Trends from Asia-Pacific – and why they apply to you

Trends from Asia-Pacific – and why they apply to you

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to chair and speak at the 4th annual Internet Show in Singapore. This show draws speakers and attendees from across Asia-Pacific and features some prominent, leading brands doing some of the most exciting work in the region (if not globally). I took note of some trends and insights that are relevant and current in Asia-Pacific presently. Some of them reinforce what is happening elsewhere in the world. Others are unique to Asia-Pacific, at least for now. On the series of social media sessions that I chaired there were speakers representing enterprises of all sizes – large, global brands like McDonald‘s, regional brands like NAB in Australia, and local boutique brands like yogurt purveyor Sour Sally in Indonesia. Four key insights stood out to me as compelling.

Insight #1: Mobile = Social = Internet
Across APAC, mobile penetration tops 80 percent, and in some markets – like Hong Kong – it is over 200%. That’s two phone for every person. Same thing holds true, albeit to a lesser extend, in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

What I find really compelling is that in these markets there is comparably little desktop Internet usage, at least not from a social or digital brand perspective. Faced with lengthy commutes and strong 4G signals, the mobile Internet is the primary Internet for many consumers. 18 percent of total Web traffic in Asia is mobile, a number that will likely grow exponentially in the next 18 months.

In the US brands still often see mobile as a “+1″ environment; some marketers believe that it’s important, but it is not the primary means of interaction with their consumers. As 4G signals become more widespread in the US I believe we will continued deterioration in desktop usage. If Facebook has adopted a “mobile first” mentality, isn’t it time you consider it too? If you need a model for what that environment looks like, look no further than Asia-Pacific. There is simply no other alternative.

Insight #2: Providing actual utility, not just talking about it
Brands are talking about developing tools, processes and platforms that provide tangible and practical utility to their consumers. McDonald’s in Australia is providing supply chain information for meals based on QR code scan on the food packaging. The results show the consumer the actual place of origin for the food and in some cases, a story about the farmers. Another McDonald’s effort in Australia is an ordering app which makes it easy to place group orders and reduce queues in the store for lengthy and complex orders. Provides utility to everyone, including those consumers who benefit from not being stuck in line behind someone ordering multiple meals. That app has a 95%+ satisfaction rate among consumers and has received rave reviews. Beyond these examples there is also a lot of effort in all APAC markets around e-payments via mobile; different markets have different standards, but all are trying to find the right solution. Adoption is still challenging – less than 50% of consumers in Asia are willing to transact on their phone – but it is growing rapidly.

Insight #3: Social disintermediation
This is a very real concern for any marketer. Facebook is taking a very central position in the social playbook for many organizations. It is the hub social platform, the backbone of their social infrastructure and the first platform where they engage. This not true in every market of course, as some markets have very dominant local players. But in those markets where it is true, the challenge marketers are facing is the increasing difficulty with monetizing the platform. This is underscored by the almost relentless pursuit by Facebook to improve engagement, often at the expense of brands that are active on the platform. For one brand, recent changes to the EdgeRank platform meant they went from making line item profit on their Facebook efforts – hard ROI – to losing money on their efforts there. That has caused the company to reconsider its commitment to the platform to avoid a third-party from disintermediating its direct consumer relationship.

What is a marketer to do? Diversify. BBC is actively exploring options to break free from the Facebook platform, looking at Google+ and Twitter as alternatives for their efforts. They are also exploring creating a homegrown social solution for their Asia-Pacific media properties that mimics some of the Facebook feature sets on their own site and media networks.

Insight #4: Dumping the fake metrics
I was particularly impressed by the advanced and singular focus on KPIs, metrics and ROI analysis. Marketers have become very savvy over the last 6-9 months about the need to stop reporting on and tracking likes, shares and pins in favor of real metrics like net subscribers, retail visitor conversions and cost basis analysis for social efforts. Metrics need to be tangible and speak to the business. Facebook likes, repins and retweets do not generally address that need; they are granular, valuable primarily to the social team for purposes of improving interaction rates and content development. I saw different approaches depending on organization size but even smaller brands – like Sour Sally in Indonesia – are looking at the hard cost analysis of their focused social efforts.

I will be continuing to write about some of the case studies over the next few weeks. You can see the full agenda of presenters on the conference website.

Avoiding Facebook fatigue

Avoiding Facebook fatigue

If you are following the news you may have seen reports that consumers – at least those in the US – have at some point taken a break from Facebook. A recent Pew study found that 61% of Americans claim they have taken a break of several weeks or more, and 20% of all online US adults who say they once used Facebook are no longer members.

Alarming as the numbers may seem, they are not an excuse to avoid building or maintaining a presence on that or any other social network as a brand; indeed, Facebook still reaches more than half of the US population (163 million), and 71% of the US online user population.

Pew found a handful of key reasons for the extended breaks taken from Facebook. The top two reasons: people grow busy or simply say they don’t like it. As a brand marketer, you will not be able to overcome those obstacles. But the third reason cited – by 10% of those surveyed – is irrelevant content. People grow weary of seeing poorly constructed brand content on Facebook and tune out.

Indeed, Facebook in December announced a 20% rule for text in images. Under this rule, which is now being enforced, brands are not permitted to post images that contain more than 20% text. This is in part to maintain the organic and personal nature of the network, and in part to stave off the commercialization of its news feed.

The engagement breakthroughs on Facebook have a short shelf life and new tactics quickly lose their appeal. How do you stay ahead of it all as a brand, and how do you keep your fan base engaged and enthusiastic?

  • Follow what other (perhaps more leading) brands are doing and follow their example
  • Likewise, follow influential KOLs (key opinion leaders) on Facebook and elsewhere and see how they are engaging with their own fans
  • Listen to your fans and pay attention to what they do with your content. If they are sharing it in fun or unusual ways, it may be worth experimenting with that format
  • Follow Facebook’s rules, as onerous and complex as they are. Generally, they are designed to maximize the user experience and that is going to be good for your brand
  • Avoid tactical interference and don’t get caught up in doing things a certain way. If you see that a content type has stopped working, stop using it
  • Experiment with new content styles and keep them on your short list of current tactics
  • Be part of the story and actively engage with your fans; a little recognition of a consumer in the comments section makes everyone feel more involved
  • Don’t annoy people with overly promotional or awkward content or make things too complicated to take part in what you are doing

By heeding the insights and advice of others, you can keep your fans engaged and sharing your story, and avoid the impact of Facebook fatigue on your brand.

The mobile press release

The mobile press release

Some years ago the smart team at SHIFT Communications, led by Todd Defren, put together an outstanding set of principles for social media news releases that are still valid to this day. Their recommendations and accompanying template included such things as strong image and video placement in the release, full and complete link and RSS feed data and social bookmarking tags in addition to the standard press release language.

That template is still useful and in fact there are a lot of organizations that have not even made it standard practice. That’s unfortunate as they are missing out on the opportunity for improved engagement with the content.

But people’s habits are changing as mobile becomes increasingly critical to the management of a busy day. To help you make the most of those shifts I put together a few tips on making your press releases (and other content) more mobile-friendly. Keep it handy with a copy of the SHIFT Communications template.

The Mobile Press Release

  • Defer outbound links: The quickest path to ensuring a consumer abandons their mobile engagement with you is to send them off on a journey filled with rich media, large image files and pages that take forever to load while requiring vertical and horizontal loading. You’ve chosen to assemble some sort of a mobile presence for your consumer and you want to keep them there for the entire intended purpose of their visit. Don’t create a mobile layer on top of your other content and use that as bait to lure in the mobile user. Your press release content should be created within a mobile-friendly ecosystem.
  • Excuse me, do these browsers make my butt look big? In mobile usability, looks are everything. Bloated or poorly rendered websites on a mobile browser, where screens are small and unforgiving, make it difficult or impossible for mobile users to engage with your content. You want them to read your amazing copy, watch your video and do something! Make sure you test links and video content, that it loads properly. Start with a simple free test on Gomez.com. More advanced use cases may require a usability analyst, often provided by a digital agency or mobile site vendor.
  • Focus on immediate engagement: Don’t expect multi-path content engagement when a consumer is on the go, it’s just not likely to happen. If you think about the last time you visited a website on a mobile device (particularly a phone) you were probably in the middle of something (hopefully not in the bathroom, where 75% of Americans admit to using their smartphone) and had limited time. You don’t want to read something, click “next” and wait for a whole new page to load. If it takes that long it’s not worth doing on mobile. Make it clear what you’d like the consumer to do and keep it on one page.
  • Brevity wins the day: Along those same lines, short-form content will win the hearts and minds of your consumer. You may find that you want to write several versions of a launch announcement; one for your press room, one for your various social media channels (like a social media news release) and one for mobile, which will be visited by your Twitter followers and others from mobile devices. That’s an OK solution, but a better option would be to use what Google calls responsive design. Read about that here.
  • Lay offline breadcrumbs: Sometimes what you hope to get out of a mobile engagement is the promise that the consumer will come visit you later. Make it easy for them to e-mail themselves a link to your page so they can read it when they get to work or to a computer. Or provide an option to e-mail a full copy of materials from the site (like a PDF whitepaper) straight from the mobile experience. Also make sure you make it possible to share easily on social networks. You want to minimize the chance of traffic loss and relying on someone’s memory certainly puts you at risk of that.

These tips can help you create any mobile-optimized content including press releases, whitepaper sites, launch sites and much more. I’m working on a mobile press release template that should be available in the next week or two and will be a good complement to the SHIFT template. Save a copy of both and integrate them into your plans!

Houston, we may have problems: Facebook ad engagement

Reports are circulating today of a new AP/CNBC poll citing that vast majority of survey respondents (82%) say they “hardly ever” or “never” click on Facebook ads. Houston, we may have a problem.

The promise of ads on Facebook stems from its massive reach – nearly a billion users – combined with nearly unprecedented targeting options that should enable marketers to be very specific about when and by whom their ads are seen. This should lead to all sorts of advantages including:

  • a lower-cost basis for ads (never serving an impression to someone who didn’t need to see it)
  • better engagement rates (since it’s highly-targeted, the end-user may be more likely to take action) and
  • improved conversions compared to non-targeted ads

It would appear, based on this new research that this model may be flawed. There are several reasons why this could be happening.

The vastness of Facebook’s network combined with abbreviated amounts of time a consumer spends on any one Facebook page pretty much guarantees exceedingly large numbers of impressions served for an advertiser. In contrast, it also pretty much guarantees a low CTR compared to other mediums and the AP/CNBC research would seem to support that theory. Consumers may be less likely to click on ads in a Facebook environment, but that does not mean they did not take note of the message and given the propensity for people to spend inordinate amounts of time every month on Facebook, chances are good they will be exposed to an ad many times over.

Problems emerge, then, when marketers put unreasonable expectations on a Facebook media buy and assume it will be perform like a search environment. In search there are generally pretty clear indicators that someone is searching for a brand or category based on the search terms they have used. On Facebook, that connection to the path-to-purchase is much less clear and marketers should not have the same expectation of engagement. That’s one problem.

The other problem is that marketers may also be misunderstanding the nature of Facebook’s network. People may be more likely to click on an ad if it keeps them within the Facebook network, and may be less likely to take action if an ad leads them to a page elsewhere. In campaigns I have tested for clients I have found this premise to widely supported and creative that is directed to Facebook engagement – such as fan acquisition – generate better and more consistent results than those going off-site to another destination. I have seen that trend hold particularly true if the destination is an e-commerce site.

Part of the issue then is the nature of the creative unit itself. If the focus needs to be on generating awareness and engagement within the Facebook environment, the capability of the Facebook ad units in their current incarnation do not make it easy to stand out. This is evolving and in Facebook’s defense they have introduced some interesting ad units to help brands overcome this hurdle, but much work remains in this space for the ads to effectively generate awareness for a brand when the ad units themselves seem designed for immediate call-to-actions.

All of this frames why some brands – like General Motors – are deciding to suspend advertising on the Facebook platform. However, if you are a brand looking to establish and grow presence of your content on the Facebook platform, paid media within that platform remains one of the strongest ways to support your goals. Organic and earned media alone will not propel you to achieve those lofty KPIs you set out to accomplish!

If you find yourself questioning the nature and continuity of Facebook within your media strategy, perhaps start by reconsidering some of the elements discussed here to see if you can revise your creative to optimize it for engagement on the Facebook platform. For the time being, at least, that seems the surest way to take advantage of the capabilities of the Facebook network. And if you’re looking to learn more, this BusinessWeek story does an excellent job.

Looking forward to 2012

We’re not yet halfway through December (woo!) but our attention begins to turn to assessing the year past and looking forward to the year ahead. I am closely following all of the trends that have developed in 2011 and have written about a lot of them. Assimilated here are some of my key predictions that will matter to brand leaders in 2012, in no particular order.

1. Mobile

I’m not just talking about broad “mobile growth,” which is pretty generic (although true). We’re going to see exponential growth in adoption of smartphones and tablets as well as exciting new commerce platforms that make mobile the next major retail gateway. This includes innovations on the retail side that enable them to take payments via mobile devices, a trend we’re already seeing with Google Wallet and Square. We’ll likely see the irksome world of digital coupons evolve into a platform that works for everyone in that ecosystem (retailers, POS technologies, consumers and marketers) and finally close that gap in the final frontier of the consumer couponing craze. This will bring massive scale to a marketer’s ability to develop relevant, customized and personalized offers for their consumers and to reach the middle of the adoption curve. I suspect by the end of 2012 we’ll be having very specific and frequent discussions with marketers about making mobile coupons part of their core outreach strategy.

2. Startupville

Let’s revisit a trend that repeats itself in Silicon Valley. A company, founded by quirky 20-somethings, develops something marvelous that immediately captures the imagination of millions and grows seemingly overnight, finding itself the subject of cover stories and bar conversation across the globe. Said company reaches an inflection point and decides to take the next growth step by going public. Newly funded and flush with millions (or billions) in cash, the company turns up the heat and the strain of its stratospheric growth begin to show. Meanwhile, somewhere, the cycle begins to repeat itself and a new story develops. This isn’t a perfect equation but I think many could agree it seems to be a general framework, most recently with Google and Facebook. If we believe the recent reports of Facebook’s IPO plans we’ll probably see a Facebook ticker at some point next year. That will certainly legitimize the cottage industry of developers and agencies that have built robust businesses around Facebook’s platform, and that will be a trend that continues. But I suspect we’ll also see new energy emerge at the outer reaches of that ecosystem and we’ll start to see signs of a new startup, a new story and a new thing for consumers to get excited about. Marketers, take note: you’ll want to be part of that story as early as possible. Consumers have increasingly high expectations of the brands in their lives and expect innovation even from their toilet paper brand. Be ready to pounce on opportunity.

3. Big Data

If you haven’t heard this buzzword already, chances are still good that you’re participating in it. Big Data is the accelerating emergence of massive sets of data, fueled by the social web and cloud computing, that takes equally massive amounts of computing power and expertise to mine and understand. If you’re doing sentiment analysis or tracking word clouds of conversation around your brand online, you’re already taking advantage of Big Data. Analyst firm IDC says this is an area where companies must have a develop a competency in 2012 (http://gigaom.com/cloud/its-cloud-prediction-time-idc-gartner-and-i-weigh-in/). I’d generally agree. I am seeing PR firms, digital agencies, brand teams and consumer relations teams taking advantage of Big Data now and that’s a trend that will accelerate rapidly early in 2012. It’s a competitive advantage to put that data to use for your brand, with a caveat…

4. Privacy

All that data in the cloud comes with inherent privacy concerns and none are more sensitive than a consumer’s personal information, credit card details or location. As brands have begun experimenting with the trends around Big Data, it’s leaving the heads of their legal teams spinning. I predict that brands and agencies will take a cautious stance toward emerging channels that require heavy personal information to participate (see trend #1, Mobile) until they can be assured that the necessary infrastructure is in place to protect that data. But it won’t take years for that process and 2012 will be the year many of those questions find accurate and permanent answers.


Making innovation part of your DNA

I write a lot about innovation and explore a variety of methods to infuse it into your marketing efforts. In this post I reviewed four key innovation elements from Google that are broadly (if not universally) applicable to the function of PR and marketing. There was a two elements missing from that list that are worth exploring.

Part of the process of innovation involves a certain mindset that not everything goes as planned. If you try enough ideas and try hard enough, some will work out with astounding success while others will be doomed for the deadpool before they even launch. Still, if you have not encouraged your marketing organization to truly embody what it means to innovate and move quickly you will be missing out on massive opportunities to engage your consumers and stakeholders.

It’s easy for senior leadership to get excited about the buzzword “innovation” and they will likely welcome hearing you talk about how you are making your marketing and PR engine more lean and innovative. It’s the kind of stuff managers like to hear. But the reality of innovation is this – it’s not always rosy. Often, it results in bad results.

To capture all of the upside you also have to accept that there will be downside too. These are a couple of very important mindshifts you will need to consider before you start selling your organization and your agency roster on innovation:

1. It’s OK to Fail
This is such an important mindset to embody and it’s very, very difficult for many managers to accept this reality. A lot of organizations are tuned to extract failure out and in the process make those who may have bold ideas fearful of exploring them. You have to be willing to address that when it comes to marketing and social innovations, some amount of failure is OK. Better than OK, actually, because if you haven’t failed at a couple of things you are probably not taking enough risks. Google was famous for its quarterly planning process involving OKRs (that’s Objectives and Key Results). Each employee was expected to set for themselves every quarter what many might consider absurd performance goals. Most often, we’d fail to reach them and that was considered ideal – the stretch goals usually constituted about 120% of what success really looked like and so by getting to 90% of the goal, major progress was made. This encouraged everyone to experiment and to do so without fear of being tagged “failure.” Note: this is not a license to throw caution to the wind with every project and rush into things. It will be your job to defend every single project coming out of your marketing group to the rest of the company. But you won’t make those strides that will be widely celebrated if you’re not open to failing a little along the way and committed to providing that failure the necessary air cover.

2. Re-examine Your Listening Capabilities
I’ve seen this concept tested time and again and it’s another area where most organizations fall short. What often happens is someone in the marketing organization dreams up a grand idea for a new tactic or social innovation program. They write up a brief and put it out to their agency roster for consideration. The agency team executes on the work, launches the initiative and no budget or bandwidth is set aside to iterate or tweak the program. The thing is, most often you don’t get things right the first time. You won’t have time to send everything through QA. What you should be doing is listening intently to your most ardent advocates; generally, they will be first to suggest improvements to a new program, app or initiative and will also be the first to let you know when something goes sideways. If you’re not listening to that chatter closely you’ll miss the insight and if you aren’t aligned with enough bandwidth to tweak the program, you’ll quickly lose your followers. If you follow the “launch it and move on” mentality, you’re almost guaranteed to have mediocre results. So think about how you can make listening a core part of your marketing innovation process.

3. Know When to Sunset
All things come to the end of their logical lifecycle. Bad programs that go sideways will get there a lot faster and if you keep pumping resources into it will drain your organization of energy, money and ideas. Back to my first point, you have to be willing to accept failure every so often and if you’re moving quickly and pushing out new marketing initiatives as fast as you can dream them up, you’ll probably hit a few sour notes. Shut them down and move on. Don’t pump resources into an idea just because it’s there. It’s OK to sunset ideas. Communicate clearly with your fans and consumers about the reasons behind it, move quickly to the next great idea and capture key learnings as you go to ensure you are moving through the ideastream strategically and not just flitting from project to project.

Combined these amount to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for a lot of marketing organizations. Corporate politics, budgets and planning cycles do not always permit sweeping changes overnight. But be persistent and chip away at them over time. You can change how you engage your stakeholders and market products and services.

New wrinkle in Facebook advertising

Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan

I wrote in January about the new Facebook advertising product – Sponsored Stories – that takes mentions a user makes of a product or service and allows advertisers to recapture that content and serve it up as an ad unit to the same user’s own Facebook community. It’s sort of a pseudo-endorsement product and Facebook contends that it respects privacy boundaries since it is only shown to your existing network which, ostensibly, would have seen the original comment anyway.

Fast forward to May. Facebook CTO Bret Taylor got a grilling in DC this week on privacy-related issues related to age and protection of minors. This same week, new criticisms emerged related to the Sponsored Stories product. The critics claim that since Facebook does not have built-in age verification (witness the reported 7 million-plus minors on the service in the US), there is no way for a parent or guardian to give consent for images to be used for advertising purposes. That violates the spirit, if not the letter, of state laws requiring adultconsent for usage of a person’s name or likeness.

This creates a legal quandary for marketers. We want to push the innovation envelope and tap new sources of innovation for building brands and sustaining interest in products and services. Products like Facebook’s advertising suite give us a very rich source of fairly turn-key solutions to do just that. But if it turns out that we’re reaching minors, will we be culpable? This is an area where I have witnessed marketing innovations teams and corporate legal do battle many times. The marketing teams want to rush in and capture the opportunity before the competition; lawyers want to study the issues and ensure there are no landmines about to be tripped.

I’m on the side of the marketer in most of those cases and generally my advice is this: start with something small and don’t try to reinvent everything in one big bite. If you want to test new ad units on Facebook, try testing it on a smaller product category rather than your core product. Partner closely with your legal team and learn together. I have often witnessed a marketing team go to their legal counterparts for blessing on a big new plan only to get a frustrating “smack down” and walk away. Remember that there are multiple legal issues at stake with social channels. Go bravely into the sun.

Follow the leader

This week’s afterglow of the remarkable piece in Business Week about Sheryl Sandberg’s vision and leadership at Facebook was cut short by the discovery of an ethically-dubious PR campaign undertaken by PR agency Burson-Marsteller on behalf of Facebook.

First, on the Sandberg piece, I have to say that author Brad Stone did a great job depicting her character and her genuine nature. I had the fortune to work with Sheryl at Google and all of the things that he reports about her are generally true. She has an infectious spirit that inspires the team around her.

Now to the dirty news that tarnished the good vibe: it turns out that Facebook hired a PR agency to bring attention to what it believes are privacy-related issues with its competitor, Google. The concept – as reported by Chris Soghoian, one of those targeted by the pitch – involved pitching and working with a blogger to draft an editorial drawing attention to the privacy issues which Burson would then attempt to place in a major news outlet. The client behind the work, Facebook, was not disclosed in the e-mail pitch nor in the follow up conversation with Soghoian. Only after independent review determined that it was Facebook who was behind the campaign did the company confirm it. Shortly thereafter Burson also confirmed the report.

The shocking thing about this is the questionable ethics behind pitching something like an op-ed without disclosing the interests of the parties involved. It seems noone took the pitch seriously, and for good reason. Burson claims all of the information in the pitch is public information although it would appear that they employed the longstanding and reviled PR tactic of hyperbole to make the pitch more enticing. The statements of both Burson and Facebook seem to take some responsibility for the poor judgement but also levies blame on the other party.

After reviewing the stories I’m torn – I can’t decide what element of this story is worse. What do you think? Vote below.

[poll id="2"]

Mobile and the purchase funnel

Mobile and the purchase funnel? No, it’s not the name of the latest YouTube phenom, although if you search on YouTube using those terms the first result is a wonderful recording of a live mobile event from Google:

That video begins and ends with this parable: in mobile, it’s not too late to be early. In this case, your opportunity to be early is rapidly vanishing and the crown being claimed by your competitors. If you are a consumer brand company of any kind – CPG, consumer tech, fashion, travel, food and beverage – why should you care about mobile?

There are some very long answers to that question but here is a simple analysis that should pique your interest: on the path to purchase for your consumer, mobile is at the tail versus the head. That is the say, when a consumer goes onto their mobile device they are most likely to ready to make a commitment to purchasing in your category and they’re looking for help. They want help finding a store, a phone number, a review or product rating or in many cases, a deal. This according to new data released today by eMarketer.

According to eMarketer’s research, nearly two-thirds of consumers visited a business after searching for it on their mobile phone. Read that again: two-thirds. If that statistic alone does not convince you to take action on a mobile strategy pronto, then maybe this one will. Overall, more than half of consumers made a purchase after their mobile session. That includes in-store, over the phone or online.

And that’s why mobile is at the base of the purchase funnel. At the point of engagement on a mobile device consumers are likely already considering your brand, they’re in the market to buy and they are seeking some guidance or direction in their purchase (which could quite literally mean a map to your nearest store or hotel). This is fertile ground for engaging consumers in a high-value transaction and should be high-stakes territory for you and your competitors. Looked at from a different perspective, if you haven’t conceptualized or realized a mobile strategy for your brand then you can feel confident in knowing that your competitors are probably celebrating as they pull in passers-by, would-be brand loyalists and deal seekers and capture that revenue for themselves.

So go back and watch that Google video above, listen to the insights then go read the eMarketer report. It should spark a discussion on how to jump into the mobile fray within your organization. Remember, it’s not too late to be early.

The year of the KPI

We’re already nearing the halfway mark in 2011 and one of the predictions I and many others made has proven to become a trend – a stringent focus on ROI and metrics. Unlike years past, when ideas were approved based on concept alone, digital marketing and social media plans today are rarely approved without some vision to outcomes. Many areas in social media are still maturing, to be sure, and we don’t know the best way to measure and monetize every platform and every interaction. Some interactions are engagement-based and others hold potential for a link to sales.

Nevertheless, there is one noble truth driving all of these efforts – while newly emerging technologies may be in their infancy, we already have enough market intelligence and experience with many of the platforms and mediums to accurately understand how they impact business. I participated on a panel last week at the eMarketing Association conference in San Francisco, and at SMX West in San Jose in March, on the topic of ROI in social media and some themes are finally emerging that we all seem to agree on in the industry. Here is a summary of my three top points:

  • SCALE: When you begin measuring any program, plan with scale in mind. Sure, each platform and medium has unique characteristics. Facebook has different mid and low-level metrics than Twitter, and the two combined look different than your own website from a metrics perspective. Nevertheless, strive for consistency in both the methodology with which you count and organize information from each channel (referring to unique users, for example, on all of the platforms) and in the manner you employ to report them. This way, when your nugget of an idea enraptures your CEO and makes you a hero internally, and you are subsequently given a massive marketing investment, you will be sitting on a literal trove of rich data that reflects all of the work you have done to-date.
  • ROOTS: We all have varying perspectives on measurement and metrics. Depending on what area of the business we came up through it may involve web analytics, financial analyses, direct-response methods – all of which have value in determining the right approach for you to take in measuring your social efforts. For example, I have a pretty extensive background in web analytics built over the last ten years of my career and those same skills, and some of the same methodologies, can be used to measure and analyze social media platforms. Principles like tagging content with tracking code and A/B testing for usability both can be used for understanding and optimizing your social media campaigns.
  • PEOPLE: The element of social media that throws a lot of people for a loop is the sheer human scale of it. There are millions (potentially billions) of individuals connected to your brand or organization around the world sharing stories, testimonials and criticisms via status updates, visual content (photos, videos), blog posts, social bookmarks and much, much more. That all contains rich insight and is best understood using a new class of advocacy metrics. There are services like Klout that have their own proprietary method for assessing advocacy and influence and you might decide that works for your organization. In other cases you might develop your own formula. For example, one client I have worked with is a brand focused on building and growing brand awareness, not on sales. They are most interested in brand advocacy and the potential value of a fan’s network in terms of amplifying their messages. They studied a variety of approaches to Twitter and aligned to a basic formula to define Twitter Influence: the # of Followers x the # of Tweets.  Ok, so the metric is basic and you could argue doesn’t account for all aspects of the social graph but for that client (and it’s a big one, by the way – one with a lot of smart marketers and resources), influence is something they need to consistently measure across their brand portfolio. And so, with that was born a new class of advocacy metrics for their teams.

Are you using any of these principles in your organization, or if not, what methods have you established to measure and report on your social efforts?

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