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Developing Digital/ Social Personas to start your Social Strategy

[Cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

As the social space matures and companies recognize that they can no longer afford to ignore the “fad” that is social media, a common theme we keep hearing is: who and where are people who want to communicate with us, and whom we should be listening to and focusing our content development on?

As part of the process we’ve developed for formulating a solid and sustainable social strategy for brands, we typically start with developing a Digital/ Social Persona to help guide the engagement and communications strategy. While Personas are common in advertising and UX circles, they are relatively unique within social media as most practitioners will just tell you to “start listening”. While this is absolutely key to understanding and getting involved, it doesn’t provide a roadmap for long-term planning and engagement.

A persona doesn’t replace interacting directly with your customers, however it does give brands an understanding of how their customers are using digital media in all its forms, how they are interacting and engaging with complementary brands, the types of content that resonate with them, and a sense of where the brand “fits” (or could fit) within their online life. It also clearly demonstrates where it falls down, or neglects an important aspect.

In our experience, having this information, backed by thorough data and research, immediately illustrates where traditional communications fall short and why they should invest in 1-to-1 interaction and content development to remain relevant. It also begins to start the process of thinking about what true integration and touchpoints mean on a larger level.

We have a system we use to develop these personas with both qualitative and quantitative research, and with each iteration or new project find new ways to get to know the “persona” of the composite individual we’re modeling. I have a firm belief that with the amount of data we are collectively collecting in the digital realm helping companies make sense of it all and truly understand who their customers and prospects are will become both easier and more difficult. :)

For my social media friends out there – what types of practices do you use to help your clients get to know their customer?

[photo credit: Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo via Flickr]

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The masters of value-added content are CPG brands

content, value, variety

We’ve all heard the adage: Content Is King. With social media the discussions/ tips abound about creating content people want to engage with and using it to create a community of interest around your brand.

While the tips are correct, it isn’t actually anything revolutionary, Consumer Packaged Goods brands have been doing this for decades now, and have continued to expand their approach using digital channels. Looking at just two brands provides a stellar example of the right way to add value by creating useful and relevant content, build a community of interest and maintain top-of-mind awareness: Pampers & Kraft.

What sets these brands apart is how they’ve taken what their products DO and created content that doesn’t just list benefits or seek to sell the products, but encompasses real life and the needs that perhaps the products can provide.

For example, the Pampers site provides tips, tricks, expert advice, etc. surrounding each stage of having a baby – preparing during pregnancy, allergies, developmental milestones, sleep problems, baby names, etc. etc. They also provide a way for parents to communicate with each other and share experiences. Wrapped around all of that excellent content is a reward program for the products, but not much else in terms of a “sell”. The sell is the value they add as a trusted brand.

With Kraft it’s all about the experience of food – entertaining, recipes, feeding your kids, and time management to list a few. Their brilliant tool to help time-strapped families serve a meal in a crunch (list 3 ingredients you have on hand and Kraft will recommend a recipe) speaks to how much thought they’ve given to understanding their customers and providing value. Wrapped into what they’re providing is of course their plethora of products, but it’s not focused on “buy this now”, but on “how can we help”.

These brands have taken what they offer and provided solutions to help with free value-added content and no guarantee you’ll buy from them. But since it’s useful and relevant, you probably will.

There are tons of CPG examples out there – what are your favourites?

[photo credit: Martino! via Flickr]

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“What’s In It For Me?” is not the question in social media

What's in it for me?

In digital marketing best practices one of the key questions any company needs to answer from the visitors perspective in regards to the content they are displaying is “what’s in it for me?” or else risk losing the potential customer to someone who does answer that question for them, and obviously cares about how their product or service relates to that individuals needs.

Inspired by a conversation with Mack Collier yesterday on Twitter about the value and risks associated with “Pay Per Tweet” (another post on another day), and Mack’s assertion that anything promotional must create value for everyone, that  I started thinking about how that simple and meaningful question has shifted with the ability of everyone on the web to be an influencer and use their social currency to help, or hinder brands.

With the new age of social media, any type of outreach efforts must answer two questions to be relevant and impactful: “What’s in it for me?” & “How will it provide value to my network?”.

Failing to answer the question relating to the network may doom any efforts on your part to a budget poorly spent, less than stellar results and a backlash waiting to happen.

Using the social web is a hard-to-resist platform to spread word-of-mouth about your brand, but as many of us “old-timers” in the digital and social marketing world continue to espouse, it’s also not the place for business as usual and repurposing the same “push” marketing messages. While there are many ways to integrate your traditional digital and offline branding into social channels, it must be done with the utmost care and consideration. You must recognize that any type of outreach effort using these tools, or to people who use them, means you are asking that individual to SPEND their social capital by participating with you and spreading your message to their network of friends. That’s a lot to ask if what you are offering is only of value to the person you are asking.

At some point the majority of the top 1000 consumer brands will be using social media, and if the past 6 months is any indication, they will be running contests. These contests will most likely involve mandating that in order to enter you have to a) tweet a message to your followers on Twitter, b) post a link on Facebook or update your status, c) write a blog post, d) upload a photo or video on Flickr or YouTube and promote it. Let’s say that out of the 1000+ people I follow on Twitter 500 of them are actively participating in one or more of a thousand contests… how long before my stream becomes unrecognizable and without any conversational value to me? Perhaps I would enter a few of the contests myself or, more likely, in the long run, I’d move to a different social networking platform to escape the noise generated and find meaningful conversations again.

There will come a time when the pure promotional use of social media will lead to a backlash against both the brands and the people participating if there is no REAL value for the network = information, customer service, input, etc. If you aren’t answering the second question you may end up being burnt when the tipping point comes.

In that regard, if you are using tools such as Facebook or Twitter, what would be some uses of social networks for promotional purposes that could add value to your stream and be a “win” for all considered?

[Photo credit: Bright_Star 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?

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Toronto Web 2.0 Summit – step in the right direction, epic fail, or a bit of both?

This week the City of Toronto held a Summit to discuss how Web 2.0 (or the social web) can “increase civic engagement, reach all communities, and improve City services”. As the event itself was invite only a lot of participation occurred via the live webcast and in back-channels such as Twitter. I have a lot of thoughts about both the way the event worked, and how it didn’t, and will try and balance the two, while being honest & open in my feedback as I think it’s an important first step in a process that concerns all Torontonians. There have been opinions expressed that should be voiced if the City is serious about community engagement & interaction online.

First, it was a great idea – connect the decision makers, industry, internal government employees, and the public together to figure out how the social web can facilitate a better civic experience. Great idea, yes, but it unfortunately it didn’t live up to its promise, and actually the promise of Web 2.0/ social participation, the very topic of discussion.

There were some excellent speakers and panels that sought to provide some anecdotal as well as concrete examples of how government can use the tools to reach out to citizens, including the luncheon keynote by Mark Surman and the interaction with Mayor Miller, but there were also logistical & planning issues that stifled the potential and made many comment that the day was a “FAIL” (in 2.0 parlance). While 300 people tuning in via webcast is a small proof of concept, and there were passionate discussions online, with only 10 people physically in attendance during at least one session and with images of rows of empty city councillor seats seen via the webcast, the importance to the decision makers within the City seemed absent, or at the very least, under-represented (h/t Adam Froman); another misstep was starting the day with a panel on how the public wants to be engaged online without any representatives from the public on it. Great idea; poorly strategized.

What the City could have done:

  • Make the day into a blend of panels and workshops with concrete examples of issues from constituents and push for mandatory councillor participation and involvement. Bring together facilitators (our city has a ton!) to moderate and brainstorm actionable solutions to real-life problems – both internal and external; tech, procedural, etc.
  • Not make the day invite only. This seems a no-brainer to me, web 2.0 is about collaboration and openness and it feels counter-intuitive to close the gates to true participation at the outset, and it ends up cutting off some of the voices and ideas that are so vital to moving the premise forward.
  • Solicit and prioritize issues/ ideas in advance – for the public at large and for the city – transportation? health care? waste management? events? Focus on more than just the abstract. While Google maps mashups with the TTC are great (and I totally dig them and think they’ll be a great step forward), is that the number one priority for the City or best use of resources? Is web-casting every council meeting? Maybe, but maybe not.
  • Lay off the heavy moderation of the webcast and citizen participation – I asked two questions, once in the morning and once at the end of the day and neither one was released from moderation by whomever was monitoring the channel. Web 2.0 is as open and transparent as possible, not guarded, except for language and threats.
  • Bring in outside voices and expertise from the grassroots level in the city who are already using the social web and to bring together a diverse group of the population to work on local issues and spur action – Toronto has a vibrant community of passionate people to draw on, why not tap into it to shorten some of the learning curve?
  • Some kind of “next steps” to keep moving the discussion and planning forward and encourage participation – there are, as we saw at the event, a lot of talented individuals inside the government who could easily be the point persons to manage something like a wiki (which if the two days had included workshops or similar direct participation could have been frameworked) to solicit ideas and keep the citizens who wanted to engage and share informed of what was on the agenda (and recruit organically from their local circles – build momentum). It’s a challenge of course to coordinate in government, but “idea labs” are something that should be on the radar.
  • Included members of the public who represent different community organizations and looked to other government agencies and groups using the social channels so far & invite them to participate as part of a “lessons learned so far” discussion – Foodland Ontario, City of Markham, Prince Edward County, Ottawa Public Library, etc. etc.

I don’t believe the event qualifies as a FAIL, and I think a lot of good ideas and interest was spurred during a few sessions and hopefully a lot of food for thought and take-aways for the municipal officials who participated. I truly hope the City is committed to this and will take this first event as a baby step, incorporate and learn from the feedback available to them (blog posts, twitter updates, webcast questions, etc.) and keep moving forward. It can be a big or a small challenge depending on how we all deploy our resources – as a community!

[photo credit: Olivia via Flickr]

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