I’ve been doing some research on data visualization lately. And infographics (love ‘em or hate ‘em), are perhaps the best known format for visually representing large sets of data. They allow content creators to take complicated subjects and distill the most important points and themes out of all the complexity.
The problem with infographics, however, is that they can be notoriously expensive to produce, in terms of both time and dollars. For this reason, many tools are now available that enable low-cost, do-it-yourself infographic production. Visual.ly is one of the most well-known. But right now, my favorite tool is Piktochart. I created the infographic below while testing out Piktochart. It’s sort of a visualization of my recent career experiences. It took me about an hour to produce.
Think about that: one hour to produce.
Now granted, I had my data points handy (via my resume), so my data collection costs were non-existent. But in my experience, design costs are the most significant expenses associated with new infographic projects (Of course, good design is worth the money. But budgets are tight.).
Would a tool like Piktochart help lower the costs of our your content marketing efforts? If so, give it a look. And check out my infographic below, which encapsulates a handful of accomplishments from my current role. I’d love to heard what you think of it.
Few topics arouse as much fierce debate as Klout, the company which claims to provide a standard measure for individuals’ online influence. Perhaps politics. Or religion. But unlike debates about the latter two topics, which often center around larger world views regarding morality, economics, and the role of institutions, Klout is a different animal.
Klout is personal. It’s a number. Right next to your face. Scoring your supposed value.
This little number bothers a great number of people, either because it (bizarrely) impacts their sense of self-worth, or because it invokes a competitive urge to outrank friends and colleagues. Naturally, this leads detractors to criticize Klout’s scoring algorithm, its mechanism for correlating topics with individuals, and its relevance as a gauge for real world influence.
Much has been written about these deficiencies, but my favorite assessment is by Jeff Moriarty, who writes, “The problem is that social influence is a hideously tricky thing to measure.” Jeff then goes on to describe how, in the past, Klout pegged him as an expert on terrorism. Now, I don’t know Jeff very well. But I’ve met him several times, and from what I can tell, he’s a smart, hardworking guy who is very involved with a lot of projects that benefit the Phoenix community. He hardly seems like a terrorist, and as his blog post explains, he’s obviously not one — despite what Klout may have purported.
And like Jeff, Klout thinks that I’m influential on topics that aren’t among my areas of expertise. They include: Walmart (a store I visit maybe 1-2 times per year), Spain (a place I’ve never been), and Tim Tebow (a person who I tweet about only occasionally, in order to goad a friend of mine into a reaction). Keep these three topics in mind, because I’ll return to them in a moment. But suffice it to say that I know little about each one.
However, despite Klout’s struggles, it’s not time to write off its value.
Case in point: Michael Arrington, who mocked Klout in a past blog post, titled, “My Detailed Thoughts On Klout.” The post contained exactly one word, meant to summarize all the gnashing of teeth over Klout scores and topics: “Why?” But even a skeptic such as Arrington has changed his tune.
Earlier this month, Arrington posted an about-face regarding Klout. Extolling Klout’s value, Arrington announced that his CrunchFund venture capital firm had invested in the service. Arrington writes:
“They’ve relaunched the product and a lot of the tricks that people used to game the system are gone… Klout will have a constant, ongoing battle in fighting gaming. But that’s ok. Google is in a constant fight defending the integrity of PageRank, too. And yet we find it interesting. Klout is very much like a PageRank for people and things. And it can be much more useful than just helping companies hand out perks.
First, there’s a lot of data being collected and processed by Klout. A staggering amount of data about people and things from a wide variety of social services.”
So you see, Klout’s just not that into you.
And really, it never was. To expand on Arrington’s point, Klout’s not into serving you, it’s into serving the data about you to companies that can use it for all sorts of purposes, ranging from helping brands target people who like to converse about specific topics, to potentially serving as a data source for other forms of advertising.
Klout’s business model shouldn’t — and probably doesn’t — come as a surprise to people who understand the value of data for targeting ads to consumers. So big deal, right? Klout’s like a lot of other businesses that offer data for customer segmentation?
Kind of, but it’s different in one important way. Klout’s data isn’t unique as a data source for demographic information. It’s more valuable a source of information about: (1) The willingness of specific individuals to spread the word about specific topics, and (2) Whether their viewpoints are perceived as insightful when they do spread the word. So Klout’s data is less about who people are, and more about what topics they’re willing to engage around.
Think about the marketing funnel. Klout’s data helps out with awareness initiatives at the top of the funnel (as do Facebook ads), by helping brands target people (I won’t call them influencers, necessarily) who will spread these brand messages via social media channels. By comparison, Google AdWords is geared toward helping companies with sales closures at the bottom of the funnel.
But I digress, so let’s get back to the subject of whether Klout has value (Hint: it does).
Klout scores are yet another valuable data point for digital marketing and brand managers, especially in light of today’s resource constraints.
Unemployment in the United States is currently north of 8%, and the underemployment rate, defined by the Wall Street Journal as “people who want to work but haven’t looked in the last four weeks because they figured no jobs were available and those working part-time gigs but would prefer full-time positions,” is above 15%.
What does this have to do with Klout? Well, despite record profits for many large corporations, it’s clear that a lot of the jobs shed by companies during the recent Great Recession aren’t coming back — at least not in the near future. And thus, marketers today are having to do more with less. Fewer people, but with more powerful tools and technologies.
The data from these technologies, of which Klout is just one — think of data from CRM systems, marketing automation systems, social media monitoring systems, etc., as others — is being aggregated by marketing managers in order to analyze audiences and plan campaigns. So that’s just it: Klout is one of many data points used by marketers today to help them conduct efficient audience analyses, at a time when they can’t rely on a sizable team to do this kind of work. That’s why Klout scores are now available in Radian6, for example. It provides additional context for data analysts tasked with analyzing online conversations about brands.
But this doesn’t excuse Klout’s inaccuracies, right? Don’t incorrect topic/person correlations and influence scoring actually make it harder for marketers?
It makes the data imperfect, yes. But imperfect is not the same thing as “not valuable.” Consider the data on website traffic from sources such as Alexa, Compete, Doubleclick and Google Trends. It’s widely understood that these tools provide inaccurate data that may vary widely from what a website manager will see in Google Analytics. And yet, as Kristi Hines writes on the KISSmetrics blog, “Are these sites 100% accurate? No, they’re not. But they all offer some good data that you can use for competitor research.”
This takeaway applies to Klout. It may not perfectly quantify topical influence for each individual, but it indicates an individual’s willingness to talk about a subject. And this signal of willingness is important for marketing managers.
This, in turn, brings me back to the three topics that I mentioned above: Walmart, Spain and Tim Tebow. Am I, as Klout has posited, an influencer on any of these topics? No, not at all. But have I demonstrated a willingness to discuss them online? Yes, I have.
Regarding Walmart, I do sometimes refer to it on Twitter as the future epicenter of the zombie apocalypse (I don’t hold it in high esteem). I also wrote a blog post titled, “Facebook is Walmart, and We Love Boutiques,” in which I examine negative reactions to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. Similarly, on Twitter, I have praised Spain’s Olympic basketball team as a worthy competitor to the U.S. team. Lastly, during NFL season, I frequently link to stories about Tim Tebow’s successes, but in a playful way to torment a friend who despises Tebow.
So clearly, Klout has picked up on something here. It has correctly identified some level of interest, on my part, in these topics.
But what Klout is missing, for now, is context.
Klout sees that I have interest in Walmart, but it lacks an appreciation of my mindset. It has also identified some interest in Spain, albeit lacking the specificity that my interest is only related to its basketball prowess. Finally, Klout knows that I’m willing to link to articles about Tim Tebow, but it misses my associated attempts at humor.
Imagine if (or rather, when) Klout closes the context gap. The value of its data will grow exponentially. And there is good reason to think Klout may eventually get there, because the team behind the tool is continually refining it. As Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily writes about Klout’s latest re-tooling:
“Klout does something very impressive if you step back and think about it. A relatively small team of people crunch 12 billion points of data everyday across every open, active Twitter profile they can get their data-grubbing paws onto, some 100 million profiles. That’s equivalent to one-third of the US population. And that challenge only grows as more people are creating more data every single day. The fact that Klout can come close to making sense of all that should be considered a coup.
The new version is taking into account real world influence — through a combination of bringing in 12 times more data points everyday, and taking into account things like Wikipedia pages and weighting LinkedIn profile data higher.”
The takeaway here is that Klout is surfacing a set of signals from an enormous amount of information, and it’s getting better by broadening its pool of data. As “real world” sources — and potentially contextual cues — become integrated with Klout’s existing data sources, its end product increases in value.
Value. For brands. Not necessarily for you.
Klout, then, is another example of the increasingly understood (and increasingly trite) rule that “If You’re Not Paying For It, You Become The Product.” Klout is just a set of data points, one set among a broad array of data points that marketing managers are using — that they need to use — in light of the resource shortages that are plaguing organizations of all sizes. The team behind the service is continuing to refine it, and additional rounds of funding from investors such as CrunchFund will only provide the Klout team with the resources necessary to make it more valuable.
But not necessarily for individuals. Because, despite the big, bold numbers next to our faces, and the perks that companies are awarding us based on them, it’s really not about us.
Thus, you may hate Klout. But as Joe Fernandez, the CEO of Klout, says, “At least we’re relevant.” Because Klout is. Maybe just not for you.
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?
Hello sports fans! Are you ready for the big games this weekend? Well, before you settle in to watch the action, consider this inconvenient fact:
In all likelihood, you’re tacitly supporting the controversial — and misleadingly-named — Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
“SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act. Essentially, it is a bill that was created to protect American intellectual property… While the intentions of the bill were good (to protect American intellectual property), the vague language of SOPA will empower corporations to censor the internet. Which is not good. If the bills were passed, the attorney general could create a list of sites that were essentially blacklisted by search engines, service providers, payment providers, etc – without a court hearing or trial. (Um hello, first amendment violation, anyone?!)”
As you can imagine, people — or more appropriately, We The People, not big media conglomerates and the politicians that they contribute to — are mostly outraged by the potentially chilling effects to free speech that could result from SOPA. Many companies have even publicly expressed their objections to the proposed bill.
But not all companies are against SOPA. GoDaddy, the web hosting and domain registration giant, posted a blog entry backing SOPA, only to withdraw its support after individuals and businesses alike threatened to boycott GoDaddy. But GoDaddy isn’t (or rather wasn’t) alone. At least 142 companies have pledged their support for SOPA. And some of the names of might surprise you.
The National Football League (NFL) supports SOPA. And so do Major League Baseball (MLB), ESPN, ABC, CBS, Comcast/NBC Universal and the United States Tennis Association.
Good luck watching a game this weekend without silently supporting censorship.
So what’s an anti-SOPA sports fan to do? The way I see it, you have two choices:
Option 1: The Scorched-Earth Approach.
Cancel your season tickets. Show up to stadiums with handmade signs to protest SOPA. Get rid of cable and cease visiting ESPN.com for news and scores (you know they make money on website ads too, right?). Stop buying merchandise from your favorite teams. Toss the t-shirts and hats that you have into the garbage. And so on. You get the picture.
Not a very attractive option, is it? And moreover, as Evo Terra points out via a great post on Google+, it’s extremely impractical to boycott each and every company that supports SOPA. Which leads me to the other option:
Option 2: Voice Dissent, But Get Real.
Yes, it’s fine to pressure companies to drop their support for SOPA. Hit up the NFL, MLB and other sports media entities via social media channels. Tell them that the presumed intent of SOPA — curbing online piracy — is admirable, but that the means do not support the end. Your efforts might even get a few organizations to change their positions (after all, GoDaddy caved in to pressure).
“Focusing our attention on these companies is a waste a time, though. We are wasting our precious energy and resources on these corporations when we really should be doubling down our efforts on getting people to call, email and snail mail their Congressman.
There are far better ways to fight piracy than SOPA.
You may think that contacting your Congressman doesn’t work, but trust me: it does. I used to work for the House of Representatives. I know first-hand what impact jamming the phone lines has on a Congressman looking to get re-elected.”
So while you’re busy cheering on your team and tracking your fantasy football statistics this weekend, put together your own plan of action to help defeat SOPA. I’d suggest the following actions, all of which can easily be done while you watch the big game:
- Research the OPEN Act, an alternative to SOPA that has drawn support from Google and other companies as an alternate means of fighting piracy.
- Look up your local congresspeople here. Voice your opposition to SOPA and educate them about OPEN. Make an appointment to see them in person, if possible.
- Contact the co-sponsors of SOPA to express your views. Ask friends and family who reside in their districts to reach out to them as well.
- Follow up with an email to your congressional leaders. There’s a handy form for that purpose here.
- Take a quick moment to sign the petition to veto SOPA on the White House’s official “We The People” page. This petition has already received enough signatures to merit consideration by the Obama administration, but more signatures cannot hurt.
- Reach out to your favorite teams via Facebook, Twitter and other channels.
In summary, it’s likely that while you’re cheering on your favorites sports teams, you’re also supporting organizations that back SOPA. Unfortunately, it’s impractical to boycott every organization that has thrown its weight behind this controversial proposal. You can make a difference in the fight to prevent a bad bill from becoming law, however, by taking the actions that I’ve outlined above.
Please act now. Also, let me know if you have any additional suggestions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter, so please consider posting a comment below.
Google+ is still a new social channel, and consequently, there is a relative dearth of guidance on how to successfully navigate and stand out on the network. Mistakes will happen, and in fact, may even be probable.
I should know.
You see, my employer’s Google+ Page — the one I created and continue to manage — was recently suspended, forcing me to dig deeper into Google+ and learn some of its nuances. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot from the experience, and have decided to share some of the lessons learned here in hopes that others will benefit from the process.
Here then, are some trial-by-fire lessons that I hope prove useful:
1. Leverage both Google+ Direct Connect, and the Google+ Page Verification Process.
Google+ Direct Connect accomplishes a couple of important things. First, it connects Google+ Pages to brand websites via a snippet of code. This code produces a badge to embed on an official website to add a measure of authenticity for a Page. Second, Direct Connect creates a shorthand search operator (“+brandname” — such as “+Angry Birds” or “+Dell“) to enable quick searches of official brand pages — both within Google+ search and via Google’s main search engine. The + shorthand operator even provides a mechanism for re-claiming a brand name that has been high-jacked by clever SEO techniques, as this article points out using Rick Santorum’s Google problem as an example. In combination with Google’s verification process for Google+ Pages, these steps signal to Google that a G+ Page is an official brand account.
Key takeaway: Take the time to send the proper signals to Google that your page is legitimate. This will save you time, effort and possible embarrassment later on.
2. Don’t Fret about Brand Impersonations. These Fears are Overblown.
Almost immediately after Google+ launched Pages for brands, fake profiles — such as this Bank of America spoof– sprung up. This sparked fears among large organizations that Google+ would become a problematic platform that would, (a) require significant monitoring, and (b) place a heavy burden on community managers.
In response, Google pledged that it would monitor Google+, spot fake brand Pages, and suspend them until steps were completed to verify the authenticity of suspect Pages. This approach is what affected my employer’s page.
As a member of the Google+ team explained to me by email, “We do some impersonation sweeps regularly… The best thing you can do to make sure it’s all correct in the future is connect your page to your site,” so that Google “can see a bi-directional link between the two… [which] ensures that you also have control over that website. That tells us it’s the authoritative page for that site.”
Key takeaway: Don’t let fears of “brandjacking” cause you to jump into Google+ before you’re ready. It’s a great idea to get started with Google+ while nearly everyone is a novice and the repercussions of mistakes are minimal. But understand that you have ample time to outline a clear plan for Google+. Nobody is going to steal your brand name.
3. The Google+ Community is Awesome. Leverage Them, and Give Back.
Shortly after learning of our Page suspension, I posted a plea to members of the Google+ community to help identify members of the G+ team who could help expedite the process of reinstating the Page. After a short time, Denis Labelle (whom I’d mistakenly placed into a Circle of Google employees — he now resides in my Most Awesome People in the World Circle), responded with an offer to help share my plight. Denis — along with a handful of other Google+ members — re-shared my post, which quickly caught the attention of the Google+ team and led to a speedy resolution.
The G+ team had also picked up on my original plea for help and was busy working through internal channels to resolve the issue. But Denis’ offer to help was the true catalyst toward quick resolution of the issue. Members of the Google+ community saw Denis’ post, voiced their support, and helped build awareness of the issue.
Key takeaway: The early adopters of Google+ are passionate about the current and future prospects of the network and are extremely engaged and helpful. Now is the time to get engaged on Google+, learn from the community, give back to it, and build an invaluable network that will continue to grow in exciting new directions.
Key takeaway, part two: Denis Labelle is pure awesome. He is not only helpful, but he posts interesting and helpful content to Google+ every day. You should pause right now and go Circle him. I also owe thanks to Chris Vennard, Oscar Fuentes, Raphael Polanco, Yan Tseytlin, Harp Grewal, Kamal Singh and others for their help.
4. Tap Into the Power of Shared Circles.
Google+ makes it easy to share the Circles that you’ve created with friends and other G+ connections. This feature is helpful for sharing Circles of subject matter experts or photographers, for example. It’s also useful for curating a list of customer support representatives for your brand, or from brands that you follow. Google+ is a great vehicle for building a list (or even several specially-targeted lists) that can be shared with current and potential customers, partners and suppliers. Stakeholders can then post queries to these support Circles in order to reach several customer support members at once.
A shared Circle, in fact, is what led me to Denis Labelle and the other Google+ members who jumped in to help resolve our Page suspension. Another Google+ member had created and shared a “Members of the Google+ Team” Circle, which I found and added to my own Circles. While Denis and a handful of other members of the Circle were incorrectly identified as Google employees, the Circle did help alert several Googlers to our Page suspension.
Key takeaway: Consider using Shared Circles to make it easy for your target audiences to connect with groups from your organization. It’s also a good idea to seek out Shared Circles that will prove useful to you in a time of crisis. A good starting point is the list of Shared Circles on G+. It’s also advisable to Circle Google+ Your Business. It provides up-to-date information related to G+ that is targeted to brands and Page owners.
Google+ may be the fastest-growing social network in history. And yet, it’s still far from being a mainstream channel for brands and individuals. There are few established paths to success on Google+, and mistakes are inevitable. Use the guidance that I’ve provided above to help your brand to not only avoid a suspension, but to also overcome obstacles that could impede success.
Do you have any Google+ tips? If so, 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.
Zaarly may have just saved my fantasy football team.
With less than 24 hours to go before my league’s fantasy football draft this past weekend, I faced a big problem. The draft coincided with a lunch date that my wife had scheduled with several friends (she had scheduled it weeks in advance). The conflict stood out like a sore thumb on my Google Calendar, and yet, I had somehow managed to miss it. To make matters worse, my son’s hockey practice was scheduled at the same time. Three events. One time slot.
At this point, I had a few options:
- Bail out on the draft, thereby forcing my league mates to scramble to find another manager on short notice (kind of a jerk move — not something I’d want to do to @LaurenC7)
- Ask my son to skip his hockey practice and play at home while I drafted my team (high opportunity cost given the price of ice time — also bad parenting)
- Negotiate with my wife to miss part of her lunch (wasn’t going to happen)
- Find a substitute to draft for me (tough to find someone to give up their valuable time)
That’s when I turned to Zaarly, a service that pairs up people who need help with a variety of tasks with bidders who are willing to take on the tasks for a fee. Think of it as an eBay for services. Zaarly launched back in May and has both iPhone and Android apps, as well as a web-based app that can be launched via Facebook. The service focuses on connecting buyers and sellers of services within specific geographic markets (i.e. San Francisco buyers receive bids from sellers in San Francisco, New York buyers receive bids from sellers in New York, etc.).
I quickly downloaded Zaarly’s app onto my iPad and HTC EVO devices and posted a job. I offered $21 under the listing “Sit in for me on my fantasy football draft.” Surprisingly, within a couple of hours, I had responses from two people who were willing to take on the job. One bidder backed his bid with credentials, stating that he had won his 16-team league the prior season. The other bidder took care to ask about the players I wanted, which ones I wanted to avoid, and which “sleeper picks” should be targeted in the latter rounds of the draft.
I went with the second bidder, whom I provided with instructions to nab both Jamaal Charles (RB, Kansas City) and Larry Fitzgerald (WR, Cardinals) for me if they were available early on during the draft. I quickly paid via PayPal (Zaarly also has options for cash payments and credit card payments via the app) and then exchanged a few emails with the provider to cover details such as the draft format and time (I also implored him to avoid drafting a kicker until the last round).
Just like that, the transaction was done, and my problem was solved.
On draft day, I received an email from the provider to let me know that he’d drafted my team and had even managed to secure both Charles and Fitzgerald. All in all, a surprisingly good experience — I had a solid fantasy football lineup, my wife went to lunch with her friends, and my son made it to hockey practice.
It’s increasingly rare for an app to give me that “Oh wow, I LOVE this app!” feeling. Foursquare did it when it was released, as did the Monocle feature from Yelp’s mobile app. And now Zaarly has joined that group, with its easy, simple experience for offloading tasks. If I win my fantasy football league this year, I’ll have Zaarly to thank for the crown.
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.