Monday, December 31, 2012

Where Social Media Will Grow in 2013 (and Where It Won't)

Social Media has had a terrific ride for the past several years, but the days of easy growth are gone. In fact, the days of easy anything in social are behind us. For many brands, 2013 will be a year of social media disappointment.

With so many consumers spending so much time in social media and expecting so much of brands, our investments in social will continue to grow, but that does not mean our results will grow, at least in easily measurable ways. Certainly, all of our brands will earn more fans, see more comments and collect more retweets, but we all know this is no longer enough--our bosses want to know the business results we are delivering, and fans simply are not a business benchmark.

Success in 2013, more than ever, will be measured in difficult metrics and not easy ones, and increasingly, it will come not just from the Marketing department but from every corner of the enterprise. To succeed in 2013 and beyond, organizations must recognize how social media is altering the way we live, work and conduct business and not just the way we kill time on Facebook.

Here is where (I believe) social will grow and where it will stumble and stagnate in 2013:

Do you think my forecasts for 2013 are correct or all washed up? I would welcome your dialog--both criticism and agreement--in the comments below or on Twitter (where my handle is @augieray.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Miracle on Social Media Street

It may be the week after Christmas, but it is not too late for social media professionals to prepare themselves for 2013 by watching the old, classic, holiday film, "Miracle on 34th Street" (the 1947 original, not the inferior 1994 version.) Not only is it a terrific and heartwarming movie, but it also contains lessons about what we are doing wrong in social media and how we can enhance our brands in 2013.

Early in the movie, a Macy's executive instructs his department store Santa (who may or may not be the real Santa Claus) to push the toys that Macy's has in stock. However, when a child hops on his lap and asks for a toy Macy's does not carry, the Santa tells the child's mother she can get the item for a good price at a Macy's competitor. She is surprised to hear this at Macy's, to which Santa replies, "The only important thing is to make the children happy." The mother seeks out Santa's manager (who is about to fire his well-intended employee) and says,
"I want to congratulate you and Macy's on this wonderful new stunt you're pulling. Imagine, sending people to other stores... Imagine a big outfit like Macy's putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial. It's wonderful. I never done much shopping here before but from now on, I'm going to be a regular Macy customer."

And there is your social media lesson from the 65-year-old movie: Dedicate your brand to doing what is right for the world and your customers notice, trust more and become loyal.

"From now on, I'm going to be regular Macy customer,"
the astonished mom tells the equally astonished Macy's exec.
What is vital in this example is not that the department story Santa conveyed content but that he conveyed an honest intent to help the customer. We put too much stock in content nowadays; content strategy is vital in 2013, but too often, our brand content conveys our real selfish intent instead of authentically benefiting others. Consumers are beginning to notice the selfishness of our content, and they are not rewarding it: A recent study by MediaBrix found that 86% of consumers find sponsored video ads that appear as content to be misleading; moreover, 85% indicate that when they come across sponsored video ads that appear to be content, it negatively impacts or has no impact on their perception of the brand being advertised. Many people say "Content is king," but history is littered with kings who were awful and unsuccessful (just like most of our branded content)!

When the Santa in "Miracle on 34th Street" told a Macy's customer to go elsewhere to find the toy her child wanted, his goal was not to create "engagement" and build his "brand." He just wanted a child to have a Merry Christmas, and the customer noticed. Actually, in the film many customers notice, and soon Mr. Macy's himself is fending off his annoyed Advertising Department (the paid media folks responding angrily to the selfless acts in earned media), saying,
"I admit this plan sounds idiotic and impossible. Imagine Macy's Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels, but gentlemen, you cannot argue with success. Look at this. Telegrams, messages, telephone calls. The governor's wife, the mayor's wife, thankful parents expressing undying gratitude to Macy's. Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy. And I'm positive if we expand our policy we'll expand our results as well.  Therefore, from now on, not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner, but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing. If we haven't got exactly what the customer wants, we'll send him where he can get it. No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn't really want. We'll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits."
And therein lays the business wisdom of "Miracle on 34th Street." Do good, make a difference, give selflessly and people will reward you. In other words, have a positive intent and customers notice. This is not just some silly little contrivance from a fictional, old film; there is science to it, as well:

  • Havas Media Labs Meaningful Brand Survey found that more than half (51%) of consumers want to reward responsible companies by shopping there; 53% would pay a 10% premium for products from a responsible company. And they want companies involved: 85% of consumers want companies to be engaged on global issues, but only 22% think they’re getting enough.
  • The Forbes Top 100 Brand study found that the top corporate brands "are organizations increasingly known for their charitable giving, sustainability efforts, environmental cleanups, transparent business practices, clearly labeled packaging, respected leaders, ground-breaking innovation. These are benefits that go far beyond the crispness of corn flakes or the cleaning power of laundry detergent."
  • Interbrand's 2012 brand study found that "Consumers are expecting to see not just great products and services from the brands they choose; they also want to feel that the brands they love are, in fact, worthy of that love." Interbrand points to the importance of corporate citizenship, but it tells it clients, "It’s about more than the spend. It’s about the credibility of a company’s culture of citizenship."
  • A 2011 Weber Shandwick study found that 70% of consumers avoid buying a product if they don’t like the company behind the product. And 56% say they "try to buy products made by a company that does good things for the environment or community."
  • The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer Study found that the attributes that build future trust are "societally focused," including "listening to customer needs, treating employees well, placing customers ahead of profits and having ethical business practices." The report's first recommendation is that organizations "exercise principles-based leadership instead of rules-based strategy." 
As you plan your social media and content strategies for 2013, think of "Miracle on 34th Street." Are you creating content that truly helps customers and builds trust, or are you creating content to drive traffic but that harms trust? Are you starting your 2013 content calendar by looking at your brand's product release and ad campaign schedule, or are you starting it with an assessment of what will be on customers' minds throughout the year? Are you trying to create relationships and advocates, or are you trying to create sales and customers? In summary, are you being the customer-focused Santa or are you the brand-focused Advertising Department?  

Surely, you don't doubt Santa, do you?


Thursday, December 13, 2012

How Often Should Your Brand Post? Don't Misinterpret the Data

Ask the wrong question and you will get the wrong answer. That is the problem with so many of the studies we see in the digital and social space, particularly those done by vendors with a stake in the outcome.

A classic example of this was the announcement earlier this year that 70% of consumers "said mobile advertising is a welcomed personal invitation from brands, rather than an invasion." Of course, whether people think mobile advertising is a "personal invitation" or a "personal invasion" isn't the pertinent question; the appropriate question is whether people trust mobile ads and whether those ads convert mobile surfers into mobile shoppers and buyers. On those more vital questions, other studies tell a different story--Millward Brown recently found that consumer favorability toward mobile ads was so poor that it ranks with non-opt-in email, and Nielsen found that trust in mobile ads was lower than every other ad medium. Ask the wrong question and you will get the wrong answer.

Source: eMarketer
I had this same reaction today to reading eMarketer's review of SocialVibe's research into brand social media connections. The study found that the number one reason people unfollow a brand is "Too many updates." The second reason is "Brand's values and/or content differed from original perception." 

I would suggest that these two answers are one in the same. If people received what they expected to receive from the brands they follow, it would be difficult for the number of brands' posts to rise to the level of "too much." Follow Mashable on Facebook, for example, and you will get a couple dozen posts a day, but Mashable has a million fans and almost 50,000 people "talking about this," so clearly they are getting something right even though they break every "rule of thumb" for frequency of posts. They offer valuable content people welcome, and so long as they do that, it is hard for Mashable to fall on the wrong side of the "too much" perception barrier. And this isn't just the case for media brands, either--how often could Disney or Harley-Davidson post before people would cry "too much"?

Ask the wrong question and you will get the wrong answer. If you ask people whether they unfollow brands for posting too much, they will answer in the affirmative. But the psychology behind the decision to unfollow is not really about quantity of posts but their value. If consumers saw more value, they would welcome more posts.

This isn't to suggest your brand has carte blanche to post as often as it wishes but to advise you ignore studies that ask the wrong question and instead focus on the needs and expectations of your own audience. If you bring laser focus to how your brand can truly and selflessly serve those needs and expectations, you can pretty much ignore all those studies and "best practices."

No study can tell you how often your audience will accept your brand posting in social media, but your audience can. And that is the right question to ask!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The False Promise of Pinterest for Financial Services

A year or so ago, as Pinterest started to garner media attention and a mass audience, a host of agencies and consultants that focus on the financial services industry launched a wave of blog posts and presentation decks to champion the power of this new image-sharing platform for banks, insurance firms, credit card companies and credit unions. A year or so later, those optimistic predictions have been largely unrealized. While Pinterest is proving successful for retailhome goodsmedia, style and other categories, it is not proving to be the "next big thing" for financial services.

Clearly, Pinterest has had a great 2012--Nielsen tells us that traffic to Pinterest has increased over 1,000% this year--but traffic and demographics alone do not make a social network useful for business. Marketers must consider consumer behaviors and expectations on the platform. The failure to do so undermined many of the concepts bloggers were so eager to promote to financial services brands. For example, many suggested a bank could start a "wish list" board for photos of items people can save for, and another common idea was to start Pinterest boards that match customers' interests, such as golf or travel. The uselessness of these ideas is obvious to anyone who has spent a few minutes on Pinterest--people share photos of the things they cannot afford and the places they want to travel without any assistance from their financial services providers. Consumers simply do not need their bank or insurance company to help them do on Pinterest what Pinterest exists for in the first place!

Financial services firms have done an outstanding effort of testing the new platform but seen very little by way of evident results. This is not a criticism of Pinterest--no single social network or tool needs to (or should) fit every brand and industry--but perhaps this is a criticism of a marketing machine that pushes every new thing, regardless of the sense or strategy. Now that we can look at 2012 in the rear view mirror, it is easy to see there are few, if any, case studies that demonstrate Pinterest is a match for the goals of financial services brands.

If you know of great case studies I have missed, please share, but my recent survey of bank, credit card and insurance brands on Pinterest came up very dry:

Citi Jobs for Recruiting:  Recruiting is considered a potential use case for Pinterest, but it is not evident how photos and videos of people in conference rooms and cubicles really help. Citi had eight boards dedicated to their efforts in the community and careers, but it had only 32 followers and, interestingly, from the time I researched this blog post to the time I published it, the Citi Jobs Pinterest board has disappeared. Did Citi find the board was more costly to maintain and monitor than it was worth for the results?

American on Pinterest
American Express for Brand:  AmEx is a true social media leader in the financial services industry. It has blazed trails on Facebook, where the brand has earned 2.7 million likes and has more than 100,000 monthly active users of its Amex Sync Facebook app. If I had to guess the financial services brand that would make Pinterest work, it would be AmEx, but it has a mere 313 followers and a single like. Even terrific visual content such as this infographic on the importance of small business to our economy has earned just three repins and one like. The same image posted to the American Express OPEN Facebook page garnered 75 likes and 22 shares. In a sign of just how bad Pinterest engagement is for this interesting content, American Express had more success posting the infographic to Google+, where this same image earned one share and eight +1s.

PerkStreet Financial for Driving Traffic:  PerkStreet has been experimenting with various Pinterest strategies and has shared its middling results in an interesting deck posted to SlideShare. The brand attempted contests and found them difficult to run, although they did generate interest on Pinterest. (Whether interest in Pinterest pins equates into business is another question altogether, of course.) The company also attempted collaboration boards--encouraging people to post "stuff I didn't buy"--and found it was difficult to get participation. In the end, it seems the most successful thing PerkStreet did with Pinterest was to post more images to its blog and allow easy pinning to Pinterest boards; Pinterest became the fifth highest driver of traffic to its site. Despite these efforts, their board only has 304 followers.

USAA for BrandAt my former employer, we began experimenting with Pinterest in the past year. Given the community served by the organization, the goal on Pinterest was to share evocative images that conveyed the spirit and commitment of the military. Despite posting excellent shots into boards such as the U.S. Coast Guard Birthday and U.S. Army Birthday, the account only has 407 followers. Few of USAA's 155 pins have been repinned more than a handful of times, and almost none has earned more than a couple of likes. Compare this to one recent photo that USAA posted to its Facebook page of a child greeting his mother returning from deployment --12,702 likes, 2,318 shares and 178 comments. I am pleased to see USAA continue to experiment, but it is evident the association gets far more bang for its buck on Facebook than on Pinterest.

Capital One for Promotion: Cap One offers a Pinterest Board focused on its Venture rewards program. It has almost twice as many pins as it has followers--406 pins, 217 followers and 38 likes. Just five percent of these pins have had any repins. It is not possible to tell if these images are proving successful at driving traffic to the Cap One site or interest in Cap One services, but there is no reason to think this is providing any benefits of significant scale.

At best, Pinterest seems an adjunct to the other visual marketing programs that financial services brands are already running rather than the hub of these sorts of programs. Given the modest results to date, the best thing brands in financial services can do is to be sure to implement sharing mechanisms on their sites so that consumers who care to share on Pinterest can easily do so.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges to financial services firms on Pinterest is not the lack of results but the need to manage Pinterest programs in a compliant fashion. Whereas platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are more mature and have APIs that permit the management and archiving through Social Media Management Systems (SMMS) such as Socialware, Sprinklr and Buddy Media, Pinterest still lacks such an API. That creates challenges for financial services firms who are required to archive, monitor and moderate based on the regulations from FINRA, SEC and others.

Pinterest may eventually come of age in the financial services space, but it is difficult for me to see how its core purpose and interactivity will benefit financial services brands in any way with significant scope.  I'd welcome your input if you disagree or can offer good examples of financial services brands succeeding on Pinterest.