Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What's Your Opinion: Can We Beat LinkedIn Spam with Direct Feedback?

photo credit: IMG_2287 via photopin (license)
Are you as tired of LinkedIn spam as I am?

Some of you only connect with people you already know, and that is a recommended and smart strategy. I have traditionally adhered to a different strategy of following people I believe I would like to know. So, when someone reaches out to me on LinkedIn to connect, I may agree, even if I have not worked with or do not know the person.

Yesterday, I connected with someone who is the founder of a social firm. I did not know him, but we seemed to share professional interests, so it seemed an appropriate connection for LinkedIn.

Within hours, I received the following message:
Hi Augie, thanks for connecting with me. I hope you are doing well.

I help people grow their businesses by marketing through digital and social media at SocialBlahBlahBlah.com. It looks as if you do as well. If there's ever anything I can do to help you, please let me know.Thanks again and have a great week! 
Now, I'll admit, by way of spam, it's pretty mild, but as we all know, spam is in the eye of the beholder, and my beholding eye was annoyed by this spammy intrusion in my LinkedIn inbox.
In the past, I simply disconnected from folks who do this sort of thing, but I have decided to be more direct with people before I sever connections. I think it is important for people to get feedback and know when others perceive they have crossed the line.  So, here was my response, and I would appreciate your feedback if this is an appropriate way to communicate with someone or if I am just being, well, a jerk: 
I am going to disconnect from you, but I wanted you to know why. I followed you because, being a social professional, I thought you would share interesting content. I figured we might develop a relationship and, at some point in the future, we might have cause to get know each other, help one another and maybe even work together.

The first day we were connected, you took the opportunity to spam me. To be sure, your spam was gently worded, but it's still spam. You took the opportunity to immediately talk about yourself and your company.

This strategy strikes me as an oddly unsocial approach for a social professional. Perhaps it works, but I am so tired of getting spam on LinkedIn that I now immediately disconnect when a new connection tries to turn me into a "lead" instead of a "peer."

Best of luck, but I wanted you to be aware your strategy of immediately spamming people with a message about your company had the opposite of the desire outcome with me.
Is this fair? Helpful? Arrogant?  And if we all did this, might it make a dent the spam we receive? What is your opinion?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Wonderful Wizard of Instagram: Marketing Opportunity Or More Of The Same?

A few years ago, blogs and industry pubs were full of hopeful predictions of how Facebook and Twitter would usher in a new age of cost-free or low-cost marketing. Brands would "authentically" earn attention, and friends would see each other's likes and retweets, creating viral success for brands.

Fast forward to today, and marketers are struggling to figure out the value of their Facebook pages as engagement drops, and some are opting out of Facebook altogether, Meanwhile, the interaction rate with brand tweets stands at 0.07%, which is less than the current click rates for banner ads.

So, what have we learned from the brand marketing experiences on Facebook and Twitter?

Have marketers realized that in social channels controlled by consumers, brand messaging is so much less welcome than content from friends and family that it is impossible for most companies to earn attention, acquire new customers or generate marketing ROI?

Have we realized that, just like on the Web (where Adblocker is the most popular Chrome download) and on TV (where almost half of millennials now timeshift to improve convenience and skip ads), consumers in social media will ignore or actively reject most brand messaging?

Or maybe we have concluded that while it is possible to get consumers to click a "like" button in exchange for a discount, this cannot create a new brand relationship if over 90% of consumers do not agree it is fair for companies to collect information about them without their knowledge in exchange for a discount.

Is that what we have learned?

It does not seem so. The lesson marketers seem to have gleaned from the past few years is that something is wrong with Facebook and Twitter--they are boring and black-and-white--so let's instead shift our attention to the Technicolor world of Instagram! In the last couple of months, my email box and feeds have been full of hype for Instagram, and the justifications are exactly the same as they were for Facebook and Twitter back in 2010.

For example, "Why Your Business Needs an Instagram Account in 2015" contains no business justification whatsoever. The reason your business "needs" Instagram, the author argues, is because "Instagram is exploding," you can "get creative" and "show people what you do behind the scenes, not just what you're selling." Does any of this sound familiar to you? Remember in 2010 when Facebook was "exploding," brands could use it to "get creative" and the key to success was to "be human"?

In "A Three Step Guide to Winning at Instagram," the author never once suggests how to convert pretty pictures and likes into business wins (particularly on a social network that does not permit links within posts). Instead, it offers the same tired advice brands got about pictures on Facebook and Twitter: Image quality is everything; Consistency is key; Photography is aspirational. If those tips did not work in Facebook and Twitter, what would lead us to believe it will be any different on Instagram?

One analyst firm promoted its Instagram 2015 report by noting the social network offers "100 percent organic reach," unlike Facebook, "which inserted a paywall between brands and their communities." First, Instagram handles followers in the same way as Twitter, offering no filter or algorithm for the people following the brand, so there is no reason to think brands will not suffer the same fate on Instagram as on Twitter. Second, as we have learned on Twitter, there is no such thing as "100 percent organic reach"--the vast majority of posts on Twitter and Instagram are not seen by followers because they are ephemeral, disappearing rapidly in feeds that are not monitored 24/7. And lastly, what do we expect will happen as brand presence grows on Instagram, consumers become increasingly tired of brand content and Instagram improves and expands its pay offerings? Put simply, Instagram 2017 will look a lot like Twitter 2015--decreasing organic engagement, increasing costs for paid media and disappointed brands.

Will some brands succeed on Instagram? Sure, just as some have succeeded in Facebook or Twitter, but this has been the exception and not the rule, as there is little evidence brands are delivering marketing success on a widespread basis. Despite billions of dollars spent on content strategies, social media management platforms and engagement-building campaigns, the percentage of online sales attributable to social media in 2015 stands at a mere 1%, one point less than it was last year and more than 90% less than acquisition from email, CPC or affiliate sources.

Some will argue, as they did on last night's Beancast, that this sort of click-attribution is a poor measure of social value, and I would agree--if brands were earning significant levels of engagement. But in a world where Facebook Organic Zero is approaching and Twitter engagement is less than banner ads', what reason do we have to believe there are broad and unmeasured benefits in a channel where so few people see and engage with brands? (Case in point: As I type this, the past week's posts for McDonald's, which has 57 million fans on Facebook, each have earned fewer than 500 likes and 35 shares--one of the largest brands on Facebook is engaging 25% fewer people with each post than walk into a single of the company's 35,000 restaurant locations in an average day.)

As I have argued in the past, there is undoubtedly value in social for a select few brands in the right verticals or that have built the right customer relationships through actions, products and services, but too many brands are struggling to make themselves appealing and engaging on social networks when they have failed to do so in the real world. Distrusted brands with weak customer relationships that try to be interesting on Instagram will be like Oz frantically pulling levers to create distracting visual effects while demanding, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
Pay no attention to that brand, er,
I mean man behind the curtain!

The signs are not difficult to read, and the future is not hard to see. We are a decade or more into the social era, and we know how it works. Instagram is sufficiently similar to Facebook and Twitter that expecting a different outcome is, as the saying goes, the definition of insanity.

Social media is a powerful platform for consumers. It can also be powerful for brands that unleash Word of Mouth and earn true advocacy with their products and services. But we now have too many years of social media experience to think that attractive pictures on Instagram will deliver marketing results outside of select niches. Heck, even some in the fashion industry, which recently honored Instagram's founder with an award, are beginning to question the impact of Instagram (and if hot models and stylish clothes snapped by the world's most experienced photographers may not deliver business results for style brands, what do you think your social team will accomplish?)

You want your brand to succeed in Instagram? Put down the camera and give your customers experiences they will want to capture and share. Or you can try to make your brand fascinating and creative in Instagram, but just remember--even the great and powerful Oz was smart enough to know he would eventually be discovered and keep an escape balloon at the ready.