I’m pleasantly surprised to read the news that Dalton Caldwell’s audacious proposal for a user-funded, ad-free alternative to Twitter has reached its funding goal. A week ago, it didn’t look like Caldwell would fetch the minimum target of $500,000 worth funding that he’d set as a requirement for launching — or rather pivoting — App.net. But he did, and it’s an achievement with potentially significant ramifications.
Why is App.net so important? Simply put, it reflects a growing frustration with the insidious nature of advertisements on social networks. While many people are now able to tune out traditional banner and sidebar advertisements, social ads are constantly evolving. And as social networks like Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr struggle to find viable business models and appease investors, so-called in-stream advertisements are becomingly increasingly common.
Evidence suggests that they’re working, which will only embolden those charged with generating revenue for social networks.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with in-stream ads that enhance, or at least don’t worsen, my overall user experience on a platform. My experience as a user (and yes, I’m aware that if I’m not paying for something, then I’m its product) is especially important to me as I spend more and more time accessing social networks — and the Internet in general — on mobile devices. In-stream ads need to be subtle on small screens in order to avoid becoming disruptive.
In my experience, however, subtlety is fading away (see the screen shot from Facebook’s iOS app). Which sucks. And so it’s time for a new approach, one in which advertisements aren’t crammed into every nook and cranny of screens both small and large. It’s time for social networking leaders to think different.
And that’s where App.net comes in, as a paid service that puts the interests of users first. Caldwell’s idea may or may not succeed — and some smart people are on the record in saying that it’s likely to fail — but I’m still hopeful. And thus, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, by backing the App.net project as part of its Member Tier.
I’m helping to fund App.net, in hopes that becomes a great service. But more importantly, I’m funding an idea, one that is best expressed in the words of former Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
Yes, it certainly does. For all of us.
While in-stream advertisements won’t (and shouldn’t) go away entirely, they need to remain minimally obtrusive. But within the streams of my social networking apps, they’re trending in the opposite direction. So perhaps there’s a place for App.net’s user-funded business model.
I certainly hope so. But what about you?
Note: I had originally written a much harsher critique of Scott Thompson for this post. However, I decided to revise my original article after Thompson revealed, as part of his departure from Yahoo!, that he is fighting thyroid cancer. I wish Thompson well and hope that he makes a full, speedy and complete recovery.
Scott Thompson was ousted as the CEO of Yahoo! recently, and it’s a safe bet that almost nobody outside of his immediate family feels bad for him about the dismissal. The reason? For many people, it’s due to a sense that lying — especially on a resume — is morally wrong and should be punished.
But for many people, satisfaction over Thompson’s firing stems from a perception that Yahoo’s recent lawsuit against Facebook is akin to patent trolling. To many observers — venture capitalists, tech journalists, bloggers and customers — Yahoo’s actions reflect an inability to drive shareholder value through innovation, which has instead spawned a desperate attempt to unlock value via unscrupulous means.
This perception is particularly difficult for a company based in Silicon Valley. The region’s culture prizes innovation above most, if not all, attributes. And Thompson is squarely to blame for ignoring this cultural tenet, and instead huddling with consultants to plot strategy and make plans to drain cash away from a true innovator.
The validity of Yahoo’s patents became irrelevant the moment an entire worldview was violated, and Thompson’s BiographyGate became fresh blood in the water for an already-ravenous sea of sharks.
The lesson, then? Well actually there are two.
First, don’t lie. Your parents should have taught you this one, but if you need a refresher, go read The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Second, cultural ignorance is a dangerous thing. I’ve written about this before, and it applies to a myriad of situations: corporate life, social media channels, etc. Just think about the number of colleagues that you’ve seen exit from organizations because of poor cultural fit. Can you think of several? I can.
But you can roll these two lessons into one. A family friend once told me, “You get no points in life for being a butt.” Remember this one above all. Scott Thompson will.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know below.
Earlier this week, Facebook bought Instagram for over $1 billion, and the reaction to its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing social network was both strong and predictable. People hated the move. In a scene reminiscent of Quit Facebook Day, scores of people voiced their frustration via Twitter, and many threatened to delete their Instagram accounts:
— Hamce M (@Napaceni) April 9, 2012
— Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW) April 9, 2012
— Andrew Crow (@AndrewCrow) April 9, 2012
But we all know how well Quit Facebook Day turned out, and in fact, news of Facebook’s acquisition has rocketed Instagram to the top spot in the iOS app store.
Regardless, there’s evident frustration here, which provides a clear lesson for all of us: Facebook is Walmart, and we love boutique shops.
Think about it. Facebook is the massive destination that has everything you need, at a level of quality that is just good enough. But Path, EveryMe (and arguably, Google+) allow for easier control of sharing. Twitter nails the interest graph, and Pinterest‘s unique approach to image curation has helped it explode to become the third most popular social network in the United States (so Facebook went out and bought a potential Pinterest killer).
But what does this mean for you?
If you’re a marketer, you need to remember that niche networks with tight, interest-based communities are highly-valued by consumers (this shouldn’t be a revelation). As the large networks like Facebook and Twitter race to the middle with “me too” features that appeal to broader user bases (which I’ve, ahem, written about before), there are opportunities to capitalize on granular interests and use cases. You just may need to work a little harder to find the hangouts of your target audiences.
If you’re an app developer, understand that narrowly-focused, well-designed products that do one thing (or few things) well are prized by consumers. People don’t need another Facebook or Twitter (as those 3 minutes/month they’re spending on Google+ indicate), and they certainly don’t need more location-sharing apps. Plan your strategy accordingly.
In summary, think like a specialty retailer. As an app developer, you’re unlikely to beat Facebook on volume, and as a marketer, there is evident potential for micro-targeting. Use this knowledge to compete more effectively, an tap into the sentiment that Instagram’s user base has expressed loud and clear.
What do you think about the Facebook/Instagram hubbub? I ‘d love to hear your thoughts below (And lastly, I have no plans to delete my Instagram account).
Millions of people are about one week into working on their goals/resolutions for the 2012 year. For tech savvy types, these plans may involve learning to code via Codeacademy’s Code Year initiative, or obtaining a new technical certification. For others (aka the “Normals“), plans might center around losing weight, becoming more active, or saving more money (at least that’s what this fantastic infographic from Radian6 shows).
And for me? I’m committed to reading more books, trying new foods, and learning to meditate. But each of those resolutions will be a piece of cake compared with my most ambitious goal for 2012:
I’m going to spend less time on Twitter.
To be clear, I’m not planning to spend less time on social networks. It’s just that I’ll be allocating my time differently. Twitter is great, obviously — it’s become a daily essential for me alongside air, food and water — but it has become relatively less interesting as other apps and/or social networks increasingly pull away my attention.
Like other established heavyweight networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter has come to resemble a presidential candidate who has survived a grueling nomination process and must now focus on appealing to a more moderate general electorate. In other words, these social networks are racing to to the middle, adding “me too” features that newer users expect and appreciate.
A couple of examples:
- Facebook’s recent “subscribe” feature that enables individuals — especially public figures — to share public posts with non-friends, providing for asymmetric follower relationships similar to Twitter.
- Twitter’s enhanced profile pages that allow businesses to manage initial consumer impressions, similar to landing tabs on Facebook (yes, I know they’re not actually tabs anymore).
And there are more. This is a good problem for these networks to have, of course. But the need to cater to the expectations of newbies due to mainstream acceptance doesn’t always lead to terribly interesting innovation.
As a consequence, I’m starting to spend less time on the heavyweight social networks. My average time spent on Facebook per day has dropped by about half, and LinkedIn has been relegated to a few visits per week (Yes, I know this is a bad thing. I know.). And Twitter? I’ve refined my Twitter lists to segment professional connections, news sources and personal relationships. These lists are so finely-tuned now that I keep up-to-date with news related to digital strategy and social media during the day, and scan through tweets from friends when I have free time.
So where will I be spending more of my time online? In place of Twitter, I’m going to commit time to a handful of other apps that are simply more interesting to me right now, such as:
- Pinterest: A self-described “Virtual Pinboard” that facilitates easy sharing of images from across the web via virtual boards. It boasts a phenomenal growth rate – over 5x from September 2010 to December 2011. Here’s my profile.
- Instagram: It’s the fastest-growing mobile social network ever, and it provides an easy means for sharing photos with amazing filter effects.
- Path: Taking a unique approach to social networking, Path caps the number of friends for each member at 150. The focus is on closer, more personal sharing between friends (without the acquaintances and professional colleagues who have started to bleed over into your Facebook friendships).
- Google+: I’ve had the unique experience of recovering from Google+ page suspension; despite that, I’m bullish on its potential. G+ is fresh off of its largest-ever surge in traffic during December 2011, and the Google+ continues to add features to improve the service. Here’s my profile.
In addition to spend more time on these four apps, I have also started up a photo blog on Tumblr, a platform that I adopted early-on and then abandoned a long time ago. I’ve found a reason to give it another shot this year.
Thus, 2012 will be a year of trying out new things and spending less time on the networks — especially Twitter — that have garnered most of my attention over the past couple of years. It’s not just a case of chasing new and shiny objects, either. I view Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and Path as apps/networks with real staying power, and the first three are especially interesting for brands.
Sometimes, it’s important to look beyond what is mature and proven. It’s certainly more interesting — wouldn’t you agree?
Google Music has finally shed its “Beta” moniker. At this week’s “These Go To 11” event, Google announced that it has secured licensing deals with EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and over 1000 independent labels, thereby enabling a music store to emerge as a core component of Google’s music locker.
And the reaction from online and social media? Tepid, at best. Predictably, most of the discussion seems to center around what Google Music is not. It’s not freemium subscription service, like Spotify or Rdio. It’s not as polished as iTunes. In short, it’s not the game-changer that many had hoped for.
But changing the game isn’t really Google’s goal here, is it? Google isn’t really trying to “kill iTunes,” just as Google+ isn’t designed to “kill Facebook” and Google Wallet isn’t a real threat to “kill PayPal.” This simply isn’t Google’s modus operandi. Rather, Google seems intent on launching products in beta, watching them get skewered with criticism in the media, and then evolving them into “good enough” products. Google’s real goal is to be just competitive enough in an array of battles to build out a moat to surround its Search Castle.
Up until now — and even including now, really, as Google hasn’t yet proved that this strategy is a winning one — all efforts to fortify Google’s Search Castle have been largely disconnected. But that’s where Google+ comes in, bringing along the two keys to Google’s castle: (1) data, and (2) Android.
The First Key: Data
Each time a website (or any other object, for that matter) is shared to Google+, a Google Music song is purchased and/or streamed to Google+, or a YouTube video is +1′d, two things are happening in the background.
First, user data is being collected and aggregated to build a more complete individual profile. This data is a prized and saleable asset, of course, as part of Google’s AdWords platform. Second, as information from Google’s products and services is shared to an integration layer (Google+), Google is effectively advertising these services for free on Google+ and encouraging other members of the network to adopt them. Then, as adoption rates rise, more data is poured into the integration layer, thereby buiding a self-reinforcing process and raising the value of Google’s trove of data.
This isn’t a new concept, of course. Facebook has been doing it for years, and they’ve been doing it so effectively that it’s become almost a forgone conclusion that Facebook will release a search engine to rival Google Castle — er, Search — and further siphon away lucrative advertising revenues. So clearly, there is a strategic imperative to get products to market that enable Google to rival the type of data that Facebook is collecting — music preferences, reading habits, social connections, etc.
These products don’t have to be world class, at least not initially. They just need to be of a reasonable enough quality to gain some traction, integrate seamlessly and enable the network effects described above. In other words, lay the groundwork for a larger moat.
The Second Key: Android
This is where Android comes into play. Let’s assume the following scenarios hold for the next few years:
- Google Music doesn’t become as slick as iTunes
- Google+ lags behind Facebook as a fun destination for keeping in touch with real friends
- Google’s Zagat is dwarfed by Yelp in terms of the quantity of reviews
- Google Places is never mentioned as a serious competitor to foursquare.
But Google has something that none of those competitors have — the 1-2 punch of world’s fastest-growing mobile operating system (according to this report by Mary Meeker) and the fastest growing social network in history.
Update 11/17/11: TechCrunch is reporting that new devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android, are prompting users to register for Google+ and enter their credit card information, in order to enable Android Market purchases via the Android Market.
As the world continues to trend toward mobile information consumption instead of PC-based consumption, Google is uniquely positioned to ride that growth by placing its portfolio of competitive, albeit flawed, products onto a larger and larger share of mobile devices.
Granted, Android’s fragmentation issues have been well-documented, and they pose a problem for Google’s ambitious ploy. The likely remedy involves Google leveraging its acquisition of Motorola Mobility to set an Android standard that embeds its services so deeply into the Android operating system that music, location, photography and other services become a core part of the user experience. In this scenario, Google Music doesn’t have to be better than iTunes or Spotify, it just has to have evolved to the point where, as a “me too” service, it gets the job done while keeping friction to a minimum for end users.
The Long View
So cut Google Music some slack and take the long view here. There’s a bigger picture to consider, one that extends several years into the future and involves not only music, but also commerce, location, mobility and social networking. Only time will tell whether Google’s strategy is a winner, but its moves start to make sense when you begin to arrange them as pieces of a larger puzzle.
What’s your view? Is Google Music a viable component of a broader strategy, or merely a half-baked sign of desperation? Let me know with a comment below!
Google+, the social networking product from Google, has been available for use by individuals for months. But Google+ had been off limits to companies and other organizations (except for a handful of test partners) until last week, when the search giant opened the door for brands with the release of Google+ Pages.
Many brands have jumped into Google+ right away to begin communicating and engaging with various Circles of stakeholders. Others, however, have stayed away from Google+, as questions and misconceptions about the product have spread by worth of mouth and through social channels. Most of the concerns about Google+, however, are entirely without merit.
You’ve probably heard them. Hopefully, however, you haven’t let these common fears stop you from getting started with Google+:
1. You can’t transfer ownership of a Google+ brand Page!
While it’s true that Page ownership transfers are not currently allowed, Dennis Troper (a member of the Google+ project team) has already posted an assurance that this feature is in work and coming soon. According to Troper, Google+ will soon provide “multi-admin support, ownership transfer and page analytics.”
2. The inability to cross-post to Google+ and other networks (such as Facebook, Twitter etc.), is a serious liability that will doom Google+.
Question: What would Google+ would look like if it provided an API to support incoming posts (from other networks and tools)?
Answer: A lot like Google Buzz, which accepted posts from other channels and quickly became irrelevant.
Google needs to build a critical mass of daily Google+ users before opening an API to permit incoming posts from other networks, and from tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck. Otherwise, there will be very little incentive for brands to develop a unique G+ presences.
Update: Google has announced that a handful of third-party apps, such as Hootsuite, Buddy Media and Vitrue have been chosen as partners for a pilot program to enable posts to Google+ via social media management systems. It’s worth nothing that these solutions cater to enterprise customers.
3. You need to hurry and reserve your Google+ Page name! Or it will be gone forever!
Fake brand pages — such as this parody of Bank of America – have already sprung up on Google+. However, verification badges will be made available soon distinguish “official” brand accounts from impersonators. This approach follows Twitter’s verification model, and balances freedom of expression against the need to recognize authentic Pages. Launch partners like Angry Birds and Pepsi already have badges to promote the authenticity of their Pages, for example.
4. Google+ is a ghost town.
Google claims over 40 million Google+ accounts and boasts an early-stage growth rate that exceeds the rates witnessed by Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. Undoubtedly, however, Google+ doesn’t enjoy an engagement rate anywhere close to Facebook’s 50% daily sign-in rate. And Google has been coy about the number of active daily G+ users.
But a ghost town? Hardly. G+ may currently be dominated by early adopters and geeks (I include myself in both of those groups), but anyone who actually spends a significant amount of time on Google+ knows that the “ghost town” assertion is false.
5. Facebook’s promotion guidelines are too restrictive, but Google+ is a new opportunity!
In fact, Google+ is even more confining. While Facebook’s Guidelines permit administration of promotions via third-party apps, Google does not allow any promotions on Google+. The Google+ Pages Contest and Promotion Policies clearly outlaw them, and instead permit only links to separate websites that host contests and promotions.
6. Google+ is just another social network.
Google+ is much more than just a social networking platform. Instead, in Eric Schmidt’s words, Google+ will be “a social component [to Google's core products] to make them even better.” Most notably, Google+ Pages offer a distinct Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advantage over content from Facebook and Twitter. While Google+ already has limited integration with Google search (You can see +1s from your friends in search results! Yay!), Google+ posts will soon populate search results in near real-time. Compared with content from Facebook and Twitter, which Google is unable to crawl as effectively, Google+ content will offer an SEO advantage over content from competing channels.
Furthermore, as Google continues to weave Google+ into its other products and services (as it already has with YouTube and Google Reader), the service will fetch an ever-increasing set of valuable data for use in ad targeting.
7. Too many features are missing; Google+ just isn’t useful for brands.
Do you remember what Twitter was like in its infancy? No lists. No automatic URL shortening. No auto-completing of @usernames within Tweets. No promoted Tweets for brands. Lots of Fail Whales. In short, it sucked compared with the service that we all know and love today. And let’s not even get started with Facebook. In both cases, users demanded features, and the services matured. Google+ will follow the same path, evolve into an increasingly-valuable platform, and offer first-mover advantages to brands that adopt the service early.
8. Circles make it easy to manage Google+ Pages!
The bad news about Circles is that they don’t scale well. After a person has Circled a Page to express an interest in a brand, a G+ Page owner has to then assess the person and then decide how to categorize them into an appropriate Circle. This quickly becomes a time-consuming task.
This cumbersome process may have driven Google to acquire Katango, a startup that has developed powerful algorithms to sort people into groups automatically. For now, however, human-decision making is still required to sort people into groups for targeted content delivery.
Overcome Your Fears and Get Started with Google+
In summary, don’t let FUD dissuade you from building a presence on Google+, but be sure to know what you’re getting into ahead of starting a brand Page. There are many misconceptions about Google+ that can cause a misalignment between expectations and reality.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Google+ in the comments section below.
Rarely does a day go by now when we’re not prompted to follow a brand on Twitter, Like them on Facebook, or snap their QR code. Organizations large and small, from large multi-national corporations to non-profit causes, are embracing social media and seeking to engage with customers and supporters. It has become easy to connect with the brands whose products and services we enjoy.
This is the good news.
But the bad news is that most brands are not providing compelling reasons for consumers to make connections. Sure, they’re describing “how” consumers can connect with them. But they’re not answering the critical question: “Why bother?”
Is your brand guilty of this approach?
If so, you may be missing out on opportunities to connect with customers and/or supporters. Fortunately, however, the steps required to effectively prompt engagement are simple:
1. Ask your target audience to make a connection.
Whether you’re asking consumers to follow your brand, Like it or even join your email list, make a specific call to action and let your audiences know where they can connect with you. Most companies seem to have this part down.
2. Tell your target audiences what they’ll gain from making the connection.
Will they get member-only discounts? Will they be the first to know about new products? Will they have access to exclusive content? Or will they just find news about your brand (which is a perfectly good reason, by the way)? Tell them, using concise, plain language that informs them of potential benefits.
3. Follow through on your promise.
You will lose the trust of your new audience if you dangle exclusive benefits as bait, for example, but deliver only a steady diet of links to press releases. Don’t waste your organization’s time and money by making this mistake. Deliver on what you’ve promised.
Pretty Simple, Huh?
These steps seem obvious at first glance. But the reality is that far too many organizations do not maximize the attention-grabbing connection requests that they’re investing time and money to create. By following the three simple steps above — especially step number two — you can avoid a similar fate for your brand.
Do you think I’m missing any steps? If so, let me know below.
Like 20 million or so others over the past month, I’ve been getting to know Google+, the new social project from Google. I’ve created a handful of Circles, sought out people to follow, and pondered the future ramifications for brands (including my employer).
All very interesting, to be sure. I’m a sucker for new social networks, apps, and shiny new toys. So while it’s been easy for me to embrace Google+, shrug off the network’s controversies, and generally have a good experience, something else has happened that hasn’t been quite so easy for me to process.
I’ve started to re-evaluate the meaning of friendship.
You see, friendship always used to be born out of shared experiences in the physical realm. You grew up and played together on the same street, attended school together, or otherwise met and formed lasting bonds over recurring in-person events. When I take a look at my Facebook feed, most of the friends whom I see there meet this definition. We’ve met, broken bread, shared drinks, and have often laughed together over stories from past events.
But when I take a look at my Friends circle within Google+, I notice something peculiar: most of my Facebook friends aren’t there. It’s not because they haven’t made the jump to Google+, however. No, a large number of them are there… it’s just that they exist in different circles with names such as “Work,” or “High School,” or even the new equivalent of the first circle from Dante’s Inferno: “Acquaintances.”
And my Friends circle? Well frankly, it has very little correlation with the number of hours that I’ve spent IRL with the people who reside there.
To be sure, shared in-person experiences are manifest in my Friends circle. College roommates are there, as are a few grad school classmates and parents whose kids play sports with my children. But they’re in the minority alongside people whom, on average, I’ve met in person fewer than three times apiece (yes, I did the math).
Think about that for a second.
I trust these people with my important thoughts and personal details more than I trust the kid who grew up two houses down from me, the people who knew me when I had gleaming silver braces on my teeth, and even some family members.
To me, this signals that the criteria which constitute friendships are evolving. As geographic ties decrease in importance, the basis for friendships in the digital age now center around two different factors: (1) trust, and (2) shared interest graphs.
While trust has always been a key element of valued relationships, shared digital venues — centered around interests — have been increasing in importance relative to shared physical venues for years. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but Google+ amplifies it by forcing you to think about the people with whom you feel most comfortable sharing.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Right about now you’re whispering something along the lines of, “Nice work, Einstein, you’ve uncovered that people enjoy the company of others who share their interests.”
But that’s not it at all.
It’s not that I’m disinterested in receiving status updates via social networks from people with whom I’ve spent a lot of time. Instead, what’s happening is that I feel more comfortable sharing “the real me” with people whom I’ve hardly — and in some cases, never — met.
Why? Simply put, the alignment of interest graphs — the “the expansion and contraction of social networks around common interests and events,” according to Brian Solis — is increasingly the basis for trust in our lives. The more time we spend with people in social networking hangouts conversing over public and personal topics, the more we value the relationships within those communities. For me, shared passions such as social media, fantasy football, and technology form a background for more engaging, more trusting dialogues with others, even when our conversations stray from those topics and into personal matters.
The fact that my personal discussions now occur more often with people whose photos I recognize from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ — but have never seen in yearbooks or picture frames — is of little consequence.
I have Google+ to thank for this latest bout of introspection, and I bet I’m not alone in feeling this way.
In fact, I bet that if you take a good look at the one Google+ circle that you really trust above all others (whatever you call it), and compare it to your Facebook feed, then you might find the same thing.
Take a look, and let me know what you think.
Earlier this month, Versace joined the growing list of companies that have experienced consumer-led brand assaults via social media channels, as scores of people posted messages to Versace’s Facebook wall in support of a protest against the company’s practice of sandblasting jeans. Versace reacted by deleting the comments and eliminating the option for fans to post comments to its wall (although it has since discontinued the practice of sandblasting).
This response has been widely criticized as not only a sign of panic in the face of a crisis, but also as a signal that the company doesn’t “get” the conversational spirit of social media. But despite the wide availability of playbooks for overcoming these shortcomings and handing social media-fueled crises — including specific plans for managing attacks within Facebook — there are still important lessons to be learned from this event.
First, never miss an opportunity to educate (and re-frame the conversation)
Unfortunately for Versace, the debate over the ethics of deleting online commentary overshadowed a simple fact that surfaced during this event: The company does not manufacture sandblasted jeans in locations such as Turkey and Bangladesh, where workers from other companies have died due to improper safety precautions. Instead, Versace sandblasts its jeans in Italy and follows the safety regulations that are mandated by Italian law.
But rather than meeting customers and protesters head-on within their chosen venue (Facebook), Versace took the tired path of trotting out a communications professional to issue a formal statement regarding the controversy (at least it was to Mashable). This approach represents a missed opportunity to re-frame the conversation.
Imagine instead if Versace had drafted a blog or filmed a video to: (1) Detail the safety measures that it has in place to protect its employees, and (2) Highlight its safety record. Posting this content to its Facebook Wall and then inviting stakeholders to view it in order to understand how Versace differs from other companies (that have made fatal safety mistakes) would not have ended the debate over sandblasting. It would, however, have educated all interested parties on the facts (which favor Versace). It also would have effectively planted the seeds of trust, respect and understanding within their minds.
Second, specify community guidelines in advance
While Versace has been roundly criticized for deleting comments on its Facebook wall, it’s not necessarily a sign of a savvy social media brand to allow uncontrolled commentary on a Facebook page or another digital outlet. If the purpose of a social media channel is to interact with real customers and fans, then unfiltered flaming dilutes the value of the channel for both the brand and its stakeholders (loyal customers, employees, prospective customers, etc.).
However, deleting comments arbitrarily (as Versace did, without explanation) will likely initiate a storm of criticism and detract from efforts to develop relationships with true fans. For this reason, organizations need to offer detailed community guidelines and feature them prominently on their Facebook pages and other social media outlets. These guidelines should specify the boundaries for conversations within brand-controlled social media outlets and call out actions that are off-limits, such as abusive language, bullying of other community members, and yes, even coordinated brand attacks by politically-motivated entities.
If guidelines are clearly outlined and consistently enforced, a perception of both fair play and protection of the community will outweigh charges of censorship.
Third, clearly explain the controversy and provide a forum for related conversations
A brand-jacking (to borrow a term from Jeremiah Owyang) attempt is also an opportune moment to cement a reputation for transparency. Instead of shying away from controversy, then, companies should instead provide forums for detailed discussions pertaining to all brand-related topics — even issues raised via coordinated attacks from third parties.
Within Facebook, a dedicated Discussion tab suits this purpose. In the face of a social media crisis, brands need to acknowledge the controversy on their Facebook pages, re-frame the issue with a educational post (see my first point above), and then also promote an off-wall environment where fans and other stakeholders can debate the issue.
In addition to transparency, this approach has the additional benefit of maintaining the brand’s Facebook presence as a place for relationship development between the brand and its fans, and between the fans themselves. This latter benefit is crucial, because it’s important o remember that part of the intent of social media and social marketing is to develop communities by fostering relationships not only with customers, but between customers.
It’s easy to see the power of a crisis response plan that not only re-frames an event through education, but also promotes confidence in the brand’s position by acknowledging an issue and encouraging discussions between stakeholders.
Although past high-profile social media controversies — such as those involving Nestle, Amy’s Baking Company & Bistro, and Southwest Airlines — have provided numerous takeaways to guide brands through similarly troubled waters, this most recent case offers a fresh set of lessons learned. Specifically, it’s important for companies of all sizes to have a social media crisis management plan in place that focuses on educating stakeholders, referring them to community guidelines, and providing a place where they can debate issues while not diluting the relationship-making value of critical social channels.
Note: This article originally appeared on Social Media Today
Change is constant, and trends related to social media and technology are no exception. In this edition of the social media “virtual roundtable,” a handful of strategic thinkers cover topics pertaining to Google, Quora, mobile applications and social media planning. The featured participants for this edition are:
- Lauren Conner, a social media analyst for the automotive industry specializing in online community strategy and management.
- Annie Janssen, the co-creator of Story of My Life Cards and social media girl for a snack foods company.
- Clark Dever, a national speaker on social media for small business owners and the web strategist for Vuzix Corporation.
- Shane Barnhill, a digital strategist, blogger, and founder of the Uptick Sports prediction market.
- Heather Herr, a social media strategist, recovering architecture student, and occasional runner with a bad (or maybe it’s good) habit of signing up for the latest beta release social site whenever she has too much free time on her hands.
Note: if you would like to be part of a future roundtable discussion, send a reply on Twitter @shanebarnhill.
Let’s start with Google, which recently announced +1, the search giant’s answer to the increasingly ubiquitous Facebook Like button. Do you think +1 will be part of a successful social strategy for Google, or do you think it is doomed to fail just as past social initiatives from Google (Buzz, Wave) have failed?
Conner: Similar to Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, the Google +1 feature is designed to allow you to highlight the search results you found most useful or relevant. The question is ‘Will the Google +1 have as much success as the Facebook ‘Like’ button?’ The Facebook ‘Like’ button is successful mainly because it reaches out to the large network of people we have connected with on Facebook. The average Google user is probably unlikely to have such a significant social network through Google’s Gmail service and the network built with Gmail is likely to be much different than that of a Facebook network. My Gmail network is made up of the people I email on occasion (ie. my insurance broker, my grandma in New Jersey, my accountant, my dog trainer, etc.) whereas my Facebook consists of friends, family and acquaintances I interact with fairly frequently. I don’t need my accountant to know that my search on local organic grocers resulted in a great link to a neighborhood co-op. Beyond that, I don’t want my search affected by my insurance broker’s preferences. I appreciate Google’s attempt to stick to what they know and what they are good at, search results, but this feature looks like a desperate attempt to be more like Facebook.
Janssen: I think overall Google will see more success since Larry Page took over as CEO earlier this year. However, I’m still unsure of how he’ll help their social initiatives as a guy who doesn’t even have a Facebook or Twitter account. In a recent article in Fast Company, Jason Shellen, who spent four years as a business-development exec at Google and now works at AOL, said “There’s an EQ – an emotional intelligence – around social software, and it just might be out of Google’s reach.” However, I think this is a safe step for Google in their attempt to be more social. They’re not creating a network, just building off of consumers’ existing networks. With “likes” perhaps soon replacing links, I think this is a great idea that has a lot of potential to catch on.
Dever: There’s two ways to success in markets, be first or be the best. Google has tried several times to come late and be the best, but have failed. I don’t think that +1 will suffer that same fate, but I don’t foresee it rising to be the market leader. I think that its integration with search will add enough value to users’ lives that the project wont be killed, but I don’t believe it will become the de facto “like” button. It will end up being just another piece of social debris that aggregates at the bottom of blog posts.
Barnhill: From a strategic standpoint, I see enormous potential for Google +1 for several reasons (which I’ve detailed previously). First, +1 is a lead generation vehicle, because in order to endorse links, a searcher must first create an account with Google, which provide leads to whom Google can market its products and services. Second, +1 will provide a new data source to protect Google’s flagship search asset. The quality of Google’s search results have recently come under fire, and +1 feedback will undoubtedly be used to improve search quality by serving up results that your respected contacts have previously vetted. Third, +1 clicks will help Google serve more relevant advertisements, both through explicit feedback (as users +1 ads that they find useful) and implicit means (as Google’s inventory of +1 data on individual web searchers allows them to deliver more personalized ads). Fourth, the +1 system will almost certainly expand beyond search and into Google’s other digital assets (YouTube videos, Android apps, Google Places and as buttons embedded across websites), thereby its utility for web surfers and also helping Google draw more complete profiles of the consumers who are being targeted for advertisements. In summary, +1 will augment Google’s core competencies in search and advertising.
Herr: Assuming it is adopted by users, I think the strength in +1 lies in it’s potential to improve search results quality, not in true social influence. +1 scores are cumulative. It may provide a general rating of social proof, but it’s weakness is that it does not identify if any up-votes came from people you know and trust. Google’s prior move of integrating their “results from your social circle” into results, displaying the avatar and name of the person who has shared that link is more effective at influencing click-through. Searchers make an immediate assumption about the quality of the link based on who shared it.
Conner: I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a good number of people trying to break into the social media field of business. Upon diving into their experience with social media in their personal life and where they see opportunities for businesses to use it to their advantage one thing always stumps them. Twitter. It surprises me the number of people who think they know social media but haven’t gone beyond the profile setup and customary “I joined Twitter!” tweet. For companies, Twitter isn’t a platform to announce what’s for lunch or that you have a fever. Twitter is a great way to break away from the confines of branding (to a certain extent) and share a human side of the company. Companies should use Twitter to interact with its customers one-on-one, share community involvement, conduct market research, augment customer service, etc. As of March 2011, an average of 460,000 are set up each day. Some of those people are bound to be your customers, or future customers. Get out there and tweet with them!
Janssen: There are a lot of very important aspects, but honestly, I believe that this exact type of roundtable forum is often one of the most overlooked – but most important – for newcomers. I notice a lot of new companies and brands making the mistake of talking only about themselves – what they think, what they know, and what’s new with them. While it’s crucial to be an expert in your field, no one likes to talk to someone who only talks about themselves the whole time. This sounds very simple, but it’s the basis of good social interaction. I would encourage companies to reach out to their existing fans for their opinions whether it’s through polls, surveys, roundtables or guest blog posts. Everyone who participates will want to share it with their network and all of a sudden there’s much more potential for the information to go viral.
Dever: Building relationships, that’s the key to the kingdom. You have to personify your brand and make people feel that you are their friend. It doesn’t matter how many people you have following you if they aren’t engaged. Speak to them, answer their questions, introduce them to one another, play games with them. It’s simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of SMM.
Barnhill: It’s important to start small by piloting social media projects and then basing larger initiatives on the results of those efforts. This is especially true in larger, complex organizations. It’s very tempting to aim for a comprehensive strategy when you’re just getting started, without allowing for sufficient experimentation. Of course, early lessons learned need to augment business goals and be consistent with your brand message. Just be certain to document them while testing the waters so that you have data to show which tactics are driving results, and which are not.
Herr: Reciprocity. It sounds so soft, but think about it this way – our social networks have become so congested with brands, business, and professionals that plug their messaging, that we’re forced to ask ourselves “what am I getting out of this relationship” with each new follow. We’ve all become takers or pushers or both. People who genuinely like you (or your brand), and whom you genuinely like in return will be your best allies. Relationships aren’t net zero – their net sum, with people on both sides finding value.
Conner: Look at your keys… or perhaps your wallet… feeling overwhelmed by the number of grocery store club cards, reward key cards, shoe store membership cards? My wallet and my keychain looked like a rolodex of my brand preferences and they were starting to get unmanageable. The Key Ring app, available on your iPhone, Android or Windows phone, helps organize all of those membership cards on your mobile device. No need to carry the cards, just scan and store them in your phone. Sounds pretty basic but recent updates to this app have upgraded the use of the virtual rewards cards by including coupons, offers and discounts. It seems they even have a partnership with CellFire, “the premier destination for valuable savings on groceries, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.” On a recent trip to the beauty store I presented my iPhone with the barcode for that store to the cashier and received the card’s standard discount along with a $5.00 off coupon available only through the Key Ring app.
Janssen: I haven’t seen many people using Google Voice, but I decided to start using it when I recently lost my phone and wanted to text my friends while I was waiting for my new phone. Now I’m hooked. All you have to do is set up a Google Voice phone number, and you can text from your computer for free. I use the Google Voice app on my Droid so that I can have my voicemails transcribed to text. And if you haven’t used cab4me to call a cab, I would recommend it. It makes calling a cab ten times easier.
Dever: LayAR – Augmented Reality applications are going to be huge in the mobile marketplace. Layar is the current front runner in this marketplace and gives developers the ability to build their own “layars” on the framework.
Barnhill: I have been playing around with Viddy over the past few days, and I really enjoy it. Viddy — like Socialcam — does for video what Instagram does for photos. It provides a method for adding a mood element to short video clips through filtering effects. Each video can then be shared to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (with Foursquare and Tumblr listed as “coming soon” by the app). The business case for Viddy is still unclear to me at this point, but given that brands have adopted Instagram and PicPlz for curating photo streams, Viddy represents a similar use case. But for personal purposes, the app is a lot of fun.
Herr: Instagram, without question! Rather than photo sharing, I’d call it more of a photo journalism or photo storytelling application. The filters are exceptional, and lend an oldness and nostalgia to pictures. The story that each person is documenting is different – it might be family, food, signage, or urban decay – but I feel the pictures that people share with Instagram are different than what they tend to share elsewhere. Also, it’s fascinating to watch how businesses who adopted early are using it to share content. I’d recommend checking out NPR, Red Bull (client) and Dan Rubin.
Lastly, let’s turn to Quora. Much has been made about whether Quora, the fast-growing Q&A website, can sustain its fast rate of growth without losing its reputation as a quality source of information; and in fact, this infographic from KISSmetrics shows a recent decline in unique visitors. What do you think: Can Quora continue to grow and maintain its quality? If so, how?
Janssen: I haven’t used Quora much but I have noticed a decline in the chatter about it in my own Twitter feed. My suggestion for Quora would definitely be to integrate video into the answers. With YouTube having around 180 million unique visitors a day, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t integrate video into their answers.
Dever: Unfortunately, Quora runs the risk of becoming just another “experts exchange.” Its original appeal was its tight knit community that was built around the start-up, VC, tech evangelists social networks. I’ve already seen a marked decrease in quality of answers over the past months, which is when it appeared to hit “the tipping point” and expanded beyond it’s original exclusivity. I believe that y-combinator’s “hacker news” will probably regain some market share as the portal of choice for that community.
Barnhill: I do think Quora can grow while maintaining quality, despite the challenges associated with mainstream adoption. But I think there are two primary threats. First, there is clear demand for tighter, more-focused communities that revolve around niche interests and problems. LawPivot, for example, is making a name for itself (and drawing investment) by focusing exclusively on providing legal advice to tech companies and startups. Stack Overflow, meanwhile, continues to provide value to programmers as a collaborative platform. Second, Quora requires a lot more commitment than users of many social platforms may be willing to invest. By comparison, services like Twitter and Facebook – which admittedly serve a very different purpose than Quora – thrive partially due to expectations of simplicity and brevity. For example, while I still browse through Quora, the focus on longer, in-depth answers to questions requires more time than I’m willing to commit on a regular basis. So yes, while I expect Quora to grow, I think it faces some challenges that will likely lead to a flatter growth curve.
Herr: The answer to that question really depends on user’s root motivation and Quora’s own intentions. As an application grows, change is inevitable. Founders are faced with a choice: adapt to usage behaviors or stick to their core vision. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but they can be. As Quora grows, they will see a shift in their user base from web-based professionals and aficionados, to a larger population that’s harder to wrap up in a pretty package. The content on Quora will change accordingly. Look at Yahoo! Questions now – it’s a place to get your question answered by other users, but it’s not where you go to have an intelligent discussion on how technology is shaping our lives. For these types of questions, look to the Q&A platform being launched by TED. They’ve built a brand around the caliber of content that makes up a TED Talk that will serve as both launchpad and quality control for their Q&A feature.
Thanks for reading! If you would like to be part of a future roundtable discussion, send a reply on Twitter @shanebarnhill.