Friday, July 26, 2013

How Many Prospects Do You Lose Locking Your Content Behind a Form?

Earlier this week, I created a simple poll asking people how they respond when they are required to furnish contact information to access a white paper, report or other desired content. It was an unscientific poll, but with 90 responses, it was large enough to give marketers something to consider. Is it more important to add another record to the prospect database or to educate, engage, increase awareness and enhance reputation by furnishing valuable content?

I launched this poll because of my own reaction to the growing tidal wave of marketing emails and phone calls I receive. On any given day, I delete as many as two dozen unsolicited messages without even a glance and am forced to turn away another three or four phone calls. I have neither the time nor mental energy to parse the flood of offers and sales pitches.

I am swimming in a sea of unwanted spam at work, and that is changing my online behaviors: I have stopped filling in contact forms. Several times a day I see something of interest in my social streams and will click to access the promised content, but if it means adding to my flow of annoying and distracting email and telephone spam, I pass.

I wondered if many others were like me, and if so, are marketer losing more than they are gaining by locking expensive, valuable, persuasive content behind a contact form. I can't answer that question, but the results presented below should give some marketers pause. Simply put, most people will not complete the form and thus will not see your content. That seems a shame--having succeeded in collecting interested prospects via inbound marketing, would you rather have 10,000 decision makers download and consider your content or 1,200 new names for your database (half of whom may unsubscribe after getting your first unsolicited message)?

Here is a brief analysis of the data:
  • Only one in eight people will automatically furnish their contact information to access desired content.
  • Almost twice as many people will automatically leave a site as will furnish their contact information.
  • The largest share of people (one in four) may share their contact information, provided they trust the firm. If your brand and reputation are well established, your form may not be as great an impediment, but if your company is a small, newer, less established player, you might consider the tradeoff you are accepting by requiring users' contact information.
  • One in five will leave the site and seek the information elsewhere. I will typically do this myself, and most of the time I am successful in finding the content without navigating through the contact form.
  • While I didn't ask it explicitly in the poll, a significant number of people will simply lie, completing the form with false information. (How much value are marketers really getting from their forms if bad records are added to the database?) 

As a social marketer, I lean toward giving people access without requiring information. My employer routinely offers original, primary research with no limits for free download--for us, the value we gain in reputation and attention is more important than the contact data.

As I always say, it is vital that marketers measure the behaviors and attitudes of their own audience when reaching strategic decisions. It is easy enough to measure the amount of inbound traffic to a landing page containing a form and compare that to the number of downloads or completion rate of the form. The wider the gap, the more the brand should consider the disadvantages versus the benefits. 

It is also important to remember that in the social age there are other ways to identify and build relationships with people who download your firm's content. Many folks who find your information interesting will share it. If you are listening on Twitter and to the larger social web, it is possible to engage and know the people who not only accessed your content but found it valuable enough to share. (Ka-ching--that person is so much more valuable to your brand than is someone who just completed a form!)

I hope you find the results of the poll interesting. And if you have some experience or a point of view to share, I'd appreciate your insights in the comments to this blog post. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Please Take this One-Question Poll: What Do You Do When Asked for Contact Info in Order to Access Content?

I am curious how you react when you are required to furnish contact information before accessing a white paper, report or other desired content.  Do you provide the information? Leave the site? Lie?

Please take a few seconds to respond to this question, and I will reveal the results later this week. And if you would be so kind, please share this with others--the more answers, the better the data!


Monday, July 22, 2013

The REAL Data on Facebook vs. Google+ (and Other Social Networks)—an Interactive Infographic

Perhaps no question is more debated in social media circles (pun intended) than Google+'s success or lack thereof. Some say G+ is growing and thriving, while others describe it as a "ghost town." I went digging for recent, objective, third-party information and found data from Pew Research, Gigya, ComScore, Nielsen and others. The story this data tells is that Google+ may not have tumbleweeds rolling through it, but the social network is a long, long way from competing with Twitter and Facebook (or even Pinterest and Tumblr) for time, attention and engagement. What follows is a summary and analysis of the data along with an interactive infographic.

From the moment G+ launched, some social media "experts" immediately began to push Google's social network as a "Facebook killer." Early blog posts included charts comparing Google+'s near-vertical growth to that of other social networks, but these aggrandizing posts and diagrams ignored that Google was merely adding G+ into its huge existing user base while Facebook and Twitter had to fight for each new user one at a time.

Since that time, the hype has continued. In some cases, the headlines were caused by the fact Google has played fast and loose with its own figures. Because Google has merged Gmail, search and other parts of its platform, it has been difficult to compare Google's announced data to the information shared by other social networks.

At other times, the people writing articles simply do not understand the figures they are reporting. In the past two months, there have been a raft of stories about how Google+ is now bigger than Twitter, but this is based on the number of account holders and not on activity or usage. If number of account holders were what mattered, then MySpace would still trump Google+.

But I think there is something more at work here than simply inflated and misunderstood data--I believe there is a reason why so many folks are quick to jump on any news story that suggests Google+ (or any other social network other than Facebook) is succeeding. The fact is that many marketers and social media professionals are tired of Facebook. Low brand engagement, the uselessness of large fan bases and the gaming of Facebook EdgeRank have left many marketing and communication pros weary of Facebook. (Of course, customer care professionals feel differently, but that is a topic for a different blog post.)

Moreover, consultants and agencies are finding it is more difficult to sell clients on services for Facebook, which is relatively mature at this point. This is why so many social media professionals are today promoting Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and Pinterest (regardless of whether these platforms are proving appropriate or successful for their clients' particular verticals).

People employed in social media seem desperate for something else to come along and shake up the industry, but look at the data--the real, objective data--and it is hard to escape Facebook's continued domination of the social networking space. Take, for example, the oft reported claim that teens are dumping Facebook. Everyone seems to have an anecdote about their own child or some qualitative data about teen attitudes, but look at Pew's data and it tells a different story. From 2011 to 2012, the percentage of teens using Facebook grew. Sure, it increased by just one percentage point, but it is hard to earn increases for services and tools that are approaching complete saturation--94% of teens said they used Facebook at the end of 2012.

As for G+, there have recently been some contradictory figures on the adoption of the social network. GlobalWebIndex claimed more than a quarter of consumers use G+ while Pew Research Center did not even include G+ in its report of US social media usage. The reason Pew omitted Google's social network is that they found consumers were unable to distinguish G+ from other Google services. Consumers are so confused as to what constitutes usage of G+, Pew decided to completely omit it from their report (which has to call into question every other study on self-reported Google+ usage, don't you think?)

You could overlook Pew's decision to bypass measuring Google+ usage if, in fact, there was strong evidence that G+ was actually seeing substantial adoption; however, the third-party data tells a pretty consistent and convincing story about consumer use of G+:
My goal is not to convince companies or people they should ignore Google+. As always, firms should evaluate their audiences and make smart decisions about where to engage; in addition, we all recognize G+ can be an important tool in enhancing a company's search engine relevance. That said, I strongly believe we should evaluate the social networking space based on actual, objective and accurate data, not hype and misanalysis. By all means, go ahead and embrace Google+ for your firm's (or personal) social networking; just do it with your eyes open and your expectations set appropriately. 

Below is an infographic with all of the pertinent and objective data I could find from late 2012 to the present. I created it using a new tool, This free tool is in beta, and as you can tell, it does a nice job of creating interactive infographics.  It is somewhat kludgy to use and is missing some important features (such as the ability to copy charts or retain color choices when changes are made), but it is in beta and shows a lot of promise. You can check out the interactive version of this infographic or create your own infographic  at

Friday, July 19, 2013

Trends and Drivers of the Sharing Economy

I recently gave a keynote address at the Responsys Interact 2013 conference.  My topic was social business and how social technologies and behaviors are influencing the growth of a new sharing economy. This new form of business is altering how people consume products and the way businesses must bring products and services to market.

Today, "social" generally refers to social communications, but increasingly social will influence not simply what we say and how we say it but how we think and what we want (or, at least, the way in which we want it). The growing sharing economy is already changing consumer behaviors and attitudes, and that means business models must change as well.

Below is a video of my presentation in which I address three social media and sharing economy trends:
  • The future of social media is not media, it's business,
  • The future is radically transparent, and 
  • The future is serendipitous
What do these trends mean to business and how can we prepare today? I plan to publish a book this fall on these topics, but until then, please enjoy my 25-minute presentation on the future of social business and the sharing economy...


A big thank you to Responsys for inviting me to present at its terrific event.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Two Brands That Turned Social Media Lemons Into Lemonade (and You Can, Too)

When brands try to control social media through heavy-handed legal or PR means, the outcomes are rarely positive. Clumsy brand actions that evoke social media backlash occur with such regularity, there is even a term for it: The Streisand Effect. 

In the past, we have explored the negative impact on brands caused by the Streisand Effect, but not all brands stumble into this trap. Some brands, when faced with similar tricky situations, take smart actions that not only avoid the negative PR and social backlash but strengthen the brand's reputation and relationships. What do these brands do right where so many others err? Here are two great examples of brands that got lemons and made lemonade:

Pitbull and Walmart Make the Most Out of Exile

A year ago, Walmart and Sheets Brand, the folks who make those dissolvable energy strips, launched a contest with rap star, Pitbull. The contest was simple: The Walmart store with the most new "likes" would win a Pitbull appearance in its hometown.

As so often happens in social media and on the Web, nothing is ever simple once the crowd gets involved. David Thorpe, a writer with the Boston Phoenix, started a viral meme when he suggested that people send Pitbull to the most remote Walmart, in Kodiak, Alaska. Thorpe's idea became a hashtag, #ExilePitbull, and sure enough, Kodiak was the easy winner of the brand's contest.

At this point, many brands might have freaked out or the "star" might have revolted, but Pitbull proved to be a great sport and made the most out of his trip to Sarah Palin's neighborhood. The rapper posted a video addressing the prank and committing, "You have to understand I will go anywhere in the world for my fans.” He got the key to the city, visited the US Coast Guard base and, of course, stopped at the local Walmart where he received a care package that included bear repellent.

Pitbull not only saw Thorpe's prank, he raised it. The recording artists invited Thorpe to join him on the trip, turning Thorpe into the biggest influencer of the campaign. Thorpe's tweets and pictures helped send word of Pitbull's trip to the Kodiak Walmart bouncing around the Internet.

Walmart and Pitbull came out of this potential PR disaster with a slew of new fans--both of the Facebook and real-world variety. Comments posted to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were overwhelmingly positive, and both Walmart and Pitbull earned a lot of good press. Lost in the shuffle, however, was the brand this promotion was designed to boost, Sheets. It is easy to find dozens of blog posts and articles that praise the rapper and the discount chain, but I can find no evidence Sheets itself got a boost from the promotion. Still, faced with an unexpected and potentially unpleasant outcome, Walmart and Pitbull built credibility and gained authentic social media attention with smart moves and follow through.

Jack Daniel's Turns a Cease-and-Desist Letter Into Positive PR

The term "Cease and desist letter" should cause instant anxiety for anyone responsible for reputation management or social media. Sometimes these letters work as intended, but often they become fodder that turns a small, ignored issue into a giant, publicized problem. (In fact, the original 2003 incident that resulted in the creation of the term "Streisand Effect" was initiated with a cease-and-desist letter.)

It does not have to be this way if the brand uses some common sense before firing off legal threats. This tactic might may had few risks in the days before social media, but in the social era consumers are no longer powerless nor are brands protected by a mass media firewall. Brands must first determine if siccing the Law Department on someone is really the right step to take, but assuming it is, then the lawyers have to be reasonable. I know, I know, that's asking a lot, but Jack Daniel's has given us a blueprint for how to do it right.

In 2012, novelist Patrick Wensink published a book, "Broken Piano For President," with a cover suspiciously similar to Jack Daniel's famous label. The brand needed to protect its IP, so Wensink quickly heard from Jack Daniel's Properties. The brand's cease-and-desist letter went viral in social media, but in this case the word of mouth was positive.

Jack Daniel's achieved this by sending, in the words of Wensink, "the most polite cease and desist ever written." The letter says, "Because you are both a Louisville 'neighbor' and a fan of the brand we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is reprinted." Then Jack Daniel's goes on to--get this!--offer to pay for the book cover to be changed.

The book author noted, "If it wasn’t signed by some lawyer, I’d imagine ol’ Gentleman Jack penning it himself, twirling his bushy mustache." How's that for on-brand messaging? Thanks to a considerate cease-and-desist letter, Jack Daniel's turned a dangerous situation into something positive--hundreds of complimentary blog posts, articles and social media posts ensued.

Now, really, how hard was it for Jack Daniel's to achieve its goals and garner positive PR?  Not every negative situation may furnish the opportunity for your brand to create what Jack Daniel's achieved, but too many brands unleash the lawyers without giving consideration to alternate approaches and outcomes.

Jack Daniel's, Walmart and Pitbull demonstrate how brands can react when something unexpected occurs. Rather than push the panic button and create an even worse problem, these brands kept their word, lived up to the brand promise, stayed on message and let their actions speak louder than their words.

That is how you avoid the Streisand Effect and turn social media lemons into lemonade!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Smart and Dumb Uses of Social Media by the US Government (and What Brands Can Learn)

It may seem the topic for this blog post was informed by the Independence Day holiday, but it just happens this week brought news of two social media programs by the US government--one dubious and the other smart. It is worthwhile to consider the two programs, why they hit or miss the mark and what it means to social media marketing for brands.

Doing it Wrong: State Department Buys Facebook Fans

An Inspector General’s (IG's) report was published criticizing the State Department for spending over $630,000 to increase Facebook “likes” for four of its pages. The assessment of the department's use of social media is buried deep in the report, "Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs" (embedded below). For a  document that only touches on social media for a handful of its 57 pages, the social media assessment is surprisingly sharp and well informed, and it contains some recommendations as appropriate for brands as for government agencies.

The IG notes that the department "spent about $630,000 on the two campaigns and succeeded in increasing the fans of the English Facebook pages from about 100,000 to more than 2 million for each page." An increase in fans of 2000% may sound impressive, but the report notes, "A consensus is emerging that developing numbers of Facebook followers and Twitter fans may not lead automatically to target audience engagement." While I'm tempted to criticize the idea that this is just an "emerging" consensus, there are too many brand marketers and social media dashboards that count fan growth as a primary objective.

The real rebuff--and the message that many marketers need to hear--is this: "Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as 'buying fans' who may have once clicked on an ad or 'liked' a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further." We've explored on this blog the mistake of spending marketing dollars to attract disinterested fans, but the lure of big fan counts seems irresistible to many. Many marketers fail to recognize their goals are not achieved by being visible to everyone but by engaging the right people in the right manner.

The report notes something every marketer using Facebook should, by now, understand, "If a user does not interact with a site’s postings, after a time these postings will no longer appear in the user’s news feed unless the site buys sponsored story ads to ensure their appearance." So, paying money to buy disinterested fans only leads to spending more money to reach those fans--the report cites an example where "a posting on cyber censorship in March 2013 reached 234,000 Facebook users on its first day; only about 20,000 would have received the item on their news feed without advertising."

That may sound good on the surface, but "engagement is a means, not an end," as noted by the IG's report. "The bureau could reduce spending and increase strategic impact by focusing its advertising not on raising overall fan numbers or general engagement statistics but on accomplishing specific goals." The Inspector General of the United States government recognizes something that some marketers do not--that larger fan counts and higher engagement statistics are not primary objectives.

The danger of bad metrics and poor priorities is reinforced in the IG's report. "Facebook analytic tools can measure engagement by counting the number of people who click on a link, 'like' a posting, comment on it, or share it with their friends. However, these measures do not evaluate the usefulness of the engagement because many people post simple remarks, like 'so nice pic,' or comments on unrelated topics."

As it is in too many organizations, so too is it with the US Government--organizational silos and poor coordination cause diminished social media results. For example, the IG's report criticizes "overlapping social media efforts" to reach those in Iran. The Bureau of International Information Program's Vision of America Facebook page and Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs page, USAdarFarsi, both target people living in Iran. The report notes, "It is not efficient for the Department to have competing Persian-language Facebook and Twitter sites." That may seem obvious, but look at the Facebook presence of most larger organizations, and you are likely to see the same mistake of overlapping pages aimed at identical audiences.

The report is an interesting and insightful read. With so much focus on Federal budgets and deficits, perhaps the US Office of the Inspector General should hire itself out to complete social media audits for brands. The IG office may be more informed than some marketers and marketing agencies nowadays.

Doing it Right: Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Instagram

There are few government agencies as loathed as the TSA. Everyone has their own tale of woe about passing through a security checkpoint at an airport--long lines, missed flights, rude employees and slow equipment. The TSA has been the focus of a great deal of negative media attention, such as a woman claiming she was detained because a TSA agent did not like her attitude or a video capturing a woman being "groped" by a TSA agent.

A recent study found that 43 percent of Americans have negative views of the TSA, and that may not even be the worse part--many people do not trust all this hassle adds to flying safety. A 2010 study by the Consensus Research Group found that barely half gave positive ratings for their feelings of safety and security on flights, and this was largely due to their perceptions of air travel security screening procedures. Among the most negative ratings assigned by recent flyers was "their perceptions of the overall effectiveness of security screening procedures in general." Two-thirds of air travelers would travel more by plane if "security screening procedures were improved so that they were sufficiently effective but more passenger-friendly."

The perception that TSA engages in "Security Theater," a term coined by security specialist Bruce Schneier in 2003, is widespread. It harms the TSA's reputation and diminishes the cooperation from flyers and elected officials. To solve the problem the TSA has turned to Instagram.

The TSABlogTeam feed on Instagram is simple, conveying only the items confiscated at security checkpoints. One glance, and you are likely to have an "Oh my God" reaction.

With a few simple and crude pictures, TSA can achieve what a thousand press releases cannot--a visceral reaction from anyone who flies about the value of airport security. One glance at the gun "discovered in a carry-on bag in Albuquerque last week," the "Bayonet... discovered at #LongBeach" or the "#StunGun #disguised as a pack of #cigarettes discovered at #Cleveland," and the reaction of most reasonable flyers will be appreciation these items were found and confiscated.

The Instagram feed launched a week ago and has already amassed 28,348 followers with just eleven shares. It has also garnered attention on Condé Nast Traveler, Yahoo! News, ABC News and other mainstream media outlets.

While the State Department acts as if visibility and reach is its problem, TSA's strategy reflects its awareness that perception is the issue. While State turns to advertising to garner disinterested fans, TSA is earning engaged fans with interesting, relevant content. The strategies and their outcomes could not be more different. Your brand probably does not have shocking pictures of weapons to post to its social media feeds, but the TSA's strategy of utilizing content to change minds and garner authentic engagement is a strategy worth duplicating.