This blog has moved!

…to http://www.helenanm.com

Welcome to my new blog – I hope to see you all there!

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Does social media sell?

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I think we’re  beyond realisation that social media is great for reputation and crisis management, customer service, recruitment or mobilising communities around an honorable cause. There is a great amount of case studies to prove it.

But in these financially hazardous times it’s more important than ever for companies to see that they can actually make money on social media tactics, also in a short term perspective. I know that there are many critics who believe that the very “short term” attitude to social media is blasphemous, and reject the notion of social media campaign altogether.

However, there are some brands which succeeded in effectively using social media to improve their business of today. Southwest Airlines and InterContinental Hotels are just two brilliant examples. What is their secret key that helped them to improve their immediate sales, while there are so many others who try in vain? Is it because they were more innovative in their creative concepts, or is it because they were the first to the market to try particular tactics, like Ding-widget and viral PCR promotion?

ding-widget

The suspicion that social media campaigns don’t really bring in the money came to me some while ago, when I kept reading the reports of various campaigns. They notoriously referred to the amount of traffic to the websites, user generated content and blog coverage. But if any one of these companies would hit a jackpot in sales as a direct result of their involvment in social media, wouldn’t they be screaming out loud about it?

The thing is, I don’t really believe it did. The recent digital campaign by Nike+ in Norway , Men VS Women, conducted by the company I work for, clearly showed that there are no plausible correlation between the size of the online community and actual sales of the product. In fact, the team which had  fewest members (appr. 3oo) on its Facebook group, run almost twice as much kilometers (and, hence, bought more Nike+ products) than the leading group (appr. 1000). Notice: the campaign is not over yet.

So, does social media sell? Can we use it as a marketing strategy to drive short term sales? From larger business perspective, I think that unless you’re Apple, D&G or Harley Davidson – your brand name won’t sell alone. Apart from the brand loyalty, in these highly competitive times price is likely to be the most important factor for the end user. Together with another two. Context and Timing. And nothing is so JIT (just in time) as social media.

Is Internet advertising dead yet?


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A recent article on TechCrunch, written by Eric Clemons: Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet prompted a heated debate on the subject both in the comments and other blogs. The author’s postulat is that participatory nature of the Internet, which presents users with multiple choices ultimately rejects advertising. While surfing the web, people don’t want advertising, don’t need advertising and don’t trust advertising. Good provicative post, which I recommend together with it’s some 500 comments.

Now I know that I earlier have written that I myself don’t believe in mass advertising on the Internet. However, I think this issue is far more complex to be answered by one sentence. For the first, we shouldn’t confuse the concepts of advertising and PR. While both are marketing tactics, they are not the same. Every effort to monetize the Internet, whether it is a website, search optimization, product placement, opt-ins, reviews, e-mail and mobile marketing –  I think it’s too thin to call it all advertising. One thing is to say that advertising on the Internet will fail, and dramatically different thing is to claim that all monetization of the Internet will fail.

But even if we limit advertising to ‘simple commercial messages’, as Clemons puts it – I think there is hope for advertising to survive. I agree with Clemons, when he says:” simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail”. But I think there is also an answer there.  Yes, mass advertising on the Internet will fail. But relevant and creative advertising for a targeted group of people, while they are in the middle of searching for a certain type of information somewhere in the middle of nowhere of the long tail – will it automatically fail too?

Maybe. But I think it’s worth trying. After all, what do you have to lose? The long tail is cheap.

How to pick a community manager?

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Lately I see many poor attempts from the organisations to manage the “community issue”. Most of these are still early adapters in Norway, and deserve praise for the initiative. But giving the job to a wrong man will more often than not result in…well, no result at best.

So, what are the common mistakes people do when hiring a community manager?

1.  Placing an add in a local newspaper with text that sounds like this: ” If you’re young and ambitious (maybe a student who’s looking for extra earnings) and have understanding for social media, we have a position for you”.

2. Extending the responsibilities of the exisitng information manager (who has only worked with offline media) to cover social media channels in addtion to the rest of the official communications.

3. Hiring the external social media guru.

The main purpose of getting a community manager is to listen to all those voices on the web who talkes about your organisation, and when approprite, respond to them. He or she is ideally supposed to build the community around your company by being timely, transparent and valuable. But most importantly, the community manager should be able to convey the best attributes and qualities of your company to those who doesn’t know about them yet, or those who got dissapointed. Now how can you ever be persuasive and authentic if you talk about something you don’t believe in or know everything about?

The best way to pick a community manager is therefore an organic way: through natural selection from within the organisation. You’ve got to find someone who’s got both passion and loyalty for your company and a genuin interest and understanding of social media. Before searching for experts outside, look at you employees. Maybe there is already one or more who’s doing the job just for the love of it. No one will represent your company better than those who breath your corporate culture, knows all the stories, weaknesses and streanghts, and proud to be a part of it.

Anyone can learn social media techniquies.You can even teach a crow to speak a human language, but it’s how it’s being spoken that makes all the difference.

How to undertake a social media ‘campaign’

catch-a-star3At the risk of appearing over self confident (I’m just starting my carrier as a digital PR consultant) I decided to express my views on the subject. I hope my more experienced readers will correct me if I’m out of line.

Considering that half of the social media campaigns will fail  I think we should get to roots of the problem and roots of the solution. Surely, there is some truth in the opinion: if you think of social media in terms of ‘campaign’ you’re already failed. The fact is, fundamentally, social media is not about getting your message across – alone. But it’s about that too. As much as it is about having conversations with stakeholders, engaging users in the brand experience, customer service and crisis management ‘just in time’, being transparent and useful. It’s about all this and much more – but it’s never about a monologue.

As i previously wrote, social media strategy rarely holds a stand alone – unsupported by offline marketing communications, value adding services or great creative consepts. My main point of this post  is that thinking about your markeiting communications must start right here. Do you have a great product and a great concept? If you do (very few does) – you will most likely succeed with a blitzkrieg social media campaign that will make people talk long after you’re gone. But if you don’t – and that’s the case for most of the brands out there – don’t try to fly if you havn’t got the wings.

Always start with asking a question: is this product worth talking about? If it’s not, you should ask how to get people talking about you instead. Skittles is a good example of such way of thinking.  Of course, it depends on what business you’re in. That’s why I believe that productification of social media tactics is simply not possible. Only after a good research and a great deal of creative thinking will you know if you can take a shot on a social media campaign, or if it will have to evolve as a long term strategy. Smart brands already found out of this, and not wasting time and money on campaigns that will most certainly fail.

Indeed, we all want to sell something. But most of us will need to accept that it will take a much longer route to success than they would have hoped. And, just so you know, there are not short cuts any longer.

Listen and thy shall be rewarded

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There is a great article in the last week’s Advertising Age by Freddie Laker “The Paradox of Interactive Marketing “. He warns against polluting potentially optimal interactive platforms with bombarding users with too much of social media goodies – ads, apps, widgets, contests, games and so on. His main point is that even if the conditions are close to perfect to engage the users in ‘brand experience’ – the user gets so overwhelmed with the choice of interactive opportunities and imposed attention that they get turned off instead. What can be done to stop this over saturation of social media platforms, and how can we make our community to stay with us?

The marketers need to aknowledge the fact that as both quantity and quality of information on the web are increasing, the users’ attention span limits are dramatically decreasing. The new marketing hype these days is the user generated content – but just how many UGC-contests can we participate in? As a result, there is a clear trend that users are leaving not only traditional media channels, but also their favorite websites.

Another problem is that most of the companies who engage is social media, do so quite passively. They might have a presence in form of a group on Facebook or Flickr, or YouTube contest – but it usually ends there. The social media spiral doesn’t take off, but usually just hangs as an unfinished circle, with not much $ to show for.

Now I know this will sound kind of dramatic, but maybe we should stop focusing so much on our products, and ourselves. Maybe we should just listen to our market segment. Ask questions. Give advices. Be there when they need us. Treat them just how we would treat a friend. No selling, no imposing, no campaigns – at least for a while. If we don’t have time to listen to them – why would they listen to us? If we don’t have patience with them – their patience for us is limited to 1 minute per website.

There are a lot of rewards in listening. Imagine that you can get to know your audience like your own pair of hands. Then you can segment even further, and craft even more personalized and relevant messages.

Being there all the time means nothing in comparison to being there exactly the moment when your audience is open for your suggestions.

 

The future is bright? The future is digital.

                                                               e-book

Steve Rubel has challenged his digital community again this weekend by stating that by 2014 all tangible media in the US will be in digital form: newspapers, magazines, books, DVDs, etc.

As unbelievable as it sounds, I think he is not that crasy as his post readers’ poll suggests.  When it comes to print news, I’ve been following it’s trends since this spring, both in Norway and internationally. This weekend I arrived at the conclusion that newspapers will not recover after this year’s financial crisis. High drive costs combined with falling revenues both in form of sales and advertising incomes is a very bad combination. It’s creepy to see how in desperate chase after cash, even the most serious editions are degrading in their content, getting more and more inadequately squeezed in between glossy banner ads. There is no way they can survive the digital wave now that the news are not only being broken online, but also collectively analysed in ways impossible for journalists to compete with. Switching from print to digital news will also be a natural transition in our increasingly environmentally-aware culture.

DVDs and mainstream video game industry will vanish because of the rocketing choice of the free software combined with rapidly increasing bandwith: it’s just to take a look at the music industry.

The only truly sad thing about media digitilisation is a gloomy prospect that books too will be replaced with digital Amazon Kindle-like alternaltives. With books being at the very base of our modern civilisation, it is hard to let them go. And I also wonder how future civilisations will survive say next ice age or some other drastic lose of all electricity, with no instructions on how to turn it back on.



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