Friday, December 5, 2014

Social Media Marketing: It's All Been Said Before

I find it difficult to get inspired to write about social media marketing any longer. Where others see ongoing brand difficulties in social media and claim "we're still learning," I see a marketing channel that is fully mature (and by some measures in decline).

As you review all of the inevitable blog posts this month that list 2014's top PR blunders and Social Media #Fail examples, ask yourself if these mistakes were ones caused by an exploration of untested strategies in a new medium or an inability to apply (or perhaps believe) the available data and lessons learned? I think you will find yourself agreeing with me--this year's crop of social media errors and disasters are no different than last year's--same causes, same mistakes, same outcomes. It's all been said before.

The same can be said for this year's success stories in social media. Thousands of brands ran social media promotions, shared content on social networks and maintained blogs and podcasts. How many can claim demonstrable success and offer repeatable examples for others to follow? And for the rare ones that can, did they get there with some wildly innovative strategy or by the same customer-focused, data-driven, omni-channel process that worked in social media in 2013 (and pretty much every other medium before that)? It's all been said before.

Some may argue that the rise of Instagram was a new and exciting development this year for brands, but is this really true? I mean, sure, your brand can chase the higher engagement presently available on Instagram, but by this time next year we will be talking about how paid media is pushing aside organic content and griping about the declining engagement rates on that platform, just as we are about Facebook today. It's all been said before.

If chasing weary, disinterested and distrusting consumers from one new social network to another sounds like effective marketing strategy, feel free to pursue it, but you will need to pardon me for not sharing in your enthusiasm. I aspire to be a brand and business builder, not an engagement hacker.

The news about the higher engagement rates on Instagram is hardly the only recent instance when I saw some newsworthy social media situation, considered sharing my perspective on my blog, and ultimately rejected the idea. The reason is that I can no longer find a way to cover this space without resorting to cutting and pasting words and messages I have already shared before. For example:

The secret to social media success (and failure) is no longer secret. Companies need to stop talking and start listening. They need to stop broadcasting and start responding. They need to stop posting to people and instead encourage people to start talking with each other. They need to stop promoting new products in social media and instead use social to collaborate when developing new products. They need to stop publishing content they hope people will share and instead give people product experiences consumers actually want to share. They need stop trying to be entertaining in social media and instead offer great customer care in the channel. They need to stop counting fans and tallying engagement and start creating advocates and measuring business value. And finally, brands need to stop positioning themselves as more caring, more transparent and more committed to the customer and instead be more caring, more transparent and more committed to the customer.

If you find yourself nodding your head with that last paragraph, take a moment to parse the first part of each sentence from the second. The first part describes marketing activities (broadcasting, promoting, publishing content, being entertaining, tallying engagement, positioning) while the second part describes activities outside of marketing (listening, responding, product development, customer service, earning advocacy, being better corporate citizens).  Therein lies my growing weariness with the topic of social media marketing--marketing is literally the least interesting thing brands can do in social media.

To me, that describes the big shift underway (both in the world and on my blog). Social media remains a powerful force reshaping our lives and companies, but that does not mean it is a powerful marketing tool. So, as I have in 2014, I will continue to focus on how customer experience drives great results (in social and elsewhere) and how social behaviors and technologies are reshaping consumption and business models in the collaborative economy. But whether some brand did a cute Vine or got 500 shares of its hilarious Instagram picture is no longer very interesting to me (and I am frankly unsure why it would be interesting to anyone else).

I said I hate to repeat myself, but here are a couple of things that bear repeating: Social media is not a megaphone for brands; it is a mirror. It does not give your brand "a voice"; it gives consumers a voice they can use to share their good and bad brand experiences. It does not allow you to fashion messages that change minds; it reflects what the brand is and does in a way that changes minds (or, more likely, not).

If you want better brand results in social media in 2015, do less marketing in the channel and find ways to treat your customers better. The brands that will succeed this coming year will not be the ones developing content and leveraging Instagram but the ones developing better relationships via product and services in consumers' real and digital worlds.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why an Uber Decline May Be Good for the Emerging Collaborative Economy

Uber has been a poster child for the emerging sharing economy. While other collaborative economy startups like Airbnb and LendingClub have grown and garnered attention, they have yet to create the sort of impact within their verticals that Uber has in the livery business. In San Francisco, for example, Uber (with an assist from other ride-sharing startups) has already caused a 65% decline in taxicab trips and New York has seen a small but unheard of decline in the price of taxi medallions.

Given Uber's prominence in the early days of the collaborative economy, it may seem odd for me to suggest, but I believe a significant decline in Uber's business may be terrific for the long-term interests of the collective consumption movement. My reasoning is that the sharing economy is not simply about more collaborative products but more collaborative companies. Viewed through this lens, Uber simply has not earned its premiere status in this new business movement.

Uber's embarrassments have been many and frequent, such as:

All of these blunders occured before this week's embarrassing dustup over threats to dig up dirt against critical journalists and their families. Then, as if Uber's crap week needed icing on the clueless cake, the company's CEO, Travis Kalanick, compared his company's woes to those of the residents of Ferguson, MO.

Travis Kalanick (Photo Credit: Silicon Prairie News)
That Uber has a terrible corporate culture is in no doubt. Of course, what would you expect from a CEO that calls his company "Boob-er" for the way it helps him land dates. If the CEO at a traditional company said these sorts of things or presided over a fraction of Uber's PR stumbles, he or she would be shown the door immediately, but Kalanick seems to have nothing to fear, provided he keeps the billions rolling in for investors.  In fact, not only has the latest gaffe caused no apparent ruckus among investors about Kalanick's leadership, one investor--actor Ashton Kutcher--came to the executive team's defense, tweeting "What's so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?"

If Uber's leaders and investors are unwilling to foster the sort of culture consumers want and expect, then perhaps it is time for consumer action. There is a small but growing trend among people deleting Uber from their smartphones. Comedian John Hodgman wrote a blog post saying "I just can't get into the car with those guys any more." Tech writer Nilofer Merchant is also deleting her Uber app. I have deleted mine, and you can too.

Yes, Uber is an astounding service, but is that really enough? Study after study validates consumers' growing desire for better companies--ones that act ethically, contribute to the community and treat both employees and customers better. This is made clear by a slew of research such as Edelman's Trust Barometer and Havas Meaningful Brands study.

We have the power to demand better leaders and companies. If we fail to act now--if we let our love of Uber's service blind us to its terrible and uncollaborative actions--that will only embolden and encourage VCs, startup leaders and others to accept aberrant leadership behaviors and build companies that respect nothing but profits. That is not the collaborative economy I want.

Some may suggest that an Uber failure would be a strike against the new sharing economy, but I believe the opposite is true. The collaborative economy is changing the world, but its progress will be hindered if we support companies that violate every tenet of the social era.

Cash may pay the bills, but trust is what drives the collaborative economy. Trust is the necessary ingredient to convert customers to new ways of consuming goods and to win the support of doubting regulators. Today, Uber's trust-killing antics are harming the entire sharing industry, raising suspicions about the kind of ethics and honesty that are driving crowd companies. At a time when Uber and other sharing economy companies should be winning hearts and minds, Uber's arrogance and mistakes are instead breeding suspicion at the Federal, state and local levels.

The best thing for the collective consumption movement would be for consumers to send a clear and unmistakable message to Uber and its peers. If enough of us act, we can shape the future of this emerging way of doing business. We can and should put the collaboration back into the collaborative economy and help Silicon Valley understand that we want more than better services; we want better companies.

Uber is not the only ride-sharing service around, and I urge you to consider exploring other options such as LyftSidecar and Curb. The next time you use a ride-sharing service, make sure it is one that has earned not just your business but your respect, as well.

(Added note: It seems advisable to point out that my opinions are my own. Moreover, let me state that I want ride sharing in general and Uber in specific to succeed. But on the trajectory it is going, I fear Uber will not only undermine its own success but harm other companies in the budding peer-to-peer economy. If deleting Uber now can bring about a change in its corporate culture and force Uber to be more collaborative, trustworthy and respectful, then I will gladly reinstall the app in the future and feel as if I have helped the company succeed in the long term.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Snappening Blame Game: Protect Yourself and Your Family With Awareness and Action

VentureBeat featured an article entitled, "Who’s to blame for the ‘Snappening?’ You are." While I strongly disagree with the writer's use of the word "blame," I also believe there is nothing wrong with empowering people to take as much control as possible of their privacy and reputation. Those who strive to prevent others from being victimized are too often accused of "blaming the victim," but there is nothing incompatible with assigning blame to criminals while simultaneously helping people to become more informed and protect themselves and their family.

"The Snappening" is the hack and leak of hundreds of thousands of images that people intended to be seen (and immediately deleted) using the Snapchat application. It has been reported that many of these images are of minors. This hacking crime occurred at the same time hundreds of personal photos and videos of celebrities are being leaked, an event disgustingly given the cutesy name of "The Fappening."

Both are crimes, and all blame and legal responsibility rests with the hackers and those distributing the photos. Again, just so I am absolutely clear: The hackers and those distributing users' private photos and other information are wholly to blame ethically and legally. 

That said, there are steps you and your family can take to avoid becoming victims. Saying this does not alleviate hackers from their legal accountability should your family's data be unlawfully collected. All this acknowledges is that we live in an increasingly digital, social and mobile world, and it is vital we recognize and consider the risks associated with our devices, applications, privacy settings and actions.

Telling children not to get into cars with strangers does not blame the victim when tragic situations occur, but it does prevent other children from becoming victims. In the same way, urging our children to understand the risks of their digital, social and mobile actions does not increase their fault should a dreadful crime occur, but it will prevent other children from being victimized as is happening today. Blaming victims is disgusting and wrong; empowering people to avoid becoming victims is smart and caring.

In our digital, social and mobile era, here are some things you and your children must know so that risks can be reduced:

  • Consider the applications you use: Every application you allow on your phone or permit to access your data on social networks increases risk. Who created the app? How will they use your data? Will they protect your data? These are difficult but essential questions we must ask about each and every application that we allow to access our most personal data.

    While few of us possess the technical capability or time to answer these questions specifically, we can take some simple steps: Identify and evaluate the reputation and size of the application developer; consider the access requirements; and review the ratings in the App Store, Google Play and elsewhere.

    The risk posed by third-party apps seems to have contributed to the Snappening leak. Snapchat released a statement saying "Snapchat’s servers were never breached and were not the source of these leaks. Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice that we expressly prohibit in our Terms of Use precisely because they compromise our users’ security." In other words, once you allow a third-party application to access and use your Snapchat data, there is nothing Snapchat can do to protect your privacy, and the same is true of other social networks and mobile platforms as well.

    Facebook's Privacy Checkup--stop
    griping Facebook makes privacy
    difficult and use it, already!
    Steps you can take today: Review the applications on your and your children's phones. Do you know and trust the developer of each application?  Do the same for the applications that you and your children have allowed to access Facebook data; to do so, visit Facebook in a browser, click the lock icon on the upper right corner and do a "Privacy Checkup" to review "Your Apps." You can do the same in Twitter--click on your profile image and select "Settings" and "Apps" to revoke access to applications you do not know and trust.

    These steps are vital to protect you and your family. To use a real-world metaphor, no amount of locks on your door can keep you secure from those you freely allow to access and use your home.
  • Consider the people to whom you connect:  If a stranger watched, snapped photos of or followed your family around, you would call the cops. Many people not only ignore that strangers do this online but welcome them to so, because this is what happens when you accept invitations from strangers on services such as Facebook and Foursquare.  The people with whom you connect can know where you are at every moment, see and save your family photos and know other information you may not wish shared.

    Parents, who have your children friended? Do they know them well? I will admit I am not a parent, and I understand issues of trust and privacy are sensitive ones with kids; nonetheless, the same parents who would never allow their kids to talk to strangers in the real world are often willfully ignorant of the strangers talking to and monitoring their children via social and mobile applications.

    Steps you can take today: Review your Facebook and Foursquare friends today, and do the same for your children. Do you know them well enough to give them access to your location, photos and personal communications? Many people seem to feel social pressure to accept and maintain "friend" connections on Facebook. My advice: Get over it. There's nothing wrong with rejecting or deleting a connection from someone you do not know well.  An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure when it comes to filtering your friend lists.

  • Consider your security settings: Every application and service you use permits you to set your preferred level of security and privacy. I choose to make most of my Facebook posts public, but I do so with awareness and consideration of what I post. My recommendation to most people is that they do NOT make their posts public by default, and as a rule, children should never do so.

    Nowadays, it is not simply the security settings of applications you must consider but also the settings built into your devices. Thanks to services such as iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive, many mobile phone users automatically upload their photos and data into the cloud without even knowing. Of course, you can stop that from happening if you want, but then you may lose your photos and data in the event your phone is lost or dies. There is no simple answer to how you should set your or your children's security and privacy settings, but it is important we make informed decisions and take proactive action rather than having an unpleasant surprise later.

    Steps you can take today: First, review the security settings in your applications--who can see your data and what data can they see? As noted above, Facebook has made this much easier with its Privacy Checkup feature.

    Perhaps even more important is for you to use two-factor authentication. It is easy and only adds a smidgen of complexity. Apple has suggested that if the celebrities hacked in the Fappening had used two-factor authentication, their data would still be safe (although I find this a bit disingenuous since iCloud allowed unlimited signon attempts, permitting simple "brute force" attacks to be effective.) You can learn more about two-factor authentication on CNET, but Facebook's two-factor authentication is called "Login Approvals" (found under "Settings" and "Security") and it is easy to use.  You can also learn more about two-factor authentication available for Apple ID, Dropbox and Google.
  • Consider what you capture and share: This is, inevitably, the advice that causes people to start tossing around accusations of "blaming the victim." It seems some people mix up having the right to do something with whether it is wise to do that thing. The two are not the same.

    There is nothing wrong with suggesting people consider the risks associated with taking, storing or sharing nude selfies. Yes, you have a right to do so (if you are an adult). No, doing so does not in any way reduce others' culpability should they hack and share your nude selfies. But yes, taking nude selfies does, in fact, increase risk they could be accessed and distributed without your permission. So go ahead--strip down and snap away--just do so with knowledge it comes with risks: You can lose your phone, your iCloud account can be compromised and the people with whom you share may save and disseminate them further (even if you use Snapchat).

    Of course, the same is true of ANY data. You can legally post, share or store your social security and credit card number online. It is an insane and risky thing to do, but doing so does not alter the blame or criminal responsibility of anyone who uses that data to steal your identity. Once again, suggesting people consider the potential ramifications of their digital, social and mobile actions is not "blaming the victim" but a simple reminder that the best offense is a good defense when it comes to your personal data.

    Steps you can take today: Simply consider what you capture, store and save on your devices. Do you save your credit card numbers in Evernote? Do you have a photo of your social security card stored on your device (and backed up in the cloud)? Do you save passwords? These are somewhat obvious examples of actions that raise your risks, but there are less obvious ones:
    • He had a "family emergency,"
      posted this and lost his job
      Have you ever shared your "porn name," which includes the street on which you grew up? Have you posted your mother's maiden name as part of #TBT on Facebook or Instagram? Both are examples of information you use to recover your passwords and can be misused to gain access to your accounts and data.
    • Do you share when you and your family are traveling and announce to the world that your home is empty and unguarded?
    • Do you complain about your coworkers on social networks, an action that can cause you to (at worst) lose your job or (at best) lose relationships and reputation?
    • Do you "like" your bank, revealing to others where your financial accounts are maintained?
    • Do you use the same password on every site so that a single hack opens up all of your accounts and data to hackers? (And when is the last time you changed your passwords?)
    • Do you ever call in sick when you are not and then publicly share your leisure activities? (That's another good way to lose your job.)
    • Do you capture and disseminate (even privately) pictures of you and friends doing things that others (such as potential employers, significant others or family members) might judge?
    • Do you often use profanity or poor grammar in your Facebook or Twitter posts? Recruiters react negatively to profanity (65%), grammar and punctuation errors (61%) and references of alcohol use (47%).

Educating and empowering others to make smart decisions is not "blaming the victim" but an act of caring. We must always blame the perpetrators who hack and share our personal information, but empowering people to protect their data and privacy is simply the smart thing to do.