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. 


Anonymous said...

Great questions and great post as usual Augie!

Augie Ray said...

Thanks, Jeffrey. I was worried this might be considered "a rant," which is not my style. But, I've been busy trying to land a new job while still maximizing opportunities at my current job, so time's been a little tough to find. I just had to voice a few of the questions bouncing around my head as I keep in touch with the latest social media news and bloggers.

I appreciate the comment. Thanks!

Dennis jenders said...

All great questions. As for your first point on Timeline I have focused on it for one reason - with many of our clients here at Laughlin Constable we were extremely focused on creating communities as well as engagement.

So while we definitely worked hard to create engagement and action on a per-post basis, we had a sizeable percentage of our communities coming to the wall seeking answers.

Specifically, with a tourism related client and a mommy related products, we had a sense of discovery that was happening when consumers would comment on other posts and discover others with similar questions or interests. That has nearly died with the change to Timeline.

So for us, the decision is starting to become how do we retell a story in the Timeline framework and presentation, or how do we create and own these communities on our Websites.

Augie Ray said...


Great point about how timeline impacts the "community" nature of a brand's wall. Like your clients, USAA also enjoyed the back-and-forth engagement between people visiting our wall, and like your clients, we have seen a drop in that interaction with timeline. (USAA used to default to the "others only" view of our wall, which was quite unique among larger brands, it seemed, so we really felt the change to timeline.)

Of course, what we all have to remember is that fans on Facebook aren't bought but borrowed, and Facebook will make changes that we brand managers don't get to endorse or reject. I think this all just points to the need for brands to consider where owned communities fit into their strategies rather than focusing just on Facebook.

Okay, so that's one question answered from my post. How about the rest of them? :)

Bryan Person said...

Augie: Totally agree on your first point about all the stories measuring the supposed "impact" of the Facebook Timeline features for brands. I think it boils down to a continued misunderstanding of how most people fundamentally use Facebook.

In general, that still means that fans overwhelmingly interact with brand content in the News Feed rather than by going directly to the Timeline.

To that end, brands should spend more time creating content that will compel people to actually interact with their posts in the first place!

Augie Ray said...

Bryan, I continue to check our brand's Facebook data to compare the visits to our page to the number of interactions we get, and (no surpise) the VAST majority of interactions are off of our wall. I think Timeline is interesting, but despite all the buzz and blog posts and case studies, it still seems far less important than a content strategy that maximizes engagement around things the brand its consumers care about.

Brooks Grigson said...

I didn't see this as a rant. I think it's cathartic to ask some of these questions. If nothing else it helps to let others react to questions you're struggling with.

I've been playing around with Klout a little bit. Just so I can critique it more. I've got a problem with them rewarding behavior that is clearly a benefit to their own brand. I'm not sure I agree with a model that rewards people for gaming the system. Especially in the wake of Jermiah Owyang's post that suggested marketers could use the score to make decisions about how to market/spend on consumers. I have more concerns with Klout, but treating the service as anything other than a "nice to know" seems risky.

I'm not sure I was expecting Google + to be a Facebook killer. Those that did I think were missing the path Google was taking. The direction seems to be more consistent with your second point about the social layer. I tend to think Google is going to use "+" as the glue for their services. It wouldn't surprise me in a year or two that most Google users don't realize what "+" is or does.

I agree with your business results question. Even if the value is something less ROI related like brand awareness what are the standards of measure? The discussion about ROI can't continue to be pushed aside because social is "different" than traditional marketing efforts. In the end the person paying the bill is going to ask what they're getting for their money. I suspect pressure is building to end the experiments and prove investment is providing a return.

Eric Wittlake said...

Augie, here is my take at answering every one of your questions, with one simple word:


Traffic is the social media starting place for many. Particularly people that follow a "hub and spoke" model, with their blog at the hub, without upticks in traffic, they don't have anything to point to as success.

Oh, and I will add another Perks examples:

The Perk is open for anyone with a Klout score above 1, and appears to be branded with the Klout logo! Although its tempted to design one that says "I don't believe in so don't look for me there", it isn't worth it...

Augie Ray said...

Brooks, Amy and Eric,

Thanks for the serious replies. I'm glad my questions sparked some thoughtful replies. Now, if only we could get more people to be so thoughtful!