CONNECTING WITH CONSUMERS

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Tuesday, May 8 2012

From B-to-C to B-to-B

Although this site is dedicated to consumer marketing, it goes without saying that more and more companies are waking up to the potential of new technologies and approaches for connecting with other companies. So in this entry, we go a bit outside the box to take a look at what businesses are doing these days with social media. The best window for meeting that objective may well be Mike Stelzner's  2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, with findings based on a survey of more than 3800 marketers.

SOCIAL MEDIA USE

Among the key results, we see that most B2B marketers claim to be using social media in their businesses, which essentially matches their consumer marketing counterparts:





SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS

Perhaps not surprisingly, B2B marketers are catching up to B2C marketers on Facebook, although they surpass their consumer-oriented counterparts on LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and Google+.  The key to using such channels is to focus on where one's intended audience is likely to be spending the most time.



SOCIAL MEDIA BENEFITS


What about results?  These results reveal some of the potential benefits of social media for B2B marketers:

  • Over 56% of B2B marketers acquired new business partnerships through social media (compared to 45% of B2C marketers)
  • Nearly 60% of B2B marketers saw improved search rankings from their social efforts (compared to 50% of B2C marketers)
  • B2B marketers are more able to gather marketplace insights from their social efforts (nearly 69% vs. 60% of B2C marketers)
  • The one area where B2B marketers significantly lag behind their B2C counterparts is in developing a loyal fan base.  63% of B2C marketers found social media helped them develop loyal fans, compared to 53% of B2B marketers.
  • The fact that many businesses are not seeing a direct link between their social media efforts and increased sales or reduced marketing expenses may have something to do with a lack of acumen as to how results can be measured:  20% of the respondents asked “How do I measure the effect of social media marketing on my business?”


THE FUTURE


Some projections concerning how B2B marketers intend to invest their time with social media also were culled from the study:

  • Respondents claim to be far more likely to increase their use of LinkedIn, with, over 76% of B2B marketers stating that they will increase their use (compared to 55% of B2C marketers).
  • 71% of B2B marketers plan to invest more time in blogging (compared to 65% of B2C marketers).
  • As for Facebook, a majority of marketers predict they will increase their use of Facebook this year, but B2B marketers (68%) lag behind B2C companies (76%).

The top topics B2B marketers want to learn about (compared to B2C) are:

  • Measuring effectiveness of social media (77% vs. 78%)
  • Converting activities to sales (72% vs. 69%)
  • Discovering best social media tactics (69% vs. 74%)



THE LESSON LEARNED

... is one we probably knew already:  Social media is now as much part and parcel of B2B marketing as it of B2C marketing.

SOME LINKS TO CHECK OUT

Why Marketing is Broken and How to Fix It

83% of Consumers Bailed on a Purchase Due to Poor Social Media Customer Service                                                    


Wednesday, February 8 2012

Social Media in a Donut

Just in case you're feeling a bit out of it and having trouble keeping up, I offer this primer on social media.

(source: Pascal Beucler, MSLGROUP, Paris)

Wednesday, June 1 2011

Introducing the Hot New Social Network, PhoneBook


I couldn't resist - this published verbatim from The Borowitz Report, 9 February 2010.  It's dated, but for some reason, it just seems more and more relevant.  As I continue to bump into people poking at that little rectangular box in their hands as I walk the streets of Paris, I can't help thinking that those people are in that little box and not in Paris at all.  Maybe's there's something to the PhoneBook concept afterall.  Or better yet, to quote from Trainspotting, 'choose life.'

By the way, if you like the PhoneBook installment, check out Borowitz's current posting on the US Republicans' plan to replace Social Security with Groupon.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A new social network is about to alter the playing field of the social media world, and it’s called PhoneBook.

According to its creators, who invented the network in their dorm room at Berkeley, PhoneBook is the game-changer that will leave Facebook, Twitter and even the much anticipated Google Buzz in a cloud of dust.

“With PhoneBook, you have a book that has a list of all your friends in the city, plus everyone else who lives there,” says Danny Fruber, one of PhoneBook’s creators.

“When you want to chat with a friend, you look them up in PhoneBook, and find their unique PhoneBook number,” Fruber explains.  “Then you enter that number into your phone and it connects you directly to them.”

Another breakout utility of PhoneBook allows the user to arrange face-to-face meetings with his or her friends at restaurants, bars, and other “places,” as Fruber calls them.

“You will be sitting right across from your friend and seeing them in 3-D,” he said.  “It’s like Skype, only without the headset.”

PhoneBook will enable friends to play many games as well, such as charades, cards, and a game Fruber believes will be a breakout: Farm.

“In Farm, you have an actual farm where you raise real crops and livestock,” he says.  “It’s hard work, but it’s more fun than Mafia, where you actually get killed.”

Tuesday, April 12 2011

Social Networks Scorecard

Another piecemealed infographic on the current winners and losers among social networks, from Mashable via Ignite.

Needless to say, social networking preferences vary according to gender, age, educational level, and geographical location.  Plaxo is the preferred network for elderly online users (over 65 years old), Facebook is more popular with women, whereas Digg and Reddit attract more men. Plurk outperforms LinkedIn as the preferred network for well-educated users who hold graduate degrees.



Interesting findings, but it's important to bear in mind that these are snapshots of social network usage at a particular moment, subject to change.  A good bet is to regularly check on social network profiles where they are regularly monitored, such as Quantcast's 'People' (which tracks the profile of site visitors) and 'Visitors' (which provides measures of site visits, but doesn't always match Google's Analytics 'Actual').  Here are a couple snapshots from Quantcast's latest evaluation of American Facebook usage:


Slide 10This charts provide further evidence that Facebook skews towards female youth, although 53% have children and earn a salary of over US$60K per year.  Not surprisingly, 50% of users are university students.  These trends are changing as the university market becomes saturated and as more moms come onboard. 

Tuesday, March 15 2011

More Exaggerated Claims

I'm an avid surfer of social media sites, and there are some great ones out there - Mashable, for example, definitely merited a place on my 43Marks homepage.  Yet it never ceases to amaze me how many unverified stats end up at such sites, reported, cited, quoted, retweeted, what have you, without question.  So, when I noticed the headline, "80% of Children Under Age 5 Use the Internet" by Sarah Kessler, my bullshit detectors were maxed to the limit.  Just off the top of my head, I reasoned that many children under the age of 5 can't bloody read, so how do they log on, and what sites do they visit?  Okay, no sense nitpicking, but try to figure out the following graphic:

Now if I'm reading this chart correctly, we are expected to believe that 75% of 0-2 year olds use a computer and nearly 60% a cellphone?  This is difficult to accept even for 2 year olds, but what about 3 month olds?  And what are they doing on the cell phone - talking?  Before they learn how to talk? These stats supposedly come from Sesame Street Media Utilization Studies - that sure sounds impressive to me, until Kessler's link takes you to the Sesame Workshop site which hardly looks like a repository of rigorous research.  I consulted one of the SSMS reports, and found the following definition of 'media use', supposedly the measure plotted on the graphic: 'The amount of time spent actively consuming a given medium.'  So I guess that means we can rule out the possibility that the participation percentages include cases where a mother surfing the Internet is holding her baby, who happens to drool on the keyboard. 

Throwing out a bunch of head scratching statistics is nothing new when it comes to hyping social media - those Social Media Revolution videos are fun to watch and creatively produced, but replete with questionable statistics (e.g., '96% of Millennials have joined a social network').  Which is why I always cringe when my students start off a presentation with one of those videos. 


Moral of the story: just because the stats appear on an otherwise credible website or in a brilliantly produced video, it doesn't mean that they are accurate.  Seek verification and demand to know what method was used to acquire them.

Sunday, March 6 2011

Blogging Is Not Dead

Despite recent suggestions to the contrary, written words online - beyond the burgeoning 140-character attention span limit - continue to represent a useful means for companies to connect with their targets. Recent musings about the demise of blogs tend to center on the argument that the new online conversational tools like Twitter, Quora, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on, have rendered blogs as essentially superfluous, redundant, and more time consuming than necessary.  Despite my beliefs to the contrary - my modest Paris Restaurant Reviews and Beyond blog continues to welcome an average of 60 visitors per day - I would probably be the first to agree that the blogosphere is littered with countless blogs, abandoned by their creators who quickly learned they bit off more than they could chew, or discarded like space debris once it was realized the blogs served no more useful purpose.  From the blogger's perspective, to maintain a fully-functioning blog, regularly updated with informative, engaging new content and maintaining a two-way conversation with commenters, well, it's a full-time job (which, for personal bloggers, only pays for the very lucky).  Yet, from a marketing perspective, just look at the evidence - more and more companies are taking advantage of the tool and claim that the outcomes more than offset the effort (at virtually no expense).




In terms of payoff for firms, check out the following results from HubSpot's Rick Burnes' 2009 analysis of 1,531 HubSpot customers (mostly small- and medium-sized businesses; 795 of which blogged):






In a nutshell (but more than 140 characters), Dreamgrow.com's founder and CEO Priit Kallas offers the following reasons why blogs are important:

  • Create an image of an expert
  • Interact with clients and prospects
  • Improve search engine rankings
  • Spread the word
  • Talk about more than just products and services
  • Solve client’s problems
  • Build trust
  • Stay on top of your field
  • Build brand
  • Exercise your creativity
  • Put a human face on your brand
  • Proving ground
  • Foundation for social media activities
  • Differentiate from competition
  • Educate clients, prospects, stake holders
  • Increase traffic
  • Make money

Still not convinced?  Then check out this little graphic from  Jonny at Technobabble 2.0:




Technobabble's blogging vs. Twitter assessment recalls my casual comments above:

Writing as a blogger, I an confirm what many people know, in that it takes a great deal of effort and dedication to compose a blog post. it’s not like twitter where brisk thoughts can be jotted down in 140 characters – instead a blog is a place where context is added to headline, where ideas are fleshed out and where structure is given to a proposition. Twitter and Facebook are not the right platforms for this – this is where a blog shines and becomes a library of all your thoughts and ideas. In essence it is where ‘idea starters’ reside.

But it's all relative, or should I say, connected?  Another finding from the HubSpot analysis:



In other words, the more meaningful and informative your blog content, the more interesting you will be on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, etc.  Easier said than done, but The Next Web offers a great start:  21 Tips to Create A Brilliant Business Blog.

And here are some suggestions as to how to draw a crowd, thanks to Problogger's Darren Rowse:



I hope to offer some more tips based on my own blogging experience at a later date, but you know, it's tired and I'm getting late.
I would love to hear from you, though - consider this a call for blogging tips and ways to keep building your follower base.






Sunday, February 6 2011

You Say You Want A Revolution

'My goal is to simplify complexity.'  So said Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, in a recent interview with Charlie Rose to explain his new C2C credit card project, Square.  Well, you sure don't get much simpler than 140 characters, and in an increasingly complex world, who doesn't crave simplicity?  Yet revolutions are anything but simple events, and anyone who has been pointing to social media like Twitter and Facebook as the underlying mechanisms to explain the recent uprisings in Egypt and other Middle Eastern states is sorely mistaken.  And if anyone has been doing the job in perpetuating that myth, you simply have to look at traditional media outlets. 

The role of Twitter in fomenting the mass anti-government protests in Egypt was initially questioned by Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent The New Yorker blog:

Right now there are protests in Egypt that look like they might bring down the government. There are a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications: as I wrote last fall in The New Yorker, “high risk” social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.


Perhaps even more damning was this Sunday's simple observation by The New York Times' op-ed columnist Frank Rich, that at no time were the protests last week more intense and populated than the day immediately after the shutdown of social media sites by Mubarack and his gang:

The social networking hype eventually had to subside for a simple reason: The Egyptian government pulled the plug on its four main Internet providers and yet the revolution only got stronger. “Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

Citing Evgeny Morozov's new book, The Net Delusion, Rich reminds us that there were only 19,235 registered Twitter accounts in Iran at the time of that country's American-dubbed 'Twitter Revolution.'  That's .027% of the Iranian population, hardly enough to create a groundswell.  And, of course, there is the growing likelihood that authoritarian regimes will put digital tools and technology to their own malevolent purposes, to spread propaganda and trace dissident networks.

 Like Rich, I would not begin to deny the power of social media for 'organizing, publicizing and empowering participants in political movements' around the world.  Certainly there is great potential there - when mainstream journalists quote unidentified tweeters, this enables getting word from people right where events are happening - but unless you know the source, and the overall context of the situation, what does it mean?  As the technology evolves, so too will the impact of social media.  For example, early last week, Google and Twitter unveiled a new speak-to-tweet service (@speak2tweet) that lets anyone with a voice connection upload a tweet, even without an Internet access. But to attribute such historic movements to social media alone is simplifying matters to such an extent that I doubt that even Jack Dorsey would approve.


Saturday, January 29 2011

The Evolution of Social Media - Catch It If You Can

It's not only that you can't stop progress, it is getting to the point where it has become way too difficult to keep pace.  When I was writing Connecting With Consumers, just as I had begun to nail a description of some state of the art connected marketing tool, my email inbox would begin to fill with latest updates from WOMMA, Marketing Power, Knowledge@Wharton, Marketing Sherpa, Adrants Daily, Mashable, etc.  That's not a problem when you're maintaining a blog about this stuff, but when you're writing a book that is rapidly approaching your publisher's deadline, well, you want to get that last word correct, even if it is correct for only 30 seconds. At any rate, thanks to OnlineSchools.org, we now have an infographic summarizing the nearly four decade history of social media.  In their view, the transmission of the first email got it going, and as we know, social media has evolved dramatically over the ensuing years, particularly when you consider the snail's pace by which other communication technologies evolved (see the timeline of communication media below, courtesy of eudemic.com ).


As Ray Kurzweil has pointed out, technological change is exponential.  In his book The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil demonstrates how evolution 'creates a capability and then uses that capability to evolve the next stage.'  Think about the development of the computer and, subsequently, the Internet, and that makes a whole lot of sense.  Thus, perhaps it was tongue and cheek that the infographic ends with 'The End,' when in fact, it more appropriately should read 'Only The Beginning.'

Note: I've chopped the infographic into three slices to facilitate copying and use for presentations.  One glaring omission among many is June 1999 and the launch of Napster by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker - a platform that turned the music industry on its head and provided a key stimulus for peer-to-peer file sharing.  Once legal snafus doomed Napster as a free application, it was quickly followed by one emerging alternative after another, including my personal favorite, the epic Audiogalaxy.  Ah, those were the days.  Nowadays, there are bit torrents and uploading to storage sites.  The legacy of Napster's historic impact lives on in 'The Social Network' and Audiogalaxy has reappeared, albeit in a different Cloud-based guise.

Obviously, the OnlineSchools infographic creators have a pretty limited conception of social networking and thus what follows is dramatically oversimplified.  For a more complete single-slide history of social media, check out the one at crenk.com.   








































































































Tuesday, October 12 2010

Connecting With Facebook and 'The Social Network'

With all the (still-growing) hype and banter about “The Social Network,” the David Fincher-Aaron Sorkin movie about Mark Zuckerberg and his circle of ex-friends and partners and the events leading up to the founding of Facebook, the film is soaring to pop culture iconic proportions, which could well be buttressed by a best picture Oscar early next year.  Already dubbed by a Sony executive as 'the first really modern movie,' Maureen Dowd, in her New York Times column yesterday,  noted how the film shares some strikingly similar themes as found in Wagner's feudal 'Das Rheingold,' or the Ring Cycle, which some claim inspired J.R. R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings.'  According to Dowd, those themes, epitomized by "quarrels over riches, social hierarchy, envy, theft and the consequences of deceit," and "fighting about social status, identity, money, power, turf, control, lust and love" simply underscore how little human drama changes through the ages.  

Yet, from everything I've read about the film and what it says about the social network about which the plot unfolds, I would have to say that the person who really nailed what Facebook is and the functions it serves was New York Times film critic A. O. Scott.  In his words:

THE great virtue of Facebook — as articulated early in “The Social Network” by Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard student who was one of that site’s founders — is that it is “exclusive.” This may sound counterintuitive, given that one of the seductions of Facebook in the real world is that it is open to everyone. Far from exclusive, the network seems to have the potential to become universal.

But of course what the fictionalized Zuckerberg means is not that access to his nascent network is limited (though at this point in the story it exists only within the already restricted pool of Harvard students), but rather that the people who enlist can choose the company they keep. The film’s viewers, even those who have resisted the charms of Mr. Zuckerberg’s company, will recognize the logic, both human and mathematical, that has turned the word “friend” into a transitive verb with a newly formed opposite. Every Facebook user, friending and unfriending at will, can travel freely in intersecting circles of his or her own design.

In the utopian version of this resulting horizonless network, status is not something inherited or enforced by others or even earned: it is something you can change, update and revise according to your own whims. You are who you say you are, and what you want to be — a citizen of a perfect Emersonian republic of self-selection and self-reliance.

Another way of articulating the nature and functioning of Facebook from a more academic perspective is to consider it within the context of the long-standing concept of 'weak ties.'  As conceived in his famous 1973 American Journal of Sociology paper, "The Strength of Weak Ties," sociologist Mark Granovetter argued that weak social ties play a more critical role in the transmission of information through social networks than strong ties with our closest friends and intimates.  Think about it:  Our close friends tend to move in the same circles and access the same information channels as we do.  They know about the same films, concerts, TV shows, new products, gossip, etc. as we do.  Whereas the information our close friends receive considerably overlaps what we already know, acquaintances (i.e., weak ties) tend to hang out with people we don't know, and may have quite different media usage habits and behavioral patterns.  From our perspective, they receive more novel information.   

Now, it has been estimated that the average person has 500 to 1500 weak ties, but only 11-12 intimate connections.  It also has been suggested that 150 is the upward limit to the number of social contacts the average person can maintain in his or her life, the so-called 'Dunbar number.'  More precisely, the Dunbar number is the theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.  True, I realize that number sounds like a lot, but then my name is not Dunbar and I did not come up with this figure.  But then again, it is far more easy today to stay in relatively constant contact with more people than possible in the pre-texting, pre-email era.    But what does all this have to do with Facebook?

As it turns out, the way most people manage their Facebook friends coincides very closely to the numbers above and also tends to reflect the ideas concerning strong versus weak ties.  Let's consider some numbers:  As famously pointed out in a 2009 article in The Economist on Facebook and the size of social networks, the average number of Facebook friends among current users is 120.  Yet most people actively interact with only a small subset of that total - less than 20, however you measure it.  More specific details regarding maintained Facebook relationships is seen in the following graphic, from Cameron Marlowe's Overstated blog (the numbers may vary, but the point is consistent):

    To pull these points together, it appears that, contrary to popular opinion, online social networks like Facebook do not appear to increase the size of one's social network (in essence, reitering 'The Social Network' notion of exclusivity).  Thus, although you may experience a periodic rush when you see your Facebook friends total steadily rising, you are not gaining new friends in the traditional sense of the word.  You are gaining access to an increasing number of weak ties, people you will follow passively for good (you will have access to information and lifestyles you would not otherwise be privy to) or bad (you will be bored out of your skull) - this isn't exclusivity, it's inclusivity.  As a possible resolution to this apparent inclusivity/exclusivity conundrum, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project Lee Rainey argued the following:

"What mainly goes up, therefore, is not the core network but the number of casual contacts that people track more passively.  Put differently, people who are members of online social networks are not so much 'networking' as they are 'broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren't necessarily inside the Dunbar circle."

The outer tier of acquaintances that Rainey is referring to is what Granovetter had in mind when he elaborated on weak ties.  Sure, a number of your Facebook friends may be old schoolmates or distant relatives you've long lost touch with.  So there clearly is a nostalgia element to the Facebook friending system.  But in the context of social networking theory, there's obviously a lot more going on here.

Friday, July 9 2010

WOM, The World's Greatest Marketing Approach

Thanks to the creative folks at 1000 Heads for their eye-catching WOM infographic (available here).

Centered by the greatest piece of puffery in the history of marketing ('WOM, The Most Powerful Force in the World" - I wonder, does that include the atomic bomb?), it simplistically conveys some very important points regarding WOM that indeed often are lost in all the exaggeration and hype about this critical form of C-to-C influence.  Hey, what's a little puffery to get across the idea that in many situations, WOM has a far greater impact than formal, paid-for marketing efforts.  And who hasn't used a bit of exaggeration to make that point?  To wit:

'Word of mouth is the most important marketing element that exists.' - Gordon Weaver

'Word of mouth is more powerful than all of the other marketing methods . . . put together.' - George Silverman

'Because of the sheer ubiquity of marketing efforts these days, WOM appeals have become the only kind of
persuasion that most of us respond to anymore.' - Malcolm Gladwell

'Word of mouth is the greatest of all brand messages.' - Dobele & Ward

Let's briefly dissect some of the key elements of 1000 Heads' perspective on WOM:

It isn't just Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  That's for sure.  Keller Faye Talk Track studies have shown that a majority of WOM doesn't occur online at all, but that up to 90% is spread offline via face-to-face (73%) or by phone (17%).  Interestingly, these results are tempered by age, with younger persons (13-17 y.o.) giving relatively more WOM online (~19%) than other age groups.  Yet, many marketing managers feel comfortable with their social media strategy that consists solely of creating a Facebook page and Twitter account.  As Carlos Diaz of Blue Kiwi has argued in his social media maturity model, companies that limit their social media activity to setting up a Facebook fan page, corporate Twitter account, and a YouTube channel are social media immature, locked between the 'Pre-social' and 'Engagement' stages, and are merely adding a lot of 'blah blah' to cyberspace.



It's people talking to each other.  Offline and online, seamlessly.  Key word, 'seamlessly.'  True, I allude to the distinction between online and offline above, but maybe it's time we stop talking about WOM as occurring either online and offline.  WOM is fluid. As I wander through the streets of Paris, ride the metro, visit clubs, what have you, it is rare to see young people not talking to someone, either face to face, via a portable device, or both simultaneously.  Receive some WOM via one channel, it won't be long before the recipient is transmitting it to someone else via another, online or offline.

It happens when we feel something.  Emotion is our social currency, and passion drives us to share.

That passion is driven by everything from nappies to Napa Valley, from porkies to Proust, and of course, brands.

I can't argue with this emphasis on passion as being at the root of WOM, and passion comes in all shapes and sizes.  People may be passionate about many things.  A new book or film, a band, a restaurant, a dress shop, a new iPhone application - our affinity and enthusiasm about these sorts of things can light a fire that fuels and continues to fuel our conversations with others.  My nephew, a grad student at Clemson, often encourages me to check out new indie bands he comes across in S. Carolina.  No big surprise there.  But as I wrote in my book, he also was so passionate about his new Swiffer mop, that he posted about it on Facebook.  That's somewhat more surprising.  Okay, passion is important, but we also must take care to recognize that passion isn't the whole story when it comes to WOM.  Another large part of the story is need.  This morning I woke up with the realization that my house may have termites.  Termites.  Never spoke about them in my life.  But you can bet that starting today I'm going to be interacting with some of my neighbors, asking for recommendations about local services, who to trust, who to avoid.  That's WOM, and passion has nothing to do with it.  Passion is emotion.  Need underlies motivation.  Both stimulate WOM.

And where there's trust, there's talk, which leads to recommendation, and in turn, sales.  You don't need rocket science to understand the importance of trust in the WOM process and why we are more apt to follow the advice of our friends and relatives than advertisers and salespeople.  Friends and relatives, we are likely to presume, have our best interests at heart.  They want to help.  Advertisers and salespeople have their own interests at heart, and if they do want to help their customers, that desire is only secondary to wanting to help themselves.  I've often been perplexed by research findings suggesting that consumers in general do not admit to very high trust levels for bloggers.  But maybe that isn't as surprising as it sounds. Most likely, you don't know the blogger personally and you have no idea what might be the blogger's connection to the companies and brands that are recommended.  Until that blogger earns your trust, you'll prefer to seek out the recommendations of friends who have experience or expertise in the category of interest.  That's why I'll listen very attentively to the neighbors I trust who have previously dealt with a termite problem, and very warily to the experts who hope to sell me their services.

But brands need breadth and depth.  Mass buzz, but also deep advocacy to ensure their WOM isn't just a flash in the pan.  Another great point from 1000 Heads.  Passion and trust are often at the center of terrific brands.  Brand competition has never been more intense.  Yet brands that offer - and, importantly, continue to offer -  quality, innovation, and engagement, inevitably resonate with consumers, thereby enabling a long-term commitment that translates into deep advocacy.

It's always changing, so we have to keep listening and innovating in real time.  WOM waits for no man (or woman) . . .  Unfortunately, even some of the greatest brands are learning the hard way how quickly one can fall in the age of social media.  Nestle learned very quickly what happens when you try to inappropriately set the boundaries of engagement and disrespect your consumer audience.  The Nestle's Facebook fiasco is now an infamous case study in how not to engage with consumers via social media.  And you have to wonder what's going on with Johnson & Johnson.  Their customer-oriented response to the 1982 Tylenol crisis is in all the textbooks.  So what is with their current secrecy surrounding the 2010 recalls?  That attitude is contrary to just about everything I've written above.  Instead of stimulating favorable WOM, the company now finds itself fighting consumer lawsuits.  It's always changing, indeed.

Wednesday, June 30 2010

Is It 'Viral' or Is It 'Spreadable'?

Kudos to Trendspotting's Eva Hasson and her recent call to replace the term 'viral' with 'spreadable' in discussions of social media and  buzz campaigns (see her complete 70-slide deck presentation here).  According to the Advertising Lab blog, Hasson's message is but another battle cry in the growing movement which the former dubs 'the spreadable war on viral media.'  Ad Lab traces this movement to abandon the term "viral" and start referring to passalong content as "spreadable" to a 2009 eight-part blog post by Henry Jenkins, and reiterated by bloggers like Mike Arauz, Sam Ford, and Faris Yakob.  Even earlier, Market Navigation, Inc. founder George Silverman, author of The Secrets of Word of Mouth Marketing, wrote the following in his chapter that appears in my 2005 book, Marketing Communication:

I believe that ideas do not spread like viruses. Viruses tend to spread with relatively low rates of contact, though pervasive contact, in a slow but very steady manner. Ideas tend to spread explosively, in a chain reaction that is more like a nuclear explosion, rather than the slow and relentless spreading of something that requires an incubation period. Either one gets the job done, but the explosion model obviously gets it done faster. Nevertheless, word of mouth sometimes does spread slowly. But in such cases, the slow spread reflects the likelihood that the idea is not exciting enough for it to keep going, and it usually fizzles once it gets beyond the initial enthusiasts. Successful word of mouth has the characteristic that no one has heard of the product, and then suddenly, often within hours or days, everyone seems to be talking about it.

I'm not in love with Silverman's nuclear explosion metaphor, but I think his argument is a good one, and it is consistent with Hasson's point that the creation of an ultimately effective spreadable message is foremost dependent on quality.  The inclusion of content that is relevant to a particular social community or network and strikes a chord - be it as a function of its humorous or provocative content, it's value in the marketplace of information exchange, or in it's confirmatory power for its audience (i.e., it justifies, reinforces, or extends people's values, attitudes, beliefs, sense of self, and so on) is more likely to spread and have an impact than content that merely provokes a 'lol' response.  By now, it is an old message, but one that marketers still need to hear: you cannot literally create a viral marketing advertisement, a viral marketing video, a viral email campaign, etc.  As Sean X. Cummings aptly pointed out, "you can make a effort to "reach an acceptable level of self-sustainability through the inclusion of elements that encourage re-distribution."  In my mind, Cummings' term 'self-sustainability' really nails what viral marketing is supposed to be about, and conforms more to the inherent meaning of 'spreadable' than 'viral.'

Additional related points about viral marketing - what it is, what it isn't, what it should be - are discussed in Chapter 8 Connected Marketing II: Viral and Live Buzz Marketing Techniques in my book, Connecting With Consumers.  But before bringing this excerpt to a close, I think three essential takeaway points from a recent article by Jim Meskauskas,  "The problem with 'going viral'", really clarify what everyone needs to know about viral marketing, or whatever we ultimately choose to call it:

  • What makes something viral is in no small part its authenticity, and the intentional structure of marketing is in direct violation of this
  • Viral marketing isn't a strategy -- it's a possible outcome that brings an unplanned life to a piece of advertising
  • The best one can hope for is to make your marketing great -- the rest will take care of itself  

Wednesday, June 9 2010

Social Media Revolutionary Epiphanies

Social media rock--everybody (100%) says so. It's the only marketing that works anymore, according to 90% of people (US study)! TV advertising? Dead. Kaput. (I guess nobody told the advertisers, who continue to spend millions per year.) 80% of all online comments about social media are positive! The other 20% don't know what they're talking about. And, finally, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. If I see one more generalized percentage about the pervasiveness, influence, and overall wonderfulness of social media, I think I will lose it. These thoughts came to mind when one of my students showed the Social Media Revolution2 video during a class presentation earlier this year. Since then I have seen it inserted in numerous blogs and on various social media websites. And in my opinion, it is one of the best examples of social media propaganda I ever have seen, which is saying a lot. And people have seen it, closing in on one-half million YouTube views, following the video's earlier version, which to date has logged 2 million. But oh those statistics!

I hate to be so pedantic, but before I continue, let me be clear as to what I'm talking about: “Social media” describes a category of online media where people are talking, participating, sharing, networking, and bookmarking. There is a wide variety of social media, ranging from social sharing sites (YouTube and Flickr) through social networks (LinkedIn and Facebook). Needless to say, I devote an enormous amount of attention to social media in my book because they collectively provide a formidable channel by which marketing people can connect with consumers. Yet, I also believe that social media can be overrated, and social media marketing is not for everyone, or for every situation. At this website, I hope to shatter many of the misconceptions about new marketing in the new millennium, while at the same time pointing out its boundless potential. I hope that doesn't sound contradictory, but let's get back to that Social Revolution video. It is not my intention to address every inflated statistic, but let me just highlight a few.

The first statistic thrown in our faces is that over 50% of the world's population is under 30 years old. That may be true, but what isn't expressed is that the world's population is aging. To wit: The median age in Europe currently is 37.7, but it is expected to rise to 52.3 by 2050. A fourth of all Austrians and a third of Germans are expected to be 60 or older by 2015. This, of course, may not matter for social marketers--those Millennials who have never lived in a pre-Internet world should be expected to continue their online activity well into old age. While I'm on the topic of Millennials (those aged 18-29, born between 1980-95), another early statistic presented in the video we are asked to accept is that 96% of Millennials have joined a social network. Now think about that statement for a minute. No, think about it for 2 seconds, which is all it should take to recognize that we are expected to believe that 96% of all 18-29 year olds in the world are active participants in social networks. Given the fact that Internet penetration in all of Africa is currently under 10%, the fallacy of that Millennial claim is glaring.

Another claim in the video is that there are over 200 million blogs in cyberspace. I do not deny that number, but I think it is important to ask how many of those blogs remain active. Recent estimates suggest not many, with indications that 60-80% of blogs are abandoned within one month of their creation. As some have suggested, the 'average blog' has the lifespan of a fruitfly. What we have in cyberspace with regard to abandoned blogs is akin to all the dead, drifting detritus the world's space programs have left above. Among the 10 million blogs tracked by BlogPulse, Intelliseek reports that 31% are active within the last 30 days, 44% are active within the last 60 days and slightly more than half (51%) are active within the last 90 days. By 'active" it is meant that a new post has been added.

My last point pertains to the claim that only 14% of consumers trust advertising. Trust in traditional marketing approaches is down, no question. It is a point I emphasize in my book. However, the death of advertising, dear reader, has been greatly exaggerated - a topic I will address in a future post.