Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gangsters Turning To Social Media Tools

You might think seniors or students or even soccer moms are among the fastest growing sector of social media users, but actually, it's gang members.

Last summer the London riots were coordinated in no small part through the use of social media, specifically using Blackberry handheld devices to update Twitter and Facebook for coordinated assaults on the establishment (Read: Looting and rioting). This led the UK government to petition these companies for the right to shut down access when they feel public safety is at risk. Fortunately both companies balked and the UK government eventually backed down.

Today in the United States law enforcement officials around the country have seen a dramatic increase in the use of social media and the Internet in general by criminal elements. Specifically, gangs have begun 'tagging' web sites which help other gang members know when and where to meet up, and what the plan is. They also regularly use social media to coordinate gang members, boast about crimes and taunt other gang members.

Because there is an uncoordinated style to the gang postings, law enforcement officers are having a hard time cracking down. The nature of the Internet is such that if someone has a desire to use it to communicate, organize or gather, that effort is difficult to thwart.

Right now nearly 70,000 Chicago-area gang members are actively using the Internet to coordinate their activities. This is not good for the community and a big headache for the police. With a few clicks of a mouse a gang can organize all its members for whatever nefarious purposes they have in mind.

Fortunately police have been using social media to monitor this activity for quite some time. There have been several reported high profile cases where the police received an abundance of information via information they have seen posted on social networking sites by the suspects themselves. So, for as much as social media seems to be a tool for the criminal element, it is no less a powerful tool for law enforcement.

Recent efforts to pass bills designed to give the U.S. government control of the Internet (SOPA and PIPA) would have done little to thwart criminal efforts to use social media or the greater Internet to their own ends. It was aimed at sites which post copyrighted material. Plus, if these sites were ever shut down gangs and other criminals would no longer be posting their messages in public places where police can monitor what they're doing, meaning we would have no idea who was doing what, when or where.

Monday, January 30, 2012

In Pursuit Of Facebook Fans: Try This

Justin Vining is an emerging artist from Indianapolis, Indiana who has found a way to get what he needs from social media marketing without resorting to dirty tricks or working around prohibitive policies.

More than that he is one of my favorite artists. He has a creative style, bringing a fresh perspective to pieces that transcend contemporary images. In fact, in my opinion, Vining makes simplicity come alive with a whimsy that seems a mix of Salvador Dali and Dr. Seuss.

The reason I mention Vining on this blog, however, has less to do with his art than it does with his skill as a marketer. As an artist Vining is exemplary, but as a marketer he also displays a deft touch and ability to correctly judge both his market demographic and the tools he needs to reach them.

Recently Vining embarked on a social media marketing campaign meant to increase his Facebook likes. He talked about this at his blog:

It has been a long time since I have tried to make any sort of big push to increase my online following on Facebook and in the last few years Facebook has made it increasingly difficult to actively build a following. In fact, running “contests” on Facebook runs a large risk of getting your page shut down unless you jump through a million hoops and follow their Terms of Service to a tee.

I do not want to jump through their hoops, so to put your name in the bucket for free art you don’t have to do anything on Facebook but if you feel moved to do so that would be awesome.

Participation is EASY – just sign up for my newsletter by simply putting your email in the box at this link: http://eepurl.com/gK-sH

Vining is also a law school graduate, which meant he likely had an easy time navigating the confusing Facebook policies regarding contests and finding a solution which his client (himself) could tolerate and which would deliver the results he was looking for.

After a week or so of this new tactic Vining released a Facebook post which detailed how his self-promotion program was going:

Justin Vining
I pick the winners tomorrow! Interesting statistics: since I started this push to hit 11,000, my shameless self-promotion has produced an average of 3 "unlikes" per day and 8.7 "likes" per day with an average rate of 1,326 of the 10,925 people reached per post. Of the 1,326 people reached, there is an average interaction of 22 people per post for an average interaction rate of those who have been reached of .02% per post (which would be .006% of the 10,925). Based upon those statistics it looks like I can expect to finish the day at 10,931.7 "likes", not 11,000. I very much appreciate the support of the many who have shared my work with others, I seriously could not be a full-time professional artist without all of your support. However, I have committed to to give away a ton of art tomorrow, will you help me prove those numbers wrong? http://www.justinvining.com/blog/

It seems to me Vining, as an artist, is one heck of a social media marketer. He worked within the rules of the social media tools he was using and delivered the results he was looking for without resorting to "buying Likes" or any sort of Black White social media marketing tactics.

He also produced measurable results which he can use to determine how effective his marketing campaign was, without the use of complicated algorithms or questionable analytics.

Kudos to Vining. You can find his blog here and his Facebook Fan Page here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Social Media Marketing Is A Marathon Not A Sprint

When it comes to having an effective social media marketing campaign, what platform you use can make all the difference.

Yesterday I talked about the message(s) you are trying to spread across your social media network. Today i am talking about the tools you use to spread that message.

You are no doubt familiar with the Big Three (or Four) social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google+. But the landscape of available social media platforms is far reaching, with new system popping up almost every day.

Tumblr, Posterous, Path, Beepl, Quora, Vimeo, YouTube, Pinterest...the list goes on. Your job, as the person responsible for establishing an effective social media marketing campaign, is to find out which social media platforms work for your message.

How you go about this is to determine first, what is the demographic you are trying to reach? What message do you want to send that demographic? What forms do you want that message to take (photos, white papers, videos, brief messages, blogs)?

Once you have the answers to those questions you can start researching the social media landscape to find the best fit. Join them, use them and see how they work. Don't be afraid to interact, reach out to existing users to test the waters; see how well your message would be received before you start sending them out.

Remember, social media marketing is relationship marketing. If you try to carpet social media sites with your message, with no regard for the established lines of communication or the needs and desires of the people who use that network, your attempts at marketing will not only fail miserably, they stand a good chance of doing harm to your reputation or the reputation of your brand.

You also want to give serious thought to choosing just one or two social media platforms at a time to test for your message. It can be a daunting task juggling multiple social media networks, so don't bite off more than you can chew. Take it slow and see how things develop over time. Those sites from which you get a good response can stay in your network, the ones which don't deliver, you can drop.

The most important lesson to learn, and to teach your clients, is that social media marketing is a MARATHON, not a SPRINT. Be prepared to be in this for the long haul to see results. If you expect to see overnight results you will likely be sorely disappointed (and so will your clients.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

#Hashtag Disasters Await The Wrong Message

By now you may have already heard about the McDonald's Twitter Marketing debacle. If you didn't here's a summation: McDonalds marketing thought they would create an interesting Twitter hastag to prompt users to share their experiences eating in McDonald's restaurants.

The hashtag was #McDStories. Unfortunately for them, within a matter of hours stories were popping up (in abundance) about horrible service, ingredients some felt were less than appetizing and just about every negative thing you could possibly attribute to a McDonald's restaurant.

What I find interesting about the experience is the way many people (in fact every article I read) seems to think the problem had something to do with hastags, Twitter or social media marketing. Instead, they should have looked at the idea, because that's where the problem can be found. It is the height of hubris to think that every one of your customers has had an awesome experience with your brand. You simply cannot please all the people, all the time.

In the case of McDonald's, they have been in business for decades, which is long enough to gather at least a few detractors; previous marketing blunders have left the company open to renewed ridicule, and their menu is constantly being derided for displaying things which some people find, well, disgusting. Did the marketing team really believe only positive comments would come in? Are they that foolish and naive?

I was a restaurant manager for 10 years. There is an adage in the industry which goes, "A customer who has a good experience in your restaurant might tell one other person. A customer who has a bad experience in your restaurant will tell no fewer than 10 people."

It is as true today in the Digital Age as it was in the 20th century.

The fact the McDonald's marketing team didn't understand this is a sign of their inexperience with the product/service they are trying to market. The problem does not lie with hastags, Twitter or social media in general because those are just tools we use to accomplish a task.

The problem then sits squarely on the shoulders of the marketers and their flawed plan.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Catholics Rejoice: Pope Approves Of Social Media

Today Pope Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for social media telling Time.com it represented an opportunity to provide a voice to people kept silent for much too long.

Well, he didn't say it like that. He actually said social media was “the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers.”

He's a sly one, that Pope Benedict, and I mean that with the utmost respect. It would have been easy for him to have continued to ignore social media, or become a detractor, focusing on its less than stellar aspects as a time-wasting rumor mill, but instead he came out with his scepter blazing in defense of what is arguably the most powerful communication tool in the history of human kind.

Unfortunately, I don't think his pronouncement about the benefits of social media will have much impact. It's unlikely Catholics have been avoiding using it, or confessing their social media sins every Sunday ("Forgive me Father for I have Facebooked...")

I was raised a Catholic, though I am not a practicing anything, and I have an abundance of family and friends who remain practicing Catholics, and none of us have had any qualms about social media.

This May the Vatican will take part in the 46th World Day of Social Communications where it is anticipated more discussion about the impact of social media on the human species will take place, and even more pronouncements, some good, some maybe not so good, will be made.

Until then Catholics may continue to use social media to stay connected to their friends, family, church and the greater global conversation without worrying about whether or not they are committing a sin.

But eventually Lent will come around I predict at least a few of them will be giving up Facebook.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Facebook Might Just Save The EU

Talk about a metric worth bragging about. The International research firm Deloitte just released their findings on a comprehensive research project aimed at determining the impact of Facebook on the European Union, and the results show that the impact is more than just an abundance of virtual farms and funny photos.

According to Deloitte, Facebook adds an estimated $25 billion to the European community (including Switzerland). This number translates to more than 230,000 jobs spread across the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the rest of the EU.

This economic impact is created both by the direct impact Facebook has in delivering an effective marketing solution and the multitude of industries which have sprung up in support of their platform, specifically the creation of apps and mobile solutions.

All of the people directly and indirectly employed either by Facebook or its support system add value to the EU economy because money earned there is money spent there. In this way Facebook has a legitimate claim as a serious economic driver for the European union, not just a "time wasting" social media platform.

In fact, the same argument could be made with almost every social media platform. Social media is one of the few industries which has seen massive growth over the past few years, providing new and innovative marketing solutions which have increased revenue for companies with a product or service to sell, and producing jobs and revenue of their own.

In this way social media is showing that it is so much more than just another Internet toy. It has real, measurable value for both the companies which wield it and those who create and support it.

And that's a metric worth mentioning. Over and over again...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Google+ Scores President Obama In A Hangout

Guess who's on Google+?

Ok, so you've probably already heard that President Barack Obama will conduct a 45-minute video hangout on Google+ after his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

This is not the president's first foray into social media. Not by a long shot. In fact, in 2008 Obama's campaign showed the real political power of social media by raising millions of dollars via their online campaign, setting the stage for what has become a war of digital dollars on the Internet.

The Google+ Hangout will allow the president to take questions and respond directly to constituents. The video Q&A has become a hallmark of the Obama Presidency. He conducted video Q&A sessions in 2009, 2010 and 2011 via YouTube. In each of those years, hundreds of thousands of questions were submitted and he answered a select few based on time constraints and the popularity of the question.

However, grassroots democracy can be trying at times. For instance. In 2009, nearly all the highest rated questions related directly to the drug policy. Specifically the legalization of marijuana. That happened again in 2010 and again in 2011. All of this despite problems with the national debt, unemployment, the housing market, the state of the global economy, the state of the national economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, when the president is hanging out on Google+ tomorrow night, after his State of the Union speech, I envision a town hall type chat where most of the questions will be posted by people who like to hang out on Google+. I predict questions about SOPA and PIPA, Internet freedom; questions about the take-down of MegaUpload.com and about the current case against Julian Assange.

No matter what happens, this president has clearly set a precedent for online engagement that I believe is very likely to be followed by future presidents, regardless of what digital media they use to accomplish it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Google+ Users Reach 90 Million

If Google CEO Larry Page is to be believed, Google+ users now exceed 90 million. Page made the announcement during their earnings presentation on Thursday.

To call this growth astounding is an understatement. It represents a more than 100 percent increase since October when they said they had about 40 million users.

My question is, if there are 100 million users on Google+, where are they?

Google+ is a great tool for all things Google, but they still haven't worked out exactly how to make themselves a part of the larger social web. Sure, your Google+ network is now a part of your Google search results, but that doesn't help if you only have a few dozen people in your Circles (which is what I have.)

Granted, I don't use my Google+ account as much as I do my other social networks, but there's a good reason for that: I just don't like it.

It works Ok; lots of Circles, and posts and brik-a-brac; but there are lots of things I don't like. Like the primary colors they use as the basis of their site. Simple colors and graphics were great for their search engine page, but this isn't a search engine page. It's a social media network. I expect something a little bit more creative and stylistic.

And I don't like the limitations of how I can personalize (or not) my page. Again, simplicity rules, which is good in some ways and far too restricting in others.

And I don't like the fact that almost no one I know is using it. Period. They might have an account--everyone who uses any sort of Google product, like YouTube or Blogger or GMail, already has a G+ account there are plenty of "users" but in my experience few of these accounts are being updated with any regularity.

Which brings me back to the announcement of Google+ having 90 million users. It's beginning to look like a numbers game again. What we need is a true useability index. A metric which tells us not how many users a particular site has, but how much interaction those users are having. I want to know how many posts are made, based on an average of all users so a few very active users can't skew the results too much. I think if we had access to information like that the "90 million" number would take on a totally different meaning.

Now, before you think I am bashing Google+ simply because I don't like it, let me offer this caveat: I believe Google+ still has a lot more growing to do, and that over the course of the next few months they will add more features and give users more things to do. I also firmly believe no matter what the numbers say, Google+ is not going away. Ever. As long as it functions as an umbrella for all things Google it will exist. And if exists, it will grow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'Tawlkin' About Social Media

It seemed only a matter of time until someone built a social media tool which allowed audio-only interaction. Here it is: Tawlkin.

Tawlkin is a service which allows you to create a conference call with as many or as few of your social media Friends, fans and Followers as you like. You can create these calls around specific subjects or themes, or just use them as an opportunity for a large get-together. You can as many as 70,000 people on a Tawlkin conference call. The company says that no matter how many people are on the call you can track every one of them; know who is on the call.

Tawlkin is all about adding another layer to your social media experience. My question is, does the average user really need this? Probably not.

Tawlkin seems like an interesting tool for business professionals, if you disregard the abundance of existing video conferencing tools available, many of which allow you create impromptu group meets, business presentations or sales pitches, with or without video.

I can't get my head around Tawlkin. I've been on many conference calls, and with any more than a few participants, it's difficult to know whose turn it is to talk; people often talk over one another, apologize and try to start again, only to find themselves taking over someone else. I couldn't imagine a conference call with 100 people on it, much less 70,000 people.

As social media begins to mature no doubt we will see more and more applications designed to make inter-communication simpler and more interesting. Not all of these new applications will find success, and I predict Tawlkin will fall into the latter category.

But, I have been wrong before.

Click here to read the press release from Tawlkin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Is The Wrong Solution

In their effort to stop online piracy the U.S. government is once again asking for the broadest possible reach. It's called the Stop Online Piracy Act, and it essentially gives the government free reign to shut down any web site which is accused (not proven guilty) of dealing in any copyrighted material.

The move is meant as a protection for copyright holders, but it smacks of censorship.

Why? Because in America, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around. Yet SOPA allows the government to take action regardless of who makes the accusation, or whether or not the accusation is valid.

Under SOPA anyone would be allowed to make an accusation against a website and have that site immediately shut-down, before the accusation is proven valid. It would also give the U.S. government the ability to shut down any web site it wants to shut down, regardless of whether or not an accusation has been made. This means the government could easily widen its reach to include web sites it finds offensive, unpatriotic or a "threat to national security."

Do we really need or want the government to have this type of power over our lives? Is it not enough to use the existing judicial system to redress grievances?
I'm pretty sure Disney doesn't have a problem filing and winning lawsuits against people who use the Mickey Mouse image or name without proper permission (and have paid a fee.)

Oh wait, I said "Mickey Mouse" without permission. Under SOPA anyone who reads this post could then report me to the government and my site would be shut down. No matter that I am in no way trying to usurp control of Mickey Mouse, nor am I trying to make money off the name "Mickey Mouse".

It seems to me SOPA would open the floodgates on people with an axe to grind--looking for ways to have web sites they don't like shut down. It is also sending a chill through our growing Internet industry. Companies don't like knowing the government has total control over their prosperity. That's why they are loathe to do business in places like China.

However, with SOPA in place the U.S. will have even more control over intellectual properties than even China has now. We will lead the world in our ability to censor the freedoms of our citizens.

And that's nothing to be proud of, much less support.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Hootsuite Is A Must-Have For Social Media Managers

Hootsuite this week announced they have more than 3 million active users.

This is hardly a surprise, especially when you consider they the most useful social media management tool available. Tweetdeck was a close second, but for some reason, not long after they were purchased by Twitter, their service took a nose dive.

When Tweetdeck was in its prime you could easily shrink links and schedule posts for weeks, even months in advance. It let you update Facebook pages, profiles, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn accounts quickly and easily. Now, whenever I try to schedule posts in advance the service stops me after just 10 and says "you have too many updates scheduled."

I emailed them and received no response. I searched for an answer as to why this was happening, but found nothing except repeated posts that Tweetdeck does not limit your scheduled posts--although clearly they do.

In frustration, I switched to Hootsuite. Problem solved and as a bonus I got a bunch of nifty analytics tools that show me how often my links are clicked, by whom and from where; no interruption in my scheduling and full access to my entire social media network.

Clearly, I am not alone in my love of Hootsuite. Hence the 3 million other active users they have been boasting about (although I'm still their favorite!0

The fact is, Hootsuite has succeeded where others continue to stumble and fail because they have listened to what users want and delivered. They haven't tried force users to adopt strange new terms, new tools or new ways of doing things; they have provided a seamless integration of social media into an easy-to-use dashboard format and they have provided tools which are useful to the people who are most likely to use their tools.

This isn't rocket science folks. If you're in business to serve customers, the secret to your success will be in delivering what they want.

If you need proof, check out Hootsuite.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beepl Promises Better Answers To Your Questions

Remember Quora? It was the social media darling of the moment when it debuted in 2010. The idea was simple enough: allow users to post questions for experts, than allow those same experts to post answers which would be graded for relevance by other users.

It has been somewhat effective at providing insight into how specific companies and individuals handle certain problems, but for general day-to-day use by average people, I don't think the idea has yet caught on.

First, if you have tried using Quora you already know how clunky the interface is and how difficult it is to figure out. Perhaps this is just my own ignorance, but if you are creating a tool for the masses you need to understand that not everyone is a tech genius; Some people actually have lives that don't involve understanding every nuance of social media.

Quora currently has more than a half million active users and its founders, Adam D'Angelo and Charlie Cheever (former Facebook employees) have been lauded for their site, were named by CNN as two of the smartest people in the tech industry by CNN and were listed among the top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs by inc.com.

Well, before you start thinking Quora is the be-all, end-all of question and answer sites (there are many) along comes Beepl.

Beepl is aiming to do much the same as Quora on through integration of information found on your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to direct you to the most relevant Q&A on the site.

Beepl uses "natural language processing and machine learning" to direct this information, which is different than any of the existing Q&A sites, including Quora.

However, I have a question: Why do we need Q&A sites? Who is using these sites to find answers to their question, instead of just typing the question into their search bar.

Do these sites provide some degree of insight into the minds of some of the tech world's movers and shakers? Of course. Is that insight relevant for the majority of us? I don't think so.

I believe despite the hype these Q&A sites are mostly a tool for use by a select few technology specialists who have an abundance of information that is too complicated to be widely dispersed. If you are a tech person you might stand to gain from posting your question directly to one of these sites or using them to find an answer you are looking for.

Or you could just query your existing social network and get an answer from someone you know who can provide information you can understand without the need for a dictionary.

Friday, January 13, 2012

MySpace Is Still Very Relevant

The news today that MySpace has more unique visitors every month than either Tumblr or Google+ has many social media marketers scratching their heads. Including me.

How did we miss this? We were all fairly convinced that MySpace was all but dead and buried. I challenge you to find a social media marketing plan with a slot for activity on MySpace.

The fact is, MySpace is not only still alive, it's actually growing. It helps that they have secured a niche as a market for musicians; attracting just about every band, singer and indy record label. It also helps that Justin Timberlake has been pushing to re-invent the site, improving on its current success in this niche market and developing new tools to help their core users.

But what about social media marketers? What role can MySpace have in existing or future marketing efforts? That's a question yet to be answered, for although MySpace is showing some life (ok, a lot of life) because it is a niche social media network it doesn't make much sense to use it as a marketing tool unless you are a part of that niche market.

Sure, you could make the argument that any audience is better than no audience at all, and that it's the demographics of their existing market which matters most, but how do you break into what appears to be a fairly specific market without seeming to be overtly jumping on the bandwagon?

No doubt a great many social media marketing experts are trying to figure that out right this very moment. I know I am.

If you're currently using MySpace for social media marketing, tell us about it in the comments.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not All Hotels Eschew Social Media

It's no secret that hotels have been slow to adopt the use of social media marketing to reach out to guests. Despite the proliferation of travel sites; hotel and service review sites which let guests share their opinions, and mobile apps which search nearby hotels, the industry as a whole has repeatedly and deliberately ignored the move toward the use of social media.

As an example of what is possible when a hotel does finally choose to embrace social media, I offer the new website for Four Seasons.

The new site fully integrates social media for each individual hotel, offering easy access to Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Guests can communicate with each other, share stories, insights and I suppose, even their complaints, with impunity.

So far, the Four Seasons site represents what is in my opinion the best possible mix of traditional and social media marketing integration. Notice how they don't shy away from allowing their guests to say what they will, via their Facebook Page or Twitter feed, about a stay at their hotel?

The fact is, nearly everyone who expresses reluctance to use social media does so from a fear of allowing unfiltered comments. What they don't realize is these comments get shared whether they are using social media or not. But if they are NOT using social media they don't see them and can't respond, defend themselves or offer a solution. In a way it's like sticking your head in the sand to avoid a tornado: just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there.

Do yourself a favor and check out the new Four Seasons hotel web site (no, it's not an affiliate link and no, I don't get a commission.) It's a fine example of social media integration done right and should be a call-to-action for other hoteliers who have yet to accept the importance of having a social media presence.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

LinkedIn Tabbed As Fraud Tool For Unsavory Financial Folk

Last week LinkedIn got a black eye when the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Anthony Fields of selling fraudulent securities through their network as well as other social media services.

The fact someone is using social media for fraudulent purposes is hardly new, but the use of the LinkedIn platform, which has so far seemed a secure environment for business, does not bode well.

In fact, the entire incident is going to cast a pall over the use of social media by any financial folks, which have already expressed their reluctance to enter the fray at all.

Of course, with responsible financial professionals not using social media they leave the field open for less responsible financial professionals to move in.

It doesn't seem logical to me to blame LinkedIn for how it was used. This is tantamount to suing Stanley if someone uses one of their hammers to commit a crime. Social media is a tool. How it is used is left up to the user. If the social media service is aware of the fraud being committed and does nothing, then they become culpable. Otherwise, they are merely a vehicle for communication.

There is also something to be said for the people who bought these fraudulent securities. I don't know about you, but I am very careful about who I give my money to, regardless of how good the deal may sound. That's why I haven't sent any money to Nigeria, despite repeated warnings I was going to lose my "lottery winnings."

For now, most communication via LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter is unregulated. It is easy enough for someone to create a fake profile, list a plethora of bogus background information and/or pretend to be someone else. Therefore it is the responsibility of the users to police themselves.

If you are dealing reputably on social media be certain your background information is correct, your profile is complete and you provide as much real-world contact information as you possibly can. No doubt any potential clients or customers will want to verify you are who you say you are and that you can do what you say you can do before they do business with you.

Everything else about making deals via social media comes down to the use of common sense. Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Last week’s SEC accusation of Anthony Fields’ marketing fraudulent securities on LinkedIn surfaces the dangerous side of social media’s growing prominence in the private financial markets. The accusation indicates that Anthony Fields used LinkedIn and other social media networking websites to lure investors by offering more than $500 billion in fake securities. The SEC said Fields provided false and misleading information about clients, assets under management, and even the history of his firm's business. Fields held himself out as a broker-dealer even though he never properly registered with the SEC, the agency said.

Click here to read more about Fields' activities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Google Lets You Search Your 'World'

Google took another step to fully integrating its social network (do I need to remind anyone it's called Google+?) into search today with the new feature, "Search Across Your World."

Yeah, not the most catchy name I've ever heard, but it certainly goes a long way toward integrating social media into search. At least as far as your Google+ network is concerned.

First, you need to be signed into your Google+ account to make it work. Once you're signed in your search will include anything and anyone in your Google+ network along with relevant search results.

Neat, huh?

There's only one problem: The odds are, given how new Google+ is, your network of friends, or Circles (which is what "Search Across Your World" mines for information) is probably not nearly as large as your other social media networks, like Facebook. This puts a serious limit on just how much information you receive when you use it. It's also a good reason to begin focusing on expanding your Google+ network; adding to your Circles, posting more information, +1'ing more articles and Sharing what you find interesting.

In essence, this new search function makes Google+ more meaningful, more relevant, than any other social network, simply because it has more use to you. If your network is small then your search results will be limited, so there is now a better purpose to growing your Google+ network than "just because."

I have written several times about the eventual complete integration of all Google tools with Google+, meaning that even if it grows slowly, eventually everyone who uses Google tools will become a member. By fully integrating a search function Google has perhaps sped the process of attracting new members by making Google+ more useful ; something other than a social network.

I expect word of this new search feature to spread slowly, meaning I don't expect a surge in Google+ users as a result, but I do think this is another step forward for Google. One which is likely to bring it that much closer to social media domination.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why You Should Guest Post On This Blog

Guest posts are not just a way for the blogger to take a day off. They are an integral part of creating an interesting and effective blog.

As a blogger you have a platform to espouse your ideas, beliefs and spread information you believe might benefit others, specifically the people who read your blog (or whom you HOPE will read your blog.)

This is all well and good in theory, but in practice it takes time to build an audience. Obviously you can use social media to help promote your blog, but this is time consuming, especially when you are already spending a good portion of your time producing your blog.

Guest posts, either provided for your blog, or provided by you for someone else's blog, are another great method for promoting your work. It is highly unlikely you are the only one writing about your particular topic, especially when you consider there are hundreds of thousands of active blogs and even more bloggers producing that content.

That's why guest posting is a crucial tool. It gets your name in front of a new and different audience, and does the same for anyone who guest posts on your blog.

Besides, it is great to provide a different point of view for your readers every now and then, no matter what your topic might be. This isn't about competing. It's about coordinating. Sure, there will likely be a number of times when a subject you are covering in your blog gets covered by other bloggers. Just as multiple newspapers cover the same stories, but they all still get read. The thing about using a guest blogger or being a guest blogger is the unique perspective you (or they) bring.

Just as Saturday Night Live rotates it's guest hosts, so should you rotate your blogging schedule to include guest bloggers. And find time to provide a guest post every now and then. Let's face it, blogging is the most time consuming portion of any effective social media network. It takes time to research a topic, produce a post, edit, re-write, whatever. But blogging is also the best way to produce fresh, new, daily content.

No doubt some other blogger is in the same predicament as you when it comes to finding time to produce a blog. They would likely welcome any post you provided, as long as it fit their subject, was well-written and in line with their style. That's not to mean you need to write the same as they do--but rather, be conscious of the style they use (scholarly, humorous, introspective; whatever) and try to keep with it.

When it comes to soliciting a guest post, don't be afraid to put a call out there and see who is interested:

If you'd like to guest post for Social Media Maven, please don't hesitate to drop me a line.

That's a great way to start. Now we'll wait and see if anyone is interested in reaching a new audience and adding their perspective to mine.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Excellent Guest Service Integral To Effective Social Media Marketing.

You have a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account and a LinkedIn profile; blog every day, have a Tumblr account for on the go posts, a YouTube channel where you post cool new industry-related videos and even have a pimped-out Google+ page.

So why hasn't business picked up?

You might have the very best social media marketing program and the widest possible social media network, but if you haven't mastered the art of excellent customer service it will all be for nothing.

Customer service is the most crucial part of any effective business plan, and it is no less important when it comes to social media. In fact, because social media marketing is relationship marketing, it is even more important. If someone tries to communicate with your company through social media you need to respond, immediately; address their query, resolve their problem and handle them with aplomb, exactly as you would if they were standing at your front counter.

Of course, we have all had our fair share of disappointing customer service in brick and mortar stores, so perhaps handling customer service via social media as you would inside your store is not a good enough analogy. Especially when you consider just how far a disappointed online customer can disseminate their grievance.

In the restaurant business (I was a manager for 10 years) we would say a happy guest will likely tell no one, preferring instead to keep the secret of your excellent service to themselves, but a disappointed guest would tell no FEWER than 10 people. With social media it is now possible for that disappointed guest to reach ONE BILLION people with just a few clicks.

Excellent customer service is as integral to an effective social media marketing plan as owning a computer. If you don't treat your customers right online you will not only fail to reap the benefits, but just might shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to increasing revenue.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How To Find Time For Social Media Marketing

When it comes to social media marketing just about everyone agrees it is an effective tool. The dispute arises when a company tries to integrate social media marketing and needs to account for the additional hours they invest in those efforts.

For small businesses, even a small increase in expenses can be too much, for too little. There are few guarantees in life and this also goes for social media, especially when it is being used internally by people who don't know how to get the best possible return for their efforts.

If you have a small business and wonder how you could possibly manage an effective social media marketing campaign, I have a few simple suggestions for you:

1. Start with just the big three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These three social media services reach more than one billion around the world, giving you the largest possible potential audience. Plus, if you focus only on three social media services you stand a much better chance of creating a social media marketing plan which is sustainable using existing company resources.

2. Be certain every employee, or at least the principle employees (owners, managers, supervisors, customer service representatives) have a profile on LinkedIn. You can join groups in your particular industry if you'd like and even contribute to discussions occasionally. Because this work is done by the individuals themselves there is no need to delegate this work to any one employee.

3. Create a Facebook Fan Page for your business and populate it with photos of employees or products; post status updates which are relevant to the people you are trying to reach. Promote your Facebook Page to your existing customers and encourage them to connect with you there. Be certain you don't turn your Page into a wholly self-promotional tool. Social media marketing is relationship marketing. Building relationships is all about sharing information the other person is interested in. You will need to plan on at least one Facebook status update each day, but these can be done by anyone in the company with something interesting to share. You can have multiple administrators of your Facebook Page so the work can be spread around to more than one person. This decentralized approach means you are not at the mercy of a single employee making updates. Also, customers and clients may want to communicate with your company through your Facebook Page so be certain your team is checking the comments and responding appropriately.

4. Twitter is like a mega-phone for global communications, but it doesn't mean you should stand there and shout the same message over and over again. Post Tweets which are relevant to your industry in order to attract people to your feed. You can also create a Twitter Business Page, but this is not needed to get the full effect of Twitter. Much as you can with your Facebook Page you can use your Twitter feed to promote new products; follow industry trends; employee accomplishments or news of interest to the people you hope to reach. This is also a two-way communication tool for customers and clients so be certain someone is monitoring the messages portion and responding accordingly.

5. Use a scheduling tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to make scheduling posts to Twitter and Facebook simpler and more effective. If an employee spends a few hours at the beginning of the week scheduling your updates, the rest of the week can be spent monitoring your feeds and responding to comments. If something interesting pops-up it can always be posted manually, but the bulk of your posting should be done in advance via a scheduling tool.

These are just a few simple ways your small business can make good use of social media marketing without breaking the bank. Of course, much more effective results can be had by hiring a professional social media manager, but not everyone has the budget for that. So, try these five things and see how that works for you. Who knows, business might increase enough to make hiring a professional social media manager possible.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Secret To Effective Social Media Unification

If you are like most of us, especially those of us who make our living in social media, you have a number of social media networks to manage every day of the week.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn now reach more than ONE BILLION people worldwide, meaning you at least need to use those three sites. But if you are trying to reach a niche market then it's likely you are using a few more as well. Maybe Tumblr, Google+ or even YouTube. You likely also a blog, maybe two, that need to be promoted through your social media network as well.

For the sake of your sanity I hope you are using an automated scheduling tool to take some of the pressure off.

There are a number of tools to help you manage your multitude of social media networks. Chief among these are Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Ping.fm. Each serves it's own purpose and does a fairly adequate job of keeping your network full of fresh content. They don't CREATE the content for you-that's up to you, but they certainly do a decent job of helping you manage it.

Personally, I was a big fan of Tweetdeck right up until they were bought by Twitter. It had the simplest link shrinking tool and cleanest interface. It allows me to link my Fan pages, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn accounts and post either individually or to all my sites simultaneously. It also had a handy scheduling feature which let me do a week's worth of social media network scheduling in a few hours.

However, after they were bought by Twitter something changed in their programming. It now only allows you to schedule about 10 updates at a time before giving you an error message. According to Tweetdeck they do not limit the number of scheduled posts, there is simply an error in their programming which pops-up every now and then.


Needless to say, I hardly use Tweetdeck any more. Hootsuite has become my tool of choice. In my opinion it is far clunkier and more time consuming to use than Tweetdeck for scheduling purposes, but it does allow me to schedule as many updates as I like and offers an analytics service for all the links I post. This is very handy.

The other cool thing about Hootsuite is the way you can integrate it with Ping.fm to hit even more social media sites, including your blogs. This two-pronged approach to social media scheduling is a real time saving and gives you some real promotional cache. Check out this post from Brian Wong on the entire process.

The simple fact is, whether you have three social media networks to keep track of or thirty, you need a tool to help you keep everything organized and reduce the amount of time it takes to make this happen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iris Taking On Siri With The Help Of ChaCha

Siri is the voice-based Apple iPhone app which acts as a personal assistant, answering questions and providing information based on user questions. It also has a bit of a personality which immediately made it the darling of the tech world.

But, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so immediately Android developers saw an opportunity to "flatter" Apple by devising their own voice-activated personal assistant app.

Meet Iris. 'She' was created in about 8 hours by an India mobile software development team called Dexetra. The concept is pretty much the same as Siri: ask a question get a (hopefully) relevant answer.

The strength of any such 'knowledge app' is the data of information it has to work with. In a deal just announced this week Dexetra just expanded its knowledge-base about 600 percent by joining forces with ChaCha, the Indianapolis based knowledge provider that is currently consider one of the world's leading resources of information on just about anything you might have to ask.

In the past five years ChaCha has answered more than 2 billion questions, using a information supplied by more than 25 unique users every month. It is one of the fastest growing, most used knowledge-services, reaching users via a website, mobile app, and phone. The combination of the ChaCha information database and Iris signify a direct assault on the dominance of Apple in the voice-activated personal mobile assistant category.

But, is Iris as good as Siri? That's a great question and one I decided to test.

I have a Droid 2 smartphone so I downloaded Iris. The interface is smooth and easy to use, however correct answers, or rather, its ability to understand my questions seemed somewhat lacking. When I asked "What is the best selling book of all time?" it responded with "It is 1:41 p.m. now."
When I asked, "How much does a full grown African lion weigh?" Iris answered, "You tell me."

Cute, but not helpful.

However, when I asked the distance from Indiana to London, England, I received a correct answer "3,999 miles." And when I asked the weight of an average automobile, I received a answer "3,596 pounds."

Depending on what you want know, Iris is your go-to service. It's already the easiest app I've ever used before. Combined with ChaCha, I expect its answering ability will increase dramatically, making it one of he most effective smartphone apps available.

Click here to read the press release about the Iris/ChaCha partnership.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Social Media Effective For Driving Retail Sales When The Message Is Right

A recent story in USA Today shows just how effective social media can be for retailers with a decent sized following.

Cheryl and Karen Daskas, owners of the upscale Tender boutique in Birmingham, Mich., were trying to find a way to draw their social-media friends into the store this year.

So they created an offer. They would sell their private-label Tender tights for $15 a pair — a bargain at a store that sells $1,500 messenger bags and $300 designer dresses.

"We sold out thousands of pairs in a few days," Cheryl Daskas said. "Blasting it on Twitter really drove it home. It was a lot of fun."
(Click here to read this entire story.)

This is great news for retailers looking to take full advantage of social media to market directly to their customers. Social media is proving to be a most effective tool for communicating directly with your potential clients and customers. However, the article fails to talk about the importance having a relevant and meaningful message to deliver. Social media will also fail to help you if the promotion you are doing is not attractive.

In other words, if your restaurant makes a special offer via social media that is good for a 10% discount, you are likely to receive a much lower level of response than if you offer them a free entree. This is just common sense, especially when it comes to traditional marketing techniques such as coupon flyers. The better the coupon the higher the response rate.

Because most forms of traditional marketing are much more expensive than a similar social media advertising campaign, business owners are more likely to make the offer good enough to get the highest possible response rate. With social media, being free or mostly free, they tend to make the offers small and less substantive, meaning they are less effective.

Social media is arguably the most effective communication tool in the world, but its effectiveness is directly linked to the message it imparts. It doesn't do you much good to broadcast a message that nobody cares about. In fact, the eventual impact could be just the opposite of what you hope to achieve by actually driving people away from your network.

The fact is, there are only so many times you can beg people to visit your store, or your website, without offering them an incentive for doing so, before they finally just stop listening. Even then, once social media delivers the potential customers you have been looking for, it is now incumbent upon you to keep them coming back.