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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.

10 Years of Facebook & Its Influence on Social Media

“…People often ask if I always knew that Facebook would become what it is today. No way.

I remember getting pizza with my friends one night in college shortly after opening Facebook. I told them I was excited to help connect our school community, but one day someone needed to connect the whole world.

I always thought this was important — giving people the power to share and stay connected, empowering people to build their own communities themselves.

When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.

While some doubted that connecting the world was actually important, we were building. While others doubted that this would be sustainable, you were forming lasting connections.

We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.”

Above are the words of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It’s been 10 years since his dorm room project came to life. And what a decade it has been! We’ve witnessed tremendous growth, transformations, impact, business capabilities and even an IPO. But, as anyone knows that has even somewhat followed the social giant, the past decade hasn’t just been a bed of roses. There have been challenges and backlashes along the way including privacy concerns, competitors, legal issues, financial alarms and more.

Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg

But, 10 years in, Facebook is a successful, global company that has had a tremendous impact on all society. We would be here a very long time if we went back through all the Facebook milestones and the effect they have had on both the company and overall culture. But, we do want to take a little time to reflect on the big picture of Facebook in the past decade, and more importantly social media and the role it has played.

To do this, let’s back up. In 2004, when Facebook was built, what was your social media life like? At this point in time, MySpace was a big deal, forums were hot, instant messaging platforms such as ICQ were all the rave and Friendster was a means to connect with people online whom you already in the offline world. Other platforms such as Orkut, LinkedIn, and Classmates, among others, existed as well, but the social evolution that we now are familiar with was not present. It was then that blogging really started taking off too.

For me, I remember being in college and getting asked if I had Facebook from a few of my friends from other colleges and universities. I had no idea what it was. But, when it became available to my university, I readily signed up. Funny thing, I remember it blowing up across campus to the extent that there were rumors the president was going to ban it. I was part of the on campus news station, and in covering the event, the overall student response was: “My life would be over if they take Facebook away.” I wonder how many people view Facebook in this same way today…

As Facebook began to grow among the college crowd, it then expanded to include high schoolers, and shortly after, everyone. Although this move took the social network to the next level, Charlene Li from research firm Altimeter Group tells CNET it was “counter-intuitive.”

“If [Zuckerberg] had asked users, “What do you want?,” they would have never said “Add my parents,” she said.

She’s right, but we know now that it was successful for the company that now has more than 1.25 billion users and a reported $2.59 billion in revenue this past quarter. However, beyond this, I think it’s fair to say that social media would not be what it is today if Facebook were not a factor. Like it or not, Facebook has largely influenced the overall social media marketplace. Think about how social we are in everything we do from shopping to cooking to sharing opinions to conducting business and the list goes on and on. Though some would say, if Facebook hadn’t come around, something else would have. While this may be true, the circumstances would still be different. For instance, would MySpace have remained a leader? Whether it did or didn’t, would the road have still been paved for Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others to enter the social space?

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Though history does not allow us to answer this question, it is clear that Facebook has been very formative in molding social media as we currently know it.

Now, the question becomes, where will it take us next?

“…I’m even more excited about the next ten years than the last. The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems.

Today, only one-third of the world’s population has access to the internet. In the next decade, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to connect the other two-thirds.

Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems.

Today, we have only a few ways to share our experiences. In the next decade, technology will enable us to create many more ways to capture and communicate new kinds of experiences.”

Zuckerberg does not give us any exact information on the next 10 years of Facebook in his above post, but he does indicate that it will become smarter and create new experiences. Hopefully, the social network will continue to grow and transform the way consumers act and think. It’s already helped develop an industry that not only connects a large portion of the world and provides a very valuable tool for businesses, but it also has created a whole new job market.

There have been many headlines declaring that the younger generation was abandoning the site, but new research from Pew shows that 73 percent of children ages 12-17 are Facebook users. So, while Facebook doesn’t appear to be going anywhere but up, it is possible that it could diminish in value at some point. IF this were to happen, the impact is has will still be felt, which is an awesome concept. The way people communicate, react, think, and ultimately, live has been revolutionized in the last decade, all thanks to the influx of social media and led largely by Facebook. Will the next 10 years hold as many changes? We’ll see, but I, for one, am so excited to see where it takes us.

How has Facebook impacted you? Does it play a large role in your life? Has Facebook changed the way you communicate? Could you live without it? Is there a particular event in which Facebook changed your life for the better or worse?

Images courtesy of Facebook.

Recipe for Business Success in 2014

 

Recipe for Success

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

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

Some Things Can Never Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add a little spice

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

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

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

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

"You Won't Be Single for Long" Pasta

Ingredients

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

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Facebook Ads: How Effective Are They?

 

Hootsuite Sponsored Facebook Ad

What do you think of Facebook ads? As businesses and marketers, do you find them useful? From the consumer perspective, are they annoying? Have your eyes already realized where they need to go to avoid them?

As you ponder these questions, let’s take a look at the Facebook advertising platform.  When Facebook became open to all users, advertising became inevitable as a monetization model. Since the ad platform was rolled out several years ago, it’s gone through many different phases and developments. Most would probably agree that these changes have been for the better.

The real question is: Are Facebook ads providing real value to businesses?

According to a couple of recent studies that were incidentally released just before Facebook’s Q3 earnings came out, they do. Kenshoo Social, a digital marketing technology company, released its quarterly review of Facebook’s advertising performance and found considerable improvements from Q2. Some notable improvements include:

  • Ad impressions:  Up 13%
  • Click Volume:  Up 14.4%
  • Cost Per Click (CPC):  Down 9%
  • Conversion Rate (CVR):  Up 2.36x
  • Conversion Volume:  Up 2.85x
  • Revenue:  Up 2.16x
  • Revenue Per Click (RPC):  Up 1.76x
  • Return on Investment (ROI):  Up 3.04x

Kenshoo Social believes that changes Facebook has made to its ad platform should largely be credited with these improved performances. For instance, Facebook has given advertisers greater targeting capabilities and more formatting options. Also, as Facebook continues to provide a better product for its advertisers, they, in turn, are becoming more experienced, a.k.a. better, with their approaches.

In a blog post about the study, Kenshoo Social’s Senior Director of Product Marketing Todd Herrold made a powerful statement regarding Facebook ads:

Facebook is a powerful direct response channel that drives significant sales, revenue and ROI… [and] Facebook continues to outperform with major brands driving more sales, more revenue and higher ROI from Facebook Ads.”

A second study from Adobe, which is the first annual Social Media Intelligence report, also found positive developments in Facebook ad performance. The study specifically looked at more than 131 billion ad impressions and 4.3 billion social engagements on Facebook. It found that, overall, Facebook’s ad clicks, ad impressions and the advertiser’s return on investment (ROI) increased in 2013 from 2012. Particularly speaking, Facebook ads were clicked 29 percent more in 2013, the volume of impressions was up 85 percent and the ROI was up 58 percent year over year.

Social Media Intelligence Report

Social Media Intelligence Chart

Interestingly enough, well-acclaimed research firm Forrester also just released an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg explaining why it thinks the social giant is “failing marketers.” The company conducted a survey as well that covered marketers and ebusiness executives across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Based on this study, Facebook does NOT create business value:

Facebook Ad Failure

This news has raised quite a stir with outlets such as Venture Beat calling the report “an embarrassment” and “distasteful.”

Facebook too responded to the report saying it was “illogical and… irresponsible.”

So, which is it? Are Facebook ads doing great, or are they a failure?

Though the story is still developing, business leaders and marketers ultimately need to analyze this data and this news based on your own perspective. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times – there is no formula for social media. What works for one company does not necessarily work for another. Yes, it can in some cases, but if there were a secret formula for success on social media, all companies would be social media rock stars. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way.

In this particular matter, it does seem clear that Facebook is continually improving its ad platform. Also, advertising on Facebook has been around for a while, so marketers who embraced it early have likely become better at it as they have gained more experience with it.

However, as you consider if Facebook ads are the way to go for your business, think about your own company goals. While studies are great tools to see what the trends are, what you’re trying to achieve with your business needs to be the ultimate decision maker.

Images courtesy of Adobe and Forrester. 

 

Social Media & eCommerce: Why It’s the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Commerce Sales Chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mobile: The Marketing Key in Reaching Your Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pew Study on Phone Usage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of AskingSmarterQuestions.com and Pew respectively.

 

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.

 

Social Media & 2014: Early Indicators of Coming Trends

 

What's trending?

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

Where will social media go in 2014?

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

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

Photos Most Shared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of Thinkhandy and Socialbakers respectively.