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5 Steps for Building Your Holiday Marketing Strategy

As hard as it is to believe, the holiday season is upon us. Christmas trees and other decorations are already gracing homes, stores and places of business. Though a busy time of year, it holds excitement as well as opportunity, if businesses embrace it. The following steps should help your business effectively take advantage of the holiday season this year.

1) Develop a Strategy

In order to take advantage of this opportunity, businesses, first of all, need to develop a campaign strategy. While some strategies will carry over from year to year, each season offers new ideas and trends. It’s also important to think about how your holiday campaign will tie into your overall marketing strategy. In other words, even if you come up with a really creative idea, you don’t want consumers to know you only for your Christmas campaign. For this reason, it’s very important to look at the big picture.

What do you want to accomplish this holiday season? Are you going to target one specific holiday or the season in general? Although the focus is typically on December 25th, businesses could actually utilize Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, New Year’s Day, as well as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Are the ideas flowing yet? These questions and thoughts should get you thinking about what your needs and goals are, and this is the perfect starting point for creating a strategy.

2) Create a Theme & Stick with It

After you’ve developed your strategy, you’ll need to choose a theme. For instance, if you send out marketing materials and other promotional items, they should contain a common theme. The content you create, and we strongly encourage an aggressive content marketing approach, should also share this theme. It’s understood that most consumers are looking for coupons and discounts during the holiday season. But, if you can create content around why a particular product or service is exclusive, priced a certain way, or is something that provides value, you have the opportunity to stand out.

Also, as you select a theme, it’s important to understand what your target audience is paying attention to. How are they engaging with your brand? Are they gravitating toward images, video, etc.? These answers will play a vital role in theming your campaign.

3) Utilize Social Media

Just as with your other marketing strategies, social media is a must. Remember the genius OfficeMax Elf Yourself campaign? This came out several years ago but continues to receive incredible responses each year. So often, marketers get caught up in the “all about business” mode. The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to break free from this and incorporate some creativity and holiday spirit.

What social channels is your audience using the most? If it’s Pinterest, for example, then look at what they’re pinning and tailor content to match it. Whatever channel that you use, provide meaningful content that your audience will want to engage with.

In addition, with social media, it’s important to stay “in the know.” By doing this, you have the opportunity to jump on the latest trends and even boost them for your own benefit. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to launch a Snapchat campaign, but it does mean you should pay attention to the trends your audience is embracing and adapt your strategy accordingly.

4) Don’t Forget to Be Accessible

As you roll out your campaign, remember that, in the digital age, you have to comply with where your audience may be interacting with you. Is it social media? Is it through a traditional advertising channel such as television? It may even be on a mobile device.

As you plan your strategy, create content that you can distribute across multiple platforms and channels to ensure simple accessibility. This step again allows you to embrace your creative juices. For instance, if your audience mostly connects on social media but your message is long, write a blog post with all the details but tease the content on social media in the form of an image or video. Even if your audience is active on social, no one has time for a long message.

In summary, be accessible by practicing smart marketing.

5) Share Holiday Cheer Too!

In all the hustle and bustle that is the noise around the holidays, it seems that the little things mean the most. When you go the extra mile by sending a card, offering candy at your brick and mortar, and other thoughtful shout-outs and merry treats, the impact is felt.

Online, brands can extend this cheer too by offering coupons, opening up and sharing an inward view of holiday traditions like a holiday luncheon, as well as many other tactics to showcase your brand’s personality. All these little acts of kindness reinforce that there are humans behind your brand. It strengthens relationships too, which in turn, often results in building influencers and brand advocates.

If you want to go beyond these steps, Marketing Land has a preparation guide outlining 28 helpful tips that could be very beneficial to your holiday efforts.

Regardless of what your holiday campaign involves, remember that it is the holiday season. I say this because, just as people often neglect the social side of social media, the fun and cheery part of the holidays is often an afterthought. This, however, is what makes the holidays exciting, even for marketers. So, take advantage and enjoy! 🙂

 

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.

How Well Do You Really Know Your Audience?

 

One Size Tag

One size in social media does not fit everyone

Determining your target market is a process that should be familiar to all marketers. While your audience will likely not deviate too drastically unless you revamp your business, it is a good idea to evaluate who exactly you’re trying to reach before each campaign. It’s almost like conducting an audit to make sure you’re on the right track.

When you do this, you must question how you define your audience. If not, it’s like you’re driving somewhere without any navigation. In other words, you’re taking action, but it doesn’t tie back to a particular goal or strategy.

As a business, you are trying to reach and connect with people. This group is a specific crowd that has a particular set of needs and wants. For the most part, it will stay consistent. But, trends may influence them from time to time. For instance, if you’re serving B2B, the decision makers may change demographics periodically, which could influence how you market to your target. The same is true with B2C too as trends come and go and family dynamics alter.

With these thoughts in mind, can you really understand who your audience is? The short answer is yes. However, there is a “but” involved that means it takes constant babysitting.

Who’s out there?

Any business, new or old, has an idea of who it would like to reach. For some, it may be families, app developers, or any number of groups. From this, marketers need to hone in on families of a particular age group, what type of app developers, etc. This will help to dictate your customer personas. From here, you will obtain snippets about your audience, but it’s up to you to put the story together. There will likely be a few different stories, but they all come together through you.

What do they want or need?

As you begin to define customer personas, you’ll notice that there is a common denominator among them. Your audience may include people that are as opposite as day and night, but there will be something that ties them all together – this is your ticket in. It’s important to understand the different backgrounds so that you can better relate to why they want or need you.

When you gather this information, you will connect with your audience in a language that relates more directly to them, which is very effective. Furthermore, you’ll be able to identify where to connect with this group. For some, it may be your blog, and for others, it may be on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. This will also guide you as to whether you should reach them through photos, videos, text, etc.

How can you show you’re not full of crap?

Everyone knows that there is a LOT of noise online and offline today, which poses a challenge for consumers and businesses alike. Everywhere we turn, there are advertisements and brand messages. As a result, society has become skeptical.

So, how can we, as businesses, cut through the noise and stand out to our target market? It’s an ongoing challenge, but there are some steps that can be implemented to show that you have something valuable to offer. For starters, you must show that you have integrity. If you deliver your brand with honesty, consistency and a sense of value, you’ll become trusted.

It’s also important to identify the negative side of the noise, a.k.a. the crap, and be careful not to ever include anything similar in your messaging. For instance, weight loss ads have a tendency to not be trusted. If you are trying to promote a weight loss program, avoid using any of the same verbiage.

In addition, you need to have proof to show that what you are saying really works. This could be in the form of statistics, third-party studies, testimonials, and various other means. Businesses just really need to show that there is more than just empty words behind their content.

What’s more, as social networks specifically have grown, it has become increasingly harder to cut through the noise. Facebook has even openly admitted that organic reach is decreasing and has advised brand pages to utilize its advertising options. While this throws a kink in many marketing campaigns, it’s not surprising. Many of the popular social networks are public companies and are expected to make money, which means that we, in turn, need to embrace advertising on Facebook and other channels to stay relevant.

In the end, getting to know your customer takes a lot of time and effort. And just when you think you have a handle on it, I can guarantee that Google will introduce a new algorithm or a new trend will emerge to start the whole process again. But, it’s worth the time to get a valid understanding of your audience. It will improve your content, your strategies, product and service development, leads and even sales.

If you’d like more information on how you can effectively find and target your audience, check out how we can help.  Feel free to drop us a personal note too, as we’d love to tailor a response for you.

Image courtesy of teradatamagazine.com.

 

 

Listening Is Always Key in Meaningful Conversation… Online Too

 

Listen - hand

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arby's Tweet to Pharrell Williams

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

Twitter Interaction during Grammy's

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

Online Reviews: Why They Matter to You & to Search

Customer Reviews

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

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


PeopleClaim - The Review of Reviews

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

– The majority of reviews posted on review sites are positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Display image courtesy of bloggersideas.com.

 

The Marketing Evolution: More Changes to Come in 2014

 

Crystal Ball

As another year comes to a close, it’s inevitable that we reflect on what went wrong and what went right. Last week, we provided a summary of social media happenings during 2013, and hopefully, these events have been beneficial for business endeavors.

But, now, we must look forward and think about the coming year. What will the big trends be in 2014? Will social media reach its saturation point? How will marketing evolve further? Though time will tell, there is a lot of content circulating that offers some predictions for the coming year. Here’s what some people are saying:

New Marketing Demands

According to a new eMarketer report, the 2014 marketing sector is full of new demands. These demands include: big data, real-time marketing and the “always-on” consumer. Marketing is changing drastically. In this new era, marketers and advertisers are going to have to embrace smart applications to help them keep up with data challenges, understand that customers expect instant responses, and recognize that customers don’t have hours, so integration of automation processes in some instances may be necessary.

Real-Time Marketing Growth

Digital Marketing Trends

Convince and Convert’s Zena Weist compiled a list of marketing predictions emphasizing the digital side. This list includes real-time marketing; creating Youtility through care, context, and creativity; and empowering employees and fans. Though we’re already seeing some cross-over in terms of real-time marketing, Weist sheds some new light on it. For starters, the term “real-time marketing” is actually just marketing in today’s world. It involves marketing in the moment and engagement. In other words, it’s new, but it’s not locked to a particular project, it’s a continuous effort.

Social Media Tips & Tricks

Lisa Buyer over on Search Engine Watch put together a lengthy list of trends to look out for in the coming year. Her list includes a variety of marketing projections including brands as publishers, increased mobile marketing integration, more sophisticated tools from industry leaders, among others.

Buyer also highlights some trends that are going out with 2013. First of all, while big data is in, consumers definitely only want the data that pertains to them. Secondly, as we’ve seen of late, while organic social media efforts work, now that many of the leading social networks are public, the emphasis on the paid side is growing in significance. Thirdly, just because everyone is talking about the latest and greatest social tool, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Listen to what your audience wants and needs.

Out with the Old, in with the New

More specifically speaking, Frederic Gonzalo on Social Media Today believes there will be key social media changes in 2014. According to him, Facebook is not going away completely, but it will lose some of the traction that it has had. Twitter, he thinks, will have its best year yet.

He also believes the up and coming Snapchat will play a larger role in marketing circles and that more brands will begin to embrace it. Thirdly, Google+ is expected to grow in value. Though we’ve heard this before, Google is continuing to push its network. Given Google’s dominance in search, it is worth watching.

Google+ Integration into Search

Another area that he sees growth in is the collaborative economy. Platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor have grown in recent years, and Gonzalo believes they will grow and advance even more as consumers put more value in the opinion of their peers.

Fifthly, videos are alive and well and rising even more. YouTube is going nowhere but up, and as marketers integrate applications such as Vine and the video capabilities on Instagram, it’s clear that video is a tremendous asset for marketing purposes.

Social Media Maturity

InformationWeek rolled out its forecast for social media in 2014 as well that shows some correlation with other trends we’ve seen thus far. For example, it predicts that Google+ will gain more momentum. However, there are some differences. Contrary to Gonzalo’s belief that Facebook would lose value, IW citing Brian Solis expects the social network to gain respect. Since many investors aren’t even on social media channels, they have struggled with understanding them. But, as the platforms grow and become heavily integrated across industries, the prediction is that Facebook, and even Twitter, will become respected players in the marketplace.

As social media advances, IW also projects that businesses will better be able to monetize their social campaigns and that users will become more comfortable sharing content. It also believes that brands will further embrace user-generated content for their benefit. Some brands, such as Pepsi, have been doing this for some time, but the trend is expected to reach a new level in the coming year.

There are MANY more predictions circulating across the Web regarding marketing and 2014, but we wanted to aggregate some of them in one place. What do you see happening in the New Year? Are you going to adjust your strategy based on the above projections?

Images courtesy of redvan.wikidot.com, eMarketer and Frederic Gonzalo respectively.

 

2013 Social Media Year in Review: Old & New Players Make Impact

 

Social Media WorldAs we reflect back on 2013, it’s clear that it has been a very full year. Social media has had another very big year. Digital Insights put together a fantastic infographic showing the growth and impact that social media has had. For starters, Facebook surpassed a new milestone with more than 1.15 billion users. On average, there are 400 million tweets sent out every day. Every second, 8,000 users like a photo they see on Instagram. A whopping 80 percent of Pinterest pins are repins. There are more than 3 million LinkedIn Company Pages and over 1 billion LinkedIn endorsements. Some 4.2 billion people use their mobile device to access social media.

These numbers are impressive. But, how did we get here? Let’s take a look at some of the events that took place and led to this growth.

Let’s start with what is now one of the older players – Facebook. 2013 proved to be a big year for the largest social network after it went public in 2012. Not only did Facebook grow in numbers and stock price, it also made several changes that impact marketing. For starters, it dramatically updated News Feed. Facebook rolled out “Story Bumping” that pushes older stories to the top of users’ feeds allowing them to see any they may have missed, a move that should help marketers.

Also with this update came the news that EdgeRank was dead. Though the term is no longer being used, Facebook still has an algorithm for News Feed in which affinity, weight and time decay continue to play a vital role.

Facebook additionally took a tip from Twitter and made the move add Verified Business Pages and to integrate #hashtags, the latter much to many users’ dismay. The company also added a 5-star rating system so users can rank business pages and updated Graph Search.

Lastly, Facebook made changes to its Promotion Guidelines making it easier for marketers to advertise and promote content through the network.

Moving on to Twitter, the microblogging service also had a number of noted events. In 2013, Twitter made the change to notify users when a tweet you have been mentioned in receives an additional action such as a retweet or mention. Twitter also added images to its timeline, so users don’t have to click elsewhere to view them.

For marketers, just last week, Twitter rolled out a retargeted ad program called tailored audiences to allow advertisers to target users based on their browsing history, which is a big win for marketers.

The biggest news for Twitter, however, has been its IPO. The company did not face the same drama that Facebook did when it went public, and so far, the stock has been high. Time will tell how the tech company will fare in a very volatile market.

The professional network of LinkedIn has also made headway this year for marketers in particular. LinkedIn unveiled Sponsored Updates as well as a robust analytics platform. Beyond this, it gave company page administrators the ability to act as their brand through posting updates, commenting and liking on their pages. All these developments help to position LinkedIn as a competitor among the other social networks.

We must also talk about Google+ in regards to social media happenings. For Google’s social network, 2013 has brought it growth, but it’s also brought some controversy. Earlier this year, Google began embedding Google+ into each of its products making it nearly impossible to use its services without adopting the social network. 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+ Meme

Google+ has also recently faced scrutiny for integrating Google+ further into YouTube. The biggest area in this move is the fact that YouTube’s long criticized comment system has changed. Now, users comment using their Google+ profiles, a.k.a., their real names in most cases.

But, regardless of your feelings about Google+, we do have to keep in mind that its parent is the search and advertising giant Google, and therefore, it cannot be taken lightly.

Pinterest, though somewhat of a newbie compared to the others, had its share of happenings during 2013 as well. Last year, the company rolled out business pages, and earlier this year, it released an analytics platform to go along with it.

Pinterest Analytics

Everyone’s favorite pinboard also introduced Rich Pins to give users valuable information about a pin, thus improving the user experience. Going right along with this, Pinterest rolled out price-drop notifications on pinned items. This move greatly opens the door for brands to turn “pinners into shoppers.”

Pinterest also introduced Place Pins to allow pinners to create boards around vacations, restaurants, wish lists, and more.

Another trend that we’ve seen in 2013 is the rise of some new social networks such as Snapchat, Vine and others along with the continued growth of Instagram. Younger generations are gravitating toward these platforms for the visual appeal and quick, short messaging opportunities. Images and micro-video are driving the younger generation’s communication. It doesn’t stop there though, marketers have embraced these visual-driven networks as well.

One of the biggest drivers of these networks and short-form messaging is the accessibility on mobile devices. As we saw above, some 4.2 billion people use their mobile device to access social media. This trend is only going to grow. Mobile is quickly becoming one of the primary, if not the primary, channel with which people communicate and obtain information. Given this direction, marketers need to be mindful and accommodate.

Marketers also need to recognize that social’s influence on search is continuing to grow. In new search rankings factors released this year, it’s evident that search is evolving to accommodate a social-centric world, which indicates a thing or two about the future significance of social media.

What other changes did you notice with social media during 2013? Have any of these updates or developments made your life or business easier? And how do you think these changes will impact what we’ll see in 2014?

Images courtesy of EkaterinaWalter.com, Reddit and Pinterest respectively.

Social Media & eCommerce: Why It’s the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Commerce Sales Chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Social Media Marketing Goes All Wrong

When done right, social media can be your best friend. But, if it is executed poorly or carelessly, it can be ineffective, and worse, harmful. As we often say around here, social media is simply another tool for marketing. Since you wouldn’t jump into a print campaign without carefully planning it out, you shouldn’t jump into a social media campaign either.

Social media gives brands the opportunity to connect with their clients and customers in a much more personal way than traditional marketing channels. It also creates a means for conversation, thus building a two-way communication model. This is a huge opportunity, but it doesn’t mean that planning or strategizing aren’t required. It’s actually quite the contrary.

Take, for instance, the companies that try to capitalize on a news event. In some cases this works well such as when brands use social media to tie in hit shows like “The Voice” or the recent “Breaking Bad” series finale. Or, on a local level, when an area has gotten a lot of rain, a shoe store could capitalize on it by running a special on a rain boots. This is good marketing utilizing social media for quick reach.

However, this idea can quickly turn the other way. When the tragedy that was Hurricane Sandy hit, strangely enough, some brands tried to “take advantage” of a miscalculated opportunity, if you will. Gap is one brand that fell into this trap with a tweet encouraging those impacted by the storm to shop on Gap.com:

Gap Tweet during Hurricane Sandy

Also, during Hurricane Sandy, American Apparel sent an email blast promoting a sale “in case you’re bored during the storm:”

American Apparel and Hurricane Sandy

Jay Baer over at Convince & Convert came across another social media marketing faux pa involving the Facebook page of Evansville Regional Airport. Although they have since removed the post, Baer did pull some text prior to the removal:

We just saw a tweet from Google facts that an airline in India only hires women because they are lighter, so they save $500,000 in fuel!!! Insert your women drive jokes below – haha!

As he explains, this “gaping, self-inflicted social media wound” has multiple problems and received tremendous flack in return. One of the biggest issues is the fact that the post has no link or photo to back the story. Without any type of reference at all, it simply doesn’t make sense. Beyond this, it alienates half its audience, and it includes inaccurate information, among many other erroneous issues.

The bigger issue though is that there are some events that shouldn’t be exploited. It’s safe to say that tragedies fall into this category. There are other elements that brands must consider as well before jumping into a campaign.

For starters, brands need to consider the perception you portray. Perception matters – end of story. Brands need to think about what their audience thinks of them. Social media is about creating a face for your business, so it’s very important to think before posting.

Secondly, not everyone gets the same humor. For instance, the British are known for their dry wit, but this isn’t for everyone. Understand that there are probably very few themes that are universally funny. Humor depends on personalities, so when social media is involved, humor can be risky.

Another factor that is important to note is that viral is a possibility. That would be about right, wouldn’t it? You try and try to produce a viral campaign and then the bit you wouldn’t want to go viral gets the whole social media mob effect.

Fourthly, representation is critical for a brand. The individual or individuals that represent your company should be carefully chosen. Often, there are multiple people who have access to a company account. If this is the case, there should be at least one very trusted person who delegates what should and should not be posted to avoid any crises.

Lastly, monitoring is key. You never know what may happen, so it’s critical for your brand’s reputation to monitor your social channels closely. It’s also important to set up alerts, such as on Facebook, to deplete a potential issue before it blows up. In addition, there is software for social media management that can be beneficial as well, some of which is free and other forms that are paid.

Ultimately, remember that just as something on social media could take your company to the next level, it could take it backward just as quickly and you’d be faced with a reputation management issue.

 

Google Hummingbird: What You Need to Know

Hummingbird

Google rolled out a new algorithm recently that will likely add another piece to the already complicated puzzle of search engine optimization. On the eve of the search and advertising giant’s 15th birthday, it unveiled an algorithm called Hummingbird. Google is taking a slightly different approach with this algorithm and is making an attempt to interpret the meanings and relationships behind the words and phrases instead of its previous practice of matching keywords and queries.

This concept is not new, as Google has been making moves in this direction in recent years, but it is significant that the company’s newest algorithm is based solely on semantic search or user intent. This algorithm is also unique in that, unlike Google Panda and Penguin, which were updates to its current algorithm, Hummingbird replaces it.

On Search Engine Land, founding editor Danny Sullivan describes it in this way:

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

This news is quite big since Google’s senior vice president of search Amit Singhal told Sullivan that this is the first time the algorithm has been written since 2001. Although it’s a big change, transitioning to it is not an issue. Google, in fact, rolled out Hummingbird about a month ago, so it’s reasonably safe to say that the transition has been seamless.

The new algorithm seems to be a further extension of Google’s Knowledge Graph that was introduced last year. In a recent blog post Singhal wrote about the company’s 15th anniversary, he explained a new feature that consists of comparisons and filters in the Knowledge Graph. According to him, this feature will help answer questions that don’t have a simple answer. For instance, if you’re trying to find out the amount of saturated fat in butter as compared to olive oil. Singhal says you can tell Google: “compare butter with olive oil.” The new comparison tool will reveal an answer such as:

Google Knowledge Graph Example

If you’re wondering where Panda and Penguin fit into this, you have a legitimate question. Both of these topics have received tremendous press in the SEO world and rightfully so. However, each of these were simply updates to the algorithm. While technically speaking they are no longer factors, I feel certain that elements of their updates were incorporated into Hummingbird.

Another question that many have been asking is in regards to Google’s Page Rank and other ranking factors. It’s long been known that Google looks at over 200 signals in order to rank search results, though Page Rank always seems to gain the most attention. The Hummingbird algorithm is still looking at ALL these factors though.

In terms of SEO, the impact seems to be minimal at this point. In other words, there have been no alarms raised about dropped rankings. Time will likely give a better indication as to the true impact on SEO.

What is clear is that search is advancing. For consumers, this is great. I have personally noticed a change in Google’s results of late. I’ve conducted several unofficial tests in which I query my exact thought instead of rewording it based on keywords. The results have been quite good. This means that search is getting smarter. For SEOs, this also means the game is getting harder. As the language of search advances, search marketing becomes much more difficult. Add social media, mobile, and all the other verticals that are quickly intersecting, and the landscape appears challenging. But, this is not bad. It’s actually a good indication that our voices are being heard. We just have to make sure that we are advancing along with these developments.

Images courtesy of Amsdaily.net and Google.com respectively.