All posts by C fig

Social Monetization: Change Is the Only Constant

How many dollars, worker hours, member hours of attention and words written about it have gone into Facebook’s growth? It now stands as a behemoth of businesses with astronomical growth and activity. For its first few years it didn’t bother itself with ROI or revenue models. But since it went public 2 years ago, the pressure has been on to make money fast for its shareholders.

Facebook news feeds now have increasingly bothersome native advertising interrupting the content its members really want to read. amexNative ads look like posts and are created to catch readers not paying attention and lure them into clicking. So, are they working? It seems that some advertisers have their doubts.

Of course it’s long been known that people who join social media channels do so to socialize, not shop. They converse on Facebook and shop on Amazon.  In this article, @BrendanGahan cites a “recent study” that found that…

companies’ posts only reach around 6% of their fans organically on Facebook. This means if your Facebook page has 100,000 fans, only 6,000 of them are likely to see the post. The other 94,000 won’t know your post existed unless they go to your Facebook page and the chances of that happening are even slimmer. Facebook is hinting in the near future brands and companies should expect organic reach to be zero.

This reality challenges every social platform in its effort to monetize people’s activity as sharers of news and opinion. Being jabbed in the eye with commercial come-ons is not a way to win loyalty, no matter how many of your friends are there to connect with.

What does this mean for Facebook? Hard to say, but as the article suggests, pure content sites like YouTube may very well redirect attention in an environment where video ads allow you to bail after 5 seconds to watch over 5 minutes of action.

What’s the word on the street about the limits to unintentional customer exposure? Are we getting numbed yet as we were to 10 minutes of adds in every half hour of network TV programming?

Community As the Ultimate Solution

Yeah, I know. That’s pretty ambitious and at the same time vague as hell. But really not so preposterous for a blog whose tagline is “hosting Web communities.” Anthropologists agree that our earliest ancestors lived in groups. Not in nations, not in counties or cities, but in nomadic groups. We can guess that it was a protection mechanism or an arrangement that ensured the survival of the clan through procreation. If we began as natural or learned collaborators, we should be able to call up that genetic history and collaborate in this age to ensure survival at a more local level.

There is a “brother” to this blog called Extreme Community. In it I will

Cooperation
Flickr photo by John Spooner

explore and track the re-emergence of community assembly as a crucial survival skill when the impacts of climate change make things, well, different. Local resources and support will rise in importance and neighbors will need to generate and  recognize their own sense of community amidst the disruption.

This blog, on the other hand, is much more about online community – Which I propose is the best outcome of the use of social media technology. The ideal relationship that businesses and member organizations seek is as fellow members of a community where some comment on the quality and usability of a product, asking for help and advice where needed while other community members listen and tailor products and services. In community there must be trust and sincere appreciation between members. Interactivity is open and transparent with loyalty growing through each satisfactory exchange.

Initiating a community is, for a business, a marketing and customer service challenge. Some products are just so cool that their owners spontaneously create mutual-support communities owned by the owners, not by the product providers. In most cases, though, the company realizes that its relationships with customers do not go as deep as the company would like. They want that ideal marriage of demand and supply at the personal level.

A Community Manager must draw on her experiences with populations that live socially online and exhibit a sense of community. Her job is to foster that sense and work to preserve it. She does that by communicating with members and transferring what she reads and interprets to the company, to inform its executives. Where that information leads to change, the Community Manager acts as a preserver of the sense of community – the golden egg of customer and buyer relations. The community, of course, is the goose in this metaphor.

A Social Media Manager – on the other hand – is more like a plumber and/or an aquarium keeper. Setting up social media pages, groups, sites, streams, etc. is a way to move and circulate outgoing information. That’s the plumbing. But there must be content to attract visits if not commenters and that’s where sprinkling fish food on a regular basis provides the metaphor. And that’s where the social engagement ends, depending on the quality of the content shared.

Setting up social media to end up with the dream community is very different. It begins and ends with consideration of the people who would be the community members. Less design time and more market research time is another departure. A Community Manager studies the social sciences and observes actual collective behavior to understand what kind of environment is most appropriate and conducive to conversation among the prospective customers and constituents.  The objective is – as we all now know – engagement. But the Community Manager must get beyond that false summit. The objective is to develop trusting, lasting, appreciative, sustainable relationships that serve the interests of businesses and customers alike.

If you think about this for a second, you may realize that such an arrangement will be impossible to achieve for many companies. Not all companies have appreciative end-customers who would join a “community” around their products. And not every company can afford to tell the truth about itself and its practices. Not every company wants to have its customers up into its grill.

My advice: Don’t take a Community Manager gig for unethical companies. You’ll likely be the face of the company and anger target when the truths are revealed.

If and when you find yourself logging in to your discussion space one morning to find an active message board and Twitter stream of supportive customers where “everybody knows your name,” you’ll feel at home in your title. Not home free – it does take a lot of maintenance – but home in that you’ve got the “sourdough starter” (Google it) for perpetuating that sense of community. You’ll also be working for a smarter organization.

Whack-a-Mole Social Media

As a business or non-profit you don’t need to maintain accounts on more social media platforms than you can effectively manage. Yes, on the face of it that probably sound like “Well, duh” information, but my own experience and that of others whom I have observed tells me that the desire to contact customers and constituents through as many channels as possible leads to spreading social efforts too thin.

Whack a mole creative commons
Flickr creative commons

Your social marketing should be based on establishing valuable and lasting relationships rather than raising metrics and spreading visibility. Yes, those goals are important but little is gained by jumping from one social media account to another, posting whatever can be scrambled together every day just to prove you’re alive.

Instead, consider your options for social media platforms that will provide the most benefit to your company because they are where your most beneficial relationships can be developed. Start with one platform and do a righteous job of using it to connect and engage with influencers in your target population. Work on it to spawn relevant conversations and popular events. Drive people to your website. Build the community to critical mass where users’ contributions sustain a good level of interaction. Once you’ve established sufficient momentum on that platform, begin to develop the next most promising platform.

For most but not all companies a Facebook page will be the prime platform with Twitter serving as a short-form secondary locale. But for many of you, LinkedIn or Pinterest may be your starting point. It may be your best move would be to select platforms that support different types of populations. Or you might want to use a primarily discussion platform and a primarily graphics platform.

In any case, doing a great job of connecting in one environment will serve you better than doing a hurried half-assed job in several.

 

We’ve Entered a Virtual Reality

A garage-born early stage technical gizmo just got bought by Facebook for 2 f-ing billion American dollars. My first reaction was, “Did they dicker over the price? Or was Zuck just trying to get attention?”

Whenever I see one of these dominating enterprises buying out some small fish with a niche market I have to wonder if that’s the only option. Couldn’t Facebook buy the services of a few brilliant geeks for a mere $1B to build a better product from the ground up? Oculus VR certainly doesn’t have a market-ready product. Outside of video gamers, no other groups have demonstrated a desire or need for wearable, clunky headsets and immersive animation. Second Life has its small coterie of users, but it never really lifted off.

I’m chalking this up to the Too Much Money to Play With disease. Call me on this once Oculus VR comes anywhere close to paying for itself or at least justifying its purchase. Meanwhile I’m glad to see video closing in on the mainstream of user-created content. Keep ’em under a few minutes in length and they do a good job of spurring interaction.

Is Engagement a Number?

 

I ran across this article today, written not by a social media specialist but by an engineer – Mike Bailey, an engineer who now champions employee advocacy.

Social-Media ROI: The Surprising (and Inconvenient) Truth

I’ve had to deliver this inconvenient truth countless times to eager clients: you can’t measure social ROI, just as you can’t gauge engagement by the number of times your readers click on something on your Web page.

It’s inconvenient because, of all the  means available for assigning value to social interaction, the one nearest to what I consider useful is engagement.

To engage – as one does when changing gears on a manual shift car – is to have two gears, as it were, meshing their teeth. It’s a coming together of two things to transfer power.

It’s crucial that the gears are sized and positioned to make the engagement work. In the social world, the equivalent of this mechanical design is the matching of interests with the interesting. This  engagement of interests is an intangible but measurable thing.

There is an invisible transfer of power where a piece of content so moves the reader or viewer that she feels compelled to respond with a reaction and might even expect a reply to her response. At least the content elicits an emotional response.

Ideally, this engagement reaction would measure a physical change – a quickening of the pulse, a rise in blood pressure, observable activity in the brain, dilation of the pupils. But technology and ethics have not brought us to that yet, and in our virtual connections where video is still maturing we don’t witness the expressions on faces or changes in voice tones that indicate emotional engagement.

Thus we depend on metrics tools and various link clicks to provide some indication of something more than a fleeting, accidental visit to content pages. This “engagement” has different definitions on different analytics platforms. It may be as simple as clicks on Facebook’s Like buttons or a response to a discussion thread.

So you find that Facebook Insights tells you that your engagement numbers are trending upwards. To what do you attribute that encouraging trend? Did you change something? Did one piece of content light a fire? Did you hit a relevance bullseye? Did you mean to and just lucked out on the timing?

These difficult-to-answer questions can leave the community manager hanging – wanting to take credit for the improvement but often unable to replicate the outcome the following week. We humans and our attention spans can be so unpredictable.

Bailey concludes that “Measuring reach, impressions, mentions and engagement for an item (all now accepted by the Public Relations Society of America as metrics for social-media measurement) is entirely within the capabilities of most social-media analytics packages. ” Getting results from these social media metrics will provide a basis of comparison with more traditional marketing metrics, justifying (or not) the investment in social activities.

Bailey’s conclusion does not, in my opinion, answer the question of how the current metrics for engagement tell us what we’re really looking for – that feeling and belief in real relationship between the business and its customers.

As an example of an engaged audience, take a look at Web pages featuring any automobile with a long history and a personality, such as the Ford Mustang.

 

What is a Social Media Strategy?

Lord knows, I’d like to help. I’d like to be able to satisfy my clients and employers with what they believe they need to have. I wish I could provide them with a document of instruction to guide them to success through Social. But in all honesty I can’t.

Many people claim to be able to formulate such strategies. I’ve claimed that ability for years, going back to the invention of the term in the mid-’90s. I now know that I was not actually providing strategies. I believe, though, that what I’ve provided has been just as useful.

Human social behaviors are more plastic than organizations. The mass flows of human attention from one social platform to the next – migrations that no organization could possibly orchestrate – illustrate the risks of committing to long-term strategies. The changes that Google just announced in its search algorithm that some pundits are calling “the end of SEO” are a perfect example of overturning the apple cart of SEO dominance and an entire industry of SEO expertise.

So what replaces social media strategy in my world? It’s not so simple that it can fit into a blog post, but take an objective look at your own social media behavior and activity over the past few years. How much of that would you have predicted in 2011? Would you have bet money on the accuracy of a social media strategy formulated then?

This is my current theme. It rose out of my noticing the constant presence of social media strategy as part of the job descriptions I’m seeing.

I invite your comments.