I've been chatting to a few brand representatives lately and one of the most resounding questions I (surprisingly) get asked is "what is the bare minimum my company should be doing in the social space?"
It's an interesting question, and I usually answer it with the idea that any interaction is better than none at all. But I thought I might lay out some key thoughts about the issue for everyone to feast upon.
The first thing you can do is get online and have a look at the free tools available to you. Open a Facebook page, start a twitter account, post something to YouTube or Flickr. The reason for this is to get a basic understanding of the rules and possibilities of the online world. It's not until you start typing tweets that you realise there's a craft to communication in 140 characters. Similarly, you'll never know what a subscribing to a YouTube channel does until you give it a go.
So my first piece of advice is step out of the comfort zone and start getting your creative hands dirty in the cyber sandpit. Do all this under a pseudonym if it makes you feel at ease, but it's important to play around. Two hours playing on Facebook will teach you more than a 97 page guide.
The second tip is to understand the classification systems that social networks use.
Remember years ago when you needed new glasses and tried to look them up in the Yellow Pages. Nothing under "G" for glasses... Nothing under "S" for spectacles... Nothing under "E" for "eyewear"... Nothing under "L" for lenses...
20 minutes later you'll finally work out that unless you know "optometry" is the profession dealing with eyes, you could spend a lifetime digging through those giant yellow books.
This is an example of a failure of taxonomy, and the reason why Google is such a powerful search engine. Knowing the terms (or "keywords") that are required for anyone and everyone to find your content is critical to the success of content sharing across social networks.
I encourage people to include keywords wherever possible in the content they're creating. This will help improve your ranking on Google and make your content more accessible to a wider reach of targeted audiences.
If you're wondering what your keywords are, I suggest looking at the statistical information on your website (usually via your hosting package). If your hosting package doesn't included this, sign up to a free service like Google Analytics. It can perform the same data crunching.
Also, it's worth signing up for Google Alerts (another free service) that will let you know where people are talking about your company and alert you anytime your company name is found in a new post by the Google bots.
Twitter search and Twitter lists are also valuable insights. Search for your brand on Twitter and see what comes up. Alternatively, check out the lists your account has been added to (and more importantly the names of those lists). They might give you some keywords that could help extend your audience reach and relevancy.
Another good place is Social Mention, which can quickly break down keywords associated with your brand from sites across the social web. Like Google Alerts, it will give you an insight into all the places you're mentioned, but with more specific focus on social networks. It's also real-time, rather than just new content.
Another "minimum idea" is to create a publishing schedule that allows for reusable content. What I mean by this is using the strengths of the different platforms to develop an understanding of audience relevancy and engagement.
Think about how you communicate information to your audience. The time it takes to share ideas on Twitter or Facebook is much faster than via email or blog. Set up a timetable of frequency for posting information that allows popular content to be repurposed.
In practice, this would probably included sharing a lot of ideas on Twitter (around five a day). The three most popular tweets might then become three Facebook status updates. The two most popular status updates might then become blog articles, and the most popular blog article might then become a feature in your emailed newsletter.
This organic funnelling of information means you can ensure proven relevancy is maintained within your target audience as time commitments to social content increase. This model also encourages experimentation on a real-time platform like Twitter and seeing what sticks, then building from that popularity. It takes guesswork out of content for brands new to the social space and is something I'd recommend every workplace consider.
With these three approaches (get involved, know your keywords and an effective content publishing schedule) you should quickly make an impact on your bottom-line objectives...
Or if nothing else, extend the quality and quantity of your audience in the social space.
For years now the news industry has been questioning the place for video in its online publications. Indeed smh.com.au and news.com.au have been trying to justify the place for this expensive, revenue-lacking and resource-sapping medium for almost a decade now, and it seems those sites that stuck with it are finally seeing the benefits; namely increased time on site and engaging viewers in a way traditional text media cannot.
A great case study in this was recently presented by the Miami Herald. Last year, MiamiHerald.com saw a 25 percent growth in video traffic, making it the second biggest traffic driver behind articles. The strategies in achieving this are nothing new, but what the Miami Herald has done is commit to its video content and tailored its output to suit the community it serves.
Breaking news and sports videos generate the most views, in sync with their text content.
The number one video on MiamiHerald.com last year got about 26,000 views and was a feature on how to handle frozen iguanas.
The top videos were tied to breaking news and sports stories about a Playboy model who was murdered; five teenagers who were found dead in a hotel; and the construction of the Marlins’ new ballpark.
What we see here is a need for content to have a defined audience and exist in a space where that audience is already consuming content. This is the philosophy of Radical Love's "Social Video" concept, where video needs to have socially engaging qualities or it will not stand out from the noise of the internet's increasingly video-saturated digital ecosystem.
Shorter is better.
Completion rates indicate popularity and engagement.
Search optimisation is still problematic.
The Miami Herald originally tried to emulate the television news model of two-minute video pieces, but quickly found these drive limited and weak traffic. Online news is about being an insider to the action and recreating the experience of the event for the viewer. It's about being raw, immediate and compelling, and packaging that up in the shortest time possible.
Increase in video completion (which is over 50% on MiamiHerald.com) also has the benefit of reducing bounce rates across the site.
In terms of making the content, the Miami Herald employs two full-time videographers and two part-time videographers/photographers. This is essential in a small-staff environment as attempts at multi-skilling journalists lead to a decrease in quality across video and print media. It also fostered frustration from the workforce who didn't understand how to utilise communication in the visual medium.
Today, the Miami Herald produces 14 videos a week but struggles to offset costs with advertising revenue. Pre-roll advertising still isn't anywhere near covering the cost of production (despite the growing popularity of video), but sponsorship deals (especially in sport) for studio production are helping to close the gap.
Another strategy is cross-promotion of brand, with the Miami Herald sharing its 70-odd videos each month with television partners in the area. This increases the brand reach and drives more interest in the site. They also repost all their content to YouTube, which often gets thousands more views than the website itself.
Regarding innovation, the Miami Herald has been experimenting in longer-form documentary filmmaking. They recently produced a one-hour video on Haiti in partnership with public broadcasters and independent filmmakers. Knowing their was an appetite for the subject within their audience, the longer format worked with over 1 million hits contributed to it alone last January (an impressive 13% of all hits for all video content last year).
This is a format the Miami Herald is keen to continue. The cross-promotion with broadcast coupled to the longevity of the content popularity beyond the short-term news cycle are good reasons for the model to be further explored.
In regards to third-party video (such as content produced by the Associate Press), I think it's important to find a balance between local content and world events. Ensuring that news websites have the capacity to produce timely localised content will become increasingly important as geo-location applications become more ubiquitous in society.
Originally, many news providers were hesitant to feature national or international news video on their websites. What the Miami Herald has learned is that these bigger stories can draw audiences into their network and even provide localised opinion on bigger issues.
The future of video content online is clear, even if the financial models surrounding it are not. In an ever-increasing world of mobile screens and a growing demand for immediacy in information, news providers must ensure they are at the forefront of localised video content. Those that stick with a willingness to produce will see reward, so long as they stay true to their audience and devlop content that feeds their niche or market segment.
Imagine aliens have just arrived on earth from Mars in Dubbo, NSW. A small crowd gathers to welcome our intergalactic visitors and waits for them to speak. There first question, having monitored human communications for thousands of years, would probably be this:
"What is Twitter?"
The crowd huddles to determine the best response. Twitter fanboys would take the company line and scream "a micro-blogging service that lets you tell others what you are doing", but this would be shot down by the tech-heads who would be more purist and state "it's a source of personal news from anyone anywhere". Young teens would rebut not all tweets are news-based or reflective of current events, and that "the SMS of the internet" is a better answer.
As the tension grew and the debate heated up, an elderly woman would almost always be certain to chime in with the classic "it's a pointless form of time-wasting" in a stereotypical, grumpy-old-woman way...
And I would agree.
Now, before you start typing out hate mail, know that what I'm talking about here is the transition of Twitter from a source of personal interest to a form of personal expression. Twitter is now evolving into a place of entertainment, not news or information (although these are still very important.
Take a look at the trend data for Twitter in 2010 and you quickly see hashtags and entertainment now make 70% of Twitter's trend categories over sport, news, business and other topics. This rise in entertainment and hashtagging (hashtagging rose over 400% since 2009) suggests that users of Twitter are more focused on using the platform as a means of self-entertainment rather than as a place for news and information (that said, I should point out these services have been squeezed, not replaced, by the rise in hashtagging popularity).
In fact, Twitter is more in common with social gaming these days than a news service. If you're willing to imagine an online word game, where players are given a topic or event or question and the aim is to get as many people reading your response to that question as possible, then we can suddenly view Twitter in a whole new way. The winners of this game will have broad-reaching wit and rhetoric as skills, and approach answers to questions in a remarkable and interesting fashion.
This is what we see evolving with Twitter. It is World of Warcraft in text format; a world-wide multiplayer game where everyone wants their response read and retweeted to feel that same satisfaction that comes from collecting a star in Super Mario World or killing a green pig in Angry Birds.
Hashtagging (such as #itsasmelbourneas or #mymotheralwayssaid) is the new entertainment arm of twitter, and it's on the rise. It is pointless and useless like all good entertainment, and it has a built-in reward system (retweets) and rules (140 characters only!) like any good game. At its core, the Twitter community is becoming more adept at entertaining each other and themselves, rather than relying on external sources of entertainment from brands and businesses to drive interest.
For brands, much like aliens, the critical factor is understanding what Twitter is in action, not what it is in theory, and above all, joining the game.
So, the cocktails have been put down and the laptop has been opened up. Time for me to share some fresh knowledge to the world, and today we're talking online marketing.
I thought I'd share a few insights I've collected over the past years as to how to market more effectively online as a brand, a business, or just a fame-seeking individual.
First up, I want to talk about blogging. This self-preaching technology has been around for a decade now, but some people are still unsure how to utilise it. The key rule, like all marketing, is to know your audience! Forget how cool your video embedding is, or how funny the animated cat GIF at the bottom of the page is, or how insightful and well-structured your writing is... If you don't know who you're talking to, then you've missed the point.
Always think about what your readers are interested in. This will rarely be your new company coffee machine or your amazing summer holiday to Dubbo. If you're selling shoes, then talk about shoes, and from every angle. Talk about style, design, materials, stores, innovations, opportunities, etc. Don't talk about your weekly sales range. Keep it on topic and interesting.
If you give your audience information about what interests them, you can't lose!
Secondly, I want to talk about reward. It's something a lot of marketeers overlook, but you need to analyse who your biggest fans are and reward them. What that reward is (free stuff, a phone call, a discount coupon) is irrelevant; the point is you need to keep an ear to the digital floor and listen to who is talking about you.
Those 5% of your fans/customers that bring in new business, that re-tweet your stuff, that blog about your products... They are the people you need to reward. Always thank a fan, and always monitor social media conversations. There's plenty of free applications that do this (like Social Mention and Google Alerts). Keep an eye out for your brand in social forums, and take note of who the talkers are.
Finally, know that people engage with people, not brands. If the holiday season has taught you anything, it's that David Jones the brand (quiet, elegant, sophisticated, supportive) is very different to David Jones the people (loud, rushed, overworked, high-school kids/retirees). The people who make the sale at the end of the day are the tangible representatives of your brand. Make sure you don't overlook people as part of your marketing experience, even if it's in the form of Twitter voices or Facebook contributors.
Also, as a side note, make sure your online marketing is consistent with your overall marketing strategy. Online and heritage marketing platforms should be crafted to create synergies, not resistance.
So welcome to 2011, the year when Radical Love takes over the world*.
Sad day for me today with the news my cinematic directing idol, Blake Edwards, has passed away. Many of his films have shaped my appreciation and interest in producing comedic visual content, and although a blog entry does not amount to much, I just wanted to share my sense of loss.
On the social media side, I'll be interested to see if digital sales in some of his films receive a spike from this news (much like Michael Jackson's catalogue soared to popularity again following his equally tragic death earlier this year). I think they will.
If you want to help my prediction out I recommend you all grab a copy of Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961), The Great Race (1965) and Return of the Pink Panther (1975)