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‘NOT EVERYTHING THAT COUNTS CAN BE COUNTED’

It’s important to monitor social media ROI
 
We’ve explored the importance of using social media on this blog. We’ve talked about how companies should respond to crisis and when. We’ve talked about being present where consumers are. We’ve talked about monitoring the brand’s page to make sure to curb negative comments in a timely fashion. But, there is another aspect of social media that companies and strategic communications professionals must pay attention to – monitoring the success of social media use.

blogeinsteinTaking stock of social media return on investment (ROI) is a good way to decide what efforts work and what efforts should be kicked to the curb. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” said department store mogul John Wanamaker. Wanamaker died in 1922, so the concept of tracking ROI isn’t a new one.

In order to successfully measure ROI, companies should not only focus on how many followers and likes they receive, but also the impact that social media conversations and efforts have on overall sales and product image. That certainly means taking a step back and looking at the big picture when it’s so easy to see immediate gratification through clicks and views. The thought is to not solely rely on clicks and views, but to try and quantify what those mean in terms of increased sales.

blogtableThe CMO Survey took a look at metrics that companies use to measure the impact of social media efforts. They asked companies to share numbers in August 2010 and February 2013 to watch the change in results. Some of the categories were hits/visits/page views, number of followers or friends, sales levels and online product ratings. The results showed that while there was a 14 percent drop in website views, there was a 27 percent increase in the number of followers or friends as reported by the participating companies. An odd category, abandoned shopping carts, leads survey readers to believe that an increase in web mentions and social media followers trended 26 percent fewer shopping carts left abandoned in stores.

A May 2013 Forbes article analyzed the survey results and reported that social media impact has “first-order effects” when it comes to non-purchase behaviors. That includes people talking about companies and brands. That talk generates exposure, shapes attitudes and eventually leads to increased (or decreased) purchases.

We know that consumer talk about brands is a great way to boost brand loyalty and positive feelings about companies. However, strategic communicators and marketing professionals can’t simply stop at tracking how many mentions a company has on Twitter. That number means little to nothing if a company can’t tell what the sentiment behind the numbers is. Is the conversation positive or negative? Companies such as Viral Heat, Twendz, Tweet Feel, and Sentiment Metrics all provide sentiment analytics for Twitter mentions. The old addage “any publicity is good” doesn’t ring true for brands. All it takes is one negative comment on Twitter to be retweeted to friends and by celebrities to send a company in a downward brand spiral.

While companies might not understand the intangibles behind social media marketing, tangibles can be measured that prove the technique can be successful or detrimental. Social Media Today suggests that results achieved by social media come from some intangibles created by social media efforts, including:

  • A positive or negative emotional reaction from brand communications.
  • The acknowledgement of being heard.
  • The feeling of not being just a dollar sign to a brand, rather than a valuable person.
  • The feeling that the brand is trustworthy, transparent and open to dialogue from consumers.
  • The sense of recognition for contributing to the value of a brand.
  • The ability to influence others who share similar sentiments about anything, everything and anyone.
  • The connectivity people feel from human, rather than institutional, communications.

BFG Communications content manager Hal Thomas spoke to a portion of the DMA2011 conference and said, although social media ROI may be “fuzzy,” there are things companies can keep in mind to help measure social media success.

  1. Social media is the vehicle, not the destination, according to Thomas. He further explained that marketing professionals mistakenly think that having a media presence on Twitter or Facebook is “the destination,” when it is really a communications tool that carries a company to a larger goal – profit.
  2. Listen and apply what you learn. Thomas said the number of likes and comments generated on social media sites is great, but what do they mean. Take time to see what posts and thoughts receive the most interaction on social media sites. If more consumers comment on one product over another, it could be a way to notice how consumer preference is trending. That offers companies a direction point when it comes to how they might invest dollars in the future.
  3. Understand how social media is used in an organization. Thomas notes that different departments within a group measure success in different ways and social media metrics will mean different things to different departments. Each measure of success should be based on a department’s specific goals.

Trying to measure the success of social media efforts isn’t for the impatient. Brands must be built on social media blogstarbucksnetworks over time and kept up with constant updates and interactive features that enable a consumer’s voice to be heard. It is only when working ahead for a positive brand image that companies can be prepared to battle the negative that could arise – as a result of anything from a poor customer service experience to a product recall. Over time, companies should be able to track the effects of their social media interaction through a boost in sales, a shift in brand image and an increase in overal popularity.

Are their any brands you believe are monitoring the ROI of social media? For me, just based on the efforts exerted by the social media team and perceived popularity, I believe Starbucks is. They have a reputation for customer service and that extends to their efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. And the company listens. Did you know the stirrer/stopper you get at Starbucks was actually the creation and suggestion of a loyal customer? Can you think of any other companies who use social media to their benefit?

TOMORROW IS TOO LATE

Companies must jump on the social networking bandwagon, now

Tomorrow is too late when it comes to crisis management. A text book we used early on during the grad school program I am in suggested that 24 to 48 hours was a suitable time to respond to an issue or crisis. Most public relations professionals worth their salt today would laugh at that number. If you aren’t involved in a conversation about a crisis within 30 minutes of it happening, you’re playing catch-up through the whole ordeal and company branding and trust is likely to be damaged.

Think back to the Chick-fil-A blunder, BP’s big mistake and the Domino’s disaster.

socialmediaWe live in a 24-hour news cycle world. People log on to Facebook in the morning to talk about what they ate for breakfast, hipsters instagram photos of bricks and sidewalks or ironic signs like they’ve never seen them before and more than two million active Twitter users tweet and retweet as fast as they can type 140 characters. Companies simply don’t have the luxury of taking a step back to decide a method of response these days. Plans should be thought out in advance and must be carried out in a multi-front way.

“The savvy journalists are not waiting by their fax machine for an official press release, but are ready to quote live accounts of passengers and bystanders being shared online,” wrote Shashank Nigam on Simpliflying.com in response to the July 2013 Asiana Airlines 214 crash in California. Nigam noted that Asiana Airlines was the major voice not present in the world-watched aftermath of the crash. It’s important to the success of modern companies, such as those in the airline industry, to be present where conversations are being had. Anyone with a smartphone can upload information or photos of breaking news and company displeasure. And with LTE service and WiFi increasingly available, spreading news via social media can happen with ease. That means, industry professionals must monitor Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any other social media outlet that takes off. Ideas of controlling information go out the window considering social media. Issues must be addressed on all fronts. Tales of angry customers taking to Twitter and Facebook to bash brands happens so often that companies must understand the time to shift the way they respond to both digital and traditional methods is now.

asianaNigam noted that while the voice of Asiana Airlines wasn’t heard, a clear and loud (but calm) voice echoed over social media. David Eun, former president of AOL Media and Studios, tweeted, “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m ok. Surreal…” Eun was a passenger on the July 6, 2013 Asiana airplane crash. His tweet, coupled with a photo, was retweeted 32,700 times and his 2,000 person Twitter following increased about 10 times just hours following the crash. Simpliflying reported that the first tweet about the crash happened just 30 seconds after the crash and that tweet was quoted more than 4,000 times by media outlets in a period of 24 hours. “The lesson learnt is that social media needs to be an integral part of any crisis management plan for an airline or an airport today. There is no longer the luxury to respond in two hours, or even 20 minutes,” Nigam posted on the website.

Need more proof digital is the way to go?

Morrison Foerster’s hosts a Socially Aware blog that discusses the Internet and social media boom and how that relates to consumers and businesses. The blog released findings in November 2012 regarding how many people use different social media outlets, and how much time they spend on which outlets. The blog reported that, in 2011, the average American spent 6.9 hours each month using social media. That’s nearly a full work day minus a lunch break. That number was up from social media users spending 2.7 hours each month tweeting and “liking” in 2006. Three hours each month was spent on YouTube in 2011, according to Socially Aware. Another interesting shift in interactive time reported by the blog is that email and instant messaging fell 22 percent and 42 percent, respectively, while social media use rose 24 percent between July 2010 and October 2011 when it comes to 15 to 24 year olds. Other age groups reflected that shift, too. The fastest growing social networking user segments are males and people older than 55, Socially Aware reported. Although numbers are likely to have increased in the year following the blog’s findings, in 2012, 56 percent of Americans had a social networking profile and 22 percent of people in the United States use social media several times each day. Social media accounted for 18 percent of all time spent on line in 2012, the numbers showed. My guess is that number has grown by now.

Still not convinced digital is the way to go? Here are some quick numbers that show the shift is valid.

A 2012 Neilsen survey found that 18- to 24-year-olds, of whom half make less than $15,000, said they own a smartphone. The device was a luxury the young adults said they weren’t willing to do without. The Pew Internet Project found that, in 2011, 35 percent of those the group called for a survey said they owned a smartphone. Nine out of 10 smartphone owners surveyed used their phones for Internet access with about 78 percent doing so every day. Cisco Visual Networking predicted that by the end of 2012 there would be more smartphones than people on the planet and that by 2016, there would be 1.4 smartphones per person on Earth. With the growth of smartphone ownership and the ever-developing world of social media applications for phones and tablets, future crisis and issues management researchers should keep an eye on any developments that could make it even easier for consumers to make their voices heard.

Social media, for better or worse, is a fast way for news to travel. Companies should be pro-actively looking for ways to get in on the conversation, both before and after a crisis.

2.5 BILLION HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

Crowdsourcing has become a valuable tool

While the term crowdsourcing may sound new, the concept is not. It’s been common for centuries for governments and companies to ask the masses for help, either by force, by contest, or by appealing to the volunteer spirit.

chronometer Way back in 1714, the British government knew the necessity for the country to participate in sailing the globe for exploration, invention and trade. However, sailing can be a dangerous business. So, the government offered up a contest asking the public for a solution. That’s how the marine chronometer came about. John Harrison invented a way for sailors to navigate using the stars.

Fast forward to 1858 when the Oxford English Dictionary was created. When a group of scholars was crafting the dictionary, they needed help with the thousands of entries and relied on volunteers to create entries based on their areas of expertise.

The idea of reaching out to the public to help solve problems isn’t a new one, but it wasn’t until the Internet became widely used that companies began using the concept so much there needed to be a term for it. “Crowdsourcing” was born.

There are more than 7 billion people in the world and Nielsen Online reports that 2.5 billion of those people have access to the Internet. While large companies may have 150,000 people working for them and small companies could have as few as five, there is a large margin of untapped talent that could provide services to companies who find value in using crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing doesn’t sound as big and scary as the term might suggest. It can be as simple as sending out a Twitter question or creating a Facebook post asking for feedback on a product. Police crowdsource when they ask for “anyone who may have seen something to come forward.” News outlets even use crowdsourcing when they ask readers or viewers to share information, breaking news video and even pet photos. (Check out this new app the Guardian in the UK is using to crowdsource.) In a more advanced sense, companies can use crowdsourcing websites to solicit innovative ideas for products, logos and other things a company might want to think outside the box on.

Companies such as Amazon, Netflix, istockphoto.com and DuPont have embraced the idea of tapping into talent outside the company’s workforce. According to bizmedia.com, companies have paid between $1-2 billion for ideas and products generated from crowdsource solicitations.

netflix2What does Netflix need with crowdsourcing? Something they were willing to pay $1 million for. Netflix offered the prize to anyone who could write an algorithm that could outperform the one the company uses to make recommendations to consumers. In September 2009, the company paid out the prize. Team “BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos” beat out more than 41,000 teams from 186 countries.

And while the Netflix prize is on the high end of payouts for a request that could only be complete by people with a highly-specialized skill set, there are many contests and contributions that can be made by amateurs. Crowdsourcing can certainly provide an avenue for up-and-coming innovators and creative minds that might not be able to make a connection with a company due to location or other circumstance.

ThreadlessThreadless may be one of the most popular businesses in the crowdsourcing world. Freelance designers submit T-shirt designs and customers vote on the artwork. The most popular submissions result in a cash payment and the T-shirt being manufactured by the company. While it’s not a mega pay out, it’s money made from the comfort of wherever designers happen to be. The Threadless website reports that the company has paid more than $7 million to about 1,500 artists for a total of about 274,000 T-shirt designs. It’s win-win for the company who doesn’t have to hire designers, pays a minimal amount for artwork and also makes money off of the sale of T-shirts.

There are many benefits to crowdsourcing. It affords an opportunity for companies to hear from their consumers, or potential consumers. Crowdsourcing can keep company overhead low. Also, since many products, such as T-shirts produced by Threadless, are voted on or commented on prior to production the idea is already tested.

But while there are many positives to crowdsourcing, there are also downsides. Because ideas are thrown to the masses, there is no guarantee that the right person with the needed qualifications will see the call for help. Many times crowdsourcing opportunities don’t pay much, companies may not see repeat submitters who are qualified. There’s also been some push back from skilled professionals. While photographers have previously charged $100 and up per stock photo, companies such as istockphoto.com enable companies to find photographs for less than $5. That’s great for a company’s budget, but bad for the professionals who have made their living off of a particular skill. Crowdsource responders are also working on their own time, so companies who have rush projects might not find the method valuable in that sense.

Finding a balance between using qualified company employees and utilizing crowdsourcing requires planning and balance.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOne example of a company has been able to integrate crowdsourcing into their business plan successfully is Proctor & Gamble. According to the company, 50 percent of company product ideas were coming from outside the company by 2010. P&G reports there are now 1.5 million people in the company’s extended network. P&G calls their crowdsourcing program “Connect & Develop.” Through the program, P&G has created 137 products, including Olay Regenerist, Swiffer Dusters, and Crest Spinner Brush. Through Connect & Develop, the company was even able to find a way to print text on potato chips. A bakery in Italy was already using the technology and P&G licensed it from them by way of the company’s crowdsourcing program. The product was on store shelves within a year.

Crowdsourcing will no doubt continue to change and shift due to emerging technologies and innovative ideas on how companies, governments and other organizations can put to use the collaborative efforts of the public. Are there ways companies could be utilizing crowdsourcing that they aren’t? Please share your thoughts. (See what I did there? I just attempted crowdsourcing, myself.)

ACCURACY OVER SPEED

Pressure from social media causes news organizations to slip

Social media and blogging have opened the doors offering almost instantaneous access to world news and events in real time.

socialmediaThe average Joe on the street can now upload videos to YouTube directly from a phone, Tweet photos and post firsthand accounts on Facebook faster than most reputable news sources can make it to the scene of an event. All of that evidence and all of those accounts were once utilized by news agencies to tell a story, painting a picture provided by both witnesses and authorities. However, now, everyday people can send their own stories to the masses without the aid of media outlets.

The Osama bin Laden raid and his death broke on Twitter, along with Whitney Houston’s death, the announcement of the royal wedding and the Hudson River plane crash. Schools.com pulled information from news sources and research outlets to find that about 50 percent of people hear about breaking news from social media, not news outlets.

While people, including myself, were fiercely searching Twitter hashtags and YouTube videos for information about the bombings on April 15, news organizations were struggling to keep up with the amount of information that was free flowing with reckless abandon from the public.

That sometimes pushes news organizations to be sloppy in their efforts to be first and fastest.

Take for instance CNN, thought of as one of the more credible 24-hour news sources available in broadcast, online and social media avenues.

At 1:40 p.m. CT on April 15, in the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, CNN exclusively (if there is such a thing anymore) reported that police had a suspect in mind. A mere six minutes later, CNN reported authorities had arrested a suspect in connection with the crime. Fox News and the Associated Press were shortly behind CNN in the announcement.

Wow! That’s great! I didn’t see THAT on a blog or tweet anywhere prior to the announcement.

The problem? As we all know now, the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were on the run until Thursday night and Friday night when one suspect died after a shootout and being run over by his brother, and the other being taken alive after a homeowner found bloody evidence the suspect was hiding in a boat in the backyard.

On April 15, even with the CNN announcement, CBS and NBC hung back, insisting that their sources said no arrest had been made.

An hour after CNN’s rush to let the world know the bad guy had been caught, they retracted the statement, noting that they believed the information to be true based on both state and federal sources. The FBI issued a statement that “contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made,” noting that the past few days has seen “a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate.”

And this isn’t the first time in recent events that, in an effort to be first, the media outlets got it wrong. The New York Post reported 12 people were dead in Boston after the bombings, even though authorities were reporting two, at that time. Think back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut when the shooter’s brother was first identified as the suspect police were looking for. And CNN and Fox both reported (CNN later offered apologies) that the Supreme Court had struck down President Barack Obama’s healthcare mandate, although the court had actual upheld it.

Is this just what we can expect from a world where consumers demand immediate information during a 24-hour news cycle?

Paul Levinson is a journalism professor at Fordham University and said he believes errors are a result of the demand for continuous news. “The public wants to be informed, and the price of being continually informed is that wrong information comes out,” Levinson said.

While that might not be a cause for concern for people craving the latest news, it is a cause for concern when it comes to credibility of trusted news sources. What makes news outlets different from blogs and social media is that the journalists who work there remember their ethical and legal obligations, as well as their training to check and double check facts and accounts.

downarrowPublic Policy Polling rates the credibility of news sources each year and it’s no surprise that 24-hour network ratings are declining. Fox News took the biggest hit at a nine percent drop. CBS, ABC, MSNBC and CNN saw percentage decreases. (Interestingly, but not necessarily relevant to this discussion, Fox News was also recognized as both the most trusted and least trusted news source by the 800 people who took part in the telephone survey.)

Why the drop? People have found other ways to get news. That means A) they are not as accepting or trusting of big outlets and B) outlets are struggling to keep up with information disseminated in non-traditional ways.

About 31 percent of adults now have a tablet and 45 percent of adults are smartphone owners. That’s a large percentage of the population who craves immediate open-source news. Accessing news is one of the most popular uses for those products, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. A little more than 60 percent of tablet owners say they get their news on devices on a weekly basis and close to 40 percent say they do so on a daily basis.

iphonecartoonAlso on smartphones and tablets are social media applications, used more by consumers than news apps. Seventy percent of a Facebook users newsfeed is dominated by friends and family. That number is 36 percent on Twitter. The odds are against news organizations when it comes to news consumption and the pressure is on to stay relevant.

“In the Twitter age, the pressure is worse than ever to be fast — it’s become more difficult,” said Greg Brock, senior editor for New York Times standards. “Some of the pressure is coming from readers. If they see a headline on a Web site, they start looking for a complete and fully reported story from us, and they protest if they don’t find it.”

It’s important for credentialed journalists to remember what sets them aside from citizen journalists – that’s reputation and credibility. While anyone can pass along information, it is up to media outlets to vet that information, supplement it with facts and make sure to present the news in a fair way. Perhaps in this new age of technology, journalists need to slow down and remember that while gossip and unconfirmed information can fly around swiftly, it is a media outlet’s job to take a step back and make sure journalists work with integrity. It is then that news outlets will stay relevant – not by beating social media users in a time game, but with facts and credibility, providing a service that other sources cannot. It’s time to embrace accuracy over speed.

TIME TO MOBILIZE!

Companies should reach customers where they are – on the phone

The first form of advertising dates back to 2000 B.C. when Egyptians carved public notices into steel.

We create new print and online advertisements every day at the newspaper where I work. Advertising representatives visit with the creative editor to share their thoughts for an ad and convey what clients had in mind. Then the creative editor designs a first version to be taken back to the client. Hopefully, the client loves the design and all is well. If not, the ad rep comes back, visits with the creative editor again, and the process begins another cycle.

Even with the time involved in the back-and-forth to create the perfect print ad, I can’t imagine what the Egyptians went through!

Mashable posted an interesting timeline by infolinks that shows the evolution of advertising. Fast forward from the Egyptians to 1472 when the first print ad was created in England that advertised a prayer book for sale. Even further down the timeline, 1835 marked the appearance of automobiles and the idea of billboards.

After that time, the evolution of advertising began to move even more rapidly with innovative trends happening years and decades apart instead of centuries.

Photo | Robbyn BrooksThe first electric sign in Times Square was place there in 1882. Since then, the square has become the IT place for flashy billboards and advertisements.

Photo | Robbyn Brooks
The first electric sign in Times Square was place there in 1882. Since then, the square has become the IT place for flashy billboards and advertisements.

In 1973, Jules Verne used the first product placement when he named shipping companies in Around the World in 80 Days. In 1882, Times Square received its first electric sign. Sears began direct marketing in 1892 when the company sent out postcards and received 2,000 back with orders. In 1905, celebrity endorsements began, followed by “sex sells” advertisements, political propaganda, false advertising, television advertising and infomercials.

Jump ahead, once again to the magical 1994. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan became household names. Major League baseball players went on strike. O.J. Simpson drove his white Bronco as the nation watched. AND, Internet advertising was born.

AT&T, Sprint and other companies began using banner ads. Pay-per-click advertising also appeared the same year, followed the next year by key word ads and then finally, mobile ads in 1997. The infolinks timeline ends in 2011 at a time when online advertising became the second budget priority for advertisers, worldwide.

Advertising clearly evolves to fit the lifestyle of consumers. We began driving, advertisers figured out how to get their messages across even on the open road. Cell phones became convenient. We can be reached at almost anytime by friends, family – and advertisers.

ComScore data shows that 50 percent of mobile users have smartphones. Showing, even further, the importance of the shift to digital and mobile advertising, 37 percent of website views happen on mobile devices instead of desktops.

Advertising Age interviewed the chief executive of Safeway, the tenth largest retailer in the country, who said the company thinks so much about digital advertising that they hope to be paperless in the future. In 2010, the company spent about $33 million in newspaper advertising. Safeway cut that amount to $20 million in 2012 in order to focus more on digital advertising. The company reported that sales are up, customer loyalty has increased and solidified and online coupon use has also increased.

Looking at how users are accessing information, both on desktops and mobile devices, it is not a surprise that advertisers are seeing success with digital ads. A report by ComScore out just two months ago shows that mobile only users are increasing over desktop site users or combination users. Pandora, ESPN and Twitter are the most accessed sites by people who are using those services exclusively on mobile devices. Also on the list are The Weather Channel, Gannett companies, NBC Universal, Walmart and Amazon.com

ComScore also notes that more than 50 million consumers have tablets and more than 125 million Americans now have smartphones. With that knowledge, it would be fatal for advertisers to ignore the digital market.

Cnet reports that Facebook is proof in the pudding. The social network is forecasted to garner more than $1 billion just from mobile ad revenue this year. That’s according to market research firm eMarketer. The research firm reports that Facebook has become the second greatest ad publisher in the United States. But even greater than Facebook is Google. Google is expected to attract more than 50 percent of all mobile ad revenue this year. Pandora is in third place and Twitter came in in fourth.

eMarketer also shared that U.S. mobile ads increased by about 178 percent last year and should rise by more than 77 percent this year. The projection by eMarketer is that about $27 billion could be spent on mobile advertisements by 2017.

But still, even with the obvious pros to mobile and digital advertising, not all businesses are willing to take that plunge. I’ve seen that on a personal level. Many of the businesses in the city where I work are owned by traditional or older business men and women. The idea of online advertising, to them, is still a futuristic and untested idea. On the flip side, younger business owners believe that they can create their own digital advertising through social media announcements that will have the same impact as online advertising with another company. So far, the way we’ve been able to expose clients to digital advertising perks is to include online advertising as part of an ad package. Exposure increases, page clicks are tracked, but there is still little interest in advertising outside of the print product. Perhaps that’s because advertisers on a local level still aren’t sure what measurements mean when it comes to clicks and views. They hear from customers that they saw an ad in the paper, but customers rarely mention they saw an ad on a website.

National companies have embraced digital advertising with success, but it looks as if it will take time for smaller companies to trust the brave new world of advertising possibilities. But, mobile marketing makes sense. Customization is easy, it costs less to produce digital ads, and they are easier to track. Mobile marketing is also instant. Friends and family can reach consumers quickly via smartphones – and so can advertisers. There’s no lag between the time an advertisement is uploaded to the time a mobile user could come in contact with the ad. Potential customers and clients usually have their smartphones with them most of the day. Also ,since mobile users are skilled at sharing, they’ll likely share good deals and company info they come in contact with.

What’s next? Corporate “Bat signals?” Shadow ads on the moon? What will be the next evolution of advertising?