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The Flaw In Gallup’s Survey On Social Media Impact On Purchase Decisions

In the research equivalent to asking “did you eat the cookie?” Gallup makes a tenuous connection to real social media outcomes. The WSJ is happy to play along.

Why is it that businesses are still actively trying to disprove social media as a channel to reach consumers?

That’s the question I had to ask myself as I perused my digital copy of The Wall Street Journal, this morning.  Gallup, a noted consumer research firm, is releasing a survey today that says it speaks to the “real” impact of social media on consumer behavior.

Normally I am very enthusiastic about any hard data on consumer behavior – social media impacted or otherwise. There’s only one problem with this data: it’s self reported. In case you’re not a stat geek, self-reporting is the research equivalent of asking a little kid with chocolate smeared all over their face if they ate the cookie.

The gist of the research is that Gallup showed that consumer buying behaviors aren’t impacted by whether or not they follow or like particular brands.  The WSJ article then goes on to detail several major brands including Ritz-Carlton and how they are abandoning what was thought of as traditional social media marketing strategies.

In fairness, the Gallup survey is actually pretty solid. It doesn’t purport to represent heuristic research methods nor does it say that social media is a waste of money.  The WSJ does that job all on its own.

Here’s where my beef is: the headline of the WSJ article is Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype. A closer examination of the article yields that someone originally titled the article by its sub-head: Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans. How do I know this? Check out the URL…http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658.

What this discrepancy tells me is that an editor found more utility in trying to convince readers that social media is “failing” than the real story which is that your customers don’t care about the number of fans you have. (Side note…we needed a national, census-adjusted survey to tell us this?)

The WSJ is not dumb. The editors know what they are doing and they know what their readers want. In this case, they know their readers are inherently skeptical of social media so they give them what they want in order to lure them into reading the article. This kind of bait and switch is all well-and-good but it actually obscures the actual story, which is quality over quantity.

Like I said, I’m all for research. However, we shouldn’t confuse self-reporting with actual impact on consumer behavior, which has been documented copiously in peer-reviewed journals.

New Marketing Rule: Fight The Urge To Push The Button

Oftentimes, when marketers fail it’s not because of they got the message wrong. It’s because they were too damn lazy to do it right.

Take Sponsored Posts, for instance. Facebook has made them powerful, affordable and so, SO easy.  All you do is click that little “BOOST” button on the bottom right hand corner.  It’s just so tempting, isn’t it?! BOOST your post and all your organic reach problems will go away. BOOST and you never have to say “you’re sorry” in a KPI report.

Sure, there are reasons that Sponsored Posts work but here, elegantly in a single photo, Tom Fishburne illustrates why that kind of thinking is folly:


Tom has a little lighter touch than I do but then again, I’ve met these types of marketers in real life and its astounding to hear them talk about what they think works with audiences. The fact is that the above illustration demonstrates a critical gap in what marketers want to accomplish and how much energy and thought they are really willing to put in, in order to make that happen.

For instance, what if that Subway post accompanied a sponsored partnership with a weight loss message board.  Yeah, remember message boards? They were social media before media was social.  They still exist and tend to have some of the most on-point opportunities for marketers to engage with target audiences.  The problem is that its nearly impossible to engage as easily in message boards as it is on Facebook.

This is where footwork comes in.  If marketers think about where the conversations occur  and exactly what they can do to bring value to the conversation, they would realize that they can’t just phone it in when it comes to consumer engagement. Producing content, engaging with gatekeepers, crafting sponsorship opportunities in unconventional medium are all examples of things that are a major pain in the a$$.  The thing is that it works!

Time and again, I’ve seen the investment in knowing, understanding and crafting approaches specifically for your audience.  Yes, it takes more time, sometimes more money and definitely more brain power than throwing sponsored messaging at a wall and seeing if it sticks. You know what? So does anything worth having.

So I say to my fellow marketers its time to stop being so lazy. Put the time and effort in and see how that works out for you.

PS: Yes, that BOOST rant was also so I could feature the Ren & Stimpy reference. You’re welcome.

Making Agency Pitching More Effective With Kaizen Principles

There wasn’t a ton of creativity when Toyota coined its now famous system for ensuring quality and efficiency.  Case in point – they named it the Toyota Production Method (TPM).

Behind TPM was a principle called Kaizen, literally translated to GOOD CHANGE. Kaizen has been able to do a lot for industrial production.  It helps cut down errors and increase output exponentially.  It has been widely adopted across organizations from Sony to Amazon but the question is what could it do for the service industry in general and the agency world, specifically?

Certainly, in the agency world, process tends to run contrary to the free-flowing spirit of creativity. However, with the increased pressure to show return on investment for marketing spend, perhaps it’s time to see how Kaizen principles can apply?

Being a geek like that, here are two Kaizen principles in particular that I think could easily be rolled out in the agency world:

1) Simplify Pitches Into Two Categories

Agencies tend to thrive on mess in the pitching process.  It’s the continual input of creative inspiration that sometimes spawns the greatest innovation. However, all this mess tends to not only mire an agency in disorganization, it distracts from a central vision for the work product and the pitch. While digital files are easy to organize, experiential learning and feedback is not.

For instance, when an ideas is pitched and rejected agencies tend to discard it or file it away. Very infrequently is there a post-mortem on the creative process.  No one stops to ask why an idea failed to win client approval. Was it the idea itself or was it the way it was pitched? Is there sometime fundamentally wrong in the pitch process that can be identified and corrected to ultimately increase close rates and revenue?

Instead of organizing by client, often the preferred file structure, why not reduce the total number of folders you have to deal with? In fact, you really only need two categories of ideas – pitches that worked and pitches that didn’t.

2) Dive Deep Into The Layers Of “Why?” The Pitch Didn’t Work

This brings me to my second principle.  Now that you have two categories, what the hell do you do with them?

Well, how about going through them and asking why they are in one folder and not the other? In fact, Kaizen talks about asking the question “why?” five times.  It helps to determine the root cause of an issue beyond “it just didn’t work.”

For instance, take this process…a pitch was just turned down?

  1. Q: Why was the pitch turned down? A: Because the client didn’t like it.
  2. Q: Why didn’t the client like it? A: They thought it was too expensive.
  3. Q: Why did the client think the pitch was too expensive? A: They didn’t see how it connected to sales.
  4. Q: Why didn’t the client see how the pitch was connected to sales? A: It wasn’t in the pitch document.
  5. Q: Why wasn’t sales referenced in the pitch document? A: We don’t have data to support it.

Granted this is a simple example but the logical change is apparent – get the data or suggest the data to support a connection to sales.

Many times, agencies fail because they think they can only learn from what they did right. On the contrary, failure is a rich, rich library of insight. Agencies should be mining failed ideas as if they were gold.  Instead of just trying to “churn and burn” why not reduce costs, get smart and examine failures as much as successes?

The answer is pretty easy – agencies like what agencies like.  Kaizen principles are an outside production concept that tends to run contrary to the usually insular world of the agency mindset.  This isn’t a critique, per se. It’s stating a fact that navel-gazing is a favorite pastime of agency leadership.

Maybe if this ever changes the agency world could shed its stereotype of being aloof, averse to intelligence and unable to articulate its own return on investment.

What’s The Best Way To “Get Smart” About Paid Digital Media?

Paid media has always been a little bit of a puzzle to me.  Maybe it’s because I started out in one-to-one sales?

The idea of paying to get in front of a lead defeated the purpose of hiring a sales or marketing team. Then again, that’s when my audience ranged from a couple dozen to a couple thousand distinct, recognizable targets.

Flash forward a few years and when you play in an arena with millions of potential targets, all scattered about across thousands of potential touch-points and I think I’m starting to understand. In fact, after a year or two of playing B2B social media “whack-a-mole” with a couple clients with tiny budgets – I’m ready to branch out and see what Paid Media has in store.

I’ve already started exploring eConsultancy, MarketingProfs and reading the paid media news of TechCrunch and Mashable but would love to know – what are your favorite  resources to “Get Smart” about paid digital media?


Nike’s Taking Social In-House: Why It’s Good News For Agencies

Over the last two years, I’ve seen many of my clients more confident in their ability to understand and connect with consumers via social media. Like Nike has just done, many have taken the responsibilities of day-to-day management of their social media profiles in-house.

Many in the agency community will cry that this is the beginning of the end.  They will ask “how are we supposed to survive financially if  we can’t make money managing their platforms like Facebook and Twitter?” I would respond that they’re wrong in many ways.

First off all, the closer you get to the source of the information, the better social media works.  That’s just a plan fact of life reinforced by companies like Comcast, Delta and Zappos that have been managing their social media in-house for years.  By creating systems designed to connect their social media operation with other, customer-facing components of their business like customer service and sales they win with consumers.  It’s as simple as that.

Secondly, going in-house is not just the natural evolution of social media. Also, it’s a good thing for agencies.  Day-to-day management of a brand’s social media presence is fun but it’s ultimately work that takes a lot of time in terms of brand training and the cycle of content creation and approval from the client.  Thought it might be a cash cow for some agencies now, when you look at the time spent versus revenue generated, it’s not the most efficient use of creative talent in the long run.

Clients taking social media in-house allows agencies the ability to evolve to a role that helps brands achieve greater, more complex levels of engagement with consumers.  Instead of worrying about what to post next, agencies can help create CRM systems that aid in making social media conversation more rewarding for the customer and more value-add for the brand.  Simply put – it frees agencies up to do what they do best – dream and execute big.

Though many brands aren’t at the stage that they feel comfortable taking their social media management in-house, I believe we’re going to see more doing this in 2013. The best thing agencies can do is take a proactive role to educate and inform our clients to the point the feel comfortable speaking directly to and with their customers through social media.

In the meantime, those that do fear for the future of their agency model are probably the ones that will not around very much longer.

Should Your Personal Brand Increase Your Value To Your Firm?

If an employee takes the initiative to build a brand external to company time, does the company still own a piece of that brand?

This is the question I faced last week as I was discussing the future direction of the digital practice at my agency. My boss thoughtfully pointed out that, as much work as I did to blog, tweet, and network there was a part of that value enhanced by having client work to back up my expertise.

Most of my hard-core social media peers will probably argue with me on this.  They would say they brought equity into the company with their brands and those brands grew in tandem with their companies.  The Wall Street Journal, though brings a little more clarity into the picture with an article they published this morning.

As far as the WSJ article goes I am going to take a couple of contrary positions:

1)   If they want their own blog; an employee should have one external to company time and external to company resources.

2)   Employees should make clear delineation every profile whether or not the employee speaks for themselves or for the company.  A simple statement like “All Opinions Are My Own” should be sufficient.

3)   If an employee does need to have a co-branded profile, that profile should a) have the brand name in it, b) exist as a profile owned by the company and, c) subject to the exact same standards of external communication as any other medium.

I love the fact that I can have an external blog to talk about what I want.  However, I am under no assumption that I am going to be paid more because of what I do on this blog.  In my view, I maintain this blog because it helps me remain sharp, hone my opinions and, of course, annoy the bejesus out of my friends.

If you want your brand to be a reason you are paid more then start your own company blog.  Otherwise, as my boss is probably thinking while reading this, quit ranting and get back to work.

How Many Times Must We Explain Why You Should Separate Your Personal And Client Twitter Accounts?!

At some point in time, social media managers are going to realize they need separate programs to manage their client and personal twitter accounts.  Apparently, that point in time is coming too late for the poor soul who was, until last night, managing the @KitchenAidUSA handle.

During last night’s presidential debate a tweet, hopefully intended for said manager’s personal account was published on the official Handle for KitchenAid in the United States:

Of course Cynthia Soledad, KitchenAid’s senior director of marketing, quickly made one of the more tactful retractions I’ve seen given these kinds of mistakes.  However, the question still exists; how can you see something like this, or any number of the instances where this has happened and NOT separate your accounts?!

Here’s a thought, have one program for your personal accounts and one for your client accounts. There are plenty of options out there including ones that allow for the shut off of team access during times of crisis or heightened scrutiny.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to following @FiredBigBird and @SilentJimLehrer.


AU Brands Held Liable For Facebook Comments, Will USA Follow Suit?

Startling news from down under for social media pros; brands will be held liable for fan comments posted to their Facebook walls.

The ruling, made by Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), stems from complaints made regarding posts to the Australian version of the Foster’s and Diageo Facebook pages.  Essentially, what this means is that, in Australia, user comments on managed profiles like Facebook walls will be held to the same standard as any other advertisement.

The ASB argues that this is an extension of rules currently in place and should not affect actively-managed pages.  However, it does pose a greater threat pages that either don’t have constant moderation or believe that user comments are an extension of free speech and should not be interfered with.

By in large, this should not affect US brands but it does pose an interesting question regarding the future of community management.  The FTC, the closest thing we have in the USA to the Australian ASB, has usually stayed out of social media management questions.  That have set standards for blogger-brand relationships in general but they defer to the specific terms of agreement for the sites like Facebook.

The question is can brands in the USA continue to treat users’ comments as an extension of free speech and should they do more to manage comments on their Facebook walls?

Three Sources of Statistics to Aid Year-End Digital Planning

This year, instead of waiting till the last-minute, I’ve been keeping my eye out for statistics that can help make my case for an increased role for digital in 2012 planning.  I wanted to share three of the best I’ve found to help if you find yourself in similar situations.

The Edelman Trust Barometer (PDF)

Conducted every year, the Edelman Trust Barometer looks at who and what consumers trust.  The study not only covers trust by source but also by industry and country.  I find Trust Barometer statistics are really effective in putting the role of traditional media in perspective vs. online influencers.

WOMMA’s Word of Mouth Infographic (JPG)

Though it’s really an aggregate of data from five sources including the Wall Street Journal and Experian, data from this infographic is perfect if you need to build a case for word of mouth marketing.  Highlights include the tonality and impact of brand conversations on purchases.

Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Usage Over Time Spreadsheet (XLS)

Call me hopelessly geeky but there’s a certain rush I get when researchers offer up spreadsheets of data directly to users.  It means you can play with and cut the data as you need it and there’s no better source than the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  My favorite is their Internet usage study where you can slice and dice the data to help build your case that specific digital channels are growing with specific demographics.

Enjoy and use these statistics with intelligence!  If you know of others I may have missed, please by all means leave a link to them in the comments.  I would love to get a running list going.

My Life In Check-Ins

I am a sentimental schmuck. I also love the geo-social application, Foursquare. This is probably why for the last year I have been ruthlessly addicted to something called 4squareand7yearsago.

What 4squareand7yearsago does is send you an email every morning listing out your check-ins on that day, one year ago. As you can imagine, I’ve been having an interesting time keeping track of and counting down to my one year anniversary of moving back to Atlanta.

It’s not that the move back was anything exceptional but, like I said; I am a sentimental schmuck and I guess looking back on things gives me some perspective if I’ve actually done something with my life. Take, for instance, today’s historic, run-down:

Allow me to translate….

  • One year ago was that day I officially moved back from DC
  • Port City Java – I got up in the morning and walked to a coffee shop since my coffee maker was already in a box
  • Eastern Market – I took one lap around the historic Eastern Market before heading back to finish packing
  • DCA – My friend/landlord Frank thoughtfully drove me to Reagan-National, where I did my best Porky Pig impression in a vain attempt to hide the fact I was seriously wondering if moving back was the right decision
  • ATL – By the time I landed I had kind of made up my mind that regardless of my trepidation, I had to make the move work one way or another
  • Chattahoochee River – Failing to find my parent’s house on Foursquare, I just checked in at the local park

Some might look at Foursquare and say it’s pointless or over-sharing but, as you can see, it does serve its purpose. In this case it facilitates memory, which is an important, if not sometimes the only benchmark we have for success.

Obviously things worked out for the best.  I’m running a half-marathon, I’ve got my dream job and life is good.

How do I know I’ll keep moving forward? I don’t quite know.  I’ll just have to keep on checking in to see.

Damn You, Borsht-Guzzling Code Monkeys

So, you might notice that the blog looks slightly….ummm, different.

This is because this website, along with several of my other sites, was hacked this weekend by a bunch of borsht-guzzling code monkeys from Russia.  Thanks to them, I had to spend Sunday afternoon going site to site weeding out the bad files.  I also had to find replacement themes that would not be susceptible to the same types of attacks and beef up my server-side security.

This might all sound very foreign to most of you and, I assure you, it was to me as well.  As much as I pride myself on being geeky enough to fix anything web-related, this one was just a little too geeky for me.

Morale of the story – there is none.  Thanks for being patient as I resolve the issues.

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