Tumble this

Haven’t really decided how exactly I’m going to incorporate tumblr, and my target audience on this platform, into the rest of my brand.

This brings up an interesting issue. My focus and assumption for people focused on Social Media is each platform is a different target audience. Sure there’s some overlap, but the people I connect with on Facebook are different than those on LinkedIn or Twitter. Not just friends versus non-friends, but the things my twitter followers are interested in are significantly different than what my Facebook connections want to hear about. Once I’ve established my target audience here on Tumblr, I’ll then have (for example) 5 core places to address my audience. (Allowing for some overlap). Twitter, Facebook, my hosted blog, LinkedIn and here.

While there are third party plug-ins and apps that will let my one post proliferate to all other networks, I don’t actually want the same post, tweet, article, etc to fly out everywhere at all times. If nothing else, it’ll make my one or two loyal followers (this means you, Mom) frustrated with the number of times they’ve had to see the same content in a tiny window of time. It’d be nice for some content, but not all (defeats the purpose of multiple target audiences, right?).

That almost means I’ve boxed you in to having to write unique content for 5 core places, right? Well how much time does that take? If you’ve seen any of my (hosted) blog articles (soon to be syndicated here) I spend:

- a good 2 days casually browsing for stats, documentation from relevant APIs, apps and start-ups and several emails
- a solid 2-3 hours going through 2 drafts of the post before publishing
- an additional 1-2 hours creating graphics, modifying graphics, and linking content and mentions of companies in my articles back to their respected sites
- an additional 2-3 hours pinging social networks, throughout the process, advertising a new piece of content is coming to the blog

Just looking at hours, that’s what - let’s say a day of solid writing and work, not including research/background time? Admittedly, I’m new at writing for an audience, so let’s say I can chop 50% of the fat out of this process and maybe only do 1 draft. That’s still going to be a couple of hours (say 2) for one target audience. Assuming little-to-no-overlap, I’d probably have to put in enough time to post to two networks a day as regular content. Holy crap now we’re talking about spending 20 hours per week talking about stuff directed at my social networks and their unique target audiences? Plus a 40 hour per week job, plus another 20 hours for whatever personal projects I have going on, that leaves 88 hours for sleep, working out, eating, commuting, and complaining about how much I have to write.

As an aside (and tangent) I take the GMAT this weekend. Turns out if I wanted to reschedule I’d have to pay extra, if I wanted a refund I’d get very little of my test costs back. So I’m stuck. Hopefully this technical-audience-oriented blog writing will help me when I try to write something for this test. Doubtful.

Invasive Social Media or Great Customer Service?

Last Friday the Living Social Daily Deal for Detroit featured a Concealed Weapon License. My immediate reaction was hilarity, tweeting about the deal with thoughts of the ‘state of Detroit.’ I’ve visited and lived in the Metro Detroit area several times over the years and my impression of the city, post-government bailouts for the auto and banking industry, quietly provokes images of the stage set for RoboCop. My remarks were intended to be a reflection my perception of the deteriorating economy and situation in Detroit. Oblivious and without consideration to the recent violence that took place in Tucson, Arizona.

Since I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and opt-in for features such as detailed tracking ofwho’s viewed my profile, I was able to see that a pair of Living Social Consumer Advocateshad been checking out my profile. I didn’t make any connection between my tweet and Twitter profile (which lists my LinkedIn profile as my website) and the random occurance of Living Social folks.

About 8 hours after my cynical Tweet I received an email from a Living Social Customer Advocate:

Living Social’s customer service department monitored and noted my tweet, interpreted it as a negative remark against their brand, reacted quickly to find an off-Twitter or non-public means of contacting me (the consumer) and rectifying the situation. This all happened within 8 hours of my content, at least 4 of which were not standard business hours (local time). Given the popularity of Living Social I am amazed at this response time and the individual attention given by their ‘consumer advocate’ staff.

Just a quick and light technical explanation why this whole event was even an issue: Several social coupon sites are actual businesses, not just some bootstrapped daily-updated application. There’s a schedule, queued deals for given regions, emails, tweets and other social communication around a deal for a given city. A lot of these processes are automated once the business relationship between Living Social and the company offering a deal are struck. Like any other communication on- or offline, the course of current events is not predicted when setting up an automated process. The notification I received at 3a-ish about the new deal was also automated. If a social coupon site like Living Social was obligated (by law or user expectations) to update the availability of their daily specials for every region depending on current events around the world, the business couldn’t function. A cupcake offer in New York City may be useless or offend a diabetic in Portland. It’s not anyone’s fault - the offers are targeted at a region for a given time period days if not weeks in advance.

I think this customer service process is stellar. The desire to serve the customer Living Social has gone above and beyond to ensure my happiness and satisfaction with their brand. However my initial reaction was frustration and worry that this communication was a violation of my privacy.

Where do we draw the line on using social media to service your brand’s reputation and your customer’s needs? Should the handling or defusing of a situation around a brand remain public? What other brands (whether you manage them or not) are reaching directly to users, taking issues out of public view to be addressed?

My initial reaction (lasted 2-3 seconds tops) when I received this email was “Wait, how’d they get my email address?" There was a doubt in my mind that I had provided any information to Living Social or opted-in for any communication from them via email. What I am describing (and advocating) as a great customer service experience could come across as an invasion of privacy.

What about privacy? Let’s try and play devil’s advocate for a moment. Did Living Social have the right to send me email? If they were concerned about a Tweet, should their brand managers addressed me through that media channel instead of directly through another? I’ve provided details of myself on LinkedIn for people interested in contacting me for professional reasons - the B2B channel to Nick, if you will. If Twitter users want to talk to me, shouldn’t they talk to me on Twitter (and no where else, regardless of what links, APIs, third party applications and content I link to and from Twitter)?

If you post information online, you accept that it will be visible. Depending on the application, platform, means/methods and privacy settings of where you’ve posted information, it will be visible to the internet or just a defined circle of connections and contacts. My wonderful customer experience from Living Social didn’t ask I buy anything, didn’t solicit me to try some service they offer and it didn’t even address whether I was a Living Social customer or not.  The Living Social Consumer Advocate simply said sorry and wanted to be sure everything between me and the brand was cool. And we are, cool.

Social Engagement Beyond The Post

There was an article posted on KISSmetrics’ Marketing Blog about Facebook social plug-ins that starts to break the ice on the real power of social media platforms. Too many social media sites, blogs, marketers et al focus on the quality of posts, quantity followers and leveraging simple ways to push as much content as possible to users. Providing quality content for your users should be easy: talk to your target audience online the way you would if they came to your store, business or met with you in person; be real, be genuine and be helpful. I will assume you have this ‘Social Media Phase 1’ project covered.

How are you leveraging social platforms to engage, accommodate and serve your users’ and customer’s needs?

There’s an interesting infographic from that compliments KissMetric’s article, highlighting services people have been using to access desired content around the web. Facebook tops the list with Google Accounts placing a distance second.

What online IDs are people using the most to sign in around the web?

Enable users to use their Facebook account to authenticate through to your site. (TheJavascript SDK method is personally my favorite, probably because I get the play with cookies. Also: I heart cookies.)

If you’re adding like buttons and AddThis -style plug-ins to your site to encourage and enable sharing, you are already assuming a user is either logged into Facebook (and othersocial sites) or willing to login to Facebook to share your content. Take it a step further, let users authenticate through to your site to access their account information, manage their communication preferences and update the content they like, share and flag on your site.

Here are a few examples:

Normally I’d take the time to dive into the benefits of using a single sign-on service from a frequently used site or web service, but we’ll end up digressing and discussing the features and failures around previous and existing programs: from the Windows Live ID/Passportto Yahoo! Accounts to saved usernames and passwords within web browsers. I will simply offer that a user’s Facebook account possess enough value to the users, that they are more likely to remember their Facebook credentials versus an email/username with case-sensitive or custom password requirements unique to your site. It would be easier to let them login with their social network credentials. Aside from providing quality content to users and customers, making a user’s life easy will also keep them happy.

What if your application, website or web service doesn’t require authentication? What if you simply want your users to consume your content and share it? Is your content, products, media etc sharable?

Open Graph Logo from ogp.me

At this point in the game you have probably heard of the Open Graph, maybe even gone as far to have your own assumptions on its usefulness. As simply as I can put it: The Open Graph Protocol provides the tools and syntax to make any piece of content share-friendly. Sure you can share anything on any social network, but the Open Graph’s markup addsmetadata to help define a piece of content, transforming the piece of content into a social object.

At the very least I would encourage all of your applications, websites and web services to be tagged with the recommended minimum metadata, so there is a share-friendly output or representation of the content when shared on sites and applications that utilize the Open Graph markup. If nothing else, your short-term benefit will be dictating what Title, Description and Image would be slurped up if someone shared a link to your content on Facebook.

For a handy tool to test how share-friendly your content is: bookmark the Facebook URL Linter. Ironically, if you drop in Social Media Today's site, you'll see what data would get slurped up if you shared their homepage on your Facebook Page or Profile. Without any specific Open Graph tagging, Facebook (or other  Open Graph consuming  sites and applications) would default to existing metatags, normalized URLs and various images found by just crawling image tags to populate suggested attributes upon sharing. Manually updating all of your content to be Open Graph'd can be time consuming, but beneficial to your users and your brand's social presence. In fact, the folks working on HTML5 are promoting using microdata (similar to the current means of Open Graph tagging) for letting browsers, user-agents and applications know exactly what the code of your pages represents.

Who’s already trying to share your content on Facebook? If you have access to your site’s log files, search for instances of the Facebook user-agent:

facebookexternalhit/1.1 (+http://www.facebook.com/externalhit_uatext.php)

Each instance of this user agent is Facebook trying to crawl your content or someone trying to share your content. While evidence of Facebook crawling your content isn’t sufficient enough to argue for full Open Graph tagging or promoting authentication with Facebook credentials, it would be worthwhile to see if users are already trying to spread the word about your content. For more information on User-Agents check out Wikipedia or consult your friendly neighborhood System Administrator.

Bottom line is users don’t stop being social after they leave Facebook. Just as you would expect people to talk about your business or brand after they’ve interacted with you directly, it would be safe to assume that online users will exhibit a similar behavior. Continue to provide quality content for your users and in addition, leverage the social platforms already used by your target audience to engage one another. Provide a sharetacular and overall happy experience.

Popular Facebook Applications May Destroy Your Visibility

You’re braving the social media world, focused on Facebook, you’ve been providing quality content to your target audience, engaging them and relevant brands where appropriate, fielding customer service inquiries and overall keeping your people happy. However, you and hundreds of other social marketers have mapped out similar ‘secret formulas’ for quality content, but your impressions, much less feedback, seem to be steadily dropping. Your fan base is not declining, you’re using mainstream social media tools and as far as your brand’s social barometer is concerned, your target audience is happy. So what’s going wrong?

Facebook released an update last summer introducing what many called threaded comments or simply: a new way to share content. These threaded comments eventually led to combined content: if you and a friend shared the same link, the link content was featured as a post supplemented by you and your friend’s comments about the link being separated out as initial responses to the piece of content.

This threaded content feature was quickly rolled out for applications. Too many applications, requiring the addition of friends for in-app advancement or even application use (a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service) ended up posting to consenting users’ streams. This flooded non-application users with unwanted content. From “Jimmy watered his crops on his Farm, want to send him a gift?" to "Jessica just performed a drive-by on main street, want to pay her protection money?"Facebook quickly responded to users’ complaints or perceived behaviors and enabled threaded content from application sources. This was great for folks who don’t want the item-request spam from social games, but a disaster for brand managers using popular applications to post or syndicate their content.

Companies like InvolverHootsuite and Buddy Media leverage(d) their own social-posting software for their clients. Powerful and intuitive tools that allowed brands and companies, regardless of size and social footprint, to self-manage and provide quality content to their target audience without having to learn all the ins and outs of different social networks.

As these applications become more and more popular, they are subject to the threaded content feature Facebook put in place last summer. For example, RSS Graffiti is a popular application among technology bloggers. However, if you’re using this app, you’ll find as more blog posts launch on your site and other posts roll into each tech-blogger’s site, the application will slurp up the posts and post them to appropriate Facebook Pages and feeds. As users follow more and more technology blogs who employ the help of this application, their content will become threaded in their news feeds. Behold:

News Feed preview of RSS Gaffiti content

The option to see ‘more posts from RSS Graffiti’ is Facebook’s way of preventing you (and your users) from being spammed. The assumption that posts from a social application are coming from common actions is valid and accurate, but when multiple brands are using the same social application it ends up hurting the visibility of posts and content. After expanding the additional posts from RSS Graffiti (pictured above) a user would see:

News Feed preview from RSS Graffiti after posts are expanded

As you can see, two separate brands from TechFlash reveal (quality) content fromEngadget and BGR that would otherwise be missed by users. The three pieces of content aren’t related to one another - rather: they’re not reposts of the same content - however Facebook’s threaded content feature prevents exposure of the latter two articles.

This raises a series of questions: Does threaded content still count against ‘impressions’ from Facebook Insights? Would a custom-publishing-application solve or avoid this issue? What is the actual likelihood of users missing my content due to posts from another brand using the same application? Is this even my problem: Facebook is the one threading my relevant content with irrelevant content based on the application I’m using? Does this even matter since most of my target audience consumes content from a mobile application or syndication service off-site from Facebook?

Coming from a custom application background, my impulsive recommendation would involve writing a custom application to publish your content. However that can get expensive and time consuming - plus if your unique app only pushes out content and you want more functionality, additional cost would be required to enhance your custom application. What about white labeling an existing application to fit your brand?

In the end, the evidence I’ve outlined in this article leads to two conclusions around what you, a brand manager, can control to ensure or increase visibility of your posts: do everything manually or don’t use third party applications. Either way, I’ve boxed you into a corner to spend a ton of money either making your own posting platform or spending a grueling number of hours manually posting content.

Facebook may be able to provide a solution. Currently as brand managers we setup a Facebook page to be of a certain type: product, company, band or individual. Applications currently don’t require a ‘type’ to be defined. Only an application title and application description differentiate one application from another:

Application Title and Plaintext Description

If Facebook required an application type to be defined (game, feed reader, video publisher, etc), they could incorporate an application type into their algorithms and send appropriate content and posts to users as we (the brand managers) intended. If the original purpose of threaded content was to cut down on spam from social games, this kind of application definition would further enhance the goals of Facebook’s threaded content and allow sites and brands that update on a regular basis to maintain their visibility on the Facebook platform.

But maybe I’m speaking to the wrong crowd. I follow hundreds of brands and content is easily missed, buried or threaded on an hourly basis for me. Have any of you experienced a loss in impressions, feedback or visibility due to threaded content from use of third party applications? Who is using white labeled or custom applications to reach out to their target audience? What other challenges are you faced with using third party applications?

Would you ditch your website for a social media campaign?

The big question on everyone’s mind is really how to promote their business through social media channels.

About two years ago everyone was desperate to have some SEO value so they’d show up in search results. While still important, the focus has been shifted to generating excitement about your brand through a social network. ClickZ posted an article a few days back stating that ads on Facebook that contain social context are 68% more likely to be remembered by users. That is, when Heineken posts an ad on Facebook that links to one of their videos, when I ‘like’ or share the video, my network is 68% more likely to remember the Heineken brand (within the context of the video). Since word of mouth referrals generally hold more weight than search results or email campaigns, a social network would be the best place to cleverly advertise so your fans/users/potential customers will ‘like’ or share your content.

In theory, it may be more cost effective and powerful to focus all of your online marketing efforts on a social media campaign. Having a website is - or was - a standard or rite of passage, much like having a business card. Buy a domain name and have it redirect over to your Facebook page. You’ve undoubtedly seen brands that are using social media platforms for customer servicesales and other communication like all-important Rugby World Cup news.

If the value of a well executed social media strategy is higher than that of the website, why not just ditch the website?

Take a moment and evaluate why you have a website: for customer contacts, to showcase products and services, to provide a resource for customers to get assistance from your brand and what else? Facebook’s platform has a core purpose of allowing users to share information with their network. Is there a difference between what Facebook facilitates and what your website facilitates? For small or local businesses, trying to complete in search results is a painful and sometimes expensive ordeal - competing against companies and campaigns with a broader reach than your small town cause increases in the price for Pay-Per-Click advertising. Larger companies and campaigns also have multiple people guiding and monitoring the interactions and often small businesses cannot dedicate a staff member the same way. On social networking platforms you can even target ads at specific regions and demographics (based on social data stored on the platform). A fine-tuned Social Media presence could very well be the replacement of the website.

On the other hand, having a website for a small business is still a rite of passage. I have yet to find a client or business who has a social media presence and does not have a website. The baseline for establishing a brand online is still a unique URL for your products, services etc. That said, the challenge is now about keeping your website content as fresh and updated as your social media presence. Search engines are constantly crawling your website for new content, users want new content - so why keep it all to the social networks?

Facebook has a series of social plug-ins for your website. Plug and play code you can drop anywhere on your site and it will pull the latest from your Facebook page. Twitter also has a large number of third party plug-ins that allow you to post your latest tweets or even query their search API for trending topics.

I would recommend for small businesses to get their website to a self-sustaining point through social media. The website will have the baseline product and service descriptions, pricing etc - that’s great - but then add social plug-ins for the networks where you’re actively engaged with customers and fans. Keep your fans happy through the social networks - and at the same time your website will be updating with relevant content as your brand’s on the social network will be syndicated through your plugins to your website.

Quantifying Social Media

I watch a post proliferate late last week about the top 50 branded Facebook Fan Pagesfrom back in July. The nice thing is the post presents a ton of data and then tries to interpret the data and guide readers to action after learning from the data. The trouble is the data.

The data comes from a web app created by Vitrue which boasts to have the ability to quantify Social Media into Return on Investment (ROI) figures. Before you go run and try to calculate your page’s dollar value know that the point of a social media presence isn’t dollar value. I’m not the only one uneasy by Vitrue’s misleading ROI calculations and dollar values for fans.

MySpace is a ‘technology company connecting people through personal expression, content, and culture.’ Facebook gives ‘people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.’ The point of these two major social networking sites is to connect people.

How do you value a relationship? Is it pure dollars? How would you calculate any form of ROI based on relationships, in this case between a brand and followers/fans? Let me throw two thoughts out there: (1) communicating through social media channels is the same or similar to driving traffic from a blog: you provide something your readers/followers want, they identify and discuss around your content. (2) Besides very few, how many people are purchasing goods and services from a Facebook page, or as a result of traffic from a Facebook page to an eCommerce website? How can any Facebook page or social media campaign even guess at potential ROI?

I’m throwing hypotheticals out there to guide you to my point: the bottom line is Vitrue adds false dollar value. Their calculations are not based on analytical data translated into dollars and sense but made on unsubstantiated speculation. The real problem ends up not being with Vitrue’s faking ROI values, the real problem exists with the Web Analysts at corporations (Fortune 200’s to small businesses) who buy into the idea that fans X daily interactions X percentage of annual revenue could equal ROI.

Despite how upset I may be with the concept of ROI association with social media interactions, we should probably ask: Are the folks at Vitrue jerks for obscuring social media value or are they geniuses taking advantage of naive Web Analysts’ and large-scale companies who don’t know better?

CHARTIER!

I’m here, finally.