The Ever-Changing Social Media Landscape

With all the changes to social media, it can be very challenging to keep up. The big players like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are always adding new features and abilities, and the newer, more niche networks are coming and going at an even faster rate. This challenge to stay on top of these happenings even hits marketers that are in and out of these sites on a daily basis.

To make life a little easier on all us, we want to provide a summary of some recent changes and updates that will impact your social media strategy.

Facebook

Apart from Facebook’s recent algorithm changes, namely the drop in organic reach for page owners, the largest social network has been relatively quiet. This is good news since businesses and marketers have had their hands full dealing with said reach issues. While these changes are no doubt frustrating, if Facebook is a really valuable channel for your company, the cost to improve content and/or take on paid advertising will be worth the investment.

In other much less noteworthy news for Facebook, the company has killed off the “Poke” feature and Facebook Camera. The “poke” has been around for some time and was apparently very rarely used anymore. The camera app has also been around for a while, but likely could not compete with its new cousin Instagram.

These moves are simply part of Facebook’s growth and development. We’ve seen it abandon and consolidate products before, and we’ll likely see it again as the company continues to gain knowledge of what its audience wants.

Twitter

Twitter has actually had quite a bit going on of late. Apart from its struggling stock price, the popular microblogging service has had its share of platform changes too. Last month, Twitter announced a new layout for user accounts. The new profiles are much more visual with larger imagery as well as the following features:

  • Best Tweets: Tweets that have received more engagement will appear slightly larger, so your best content is easy to find.
  • Pinned Tweet: Pin one of your Tweets to the top of your page, so it’s easy for your followers to see what you’re all about.
  • Filtered Tweets: Now you can choose which timeline to view when checking out other profiles. Select from these options: Tweets, Tweets with photos/videos, or Tweets and replies.

First Lady's Twitter Profile

The consensus is that the new look strongly resembles Facebook. Ironically, when Facebook rolled out user Timelines, many people remarked of its resemblance to Myspace. Regardless of user feelings, the new Twitter profiles will be active for everyone by May 28.

Twitter also recently announced a new “mute” feature that will allow users to essentially silence users within their feed. After these users are muted, their tweets won’t appear in your timeline anymore. Also, you won’t receive push notifications from them, but the @ replies and mentions will still show up. The feature is actually very similar to Facebook’s “hide” feature. While users may find this feature useful, it brings some concern to businesses.

Over on Marketing Land, Matt McGee spells out why some marketers aren’t fond of the new ability:

Until now, brands had some assurance that their Twitter activity could be seen by every Twitter follower. That was one of the differentiating factors between Twitter and Facebook; Twitter didn’t purposely show updates to only some of your followers the way Facebook does. And Twitter’s still not doing it algorithmically the way Facebook’s News Feed does — Twitter is putting it in the user’s control. But the point is that Twitter visibility isn’t a sure thing anymore. Some followers may not see your activity, and you have no way of knowing.

As this function rolls out over the next few weeks, marketers will be able to see the full impact.

LinkedIn

The professional network has been somewhat low-key of late. In April, the company did away with its Services tab on company pages and introduced Showcase Pages. In summary, Showcase Pages allow companies to segment the various divisions of their expertise. The idea is to deliver specific messages to distinct target audiences.

From what we’ve seen, these pages work well for large companies with multiple divisions. For instance, Microsoft can segment its Office products:

Microsoft LinkedIn Showcase Page

However, it’s harder for small-to-medium sized businesses to do this. Some marketers don’t feel that Showcase Pages are very useful, but since it’s still early, the verdict is still out on their value.

LinkedIn did also recently unveil a Content Marketing Score that measures unique and engaged members. In other words, the tool helps businesses determine what content works and doesn’t work. The functionality also allows users to publish content in various ways across the platform including through LinkedIn Groups, company updates, employee posts, writers’ posts, etc.

Again, this is very new, so time will tell what this really means for businesses.

Pinterest

Pinterest has had some excitement recently as the company announced a paid test of Promoted Pins. If you remember, last fall, the company said it would begin experimenting with ads with a select group of brands. In this week’s announcement, Pinterest is expanding this initiative. Some of the participating brands include: ABC Family, Banana Republic, Expedia, GAP, General Mills, Kraft, lululemon athletica, Nestle (select brands), Old Navy, among others.

This move is significant for two important reasons. First of all, it’s important that Pinterest is finding a way to monetize itself, and secondly, it’s creating more business opportunities for marketers.

The world’s favorite pinboard also recently launched Guided Search and Custom Categories. Through Guided Search, Pinterest is aiming to help pinners search better and discover pins. For instance, if a user begins searching, Pinterest will start pulling categories and keywords, much like Google search works.

Pinterest Guided Search Example

Pinterest Guided Search

In terms of its categories, the new Custom Categories allows users to go beyond the somewhat arbitrary 32 initial categories. Pinterest also made improvements to its Related Pins feature as part of this announcement.

With more than 70 million users, 30 billion pins and 750 million boards, Pinterest is evolving. To accommodate this rapid growth, we need to expect more changes to come.

And to avoid overwhelming you like we talked about at the beginning, we’ll stop here since this is more than enough to digest. J

Do You Have Social Media Manners?

 

Place Setting

What’s your biggest turn off on social media? Is it the people who are always negative, those who start drama, or those who are fake? All these and more definitely hold their own weight when it comes to inappropriate actions on social media.

Just as offline habits like chewing with your mouth opened and interrupting a conversation are repulsing, bad habits happen online too. And unfortunately, social media attracts a lot of it. Though we at SugarSpun encourage people to be human, etiquette and even street smarts needs to play a role.

This is especially important for businesses to understand.  Behind every business, there is usually one individual or a handful of people that act on behalf of their company’s social efforts. As a result, your business has personality. If you have multiple people implement your social strategy, you obviously have variety, but your brand will still portray its own persona.

Due to all this character, albeit how colorful it may or may not be, that is expressed on social media, stereotypes have already been created defining the various types of sharers. In fact, online media monitoring service Meltwater recently created a quiz to help users define what type of sharer they are on social media.  The quiz was based off research from the New York Times called the Psychology of Sharing. In this, the following sharers are defined:

–          Hipster – less likely than other sharers to use email for sharing content. These sharers are creative, young and popular

–          Careerist – these sharers are savvy business networkers and are more likely to share content on LinkedIn.

–          Altruist – these sharers are helpful, reliable, thoughtful, connected and only use email to share.

–          Selective – these sharers are resourceful, careful and thoughtful. They share informative content via social networks as well as by email.

–          Boomerangs – these sharers share information to get a reaction and to feel validated. They are empowered by social media and tend to use both Twitter and Facebook.

–          Connectors – these sharers are creative, relaxed, thoughtful and use social media as a tool to organize their social lives offline.

These social sharing descriptions are pretty accurate, right? In spite of which sharing category you or your business fit into, it’s important to understand that social media etiquette plays a role. It’s not that there is a perfect category for sharing, but there are some do’s and don’ts that everyone should adhere to.

Best Master’s in Education put together an excellent infographic containing helpful information that shows how you can avoid becoming stereotype by simply applying some social networking etiquette:

Social Media Etiquette
Source: BestMastersinEducation.com

Display image courtesy of Wikipedia.org.

 

Content Marketing: Strategy & Content Aren’t the Same

Content HighlightedContent marketing, like we’ve discussed before, is one of the most talked about concepts in marketing circles today. The reasoning for its popularity is legitimate because content marketing does, in fact, work IF done correctly. There is a ton of information available about content marketing, but unfortunately, not all of it is good advice.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding content marketing is the difference between a good content marketing strategy and actually having good content. In other words, you can have an excellent content marketing strategy, but in order for it to deliver, it has to be executed with great content. The same is true on the flip side – you may have great content but not have a strategy that really makes it work for you.

It’s possible to have both, but it’s obviously much more time-consuming. Content marketing is very similar to social media in that people, businesses, and yes, marketers often neglect the first part of the catch phrase. It’s a shame really, since the first part is what makes it work. Also, similar to social media, marketers also want to “jump the gun” with content marketing. We marketers are always so eager, aren’t we?

However, again, an effective content marketing strategy must come first. While many brands are still struggling with this, there are some that get it. Coca-Cola, for example, tries to understand the experience its customers have with the brand. After taking action toward this goal, Coke realized that this experience often happened through a vending machine and decided to give customers more than just one of their sodas. The company gave customers cakes, flowers, and many other prizes that resulted in millions of YouTube hits. What’s more, Coke ended up with some really great content to accompany its already great strategy.

Coca-Cola is so committed to content marketing that it even launched a “Content 2020” initiative that goes beyond developing social and crowd-sourced content. Through this endeavor, Coke wants to “earn a disproportionate share of popular culture” by telling compelling stories with artists, actors and musicians. It wants to tell stories that provide true value to its customers while also meeting its own business objectives.

Coke launched this initiative in 2012 and has maintained its commitment thus far, showing that it understands how all its marketing efforts rests on its content marketing strategy. Brynn Bardacke, Coca-Cola’s global group creative director, spoke with iMedia Connection about its initiative and the results already obtained.

Just as Coca-Cola has done, content marketing goes hand-in-hand with your overall marketing strategy. It’s a starting point that leads and dictates your other actions. Your content marketing strategy isn’t just your blog or your Facebook and Twitter posts – it encompasses everything.

A recent study from Demand Metric shows that only 13 percent of content marketers think their efforts are “very successful.” This is staggering. The survey consisted of more than 500 responders and only 13 percent really believe what they’re doing is working.

Demand Metric Chart

The above chart shows the objectives that these content marketers have. These are great objectives to have, and clearly, most of them directly impact the bottom line. So, where does the problem lie?

For many, it’s the process that’s wrong. Here again, it’s the whole jumping the gun thing once more. There’s much more to content marketing than setting an objective and projecting an outcome. The middle part – the micro goals, tactics, etc. – is how you get to actionable results. To throw a party, you don’t just have an idea for a party and then expect people to just show up. You plan, you send out invitations, you prepare food and decorations and more. It’s a process.

The same is true with content marketing. You set goals, you set micro goals, you define tactics and match them to your micro goals, and more all BEFORE you start doing. This will also help to give you check points to define whether or not you are succeeding to avoid falling into the 13 percent of struggling content marketers.

With so much emphasis on publishing today from Google’s increased efforts to deliver quality content to smarter consumers not falling for “marketing speak,” content marketing has a good reason to be top of mind for marketers. But, before jumping on the bandwagon, marketers need to have a solid strategy outlining goals and the process as well as a content plan in order to really make their efforts worthwhile.

Incidentally, SugarSpun will be hosting a free social media webinar on content marketing showing attendees how to develop and succeed through content marketing. Jennifer Evans Cario, SugarSpun Marketing’s president, will walk attendees through the process of creating a home base for content efforts and also how to produce quality and targeted content through developing audience personas. The training will take place Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 8 PM EDT/5 PM PDT. Register here.


Music courtesy of Audionautix.com

 

The Problem, Err Challenge, with Facebook Marketing

For businesses and marketers, Facebook has been quite the challenging platform in recent months. In what is being called a “Reachpocalypse,” Facebook Pages have undergone a very obvious drop in organic reach since last fall, which has resulted in many panicked marketers.

As we have said before, Facebook has admitted to putting less emphasis on organic page posts in its News Feed. In a document entitled “Generating Business Results on Facebook,” the social networking giant cleverly highlights its advertising opportunities saying:

We expect organic distribution of an individual Page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site… But to maximize delivery of your message in News Feed, your brand should consider using paid distribution, as it enables you to reach people beyond your fan base and move beyond the organic competition.

Small to large businesses are feeling the impact of Facebook’s recent actions. In fact, Facebook has actually made multiple tweaks to its algorithm over the past several months that resulted in auto-playing videos (ads too), larger photos, resurfaced content, and more branded content. All these changes were part of an effort to improve the quality of content in the News Feed.

As a result, Facebook also started showing fewer meme posts/photos and posts that had spammy links. Facebook also has cracked down on “Like-baiting.” For instance, if you ask users to “Like” or “comment,” Facebook considers this gaming its system.

If you’ve been in the Internet marketing space for very long, these actions will sound somewhat familiar. The reason is because Facebook’s changes are similar to Google’s changes to its algorithm. While the end result is better for individual users, it makes the job of marketing harder.

Changes like these are unpleasant, put lightly, especially for small businesses. What marketers are quickly finding out is how there really is no deciphering social networks. These platforms are still young and are going to be susceptible to change. Beyond this, Facebook, and some of the other social networks, are now public companies. Naturally, they have stepped up their efforts to ensure their profitability since they now answer to Wall Street.

Jay Baer over on Convince and Convert minces no words when it comes to this issue, saying:

Fundamentally, Facebook cares about THEIR business, not about YOUR business.

Social@Ogilvy also created a really interesting chart showing the correlation between organic reach dropping and Facebook’s stock price rising:

Facebook Chart

So, what’s a marketer to do? Facebook has 1.26 billion users – it’s hard to ignore. There are some ways to approach this issue that will help your brand in the long run.

Accept the problem

For starters, businesses must come to terms with what is happening. As much as we would all like things to be different, Facebook is not going to revert backward. Furthermore, even if we could go back, more and more brands are embracing the platform everyday vying for the same attention that we are. The value of social media is starting to be realized, which means that competition will only get tighter. We can complain about these changes all we want and call Facebook out, but in the end, we have to learn to deal with it.

Meet the challenge

If marketing were easy, we would all be bored. Marketing is known for being fast-paced, energetic and for having lots of unknowns. With this understanding, Facebook’s changes are really par for the course. But, there are some tips and tricks that can help you attack the challenge:

There’s more to social media than just Facebook. Because of Facebook’s size, many businesses have made this their central base. However, we never recommend this practice. Facebook can provide tremendous value, but it’s an outside platform. Some small businesses view Facebook as their website, but it’s cases like this that reinforce why this isn’t practical. It is possible that Facebook could go away. If this happens, all your work and effort into your page could be lost. At SugarSpun, we encourage people to have a home base on their website, such as their blog. This way, you’re dependent upon your own resources and not a third party.

Secondly, content still rules. Facebook is looking for the very best content, so provide it. Step up your game in producing original and relevant content that really stands out from the other noise. Utilize various forms of media such as images, videos, and infographics to make it compelling and unique. Also, re-think your basic marketing strategies such as timing, demographics, etc. because it does make a difference in performance.

Thirdly, invest some ad spend into Facebook. If Facebook truly provides value for your business, then there will be a budget for the platform. Fortunately, Facebook’s ad program is not too costly. If a brand is smart and selective, it can analyze both before and after a promotion to ensure effectiveness. And if its target audience is there, it will have a direct link to them with actionable data to back it up.

Facebook, like it or not, will continue to change. It’s inevitable. To continue to be successful on the platform, you must expect change and meet the challenges head on when they come. The roller coaster is taking off and you can either put your seatbelt on and enjoy the ride regardless of how bumpy it gets, or you can sit on the bench and miss out. It’s your choice.

 

4 Tips for Building an Effective Presence on Twitter

 

Twitter Key

How valuable is Twitter to you? Many companies use it as their primary social media outlet for marketing, customer service and various other business tasks. Other companies use it only because they feel they have to since it’s one of the largest social networks. Still, there are some who think that it’s simply a lot of useless information being distributed to closed ears.

Regardless of your opinion of Twitter, you likely fit into one of these categories. SugarSpun Marketing is a firm believer in understanding the fact that not every social network is for everyone. In other words, after you devise your marketing plan and research where your audience is, whatever social networks fit is where you need to be.

If this is true for you and Twitter, but you are still struggling to find the true value, we may have some helpful tips for reaching and engaging with your audience.

1. Understand who you’re trying to reach

Though the exact number of Twitter users is unknown to the general public, it is safe to say that there are over 600 million users. However, understand that this doesn’t mean you will reach all these users. In an ideal world, yes you would, but even if you had that many followers, it is impossible to think that all 600 million people are on Twitter at the exact moment you send your tweet.

As you get to know your audience, practice the concept of listening. You don’t always need to be heard. Sometimes you can be more effective by simply listening since it will make what you have to say more meaningful.

2. Engage your audience

Now, this step could take up a whole book and more, but users, especially brands, must understand that true engagement takes a lot of time and effort. To engage your audience, you need to have compelling content. This is another topic we could talk about all day, but the main point in regards to Twitter is that it has to be short and driven. You’re dealing with 140 characters or less. In fact, recent research from Buddy Media shows that tweets with 71-100 characters produce the most retweets.

In addition to being compelling and short, engaging content is also personal. In order to make a connection, you have to speak the same language as your audience. This means that you shouldn’t only post links or only retweet. Add some commentary and show some personality. You want to give them a reason to communicate with you and keep the dialogue flowing.

Once you do this, the retweeting, favoriting, Follow Fridaying, and other common Twitter activities become natural and meaningful.

3. Utilize third-party tools

You will quickly find that, in order to do Twitter effectively, it takes a lot of time. It’s a challenge, no doubt, but fortunately there are a ton of tools to make your job easier. This is another area in which we really could use a day to two to delve into all the tools, but here are several that will likely come in handy:

–          Hootsuite – tool allows users to manage multiple accounts, schedule, filter content and more

–          Twitonomy – browse and monitor insights on people you know, competitors, etc.; also useful for finding influencers

–          Cybranding – analyze hashtags with this tool to make sure you’re using the most searchable and impactful hashtags

–          Commun.it – manage your current relationships and build new ones with this tool

–          Qwitter – see who unfollows you on Twitter and also what tweet(s) may have caused them to leave

–          Twellow – people search tool for Twitter that allows users to find others through interest, location, etc.

–          SocialOomph – social media measurement tool tracks keywords and multiple other automation tasks, and more.

4. Keep up with changes

Similar to the other social networks, Twitter is always making tweaks to its service. Most recently, it announced a redesign for user pages. And, guess what, the new profiles look a lot like Facebook profile pages, a.k.a. Timelines. The new Twitter profiles include a stronger emphasis on imagery with much larger profile images and background images. As a brand, these changes are important as you want to have the best presentation possible to your audience.

New Twitter Profiles

To keep up, follow Twitter’s updates and keep up with social media blogs. Not every tweak will warrant your attention, but you want to be in the loop in order to react to the areas that could help or hurt your brand.

The new format is available to some users now but will be rolled out globally over the next several weeks.

Twitter has had a lot of changes over the couple of years including its IPO. Despite these changes, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere but forward.

Crafting the Pitch That Builds Relationships

 

Newspapers

If someone asks you for help or for a favor, what makes you lend a hand? Is it the relationship you have with them? Is it the request itself? Is it the way in which they asked you? These are questions that you should think about before pitching media, bloggers or a potential partner, but sadly, this doesn’t typically happen.

Why? I’m not quite sure. It could be that companies are so caught up in what they do that they don’t see why an outlet wouldn’t cover them or partner with their initiative. Whatever the reason is, it needs to change.

As someone who has a background in media, there is nothing worse than getting bad pitches. From the misspellings and wrong name to completely irrelevant information, bad pitches influence credibility in a negative way. Repeated bad pitches takes this one step further and can really hurt a company’s reputation among the groups it needs positive reinforcement from.

While media pitches are talked about the most, other pitches such as partner pitches, blogger pitches and social media pitches matter too. Social media is tremendously beneficial in breaking down barriers and creating accessibility. However, just because other brands, CEOs and members of the media community are more accessible, it doesn’t mean you can or should abuse this openness.

Effective pitching takes planning, practice, skill and time. Though there are likely many different answers across the Web, the secret is that no pitch is the same. Certain elements of the pitch, or the core message, will be the same, but how you deliver the message needs to be unique to the brand or individual to whom you’re reaching out.

To do this, you have got to do your homework.  As you build out your pitch list, take a close look into who you’re thinking about pitching. What are they saying? Is your story really relevant to them? As you conduct this research, it will help you with a couple of different things. For starters, research will tell you if you are really reaching the right the people. You may start out with a big list, and after research, have it narrowed and targeted to a select group. Research will also help you structure your pitch around current trends and other events that could get you more exposure than if you had reached out blindly.

Secondly, you have to be smart about your pitch. This sounds basic, but again, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called “Abbey,” “Amy,” “Amber,” “Angie,” and sometimes names even out of the “A” family! You MUST be smart about the details. Beyond the name, be able to write a sentence with correct grammar and punctuation. If you are trying to connect with a journalist or a potential business partner – really anyone that you are trying to impress – you will quickly find that these little details matter a lot.

Pitching Media eCard

Being smart also does not mean stalking people on social media channels. Arik Hanson caught up with several journalists who explain what pitches do and don’t work with them. It is very telling and should definitely be taken seriously.

Thirdly, you must be sensitive to time. We live in a world where everyone is pressed for time. No one has time to read a letter. You need to get to the point quickly. We live in a Twitter-centric world where people are used to 140 characters or less. As a result, you have to make sure that your story and pitch add value.

Going right along with being smart and time-conscious, the next step in building your pitch is to be personal. This is huge. Those in the media get inundated with press releases all day long. This is exactly what you can’t do. Executives at companies receive overwhelming amounts of email as well. As a result, you have got to stand out. You know they are doing you a favor, but you have to pitch in a way that makes them feel like you are doing them a favor.

From the homework that you do on whomever you’re going to pitch, use this information to add a personal touch. If your story goes along with another story they’ve covered recently or is related to a new business venture, you have the opportunity to customize your story to fit theirs, and potentially, fill in their missing pieces.

What’s more, this is where you really need to embrace relationship-building. If you have one story worthy of getting attention, chances are you’ll have others. This is why you need to start a relationship now. You want to start a conversation, not have a one-sided promotion. To start this dialogue, you want to begin subtly connecting on social media, on articles or on matters that are important to them. These actions will help you start building credibility even before you pitch. As a result, it will give you more influence when you connect with them regarding a story. The hope is that the relationship grows and expands just like a friendship in which both sides give and take.

It is, however, very important to remember that pitching, a.k.a., relationship-building, is very time consuming. Relationships don’t happen overnight. We live in a very saturated world in which people are bombarded with marketing messages. To stand out above the noise, you must take it to a new level. In most cases, this next step is relationship-building, and the relationship starts with a conversation.

Boring Brands Can Succeed in Social Media Too

 

Person yawning

Social media has a sense of fun and excitement attached to it. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other social tools are trendy and exhibit a unique energy unlike other marketing methodologies. Brands like Pepsi, Doritos, Dove, Taco Bell and others always seem to be embracing the latest phenomenon in a very successful way. For instance, Taco Bell introduced the return of its Beefy Crunch Taco on Snapchat.

Taco Bell Uses Snapchat

Dove is another brand that seems to never fail. I mean, has there been a Dove video that hasn’t gone viral?

So, what’s the deal? Is it that these brands have the coolest products that automatically mesh with social media? Well, it helps that they have cool products and very established brands, but the real secret is that they do an excellent job of marketing themselves.

Does this mean that boring, non-sexy brands can also be successful on social media? Absolutely. Yes, even contractors, feminine hygiene brands, office suppliers, plumbing businesses and others can be successful on social media too. It takes a little more effort, but it is possible.

Integrating humor is one of the first ways these not-so-cool brands can utilize social media. Many grandmothers make a habit of saying “laughter is the best medicine.” The same principle applies to somewhat difficult brands and social media. Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs is a perfect example of taking something that the majority of society would not view as either fun and exciting and making it into a hit show through humor. Even politicians recognize that poking fun at themselves is often the best way to respond to a circumstance.

Now, you obviously have to be careful with this approach. Humor can be effective in most situations within reason, but there are instances in which it just doesn’t work. A financial firm, for example, would have to be more cautious about poking fun of what they do than the local plumber. It’s all about context and your audience.

A second approach these challenged brands can take is to become problem solvers. Whatever your product or service is, the need exists in which consumers need what you offer. There is nothing glamorous about plumbing, but it’s a necessity. The same is true for garbage companies and countless other businesses that we all use regularly. They may not be viewed as cool, but we couldn’t live comfortably without them.

You can become a problem solver by sharing customer stories – even adding humor like mentioned above – answering common questions, capitalizing on events in which their services are needed most, and relating many other messages showcasing why you’re needed.

Thirdly, brands can go one step beyond the problem solver and become a resource for customers. By doing this, brands can keep in continuous dialogue with their customers. Blogs are perfect for this type of goal since it keeps consumers coming back for more not only when they need a product or service. Video is also another great avenue for this type of brand building. You can create how-to videos and also encourage customers to submit questions or issues via video. Images and infographics are additional ways for feeding information to consumers. It’s always recommended that brands try various forms of media to see which form resonates the best with the audience.

Lastly, brands that aren’t Apple and Mercedes and that struggle to be trendy, should be complimentary. In other words, as you communicate with your audience, your message should not be only about you and your products and services. It’s okay to tell your story and apply the above tips, but you must do more. We’ve said before, and we’ll continue to state it – social media is not about selling.

Now, sales are very often involved with social media strategy, but it cannot be the basis of your message. Brands, especially the ones that are considered boring, need to align themselves with other brands, products and services to be relevant to consumers. Take the time to think about their lifestyles and tailor content around it. This will let them you know you care, and it still ties the conversation back to your boring offering.

So, while dirt, sewage, hygiene and other non-sexy brands have a tough challenge on their hands, they can still be successful on social media platforms. WhoIsHostingThis.com put together a wonderful infographic depicting how some brands have risen above their challenges and embraced their boringness successfully across social media. It just takes creativity and strategy such as the above steps.

No one wants to be boring, so make yourself stand out.

Is Pinterest Auto-Following Boards on Your Behalf?

Four years after launch, Pinterest is still as focused as ever on driving stronger user engagement, offering up new recipe search refinement options and even slipping their new “Recommended” pins into user’s news feeds. But is Pinterest pushing things a step further and deciding who you ought to follow based on your browsing history? It’s starting to look that way.

A few months back I started to notice an influx of content from boards I didn’t remember following. Mostly this content came from wedding boards. They were easy enough to write off considering my best friend was getting married and we were dealing with a wedding related client at the time. I assumed I’d followed boards without remembering and simply unfollowed them as I noticed content showing up in my feed.

Then I started to notice other types of content showing up. My feed suddenly had Paleo boards, despite the fact that I don’t follow a Paleo diet. It had bee keeping boards and caring for goat boards and other loosely related topics that I’d run searches for, but not actually followed. Once again, these boards were close enough to my interests that I could write it off, but not so close I remember following them. I ran a few searches to see if I could find anyone mentioning a new “auto-follow” feature on Pinterest, but nothing turned up.

Then, this morning, I finally caught it happening in real time.

I was working on a new Pinterest Webinar for Market Motive and was doing research on the Target/Popular Pinners pairings for their new spring product lines. In seeking out screen caps, I clicked on Target’s “Party with Pinners” board and then went on from there to visit the Pinterest account of Target collaborator Joy Cho.

Target is currently working with popular design blogger Joy Cho to design and launch a new Target party collection.

Not an hour later I went back into my account to snag another set of screen shots to showcase how Pinterest’s “related pins” feature works and immediately noticed a pin from Joy Cho showing up in my news feed.

Less than an hour after looking at her boards, I found myself "automatically" following two of Joy Cho's boards.

Clicking through to the board showed I was listed as a follower.

Rather than showing Joy Cho's recipes as "related posts," I discovered I was now following her recipe board.

I immediately clicked over to the profile page of Joy Cho’s account and noticed I was now following not one, but two of her boards. (Incidentally, the boards I was most likely to have followed based on my Pinterest activity.)

Visiting Joy Cho's profile page showed I was now following two of her boards.

Had it not been for the fact that these boards showed up in my account within an hour of my visiting her profile, I could have easily written it off to yet another “I don’t remember following that, but I must have” moment. (After all, I’d been having them for months.) The timing, however was too coincidental.

I took the post to Facebook to see if anyone else had noticed the same thing and the response was pretty consistent.

Several contacts within the online marketing and Pinterest marketing community confirmed they had also noticed this activity, but written it off.

Taking the conversation offline and digging deeper with Polymer Clay artist Katie Oskin, I found that she too had found concrete examples of accounts and boards she seemed to be following without ever making the selection herself.

Katie pointed to two different accounts that had shown up in her feeds without her actively following them.  Her accounts were for a Pinner named “Miranda Clay”

Oskin found herself following a user named Miranda Clay.

And another user known simply as “Clay.”

Oskin also found herself following a user named "Clay," whose content was a far cry from the polymer clay content she usually followed.

Keep in mind, Katie is a polymer CLAY artist. One who runs frequent searches on Pinterest for the word “clay.”

With a few more voices chiming in via email and private messaging, it seems like a pattern may be emerging. Ignitor Digital’s Carrie Hill pointed out that her “following” count seemed to be rising, even on the weeks she hadn’t chosen to follow anyone. Pole Position Marketing’s Kathy Boyle Gray is seeing similar issues with a large number of new accounts showing in her feeds as well.

With Pinterest’s current focus on increasing user engagement, helping pinners find new content and looking for the ties between search activity and interest, I’m not surprised to see them testing this. What DOES surprise me is that it wasn’t announced as a beta test or as “suggested” boards. Perhaps this is part of the promoted post/accounts test Pinterest is running with select advertisers right now, or perhaps it’s something else entirely. Either way, I question how well received it’s been and I question how users will feel if they ultimately learn that Pinterest HAS been following people on their behalf.

The Growing Value of Pinterest & How You Can Capitalize on It

 

Pinterest Logo

In case you didn’t realize it, Pinterest is big deal. It’s currently one of the hottest social networks not only for pinning recipes, decorating ideas and more, but businesses are also finding tremendous value in the world’s greatest pinboard.

But, is it really just hype, or is there any real value behind the pinning? Check out the 5 following facts that should get some serious head turns:

–          Pinterest is the 2nd largest driver of traffic from social media sites. Facebook is the #1 driver, but Shareaholic found that Pinterest is now leading Twitter as the #2.

–          Pinterest is the 4th largest source of organic traffic. In 2012, Pinterest beat out Yahoo as the 4th largest traffic driver in the world.

–          Pinterest is a proven sales driver. According to customer experience engine Monetate, Pinterest is the top referrer of high-value orders to e-commerce sites.

Monetate Chart on Pinterest

–          Pinterest generates 400 percent more revenue per click than Twitter and 27 percent more than Facebook. This incredible data came from QuickSprout.

–          Pinterest hosts at least 25 percent of accounts from Fortune 500 companies. Though this number is likely greater now, it’s still a significant finding in Burson-Marstellar’s 2012 Global Social Media Check-up.

These are just a handful of facts that prove what a powerful tool Pinterest is. In other words, if your business is not utilizing Pinterest, it would be a good time to embrace it. So, now the question becomes: what can you do to leverage it?

Realistically, we could talk all day about various ways to leverage Pinterest. But, for the sake of time, we’ve put together a few basic tips to help you as you begin your Pinterest strategy.

For starters, you need to optimize your images. It’s very important to incorporate text and information on your image, but it must be done strategically. Basically, you want to offer enough information to draw people in, but then you want them to go beyond the pinning action and land on your website for more information.

Secondly, understand that Pinterest is about the community. While this is true on other social platforms, it takes on an even bigger meaning on Pinterest. Yes, obtaining followers and getting pins repinned are important and help build credibility for brands, but you must reach out as well. Out of all the social platforms that you use, you may find Pinterest to have your strongest group of influencers. If you comment on pins, repin relevant content, and engage with other pinners, you will build your following and a strong community.

Thirdly, think outside the pin. When you’re creating content for Pinterest, obviously pin content related to your product or service, but take it one step further. Find or produce content and pins that impact the end user. For instance, if you have a line of fitness clothing, give examples of exercises or particular moves when your product shines. You could also build a board related to the best workout music, foods, etc. The idea is to essentially show the consumer that you care about their needs instead of shoving your product down their throat, which again, reinforces the concept of community.

Any good marketer knows that you should also conduct periodic evaluations of how your strategy is working, track analytics, and many other routine marketing tasks. But, hopefully, these steps will get you started thinking about how you can incorporate Pinterest and all its value into your marketing mix.

We also recommend reading Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day by SugarSpun Marketing’s own Jennifer Evans Cario. Yes, this is a shameless plug, but if you are looking to build a successful marketing strategy on Pinterest, the book offers a step-by-step guide to put you on the right track toward getting actionable results.

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.