Tag Archives: social networks

Empower the Niche

When advertisers try to come up with cleverly unique ideas of how to leverage a brand, it is often the pervasive (and addictive) social networks known as Facebook and Twitter that they turn to.

But these social networks are becoming more of an automatic, superfluous go-to when marketers run out of creative ideas. What some advertisers fail to appropriate (I’m not holding all advertisers responsible here), is the use of niche social networks. What they also fail to recognize is that the niche is a different animal to tackle.

For one, niche communities, according to Heather Wailing at Mashable, do not necessarily respond well or similarly to those belonging to the mass markets. The more obvious reason for this I can think of is that mass media messages do not always appeal to the masses (even though that is clearly their intention).

Hence the niche was born, out of reason for being ignored or not feeling the love as the rest of us are supposed to feel. These individuals created their own virtual public sphere to participate in (note the Habermas citation). Social niche networks have their place for the more specific tastes,including Flixster if you’re into movies, imeem if you’re into music and Ravelry – if you’re into knitting.

In leveraging niche markets, the best route is to go back to one of the archaic necessities of conversation: listening. Listening to your niche, understanding what makes them tick and genuinely being curious and enthusiastic about their culture will help you define the necessary tools to get them involved and engaged in a conversation – whether it is to introduce them to brand you think rocks or keep them coming back for more.

I will go on even further to say that you might need a slight inclination to become the shepherd of your sheep, so to speak. Seth Godin addresses this leadership attribute ever-so-clearly in his book titled “Tribes,” in which he argues to become an influential leader, one must create movements that empower communication within a ‘tribe’, or a group of like-minded individuals connected to a leader and a shared interest.

The role of a leader is crucial in establishing your niche’s goal as well as an authentic foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to forcing the tribe to follow you. This form of persuasion is in no way forceful but guiding – hence the shepherd and sheep reference (insert “ah-ha! moment here). Leaders, synonymous with advertisers, thus help sustain a consistent and healthy equilibrium within their niche, under a form of solidarity and a shared sensed of consciousness.

As leaders of their niche, advertisers can help guide and empower these smaller communities to become powerful participants and contributors to the bigger picture – the brand story – and through the appropriate channels. And as an unintended result, empowering your niche will empower you as the “Evan Almighty” who knows how to run the show. As Godin once wrote among his many social media rules, “We need you to lead us.

Photo credit: bellasinclair.blogspot.com

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The famous Twitter trends are few unique aspects within the social network, and the one key that made it all possible was that little hashtag sitting ever-so quietly on your keyboard.

And it has so much power.

Its power lies in a universal conversation, where Twitter users can hop on the net (what the kids are calling it these days), and participate in a real-time conversation about a shared passion. And this is all possible with a simple #.

Topics can range from anything to everything, including sporting events like the Superbowl, current events like #Occupy (probably 2011’s most famous social media revolutionary), and even Justin Bieber, who, according to Ad Age, was ranked the top Twitter trend for 2011.

For one, the #trending occurring on Twitter not only provides an easy avenue for people to communicate, but it also raises awareness about topics, products, services, brands and companies on, to a certain extent, a global scale (so long as you have a Twitter account).

Users can also use the hashtag to increase brand recognition within a captive, engaged audience that is included in every Tweet. Each user that participates in trending Twitter conversations is tweeting not only to that group, but their followers as well, thus increasing word-of-mouth, increase your following and to a lesser extent, brand advocacy.

Even now, we are starting to see the popularity of that little hashtag – sitting above the number 3 on your keyboard – penetrating networks outside of its own (the most obvious being Facebook). Although users are well aware that the social network does not provide the same [marketing] advantage as Twitter, Facebook users are still treating it as such.

The power of the hashtag has its advantages, but it does have its downfalls (though not many). Some Twitter users overuse hashtags and creating more Twitter gibberish, including #OneTimeAtBandCamp and #ImSoExcitedForSnow (you won’t be able to find these on Twitter).

Another downfall is the misuse of hashtags. Some companies forget to do their Twitter research and pick a trend that has been seriously abused by its users. Take Wendy’s for example. Their Where’s the Beef? campaign with the little old lady sitting in front of oversized bread buns and barely-there meat was indeed hilarious.

Even more amusing, however, were the tweets coming from their – perhaps poorly chosen – hashtag trend #HeresTheBeef. You can only imagine what people were saying about their burgers.

The advice for hashtags, then? Have fun, but be wise. Twitter users, if following the rules, can seek great benefit – whether recognition or monetary compensation – if playing by the rules. If disrespected, however, they may feel the wrath of their own doing – becoming your best friend or your worst enemy.

Who knew the little # can pack such a big punch?

Photo credit: lightspandigital.com

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Social Whores vs. Social Bores

Having too many friends on Facebook means one thing; having too little means another.

Is it fair to say that the more Facebook friends you have, the more popular you are and the more likely you rule the social realm (online and offline)?

Or, is it valid to say that the less amount of friends you have, the less socially capable you are and thus not as popular as Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell?

Elizabeth Donovan, author of Friend Me: Surviving Popularity in the Age of Facebook at Psychology Today, looks at the social systems of youth and argues, “For many teens Facebook’s friend list has become the golden opportunity to achieve acceptability from their peers.”

One student, who created a Facebook page of his own, claimed that popularity rules the schools and titled his fan page as Popularity in my school is determined by the amount of Facebook friends. Facebook users are even adding acquaintances and strangers as “friends,” who are more likely looked at as a number than a human being – and all for the sake of being labeled as the popular kid in school.

Popularity among teens is no longer an abstract rumor, it’s a social fact. – Elizabeth Donovan

According to a recent study including 176 Facebook participants, performed by Dr Daniel DeNeui, the more Facebook friends you have, the more popular you are and the less likely you are to be considered a loner by your peers.

DeNeui also found that although the average user have 120 Facebook friends, popularity peaks at 302 friends. Anything more or less than that throws you into the category of the socially superior vs. the socially inept.

But isn’t all this brouhaha about popularity somewhat fake? If strangers are befriending others just to add to their social count (Twitter is another enabler of social promiscuity), it seems to me that users are masking the truth (about themselves and what/who they represent) in the age old conflict of appearance vs. reality (Shakespeare anyone?).

Thus, is there any value (for marketers) in the socially capable vs. the socially isolated? Perhaps the more important question to ponder is does our online social status, in any way, affect our status offline?

What do you think?

Photo credit: http://blogs.cornell.edu

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Social Media’s Effects on Network Structure

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, argues that the future for individuals lies in niche-markets, as communities are becoming more and more specialized.

With the ability to access the Internet any time, anywhere, most social conversations are occurring within core networks about specific topics of interest.

The most obvious examples are the people are seeking employment on LinkedIn, befriending friends of friends on Facebook, and following and being followed by strangers on Twitter, asking questions and getting favours (including asking for organ donations).

As the Internet connects and permits all types of people to engage within these specialized networks, network diversity is also increasing. Our networks are becoming increasingly expansive and at a faster rate than the traditional/physical meet-and-greet route, and people are reaching out across various platforms.

Network users are following friends, strangers and mixing in with different community forums. As a result, the mode of communication has changed the way we communicate across physical and online barriers.

With face-to-face communication, we encounter strangers and acquaintances everyday. But this physical encounter may require more time and energy. For example, there is more time taken in joining or leaving clubs due to the physical necessities to go see people and visit places. Our “real-life” structure is somewhat limited and less mobile.

With the Internet, however, we encounter strangers and acquaintances, but we have more freedom to “move.” Through blogging, instant messaging, skype and other means of communicating on the Internet, we can casually slip into a conversation with so much ease (even with the possibility of going unnoticed), providing a sense of limitlessness.

How we communicate today did not seem feasible yesterday: our online networks have a lot less limitations than our physical ones. But is our online social networks really limitless? What are your other thoughts or comments on how social media has affected our communication network structure?

Photo credit: http://hosting.ber-art.nl

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Is Privacy a Right?

Everyone has a right to their own privacy, but individuals should be aware that there is always someone “watching” or monitoring their activity on the web, whether it is a friend or a marketing researcher -slightly creepy, I know.

So many of you creatives out there often partake in activities that allow you to contribute user-generated content or “immaterial labour,” a term coined by sociologist and social theorist Maurizio Lazzarato. In other words, online users can re-mix, mash, modify and add different elements to existing work online. It’s pretty sweet.

Although Internet users may (or may not) be aware of who is lurking around online, this crowd-source movement permits companies to use their work for business purposes and capitalize on them, often without monetary compensation or personal recognition.

Moreover, the amount of information that people share also depends on their comfort level with exposing themselves to others, thus people can control this issue by monitoring the information they do share.

Another issue  is the performance factor. Some individuals may feel a little too comfortable and exaggerate  the truth (or downright lie) about themselves to seem more popular to their peers and share way more than necessary. Conversely, others do not share enough personal information, thus decreasing chances of utilizing relevant information in a study.

But is this what our information is being used for? Studies?! (Cue horrific scream).

I don’t mean to make anyone here feel like a test rat, but in a sense, this is what is happening. Although your friends in your online social networks might be innocently creeping a photo or two or you at that party last weekend (which you posted because let’s not deny the truth – you looked damn good), marketers are also on the lookout for any personal information you reveal that may give them a lead to sell you another snuggie. Yikes!

On one hand, you could argue that “Hey, well that’s swell. This just means that marketers and advertisers are catering to my needs better!” On the other hand, others consider this a violation of their privacy. But with the Internet, there are certain rules to expect and play by, right? It’s a give and take relationship is what I’m trying to get at – unless you have something to hide.

So then why do people make their information available for public use? Perhaps they do not understand the consequences (or do not care for them). If this is the case, what is privacy worth, then? Perhaps more importantly, what is information worth online?

This is where I believe traditional forms of advertising and marketing won’t dry up, since much of the information online can become obsolete (due to information inaccuracy, biases and data error). For online research to seem worth it, there needs to be a healthy balance of traditional market research to evaluate information accuracy through what Robert Kozinets calls netnographic research, or online ethnographic research. In-depth interviews, focus groups and ZMET processes are great ways to confirm valid content and recognize plain old gibberish.

In the end, both parties are responsible for their own values. Online users should be careful with the information they post online and read/understand privacy statements (if they want to be careful about themselves), and researchers must respect the privacy rights of the respondent by asking permission of use and respecting confidentiality.

That’s what I said. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Just a little bit.

Photo credit: http://planetpublicrelation.blogspot.com

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Mobilizing Brand Advocates

“Success is when your brand blends with the conversations – with or without you” – Saatchi & Saatchi

It’s one thing when your customers are talking about you, whether good or bad. It’s another when your market no longer gives a rat’s behind about your company and stops talking about you altogether. As long as the market is talking about you or your brand, you have a fighting chance (whether you’re at the bottom of the barrel or standing on top).

Consumers are sharing thoughts, feelings, purchases, what they’re doing and what they’re not doing, seeing and what they’re not seeing, liking and disliking. People want to influence each other, market products themselves, and be heard. Consumers are talking, but are brands listening, interpreting and responding appropriately?

There are, however, different segments on the web and the 90-9-1 Rule illustrates this. Ninety per cent of users are known audiences or lurkers, who observe but do not actively contribute content in networks. Nine per cent are labeled editors that modify, add and/or delete content, yet rarely create their own content from scratch. Finally, there is the 1% of users who represent the creators or initiators who drive large amounts of social group activities, including a vast percentage of sites, new content, threads and activities.

With the 90-9-1 Rule in mind, companies can determine where to find their brand advocates, or those customers who become brand champions and influence the perceptions and behaviours of others (without the expectation of paid media – this is authentic earned media). They are not just fans, followers or loyal customers; they help to promote your brand.

A brand advocate’s work can be seen in several marketing strategies, including street marketing or viral marketing, and their characters vary (whether they are aggressive or non-aggresive in their marketing tactics). All brand advocates, however, represent a unique customer segment and are highly valuable and serve as a company’s virtual salesforce… and there are millions of them.

The most powerful aspect of brand advocates, however, is that they are trusted more than marketers and companies. According to Rob Fuggetta, CEO of Zuberance, brand advocates are 94% more trusted sources than:

  • Search engines (34%)
  • E-mail (28%)
  • Blogs (18%)
  • Company blogs (16%)
  • Banner ads (14%)

Moreover, according to Forrester Research, social media fuels every brand advocate recommendation to reach 150 people within the social web. Within the United States, about 500 million peer impressions are made annually, which now rivals advertising impressions. Even more impressive is the 52% of the U.S. general population are brand champions, and 71% are brand advocates. And the finale: 80% (yes, that’s eighty per cent) or the global population often tell others how good at least one brand is.

A brand advocate’s willingness to help others, understand more information about purchases, make smarter buying decisions, have the ability to make their peers feel more inter-connected, remain extremely loyal and spend more on certain purchases than the average customer offers quite the catch to marketers and advertisers. Thus with such high numbers of brand advocates and their abilities to drive not only revenue growth and spread WOM, how can advertisers mobilize these brand advocates?

The first step is appropriate an Advocate System, where marketers and advertisers identify who brand advocates are through question surveys, Twitter monitors, content management systems, etc. After identifying who your brand advocates are, you need to be able to mobilize them and make it easy for them to recommend, view and review content in social networks, engage in blogs with easy-to-use technology, navigate through websites and provide them with the appropriate offers and answers to their demands. Finally, marketers must track their activities through clicks, conversions, impressions, A/B testing, reviews and comments.

Once you’ve implemented the Advocate System, appropriate the necessary social advertising. Leveraging social networking sites including the obvious Facebook and Twitter links, to maintain continuously engage with your customers through videos, Tweets and the like, so the conversation is never lost and you receive a lot of feedback. Even if the conversation turns negative, companies should respond immediately with an apology or sympathetic understanding to demonstrate that you are in fact listening and do care about their customers (but try to avoid impersonal, canned responses).

Measure recall. Advertising recall, awareness and purchase intention is greater with brand advocacy. Why? Because it’s authentic. It would be like your friend telling you about this great deal at your favourite store. Nobody pushed her to go and tell you specifically about the deal at the store. And, well, according to the statistics, you trust her more than that banner ad online, right?

Lastly, marketers and advertisers need not pay or coach customers for their advocacy. This is where a brand advocate’s authenticity can shine through and make it look like the company has done nothing to promote itself – except for the satisfaction of just being the amazingly special brand that they are… WINK.

So why mobilize brand advocates? Because they are authentic. The real deal. The cream of the crop in advertising. So, you’re safest bet then, is to encourage friends to talk to each other about your brand – not hire a stranger who thinks he/she knows you to do the talking!

*A big thank you to Dr. Henderson, my professor for Customer Insights, who so generously imparted to all of her students this knowledge on brand advocacy, for the benefit of receiving a higher education. (Did that seem authentic enough?)

Photo credit by http://smallbiztrends.com/

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The Hidden Truth: Information Accuracy in Social Networking Sites

With the profuse amount of social networking sites that saturate the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, Ning, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, Blogger and WordPress, Web users have a plethora of options to choose from to express themselves and share information with others (that is, if they choose to do so). Because of this, the sharing of personal information has led to an increase in public knowledge for Web users, not only for other social media users and our friends, but for marketers as well.

The question about the type of information that individuals share online leads to a more prominent question about accuracy and performance: how do social media users portray themselves online? Do people perform or undermine who they are and how does this effect truth? More importantly, if it is difficult enough for marketers to determine the ‘real’ person behind a Facebook page or a Tweet, what is the value of online market research and customer insights?

The easy accessibility that the Internet provides allows freedom for customers to express their thoughts and opinions about anything and everything. However, the value of information research online for marketers is contemplated when they cannot tell what is true and what is false (in relation to behavioral and attitudinal information). Thus while information is freely communicated throughout the Web, marketers must be cautious about the information they pull from customer insights and should appropriate a more scrupulous and traditional approach in gathering information online.

Read the rest of The Hidden Truth: Information Accuracy in Social Networking Sites.

Photo credit: http://www.cadrecmi.ca

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Occupy Wall Street: Social & Traditional Media Power

“The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching…”

This Big Brother-like echo is what can be heard in one of many viral videos posted online about the Occupy Wall Street protests.

What first started out as a trending topic across social media networks has turned into an international clamour (and yet an eerily familiar account of George Orwell‘s Animal Farm). #OccupyWallSt became #occupyboston, #occupytoronto, #occupylondon, #occupyrome until the global outcry has now reached, a month later, 950 cities in 82 countries.

Social networks has helped get this grass movements to its feet and continues to give it momentum. Social media became the driving force behind creating awareness for citizens and has clearly encouraged them to take it to the streets, where an even bigger crowd can witness its strength and power.

Although social networks have played an important role in sparking a small fire under the issue, the diverse range of media is what is driving protestors forward. Ultimately, both citizen journalism and news coverage demonstrated through mobile phones, video and audio recorders, cameras and other devices are fuelling the movement, moment by moment.

Although social networks can enlighten and steer people to a destination, traditional forms of media also maintain the focus of what people are standing for. But without one or the other, the movement may have taken longer to implement and would perhaps make for a weaker intention.

The power of social media can only reach so far, but when it is linked to its traditional counterpart, it can make for a very compelling and masterful conduit.

Photo credit by http://www.reuters.com

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The [Network] is the Message

I like to think I’m pretty prevalent in the social realm. I’m not talking about Internet stardom (although that would be pretty cool). I mean, I’m very much involved in social networks, including YouTube, BloggerGoogle +Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, this blog, and the list goes on. So I think I can safely say that I have some idea about what goes on between Tweets and “Likes” (right?).

Based on my own observations with Facebook in particular, the posts that get the most reactions are the ones that tug on your heart strings and create a real, human connection. If your content is emotional, has some sort of personal relevance and tells a story at the same time, you’ve got yourself a winner!

This judgment is based on the amount of comments and “Likes” given to a video, article, song, etc., on a person’s or brand’s Facebook wall. Content that gets the least amount of recognition through these means are often those that are impersonal or too corporate for the likes of the people.

Here’s a quick example. I recently stumbled upon (oh! I have an account there too!) two comic images that I thought were hilarious and most likely would gage a reaction out of my friends. I posted the following images on Facebook:

The first image received nine “Likes” and two comments, while the second image received nine “Likes” and 30 comments. In fact, the second image encouraged my friends to create a story line for the characters in the photo and others had a debate over the truth to this scene. There is a sense of a shared consciousness that keeps us (somewhat) grounded in the reality that we live in.

On the contrary, when I post articles that I find are noteworthy (mostly about technology and gadgets, advertising, social media, etc.), I am lucky to get even one “Like.” Most of the time, there is no reaction to what I am posting when content relates to those topics. Facebook is more of a “place” where people rekindle existing relationships, start new ones (or end ones), not so much for discussing business tactics.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Well, then how come articles about business and more impersonal content are posted to LinkedIn and receive more attention than an emotionally-grabbing video?” If you’ve asked this question (which I have), it most likely has to do something with what communications theorist Marshall McLuhan once said: “The Medium is the Message” (Yay! Go undergrad!). LinkedIn is a network built for people to connect with employers, students, companies, etc., in relation to learn about other corporations, potential careers and/or business opportunities.

Perhaps in comparison to Twitter and LinkedIn, Facebook has already established a thriving network based on personal connection with people we know. With Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon and Blogger, you can befriend or follow random strangers. On LinkedIn, well, sometimes we just want to connect with people for the sake of having an important contact to suck up to for that job position you really want (…).

But like Facebook, and perhaps YouTube, which thrives on visual content (and engages the more emotional side of us all), have a nostalgic element to them. People want to laugh at that hilarious joke that your buddy posted on your wall, or cry a little after seeing an emotional video about a deaf person hearing their voice for the first time (and this one got 6,672,092 hits!).

Or maybe there’s something else to it. Maybe these social networks make it easier for us to know that we are not alone, that we are all connected in this thing called life together… whatever network we’re signing on to. Whatever the reason, the network is still the message, and whatever content we throw out there, it’s up to the people to decide where it belongs.

Photo credit by http://www.focus.com and endlessorigami.blogspot.com

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