the recent annual Google developer’s conference.

Earlier this year, Google told The New York Times it had 540 million monthly active users. Whether more or less now, this number still doesn’t compare to the more than 1 billion users Facebook has. Simply put, Google+ lacks the traction it needs to compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Businesses and particularly marketers have been hesitant to dismiss Google+ due to the parent company of Google. This is significant given Google’s prominence in the search and advertising market. Search marketers have specifically put emphasis on Google+ in relation to Authorship and search ranking purposes.

So, where does this leave you?

At this point, marketers aren’t abandoning Google+. But, it’s not for the social benefit it brings. It’s for the search advantage. Again, candidly put, marketers want to do everything they can to stay in Google’s good graces in terms of search ranking.

Still, this is not to say that Google+ will step up to a Facebook level. Just in the past couple of weeks, Google announced that it was dropping profile photos and Google+ circle count from authorship in search results, which could largely impact how the search marketing community reacts to Google+ moving forward.

In spite of all the criticism, Larry Page continues to maintain Google+’s momentum. He recently spoke to The New York Times and indicated high hopes.

Q. Is “social” as important to you now as it was two years ago?

 A. Mr. Page: Yes, if anything, probably more important. We have a very excited, dedicated community. People forget we’re able to make our services better by understanding your relationships, making sharing work and understanding identity. These are deep and important things for us as a company.

When people ask about Google Plus they think about it as, “I’m going to the stream.” For us, Google Play reviews are part of Google Plus, too. We see all those things growing and being important for us.

Ultimately, the verdict is still out for Google+. Not all the signs look promising, but before you completely discount it, remember Google’s search and advertising influence. Most importantly, look at your current analytics. Are you getting referrals from Google+? Is it helping your ranking? If not, then you probably should look to other channels that you are benefiting from and invest more time there.

 Image courtesy of imgace.com.

Dear Marketers, Please Be Human on Social Media

 

Pushy Marketers eCard

Why have social networks succeeded? Is it the platforms and the capabilities they offer? Is it the marketing opportunities created? Or, is it just luck?

Simply put, social media is about friends and conversations. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary – yes, we now have a definition – social media is defined as:

Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

The key behind this explanation of social media is communication because it signals that you are speaking to someone or exchanging information. Where has this element of social media gone?

There still is socializing on social media, but it’s definitely not where it should be. Sadly, the biggest culprit of this behavior is often marketers. Yes, you read that correctly. Marketers – people like you and me – are many times the worst at not being human online.

The challenge is time. We know more than most that social networks are time-consuming, especially when trying to implement effective social media strategies. This is why we welcomed automated services with open arms. But, as beneficial as these are, they are not meant to remove the human element completely.

We, as marketers, set the example for so many brands on how to act on social networks, and being human ranks near the top. For example, which of the following social media posts would you react to?

On Monday, Brand X: New blog post: [link]

On Tuesday, Brand X: New blog post: [link]

On Wednesday, Brand X: Buy our new product: [link]

On Thursday, Brand X: New blog post: [link]

On Saturday, Brand X: Buy our latest product: [link]

OR,

On Monday, Brand XY: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” #MondayMotivation

On Tuesday, Brand XY: For businesses looking to further leverage Pinterest, the company is testing a DIY platform for Promoted Pins targeted at small-to-medium-sized businesses: http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/05/pinterest-cpc-promoted-pins/

On Wednesday, Brand XY: Your grandparents are among the fastest growing demographic on Twitter, according to #Socialnomics 2014 from Erik Qualman. Learn what else is popular in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxpa4dNVd3c

 

On Thursday, Brand XY: #BeingHuman is the key to true success on social media. #FakeNeverWins

On Friday, Brand XY: Did you know Father’s Day is this Sunday, June 15? If you need last-minute gift ideas, try Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/epicmom/170-father-s-day-gift-ideas/

I think it’s safe to say that we’d agree the latter is more effective. The difference is that second set of posts are conversational, informative, and ultimately, make a personal connection with consumers. This – the same type of communication that takes place offline – is all people want on social networks.

A company name or logo by itself is impersonal. It’s the job of the marketer to build a brand and face for a business, and social media creates the perfect environment for doing so. Social media is the closest means to true interaction that some businesses have. For this reason, while it should be taken seriously, the “social” side of social media should be used to its full capacity. Social media provides an opportunity for businesses to have personality, so take advantage of it and have fun doing it. 🙂

Getting to the Bottom of Content Creation

 

Content Creation

Everyone is talking about the importance of content marketing and the fact that every business is becoming a publisher. These points have been well driven, but where does it go beyond this? Creating valuable content is hard work. What’s more, as many companies have stepped up their content efforts, the market has become much more competitive.

How can you create great content that everyone wants to read AND share?

Content creation cannot be broken down into a science. It’s an art that takes skill and experience. Often times, businesses will engage a freelance writer to help with content needs. While this can be beneficial, it is of utmost importance for the writer to work closely with someone who lives and breathes the business. The president of a company is really the one who is most equipped to write about a company. However, not all managers are skilled writers. This is why it is vitally important for these executives to work closely with people who can write to make sure the correct message is translated.

Find Your Story

To begin developing content, a business first needs to determine its story. Finding this story is, no doubt, challenging. Similar to a resume, telling your story is often harder than telling another story. But, every business no matter how big or small has a story to tell. Your business may have a rich family history, or maybe it was created to solve a particular problem. Whatever this story may be is your secret sauce. This is your opportunity to share some of your business’s culture and personality.

With content marketing, this is often where problems begin since many businesses attempt to mimic other businesses. However, individuality is key. What works for another brand may not work for you.

For instance, GoDaddy is known for being a risk taker. Have you seen their Super Bowl ads? Here’s one that you may remember from 2012:

Hardee’s is another brand that takes risks with its messaging. While your brand may want the same traction as these, this approach may not work for you, especially if your demographic is older or conservative.

Listen to Your Audience

The development of this story isn’t entirely up to you. In other words, the story that you may want to tell could be different from the story that your clients want. You could be struggling to determine what this story is, and it could actually be right in front of you. If you want to be heard, you must listen first.

Listening could help you determine if you should take a humorous approach, a historic angle, or if it is acceptable to take a risk.

Spread Your Message

At this point, you should have enough fuel to get your story going. This means it is time to test the waters. You can start distributing this message through your blog and across social media. These methods, especially social media, provide valuable insight into how your audience will react. This is where your audience is most comfortable, so they will let you know whether they like it or not.

Based on the feedback and engagement you receive, you will know if you need to make adjustments. You may find that your story is exactly what your audience wants. Or, you may find that you need to tell another chapter in your story or tell it in a different way.

As you distribute, you should also be mindful of how your message comes across. In most cases, the goal is to grow your audience through your story and create influencers and brand advocates. With this in mind, it is vitally important to develop a rich overall content strategy as you push out your own content. If your story sets you up as a long trusted leader in a particular industry, you should probably set yourself up as an expert and push out helpful information.

Rutgers University recently released a study highlighting the meaning behind message content across social media. In this, they identified two primary types of content distributors across social media: informers and meformers.

  • Meformers — Users who post social media updates mostly relating to themselves
  • Informers — Users who post updates that are mostly information-sharing

Kevan Lee of Buffer put together a very insightful post about this research over on Social Media Today and created this helpful image to showcase some of the findings:

9 Types of Updates

This research is very eye-opening when it comes to content creation. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and examine what your story looks like on the other side of the table. To get your story out, you must self-promote, but the key is to do this in a way that doesn’t seem like promotion. And if you’ve developed the right story, you’ll fall into the category of informer and grow your following.