Monday, May 14, 2012

Social Media Sinking In India-Or Is It?

A new report by Gartner seems to say that India represents both a promising social media market and a risky venture.

Which is probably true. Because of the fluid nature of social media it is difficult to gauge just what will happen in the next five minutes, much less in the next five years. Different forces are pulling users a myriad different ways, so predicting which forces will win out in the long run is dicey-at best.

However, the Gartner report clearly indicates that although the people who live in India might have qualms about using social media, they certainly don't have any problem working in the social media or technology industries and it expects the nation to soon become one of the most dominant forces in technology as a whole.

So, on the one hand we have the people of India who seem to be reticent about sharing too much information on social media; wary of the potential hazards they face using social media too much, or allowing it to become a dominant feature in their life. And on the other hand we have a people who are dedicated to making the systems work better for others.

It reminds me of the cigarette industry in a way. People making something they don't quite know if they trust enough to use themselves, yet not minding that others are using it.

So far social media has not been proven to cause cancer so maybe that is a poor analogy.

What matters here are two key pieces of information: India continues to represent a strong brain trust when it comes to the social media industry and that the people of industry, while representing a huge potential consumer market, are savvy enough to recognize a potential threat when they see one.

How the wider social web works to overcome this possible obstacle is yet to be determined, but it seems unlikely that social media companies will simply forget about the consumer buying potential of nearly one billion people, regardless of how those people may feel about their products.

India is already a powerhouse in the technology world and that strength is likely to continue. How well its people continue (or not) to embrace this same technology is irrelevant.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stop Thinking Like A Marketer; Start Thinking Like A Person

A new study shows that the use of social media brings most humans as much joy as sex or food.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who enjoys telling others about their own accomplishments. We all know the feelings of pride we receive for recognition and congratulation. Who doesn't love to bask in their own glory every now and then?

Of course opportunities like that don't come along every day. It's not as if we all walk around with our cheering section ready to bust out a rhyme on our behalf; sing our praises.

For many of us, our social media network is the next best thing to a personal theme song. They are our cheering section; the people we want to tell all the good news that comes into our life because we know they we care.

This is exactly the way businesses should be suing their social media networks because it is what people expect. A social media network is good for much more than just touting your products or services. It is great for touting the positive stories; sharing good news about your employees, your products, your services; the awards you've received, the volunteer work one of your employees does in their free time; employee hobbies; births, graduations, promotions.

Social media is, by definition, social. That means you need to start thinking less like a marketer and more like a real, live human being. What news would you like to share? What news would you be interested in hearing about? What do you find interesting?

There is a reason people feel good when they share information via their social media network. Our brain releases dopamine when we do something self-serving because it signals that we are looking out for ourselves (important if we plan on procreating; surviving as a species) and no less important for a business that intends to survive.

Plus, when you actually participate on social media instead of using it as a soapbox or a bullhorn, you are much more likely to encourage engagement and sharing. This then is the secret to using social media: act like a real live human being and NOT a marketer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bing Offers New 'Social Search'

Google rolled out "Search Your World' not very long ago and I was anything but impressed. First, the new feature was touted as a social search tool, however it only searched my Google+ network. Despite daily use, Google+ is my smallest and least used social network so searching there is absolutely pointless. It should have at least given users the option of searching their other networks. But alas, it did not.

Then, it kept pushing those results to the top of my search page, interfering with the search results process I needed to accomplish as quickly and painlessly as possible. I turned it off within hours of the roll-out and haven't turned it back on since.

Now Bing is releasing its own social search function which it hopes will be more meaningful for its users by providing more relevant results.

Bing--remember Bing? That's the Microsoft search engine that has failed miserably in the search engine wars. Mostly it has failed because it decides what you are looking for and shows you that instead of just showing you everything that falls under the category of things you are searching for. Anyway, you're forgiven for being unaware of Bing.

But all that may change now that they are offering a REAL social search function. It is better and more effective than the Google "Search Your World" function in almost every way. For instance, it will search your Facebook and Twitter networks, plus your Google+ network (such as it may be.) In another burst of genius design, instead of plopping the results at the top of your search it puts them in a sidebar, out of the way.

The Google+ network now allegedly boasts more than 100 million users, but in my experience it is still mostly a one-way street. Engagement is close to zero and most people I know are not using it at all. In the meantime instead of creating its own network Microsoft has partnered with both Facebook and Twitter, opening up a treasure trove of information they can now mine at leisure with Bing.

Google still commands the lion's share of the search marketplace, while Bing is struggling to hold on to its 15 percent share, but this latest feature might just be enough to tip the scales in their favor. Now, if only Bing can do something to let people know it exists....

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Social Media Is (Is Not) Advertising

I have already reminded you that social media marketing is not customer service. Now I am going to tell you that social media marketing is not advertising.

That's right. All the social media marketing going on--it's not actually advertising. Advertising is what you do when you buy a Google Adwords placement, have your promotion listed at the top of search results or buy a Facebook ad.

Social media marketing is something much more intrinsic to human behavior than that. It is all about increasing brand awareness through engagement; building relationships. We all know relationships take time. They are built on trust and empathy and require commitment. Social media can help deliver all those things, but calling it advertising outright is a stretch.

So, if you think you can create a Facebook page and people will come to it and hit "Like" you are in for disappointment. Without engagement your Facebook is nothing more than a listing in the telephone book--worse even, despite the fact nobody even uses telephone books any more, because people don't use social media to search.

Oh, I know YouTube is one of the top five search engines, but I'm talking now about sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr. These are the core of the Social Web and YouTube is just an ancillary of that network. And people don't search these social media sites in the traditional way.

Granted, for brands which already have high levels of public awareness (Coke, McDonald's, Virgin Airways) people who use social media can indeed search to find their presence. But for the ordinary business, especially start-up businesses, this simply is not going to happen.

It is incumbent upon me, as a social media marketer, to help my clients understand exactly what social media marketing can and cannot do. I must explain how it can best be wielded as a tool to increase brand awareness. If a client comes to me and expects advertising results from our social media marketing efforts I must explain the difference between these things and explain what is possible with SMM. If the client is content with that, we can do business together. If they aren't we can part company and they can easily find a social media marketer who will promise them anything to get their business.

Getting them the results they are expecting, however, well, that's another story.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

'Girls': Social Media Failure In Progress

Quick--unlike most social media failures which happen in the blink of an eye and only bear scrutiny once they have passed, there is an ongoing social media failure you can watch unfold while it is happening.

Specifically, I am talking about the new HBO show 'Girls.' Based on the supposed real lives of 20-something girls living in New York City, it features a main character who tweets constantly about the state of her life, while the show is going on.

Unfortunately for HBO, and despite the fact the power of social media in creating entertainment powerhouses has been well proven, the character only Tweets on the show--there is no real-world social media connection. Her Twitter is not only fictionalized, it is non-existent.

This is a social media fail of the highest order and it is going on right now. Don't believe me? Are you thinking that surely someone at HBO would have thought it a good idea (if not necessary) for the main character's Twitter account to actually exist? So do I, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

There is an active Twitter account for @HannahHorvath_ (the main character) but it clearly is not affiliated with the HBO show or with the character-it just ReTweets stuff from the show. In the meantime, there is no active Twitter account for the 'real' Hannah Horvath-except on television.

Personally, I am shocked at the shortsightedness of HBO and whomever is in charge of marketing at the network. When you consider the very small amount of work required to take advantage of the marketing potential connected with this show, it seems totally irresponsible to not have taken action. The possibilities for promotion are nearly endless. Not to mention the growth of this fictionalized network of social media savvy individuals.

The good news is that once again, someone else's social media failure can be your success.  Here is a classic example of failure to capitalize on the power of social media, committed by a company that has seemingly been in business long enough to know better. Even if they didn't realize the connection before the show went into production, surely someone saw the connection between a character who Tweets and the real world tool called Twitter-and recognized there was marketing potential in that connection.

The connections are there for your business as well. All you need to do is take advantage of them.

It doesn't take a genius to figure this out. Then again, perhaps it does and I am simply giving myself enough credit...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bookmarking Sites Help Blogs Prosper

I currently operate two of my own blogs, this one (obviously) and The Starved Writer, where I decry the state of the writing industry and its meager standards for survivability.

Both of my blogs have been in operation for about nine months and during that time they have each seen steadily increasing page views month over month. To accomplish this feat I rely upon my experience as a social media manager, leveraging my network to promote each of these sites to audiences who I believe will find them interesting, including the use of social bookmarking sites.

Bookmarking sites are one of the many of tools I use to target my blogs to audiences interested in reading them. Bookmarking sites are crucial to all bloggers because they are used primarily by Internet surfers who are interested in reading blogs and articles. In other words, the millions of people who go online just to read stuff, use bookmarking sites to find the content they are looking for.

Myself, I use Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious to bookmark my articles, tag them appropriately, and promote them directly to people looking for that type of content. There are plenty of others, of course. Sites like Reddit, Fark and DZone do something similar, but they are a little too tricky for me to navigate, so I avoid them. My time to produce and promote my blogs is limited so I look for methods which make it as easy as possible for me to do what I need to do and move on to something else.

Combined, these sites produce an additional 100 or so page views every day for my blogs, directly. It is difficult for me to judge exactly how many additional visits I get when someone passes a blog post they like to someone else in their network (simply because I am too damn busy to do the analytics work required to tell) but it is safe to assume it is an additional 50-75 percent, judging by the response I get when I use them.

It is worth repeating that these sites are designed to be used by people who regularly read blogs and articles. Their core audience is comprised of exactly the sort of people I am looking for: readers. These aren't people who might just happen across a link to my blog (such as when I post a link to Twitter or Facebook) they are people looking for blogs to read.  That means they are already actively looking for content so when they happen across my content it already fits one of their criteria for clickability: It is something to read. By marketing directly to them I am giving them what they are looking for. I am not trying to push them into something new and this key to their effectiveness.

If you have a blog, or if you are thinking about starting a blog, be certain you find at least a few (if not all) bookmarking sites to promote them on. This will not result in a huge influx of readers overnight but it will likely gradually increase your audience by marketing directly to the people most interested in reading online.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Social Media Is Not Customer Service

I read a headline today that got me all fired up: "Dump Your Social Media Strategy; It's Not Customer Service." Mostly, the article is a promotional piece for Lithium Response, but the first few graphs make a good point in that social media is a tool, not a solution in and of itself. (Something I have written about repeatedly.)

This brings me to my point, which is: Just because you have a social media presence doesn't mean you provide excellent customer service. I can have a door man at the front of my house but that doesn't mean everyone who comes over will (or should) feel welcome. In fact, the doorman might be making people feel unwelcome. Maybe he is glaring at people, has a bad attitude or smells funny.

Just as I do with my social media network I have to be certain my doorman is doing his job correctly if I expect him to help my guests feel welcome. And even then, the doorman is only one small part of the visit to my house. Once people get in the door, the doorman is forgotten and they are focusing on all the other pieces of the experience of being in my house; what it looks like, how it smells, how it feels, how I interact with them and what they can do once they get inside.

Your social media network is much the same. Stop thinking about it as a destination. You don't want people to stop at your Facebook page, you want your Facebook page to welcome them in. And since it is JUST A STATIC PAGE it really can't be held accountable for how visitors feel. Ultimately it is the social media manager behind the page who determines how visitors to your page feel. Are they recognized when they visit? Are their posts Shared or Liked when appropriate? Do they feel welcome?

Social media itself is not customer service. It is a tool for providing customer service. Like a comment card at a restaurant. Just because you ask someone how their dinner was doesn't mean they feel good about the fly in their soup. What is ultimately at the core of your customer service is how you truly feel about your customers; whether or not you are truly interested in them. If you are, it will show in your actions toward them. If you are only interested in what you can get from them (email addresses, sign-ups, sales leads) that will show too.

Before the Digital Age, when people still used phone books and print advertising to discover new businesses and services, word-of-mouth was the most powerful and sought after form of advertising there was. Today, with the rise of the Social Web; viral videos, Facebook and Twitter, word-of-mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising there is. And people will only give you good word-of-mouth advertising if you give them service worth bragging about.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Who's Afraid Of Social Media? Everybody

Ok, maybe not EVERYBODY, but a new worldwide poll by tech security firm Avira shows that just 14 percent of users feel safe using social media.

This is interesting given that more than a billion people regularly use some sort of social media service to connect with friends and family; market themselves or their business; or stay connected with the world around them.

There certainly is something to be said for the inherent risk of doing anything online. Unscrupulous tech-savvy people are constantly finding new ways to thwart security measures and take advantage of less tech-savvy individuals, but this is not a situation unique to the internet. I am fairly certain Bernie Madoff didn't use Facebook to steal millions of dollars from his investors. He did most of that with a handshake.

So, how to convince yourself or your clients that social media is worth the risks? By reminding them of the rewards.

Social media is the most powerful form of communication ever developed. With no other communication tool can you reach so many different people in so many different places with just a few key strokes. It is easy to use, as safe as anything else you might use, and practically foolproof. (The biggest threat most people face is their own use of social media-saying the wrong thing.)

Everything we do in life comes down to risks and rewards. We take risks because we perceive rewards. If the rewards outweigh the risks, we proceed forward.

Social media news is everywhere, and certainly there have been a number of instances where social media was used as a weapon against an individual or a corporation. But in all those cases it was a matter of public action, not worms, security lapses or programs, which was used to commit fraud or launch the attack.

Belvedere Vodka shot itself in the foot with their "rapey" ad and McDonald's launched a #hashtag campaign which backfired and left them with egg McMuffin on their face. But neither of those social media missteps was caused by someone outside their company.

As a reporter every week I wrote a news story or saw a news story come across the AP wire about some unsuspecting person who fell for a Facebook scam, or email scam or some other type of scam. But nobody hacked their accounts and made them transfer money via Western Union. They did that all by themselves.

Social media security then comes down to one key ingredient: common sense. Unfortunately, it's just not as common as it once was.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Social Media Management Sucks!

Managing multiple social media accounts is drudgery. Boring is too nice of a word. "Sucks", is more like it.

There is a point where posting status updates, Tweets, checking Groups,  and interacting with hundreds of strangers about your company, product or services ceases to be exciting and starts to be, well, a job. And like any job there are moments when it is tough. Beyond tough. Exhausting.

You need to be "always on" and have a positive mental attitude 24/7. You must be in a constant state of readiness; prepared to answer questions, resolve problems and spread your specific message.

There are a multitude of sites to manage, many of which simply refuse to play nice together (Twitter vs. Tweetadder, Hootsuite vs. Google+) and all the different log-ins to keep track of. Plus, the conversations on each of these sites will vary greater, as will the methods for interaction. Each site is designed to keep users there for as long as possible, so don't expect to just drop by for a second to see what's happening. You'll need real engagement if you expect social media to be an effective tool.

And in between all of this social media management you likely have an actual business to run--even if your business IS social media management. There are clients to communicate with, new clients to attract; proposals to be written, content or services or products to be provided, sites to be managed. It's a never ending story of work, work, work.

Look, if effective social media management were easy I'd be out of a job, so I'm glad it's difficult. But just because it's difficult doesn't mean it isn't worth doing. And anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time. That means educating yourself about what works best and what doesn't work at all; listening to those who have gone before you and heeding their advice; learning from the mistakes of others and your own mistakes and attempting not to repeat them.

Social media marketing can be the most effective marketing tool for your business but only if you know what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing (or just THINK you know what you are doing) stop, go out and find yourself someone who does. The time, energy and money you save yourself in the long run will be well worth what you invest in effective social media management in the beginning.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

From The Ashes Of Ebook Empires

The announcement that Microsoft is buying a stake in the Barnes & Noble eBook empire is a sure sign of Apple's flagging dominance.

This news comes right on the heels of several "empire ending" announcements including the Justic Department investigation of collusion among several eBook publishers allegedly led by Apple, and the new Windows 8 operating system which aims to marry conventional PC technology with tablet tech for a system that works seamlessly between both.

It was only a matter of time until someone decided to challenge Apple for the digital throne, and the fact that it is Microsoft just makes sense. They have the most money to throw around and a track record of innovation themselves, albeit not to the extent nor as recent as the technology changes brought by Apple, but no less valuable.

So, what does all this mean for digital dwellers? Plenty.

Competition between companies always means better deals for the consumers. Sometimes these deals come in the form of new tech, sometimes in the prices available for standard tech; sometimes just in the way they deal with existing companies.

Look, as a consumer, you are likely to get more traction from the company you are trying to deal with if they have at least some fear they might lose you as a customer. For the past few years Apple has dominated the digital market for eBooks and music; tablets and smartphones. They have been immune to serious competition because of their position and this has kept prices high (not including claims from the DOJ) and allowed them to dictate which direction the market will go and what will come next. They didn't NEED you; if you wanted to go somewhere else, they thought, good luck.

There is no way to know what exactly will come from the partnership between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft, but it is exciting nonetheless. Anyone who can shake the foundation of the Apple empire has my full support. And when they have unseated the Emperor and become the Emperor themselves, we can focus on unseating them as well.

All for the betterment of the people.