Archive for August, 2009

Paying for social media marketing

Here at ItsOpen we have been banging the drum for greater openness and dialogue with consumers. Businesses that are responsive to what people are saying online will get a competitive edge.

In that sense, social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter offer a huge, low cost marketing opportunity. It’s also virtually free. But like all good things that are in demand, that won’t last for ever.

The principle of the Internet has always been: capture a user base first and charge later. Now social media sites are starting to do the same, suggests Roberto Rocha in Canada’s Financial Post.

Take Twitter. The service has millions of users and is probably the most talked-about site in 2009. So far it hasn’t made a dime. And how could it, as long as its leaders refuse either to display ads or extract a usage charge? What they are looking at instead is the idea of charging companies that use it as a marketing tool. It makes perfect sense. Big companies have the money, and are increasingly turning to social media as a way to reach consumers and cultivate a youthful brand image.

There are other possible approaches. Rocha points to the example of Praized Media, a Montreal startup that offers a search tool that website owners can embed to help their visitors look for and rate local traders.  That’s a pretty conventional approach, but the company has now come up with something a bit more original: monitoring online conversations to spot marketing opportunities, and then sell them on. Someone might be tweeting about plans for her daughter’s wedding, for instance. That contact could be passed to a florist, for a fee.

Some people might find it a bit creepy to get a call from a marketer who had been eavesdropping on their online conversations. On the other hand, if people will gossip in public, what do they expect? Others might see it as a useful service.

These revenue models are bound to be a bit hit and miss. A few will take, most will probably not. But in one way or another, as the marketing opportunities in social media become ever more viable, companies are going to start paying for them.

When social media advertising works better than TV

In the old days Gap would have splashed out on TV advertising to launch its new line of jeans, featuring famous actors like Nastassja Kinski, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler.   In this brave new world of social media it’s done the obvious thing and created a Facebook page instead.

There will still be posters, print ads, and cinema commercials, but their main aim will be to drive traffic to the Facebook fan page. This includes an interactive gallery, links to the Gap website, and videos and commentary from Gap designers and engineers.

There’s also an iPhone app that lets users can mix and match outfits and get feedback from Facebook friends and the iPhone community.

It sounds a bit lame, but it makes sense. For one it’s a lot cheaper: the fashion retailer has had to scale back its marketing spend as its sales slump during the recession. But there are times when the interactivity that social media provides can work just as well as conventional channels, especially when there’s a good demographic fit.

The social media tipping point

In the last few months we have begun to meet more leading communications executives who are convinced that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the media landscape. Social media – and with it blogging, Facebook, YouTube etc (and all the other variations to come) – is not a trend. It is permanent; and it changes the way businesses communicate.

Many agencies who serve organisations were built off traditional media. Social media is not just another strain of IT. It is far deeper than that. It is part of our culture and becoming more and more embedded with every new gadget, TV and mobile phone that comes onto the market with all the advertising to support it.

Leveraging social media tools  to spread organisational messages more effectively is a neat evolution. But it is just the start. Sharp CEOs – and there are a lot of them out there- are going to switch on soon to the fact that their staff will be more productive if they can use social media tools, ie Facebook-type applications to do their work. Their staff morale will improve as well and knowledge will be shared more efficiently. More productivity, and better performance means more profits.

So far, organisations have been slow to adopt social media tools internally in any meaningful way. But that will change dramatically when the next generation joins the workplace. They will demand blogs and Facebook at work. It will be such a natural part of their lives.

But hopefully we will not have to wait until then. Instead of devoting large amounts of their energies to taming and containing social media, or wishing it had never been invented, the progressive companies who are innovative and want to prosper globally will quickly start to embed social media ways of working into their core operational processes. Social media enterprises have the future on their side.

How do you know if a blog is right for your organisation?

1 Can you update it regularly?

2 Do you have writers to feed the blog?

3 Do you have something interesting to say?

4 Can you provide valuable content to your audience?

5 Could you link to interesting content on your web site to draw readers into it?

6 Could you use your blog  to leverage content on your web site?

7 Are you fully aware of the conversations going on around your services and products on blogs already and will your blog stand out and be distinctive in this context?

Why you shouldn’t put all your social media eggs in one basket

Bobbie Johnson’s in-depth piece in today’s Technology Guardian explores the trends and contributor numbers for Wikipedia as the online encyclopaedia marks the posting of its 3 millionth article in English.

For the last few months at ItsOpen we’ve been telling clients that focussing on a particular social media tool generally won’t help  them to develop an effective social media strategy. Social media is moving so fast and new tools and trends seem to be developing on a weekly basis. Why use up all your energy on Twitter when a new microblogging tool might come along next year that is far more popular, or suits your needs better?

Organisations are much better off concentrating on the general principles of social media; open, conversational, personal communication, rather than reacting to the impact of a specific tool.

The Wikipedia example may be about to help us demonstrate this idea.  Johnson’s article suggests that Wikipedia’s content growth may be stalling. Of course this may be down to the fact that at 3 million articles the contributing community of ‘Wikipedians’ may be running out of things to write about! It may also mean that these early adopters have found another tool to use to share their knowledge.

Only time will tell… but if  in a year’s time you have discovered an exciting new tool allowing online communities to share their knowledge (Wikipedia II..?) remember that you read it here first!

ROI of blogging

You can’t measure the success of a blog in pounds, dollars or euros. Of course you have the usual statistics available: how many views, unique visitors and so on. You can adapt traditional measures too. Such as how many articles is your blog creating.

The main ROI comes from making your organisation more personal and through the individual relationships you build, the conversations you have and the relationships you build with other relevant online communities.

The value is in the knowledge you are able to share, what you learn and the viewpoints you can help influence through blogging.

What do blog readers want to see?

1 Original research

2 News not found anywhere else

3 Personal stories

4 Live reports from events

5 Leading edge thinking/interesting perspectives

6 Educational pieces

7 Useful and attention-grabbing graphics

8 Great photos

9 Checklists and useful tools

10 Reviews and summaries

News International charges for content

I disagree with the decision of News International to charge for content. It’s a fundamental misreading of social media culture.  Putting up barriers to your web site and creating a walled garden approach is so 1990s.

Now it’s about letting go and looking to distribute your content as widely and effectively as you can.  Rather than seeing his newspaper sites as destinations, Murdoch should see them as platforms with the aim of developing networks around them.

You cannot charge for news now. It is a commodity. Anyone can get news. What he is doing is imprisoning his columnists and preventing them from gaining the influence they would otherwise earn.  Now their viewpoints will not spread as easily. They will not be able to  freely  enter into conversations with people or build relations with other online communities.

Just look at the most successful companies on the web like Google. Most of their services are free yet they make a fortune. It’s a question of where you charge. If Murdoch made access to his content free it would generate a bigger readership and then he could charge more for advertising. Essentially what is happening here though is that we are witnessing the last gasps of traditional media.

Murdoch, the media baron, is panicking because his assets are losing value. He spends masses on editorial and the notion of giving it away really annoys him.  Newspapers are going to have to reinvent themselves because anyone now can create and share news using blogs, twitter and so on. I’m surprised that News International is not doing more video and being more innovative. Surely the BBC is a model for Murdoch to look at in terms of how they are leveraging the web.

Blogging tips

1 Make sure you write with a human voice (avoid corporate speak)

2 Post regularly – at least once a week, more would be better

3 Be completely open about who is writing the blog and the purpose of the

4 Create a conversation with your readers (blogs are not meant to be

5 Link to useful resources outside your own web site

Where’s your PR focus? The Observer or Twitter?

The latest user numbers for Twitter are frankly staggering. According to ComScore, Twitter had racked up 44.5 million unique users by June 2009. This total in itself is mind boggling enough, but when you realise that it represents a growth of 7 million users from the previous month and an astronomical 1460% growth from its base of 2.9 million in June 2008, the numbers take your breath away.

In a seperate piece of research Nielsen has discovered that adults use Twitter at twice the rate teenagers do. Only 16% of Twitter users are under 25.

All this adds up to a rapidly changing media landscape. Companies that align their communications strategies with a diminishing ‘traditional media’ sector will be increasingly missing the opportunity to have conversations with their customers and stakeholders. As if to underline the point, rumours that Guardian Media Group is going to close the Observer won’t go away. If the world’s oldest Sunday paper is under threat then the shift away from traditional media channels is becoming very real indeed.