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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Social Media has been with us for several years now and its making an impact on many traditional communication and engagement models. Most marketing organizations have considerable resources committed to Social.

Unless you are fortunate enough to work in a marketing environment with unlimited funding, the bucks spent on Social have to come at the expense of some other Marketing program. So, where are those bucks coming from? What are we giving up to pay for Social? What do we get for our money?

Ten years ago, our websites were going to handle almost all engagement with our customers, prospects investors and the general public. The website would be our chief sales outlet, our main customer support facility, our primary marketing instrument. The mission of the web page was to facilitate and hopefully accelerate tire-kicking browser interest into buying action.

Somewhere along the line, that didn’t really happen. Sure, for some retailers with huge investments in brick and mortar, the online point of sale replaced the cash registers in Topeka, Springfield, Chicago and everywhere else. But the traffic in and around malls in our area is still enough to make me break out in a cold sweat and reach for the Mylanta.

Corporate websites became huge sprawling facilities that frequenlty turned into just another power silo within the enterprise.

The problem with web sites is they are not effective tools for interactive communication. All the brainpower that goes into the design and content selection in most web sites is aimed at pushing information out to the frequently disinterested world. Sure, there is the occasional “click here” button to learn more, contact us or talk to an expert.

That is not engagement. Under that model you are still hanging a product catalogue out there with a shopping cart button next to each product.

There is nothing to tell you why people come to your web site, why they stay, why they can’t find you and especially what they really want you to do.

I know, cookies, IP addresses, analytics and traffic stats are supposed to do that for us. But I would submit they don’t really get the job done.

Social on the other hand provides terrific inbound communication, unvarnished truth as your audience perceives it and all manner of opportunities to react and measure the effectiveness of your actions. It also facilitates out bound communication but care must taken because social is a “public place” so you can’t just say it’s true and expect to be believed.

To often, we as marketers take the approach that we know what people want. What could our customers tell us that would be of value? The best answer to that is to ask your customers. Or, approach your social strategy with a large helping of listening.

I think the role of social is clear. This is where we converse with our audience and where our audience can converse with one another. . . .  and we get to listen! We must always remember that listening is where the value is found.

Using Social with maximum effectiveness should make the role of the web site less complex. The web site can then be assigned a more tightly defined role. It may well be that your website is merely a store front. Or perhaps your website serves as a portal to product information and support. I’ve seen some websites that are mostly for investors and regulators. A place to publicly post documents as directed by law or regulation.

But, your web site doesn’t have to carry the burden of advertising, mission statements, executive bios and the rest stuff that no one really cares about. Most importantly, it won’t confuse, lose or anger your customers.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Class reunions are events unlike any other in our life experience. What I mean by that is they offer us a chance to measure or at least notice specific net changes in our cultural milieu. Since they occur at regular ten-year intervals and because you typically only see the folks in your class during the once per decade event, they make it easy to see how much life has changed since the last get together.

For instance, if you attended your reunion in 1980, you probably didn’t see a single cell phone or video cam. That’s because 1980 was still the era of land-lines and Kodak Instamatics.

By 1990, there were likely a number of cell phones and a few video cameras. We would laugh at these people today because the cell phones would look like World War Two era Army field phones and the Video cameras would make you look like the crew backing up Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. How could we think THAT was cool?

I went to a reunion in 1999 and I was amazed at the number of video recorders. They were starting to get pretty small by then. I remember looking across the banquet room and seeing about fifty of these things just rolling, taking in the ambiance of the Great American High School Reunion. Our reunion featured plentiful amounts of free booze so I’m sure the antics of my classmates, and me for that matter, were recorded for future use as blackmail fodder.

Now, we are about to enter another one of those technologically significant, yet potentially embarrassing eras.  Google Glass will soon become as ubiquitous as the video cam and the smart phone. Will it be the tech equivalent of the duck-tail or mullet? Or, will it be world changing?

Personally, I’m skeptical. Imagine walking into the ball room to register. The person behind the table is smiling sweetly and looks vaguely familiar. Before she can say, “Hi, I’m  ….” you are mumbling to your eyepiece to activate your facial recognition software. Glass quickly whispers her name into your ear “Betty Jo Belitnikoff”.

Why Betty Jo! You haven’t changed a bit. I love the blue rinse and those sensible shoes . . . very cool!”

That happens to be the last thing you say directly to any of your classmates that night. The rest of the evening, you are conversing with the Glass friend dangling in front of your eyeball. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

All you hear is low murmuring of Glass commands – Identify Face, . . .record, . . . retrieve email,  . . .open Facebook, . . . open LinkedIn. . . . message to Frank.

And so it goes all night long. Everyone is prowling around identifying faces and pulling up cyber versions of each other. No direct conversation is required.  Everyone who wants to interact can simply message via Glass.  An eerie silence hovers over the entire room. It’s like a zombie convention.

There are undeniably definite advantages. You get to avoid answering the unpleasant questions and you don’t have to listen to boring stories about kids and pets. You are in control; you can ignore or dig as deeply into the life of each classmate as you might care too. If it gets too bad, you’ll likely have the option to pull up something to stream from Netflix.

This is when you realize that the real world and the cyber or virtual worlds have partially merged. It is so disorienting, you are suddenly not sure what has happened or where you are.

Are you a warm blooded human visiting a virtual class reunion? Have you somehow been sucked into the virtual world where you can only interact via the technology you bring with you.

Or, has the virtual world expanded into the three dimensional universe, blurring the once distinct boundaries into a sort of cyber no man’s land? Has your Second Life merged with your real life?

You will ponder this as you move about the ball room, but you will come up with more questions than answers. A whiff of familiar perfume will pull you in one direction while a Facebook posting will jerk you back into reality, or was reality found only in a perfume scented distant memory?

Which is real; the warm and funny close friend of forty years ago or the bitter, angry guy spewing venomous political pabulum on Facebook?

The great television writer, Rod Serling would have recognized this dilemma right away. He would tell you without hesitation, you have indeed entered, The Twilight Zone.

By Lou Washington

Recently I received a message from LinkedIn about the image I use for my profile picture within the LinkedIn application. They told me they had removed the image because it violated their standards for personal images.

Ouch! No one has ever accused me of being a shimmering paragon of human beauty, but I never dreamt I was actually violating standards. I’m glad I didn’t know this in high school, I would have never developed any self-confidence. I would have dutifully worn my paper bag to assure people didn’t have to experience the pain of looking at me.

Actually until then, I had used a cartoon drawn by my friend Tom Hortel. Tom is a super creative fellow who runs an innovation company, called Zenovate, They serve business people looking for someone with a real imagination. I was very fond of my avatar image and it was with great regret that I submitted to the demands of Linked In and replaced it with a regular photograph.

This was just a few days before Linked In announced their new iPad app. If you have an iPad, you know there are two kinds of apps available. First are those written to exploit the iPad and take advantage of the many wonderful features that make it such a useful tool. The second type is apps written for the iPhone or iPod Touch then ported to conform to the minimal compatibility requirements of the Pad.

Apps written for iPhone that also run on iPad are typically not as striking visually. Blowing up the standard size iPhone image with the “x2” button usually results in a fuzzy, grainy image. Forget about rotating the image to landscape orientation, the screen will stubbornly remain in portrait mode.

You can understand why I was a bit skeptical when I read that they were finally going to finally have an iPad only version of their app. Since these guys don’t like cartoons, I figured they probably were not going to please me with their revamped interface.

Before I go further with this, let me say, I’m a huge Linked In fan. It was really my first use of social media. I could see the utility of Linked In almost immediately. I’m not talking about the self promotion aspect of the product in a job seeking context, although I understand why that is important.

I like the idea of being able to talk to people knowledgeable in almost any given area or discipline by simply running a search or looking for a group. For someone involved in market analysis or industry trends, (like me) this is an invaluable tool.

Of all the social tools available, Linked In is the one I would be least likely to give up if I had to make a choice.

I’m happy to find that Linked In got it right. The new iPad app is a vast improvement. I might even say that I like it better than the desk top version.

The Updates page is fantastic. It is served up in a beautiful framed eMagazine type format with sections listing real-time updated data such as markets and weather. Personal events are maintained and displayed in a “day at a time”calendar like format that allows the user to scroll forward and back to see past and future events.

News of interest is also displayed via attractive graphics and headlines.  The other stuff, whose viewed your profile, co-worker activities and connection updates are all listed with those now required photos. So maybe a cartoon wasn’t such a great idea after all?

Navigation is now horizontal, using swiping page turns instead of scrolling up and down.

Moving over to the profile page, your profile is presented initially in a clean resume type format. Swiping to the next page reveals your connections, recent viewers, people you may know and your own update activity.This is navigated via up and down scrolling.

The inbox section is set up very much like an Outlook mailbox.. The highlighted piece is displayed on the right side of the screen, the assorted messages are listed in date order on the left. Again, picture images are included with each message.

Throughout the app, the ribbon like tool bar extends across the top of the screen. You can easily jump back and forth between the primary functions by simply touching the IN logo on upper left side of the screen.

If you are an iPad user and you haven’t made the jump to the new version I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you have an iPad and haven’t added the Linked In app, you are missing out. Take the plunge, I think you will be pleased.

Good job Linked In!!

By Lou Washington

Everyone is speculating on what Apple should or will do with the pile of cash it is currently sitting on. New leadership in Cupertino is already showing some willingness to do things a bit differently with their recent stock buy back and dividend declaration.

Last week Business Week ran a piece by Mathew Ingram that took on the suggestion that Apple might be wise to pick up Twitter in an acquisition move. The article makes a number of good points. The most powerful argument for the acquisition is centered around a perceived missing social media component within the overall Apple market strategy.

I think this is a weak argument for buying Twitter. In fact, I would suggest that buying any social media vehicle would be counter productive for any platform manufacturer. At the end of the day, Apple is a platform manufacturer. They make devices and operating systems. They also produce some very good proprietary software products that exploit the platform environments that they build.

Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook are different. They are not at all proprietary. They cross-platform lines, cultural lines, social stratification and segments, political orientations and every other human pigeon-hole you can think of. All are welcome in the very large social media tent.

But, once that tent takes on the aura of being proprietary or in any way oriented toward a specific group, it begins to feel a little bit exclusionary.

Consider this, what would happen to Twitter if one of the major political parties bought it. What would happen if a media company purchased Twitter? Would ownership of Twitter by the Republican Party or the Huffington Post increase or diminish the membership of active users?

Apple does not need to buy its way into this arena. Apple users will do that on their behalf. Apple users are not a shy lot, they are passionate about Apple technology and they won’t hesitate to build out a variety of social media based manifestations of that passion.

Apple needs to continue to facilitate the use of social media within the design and concept of the products they bring to market. They do a good enough job of this, but further commitment in this direction will deliver a far more effective social presence then simply buying one of the components.

A good social media strategy must cover multiple social media outlets. Attaining excellence within one, does not guarantee excellence in another. Certainly, one flavor may lend itself more naturally to the goals and tactical processes of any given company. But, this doesn’t mean the company should avoid the other outlets.

The ability to effectively exploit LinkedIn does not mean you should ignore Facebook. Apple surely understands this. Purchasing Twitter would doubtless make it very difficult to develop and maintain close collaboration with communities operating within the other.

There really is very little to be gained by this move. The further you stray from your core competency, the higher the risk of failure.

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