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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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Can we stop being so defensive about the tools we use?

This is a bit of a rant about something that is occuring all too frequently these days on my favourite social tool – Twitter. Yesterday an article in the Globe & Mail by Margaret Wente appeared that questioned, in her particular snarky tone of voice, the value of Twitter. You would have thought she questioned the cuteness of puppies by the vehement reaction by the Canadian Twitterverse. Update after update sought to match her snide tone and “set her straight”. It was an over-the-top reaction to a piece that in the grand scheme of things was just one persons opinion based on the plethora of mainstream media attention Twitter has been getting recently as the “next Internet phenom!!”. 

We really need to stop being so defensive. It’s a tool some of us use. It’s not for everyone after all and none of us own stocks.

Sure, it would have been nice if Wente had spent more time getting to know the tool before writing a piece about it, but let’s not forget that not every one has hours to spend figuring out the ins and outs of what is a highly charged, established community who are quite vocal when they deem you aren’t using it right. Not every one wants to either. If we cheer when Twitter makes the Wall Street Journal or The Star, are we not asking the general public to join based on what they’re reading? As with anything in life (and marketers should really know this already) people go through phases before deciding to buy (or join). Sure, we’d *like* them to take a test drive, but sometimes we have to rely on the dry specs and pretty pictures to even get on their consideration list. So Wente (who most likely has been hearing about the wonders of new media and Twitter from her colleague Mathew Ingram for months now) checked out the public stream and wasn’t impressed. Not surprising, there’s a lot of updates there about what people are having for lunch, and unless you have a group of people for whom you care about what they’re having for lunch, it really would seem silly for the lay person if we’re being honest. Of course that isn’t the *only* thing happening on Twitter, and not the reason I use it (I’ve explained before here and in an interview on CityNews recently why I use Twitter), but it takes a lot of time and energy to build that network… and maybe that isn’t time some people want to invest, or know they have to. Twitter works when it’s a conversation vs a monologue and perhaps, just perhaps, someone may have other channels they use when they want to converse. 

Let’s also add some perspective to the time investment using Twitter properly is – some people may not be able to bill clients for the hours upon hours they spend using the tool each day either, because they aren’t in marketing communications, PR, or customer service (or an entrepreneur, artist, etc.). Let’s keep that in mind when we jump all over people for not “getting” the tool.

I’m not a fan of Wente’s writing (or opinions) for the most part, but I recognize frustration with over-hype when I read it, and that’s what her piece felt like to me. I also wonder why no one called out the most glaring thing in regards to her article — she asked @biz (the guy who OWNS Twitter) for a chance to interview him the day before the piece ran. Did he care enough to defend it, or even respond? Perhaps her view of Twitter may have been different if the guy with the vested interest in getting positive coverage of his business by Canada’s largest daily paper had gotten back to her.

Twitter is for some, not for others, and it would be productive in my view to allow that there is more than one way to use the tool, or not. 

Also, that everyone is entitled to form an opinion based on what they read/ see. It’s up to the community to convince people the tool is right for them if we are going to get so defensive when they don’t “get it” and vocalize that, question it, or poke fun at it.

[photo credit: merwing via Flickr]

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Managing expectations: the passion of ideas vs. the passion for brands in social media

Social media is taking people powered organizing to a new level – the relative ease, speed, and agility with which groups of like-minded people can get together and affect change is amazing. The real life examples of this power continue to roll in and while the case studies are intoxicating, from a marketing and brand standpoint, it’s a good idea to separate the insights from the actions and ultimately to manage our expectations as marketers/ communicators.

A recent example of the power of social networks to rapidly mobilize and pull together an amazing “crowdsourced” event is the #hohoto.ca geek holiday party in Toronto which benefits the Daily Bread Food Bank. This event didn’t exist prior to a week ago and so far has raised over $8k for charity based only on Twitter communications (while the event will use other channels – Flickr, YouTube, etc. the organizing and promotion has happened almost exclusively via Twitter networks) by a group of people who got together and decided to throw a party. The money raised from ticket sales is impressive with over 100 folks signed up to attend, but the small business community has stepped up as well and sponsored the event, and the venue (Mod Club) and ticket agent (Eventbrite) have also waived their fees to help with a good cause. All in all this mobilization and the resulting support has been something to behold – check out the twitter search stream for a sampling of how active and generous the community has been!

(Other recent examples are of course the #motrinmoms recent controversy and the #mumbai tragedy, but those have been well covered, and for these purposes I’m going to focus on what brands can learn from the #hohoto example.)

However, the temptation will be to say this is another proof of concept that social media works and use this as a case study for how brands should jump on board and harness this crowdsourcing. Yes and no. While this does prove in the power of the tools to mobilize and activate individuals, it’s not something brands should *expect* to happen for them just by participating in the social web. There is a difference between passion for an IDEA and passion for a BRAND after all.

Here are a few key insights that companies can learn from #hohoto and what makes it different from outreach and participation in SocMed for a brand -

  1. This event needed influential catalysts – the Mesh Conference team who are well known and liked influencers on the Toronto scene stepped in at the outset and pledged their support & promoted and “re-tweeted” the details non-stop to their network of “influencers” in the Toronto tech & communications community.
  2. It’s the holiday season and geeks like any reason to get out and network in person – throw in a charity angle and you’ve got a winner of an idea.
  3. Low commitment on behalf of the attendees – it’s a party after all, not providing intellectual property for the benefit of a company brand.
  4. Lowered expectations surrounding the implementation – the website and promotion was a work-in-progress by a loose group of individuals. There were some snafus – the website didn’t actually list the event details when it first went up, the date changed after the launch & tickets were sold, and there were spelling mistakes, etc on the site. No harm, no foul, but if this was a “brand” event I expect the reaction would have been a tad harsh to the “launch & learn” approach.
  5. The timeline for the event is tight – it’s being held on December 15th and therefore the constant stream of #hohoto hashtags and promotion is tolerated and embraced. If this were for a brand program I think we may have seen some “cease & desist” snark and comments from the Twitter community when every other tweet is about the event from personal accounts.
  6. The tools are powerful and the “cool factor” of tweet streams, on-site video streaming, twitter DJ requests, etc. etc. are important to extending the reach and motivating this particular community, *but* without the two key IDEAS – holiday party networking & charity – they are just that, cool tools.

For a brand venturing or participating in the space it would be dangerous to expect the same type of response for a purely commercial endeavour. Crowdsourcing can be powerful, but it can also backfire if the right insights aren’t there at the outset. Planning matters and a good idea will still rule.

Participating and building a network honestly is the rule of the day, and ensuring that you’re tapping into the passions of individuals for something they care about will motivate people far more than any shiny tool will.

If you don’t receive the same type of response to your brand, don’t be discouraged, it’s a different experience. Your response is probably just fine for your goals… if they were realistically set to begin with.

See you at #hohoto on the 15th? :)

[photo credit: Derektor via Flickr]

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Change of scenery? Change of community.

change of scenery

Since moving back to Toronto in late 2001 I’ve moved around quite a bit. Part of it was born of a desire to rediscover my hometown after being away for over a decade, and determine where I wanted to finally ’settle’. I’ve recently done so again and am out in a neighbourhood I’ve wanted to live in for way too long to remember.

As I’ve been out and about exploring the new ‘hood, I’ve been consciously aware that although we are all Torontonians, and Canadians, the folks out here roll differently. If I want to get the most out of this community, I have to find out what makes it tick and what the ‘when in Rome’ rules are. Reflecting back, I’ve only gotten enjoyment and fulfillment out of any new community (work, home, play, study) when I take the time to listen and explore vs. bulldoze my way through, oblivious.

The same principles apply online and with social networks. Each network, although they may look outwardly similar, or have the same type of backbone software, is unique based on the individuals who populate it, and, drilling down, those who are its "power users" are, in a fashion, the ‘community elders’ and have more say in what the norms are. Of course, as with everything in life, as new people move in (join), the standards can begin to shift, but this usually (unless it’s a revolt, but that’s a different tale altogether) happens organically from within the network vs. by external pressures.

It’s important to keep the thoughts of your ‘real life’ community in mind while exploring and engaging in the social space online. Just because something worked a certain way on MySpace, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same on Flickr or Twitter. Just because you’d say something a certain way in an opt-in email or on a brand forum, doesn’t mean it works in a Facebook group.

Each community, and each community subset, is just as unique as the folks who populate your neighbourhood, or mine.

[photo credit: gracias! via Flickr]

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Twitter me this… is your signal getting lost in your noise?

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As the great Twitter debate continues to rage on (and on), I get the feeling we’re missing a key point of what true connections and conversations are: the memories of them. I have a love hate relationship with Twitter. Most of the time I hate it, but sometimes I love it. I just can’t get past the noise.

I’m the type of person that likes to remember things and form deep interactions and thoughts about a topic, and I find that Twitter makes me feel like I need prozac. My brain is not hardwired to multi-task that much. After a session of reading what everyone “is doing” I honestly don’t feel smarter for it. I don’t feel more connected. I usually feel like I need a nap or a complex Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the conversations.

Maybe it’s the usability – no ability to drag and drop the conversations I want to keep track of into a new window or widget, with replies nicely threaded using that wonderful language called Ajax. No historical continuity. No ability to search for a conversation ala Gmail. Just a constant stream of the collective consciousness in 140-character bites. But I think it’s more than that in the 30-thousand foot view.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a “massive waste of time”, but I am saying that, on the whole, for me, the benefits of the ’signal’ are far outweighed by the constant ‘noise’.

I came across this story in the November issue of The Atlantic (courtesy of Marketing Profs which has a similar article on this topic, from which I copied and pasted the quotes vs. typing them from the physical magazine since the full article is behind a sub-wall) – “The Autumn of the Multitaskers” – that has neuroscientists warning us that being constantly connected and multitasking means we’re getting dumber. I don’t entirely disagree. And it’s not a good thing in my view. I love my blackberry and my email, but I don’t love SMS updates from the various social networking platforms – in fact, I recently turned off my mobile alerts because, as much as I care for my friends, I don’t need to know instantly that you’re stuck in traffic or that you love the snow. I can wait until I log into Facebook or Twitter to find out.

“Multi-tasking messes with our brains in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning.”

Are we truly expanding our knowledge and reaping the benefits of other’s experience or are we jumping from application to URL to email and back again without taking the time to process what we just learned? One of the reasons I don’t just throw my immediate thoughts out onto this blog is because I want to provide value when I post (whether I do so or not is up to you!), and it takes time for me to process my thoughts, reach back into my database (my brain) to find connections of experiences, learnings, or even where I read something brilliant that I feel relates to the topic at hand. When I slow down I remember more, and since my memory is a key part of truly being able to create something meaningful and expand my knowledge, I force myself to disconnect and take the time I need.

“Certain studies find that multi-tasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction—prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term they cause (our brain) to atrophy.”

Sure, in the world of Google you don’t really need to be able to remember every key piece of information; but I prefer being in a client meeting or discussion and being able to recall the information vs. saying “I’ll look into it and get back to you” or “I’ll do some research and circle back”. I find that actually stifles the conversation vs. moving it forward in real-time.

That’s why I love blogs and audio transcripts (vs. just show notes) – I can bookmark and re-read at my leisure and actually absorb the knowledge that someone took the time to impart.

As marketers we also need to be cognizant that using apps such as Twitter to communicate constantly may in the end force a lot of our community to “no follow” or “unsubscribe” if our signal doesn’t break through the noise. In fact I just unsubscribed from the CBC News feed on Twitter because most of the news has no bearing on me and it was cluttering up my feed. No geo-targeting messaging in Twitter, just an ability to send it out there to the world.

Actually, I think I need to get in touch with Twitter and give them some recommendations for better usability and relevance (although since they don’t have a revenue generation model I wonder how receptive they’ll be… whole other story)!

That being said, I’m not abandoning my social networking applications, just unplugging when I need to. Think of it as yoga for the brain. So if you follow me and I don’t update regularly or reply to a tweet right away, I’m not ignoring you, just taking the time needed to think about what you said.

[photo credit: krandolph via Flickr]

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