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First things first: define your brand ID in social channels

As social media use becomes the norm for brands both large and small, one constant that everyone struggles with is brand identity on social channels. Especially when you have more than one individual manning your account, or teams of copywriters trying to translate traditional copy to social snippets. How do you define your brand and ensure that anyone from customer service to front line community managers are literally speaking the same language? How do you ensure that when a key employee leaves your identity isn’t lost with them?

The first step to successfully translating your brand in consumer interaction channels is to understand who you are as a “person”, not as a corporate behemoth, but as an entity someone would want to interact with outside of from a customer service perspective. That’s how you can sustain engagement long-term and be invited to the dinner party that is social media.

Brands have a “brand book” that details everything from proper logo usage to mission statements, tag lines and beyond. Developing and integrating a social identity into that is a must. As there really isn’t an “above the line” and “below the line” these days, your social persona must be integrated into all aspects of your marketing, where and how it makes sense.

One of the ways I’ve found incredibly useful, as I’ve helped launch brands into the social sphere is to start with the “traditional” brand persona and then dive deep on social. This can take a variety of forms, but must include social listening for your core customers. Who are they? What do they care about? How can you add value to their daily interactions? What other brands do they use or care about? How does your customer service live up to your brand premise? (Or if it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?). If you could choose a living person to represent your brand, who would it be?

Pick your niche. Are you funny? Witty? Value-based? Traditional? Put yourself into your customers’ shoes (not all brands appeal to all people). This will help you to define a voice and channel-specific strategy and enable your creative team & strategists to brainstorm on effective ways of reaching them, and give you a solid platform to engage on a daily basis, no matter who is doing the talking.

[photo credit: nomadic_lass on Flickr]

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The difference between forcing a community and finding a community

The last couple of years have brought a shift in social “media” as ad agencies have tried to disrupt the space with clever gimmicks (Real-time marketing) which is what they’ve always done best. Disrupt conversations and grab attention. It’s a perilous game: one misstep and you’ve got an angry mob on your hands. And it doesn’t work to drive much of anything except a couple of articles and some goodwill. Until the next brand trumps it and you’re forgotten. It’s a zero sum game in the end, and one that costs a lot of money to boot.

The real growth is where your value meets a need. There are a few brands who are doing it right. They’re the ones who spend the time getting to know the community of people who could USE their product or service and deliver the value behind it in a way that impacts someone’s life.

The digital space isn’t all about YOU. It’s about how you can help US. Sure, wit and snark will always play a part, but that’s a small part. Customer service? Big part. Relevant content that I can use? Big part. Being there when people are just talking? Big part.

It’s time to get back to basics and start serving the customer, not just looking for the most likes and retweets. Pay attention to the people, they’re the ones who buy your products. Invest in that strategy and you’ll win.

[Image credit Robie06]

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Thoughts on the Twitter archive deal with Gnip

After turning off the firehose to Google last year I’d been wondering what they would do with their huge database of users tweets as the next logical step appeared to be granting the search giant access to their archives as well. They announced today that they’ve partnered with Gnip to provide the company with every tweet back to March 2006 when the company launched.

As someone who has developed social/ digital personas as part of the larger marketing strategy this is great news. Using data from various social platforms is a fantastic way to get a broad (and granular) sense of what issues most resonate with consumers, how they feel about your products and your competitors. By analyzing that data a richer picture of your customer emerges.

In the past we’ve only really been able to gather data for the past year, but with this announcement the ability to look at trends over time becomes a possibility. Is the same issue recurring? Has customer service improved over time or gotten worse year over year? Are there seasonality trends that weren’t immediately apparent? All of these data points could now be analyzed (or re-analyzed) based on this new data.

Unless you’re a very sophisticated (and deep pocketed) brand storing broad term data year over year and merging it with the same query sets was probably not at the top of your radar. As Gnip merges this data into standard listening tools running ad hoc reports and performing a detailed analysis becomes much simpler.

I’m looking forward to seeing this roll out and doing some digging. What do you think about this move by Twitter?

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Why does Google get social content but not social networks?

It’s a running joke in the digital media space that Google+ is a ghost town. Not entirely accurate as companies such as Ford believe in the space and prominent bloggers still actively participate there, but it certainly didn’t meet the promise that many hoped for – to finally bring a direct competitor (with deep pockets) to Facebook. 50mm active users and 90mm registered users is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not where the Internet giant was hoping to be. This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to venture into social networks, there were the other Internet services, Buzz and Wave, which became fodder for Internet jokes before being shut down.

On the flip side, Google’s content creation engine consistently churns out compelling content that is shared far and wide and highly praised: think Google Doodles; April Fools jokes; and random Easter Eggs in products (e.g. Map Directions). They excel at it and appear to have a lot of fun doing it. So it should be only natural that if they are that good at creating content that people want to share they should understand how to build products that facilitate that sharing. Right?

Well, understanding the psychology of human sharing and interaction is different from creating cool things that people like to geek out to. Google, at its core, is full of incredibly smart engineers who look at problems logically and have a deep understanding of how the Internet works, how to create workflows, and how their own products can all be tied in together. These are the folks who brought us Gmail that revolutionized email, search which is the backbone of how people find information online, etc. etc.

But these products are all fundamentally purpose built, not discovery and interaction built.

I go to Gmail to read and respond to email. I use the search engine to find things I’m looking for, not to browse the web. I use Maps to get directions and find things. You get the picture. YouTube is different, but it wasn’t built in house, it was acquired after it was already successful and hasn’t really expanded much past it’s original purpose – to watch videos online.

The sticky social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. are all about frictionless creation and sharing which is where the content that Google creates naturally spreads. Google+ is amazingly built. It has so many features that the other networks lack it should be a natural place to migrate our social interactions to. Except, all those features that make sense logically probably confuse the average user. Geeks get it, but geeks already have channels where their buddies are to share on. Circles are actually a really great idea, but the average person looks at that and says, whoa, way too much work! I’d hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 people on Facebook and Twitter haven’t set up lists either (the simplest versions of Circles). Ripples? What are those? Hangouts, which should have been the killer feature weren’t promoted properly (think about how Apple promoted Facetime for how it should have been done), and YouTube integration was an after-thought instead of a must have from day one. I could go on and on but you get the picture. When Google builds social networks they build them through their own incredibly logical lens instead of an average consumer lens.

So, what can they do? I’d suggest taking a look at why their content is so successful and how it spreads (psst, they have Google Analytics that recently added social networks tracking they could take a peek at for some insights). I’d also do a deep analysis of what their competitors are doing from a marketing lens, not a development one. Make it easy to import friends from other networks, make setting up a profile a snap, make it cool (and easy) to be there. Then, in the immortal words of start-ups: pivot…. Hell, even Zuckerberg pivoted by opening The Facebook to non-college kids.

In the meantime, keep the content coming, it’s really good!

Image credit: [Jennifer Horn @ Google]

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Are you prepared for stormy seas as well as calm ones?

As social media platforms and participation become ubiquitous amongst all demographics it’s more important than ever to understand how to navigate both the calm weather and the storms that will inevitably occur. Social media is an extension of life and as such all the same variables come into play. If a customer loses their temper at your call centre rep they will certainly do so in the more public forum of Twitter or your Facebook wall.

It isn’t just about the huge crisis, it’s about day-to-day interactions where customers are upset with something about the company. How you handle the everyday interactions makes the difference between having a sustainable social presence outside of a “push” campaign mentality. It also allows your campaigns to resonate more as your customers don’t see them as your only use of the medium that they are primarily using to connect with their friends, family, and colleagues.

How do you handle the negatives? Be prepared in advance!

First, before you dive right in know that your company isn’t perfect. This is a tough one for most companies, but it’s true. No one is perfect so accept it and move forward with a plan.

Here are some initial steps you can take to get off on the right foot in social media channels:

  • Gather a list of known issues from your customer service department and any other customer facing departments (retail managers, etc). Identify how you are working to fix those issues.
  • Check your analytics – are there specific patterns you can discern? Content paths, keywords, time spent on specific pages?
  • Talk to your marketing team – what offers have resonated in the past and which have fallen flat? Talk to your PR department – what kinds of feedback do they get from journalists and investors? Have there been any big crises in the recent past?
  • Conduct a social listening audit across all of your business units and find out what your customers are actually talking about (your brand and your competitors).
  • Talk to your product development team – what’s coming down the pipe in the next 6 months and how will that impact your customer base (be honest about this; will it be received well without any need for spin)?

Now put them all together to determine what your hot button issues are likely to be and craft a plan to ensure your front line social media team can address them properly and transparently. Make no mistake, it isn’t a script, but an outline of who your company really is: a human-centric business.

Taking these steps and ensuring your employees are all operating from the same playbook will set your team, and your brand up to be prepared for any storms that arise (which they inevitably will as they do in the physical world) and hopefully allow you to mitigate them before they can manifest into an actual crisis.

Finally, keep in mind that it doesn’t stop here: the learning, discussions, info gathering etc. MUST continue. Change happens; be prepared to roll with it.

Happy sailing!

[photo credit: FnJBnN]

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