The corporate resource commitment to social media: Plenty of talk … but how much action?

Social media staffing prospects for 2013 are no better than they were in 2012.With social media activity seemingly bursting at the seams, it’s also risen near the top of many marketing departments’ punch lists of tactics to reach, engage with and influence their customers and prospects.

But when it comes to putting serious resources behind that effort, how much of a commitment is really there?

A recent Ragan Communications/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey suggests that the commitment to social media may be a lot of “talk” … and a lot less “walk.”

The November 2012 survey of ~2,700 social media professionals found that two-thirds of the respondents perform their social media tasks above and beyond their regular marketing duties:

  • Social media tasks are on top of current responsibilities: ~65% of respondents
  • Have established a team for social media activities: ~27%
  • Use an in-house team along with an outside social media agency or planner: ~5%
  • Outsource all social media efforts: ~3%

For the distinct minority of companies that have seen fit to devote some degree of dedicated personnel to their social media program, nearly 85% of them have created teams of three people or fewer … and in more than 40% of the cases, it’s just a single individual instead of a team.

What departments within companies are involved in social media activities?  No surprise here:  It’s the usual suspects (marketing and public relations) with a variety of other departments having their toe in the water as well:

  • Marketing: ~70% of departments are involved in social media activities
  • Public relations: ~69%
  • Corporate communications: ~49%
  • Advertising: ~26%
  • Customer service: ~19%
  • Information technology: ~17%
  • Legal personnel: ~14%

As to whether we’re on the cusp of something much bigger in terms of resourcing social media activities, this isn’t evident much at all from the future plans of the businesses surveyed by Ragan.

Let’s begin with budgets. Excluding salaries and benefits, half of the companies surveyed have social media budgets of $10,000 or less – and one-quarter have essentially no dollars at all earmarked for social media:

  • Annual social media budget $1,000 or less: ~23% of respondents
  • $1,000 to $5,000: ~14%
  • $5,000 to $10,000: ~13%
  • $10,000 – $50,000: ~22%
  • $50,000+: ~26%

When asked whether companies had expanded their social media personnel assignments during 2012, fewer than one-third of the respondents answered affirmatively.

… And the trend doesn’t look much different for 2013, with more than three-fourths of the respondents reporting that there aren’t any plans to hire additional social media practitioners this year.

What about interns, that fallback position for cheap and easy labor?

Fewer than one-fourth of the respondents reported that interns are employed by their companies for social media tasks. Most others believe that using typically inexperienced interns for the potentially sensitive customer engagement aspects of social media is a “non-starter,” as they consider those sensitivities to be a disqualifying factor.

And in the cases where interns do help out in social media efforts, the vast majority of their activity is confined to Facebook and Twitter, as compared to LinkedIn, blogging,creating online “thought leadership” articles and the like.

How satisfied are companies with how they’re doing in the social media realm? According to this study, there’s rampant dissatisfaction with the degree to which companies feel able to measure the impact of social media on their sales and their businesses.

The tracking mechanisms put in place by companies range the gamut, but it’s not clear how convinced practitioners are that the information is accurate or actionable.

  • Track interaction and engagement (e.g., followers, fans, likes): ~86% of respondents
  • Track web traffic: ~74%
  • Track brand reputation: ~58%
  • Track customer service and customer satisfaction: ~41%
  • Track new lead generation: ~40%
  • Track new sales revenues: ~31%

The vast bulk of tracking activity happens using in-house mechanisms or free measurement tools (~59% use those), although the paid measurement tools offered by HootSuite and Radian6 do have their share of users.

The takeaway from the Ragan/NASDAQ research is this:  Company staffing and resource allocations have a ways to go to catch up with all the talk about social media.

Chances are, those resources will be easier to allocate once proof of social media’s payback potential can be shown.  But that might take substantially more time to prove than some people would like.

As if to underscore this notion, statistics compiled by IBM researchers covering the past holiday season found that less than 1% of all online purchases on Black Friday emanated from Facebook.  The percentage of purchases from Twitter was even lower — undetectable, in fact.

And similarly paltry results were charted for the rest of the 2012 holiday season.

As long as social media marketing continues to contribute such pitiful sales revenues, get used to seeing scant social media budgets and near-zero increases in dedicated human resources.

As direct marketing specialist and raconteur Denny Hatch has so pointedly remarked:

“Social media marketing is an oxymoron.  You cannot monetize a giant cocktail party.”

What do you think?  Is Mr. Hatch onto something … or is he just reaching for dramatic effect?  Share your own thoughts if you’d like.

Persistent Myth: The Ten Most Persuasive Words in the English Language

Advertising word cloud - persuadable wordsIt’s something many of us in MarComm have heard about and read about for years now: Which words are the most persuasive ones in the English language?

In fact, it’s been the topic of entire news articles since the 1960s.

The words in question sound just about as relevant today as they must have back when the first “definitive” list was published:

  • Discover
  • Easy
  • Guarantee
  • Health
  • Love
  • Money
  • New
  • Proven
  • Results
  • You

It’s a solid list … and it certainly seems like these words would be among the most persuasive ones in our language.

It’s also plausible that some sort of formal “research” would have been conducted to come up with the list in the first place.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case at all.  In fact, it seems more likely that the list was dreamed up on the back of a napkin by an advertising copywriter looking for an interesting new copy “angle.”

Allegedly, the first appearance of the English language’s  most persuasive words was in a trade publication called “Marketing Magazine.” But no evidence exists that such a publication ever really existed.

Instead, it appears that several businesses decided to publish a list of persuasive words as a way of promoting their own products and services.  Attributing the list of words to a third-party (fictitious) publication with an authentic-sounding name gave their promotional messages an added flavor of credibility.

The list appeared first in a New York Times advertisement in 1961, and it was picked up several months later for an ad run in the Washington Post by Levitt & Sons, a real estate developer (of Levittown fame) that was promoting its new Maryland-based Belair at Bowie development at the time.

Both ads touted the elusive “Marketing Magazine” as the source for the list of most persuadable words.

And then the group of words began to morph, as “lists” of this kind are wont to do. More “experts” got into the game … more words were switched out or added … and more sources were cited as being the wellspring of the research: Duke University; the University of California; Yale University’s Psychology Department (!).

But who really cares about the provenance of the list? As it turns out, these “persuade” terms are among the most popular ones that advertising copywriters have used for years.  And for the most part, the terms retain their power to persuade, 50 years on.

For the record, other words that have made it onto the list at various times include:

  • Amazing
  • Announcing
  • Bargain
  • Compare
  • Easy
  • Free
  • Happiness
  • Hurry
  • Improvement
  • Introducing
  • Miraculous
  • Now
  • Offer
  • Quick
  • Remarkable
  • Revolutionary
  • Safety
  • Sensational
  • Suddenly

Regardless of which words actually belong on a “Top Ten” list as opposed to being the runners-up, there’s one thing you can say about all of them: They’re oldies but goodies. 

And this, too:  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

It’s Official: Instagram is in the Big Leagues Now

Thanksgiving Day 2012 on Instagram
Thanksgiving Day 2012 broke all records for Instagram’s photo sharing volume, with over 10 million photos shared and more than 225 per second at its peak.

Instagram, the mobile photo sharing service that came on the scene about two years ago, has been quietly building a following among many people who are attracted to its simplicity and ease of use, along with the enhanced image quality it offers. 

This past Thanksgiving proves how important Instagram has become within the social media fabric.  On Thanksgiving Day, fully 10 million photos were shared on Instagram.

At its peak time at 3:40 pm (Eastern Standard Time), photos were being shared at a rate of ~225 per second.  and throughout the the peak dinner hours from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm EST, more than 200 photos per second were being shared.

According to Instagram’s statistics, Thanksgiving Day was the busiest in the service’s history, which normally has about 5 million photos uploaded per day.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram in September, sees far more photo uploads on its flagship social platform – around 300 million images per day – which makes Instagram a relative babe in the woods. 

But Facebook looks to have big plans for Instagram, including a goal of doubling the number of app users from ~100 million to ~200 million.

Clearly, Instagram is one social platform that merits following in the months ahead.  Now that it’s joined the rarified ranks of the other platforms that have broken through to the “big leagues,” it’ll be interesting to see where Instagram goes from here and how it monetizes itself.

Move Over, Howard Stern: Now Google’s the “King of All Media”

Google and Print Advertising Revenue Trends, 2004-2012It’s official. With nearly $21 billion in ad revenue generated during the first half of 2012, Google now attracts more advertising business than all U.S. print media combined.

That is correct:  German-based statistics portal Statista reports that Google garnered ~$20.8 billion in total ad revenues over the period, while all U.S. newspapers and magazines took in only about $19.2 billion.

Never mind that the comparison isn’t completely apples-to-apples … in that print revenues are for the United States only, while Google generates ad revenues worldwide. Still, it’s a dramatic milestone, and it says a lot about the fortunes (and future) of print versus online advertising.

Statista has helpfully published trend charts that show how quickly the ad picture has changed (see above). Only a few years ago, print advertising dominated the scene, but the trajectories of it and Google have been on opposite paths ever since.

It was inevitable that the lines would eventually cross, but how many could have foreseen it happening as early as 2012?

As if on cue, Advance Publications, a company that owns a number of venerable newspapers in New Orleans, Cleveland and elsewhere, has just announced that it is likely to cut the publication frequency of the Plain Dealer newspaper from its current seven days a week.

If Advance follows through on its intentions, it will join the New Orleans Times Picayune as a daily newspaper that’s no longer a daily.

The publisher’s letter to Plain Dealer readers described the newspaper’s future in lofty terms, noting that changes were coming as the paper seeks to “embrace dynamic shifts in the way information is consumed.”  And other such language.

It also noted that the pending changes are “not about cost-cutting.” But who believes that?

And in fact, the publisher’s letter states also that “if we maintain the status quo, we risk doing what everyone – our employees, advertisers and the community – wants to avoid: disappearing.”

If people don’t see a correlation between the Statista data and what the Plain Dealer has in store for its readers … they’re living on another planet. 

The Millennial generation: Are they redefining the concept of “news consumption”?

News consumption habits (millennials)Recently, I read an interesting column written by Emily Anatole that addresses how the Millennial generation is reshaping the concept of “news” and how it is consumed.

Anatole notes that Millennials are criticized for not being news consumers, but she argues against this point. 

In her view, the younger generation is simply getting their news in a different way.  She writes:  “Milleninials’ approach to consumer news reflects how they differ … they perceive the ‘power of the pack’ – or Facebook updates, tweets and trending topics as we know them – as more valuable than the fact-checked, overly polished POV of one reporter.”

Anatole’s company, research firm Youth Pulse, Inc. (YPulse), conducted a survey in October 2012 of ~1,800 people aged 14-34, which found that television remains the top way in which this age group gets the news, with more than 70% reporting that they turn to TV to stay informed.

However, two-thirds of the respondents also reported that they get their news from Facebook, while approximately one-third get news from Twitter.

If these stats seem a bit unusual for those of us in the over-40 or -50 set, consider this:  Today’s 17-year-old was barely twelve when the iPhone first came out. 

So an environment in which comments, updates and opinions aren’t part of the “standard media mix” isn’t just a quaint memory; for Millennials, it never existed!

For the younger generation, becoming part-and parcel of “journalism” in its broadest sense is an integral part of the equation.  Uploading or sharing videos, tweeting a comment, updating a social status … it’s all part of a “co-created experience” where the lines are blurred between the media industry and consumers of the news.

Impatience has always been a trait of the young — as far back as the Children’s Crusade or even before.  So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Millennials would tend to go for “immediacy” over “credibility.” 

Given the choice of learning something “first” — even if the details or veracity of the story are sketchy — versus waiting around for a well-curated 5:00 pm news broadcast … well, it’s not even a fair fight anymore.

And here’s another important point to consider:  Whereas we older generation-types were trained to seek out news by buying the daily paper or tuning in to a radio or TV broadcast, today’s younger generation can afford to be less perspicacious.  The news comes to them without barely lifting a finger because of friends and others in their social sphere sharing stories, leaving comments, and tweeting.

Some believe it’s yet another “e-volution” that’s turning out to be more “re-volutionary” than we could have imagined. 

What’s your take?

Storm Clouds on the Horizon for National Food Brands?

Archer Farms store brand (Target)
Archer Farms store brand (Target)

Generic Food BrandsAre we seeing the beginning of an upheaval when it comes to national food brands?

Over the past 30 years or so, the United States has faced its share of recessions and sharp economic cycles, with the resulting stresses on consumer budgets.

Through it all, so-called “store” and generic food brands have continued to represent only about 15% to 20% of all retail food dollar sales.

National food brands have done their part to promote themselves as the “quality” choice over store brands, as well as to promote product sales through couponing and various other attempts to beat back the “value” alternatives.

Their success has been pretty decent, all things considered … up to now. But that might be about to change.

Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory Group has just issued a report predicting that private-label food brands are poised to jump to a 25%-30% share of the market over the next ten years.

That would make the U.S. similar to what has happened in Europe, where one in three products purchased today is a retailer-branded product.

What’s behind the anticipated rise in store brands? The Rabobank report cites several contributing causes:

  • Food retailers have more sales reach and sales clout than ever. It’s not just traditional supermarkets but also warehouse clubs, drugstore chains and dollar stores.
  • Retailers are expanding their private-label initiatives into more than simply “low cost/high value” lines.
  • Stores are putting greater marketing muscle behind their own store brands – witness Target and its Market Pantry, Archer Farms and Up & Up product families.

Nicholas Fereday of Rabobank sums it up this way:

“Retailer brands have matured from their original positioning as ‘cheap and cheerless’ generic products into a more diverse range of national brand equivalents, and more recently, highly innovative premium products … On grocery shelves around the U.S., from convenience stores to upscale supermarkets, retail brands now complete successfully and often win against national brands, earning consumer trust in terms of pricing, quality, image and value.”

What are the ways the national brands can fight back against the store-brand trend? Rabobank suggests one good approach is to develop completely new products that address unmet needs.

Otherwise, they’ll end up being on the losing end of the equation, since the marketing efforts as well as attractive pricing of the store brands will ultimately prove irresistible to the majority of consumers.