“Social Media is Free!” No, It’s Not. Key Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Company

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One of my biggest pet peeves is the notion that social media is free.

I mean, yes, okay, technically it is free.  It doesn’t cost a dime to create a Facebook page, nor sign-up for a Twitter account.  WordPress gave me this blog for free.  Review sites don’t charge to post content (typically), Foursquare doesn’t run my credit card when I check into a location (off-the-grid of course because I am ironically private when in the online social sphere).

In any presentation I give, I typically tend to show a video from an outside source about social media because  A. No one wants to hear me talk. B. Stats are boring.  C. A collection of outside data is best for a wonderful potpourri of credible sources helping you make your point.  D. The music is typically pretty cool.

One of my favorite videos I never show is “What the HELL is social media – in 2 minutes” by timetogetsocial.  I like it because I am partial to the style of lists (Reason #1, Reason #2,  etc.).  Granted it’s a little bit of a ripoff of Eric Qualman’s Social Media Revolution, published in July of 2009 and then refreshed in May of 2010, but what is original these days? Anyway, Qualman usually gets played because I love “Right Here Right Now” by Fatboy Slim (and more so because of the final “reason”, outlined below).

My favorite pieces from timetogetsocial:   (awesome conversation starters and continuers):

So this is pretty much the trifecta of successful business conversations: people talking about your brand and company, people buying your products and services, and the juice of the internet: porn.  Bam.

Perfect conversation pieces with a mildly entertaining soundtrack, why wouldn’t I use this gem in any regard when discussing the importance of social media?

Well, after the holy grail of business fodder (purchase decisions, brand advocates and pornography),  Reason #10 sucks.  And is untrue.  And ruins the other points because of it’s lack of explanation.

Saying that social media is free in itself is a truth.  Again, it doesn’t cost anything to enter these realms of conversation as you don’t write a check  to Google every month for your monthly search subscription.

In order to effectively enter the social space, you are going to be spending more than just time.  You need the appropriate pre-research to understand what it really is that you are doing.  There are free tools out there to help you do this.  But there are some highly sophisticated ones that are, in fact, better, and also cost money.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Really.  No free lunch.

Are you combatting negative perceptions?  Are you leveraging the positive momentum from your products and services because everyone is singing your praises online?  How are you marketing your initiatives?

Why on earth would Pepsi, after almost a quarter of a century of yearly ads, pull out of advertising for the Super Bowl in 2010?  Because instead of spending 2-3 million dollars on a 30 second spot, Pepsi allocated resources to social media campaigns.

CMO of Pepsi Cola North America, Lauren Hobart explained, “It’s a big shift. We explored different launch plans, and the Super Bowl just wasn’t the right venue, because we’re really trying to spark a full-year movement from the ground up. The plan is to have much more two-way dialogue with our customers.”

Ok, so… if social media were free (and if the Super Bowl were the correct “launch plan”), Pepsi could have still continued their yearly Super Bowl advertising and complemented the efforts through social media.  Let’s pay for the 30 second spot and social is free, so we do both.  Well, instead they used resources for philanthropic causes fueled by the resources put into the social user-generated campaigns.

Conversations and stories are free.  So are most of the platforms and accompanying tools out there.  But, in order to be effective, there does need to be an investment outside of just time itself in order to align the efforts and maximize the return.  Whoever is putting in the time needs to know what they are doing.  Whoever is putting in the time needs to understand the long-term strategy and work with other individuals in order to make sense of short-term strategies and tactics.

In putting together the following questions to ask yourself before venturing into the world of social media, I kept the platforms neutral.  Although created with social in mind, they don’t necessarily correspond to this arena alone.

What’s Already There?

  • What is the general public saying about you?
  • What are your key stakeholders saying? (Employees, Customers, Prospects, Candidates)
  • What is being said about your competition?
  • How do these voices differ from your message?
  • How do these conversations interrupt your business goals?
  • How do these conversations complement your business goals?

Where Should I Be?

  • Who is my audience?
  • How does my audience perceive me?
  • Where is the most conversation occurring?
  • What platform do I need to tell my story?
  • Why am I even here?
  • What are my current marketing and communication goals?
  • How do these goals fit into any new conversations?

What Should it Look Like?

  • How does my message need to visually look?
  • How integrated does the message need to be with my current branding initiatives?
  • How do I change my current branding to support my message on this new platform?
  • How does my current design promote the behavior I am looking to create?

What Should I Say?

  • What behaviors am I trying to promote?
  • What action am I trying to drive?
  • Who is my primary audience? My secondary audience?
  • What types of content does my audience respond to?
  • How does this fit into corporate goals?

How Should I Market This?

  • Who are my current stakeholders? How do they play into this?
  • Where is my desired audience?
  • What does my desired audience respond to?
  • How does this fit into my current marketing and communications material?
  • How can I better integrate this into my current marketing and communications material?
  • How does this fit into corporate goals?

How Do I Manage This?

  • Who can do this for me?
  • How do I respond?
  • What do I say?
  • Why am I saying this?

How Do I Measure Results?

  • What were the goals for this initiative? Both long-term (strategy & business objectives) and short-term (marketing campaigns)?
  • How have these goals changed?
  • Have we uncovered any new audience needs and behavior? How can we continue to promote this or change this?
  • How has each campaign affected strategic goals? How can we continue to improve this?
  • What new learnings have surfaced? How do these affect strategic goals?

The list is still a work in progress as I am sure there are things that I have not added.  What else would you suggest as a key consideration to companies entering a long-term journey into social media?

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It’s All About the Content (Strategy), Baby!

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What’s the next best thing after social networking sites for marketers?

Another innovation in content delivery.  Yes. That’s it. That’s all Facebook is and why marketers are flocking to the medium.

As AOL announced that it would let go of Bebo in April 2010 (yes, another Bebo reference), only a few months later did the news make it out that AOL would be hiring hundreds of reporters for their new media venture Patch.com.  In their own words, Patch.com is “is a new way to find out about, and participate in, what’s going on near you […] a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.”

So, citizen journalism, right? Not quite. With the emerging popularity of Examiner.com and subject-specific writers/bloggers spreading their content via their own social networks (“Examiners” are paid on traffic, comments, and social shares of their content, and I hear that it’s barely pennies), Patch.com notes that their communities (what the beats are called) are run by “professional editors, writers, photographers and videographers who live in or near the communities” they are reporting on.  Patch is banking on their elevated credibility as opposed to the you-don’t-even-have-to-interview-and-can-write-for-us Examiner.

Moving away from competing with the social networking behemoth, Facebook, AOL is investing in content. Rightfully so as their CEO, Tim Armstrong defines AOL as “a global media content company” in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow.  The full interview can be viewed here.  Regarding the “hysteria” of paid vs. unpaid content, Armstrong notes that companies have “to be open to the business model that meets the content you’re producing”.

Enter genius marketing/business strategy by, of all organizations… The United States Postal Service.  With all of the buzz of internet marketing and earned media through social media, marketers don’t need direct-mail anymore.  Why pay for production, shipping and barely any tracking when only a small minority of the recipients will even open the piece? Instead, jump onto FaceSpace and track your followers.  Boom. Complete.

Not so.  And who better to let you know than the United States Postal Service.  Deliver is a magazine geared towards marketers with an attempt to revive direct-mail budgets. Not too bad of an idea from the USPS.  Create a niche publication geared towards your actual buyers.  Give them content and still promote your agenda (direct-mail budgets).

I mean, I loves me some social media, but the back cover of Deliver Magazine, July 3, 2010, Volume 6, is pretty compelling:

(Written on the paper: “Why are we paying so much attention to this [social media] if HALF the population isn’t”; Response in alternate color: “Cause it’s the cool new thing”).

I give it to you, USPS, clever idea with this Deliver Magazine of yours.

And then… the impetus for this post… Rouge Magazine.  Publisher?  P&G. Yes.  Procter and Gamble.  Procter and Gamble published a magazine for women. Yes, that P&G. Comet, the household cleaner P&G. (Okay well, Javelin Custom Publishing Inc. for Procter and Gamble).  You can read the Totem (Javelin Custom Publishing is a subsidiary of Totem) brand story about Rouge Magazine here.

I received my first copy of the magazine today (in the mail, thank you United States Postal Service) and was completely in awe – I didn’t order this, this is an amazing piece of content I can waste my time with, and… these are “inspiring ideas by P&G Beauty”. Intrigued, I go through the magazine. Okay, granted, all ads are for P&G brands.  Most advice is shrouded in “Head and Shoulders is not just for dandruff”, but it really isn’t that overwhelming salesy.  I’m actually quite impressed.

The Fortune 500’s beauty magazine makes sense. Why spend millions on a campaign in Allure or Glamour or any of the over done beauty magazines.  You’re competing with plenty of others in the retail stores, why fight for the advertising eyeballs? Chances are, the $50,000 one-month full page spread may or may not drive sales at your local Target. You really can’t measure the ROI on that.

But… create your own content (women read anything that has to do with beauty even though we’ve read the same advice since we were in high school, there are just new advertisements now), advertise your own array of brands, sprinkle your own specific products within the content you’ve produced (I took note of a blouse in their fashion spread and I vividly remember the CG lipstick the model was wearing – of which I might buy), and offer up a couple of coupons in the back. Oh – and did I mention, send the less than 60 page P&G brand-orgy magazine to someone that you identified from one of your retailers as buying a competing product (I’m almost certain I was targeted, pun not intended, based on my Target Visa).

Take it from AOL that threw their attempt at creating a social networking site to rival Facebook away and refocused on content.

Look at the clever way the United States Postal Service is getting marketers to digest content aimed to increase direct-mail efforts.

Even P&G, the consumer goods manufacturing titan is making content part of their overall strategy.

Social platforms such as MySpace and Facebook, YouTube and Blogger, have altered the way that we communicate with each other and digest content.  That’s a fundamental shift in how we will do business and interact with our various stakeholders.

But do keep in mind – Facebook wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the content that personal networks produce.  You post a picture (you add content), your entire network knows and the voyeurs digest that content and possibly act upon it (comment on your picture).  But if it weren’t for your personal networks, and the automatic interesting content that humans are prone to (because realistically, it’s the controversial that gets the ball rolling for discussion), Facebook wouldn’t be where it is today.

The future of innovation is the content itself and it’s delivery.  It’s that simple.

And I cannot believe the best examples I have seen are from Procter and Gamble and the United States Postal Service.

For the reference… my copy of Rouge, making its way to the top of bills and news journals:

John Quelch’s “Marketing Your Way Through a Recession”. Harvard, I Expect More From You.

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The elements of John Quelch’s 2008 recessionary marketing tips are important considerations for corporations considering their marketing plans in 2008 and 2009. But, Quelch hasn’t considered the “Long Tail of the Consumer” and the groundswell’s importance in these post-capitalistic times. The arguments that Quelch makes are outdated, better suited for the 1980’s U.S recession, or even for the dot.com bust in the late 1990’s. The power of technology and the adaption of interactive marketing that have dominated our society and marketing initiatives within the last decade are non-existent within this post. Really, Harvard? This is what you pay professor and resident blogger Quelch for?

I’ll give Quelch one thing – he makes a good simple point to research the customer to learn how “consumers are redefining value and responding to the recession.” This is a key element to corporate success and redefining brand value propositions when consumers are less likely to be loyal to certain products and brands. It’s shocking that still, in 2010, most companies can’t define their consumer image or just turn a blind eye to what people are really saying about their brand. 

The incorporation of simple brand management techniques, as discussed in Chris Anderson’s The Longer Long Tail and Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’sGroundswell, are not as common as you’d think. Despite the simplicity and ease that technology offers, according to Anderson, in his 2008 Long Tail adaption, “you’d be surprised how many companies don’t know the answer [to what their consumers say about them and their competition]. They don’t Google themselves” (231). Though recessions often present opportunities for marketers – Quelch’s lack of interactive marketing strategies lands short.

Quelch’s dusty dogma fails to properly assess marketing spend during a recession, most importantly, this recession during the same digital era (i.e, Quelch wrote this article just months before the financial free fall in September of 2008 while digital spend was still gaining momentum) Although it is a documented trend that “uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known brands” (Quelch), Quelch’s suggestion to increase television ad spend during tough economic times again fails to consider the decrease in importance that these media play in consumer influence during the current digital age.

Taking into consideration the following:

  • “McKinsey, the consultancy, projects that by 2010 advertising on broadcast television will be barely one-third as effective as it was in 1990” (Anderson 225)
  • What the Forrester Research team identified as the “Groundswell”, published just a month after Mr. Quelch’s article: “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations” (Li and Bernoff, 9).
  • The Forrester US Interactive Marketing Forecast
Okay, okay, I get the rebuttal, these figures weren’t even published at the time that Quelch and Harvard published the article. So… let’s see what was available to us/him in an era so long, long ago in 2008:
  • In TNS Media’s 2007 Intelligence Reports, all media spend decreased from 2006 to 2007, with the exception of the Internet, which grew by 1% point
  • MC Marketing Charts reports Nielsen data for 2007, with “Internet display advertising continued its growth leadership, increasing 15.9% in 2007 to $11.31 billion in expenditures” compared to “television media, full-year Network TV expenditures declined by 2.0% to $22.43 billion”
  • Digital Marketing Guru, Mitch Joel publishes TV Viewing is Down As Internet Usage Continues to Rise? Not Exactly in November 2008. And although it appears that Mitch’s post reveals Quelch’s point… not exactly. Not exactly at all. Traditional media is fragmented, “DVR usage continues to rise and American’s spent more than 6 hours per month watching TV that was time-shifted. On top of that 31% of those watching all of that TV were also online at the same time.”
Quelch misses the mark with the following: “when economic hard times loom, we tend to retreat to our village,” for a suggested marketing focus on family values. And I absolutely agree. But… coupled with the decrease in television advertising effectiveness, and more so, with what Anderson calls a fundamental marketing shift where “selling doesn’t work” (The Longer Long Tail, 225), Quelch undermines the importance of technology to support his point. Quelch fails to mention how powerful social technologies are in “retreating” to the village. A village in which the consumer can now create (Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the list goes on). And is it a coincidence that social media usage is growing rapidly amongst global economic chaos? Doubtful. Agreed, “uncertainty prompts us to stay home but also stay connected with family and friends”. Yet, Anderson’s “fragmentation of marketing” (225) and Joel’s “fragmented media” are pieces of the puzzle that are missing in his suggestions. More attention to marketing plans are needed during the recession, more precision, more strategy, but not in the traditional media that focused upon with a disregard for the digital explosion.
I agree with the spirit of Quelch’s article, though there are numerous factors omitted that would better reflect the current marketplace in which we all live. Quelch’s major flaw lies in not discussing the elements of technology that are currently shaping communication. In the “new landscape of influence” shaped by technology (Anderson 235), consumers are connecting to each other in self-built online communities. People trust what those in their own personal networks say, not what a company is broadcasting as the message of the week. True, “successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies in a recession, they adapt them” (Quelch). Unfortunately, there isn’t any insight in how to best adapt such strategies in the midst of a recession amidst the groundswell – two prime opportunities for marketers and consumers to become best acquainted.

(Again, not necessarily so timely, but moving content over from my original publishing on Blogger)

Starbucks & Nescafe – Counterproductive Nescafe Campaign?

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So… Starbucks is Starbucks. Their brand is synonymous with luxury all over the world. Numerous books have been written regarding what Starbucks has done to create such strong brand equity with a commodity – my personal favorite The Starbucks Experience – regarding the brand (love it, or hate it), behind the coffee giant.

As the recession deepens, Starbucks is feeling the pain with an 8% decrease to $2.3B in the first quarter of 2009. Expenses were reduced to $120 Million while consumers become stingier with their discretionary income but still feeding their need for caffeine.

(This is an ad campaign from May-ish of 2009 – Post originally published on my Blogger blog, but am transitioning some content over)Combatting the ideas that their coffee is more expensive than it is worth, Starbucks unveiled a new campaign (part of the city wall poster seen above). CEO, Howard Schultz, discusses the Starbucks story – “It’s not just coffee. It’s Starbucks” here. Starbucks, Schultz asserts, will break outside of it’s coffee bean shell. With the historic campaign (Starbucks is not an avid advertising company), Starbucks will focus on their overall experience, rather than the coffee itself.

Makes sense, in the middle of the recession, as consumers do not have the time, and quite frankly no one looks to brand names when they are on unsure of their job stability, to promote “Starbucks Via”, a ready-brew, at a fraction of the cost, as an attempt to stay on top of the easy-to-self-make coffee drink capturing (possibly recapturing) market share lost to McCafe and cheaper coffee alternatives.

Taking a look at a concurrent coffee advertising campaign – Nescafe, on the other hand, is trying to capitalize on the Anti-Starbucks sentiment shared by numerous consumers. As a corporate conglomorate, Starbucks faces criticism for their “over-priced” coffee, labor issues, fair trade, real estate practices, et al. The Nescafe campaign, part of which can be seen in the photos above, is counterproductive.

As seen on many billboards, specifically in the Chicagoland area, their usage of “Starbucks Via” as the front runner of the text on their campaign, might be causing the opposite of their initial intent. Driving in my car, on the bus, walking my dogs, “Stabucks Via” is the first thing that I see. Capturing an audience that is mobile (as with most forms of OOH advertising), marketers and advertisers have a limited time to capture their audience. The message is completely lost amidst the Starbucks campaign itself, further fueling brand recognition for Starbucks. Arguably, “Starbucks Via” is more compelling than the Nescafe logo at the bottom of their ad.

Not the smartest move, Nescafe. The message makes sense, the Anti-Starbucks target makes sense. The media chosen is too expensive to share the platform with the competition. Nescafe is advertising for Starbucks. They are sharing their message with an organization that they are trying to combat. They are using precious marketing and advertising dollars in an economically sensitive time to further promote a brand they are advertising against…

(This campaign originally ran in April-May of 2009.  My original post was on Blogger on May, 18, 2009)