Understanding the true value of research and stats in social media

research buzz social media

(hint, it’s not to validate the tool your consultant has chosen as their favourite)

Recently a lot of research has come out that shows who and how people are using specific social networks, which is a great thing for any MarCom person. Reports have shown the average age of users of key networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as where people are sharing information online. Not only is this information valuable on a pure: finally, some actual hard stats on the latest online usage, perspective. They also reinforce a key point in traditional marketing: Demographics and Psycographics are more than just “old” marketing buzz words.

Just as PR people shouldn’t target journalists who don’t cover a clients field, social media shouldn’t be looked at as needing to be omnipresent on every conceivable channel, or a “spray and pray” tactic.

Where your customers ARE and how they use those channels is vital to crafting a well thought out and meaningful strategy. Are they on Facebook? Twitter? MySpace? Email? Mobile? (to name a few). And what do they do when they are there? How can you reach them within their own comfort zone?

Advocating that you MUST be in a particular location without solid reasons why and a comprehensive strategy for what you will do when you get there is folly and a waste of time and resources. You may find that although the majority of your customers (and prospects) love Twitter, they despise interactions with brands within that channel. They may prefer to connect with *your* brand via email or, horrors, direct mail or your own website (which they found through search).

Being “social” on the web means truly embracing the methods the people you want to reach want you to reach them in. It doesn’t necessarily mean following hot on the heels of the latest tool to hit the tech-o-sphere and generate the greatest amount of buzz amongst the social media consultants – especially if they aren’t the people who buy your products or services.

The golden rule of marketing always applies: know who you are and who your customers are before choosing a medium to communicate within.

[photo credit: Plamen Stoev via Flickr]

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Is the social web about merit or is it morphing into the same old?

Spinning Web 2.0

As I browse my RSS feeds and listen in on conversations on Twitter I am seeing a theme emerge where what appears to be rewarded is the same old school connections, packaged in a new media ribbon. The social web was supposed to break down the gates and allow new voices (and genders or colours) to emerge based solely on merit, but if you look closely at conference line ups, those participating on certain blogs, and who gets responses to which conversations it is easy to see where this promise is failing. The same voices are dominant no matter what they are discussing and rarely are they seriously challenged by those outside their close knit circle lest one fall out of favour with the “in club”.

People clamor to be invited to the hip new launch and, as evidenced by the recent New York Times piece: Spinning the Web, it’s not necessarily about the value of a product but who your connections are and how big of a party you can throw, what clubs you belong to, how many names you can drop, or how many times you can send someone a gift to remain top-of-mind. Having been around the Web 1.0 bubble where money and good times were thrown around without regard to business model I fear for where this is all heading. Also having worked at an ad agency where it was forbidden to “buy your clients affection” I know business can be done without constantly throwing money around. There is nothing inherently classy about trying to secure business by attempting to purchase it vs. earning it based on your ideas. Of course people like getting the special treatment, it makes them feel good, and important. Although this is human nature, it’s nothing to be proud of in the grand scheme of things.

The beauty of the social sphere for me is precisely to find and cultivate genuine relationships with people who aren’t trying to buy their way in, but are sharing their ideas and their unique perspectives. I want to hear from people who disagree with me, regardless of how many (or who) follow me on Twitter and what my perceived influence is. Of course I like hearing from people who agree with me as well, but no one should feel they *have* to agree with me or host lavish parties to earn my respect. In fact there is no quicker way to lose my respect than to contribute nothing of substance or continuous empty platitudes.

How about you? What is the value of the social web to you? Is it about fame and fortune or bringing new perspectives into your life?

[photo credit: ViaMoi via Flickr]

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Raising twins is like user experience design

Blending personal with marketing is something I have done for years, some would say it’s a character flaw as I’m constantly looking at how marketing impacts and influences my life, but I can’t help it, it’s in my blood I guess. I recently had twin girls, Isabelle & Olivia, and although I had planned extensively for them, cribs, stroller, dresser, rockers, play yard, etc. etc. it wasn’t until recently that I started getting into buying them clothes or decorating their room (note “room” not “nursery” – a slight distinction, but an important one). When I was thinking about how to dress them, what colours to use, theme of room, etc. I kept vacillating and realized that I had no idea who they were or what they might like as individuals. They aren’t carbon copies, they are distinct and unique human beings – how could I design something for them or try and force-fit a ’style’ onto them without having met them? What if I was wrong? (and it’s not cheap being wrong…)

Now some may say I over-analysed and what’s wrong with picking out a nursery theme for them in advance and letting them deal with it? You don’t get choices when you are a baby. Well… because 4-months in I see their distinct personalities coming out and they are quite different. Olivia lights up when she sees girly dresses and Isabelle goes nuts for the colour red for example. I’m getting to know them now & have a good sense of who they are and how I can incorporate their differing personalities into their wardrobe, room, and toys. 

I started from a simple premise: they needed to feel comfortable and secure. Everything else is just window dressing. So I knew I wanted them to feel at peace in their room instead of being overwhelmed with bright colours, they needed a place to sleep & a place to put their clothes, but that was as far as I got. We knew we needed to paint regardless of the choice, it was a very dark colour initially, and Kevin suggested (and painted) two colours – sky blue & light yellow sunshine for trim. Very uplifting and calming colours and a warm space for them to spend time in. That worked. 

So that’s where we ended up – a painted room we wanted to spend time in. Pretty good starting point – in marketing terms, I was in the door & willing to spend some time browsing around. The foundation was set experientially. Of course it’s not *my* room, it’s theirs so all I did was added two dark wood 3-in-1 cribs that could be painted if the girls wanted to individualize their beds down the road, an antique white dresser that can also be painted if they want, a neutral rug, a funky lamp, and some wall stickers. That was it. No other “stuff”. No wall art, no “princess” or “jungle” pre-packaged theme, no elaborate crib bedding sets, just a relatively plain room that felt good for wee ones. Now that I see who they are I’m starting to refine, change, or add to their space to make it their own.

Why did I feel like I needed to rush and get all this done & design the perfect ‘experience’ for them without any context outside of what *I* (Brand “Mommy”) thought they’d like? Of course I built the foundation, but I left the door open (and mandatory) for iterations, changes, and growth. I let them show me who they were. I design for them, not for me. I facilitate and enable their personalities & mediate the differences, not dictate my taste. 

I’m designing their “user” experience in the world — and funny enough, the same principles about getting to know them apply if you are a brand too.

[photo credit: shashchatter via Flickr]

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CluetrainPlus10: Theses 23 “Positioning”

Forward looking position

It feels like yesterday at times when the Cluetrain Manifesto was published, but in reality it’s been 10 years since the seminal, and controversial, book was published. To mark the anniversary, Keith McArthur began the “Cluetrain Plus 10” project which has 95 bloggers covering one of the 95 Theses that make up the book.

Cluetrain, for me, helped articulate the changing landscape of customer/ company interactions as the Internet began to come of age, along with other more brand/ e-comm focused books of the time. Although I see some parts as a tad one-sided and biased in terms of forcing a point, versus the natural evolution (and constraints) of business, the manifesto I’ve chosen to write about – Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about – rings truer than ever at this stage of the game in my view.

When companies decide to exist and build a product, one of the most natural and necessary things, for company wide alignment, is to develop a market position. All too often the way they go about it is internally, or shareholder, focused vs. allowing the focus to rest on their customer and their needs, insight, and focus.

Unfortunately it’s not surprising to sometimes find a force-fit approach lacking the fundamental questions all sustainable, successful companies in today’s market answer:

Why would anyone care?

What do they care about on a personal/ group level vs. as a “market”

Who are you really – are you part of the solution, or part of a problem?

What you do and who you are matter, especially as the world becomes increasingly wired and we become billions of loose threads interconnected 24/7. The absence of the connection – to something tangible we can relate to, be interested in, give a second thought to, and know there isn’t a hidden agenda, outside of making fair profits – means the potential loss of: trust; perceived value; a sale; a future sale; a referral; knowledge; social capital.

People still buy from companies they don’t really “connect” with (be it at a product, customer service, or emotional-brand level), but they do so grudgingly, and, on the whole, are open to other, more fulfilling, options. A company who is committed to a goal that makes sense to them as people, whatever that goal may be, in context, wins.

If you wanted to reach the people who may be interested in your product, would you want to be a company people understand & respect, or a company that’s a last resort?

Wouldn’t it be great to have your customers, and potential customers, on your side & providing you with actionable feedback, or would you prefer to be under siege & on the defensive?

The Internet offers one platform to become aware, and active, with the people who may benefit from what you have to offer them. But a strong position, in whatever regard, transcends the medium, and becomes part of the overall experience. The feedback loop in action. For this to truly work, the position has to be a real thing, not a product of a myopic “communications” view driven by expediency, lack of imagination, interest or insight, into the very “demographic” you are attempting to position for. Sometimes, when you dig deep enough, what you find will surprise, delight, and perhaps scare you. Maybe even open up a whole new opportunity you wouldn’t have considered if the “market” didn’t provide it to those who interacted with and listened to them.

How is that not the way to go in the long-term?

[photo credit: RichardLowkes via Flickr]

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Think value, not viral

It’s easy in marketing communications to get caught up in the ‘cleverness’ factor when developing a campaign – it’s usually quicker to get to market since it’s not usually targeted & multi-layered, it’s sexy, it can be distilled into a soundbite, and it’s, well, clever (who doesn’t like cleverness or wit?). With the downturn in the economy the pressure will start to mount to deliver quick results & many clients will opt to go with a ‘catchy’ campaign in the hopes of standing out and driving fast returns to justify their marketing budgets. It may not be a bad approach if the campaign is dead on with the strategy and insights (usually the type of campaign that *goes* viral), but too often that just isn’t the case. The problem with this type of approach is that it tries to force cultural reaction with little chance of, or planning for, long-term success.  The mistake of cultural reaction-baiting becomes amplified in the social media space, even while the potential for pick-up & viral distribution is hard to resist.

Over the long-term the brands that will succeed in our new multi-layered marketplace are the ones that think value and relevance first and ‘hook’ second. Part and parcel of trust is history… is your history one that the customer remembers for it’s intrinsic value, or as a day at the carnival (if they remember it at all)? At the outset of planning shift your mindset to think of why your product is of value to an individual, or how it can be used that adds value.

When you try to create a “viral” program what you are ultimately doing is adding further noise to your customers life. Sometimes they’ll appreciate the tune you are playing, but most times they won’t. However, when you set out to provide something valuable vs. noisy your chances of making it onto a regular playlist increase. Being “of value” doesn’t have to mean being boring, it should mean being creative *and* relevant.

[photo credit: Supercapacity on Flickr]

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