Monday, May 21, 2012

Google+ and Top Brand Engagement: My Own Small Study

While the rest of the world is obsessed with Facebook's IPO, I thought I might be a contrarian and focus on Google+. At times, I have felt as if Google and others share G+ data and analysis not to enlighten but to convince. When Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice president for engineering, says that Google+ has 100 million monthly active users (or MAUs) compared to Facebook's 901 million MAUs, I find myself wanting to see the data and dig into methodology, because assertions such as this do not always meet my "gut check."

Google+ data seems to come in one of two flavors--either statistics that support the Google-Plus-is-a-ghost-town argument or figures that lead to headlines such as "Google+ brand pages seeing adoption, engagement growth." The truth is certainly somewhere in between, but I have to say the more sober numbers and analysis seem to have a greater ring of truth.

A recent study of brand pages on G+ furnished optimistic findings such as:
  • 64% of the Interbrand Top 100 now have an active Google+ Brand page.
  • 22% of the brands now have circler counts over 100,000, up from 13%.
  • More brands are posting more frequently: 43% are posting over 3X a week (up from 15% in February).
The folks behind the study offer services to help brands evaluate and improve their Google+ brand presence, which means they have a horse in the race. That does not mean their data is inaccurate, of course--in fact, I am sure the data is factual--but are the analysis and findings complete and thorough?  Do conclusions such as these help marketers and social professionals evaluate the importance of G+, or do they subtly encourage brand adoption of G+ (and, by extension, adoption of the study sponsor's services)?

At a glance, the study seems to imply that brands are beginning to flock to G+, but even without doing any independent research, it seems there is a less glowing way to consider the same data. For example, while 64% of the top 100 brands have an active Google+ page today, 61% of them already had their page one month after G+ launched, so there has been almost no additional adoption in the past six months. And while the number of brands with 100,000 fans is up almost 75% in three months, two-thirds of the top 100 brands in the world have fewer than 5,000 "circlers" on G+. (To put that into perspective, AJ Bombers, a locally owned burger joint in Milwaukee, WI, is connected to more people on Facebook than the vast majority of top 100 worldwide brands are connected to on Google Plus.)

I thought I would do my own small examination of the engagement enjoyed by the top ten brands on Interbrand's list. Here is what I found comparing the Facebook and Google Plus presence and engagement of the ten most valuable brands in the world:

BrandFacebook FansGoogle+ Circlers# of FB Posts
(4/24 - 30)
# of G+ Posts (4/24 - 30)Avg # of FB Likes/Post
(4/24 - 30)
Avg # of G+ +1s/Post
(4/24 - 30)
FB, G+
41,943,732 523,783 2* 3 5,637 44
FB, G+
1,779,336 202 10 0 522 NA
FB, G+
9,586,681 594,677 6 17 1890 323
FB, G+
313,473 2,004 7 5 148 7
FB, G+
19,680,889 10,198 7 0 4,388 NA
FB, G+
10,165,230 374,339 6 4 7,295 68
FB, G+
119,648 5,745 5 0 138 NA
FB, G+
6,240,280 NA NA NA NA NA
FB, G+
35,650,607 NA 5 NA 32,404 NA
FB, G+
1,804,691 190,109 6 5 238 11
* Coke's Facebook page didn't seem to be working like other Facebook pages when I tested it. I had great difficulties getting older posts to load, so I'm not certain this is an accurate number.

In order to compare the number of fans/circlers and likes/+1s on an apples-to-apples basis, I computed averages based only on the brands that are actively maintaining a presence in both social networks. I have noted the current averages in the chart below.

BrandFacebook FansGoogle+ Circlers# of FB Posts
(4/24 - 30)
# of G+ Posts (4/24 - 30)Avg # of FB Likes/Post
(4/24 - 30)
Avg # of G+ +1s/Post
(4/24 - 30)
Coca-Cola 41,943,732 523,783 2* 3 5,637 44
Google 9,586,681 594,677 6 17 1890 323
GE 313,473 2,004 7 5 148 7
Intel 10,165,230 374,339 6 4 7,295 68
HP 1,804,691 190,109 6 5 238 11
Average 12,762,761 336,982 3,042 91
+3,687% +3,257%

Of note is that:
  • Fifty percent of the world's top ten brands are absent from Google+, while nine are present on Facebook. Apple is the lone holdout on both platforms.
  • The activity on G+ brand pages is much less than would be expected, based on Google+'s and Facebook's Monthly Active Users. With Facebook at 901 million MAUs and Google at 100 million MAUs, one would expect brand pages on Facebook to have 800% more activity than on G+; instead, the brands present in both social networks have almost 3700% more fans/circlers and over 3200% more likes/+1s on Facebook than Google Plus. What would cause a brand's social graph and engagement to be much less than expected on Google+ compared to Facebook? The discrepancy is not due to a lack of activity on the part of brands--the number of posts made by brands to both platforms is quite similar. There are three possible explanations, and I suspect all three may be correct to one extent or another: G+ users are significantly less interested in engaging with brands on the social network; those who use G+ are far less active than the folks who use Facebook; and the number of G+ MAUs has been exaggerated. (Much has been written about how Google counts as an active user any Google+ registrant who uses Google services such as YouTube or Search when they're logged in, which would seem to exaggerate the number of active and actual users of Google+.)
  • Perhaps most telling is this: Google gets substantially greater engagement with its brand page on Facebook than its brand page on its own social network. Despite posting significantly more content to G+, Google's Facebook presence has 1500% more connections to consumers and its posts receive almost 500% more engagement on Facebook than G+.

My own small evaluation of the top ten brands is not the only sign that Google+ is failing to get wind under its wings. In recent weeks:

I am not trying to pile on Google Plus, but I would like more transparency from Google and others when it comes to data about G+ usage, engagement and growth. As a social media leader at a Fortune 500 firm, I must evaluate the benefits of dedicating resources to maintain a presence on Google Plus, and I would like to be armed with real data to make the right decision. For now, our choice about Google+ is informed by the fact that our brand has a mere 230 +1s on G+ , 0.1% of our total fan count on Facebook.

Perhaps Google+ will someday succeed at becoming a major social network, social layer, or whatever other social strategy Google chooses to pursue. For now, it seems to remain a niche social network with little engagement and stagnating growth. I am happy to proven wrong, but it is going to take thorough, accurate and transparent G+ data to do so--something in short supply at the current time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Social Media Questions I'm Asking These Days

I'm puzzled, and perhaps you can help answer some of the questions that are bedeviling me lately:

  • Why are there so many blog posts about how Facebook Timeline changes brand interactions when so few people actually visit brands' walls? (One recent study found that 75 percent of Millennials “liked” a brand but 69 percent rarely or never return to fan page.) Shouldn't we be more focused on how we break through to fans' newsfeeds and encourage interaction there?
  • Who the heck cares what Mark Zuckerberg wore when he visited Wall Street? Why are we surprised that a young man whose empire is built on the ways power is shifting away from institutions and toward people demonstrated his indifference (or lack of recognition) to the old conventions of power? More importantly, why does it matter? Would a tie on Zuckerberg increase Facebook's number of users? Would a suit coat have added to the engagement on the Facebook platform?  Perhaps wingtips would have increased the number of sites that integrate Facebook plugins? The future of Facebook and Zuckerberg's wealth doesn't depend on his attire but on the way Facebook continues to bring value to users, advertisers and partners. (And, BTW, didn't we recently decry the way stereotypes about hoodies brought violence to one young man? Perhaps Zuck is to be applauded for demonstrating that the hoodie doesn't make the man.)
  • If Klout is supposed to be about connecting brands with influencers, why are so many Klout perks made available to those with scores as low as the 30s? People with scores in that range have a social media profile and a pulse, not influence of any particular scale. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that most folks interact in social media without regard for the influence they create and perks they can receive--that makes them authentic--but what is the point of using Klout to distribute swag to just anyone? A form on a web site could accomplish the same thing in much cheaper fashion.
  • Why is there such obsession with the price and timing of Facebook's IPO on social media blogs and news sites? Few, if any, of us will be able to participate in it, and whether Facebook's market cap is $75 billion or $125 billion won't affect our social media strategies one iota. The number of likes on our brand pages is a far, far more important data point than the price of a share of Facebook stock.
  • Why does it continue to amaze people that an individual's social media posts, broadcast freely to the world, may be used for unintended reasons? Some folks manage their social media profile to create the biggest footprint possible, yet gripe when influence-measurement services assign them a score. Others recognize their social media posts may help them land a job, yet complain when their employers listen to what they share. And others whine when law enforcement use their photos of violent events to do what we pay police to do--solve crimes and arrest perpetrators. How long until we recognize that a more open society means a more open society?
  • Isn't it time for the Google+ hyper-fanboys to admit they were wrong (or, at the very least, wildly overoptimistic)?  You know who I'm talking about: The people who, just days after G+ launched into its private beta, predicted the death of Facebook, published blog posts with near-vertical lines of growth for G+ and insisted businesses needed a Google+ strategy, even though Google had yet to release a business offering for G+. I'm all for ballsy predictions that are occasionally incorrect, but I also think the folks who were so wrong owe an authentic accounting of what caused their predictions to be so wildly inaccurate. Are they hungrier than the average consumer for something new? Do they have biases that prevent an honest evaluation of Facebook? When they wrote their G+ raves, were they perhaps more interested in creating traffic-generating content than accurate insight?
  • Closely related to the prior item, shouldn't we expect Google to play a little straighter with their Google+ facts and data? Perhaps the issue is one of semantics--as a social network, it is clear G+ is not setting the world on fire, but as a "social layer," well, the jury is out. What's the difference? A successful social network requires people to actively use it as a sharing and interaction network, while a "social layer" may passively collect (and make available to others) information about peoples' surfing or digital habits. As Google has announced ever more impressive numbers, those actually monitoring Google Plus accounts are left scratching their heads. Where is all this activity when so little seems to be happening on G+? (Example: On Facebook, Starbucks has 30 million fans and routinely gets 15,000 or more people interacting with posts, while on Google+, Starbucks has half a million fans and rarely exceeds 200 people interacting with its posts.) The answer is that Google has an awfully wide (some might say misleading) definition of an active user--it seems Google is counting every time a person logs into Gmail, YouTube, or Picasa as an active user of G+. Couldn't social media professionals make better decisions about social strategies if they knew how often people used, visited and shared on G+ versus merely interacted with a Google product? I cannot shake the feeling the way Google is reporting G+ usage is misleading and un-Google-like.
  • Where are the business results delivered by social media? There is no doubt that smart social strategies carefully measured deliver real business value, but you'd have a hard time telling from the endless parade of blog posts and conference presentations in which social media pros crow about the number of new likes, retweets or pins. There is a huge difference between getting people talking and getting them engaged with your brand. (Case in point: The Simpsons is the most "liked" TV show on Facebook yet isn't even the most watched show in its time slot--the number of "live plus same day" viewers of the show is less than 10% of its Facebook fan count.) Every brand interaction is not created equal--a person who likes your brand because you gave them a free widget in a social game is not the same as the person who likes your brand because, you know, they like your brand. In the two years since I shared Forrester's balanced scorecard approach in the report, The ROI of Social Media Marketing, I've been disappointed with how little the conversation around measuring success has advanced. Where are the financial outcomes? The brand lift? The risks mitigated?  Who cares that your latest TV ad campaign garnered a half million views on YouTube if your brand hasn't gained new customers and you haven't shifted market share?  Is anyone else tired of engagement for engagement's sake?

These are just a few of the thoughts banging around my brain these days. Feel free to help me gain insight and understanding with some responses in the comments below. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Matching Name to Purpose: IMC2 Becomes MEplusYOU

As a former agency leader, I find it fascinating to observe and learn from the ways agencies foster their own brands. After all, agencies exist to manage clients' brands, so they ought to bring the full force of their knowledge and experience to maximizing their own brands. Alas, like the fabled cobbler's children, agencies often don't do a very good job of dedicating resources to managing their own brands. This is why I took notice when IMC2 announced a name change to MEplusYOU.

I had the opportunity to speak with agency leaders about the reasons for the change. The journey IMC2 took to become MEplusYOU speaks not only of the passion and vision of the agency leaders, but also of the changes occurring to marketing in the age of the digital, mobile and social consumer.

I have had the good fortune to know Ian Wolfman, CMO, and Doug Levy, CEO, of IMC2 for some time. I first became acquainted with the agency's work while I was at Forrester covering interactive marketing, and several of its programs made their way as case studies into my reports. IMC2 impressed me with the way its work engaged emotions and delivered results.

A favorite IMC2 example that I've often shared (and was included in my report, The ROI of Social Media Marketing) is the program for P&G's Secret deodorant. You can imagine the challenge encouraging consumers to "friend" their underarm deodorant, but IMC2 brought a sense of meaning to the brand with “Let Her Jump,” a petition to let Lindsey Van and other female ski jumpers compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics. I dare you to watch the evocative video and not get choked up. The program engaged emotions, drew consumers to friend the Secret brand on Facebook and delivered a significant and measurable increase in purchase intent.

IMC2 has a solid reputation built from years of successful client work. So, why change the name of the agency and risk confusion in the marketplace? I had a conversation with Levy about the reasons behind the rebranding to MEplusYOU.

Levy insists the name change merely reflects the work the agency is already doing, and he points to the ebook, Winning in the Relationship Era: a New Model for Marketing Success that the agency first published two years ago. The free book (which is a very brief and worthwhile read) conveys IMC2's view that the product and consumer eras have given way to a new Relationship Era. Levy wrote in Winning in the Relationship Era that "The brand must know its authentic self before it can engage in sustainable relationships with people" and the starting point for brands was to be "clear on their purpose, the reason for the brand’s existence."

According to Levy, one of the factors in the transition from the consumer era to the Relationship Era is the disintegration of mass media. I probed if Levy really believe mass marketing was dying, and his answer was interesting and paradoxical. "Mass marketing is definitely dying, and at the same time traditional paid media can be very effective for marketers."

Levy explains: "First, there is no doubt that mass is dying.  Forty years ago, marketers were able to reach a sizable portion of the population with a single TV spot on a major network. Now, blanketing all of the major networks reaches a fraction of those eyeballs, and 40% of the people on the receiving end of TV ads have DVRs that they can use to speed through the commercials.  Attention is split among thousands of cable channels, Hulu, Netflix, X-Box, YouTube.  Magazine ad revenue has dropped $5 billion since 2007.  Young people are choosing digital music over radio.  And, only a tiny fraction of Web sites are able to charge for ad space.  In every mass channel, mass is giving way to fragmentation.

"Yet, marketers can and do benefit from paid media. It can complement other aspects of marketing and  help brands reach people where they hang out. We recommend an approach to marketing that is built on a combination of paid, owned, shared, and hopefully earned media. Paid plays a role. In today’s increasingly complex marketing landscape, it’s just not the whole shebang."

Levy foresees that successful marketing will look and feel different than what consumers, brands and agencies have experienced over the last several decades. "The shift to a Relationship Era approach suggests a decreasing reliance on the traditional use of mass media to influence and persuade a passive audience to buy more of whatever the marketer is trying to sell. Relationship Era marketers embrace approaches that build stronger relationships between their brands and people."

Campaigns have been the building block of marketing for decades, and I was curious how MEplusYOU believed episodic marketing might change in the Relationship Era. "We tend to think less about campaigns that end and more about cultivating never-ending communities of like-minded people. When communities are in place, we plan ‘ignitions’ to activate the community in areas of shared interest."

What's an "ignition?" Levy pointed to the work that MEplusYOU has done for Secret. The "Let Her Jump" program was one such ignition; others included an effort to back 60-year old distance swimmer Diana Nyad and an initiative focused on replacing bullying in schools with niceness. These ignitions engaged the Secret community around their shared interest in helping women be fearless. As a result of these ongoing programs of engagement and community building, nearly 1.5 million fans have chosen to connect with Secret. (If an antiperspirant can engage that many people, what's your brand's excuse?)

I asked Levy if he thought every brand would need to embrace the Relationship Era or if some brands might differentiate on other attributes, such as price or convenience. "Differentiation has more to do with how a brand acts and what it does," notes Levy, but he contends the Relationship Era is about purpose. "Purpose has to do with why a brand exists. Brands that are clear on their purpose and act upon that purpose have more engaged employees, more loyal customers, and healthier financial results than others, according to a variety of data sources. The most successful brands deliver exceptional products and services that are proof of their why."

Says Levy, differentiation without purpose creates unsustainable brands. "A brand could certainly differentiate in a purposeful way based on being cheaper or faster than their competition. When competitive advantages such as those are born out of a heartfelt understanding of why the brand exists, the competitive advantages are much more sustainable than the one-upsmanship of more typical marketing."

IMC2 has been delivering programs that "foster deeper and more purposeful interaction and build more enduring connections" between clients' brands and their consumers. This is the reason for the change to the new name. Levy wants marketers to recognize that MEplusYOU delivers a different sort of marketing for a different era--"something that is ultimately as meaningful as it is effective, building both trust and transactions that help brands endure and thrive. In many ways, the re-launch of the agency allows our name and public persona to catch up with where we are."

Taking a page out of his own book (literally), Levy felt his agency needed a name that reflected its purpose. "As we have evolved, we thought it was important to have a name that best represents the agency we are today and one that encompasses our purpose—to advance relationships.  We have taken a firm stand for our purpose and our work in advancing relationships between brands and people, and we wanted a name that reflects it."

I asked for an example of the sort of work MEplusYOU is doing that demonstrates how marketing is done in the Relationship Era. Levy pointed to the World Series Bat Drop, a program for Louisville Slugger, whose purpose is to "make players great." The agency used digital and experiential approaches to deepen the connection between the brand and its fans.

The Louisville Slugger World Series Bat Drop took place on the Saturday immediately following the 2011 World Series victory by the St. Louis Cardinals. Armed with an SUV, a few iPhones and 45 commemorative Louisville Slugger World Series bats, a team of MEplusYOU staffers took to the streets and dropped each of the bats in secret locations across the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. As each bat was “dropped,” the crew posted clues (including riddles, trivia and pictures from the bat’s perspective) to the Louisville Slugger Facebook and Twitter pages.

St. Louis residents spent hours in their cars, crisscrossing the city, camping out at popular tourist destinations and following the “bat drop” SUV. Facebook fans not able to physically “hunt” offered virtual support by helping to solve riddles and identify locations for hunters. Fans posted pictures with their commemorative bats, messages to one another about the brand and answers to clues to Louisville Slugger’s social media channels.

The results: Over the course of eight hours, the Louisville Slugger fan base increased by 143%; the Twitter fan base increased by 163%; and the new Facebook metric, “talking about this,” increased by 834%.

Asked to sum up the agency's rebranding, Levy noted, "We exist to advance relationships. We have discovered that effective marketing starts with introspection and clarity of beliefs and purpose--the ME part. From that place of clarity, brands are ready to build authentic relationships with people--the plusYOU part."

Hard to argue with the logic of focusing on building relationships and not just messages in today's world. I wish MEplusYOU luck with their new name and old focus on helping their clients succeed in the Relationship Era.

Winning in the Relationship Era - A New Model for Marketing Success