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Meerkat: Worth The First-Mover Risk?

Why the new live-streaming app might just be worth the risk for brands.

One of the biggest gambles a digital media professional can make is recommending a new social media platform. If it goes right, the client wins accolades for being a first mover. If it goes wrong, you’re the geek that cried “wolf” and wasted a lot of time and money.

This week, #SXSW will be abuzz about a new platform called Meerkat. Simply put, it’s a live-streaming video app that has direct integration with to Twitter. Meerkat-ers can schedule streams in advance or do one on the fly. Twitter users see Meerkat streams right in their feed if they follow the user’s Twitter accounts. Watching videos is fun and users can even tweet in-app to comment on streams.

We’ve seen other apps like this, such as Qik that never really took off. However, I’m actually kind of bullish on Meerket and here’s why:

1. It’s easy to get your head around.

Unlike Snapchat – which I still can’t figure out – the premise of Meerkat is simple. It’s interface is understandable and it conforms to video viewing and commenting behavior that users have become used to thanks to with popular platforms like YouTube and Webex.

2. It takes advantage of pre-existing platforms. 

I can’t underscore the importance of Twitter in the Meerkat equation. Rather than asking you to sign up for a new platform, users log in with their Twitter name and password. This is critical because I believe that users are at or nearing a point of platform saturation. Allowing users to skip the account creation process is going to speed adoption in a big way.

3. It fulfills a business need.

Finally, Meerkat delivers on something I think that users can enjoy and that marketers could really use – the fusion of streaming video and chat. The potential for use across PR, event marketing, and even corporate communications is HUGE. Just think about live-streaming a press conference, a product reveal, or even a just an “ask me anything” session.

Though we’ll have to wait and see if Meerkat really debuts as big as I think it will, it made a big enough impression on me to start ideating on ways my clients can utilize the new platform. In the meantime, follow me at @jareddegnan for live streams.

How To Make Social Media Conferences Not Suck

You can call me an occupational elitist, an intellectual snob or even just a plain old hatter but the fact is that today’s social media conferences are a waste of time, money and talent. Not only is the programming for these events woefully uninspired, the ones I have recently attended actually seem to make the problems of lack of innovation and accountability in social media worse.

As an example, let’s take last week’s Digital Summit here in Atlanta. The concept itself is fantastic; put on a nationally-relevant social media conference in a city that is fast becoming a hotbed for start-ups and corporate innovation. The only problem with that plan is that, of the speakers that actually showed up, most seemed to be more interested in patting themselves on the back than discussing the nuances of execution.

At one point, I even tried to follow-up with one of the speakers about the details of a “case study” they presented. I was curious about what he had done differently in his campaigns and began to try to discuss the particulars with him.  It turns out that he hadn’t actually achieved any results, yet. He said the chart was more “illustrating a theory” and that he didn’t deal with actual execution.

This pattern repeated over and over again throughout the two-day conference. Representatives of major social media sites or agencies would get up on stage, talk about their company and then tell grandiose but detail-absent stories about their “amazingly successful” campaigns.

I’m trying really hard not to hate here. I’ve been to plenty of great conferences where this isn’t the case but the fact is that it’s easy to present a case study about a popular brand backed by campaign funded by a truckload of money.  What about the challenges you faced getting there, though? What were the client objections you had to overcome? How did you track your results to an actual impact on their business?

Speakers at social media conferences aren’t going to talk about these things because that’s not what these conferences are set up to do. Instead of discussing how to make things better and setting up an event where social media professionals can help each other, these conferences have become exercises in vanity. In fact, many conferences like Digital Summit spend more time on sponsorships and stage decorations than they do vetting and arranging programming.

It’s ironic that social media conferences have turned into the exact thing social media hates most: tightly controlled, highly polished environments where speakers talk at, rather than with participants.  

Social media evolves so quickly. Time and financial resources for professional development is so scarce. Why wouldn’t we focus on setting up open exchanges of information?

To me, there are three very simple things conferences like Digital Summit can do to, for lack of a better term, not suck…

1. Encourage Presenters To Be Human

Instead of telling us how great you are, tell us what challenges you overcame that made your campaign great. If you don’t have a story to tell about innovation or dealing with the tough realities of client/brand relations then find another venue.

2. Fewer Lectures, More Interaction

One of the things I love about the un-conference model is that it encourages the attendees to participate, present and give active feedback in the sessions. Sure, I love listening to big, keynote speakers talk about what’s next in the industry but that should be desert, not the main course.

3. Create Separate Tracks For Paid Sponsors

I understand that sponsors play an important role in putting on events and there’s definitely value to their presentations. However, just like we do with sponsored content in social media, let’s call these sessions what they actually are: promotional content aimed at customer acquisition. After all, if you’re asking attendees to pay for the privilege of being sold to, at least do them the favor of being transparent about it.

When social media was first attracting real professionals, attending a conference was the most exciting thing you could do.  Not only were there great ideas and presentations, but there was a camaraderie among the attendees.  Even sponsors were humble enough to send their best teams to learn something new.

Maybe, just maybe if we talk about the realities, difficulties and aspirations of using social media to change minds and engage customers, we can rekindle some of that excitement. Until then, I am going to be very reticent to lay out any more of my money, or my company’s money on conferences that are more self-serving than anything else.

Great Content = Ordinary Products That Do Great Things

These days content and social media managers are a dime a dozen. The challenge is finding one that can not only do the job but bring a unique perspective that helps elevate the content from ordinary to extraordinary.

I’ll give you an example…the following is what I consider a fairly bland, ordinary, check-the-box Facebook update: {PRODUCT} is special. Learn more here about {FEATURE}: {LINK}

Sure, it communicates what the client wants it to communicate but does it really engage with the client/customer? Not really.

Great content, when it comes down to it, is a function of one thing: not just talking about a great product, but a product that does great things.

Take, for instance, my former client Porsche.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 6.25.36 AM

The product is so sexy, such an amazing machine that the team essentially could just post photos all day with no text and beat out most other pages in engagement. As it stands, though, they have a great social team and I had to hunt long and hard to find a post that even resembled a basic one like that.

Your product might not be as sophisticated or as aspirational as a Porsche but damn, what if you thought it performed just as well? What if you talked about what the product could do rather than just its features?

Let’s take an appliance brand, shall we? There’s nothing blander than selling blenders, right? Well, apparently Frigidare proves us wrong:

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 6.30.13 AM

What did they do? They talked about the results, not the product itself. Getting the customer to imagine their life with a product or service has always been a staple of great salesman.

What we have to do, as content marketers, is pull our heads out of our asses and think about the great things our products can do. Sure, the examples I gave were quite basic Facebook posts but you can extrapolate that same concept to almost anything.

White Papers, Presentations, Tweets – they can all start down the road to amazing results by asking how does the product do great things.

Next time you’re asked to hire a community manager or even write content yourself ask what great things your product can do and then see what content comes of it.  I’ll guarantee you its going to be better than you think.

Try it and tell me how it goes.

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.

Polly Wanna’ Cracker? Kellogg Wants You To Tweet For It

There may not be such a thing as a “free lunch.” Thanks to Kellogg though, Twitter users in London can now at least have some free chips…well, almost free.

Kellogg UK has opened up a “Twitter Shop” to drum up buzz for their new Special K popcorn/cracker creation.  Users walk into the shop, tweet about the crackers and they get a free box.  Simple enough but just in case that didn’t make sense, they created this handy promotional video:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWSRRLFPCYk

Now, this isn’t the first time a company has given away free stuff in exchange for tweets.  I recall Yahoo! did something similar at a conference I attended.  With them, I got to take home a huge, paper dictionary of social media and web terminology…I know, ironic right?

I tend to like this tactic in general and love the guerrilla-style offline marketing execution Kellogg UK created with it. Hey, they were probably going to have to do trials anyway so why not require some buzz creation along the way?  The only caveat I have with this is that there is no online component to this aside from Twitter.

To me, Kellogg is missing a HUGE opportunity to create a microsite with live feeds from the store.  IMO, users would LOVE to share photos of themselves in the shop tweeting or trying the new creations. It would help amplify and multiply the buzz opportunity.

Kellogg USA…send the check to me via paypal ’cause unlike the people in the video, I don’t work for crackers. Toodles!

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?

Social Media Intellectualism Outside The Bubble

Though I don’t credit my time at a “big box” social media agency for a lot of personal growth it did do one thing for me, instill a hefty respect for the exchange of real-time, valuable social media intellectualism. You know the kind I’m taking about…water-cooler exchanges about the changing nature of social media and it’s implementation, right then and there for the benefit of a client.

Once you leave the bubble, you’re faced with keeping up with news and trends without the support network of being face-to-face with dozens of other social media fanatics, like you.  This week I encountered two very different reminders of this and why social media intellectualism outside of that bubble is still an ongoing search.

The first reminder came during a networking event I attended with bloggers here in Atlanta.  By all accounts it was a fabulous event and I got to meet a ton of really smart individuals who were using blogs to turn their passion into some sort of profit.  The challenge was that the event was heavy on the doe-eyed, new-to-the-social media sphere kind of mentality.

I shared my frustration with a friend of mine who I had accompanied to the event, lamenting the fact that in terms of our own takeaways, we weren’t able to learn that much.  Instead, it was a great exposure to other points of view which is, I guess, just as good if not better.  Still, it left me hungering for networking opportunities that would teach me something new.

The second reminder came with a comment posted to one of my work blogs.  Unlike my personal blog, I try to simplify social media strategy down to the bare essentials as that’s what the audience is looking for.  I should have known, however that simplifying things would carry its own set of problems.  An author whose work I had cited found the article and proceeded to “rip me a new one.”  She accused me of missing the entire point of her work by failing to disclose the complexities of that particular issues.

The problem with the author’s work was that though she had put a lot of smart theory forward, there wasn’t really any tactical substance to it.  Like many intellectuals in the social media field, she spent a lot of time working out the complexities of the topic without really connecting it to the realities of implementation on a day-to-day basis. Though I tried to fill in that blank by offering an operational example in my post, I guess the author thought my attempt to put her work to use devalued the complexities she had built-in.

Both experiences left me understandably sour on the state of social media intellectualism. Where are the social media geeks that both know their sh&^ AND make it work? There’s a lot of room in the middle to discuss sensible, practical applications of social media outside the constant parade of “5 Ways To {INSERT BUSINESS VERB HERE} In Social Media.”

Perhaps it’s that those of us who need it most are all too busy with work?

Though “big box” social media agencies tend to promote a very production-oriented rather than a client-centric vision of social media execution, that bubble does have a benefit.  Its create a “live-wire” environment of thinking and theorization that is applicable in real-time.

Agree/Disagree? I would love to hear from other social media professionals their take on things.

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.

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