Social media and marketing: Is the honeymoon over?

social mediaIt’s no secret that companies large and small have been putting significant energy into social media marketing and networking in recent years.

It’s happened for a variety of reasons – not least as a defensive strategy to keep from losing out over competitors who might be quicker to adopt social media strategies and leverage them for their business.

And yet …

Now that the businesses have a good half-decade of social media marketing under their belt, it’s pretty safe to say that social tactics aren’t very meaningful sales drivers.

That’s not just me talking.  It’s also Forrester Research, which as far back as 2011 and 2012 concluded this after analyzing the primary sales drivers for e-commerce.  Forrester found that less than 1% was driven by social media.

And in subsequent years, it’s gotten no better.

A case in point:  IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks sales generated by 500 leading retail sites, has reported that Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter combined represent less than 0.5% of the sales generated on Black Friday in the United States.

Those dismal results aren’t to say that social media doesn’t have its benefits.  Generating “buzz” and building social influence certainly have their place and value.

But considering what some businesses have put into social media in terms of their MarComm resources, a channel that contributes less than 1% of sales revenues seems like a pretty paltry result – and very likely a negative ROI, too.

Going forward, it would seem that more companies should pursue social media marketing less out of a fear of losing out to competitors, and more based on whether it proves itself as an effective marketing tactic for them.

Consider the points listed below.  They’ve been true all along, but they’re becoming even more apparent with the passage of time:

1.  Buying “likes” isn’t worth much beyond the most basic tactical “bragging rights” aspects, because “likes” have little intrinsic value and can’t be tied directly to an increased revenue stream.

2.  A great social media presence doesn’t trump having good products and service; even dynamite social media can’t camouflage shortcomings of this kind for long.

3.  Audiences tend to “discount” the value of content that comes directly from a company.  This means publishing compelling content that clears that hurdle requires more skill and expertise than many companies have been willing to allocate to social media content creation.

Calibrating the way they look at social media is the first step companies can take to establish the correct balance between social media marketing activities and expected results.  Instead of treating social media as the connection with customers, view it as a tool to connect with customers.

It’s really just a new link in the same chain of engagement that successful companies have forged with their customers for decades.  In working with my clients, I’ve seen this scenario play out the same basic way time and again; it matters very little what type of business or markets they serve.

What about you?  Have your social media experiences been similar to this — or different?  I welcome hearing your perspectives.

What to Make of all the Interest in Pinterest …

I love PinterestUntil now, I’ve hesitated to blog about Pinterest, the digital bulletin board and newest “breakout network” in social media.  I wanted to see how it was evolving before jumping to conclusions about its importance and staying power.

Without a doubt, Pinterest is one of the biggest stories in the social sphere right now. It seems that something as simple as enabling users to post “boards” of their collections of photos has struck a nerve.

Pinterest is one of the most user-friendly social sites in cyberspace.  Pinterest participants use a “bookmarklet” button installed in their browser to affix photos or images to virtual bulletin boards set up on particular topics or themes such as interior decorating, food arts and fashion.  Each image has an accompanying clickthrough link to the web page where it was found.  Users can also “re-pin” images they find on other Pinterest boards.

Simple, easy … and popular.  In its most recent Digital Marketing Benchmark & Trend Report, Experian reports that Pinterest is now the third most popular U.S. social networking site. Only Facebook and Twitter rank higher.

Just how well is Pinterest doing? Consider that this invitation-only site has ~10 million users and receives nearly 25 million visits in a single week. That’s 30 times larger the volume of visits recorded on Pinterest just six months ago.

I’m still trying to determine how much staying power this latest social media phenom possesses. The rapid adoption rate tells us something right off the bat … and there are a few additional reasons why Pinterest may be here to stay in a big way:

  • Pinterest is a highly effective form of digital scrap-booking that seems to be extremely popular with its users.
  • Online audience measurement firm comScore reports that users spend an average of 1.5 hours per month on Pinterest, second only to Facebook.
  • Pinterest is easy and intuitive to use, making it popular with people who aren’t your typical “geeky” computer user. Pinterest users tend to skew older … more female (~80% actually) … and generally located more in “flyover country” than in coastal zones like New York and California.

Any time a social network can claim to have attracted the hearts and minds of the broader population, that’s noteworthy … and it leads me to believe that Pinterest isn’t merely a passing fad.

Indeed, we may have just scratched the surface of what Pinterest will be and what it will offer in the years ahead.

What are your thoughts about Pinterest?  Dynamic or dull?  Flash-in-the-pan or here to stay?  And how do you see it being used by marketers to promote their products and brands?

Klout and Klouchebag: Action and Reaction.

Klout scoreIt had to happen: The combination of social media measurement capabilities and ego gratification has brought forth attempts to “quantify” a person’s influence level in social media.

One of the better-known of these endeavors is run by Klout, a San Francisco-based entity launched in September 2009 that applies social media analytics to measure people’s influence across their social network.

Underscoring the company’s sense of self-importance is its proclaimed tagline/slogan:  “The Standard for Influence.”

Klout purportedly accomplishes this by analyzing data mined from Twitter, Facebook and other social sites – information such as the size of a person’s network, the content created, and how others interact with that content.

Klout profiles built from these bits of information include a “score” ranging from 1 to 100 – the higher a score representing a higher assessment of the breadth and depth of a person’s online influence.

Reportedly, more than 100 million of such profiles have been built by Klout over the past two years. And how is Klout building these scores? It’s using Twitter data points such as:

  • “Follower” and “following” volumes
  • The incidence of “spam” or “dead” following accounts
  • List memberships
  • Retweet activity
  • Unique mentions

Somehow, it doesn’t seem surprising at all that Klout’s rating and ranking activities have come under attack. And the criticism is not just coming from people who are questioning the methodology behind the analysis and rating. Some social critics contend that scoring devalues authentic online communication.

Movie critic, writer and novelist John Scalzi has written that Klout’s very premise is “socially evil” in that it exploits the “status anxiety” of social media participants. Charles Stross, a tech writer and sci-fi author, goes even further: He labels Klout “the Internet equivalent of herpes.”

But perhaps the most biting criticism comes in the form of satire, courtesy of Tom Scott, a freelamce web developer and humorist who has launched “Klouchebag.”

What’s Klouchebag? According to Scott, it measures “how much of an asshat you are on Twitter.”

In the same fashion as Klout, Klouchebag establishes a rating score. But this one is based on the ARSE rating system, an eyebrow-raising acronym that stands for:

  • Anger (“profanity and rage”)
  • Retweets
  • Social Apps (“every useless check-in on Foursquare or similar location-based social platform”)
  • English Usage (“exclamation marks!!! … ALL CAPS … or no capitalization at all … will definitely raise this score”)

For Tom Scott, Klouchebag satirizes what he considers to be a “pseudo-scientific” effort to create a social media hierarchy. He hopes its emergence will contribute to a backlash against Klout and other similar ventures.

When it comes to Klout, Scott is merciless: “I’d been annoyed with the idea of Klout for a while … [which] is one of the worst ideas ever put online. Klout annoys me for the same reason that search engine optimization annoys me: It’s an enormous amount of effort designed to game an arbitrary and often-changing system. Imagine if all that time went into actually making interesting things, or caring about the people around you.”

Maybe Tom Scott has forgotten a thing or two about human nature: People are often smitten by vanity and pride – and the desire for fame. It’s been that way ever since the dawn of time. Why should we expect anything different from people today?

[One can only imagine what Andy Warhol would have said about people and their “15 minutes of fame” had he lived in our era of social media!]

How Are Social Media Behaviors Changing?

Social mediaWith the steady growth of social networking sites – particularly Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – the characteristics and behaviors of their users continue to evolve.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has been studying these changes in recent years through conducting a variety of consumer research surveys, and its lateest findings have just been released. And some of these key findings are quite revealing.

For starters, Pew finds that nearly eight in ten Americans are now using the Internet. Of these, nearly 60% are also using at least one social media site. And social media users now skew more heavily female (~56%), which represents something of a shift in recent years.

The Pew research also finds that among those people who engage with social media sites, Facebook is the 500 pound gorilla; more than nine in ten respondents reported that they are on Facebook, compared to only ~18% who are on LinkedIn and an even smaller ~13% who are on Twitter.

Moreover, engagement with Facebook is at a higher level. About half of the Facebook users report that they are on Facebook every day. By contrast, only one-third of Twitter users engage with that social media platform on a daily basis.

The Pew study also found that the average number of Facebook friends a user has is nearly 230 – a figure that frankly surprised me a bit. What constitutes “friends” break down as follows:

 Friends from high school: ~22%
 Extended family members: ~12%
 Coworkers: ~10%
 Friends from college: ~9%
 Immediate family members: ~8%
 People from affinity groups: ~7%
 Neighbors: ~2%

Interesting, on average about 10% of Facebook users’ friends are people that they’ve never actually met, or met only once.

Another interesting finding from the Pew survey is that Facebook users tend to be more trusting of others and more active in the extent of their social interaction on a personal level. This would seem to refute the notion that Facebookers may be more susceptible to pursue “cyber” relationships in lieu of old-fashioned personal relationships. To the contrary, the Pew report observes:

“The likelihood of an American experiencing a deficit in social support, having less exposure to diverse others, not being able to consider opposing points of view, being untrusting, or otherwise being disengaged from their community and American society generally is unlikely to be a result of how they use technology.”

And what about LinkedIn? Clearly, it operates on a completely different plane than Facebook and even Twitter. It has become the de facto Human Resources clearinghouse on the Web … an employment fair on steroids.

LinkedIn’s unique position in the social media sphere is reflected in characteristics like the educational level of its users. Whereas only ~20% of Facebook users have a four-year college degree – and just ~15% have post-graduate education – those percentages on LinkedIn are ~37% and ~38% respectively. (Twitter’s educational demographics are nearly identical to Facebook’s.)

LinkedIn’s age demographics also tend to skew older. This means is that even though LinkedIn users may not be engaging with the platform on a daily basis — in fact, only ~6% do so according to the Pew survey — they do represent a highly attractive professional audience that offers good potential for many companies in marketing their products and services.

Additional information on the Pew Research survey findings is available here. Check it out and see if your own social media behaviors mirror the Pew market findings.

Oh, S#\@*!! Facebook’s Not for Prudes

Profanity on Facebook:  More than you might imagine.In the “anything goes” world of social media, it stands to reason that the language we find there isn’t exactly reserved for polite company.

And now we have some quantifiable data that confirms those suspicions. Reppler, a Palo Alto, CA-based social media monitoring service, recently scanned some 30,000 Facebook members’ walls … and what they found wassn’t exactly the language of choirboys.

Here are two interesting stats from what Reppler discovered:

 Nearly half of the Facebook walls contain some form of profanity.

 Four out of five users with profanity on their Facebook wall have at least one comment or post from a friend that contains profanity.

What’s the most common profane terms used? Not surprisingly, the “f-word” comes out on top. That’s followed by various derivations of the word the French know as merde. Runner-up among the top three is the “b-word.”

It’s important to note that people don’t have complete control over the language their Facebook friends use. But the prevalence of profanity on Facebook walls comes at a time when many employers are increasingly looking at the online presence of their prospective hires and noting the degree of professionalism – or lack thereof – that they see.

And there’s a related issue that’s becoming increasingly significant as well. With more companies and brands creating Facebook pages and other social networking sites, monitoring the discussion that takes place on them takes on even more importance.

It’s critical for brands not to offend even a small percentage of their customers. But with the general “race to the bottom” in what’s deemed acceptable language, there are real differences in what some people think is legitimate expression … and what others would consider to be gross indecency.

These differences are a factor of not only of age, but of acculturation.

Third-party tools from Reppler and others that automatically flag certain language or phrases can alleviate some of the problem, but there’s really no substitute for good, old-fashioned site monitoring. Which is why so many companies are finding the whole social media thing to be pretty labor-intensive, when done properly.

A Game-Changer for Charitable Organizations and Causes?

Jumo, a social network focused on charities.Chris Hughes
Jumo, the newest social network focused on charities and social activism.
There’s a new international social media resource being launched. Jumo, which was unveiled this past week in a beta test version, aims to connect people with not-for-profit causes and charitable organizations.

Established in February 2010, Jumo describes itself as “a social network connecting individuals and organizations who want to change the world.”

The founder of Jumo is Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who more recently served as director of online organizing for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. He sees Jumo as a way for people to find and evaluate organizations that focus on the causes that interest them. Such organizations can range all the way from health and educational initiatives to ones dealing with advocacy issues such as gay rights.

News articles, YouTube videos, Twitter posts and other content will be added to Jumo pages, and users can also add their own comments and feedback.

What’s the inspiration behind Jumo? It’s to establish a social platform focusing on issues, advocacy and not-for-profit organizations rather than on personalities or branded products. “The more connected [an] individual is to an issue they care about, the higher probability there is they will stay involved over a longer period of time,” Hughes has stated.

As part of establishing its mission, Jumo has outlined the following three key factors:

 Millions of people are working to improve the lives of others, many of whom lack the resources to have major impact.

 There are millions of other people who would want to help, but don’t know how.

 Despite where we are with technology, it’s still difficult to find meaningful opportunities to get involved.

Jumo provides a platform wherein people can discover the type of causes and organizations they care about, follow the latest news and updates in those fields, and support the work of these organizations through the donation of skills, time or financial support.

In Hughes’ view, this is what differentiates Jumo from social media platforms such as Facebook, which also allows the creation of pages for non-profit groups. Facebook’s groups tend to be passive, with many an individual’s interaction going little beyond “following” or “liking” them.

Hughes believes there will be significantly more volunteering and giving associated with the people who interact with organizations on Jumo. And if that happens, it may finally fulfill the promise of online platforms enabling not-for-profits to raise money more efficiently and less expensively than via traditional means.

That’s a goal that has been stubbornly elusive to date, as only about 5% of all U.S. donations come from online giving, according to the Blackbaud Index of Online Giving.

How does Jumo intend to grow and thrive in the online world? As a not-for-profit initiative itself, it plans to rely on payments from users and sponsorships from groups that would like to receive more highly visible promotion on the site.

Jumo already contains ~3,000 charitable organizations and issues-oriented groups which have been “seeded” on the site. But any organization that is certified as “tax exempt” is eligible to set up a page on Jumo.

Is Jumo destined to transform social activism? Only time will tell … but it will be interesting to see how this interesting new venture evolves and grows in the coming months.