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How to Get More Views on YouTube

youtube tv

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world after Google itself, and caters to 2 billion monthly users. This makes it the second most-preferred platform for watching among 18-34 year olds, with 70% of views determined by YouTube’s own recommendation algorithm. Sure, not everyone has the need to start a YouTube channel, but the numbers are pretty compelling if you want to get your brand in front of that audience. 

While search priority can be divided into two basic factors, engagement and SEO, there is a lot that goes into the YouTube algorithm to push videos in front of viewers. Understanding these needs can put into place a strong strategy for your channel, and help determine what videos should be created and shared for maximum return. 

Your audience & competition

One of the first things for any advertising platform is to define your audience. Although YouTube is no different in this aspect, because it is a social platform the landscape of competition can vary. 

Take for example a food brand. While they may be competing against other food brands during a TV commercial or magazine ad, on YouTube their videos are competing against thousands of professional cooks and at-home makers who are all vying for more viewers and subscribers. Researching and understanding every type of competitor for your business can help you understand what content is already out there, and what part of that engages your audience the best. 

Analyzing ranking & engagement

As we mentioned earlier, ranking can really come down to two things: engagement and SEO. YouTube wants to give fresh, exciting content to viewers that they’ll want to watch, and using a complex algorithm is how it is determined. While views is the top determination for their algorithm, followed by likes and subscribers, every element can play a part. Here is a breakdown of things to consider:

Engagement

  • Individual videos: While video views is the number one factor, YouTube also takes into account likes/dislikes, comments, video duration and estimated watch time. 
  • Full channel: Other factors include overall channel views, average views per day (channel and video), subscribers and channel comments. 

SEO/Technical

  • Keywords: Research should be done to ensure the best keyword match and amount for titles, descriptions and tags. 
  • Length: Length of any copy areas, including descriptions, tags and titles for channels and videos can also play a role in determining ranking.
  • Power in numbers: The number of domain links, embedded links, channel videos and days since publication are all accounted for in YouTube’s algorithm. 

Increasing subscribers & views

While video views are the most important factor for YouTube, for new players in the game other things need to stay in focus to get that viewership up. 

Things like paid media, contests, website embeds, links from other social platforms or partnerships can all help push viewers to your videos without YouTube’s algorithm helping out. Once on your channel or video, it’s good to crosslink to your other content with end cards and thumbnails; or simply asking viewers to comment, like and subscribe can increase viewership organically. 

Another important aspect is to stay engaged as a brand, to really build a community with your viewers. Viewers and subscribers will notice if you’re always asking for comments but never giving responses in return. 

Here are some questions to ask to keep engagement top of mind:

  • Do we have a face for these videos?
  • Are we communicating with our audience/asking for feedback in comments?
  • Do we ask viewers to like/subscribe?
  • Are we talking about future content to get subscribers coming back? 
  • Have we found partnerships with other channels/influencers? 
  • Are we consistent with content/showing things subscribers want?

Nurturing engagement requires developing a community of loyal return visitors, meaning that strategy and questioning should be constantly reassess. Top YouTubers don’t stay at the top without keeping attune to their audience needs, analyzing their channel and video analytics, and making changes as needed. Keeping on top of these things will help your brand presence grow on YouTube, keep subscribers engaged, and help the platform share your content with new audience members.

Facebook Brand Lift Overview

A sneaker flying with wings

If you advertise on Facebook, or plan to in the future, you may have considered doing a Brand Lift test to see deeper results of how that advertising is supporting your initiatives. But it’s important to note that not all brands need or have access to Brand Lift studies. Our experience working with brands who have done them has given us useful insight into how they work, and who they work best for. 

Brand Lift Basics

The point of a Facebook Brand Lift test is to use polling, aimed randomly at Facebook users who have seen your ads, to learn more about ad recall and effectiveness. It can be done for one specific campaign, or across a breadth of advertising within specific dates. The test will run within the dates of the campaign, or after it has completed, but not both. 

After determining the audience group, Facebook will randomly create test and control groups, polling them with quick surveys asking questions ad and brand recall. 

Who They’re Useful For

Brand Lifts are useful for companies planning to run one campaign for a single brand or product. If you have multiple offerings or products within your company, and advertising is mixed or crosses products, this type of study may not produce clear enough data to make it useful. 

Another thing that is required for these tests to work is that creative and budget remain the same throughout the campaign. Again, switching things or testing messages on a campaign can be valuable for other results, but would not yield the data that a Brand Lift is meant for. 

Facebook has also set company requirements for a Brand Lift test. One is that in order to run this free test you need to already be working with an Account Representative, and possibly meet certain budget requirements for the advertising you are testing. If you’re not sure if you qualify for a Brand Lift test, we can let you know!

Outcomes to Expect

A well-planned Brand Lift test will be able to help you understand if your advertising is memorable, how aware it has made people of your brand or product, and if potential customers are considering purchasing what you offer. 

The results can be very effective in planning future ads and messaging strategies to best reach future customers, grow an audience or increase sales. 

How COVID Has Changed Brand Messaging

Back around March there was a moment when everyone thought COVID-19 would be an inconvenience that lasted possibly a few weeks. Businesses closed temporarily, people began to stay home, and the advertising industry seemed to spin new ads overnight for companies that wanted to keep their voice heard during a confusing time. 

Initial Messaging

With time constraints, budget considerations, and a whole lot of unknowns, these ads started to sound a little similar. Someone took notice, and created a parody ad that could have easily ended with almost any brand logo and still made sense. 

Commercials weren’t the only place similarities existed. We helped our clients craft messages for their websites, emails and other digital platforms to address the situation and ensure their customers that they were doing everything they could to keep everyone safe. 

The strategy wasn’t focused on originality, it was to get a straight-forward message customers could quickly see to ease stress or worry. And it worked. Customers needed to find information quickly, understand how the brand was affected and what they were doing to continue forward–and that is exactly what they found. 

Current Messaging

Now that we have all come to understand this pandemic is lasting far beyond those first few weeks, or even months, messaging is shifting again. Things like social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizer are infused into pretty much every person’s daily life. In addition to the “new normal” we’re growing accustomed to, brands have had more time to stop and think about messaging that can be more tailored to their company and their customers.

The result shows just how nimble the advertising world can be, and the need for companies to shift and adapt quickly. For some brands that has meant cheeky campaigns or clever ways to present their content–while still being something that can be quickly produced and budget-sensitive. 

Take this most recent KFC commercial. Sure, it doesn’t address all the seriousness of the coronavirus, or even really make literal sense, as some viewers point out in the comments. But it does give KFC a way to join the conversation, and to make you stop and think about their brand slogan (and finger-lickin’ good chicken). 

Another more guerilla tactic is the one Burger King Belgium implemented: face masks printed with your order when you place a pick-up through their app. Again, this idea hits a number of markers, but mostly it’s giving their customers a little extra something of interest, while also leaning into the norms we’ve come to know.

Burger King mask example

Or a more subtle, yet strong, approach to the current times, Nike released an ad for their Nike Membership with the slogan, “You can’t stop sport. You can’t stop us.” The ad is so typical Nike, with all the emotion and buildup that comes from sports, but weaving in the most current feelings: cleaning bleachers, playing sports with masks, without crowds, and inside your home. 

Thinking about these same strategies, and what makes them successful, can help lead timely and impactful messaging no matter where your brand is speaking to customers. Emails, social media posts, digital or traditional advertising…the truth is simple: people connect with messages that resonate. And what resonates right now are the current events that encompass us all.

As you think about what you’re putting out there, or about to put out there, first ask yourself how this pandemic has affected your customers. Not in general terms, but specifically how your company being affected has trickled down to them. That is how to leverage creative in a thought-provoking way. As Burger King showed us, it’s not just about wearing a mask–it’s how wearing a mask affects ordering their food. Or in Nike’s case, how social distancing won’t stop the sports you love. 

Create Stronger Connections with LinkedIn Live

LinkedIn Live example on mobile.

LinkedIn Live has been around for a little over a year, but it has remained an underutilized platform for many businesses. Now, with companies getting more comfortable with digital experiences, and looking for more meaningful ways to connect with their audiences online, LinkedIn Live is getting the second look it deserves. 

While the name implies a lot about what it does, this feature shouldn’t be seen as only for live videos. Pre-recorded and edited videos are just as easily shared through this feature as live conferences or webinars. 

Live events and live videos allow for another facet to connect with professional users in a way that resonates with them, and provides more opportunities for two-way conversation and brand loyalty. 

Find Your Level of Professionalism

Keeping with the professional atmosphere, LinkedIn Live uses professional partnership services to stream your videos to viewers. These third-party services range from free options to paid tiers depending on what your company needs. Services include things like multiple filming angles, professional editing and customer support for your attendees. 

Engage Your Audience

To get the most out of LinkedIn Live we really push strategy. Asking questions like: who is the intended audience, how can we reach them, and what is relevant to them? Answering these will help layout a plan about how to market, connect and speak to relevant users to make the strongest connection with potential viewers.

For example, if you are only promoting your LinkedIn Live video through organic posts and to users who already follow your brand, this cannot be thought of in terms of conversion-based KPI’s. The topic can maybe be more specific, since you know more about what they want. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking to reach a new audience, your marketing plan needs to reflect that. This is a good time to utilize LinkedIn advertising, or create a LinkedIn Event that people can join and easily share with others. 

No matter what way you choose, it is paramount that you get the word out effectively. This means multiple posts or ads building up to your LInkedIn Live stream. Additionally, engagement early on helps people have time to share and remember so they don’t miss out.

Connect, Follow-up, Repeat

Just like any in-person event your company attends or develops, it’s important to follow up with your attendees to keep that connection going. Share on LinkedIn and other platforms post-stream, email attendees with additional information, and continue to invite them to connect with your brand in meaningful ways. This strengthens the bond and keeps them excited for future events, live streams, or other opportunities you develop and share. 

Social Listening Amidst Disorder

Improve Social Listening for Brands

To maintain and grow your brand on a digital level, social listening can be one of the most important tools you deploy. Social listening is crucial for a brand that is trying to connect with current customers, especially during events like we’ve been experiencing these last few months.
Here are ways to use social listening to help your brand better understand:

Analyzing Sentiment

Reviewing and analyzing current conversations on places like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can help in understanding what customers are currently feeling towards your brand. This can be useful in two ways. First, it can provide valuable insight into keywords and topics you can use to connect with existing sentiment and need. It can also help you quickly react to consumers. Especially in a situation we are in now, where brand conversations can shift quickly, it’s important to know what people are needing and wanting.

Understanding Conversations

For first-time analysis, it is recommended to do social listening for the full prior year, if the brand has conversation volume to do so. Beyond that quarterly review is typically advised, although more updates can help if the conversation is changing rapidly.

Reviews look for main keywords, top mentions (such as influencer conversation), and which social platforms have the majority of the conversations. Analyzing these, in correlation with daily mentions, whether sentiment is positive or negative, and demographics of the topics/keyword mentions. It can also be useful to target groups like Millennials, etc. if that’s where you know the conversation is happening. For global brands, looking into language or country separately can be necessary too.

Filter What’s Important

Scouting keywords and tracking quantitative data is one thing, understanding the quality of the data is another. To best utilize social listening you need to have strategy and discernment for which conversations to follow, and which to leave behind. For example, a brand we do social listening strategy for recently launched an IGTV channel, prompting a spike in conversation. It’s important to relate the spike to the event to know why the spike occurred to respond accordingly.

Some of this can be found by specifically finding keywords that fit your brand, versus more generic terms that can throw off findings and results. It also helps to read context into conversations, looking for spikes and patterns of conversations/keywords, and analyzing the data in relation to things like new product launches, company updates or current events within the community.

Understanding all aspects of social listening can help with organic content creation as well as advertisements in both digital and other channels. As quickly as conversations and sentiments can change, so can the digital platforms you’re listening on. Every day hashtags shift, platforms add services to entice brands, and the volume of conversations is altered. Truly connecting with your audience, and responding to their current needs and wants, can bring stronger brand loyalty, recognition and drive more meaningful conversations in return.

Guide to Social Media Platform Selection for Brands

Guide to Social Media Platform Selection for Brands

A lot of clients and potential clients inquire about best practices for social platform selection and how to determine posting frequency.

With a clear picture of your target audience, we recommend that you ask the following questions:

  • What are you using the platform for? (i.e. Brand Awareness? Referral Links?) What are our goals?
  • Is this platform relevant to the selected target audience?
  • Is the target audience active on this platform?
  • How do your competitors currently use the platform? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Does your budget allow for optimization of the platform’s capabilities?
  • What is trending?

Post frequency varies by platform and is closely related to content strategy. Here’s a good chart from Hubspot about post frequency for CPG, Retail and Ecommerce Brands:

Social media selection chart

And here are few rules of thumb that we’ve honed over time at Flightpath:

  • Facebook: Posting 3-4 times a week has been proven to be successful, assuming that all posts can be boosted. Posts that are not boosted will not be visible to most of your fans.
  • Instagram: It is important to post daily since organic reach is still significant for this platform. The success of Instagram Stories makes testing this option important and will allow for new key learnings about how things are evolving.
  • Twitter: This varies from 3 to 30 times a day. Tweets have a short shelf life, so it’s important to spread your tweets at different times. Twitter has evolved as a niche platform for industry news, PR, events, customer service and more specific content that works well “in real time” or in a more supportive role.
  • Snapchat: Recognizing that the majority of users are under 25, it’s wise to consider that they’re up later, and on their phone frequently throughout the day. We recommend testing various content series’ and monitoring ongoing engagement to see what works best.
  • Customer Service: Consistent monitoring and community engagement is an indispensable piece of any social strategy.

The most important rule of thumb is to test, test and test some more. Platforms and consumer behaviors are constantly evolving and what works for one brand at one time may not be true at for someone else or at another time.

Cultivating and Utilizing UGC

In this day and age, people are constantly taking and sharing photos. Thanks to their 8-megapixel smartphone cameras and built in filters, it’s easy to take a glorious picture. But the real moneymaker moment happens when someone shares a photo involving a brand. This is what we call: User Generated Content. UGC is any form of content such as a, video, image or blog post created by a consumer or end-user and is publicly available. Social media mediums have proven to be continuously reliable sources for UGC. This is due to the simple fact that platforms such as Instagram and Twitter are hashtag based and easily searchable; vice versa, users are able to tag brands on posts, sometimes eliminating the need to search at all. Not to mention, everyone’s on social!

UGC posts become a kind of endorsement for brands; with the proper permission brands can repurpose these posts and show them off on their own social media page. “User-generated content as a media channel comprises an increasingly significant share of time that consumers are spending with content overall- indicating that consumers are ever more receptive to it. (Crowdtap)”Here’s how top brands go about acquiring and utilizing UGC.

 

The first step is always getting permission

starbucks

A big name like Starbucks has so much UGC at their fingertips (literally), but they still need to take the appropriate steps in order to share a consumer’s photo.
Often times brands will create campaigns encouraging users to create content
ModCloth2
In August 2015 Modcloth launched a contest on Pinterest “Be Our Pinspiration,” asking users to create a Pinterest board filled with inspirational images and named after the Modcloth campaign. The winner received a gift card and clothing pieces named after them.

 

For brands, hosting contests on Facebook is a simple and easy way to get UGC

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.32.58 AM

Dove’s “Share Your Beautiful Self” promotion asked users to upload a photo of themselves and a friend. Dove turned each entry into an e-card that could be shared with Facebook friends.
But even a simple hashtag search can reveal a plethora of UGC

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.47.28 AM

Interlux-on-Instag

Our client, Interlux Paint, receives a lot of UGC from Instagram

 

You can cross promote UGC on other social platforms, like Facebook
1

 

The biggest content drivers are people between the ages 25 and 54 and contribute to 70% of all UGC (SparkReel). UGC continues to dominate the majority of web content, with Pinterest creations up by 75% (Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers). Everyone with a smartphone is a potential content creator and this gives marketers and companies alike a huge pool of content to choose from. Content curation is a vital part in telling the story of your brand, so it’s important to see to what your consumers are saying/posting and being receptive to them. Sharing their posts is a great way of doing just that! Not to mention it’s easy and cost-efficient!

Who Won 2015?

Who Won 2015?

 

With 2015 winding down to an end, we just have one question on our mind… which social media platform won 2015? We’ve lined up our top five channels, compared the numbers and weighed the results. While Facebook currently presents the highest amount of active users, Snapchat appeals to a younger generation that isn’t necessarily as active on Facebook. Twitter allows for real time updates with a chance of “going viral.” After only being around for five years, Instagram is currently the fastest growing major social platform, while Pinterest has taken off with the growing ‘do-it-yourself crowd.’ So with all this in mind, who won 2015?

Continue reading “Who Won 2015?”

A Look at the New Facebook “Reactions”

On Thursday, Facebook gave us a look at their new “Reactions.” Unfortunately, the Reactions are just being tested in Spain and Ireland for the time being, but will add to the limited “like” button, introduced back in 2009.

Hitting “like” on Facebook is a way for users to give positive feedback, and to ensure that they are updated with regard to a topic or post, without all the commitment and effort of actually writing a comment. Although we don’t yet have an official release date, Facebook has responded to the overwhelming desire for a “dislike” button with their new spectrum of one-click responses, called Reactions.

 

Meet the new Reactions:

Facebook’s Reactions include the classic “Like,” along with Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad and Angry. While this promises a much more articulate way of presenting input on posts for the average user, it will also serve as a diverse and emotional set of data for marketers and businesses using Facebook ads. As of now, Facebook’s newsfeed ranking algorithm will be calculating the reactions as likes, but they hope to learn more over time about the different ways marketers can use ‘loves’ versus ‘angries,’ and so on. For instance, a company might target people who’d marked “angry” on a competitor’s post, or double down on users who ‘loved’ a post, rather than ‘liked’ it.

With the recent change from billing marketers per ‘like’ and interaction, to focusing on product sales and app downloads, Facebook’s new feature will be able to provide a broader array of diverse data to advertisers, allowing them to mold their ads even more specifically.

These new emojis will do more than just allow you to “love” your friend’s new apartment; it will allow users to receive more ads targeted to their desires, and help advertisers to create content that makes you say “Yay!”

Ten Millennial Marketing Tips from AdWeek

Millennials are adults ages 18 to 34. There are roughly 80 million Millennials in the United States alone, and each year they spend approximately $600 billion. In marketing, the group has been described as high influencers with a heightened awareness of marketing schemes.

According to AdWeek, marketers are constantly working multiple social media platforms and tweaking digital ads to target elusive millennials who don’t respond to traditional advertising. While it is a challenge to market to this ‘elusive’ segment, here are some key tips on engaging Millennials.

  1. Break through the noise by utilizing the tools that are available.
  2. Get the consumer excited with engaging content.
  3. Millennials look for instant gratification. Allow them to personalize/customize their experience.
  4. Be authentic. Fans can detect BS.
  5. Consumers base their purchases based off their perception of the brand.
  6. Mobile first. Two-thirds of Millennials view content on mobile. 70% tweet while watching television or other shows.
  7. Create something people want to watch, and they will share that content.
  8. Be culturally relevant. For brands, find something that is interesting and fits into the cultural space.
  9. Content is designed to engage the consumer regardless of platform.
  10. Listen to your audience. If your content isn’t working, pivot.

Social Media Builds Hype for #MayPac

Mayweather vs Pacquiao

I’ll admit I’m Flightpath’s biggest boxing fan. I attend weigh-ins and fights. I’ve had the opportunity to interview famous boxing personalities. I even have a collection of autographed boxing gloves. Heck, I’ve got boxing gloves on my business card (It’s quite a conversation starter).

Continue reading “Social Media Builds Hype for #MayPac”

5 Things We Learned at SXSW Interactive

Hard to imagine it’s been 30 days since the Flightpath team set our sights on SWSW 2014. While the SXSW glow slowly fades, what remains is the energy and excitement about the work we do, the clients we serve and the enduring lessons we learned:
1.    If we’re too focused on the technology, we lose sight of the psychology
In this evolving digital world, nearly every IPO heralds a new tool that promises increased engagement (ooh!), better functionality (ahh!) and less ads (ohh!). But when we get so excited about the medium, do we lose sight of what we’re trying to share with consumers? That’s when campaigns fall flat.

During Jonah Berger’s session, What Drives Word of Mouth, he highlighted a need for marketers to gain understanding on why people talk and share. True understanding of human psychology will help us create the right message to reach our brand advocates and get them talking. We were so jazzed after the session. We grabbed a copy of the book at the SXSW bookstore and have plans to reinstate our Flightpath book club with Berger’s Contagious as our first selection.
2.    Never underestimate the importance of strategery*
We’ll admit, we first went to this session based on its title: Go Home Marketing, You’re Drunk. And we weren’t disappointed. Kristina Halvorson broke down the importance of a clearly defined strategy in the content marketing space. If our goal is to create and distribute valuable, useful content to our audience, we need know what we’re saying and why we’re saying it. Without a smart strategy? We don’t have focus and will find ourselves working hard but not smart. Smart strategy provides us with the guardrails to know where we’re headed. If we do it right, we end up doing great work with both substance and integrity.
3.    We’ve seen the future, and it’s the debate over wearable technology
Walking around SXSW, we saw our fair share of Glassholes. But as these “explorers” lead us toward a new frontier of wearables, society is asking more questions than the experts are providing answers to at this stage.

During Glassholes: The Cultural Dissonance of Technology, panelists debated wearables as ushering in the next phase of human augmentation (or how we expand our own capabilities with technology). The biggest concern levied by the panelists and the audience was how wearables separate us from the physical world. The Google Glass enthusiasts argued (persuasively) that Glass allowed them to be connected without interference. Those on the other side of the issue felt that the very nature of the wearer using them was interference since unsuspecting bystanders would be drawn into the digital world without their consent. While nothing was solved by the end of the session, it made us think about the digital personas we spend so much time cultivating versus how to live an authentic life where we benefit from technology but aren’t ruled by it.
4.    Use social media for social good
What is a conference without free swag? The notorious stuff we all get was abundant in the exhibit hall. Hordes of people clustered around booths in hopes of securing a shirt, a tote or other tchotchke. But thanks to Twitter and the #SXSW hashtag, we discovered that all those random goodies that we didn’t really need (but couldn’t say no to) could go to a good cause. It made the exhibit hall experience a grab-bag game — how many tees (that you would never wear) could you snag for Austin’s Foundation for the Homeless? Finding the volunteers outside the Convention Center and dropping the goodies into their outstretched arms just felt right.
5.    The true lessons are revealed when you return
Sure, waiting in line for a chocolate chip cookie shot can be a fun way to spend an hour or two, but the real fun? Spending time with colleagues and learning from thought leaders and experts who are pushing the envelope and bringing new technologies forward, left us looking for connections on how we can harness the latest digital trends on behalf of our clients — to help them reach and engage with consumers in a meaningful way.
Until 2015…

 

*Kristina Halvorson even gave a shout out to Will Ferrell’s hilarious George Dubya character from Saturday Night Live.

 

 

SXSW Sessions: The UX of Realtime Site Personalization

The static website is dying. We are at an age where having a website just isn’t good enough any more. With our attention spans constantly shortening, and typical web users multitasking, no one wants to dig through content to find what they’re looking for. Your site needs to know your user, and deliver them the content that they need, with as little effort as possible.

Currently the only major player that has come close to mastering their users needs is Google. I type in a search for “brunch”, and I am immediately presented with restaurants in my area, their user ratings, a map of their locations, and sites listing the top 10 best brunch spots in New York City. The utility navigation underneath the search bar, even rearranges itself making “maps” my second option right after search. I didn’t have to tell it I was in New York, or that I would be looking for the best brunch spots. Google simply knew what content I was looking for, and delivered it right to me.Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 10.12.37 PM

While all companies may not have the engineering geniuses at Google, let alone their budget, there are still accessible technologies available that can make your site more personalized for your individual users. Geolocating, media queries, and cookies are all technologies that we have at our disposal now, but I feel that the simplest method that can be implemented almost immediately is utilizing hard user data. Most sites are built now with some kind of analytics, tracking page views and click throughs of different users on different devices. That information can, and should be utilized in the design of your product.

There are certain assumptions can already be made about mobile, tablet and desktop users, and understanding their different needs and limitations is the first step in creating a more efficient experience for each device. Desktop users are typical stationary, they are in one place, and will be connected to a stronger internet connection, thus have the time to click through more pages, and the signal strenght to load them. A mobile user on the other hand, may not be stationary, or even connected to wifi, so they will not want to explore your site, or have the capacity to load additional pages. If we take that basic information into consideration, it is easier to create an experience catered to their specialized needs.

Hard numbers are also a great way to understand how your user is interacting with your site, and how to cater to them accordingly. For example, if you see your mobile users frequenting the “our location” section of your site, it may be a smart move to have the information at the ready when they visit your mobile homepage, rather than making them look for it. Your desktop user may have the time to sit and click through two pages to find your address, but your mobile user is possibly on the go, and may not be connected to a wi-fi hotspot. Making a change as simple as that gives your users a better experience, without using seemingly advanced technologies.

As long as we can learn from our users, and iterate accordingly, serving up a personalized web experience may be entirely within our reach.

Impressions from attending a SXSW session by Jesse Friedman

Do Blogger Outreach? 6 FTC Guidelines You Must Understand

…if the FTC takes action it will be against a brand, most likely not a blogger. As a marketer this could not only cost you thousands in fines from the FTC, but would jeopardize your relationship with your client. Understanding FTC guidelines is essential to protecting your agency, your client and also the consumers who you are marketing to.

The FTC released an update to their Endorsement Guidelines in March and while there have been a lot of open discussions about the FTC guidelines in the blogging community, there are far fewer within the marketing space, if the FTC takes action it will be against a brand, most likely not a blogger. As a marketer this could not only cost you thousands in fines from the FTC, but would jeopardize your relationship with your client

This past weekend at BlogPaws (a social media conference for pet bloggers) an FTC rep was on hand to disseminate the information to publishers, but this information is extremely valuable to those of us in marketing who conduct blogger outreach.

Understanding FTC guidelines is essential to protecting your agency, your client and also the consumers who you are marketing to.

1. When does a blog post need to have a disclosure?

Whenever there is a material connection between the post’s author and the brand. If a blogger happens to purchase a product that they love and then write a post detailing the product’s virtues, there is no material connection between them and the brand.

A material connection is established when an agency or brand reaches out to a publisher and offers product, gift cards, payment or other items that could be considered a transaction (a free dinner, trip etc.)

So, if you work in-house or at an agency and are conducting blogger outreach you need to be familiar with FTC guidelines. If you chose to ignore them, you are running a risk that your agency and your brand will be the subject of an investigation and possible action by the FTC meaning fines.

Who has been subject to these investigations? The speaker mentioned Porter Novelli, HP, Ann Taylor Loft, and Hyundai.

What were they giving away? As little as a $50 gift card. So, whether you are offering cars or carnations to bloggers you need to know the FTC guidleines.

2. Direct bloggers to use the #ad in any tweets, pins or Instagram images they share to promote product review or sponsored posts. DO NOT use #Spon

The FTC would like to see bloggers on Twitter and other microblogging platforms discontinue the use of the hashtag #spon (which means sponsored post in blogger speak). The meaning of the #spon hashtag may not be apparent to consumers, and the mission of the FTC is to ensure consumers understand the material connection between the blogger and company. It is the responsibility of the brand who did the outreach to communicate this as a necessity.

#Ad is much more clear to everyday people that what they are seeing is an ad of some sort, whether the post is paid for which cash or stems from a product review of items sent free of charge to a blogger.

3. Disclosures should be placed as close as possible to the claim they qualify.

This means, that instead of a blogger writing 4 paragraphs about the nifty gizmo they received and then waiting to the end of a post to mention that the above post was paid or that they got said gizmo for free, bloggers should disclose their material relationship to the brand in the heart of the post, close to where they detail the product.

What language should be used? The important thing is that a normal person can understand the disclosure. Legalese need not apply. So, ask bloggers to disclose that the product was provided free of charge by your company right when they start discussing it. For instance: “Gizmody  Co. just sent me GizmoXY  free of charge for review and I think it is super nifty.”

Asterisks and other weird symbols that refer readers to the bottom of a post for disclosure just don’t cut it in the eyes of the FTC. With an increasing number of mobile users who are viewing content in small bits and bouncing fast, they realize the number of people who read posts in their entirety is small.

4. If you are a marketer, you are not allowed to leave positive reviews for your clients on Yelp, Amazon, iTunes or anywhere else.

Especially if you do not disclose that you are a representative of the company. The FTC rep was very clear that this would not be tolerated and highlighted a case in which the FTC investigated a PR company who left numerous positive reviews for a client’s video game app in the iTunes store. So, just don’t do it.

5. Don’t use hyperlinks for disclosures that are integral to a claim

Linking off to information that the consumer needs to make an informed decision about the value of the opinion stated in the post or for important information like safety or cost. The speaker did add that hyperlinks are permissible if a disclosure is expecially long or has to be repeated over and over on the same site.

6. Make sure your agency or brand has a social media policy that includes mandating disclosure from bloggers you work with.

The speaker said some investigations against agencies and brands ultimately were closed without action because the agency or brand had a social media policy in place and showed that the outreach for the campaign being investigated was done by a “rogue” employee. Having a policy documented and in place could help your agency or brand in the event that an FTC investigation is launched.

Blogger outreach is a great way to build word of mouth, backlinks and to seed a new product with consumers. Just do it responsibly.

Additional resources for brands, agencies and bloggers can be found at www.business.ftc.gov

Pinterest Best Practices for Brands 2013 – How to Get Consumers Pinterested!

We just released our best practices for brands on Pinterest! Here is a sneak peak at the whitepaper, and top tips to ensure your brand is getting the most out of Pinterest.

We just released our best practices for brands on Pinterest! Here is a sneak peak at the whitepaper, to view it in it’s entirety download it here.

If you have an interest in marketing online, then you have an interest in Pinterest. Pinterest provides an opportunity for brands to reach consumers in the golden moment when their intent to purchase is forming- as their boards of product images are growing.

Announce your arrival

Pinterest does not offer promoted content or advertising to brands yet. So how can a brand announce their arrival on Pinterest if not through ads? Here are 3 sure fire ways to jump start your Pinterest presence:

  • A magic formula that is 2 parts Facebook and 1 part Pinterest. Create a Pinterest app on your brand page and support it with Facebook ads aimed at Pinterest users within your brand’s target demo.
  • Email! What happens when you take an old fashioned email and insert ready to pin images? BOOM- pinning a plenty!
  • Add Pin It! buttons to images on your website to remind visitors to share their fav pics on their own

Use awesome images

Want to be repinned? A perfect Pinterest image is 600 pixels wide. There is no maximum length on Pinterest, so aim for pins that are long. Images, taller than 800 pixels will stand out in the crowd.

Fill your brand’s boards with images beyond everyday product shots. Funny, beautiful and touching images have better odds at being repinned. Whether you are creating images for your pinboards or scouring the Internet for cool, repinnable images, chose high contrast images. Break out of the photo mold and create pins that include text, just make sure it is brief and bold.

Read the rest of our tips for marketing on Pinterest by downloading our latest white paper: Pinterest Best Practices for Brands 2013.

Still using stock photos on social? It’s really time to stop.

If your grandparents looked like they crawled off a Clairol box, then congrats on hitting the genetic lottery. For the rest of us, stock images showing perfect people in perfect families just aren’t relatable. They also just don’t work well on social and here is why…

What is one of the worst things brands can do on social media? Use stock photos! Stock photos and product shots on social make us cringe, but the practice is all too common. If your social media marketing strategy involves stock imagery and products shots we have rounded up the top reasons to convince you to change it up.

Here are the top reasons not to use stock photos in your social posts:

1. Who are these people anyway?

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 11.13.04 AM

If your grandparents looked like they crawled off a Clairol box, then congrats on hitting the genetic lottery. For the rest of us, stock images showing perfect people in perfect families just aren’t relatable.

Showing images of real people using your products, who are truly enthusiastic, are going to go much further with your target audience. Your brand’s likes,  share and overall engagement will go up.

2. Cans lack soul.

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 1.38.36 PM

It’s a can of cat food. Yes, if you are a cat owner you probably have a brand of cat food that you like. And, if you are the cat food company then you probably paid thousands for a photo shoot in which each piece of niblet of meat in this can was arranged.

But, chances are if you saw this can of cat food pop up in your newsfeed accompanied by copy like “Like this if your cat eats this”- you would not even pause for a second look. Even if it had the most gorgeous label in the world. It’s still just a can.

On the other hand….

If you are a cat food company and post a pic of a real cat a user shared on your wall or on another social platform, who is super cute, and put your branding on it, BOOM. Magic happens…

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 11.24.23 AM

People will share. Fancy Feast rocks this tactic all the time on Facebook, and their images get a lot of love. Always think about your brand’s content from the user’s perspective- not just the brand perspective.

If your brand is posting cans, bags and other product shots- not matter how lovingly poised that product may be, it will never have the soul of a user generated image.

3. Stock photos aren’t funny, smart or interesting

Couple brushing teeth in the bathroom

Think about it for a moment. You went to school for photography. You have to make extra cash. So, you create the most generic images possible like the above “couple brushing teeth” and add a million random tags to the photo in the hopes that your image will be downloaded enough times that you can buy groceries this week.

The result: Boring images.

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 11.39.15 AM

This image was posted on Colgate’s wall. A consumer is proving the whitening power of their toothpaste with a photo taken in black light.

That would be a very funny post from the brand as well, but instead Colgate responded “HAHAHA” and let the post wither on the “Recent Posts by Others” vine, instead of using the image in a post on their own wall with thanks to the user who submitted it.

Instead they use images like this…

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 1.27.46 PM

I don’t mean to pick on Colgate or their agency or in-house person tasked with picking stock photos of perfect people with perfecter teeth.

They are just typical of the way brands use images to little effect on social.

So, use real user generated image on your wall and consumers will see that you are paying attention to them, and even better that you are celebrating their relationship with your brand. They may also post a pic in the hopes that they will get a star turn in your brand’s posts.

Have you made the switch from product beauty shots and stock images to user generated on social? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

In the Wake of Tragedy What Should Brands on Social Do? Be Quiet.

In the wake of tragedies, people turn to social media for instant information, to fulfill our human need to connect. This is when social media really shines, when it’s promise as an instant means of communications and information comes true.

Brands on social seem to struggle with tragedy. PR agencies, ad firms and digital shops are filled with people who are affected, even if indirectly when tragedy strikes. Everyone struggles with coming up with the right thing to say. There is a very human need to say something.

But brands are not humans.

Even though the people who staff accounts have the best intentions, creating a post in the vain of “We Remember…” or “Our thoughts are with…” is inappropriate. People are turning to each other for comfort, for news outlets for coverage. They are not turning to consumer package goods or B2B companies for solace.

In the aftermath of tragedy, brand posts do two things:

  • Clutter up newsfeeds when people are looking for instant information.
  • Give the perception that a brand is leveraging a tragedy for their own benefit.

So, if you manage social media for brands what should you do? Halt all posts, especially in the hours after the tragic event. By staying quiet, your brand will be doing something important- giving people space to find news, connect and find solace in their friends.

Infographic – How 14 Top Brand’s Performed in a Social Media Customer Service Test

Myself and three of my colleagues used our personal Twitter accounts to send customer service tweets to 14 leading consumer brands in seven industries. Each company received one tweet per weekday for four consecutive weeks. The goal was to evaluate which messages were prioritized and how consistently they responded.

The following guest post comes from Rachel Ramsey, Editorial Coordinator at Software Advice, a research and advisory firm.

In today’s Yelp-obsessed world, consumers are interested in marketing but only if it matches what their family and friends say about your brand. Social media is a perfect avenue for impacting these conversations. That being said, providing effective social support is just as important to this mission as sharing promotions, blog posts and deals.

However, providing strong customer service on Twitter presents a formidable challenge for companies that receive thousands of tweets per day. It’s impossible to expect them to respond to everything. Instead, they need a strategy for finding and prioritizing the most important messages.

How the Race Worked

Myself and three of my colleagues used our personal Twitter accounts to send customer service tweets to 14 leading consumer brands in seven industries. Each company received one tweet per weekday for four consecutive weeks. Half of the time we used the @ symbol with the company’s Twitter handle, the other half we didn’t.  Using the @ triggers a notification to the account owner that they’ve been mentioned in a tweet

The questions fell into one of five categories:

  • Urgent
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • FAQ
  • Technical

The goal was to evaluate which messages were prioritized and how consistently they responded. This included messages with an @ symbol and brand name, as well as others where simply the brand was mentioned. We sent the tweets every day from four different personal Twitter handles, for four consecutive weeks. We tested 14 brands in seven industries.

Some lessons learned included:

Keep the customer informed. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s committed huge errors when two of their replies came several days after the questions were sent. For the instant-gratification customer, this is the same as not responding at all.

Don’t be a robot. Customer service expert, best-selling author and speaker Micah Solomon told me recently that being human in your engagements with customers on Twitter is one of the most important considerations. Twitter is a social platform, your responders need to talk and act like they would interact with their real friends and family. Say thank you. Be personal.

Important keyword triggers are your friend. When we designed questions for the race, we specifically included questions with important intent, sentiment or risk of switching brands. Social listening software can be programmed to send service messages to the front of the line if they contain keywords such as “help,” “mad,” “thank you.” These rules are imperative for brands that need to automate tweet prioritization.

Listen for your brand, @ or no @

The social customer service innovators watch and respond to non-@ mentions because they see the opportunity to really surprise and delight. Most social listening software can be programed to listen for mentions without the @, with the @, and #brandname.

Still Not the Norm

These brands responded to a mere 14 percent of the 280 tweets delivered during the race. Whether the issue is one of strategy or technology, brands are still far from meeting customers’ expectations on Twitter.

Facebook’s EdgeRank Algorithm – What Brands Need to Know

Unless you’ve been living under a buzzword-free rock (and if that’s the case, please share your location so that others might seek refuge), you’ve undoubtedly heard about EdgeRank, the algorithm that Facebook uses to determine what users see in their News Feeds. While the method itself remains elusive, there is solid information that brands can use to navigate the News Feed and stay on top of fan engagement and in front of fan faces.

The Algorithm :: What is it?

Every piece of content or interaction on Facebook is known as an “edge,” from uploading a photo to joining an Event or Liking a status update.

EdgeRank accounts for three determining factors, known as “signals,” regarding posts themselves: affinity, weight, and time decay. Affinity reflects how friendly you are with your fans. Weight is a basic formula that is used to determine what types of content are more likely to be shared. Time Decay is a simple measurement of which content is the most fresh.

While there have been hints that Facebook may be introducing a new signal (or more) into the equation, this trifecta currently makes up the mix.

The Latest :: What’s the word?

In late September, Facebook announced an update to the EdgeRank algorithm, sending the digital marketing world into a tizzy as organic reach levels dropped suddenly and dramatically across the board. Phrases like “pay to play” flew across our screens rapid-fire, and brands began to panic over losses in revenue. The algorithm still remains elusive, but there are a few key changes that have become apparent.

Negative Feedback is now weighted more heavily.  Users are now equipped with simple controls at the forefront that allow them to hide, block, and report posts. Because the objective of the updates is to combat spam pages, there is far more attention paid to this type of feedback from users. In addition, if pages have received a substantial amount of negative feedback in the past, they may have been hit even harder by the update.

The Popular Post Paradox creates new opportunities for negative feedback. Yes, that’s right. We’ve coined a new paradox. (While no one at Flightpath fancies himself or herself a philosopher, we’d argue that critical thinking skills and a love for alliteration go a long way.) Thanks to EdgeRank, the most popular posts make their way into the News Feeds of many a Facebooker who isn’t necessarily a fan of your content. While this is a great opportunity to make new friends, it’s also an easy way to get your posts hidden in the case that we don’t like what we see.

Status Updates Are the New Black. Once the updates went into affect and widespread suffering was reported from the depths of editorial teams across the globe, there was a single glimmer of hope: Status Updates. The oft-forgotten content type actually showed improvement in performance as a result of the algorithm, and brands that have strategically revitalized the status update have seen positive EdgeRank results.

Optimal Post Frequency hovers around once per day. Talk about high stakes-statuses. Many an analyst agrees: the most engagement is garnered when a brand posts once per day – and interactions begin to decrease substantially as frequency increases. It’s up to you to determine the best time of day to hit “Post,” as well as the ideal type of content to share. The good news? There’s plenty of room for experimentation.

The Implications :: What’s it to you?

EdgeRank exists to further personalize the experience of logging in to your virtual world by weed out irrelevant content and promoting pieces of interest. The fact is, except for the rare occasion on which a rapper launches a video game, we aren’t generally clamoring to canoodle with brands.  EdgeRank recognizes what we are clamoring for, however, and rewards those pages who are posting killer content, at the right frequency, at the ideal time of day. If you’re not using EdgeRank Checker already, create your account and get moving – many of the optimizations that can be made are easily measure and reported within the tool, which also allows for real-time monitoring.

At the end of the day, I’m still subjected to far too many baby pictures (and when will we start punishing college buddies for gratuitous sorority poses?), but technology has only come so far.

Notes from the Intern – What I learned interning at Flightpath

Find out how it’s like to work with the Flightpath team from our very own Social Media Intern, Beck Delude.

As every college student and recent graduate knows, interning is how you get your foot in the door and learn how it’s like to work in the real world.  Essentially things they sometimes forget to mention in school.  With that being said, our very own Social Media Intern Beck Delude shares her experiences at Flightpath below.


I have been so lucky to be the Social Media Intern at Flightpath in NYC and learn from their brilliant employees. My time spent at the agency has allotted me a vast array of opportunities. Since being here I participated in building social media strategies for several brands, attended BlogHer12, researched relevant news about digital media and went to IFBCon!

Here are some key things I’ve learned here at Flightpath:

  • Think critically about who the brand’s audience is
  • Double and triple check everything you do and then have someone else look over it
  • It’s important to be aware of what others in the industry are doing but to always be original
  • Research is a very important aspect of being prepared

Aside from all the amazing opportunities and all the great things I learned the best part of interning at Flightpath was the people I worked with. Everyone is extremely talented and willing to take the time to teach you what they know.

Flightpath not only offers internships in Social Media but also in Design and Web Production! Check them out and apply here: http://www.flightpath.com/careers/

5 Reasons to Try YouTube Ads & Setup Tips

YouTube Ads Tutorial

In online advertising, Google search, Facebook and Twitter get most of the press, but if you’re a brand with quality videos that you don’t think are getting the views they deserve, YouTube ads are a viable option.

While everyone who posts a video to YouTube holds out hope that their video will go viral, the truth is, the odds are slim of that ever happening. (Unless you specialize in Cute Cat Videos. Then, you’re basically guaranteed 18 bazillion views. That’s a scientific fact.)

The same is true for brands with video content (in a post earlier this summer, we documented the failed Men in Black III YouTube channel). Sometimes, you need to get out there and push. In online advertising, Google search, Facebook and Twitter get most of the press, but if you’re a brand with quality videos that you don’t think are getting the views they deserve, YouTube ads are a viable option. Here are five reasons why, along with some tips on how to optimize your ads.

Reason #1: Setup Is Easy
YouTube is owned by Google, and setting up a YouTube ad campaign is very similar to setting up an AdWords campaign. In fact, YouTube ads have been incorporated into AdWords, and that’s where you’ll create your campaign. The first thing you want to do, if possible, is link your YouTube account with your AdWords account. This gives you more robust analytics for your YouTube ads right in your AdWords dashboard. You can run ads without linking the accounts, but you’d be missing out on lots of data, and since you run the ads through AdWords, you might as well link them. Here’s how.

Click on the “New campaign” box in the Campaign section of AdWords, as seen below, and then select “Online Video”:

You’ll be taken to the “Create new video campaign” screen, but don’t fill it out yet. First, on the left hand “Shared library” menu, click on “Linked YouTube Accounts”:

Next, click on the blue “Link YouTube account” box in the window that pops up.

Even if your YouTube account has a different login and password from your AdWords account, they can be linked. Once this is done and the accounts are connected, you’re ready to set up a campaign.

Go back to the main setup for a Video Campaign:

Here you can name your campaign (we suggest going with something more descriptive than “Campaign #1,” because if you run more than one campaign over time, it’ll get confusing), set your daily budget and choose locations. You’ll also get to select a video from your just-linked YouTube account to use in your ads. Next, you can set your max CPV (cost per view), groups you want to target (say you have a comedy short you want to promote, you can target “Humor” and then the “Spoofs and Satire” categories in YouTube), and include any keywords you want your ad to show for.

And then you’re ready to make an actual ad. In the “Ads” tab on your dashboard, click on the “New Video Ad” box. You’ll first have to choose a video you want to advertise:

Once that’s done, it’s time to write your ad. This is done exactly as you would with an AdWords ad. Write a Headline, two Description lines, a Display URL and a Destination URL (you can have the ad take the viewer to the video’s YouTube page or to your YouTube channel). You’ll get to pick a still from your video to act as the ad’s image, and can preview it in real-time.

Reason #2: They’re Not Crazy Expensive
In the world of pay-per-click advertising, a campaign can get expensive as keywords become more competitive. It can obviously be worth it, and sometimes it’s a necessity – but average cost-per-clicks (or CPVs, in this case) are relatively low with YouTube ads, meaning you can drive visits to your videos for less money on a per-click basis. And if you have quality video content that can spread the word about your brand or services, YouTube ads can be one of the more cost-effective ways to spread your message.

Reason #3: Free Link To Your Website
You know those pop-up ads that overlay a video you’re watching? They’re actually free to the owner of the video and video advertiser. The call-to-action overlay, as Google calls it, takes you to an external site, and features a headline and short copy. So while someone is watching your video, you can get an ad pointing to your website at no charge. It’s a real, quantifiable bonus to running a YouTube ad campaign. (Note: Call-to-action overlays are only available if you’ve linked your YouTube and AdWords accounts.)

After you’ve created your ad, click on “Videos” in your dashboard:

You’ll see all your videos related to that campaign. In the first column, called “Video,” you’ll see this underneath the link and description of the video:

Click on the plus sign, and you can create (and later edit or delete) your free call-to-action overlay, which will appear when your video is played. You write it the same way you would an AdWords or YouTube ad, with a Headline, Description, Display URL and Destination URL:

Click-through-rates for these aren’t huge. But to get a free ad and link to your site in such a visible place is a real added value.

Reason #4: Have It Your Way
YouTube offers four different Ad Formats: In-search (your ad appears above YouTube search results), In-slate (users have the option of choosing your ad and watching some of your video, amongst others, before viewing their video), In-display (your ad appears as a suggestion to the right of a YouTube video) and In-stream (your ad shows as a preview before another video). When choosing a format, you’ll get to preview what each will look like in action:

You can choose one or all of the options, and experiment as you wish. It’s a great way to cast as wide or small a net as you want with your ads, and see which format works best for your content and target audience.

Reason #5: They Work
While there are no guarantees of success in online anything, there are enough options within YouTube’s advertising mechanism that you can really make them work for you and drive views of your videos. The real question is, is it worth it to your business to pay for video views? The answer will be different for everyone. But if you do have video content that you want people to see, that will make a difference for your business, then YouTube ads are a great tool to make it happen.

Progressive Vs. Matt Fisher & Social Media

Progressive Matt Fisher

We’ve talked about this phenomenon before, when it happened to Netflix and other companies, but a new social media revolt that has emerged in the last couple of days is particularly interesting: Progressive Vs. comedian Matt Fisher and Social Media.

We’ve talked about this phenomenon before, when it happened to Netflix and other companies, but a new social media revolt that has emerged in the last couple of days is particularly interesting: Progressive Vs. comedian Matt Fisher and Social Media. Fisher wrote a blog post called, “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance To Defend Her Killer In Court,” detailing how his sister, Katie, died in a car accident and the ways Progressive has tried to avoid paying the balance of her policy – such as providing legal assistance to the other motorist during the resulting trial. (This is is something Progressive disputes.) As a result of the post, Progressive was bombarded with social hate mail. It’s hard to blame people for reacting the way they did; it’s an ugly story.

But this whole issue, from the brand side, raises real questions about social media. Should all types of businesses have a social presence? Is there a quantifiable value in having Facebook and Twitter pages? Are you only on Facebook because your competitors are, and is that reason enough? Social has created a new dynamic in customer service and relationships, as things can get very public very fast, and the more damning the experience, the bigger the story is likely to get. And most brands are still figuring out how to manage public relations issues in the digital landscape. It’s not easy, and it just goes to show what powerful tools these channels are, for both brands and customers.

Today, Progressive announced a settlement with the Fisher family. Would it have happened this quickly without the pressure brought about by social media? Probably not. Will the whole ordeal do lasting damage to the perception of the company? Hard to say, but these things do tend to fade away over time. But if ever there was a cautionary tale about how social media has changed the way we interact with each other and with the companies that play a role in our lives, it’s this. Ultimately, the one basic truth about social media is that it amplifies conversations and is empowering, for better or worse. For better, because it gives people like the Fishers a chance to get things done and speak their minds, and maybe enact real change; and it does give brands a chance to really engage with their customers, in good times and bad. For worse, because of the anonymous pile-on element that social seems to provoke in people. And you have to be prepared for both. Progressive learned this the hard way.

Pinterest Brand Pages: Our Favorites

Pinterest is all the rage these days, and for good reason: it’s a social platform that actually offers something new and unique. If you are a brand rep looking for Pinspiration, here are some of the best examples of brands on Pinterest.

Pinterest is all the rage these days, and for good reason: it’s a social platform that actually offers something new and unique. And unlike Facebook or Google+, it really allows brands to get creative with their pages, from layout to content to overall purpose. If you are a brand rep looking for Pinspiration, here are some of the best examples of brands on Pinterest.

 

Coolest Design: Uniqlo


A quickly growing fashion retailer, Uniqlo only sells through its brick-and-mortar shops, which makes its digital acumen all the more impressive. Their website is great, their Facebook updates are fun, and their Pinterest page is staggeringly creative. If you scroll down their page, it animates a la a cartoon flip book, making logos spin, shirts move, and giving off an overall wow factor:

 

 

Funniest Use of Pinterest Boards by Brands: Oreck

 

So… you are a vacuum company and you want to create a Pinterest board, what do you do? Pin pics of messes of course, but how to make a pinnable mess? If you are a pet owner you will appreciate Oreck’s Furry Friends board filled with adorable pics of dogs and cats who fill hearts with happiness and floors with fur:

 

 

Best Non-Profit Brand on Pinterest : ASPCA

 

Of course it helps to have an endless supply of adorable and highly pinnable pet photos at your disposal, but the ASPCA on Pinterest does more than just post cute pics of pets.

They are using Pinterest as a tool to promote pet adoption and further the cause of closing puppy mills. By creating Pinterest boards that balance cute pics with highly shareable text based images, pinning from the ASPCA page is like slapping an end animal cruelty bumper sticker on your Subaru- it let’s everyone who follows you know where you stand.

 


Most Interactive: Bauble Bar

 

Social media, as we all know by now is not supposed to be a soliloquy but rather a conversation. This is always tough for brands. One brand doing a great job is Bauble Bar. This online jewelry retailer scours Instagram and Twitter for fans of their collections who have posted photos. Bauble Bar then pins the fans photo to their Pinterest board, which is the highest form of compliment on Pinterest and goes a long way to building community and customer loyalty.

 

 

Best Celeb Brand: Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart’s Pinterest boards look like what Stewart’s refrigerator would look like, if she allowed magnets on it. As the most followed celeb on Pinterest, Stewart is one to watch.

 

Leave a comment and let us know what Pinterest brand pages you like.

(Dan Brooks contributed to this post.)

3 Awesome July 4th/Summer Email Marketing Campaigns

July 4th and Summer Email Marketing

One of the most important marketing tools going today is email, where the stakes are perhaps biggest: brands have to strike the right balance between spammy/informative, fun/cloying, design smart/confusing. If people sign up for your email list, they’re more-or-less willing to at least hear you out, so a poorly constructed email is truly a missed opportunity. Here are some July 4th/summer email campaigns (all clothing related, just to narrow the playing field) that we think are doing it right.

Around almost every holiday, brands and stores launch marketing campaigns with the goal of promoting sales, generating buzz and reminding the world that, “Hey – we still exist.”

One of the most important marketing tools going today is email, where the stakes are perhaps biggest: brands have to strike the right balance between spammy/informative, fun/cloying, design smart/confusing. If people sign up for your email list, they’re more-or-less willing to at least hear you out, so a poorly constructed email is truly a missed opportunity. Here are some July 4th/summer email campaigns (all clothing related, just to narrow the playing field) that we think are doing it right.

Uniqlo summer sale email
Uniqlo
For a clothing retailer without an online store, Uniqlo’s mastery of all things digital (its Pinterest page is awesome, if you haven’t seen it) is all the more impressive. The “Summer Festival” email campaign matches the visual style of Uniqlo’s stores and logo with a clear red and white color scheme, elegant design, and sale items easily laid out. It contains a lot of info – a calendar, product images, even an in-store drum show schedule (!) – but is successful because no single element detracts from any other, and it’s all easy to understand and navigate. Not easy to do.

SuperHero Stuff Summer Sale Email
SuperHeroStuff
Starting with the intentionally-cheesy Photoshopped sunglasses on Wolverine, which conveys a welcomed sense of humor about comics and superheroes, SuperHeroStuff’s email grabs your attention. And the imagery flows nicely, from Wolverine to the “Save 13%” banner and back again. From there, it’s all messaging, as their summer sale is successfully driven home with nicely placed copy above the main image, inside it, and below it.

Original Penguin summer sale email
Original Penguin
Original Penguin’s campaign is among the best we’ve seen in email design aesthetics this summer. The smart incorporation of the Original Penguin logo into a vintage-looking American flag lets you know what this email is about even without copy (of which there is little), and it matches the brand’s tone effortlessly. These things can be easy to screw up – the font color is too close the background color, the logo looks tacky on the flag, etc. – but Original Penguin’s email hits every beat perfectly.

Summer Movies 2012: New Highs in Viral Marketing

batman and prometheus viral marketing

Viral and social media marketing are commonplace for pretty much everything now, but have become essential for summer movies. Whether it’s a Facebook presence or a sly viral campaign, getting people excited about your movie now happens in the digital space more than any other. Here are two movies with the most creative viral campaigns of the summer.

Prometheus

prometheus viral campaign

There’s been a steady release of Prometheus (the maybe it is, maybe it isn’t Alien prequel by director Ridley Scott) trailers that have been whetting the appetites of sci-fi nerds everywhere. Yet the marketing team has done a lot more. There’s the fun Facebook app, “Discovering Prometheus,” which allows you to click on floating orbs, added each week, that contain new info such as images, character bios and more. There’s the unprecedented Prometheus Viral campaign, featuring online-only videos with major characters and special effects. But nothing is perhaps better than Ridley Scott’s short film introducing major Prometheus/Alien character, Peter Weyland, that debuted/took place (in 2023) at the TED Conference. It’s art, it’s social commentary and it’s also a nifty piece of movie marketing. Brilliant.

The Dark Knight Rises

batman viral marketing campaignThe Dark Knight Rises has taken another path in getting people excited (as if they weren’t enough already): audience participation. In a really fun campaign, Warner Brothers announced a new trailer on TheDarkKnightRises.com, but to see it, fans needed to help the Gotham City Police Department in tracking down the Caped Crusader. (Remember, at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman is on the run from the police.)  It started with an arrest warrant posted online, and then fans were asked to track down bat-signal graffiti from all over the world. Warner provided the addresses, and the fans found them (perhaps unsurprisingly, they did so pretty quickly). Deceptively simple, but engaging.

batman viral campaignAbove: One of the first graffiti finds by Twitter user @Yashasmitta.

The “Gave It A Good Try” Award Goes To:

Men In Black III

The Men In Black saga has been gone a long time, but with its conspiracy/secret-aliens-among-us themes, it’s kind of perfect for today’s viral and social trends. And that’s exactly the route its marketing has taken. A YouTube account under the name Bugeyes126 popped up, in which a kid (Bugeyes) discusses his conspiracy theories about government agents in black suits and the aliens they track. It never really caught on (there are 45 (!) videos under the account, with most only getting a couple hundred views), and probably for a couple of reasons: the kid seems like he’s acting, which kinda spoils the fun, and there’s not enough of an incentive to really invest any time with the videos. Could’ve been fun. Maybe next time.

Top 3 Things We Learned at Tech Munch

The Tech Munch conference hit the streets of New York and shared insights from both the bloggers and brands on how to work together and how to succeed in the social media space. Here are the top 3 things we’ve learned from Tech Munch.

Last week, we had the pleasure of attending the Tech Munch conference in New York, where food bloggers, writers, editors, foodies and brands unite to learn about the ins and outs of food in the social media space. (And get to enjoy good food and check out a cooking demo or two. Perks!)

The relationship between food and social media is getting stronger and bigger than ever before. We previously wrote about the growing trend of food trucks and how they utilize Twitter to build their voice and communicate directly with their consumers. With events such as Tech Munch show how the two are becoming more and more intertwined.

At Tech Munch, panelists including Food Network, Bake Space (founder and organizer of the conference), Martha Stewart Living, J.M. Hirsch of The Associated Press and more stopped by to talk directly with bloggers about best practices, trends and how to survive in the social media age.

Above: A cooking demo with Alejandra Ramos of Always Order Dessert…and the delicious results.

With a whole day of discussions, there are 3 key things we’ve learned:

PSA for Marketing Executives reaching out to Bloggers

This was a topic that was brought up multiple times: Get to know your bloggers. All you have to do is read their blog since they typically share their personal experiences and latest finds.  NEVER start an email with “Dear Blogger” or “Dear Miss or Sir,” because they will immediately hit the delete button or – even worse – the SPAM button. Make sure you have an understanding of what they are writing about, and approach them with your product accordingly. If you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to ask; they are human after all. The more personal you are in the approach, the easier it will be to form a relationship for potential partnerships.

Food Bloggers in the Making

Before you start your blog, make sure you have a clear and concise plan and a voice you want to portray to the public. The one piece of advice that holds true is to find your specialty and create a niche. When editors are looking for sources to cover a new trend, they are looking for those that specialize in that specific category. Make yourself stand out and become a brand so that they can come to you as an expert.

Pinterest, Yay or Nay

Pinterest is still on everyone’s lips and is growing rapidly. It allows the user to showcase his or her personality and ideas through imagery, and the perk is that the pins drive traffic back to the original source. Kate Gold, Social Media Director of Food Network, discussed how they share recipes, beautiful food images and even have curated boards from the community that dictate trends, such as comfort foods. Pinterest adds an element to your site and/or blog and allows the user to get a better picture of your personality and voice.  Do you have to be on all platforms to appeal to everyone? No, but get to know your audience and where they are and you can decide from there if it’s the right move for you or your brand.

 

Pinterest – 5 Tips to Get Your Brand’s Pins Repinned

80% of pins on Pinterest are repinned, while only 5% of tweets on Twitter are retweeted. The challenge is to fill pinboards with content that will get repinned. Here are our top 5 tips to get your brand’s image repinned:

Pinterest continues to grow and grow. Many brands are jumping on Pinterest looking to build brand awareness and drive traffic back to their sites. Pinterest can be a easy platform to gain spread brand messaging and product images quickly, as opposed to other social media platforms. 80% of pins on Pinterest are repinned, while only 5% of tweets on Twitter are retweeted. The challenge is to fill pinboards with content that will get repinned. Here are our top 5 tips to get your brand’s image repinned:

Don’t Upload, Pin: When you upload content to a pinboard, you are missing out. If your goal is to get people from Pinterest to your site, they cannot do that without a link. Always pin images from your site instead of uploading. If you want to pin photos that are not on your site, start a blog to hold your photo content and pin from there. This way not only will your site’s URL be featured at the top of the pin which helps with awareness, but users can click through to your site.

Be Bold & Brief: Whether you are creating images for your pinboards or scouring the internet for cool, repinnable images, chose high contrast images. If your image includes text, make sure it is brief and bold.

Pin Faster: By highlighting the text and image you wish to pin and clicking the Pin It bookmarket, the text will automatically be incoporated into the comments of your pin. For pinners pressed for time, this is a valuable tool to use.

Use hashtags: A tip for social media marketing that seems to work everywhere. Hashtags work on Pinterest just like they do on Twitter, adding hashtags to the comments on your pin makes them easier to find in search. Contests are also being conducted on Pinterest using hashtags.

Price it: If you represent an online retailer, always be sure to put a dollar sign in front of your price. This way, your pin will be pulled into the Pinterest gift section, which has a button in the navigation bar on the Pinterest homepage. The price will also appear in a banner across the left hand corner of your image.

Email Marketing: Building Your Email List

All email campaigns start with a subscriber list. With email marketing so popular, most of us are on at least a few of theses lists. You may even be wondering how to build one of your own. Of course, there are plenty of ways, both bad and good, to do this.

This is part of a series of blog posts aimed at raising awareness of email marketing, its advantages, and its best practices — from designing your first eblast to deploying your newsletter to millions of customer inboxes, and beyond.

All email campaigns start with a subscriber list. With email marketing so popular, most of us are on at least a few of theses lists. You may even be wondering how to build one of your own. Of course, there are plenty of ways, both bad and good, to do this. As I mentioned in my last post (“Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever”), federal law requires the informed consent of all your email recipients.

So, if you can’t just buy a list from marketers, what are you supposed to do? You make one from scratch. With the right tools and tricks at your disposal, you won’t just have a simple subscriber list, you’ll have a fully engaged email legion of fans for your brand.

Mailing Lists Callouts

Got a popular website? Build a mailing list component. Make it highly visible. Going “above the fold” increases the chances people will happen upon it. Also, make it easy to use. Place as few fields in the component as possible. In the snapshot below, Groupon has a large, intuitive, and simple mailing list callout. The user has to only designate an email address and a city and they’re in. No difficult questions, no invasive requests, no intimidating forms that send their users running for the hills.

By contrast, the Steve Madden mailing list below feels like you’re filling out a tax form.

Social Media and Email

There’s been a lot of talk of social media competing with email as the dominant form of digital communication. In reality, the two are better complements than rivals. If you have a Facebook fan page or Twitter feed with a lot of followers, use it as a platform to encourage them to sign up for your eblasts and enewsletters.

You can even use emails to drive your mailing lists. Include “forward to a friend” links in your enewsletters. Give calls to action to sign up for your list in your company’s email signatures.

Offline Methods

Get in the habit of bringing up your mailing list in 1-on-1 conversations and phone calls with business contacts, but be tactful. In your pitch, make it clear what special offers or value they’re going to get out of your emails. It couldn’t hurt to incentivize them with a free gift upon signing up. For networking events, put a link on your business card to your company’s email signup page.

Welcome Emails

Once you win over email recipients, make them feel valued. Send them a welcome email, thanking them for signing up. Use it as an opportunity to better acquaint your clients and future customers with the goods and services you offer. And of course, let them know what’s in store for them in terms of email content.

And Once You Get Your List…

Email represents another channel to keep the conversation going with customers and/or clients, but once you have them, don’t take your recipients for granted. It only takes one click of the “Spam” button in their email client to end the conversation for good. If you want to keep your subscribers on your list, it is also important to have meaningful, engaging, relevant content for them. Catch my next blog post for best practices on email campaign content.

How Google+ is Being Integrated With AdWords & Other Google Products

Google+ logo

With Google+, Google’s fledgling social network, one thing is clear: The search giant is determined to make it a success, incorporating Google+ into many of its other products and services that impact brands.

With Google+, Google’s fledgling social network, one thing is clear: The search giant is determined to make it a success, incorporating Google+ into many of its other products and services that impact brands. Whether this is a tactic to force Google+ adoption or a way to improve its other products is debatable, but ultimately, Google+ is becoming a part of several core Google services, and agencies must take note.

Google AdWords

When starting a campaign in AdWords, advertisers now have Google+ integration as an option.Google+ AdWords integrationIf you opt in to associating your ads with your Google+ page, any +1 click attributed to the ad will also count towards your Google+ brand page. As Google pushes Google+ to play more of a role in search, this could be a beneficial feature on both an SEM and SEO level. In the past, paid search and organic search were neatly separated; now, the line is blurring.

Google Organic Search

Google+ pages are slowly being included in organic search results in a special sidebar. Below is a screenshot of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) I received after searching for “music.”

Google+ SEOThis is valuable space dedicated solely to Google+ pages – having your page show up in these results could be a huge driver of traffic. Moreover, note the link at the bottom, which tells you how to get your page to appear there. It takes you here:

How to make your Google+ profile show in searchAgain, just as Google is enticing AdWords advertisers to use Google+, they’re doing so with brands here, banking that the extra visibility in search results will encourage adoption and usage. If it sticks, it could be a huge change to how we approach search.

Google Latitude

I know what you’re thinking: What the hell is Google Latitude? (That was the question I most received after inviting friends to join the service.) For those who don’t know – of which I suspect there are many – Latitude is Google’s Foursquare-esque app: go somewhere, check in. Recently, it was linked exclusively to Google+. This popped up on my Google+ profile, after a check-in at a local restaurant:Google Latitude info in Google+For Android users, a recent update to Google Latitude has added leaderboards, awarding users points for check-ins, with promised Google+ integration in the near future. What implications might this new game element on Latitude have on search, or the Google+ pages of places users are checking into?

Integration doesn’t end here, of course. We’ve seen Google+ functionality pop-up in Gmail, Google Maps and more. The lesson: while most of the industry has watched Google+ from a distance, excited by the high early adoption numbers but dismayed by the lack of usage, it may turn out to be an essential marketing tool. As Google continues to integrate Google+ across its product line – especially organic and paid search – it would be unwise to ignore the social network.

Facebook Timeline: Brand Pages Launched

Brands have one month to monitor their competitors’ adoption of Facebook Timeline and figure out how to make Timeline work for them. Here’s an early look at the approach taken by brands who embraced the conversion to Timeline today.

Facebook Timeline for brand pages was announced this morning on the new platform for breaking tech news- The Today Show. Brands have the option of using Timeline starting today, and all brand pages will be converted to Timeline on March 30th. So brands have one month to monitor their competitors’ adoption of Facebook Timeline and figure out how to make Timeline work for them. We thought we would take an early look at the approach taken by brands who embraced the conversion to Timeline today.


Coca-Cola didn’t remove the post from their Timeline when they updated their cover photo to the new larger image required for the transition to Timeline. The Timeline cover photo was updated at 5:06 am EST, which could make Coca-Cola the first brand to make the switch. Coca-Cola has posts going back to the companies founding in 1886, using Timeline to show off the company’s lengthy history. Timeline makes perfect sense for brands who have been around for a long time, but how are brands who haven’t been around for 120+ years using Timeline?

 

Magnolia Bakery is the New York bakery made famous in Sex and the City. Their approach to Timeline is to make you hungry. By using the Timeline cover photo to show the breadth of the bakery’s line of goods and artistic presentation, they are a great demonstration of how a small business can use Timeline to visually engage consumers.

 

Apps used to reside in tabs along the left hand side of Facebook pages. With the unveiling of Timeline, tabs are a thing of the past. Apps have moved to the front and center of brand pages. Each app is displayed with an image underneath the cover photo, similar to the old pre-Timeline photo strip.

Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation unveiled a cohesive approach to Timeline. Each app’s image coordinates with the Timeline cover photo. Livestrong also puts their message first. Unlike Coca-Cola and Magnolia Bakery, Livestrong opted out of using space within their app bar to promote the number of likes their page has. Instead they are using the space to promote apps where people can invite friends and become involved in the Livestrong cause.

Facebook Timeline for brand pages is just hours old, it will be interesting to see how brands roll out innovative uses of Timeline over the next 30 days.

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Yet email still remains a highly profitable marketing channel. Here’s the reason why.

This is the first in a series of blog posts aimed at raising awareness of email marketing, its advantages, and its best practices — from designing your first eblast to deploying your newsletter to millions of customer inboxes, and beyond.

Why Email?

Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. LinkedIn. With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971.

Over the decades we got carbon copy recipients, file attachments, and HTML-based emails, but that was it. No “like” buttons, status updates, or share functionality. Just some text, images, links, and a subject line.

That being said, email is a marketing channel your business can’t afford to do without.
Why? First, it’s profitable. As Felicity Evans of Smashing Magazine points out, email still has a very high ROI — an estimated $44 for each $1 spent in 2011.

Evans also reminds us that more Americans have been introduced to email than social networks. It’s simply been around a lot longer. Finally, the Smashing article makes the point that email is a unique identifier. In other words, most people have a couple addresses to their name, but are members of many different social networks.

Additionally, your email campaigns can help leverage a stronger social media presence and vice versa. “Share” buttons at the top of your enewsletter can raise visits to your company’s Twitter feed. Newsletter signup callouts on your Facebook page can bring in new subscribers for your eblasts and special offers.

Assuming you’re sold and you want your first email campaign out the door by the end of the week, where do you start? The best place to begin is logistics.

What system is the most efficient for communicating with your customers? What kind of system even sends out thousands, even millions of emails at once? The answer lies in something called an email service provider (ESP).

Finding the Right ESP

The Interactive Advertising Bureau defines an email service provider as, “a business or organization that provides the Email campaign delivery technology. ESPs may also provide services for marketing, advertising and general communication purposes.”

Deciding which ESP to use can be a daunting task. There are many ESPs out there. They vary in size, functionality, and features. Do you go with one of the big names, like ExactTarget, Constant Contact, Lyris, or Experian CheetahMail? Or maybe one of the numerous smaller ones?

It depends on what you need. If you’re a big company that already has a large email list, one of the larger ESPs might be right for you. The costs may be higher, but you’ll get additional perks. Some ESPs offer helpful features like image hosting, round-the-clock tech support, and marketing data on your customers’ viewing habits.

In terms of the larger ESPs, I would recommend ExactTarget. We use ExactTarget in campaign deployments for many of our clients. In addition to the analytics and great technical support offerings I mentioned above, they offer email automation (sending entire chains of emails with the click of a button), triggered sending (automatically sending an email when an end-user performs an action on your website), and more.

On the other hand, if you don’t need all these things, you’re operating on a smaller budget, and you only have a few hundred or thousand subscribers, a smaller ESP may work better for you.

Analytics

Detailed analytics isn’t just for your website and Facebook page. There are a variety of ways to get large amounts of data on how your subscribers will react to your email. As mentioned before, many of the larger ESPs will offer an email-tracking package right out of the box. These will usually give basic statistics. Things like how many subscribers opened your email, clicked a link, unsubscribed from your list, or hit the “Spam” button.

ESPs will also offer statistics on “bounces,” or emails that fail to reach a recipient’s email address because they were undeliverable for whatever reason. Bounce reporting is a very powerful tool as it can sometimes help you diagnose larger issues. If a lot of your subscribers use the same Internet service provider (ISP) and a lot of them suddenly bounce, it’s usually the canary in the coal mine indicating that ISP has blocked your campaigns. In a later blog article, I will detail what to do if this happens.

There are also a lot of free or low-cost analytics vendors out there that can help you get even more information on your subscribers’ habits. Google Analytics shows how visitors arriving at your homepage via your email’s links travel through your whole site. It even has conversion tracking, offering a great chance to see what percentage of sales are due to your email marketing channels.

Litmus, another helpful analytics vendor, tracks what programs and devices your users check their emails with. Do most of your customers view emails on an iPhone, or their office desktop? Do they use Microsoft Outlook, or Gmail? Litmus also gives information on how effective your campaign is in engaging your subscribers. It gives such helpful metrics as the average time your subscribers have your email open for. Are they scanning? Are they reading your every word?

CAN-SPAM Compliance

One pitfall to avoid if you’re just starting out in email marketing is CAN-SPAM. Signed into law in 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act makes it illegal to send unsolicited email, or spam. What this means is that you cannot market your services or products over email unless the recipient has opted in to receive your promotions or newsletters. This concept is also known as permission marketing.

But it’s not enough to let your users opt in. They also have to be able to opt out. Unless you are sending a transactional email (the email equivalent of a receipt), you must place a link somewhere in your communications to a page where your users can unsubscribe. It’s not just the law, but it’s also a great way to avoid customer service nightmares. Think about it. We’ve all been there. We signed up for a service on the Internet and absently left the checkbox clicked for “Please send me your free monthly newsletters and special offers!” Before you know it, you’re getting 10 emails a week that you really don’t care to read. The unsubscribe link at the bottom of that email gives subscribers who got on your list by mistake an easy way out.

Another thing that CAN-SPAM requires is an address. All your marketing emails, transactional or promotional, must contain your company’s physical mailing address. This also helps the consumer in that it shows you’re a real company in a real location somewhere in the world.

If that’s a lot to keep track of, don’t worry. Many larger ESPs have features built in that allow to automatically place your mailing address and unsubscribe link in all your emails. Some even have safeguards that prevent your email from going out unless it is fully CAN-SPAM compliant.

Next Time — Building Your List

It’s easy to see how difficult it is to send emails only to subscribers who opt in, especially if your email campaign list numbers 0 subscribers. The temptation might creep up to go out and buy a subscriber list. Don’t. None of these users have opted in. Not only would sending to them be illegal, but it will also earn you a bad reputation. Users who hit the “Spam” button on a given email address frequently enough will get blacklisted by ISPs. This means all emails you send will bounce.

Besides, there are more ethical, legal, and organic ways to build a subscriber list. In my next post, I will go over the basics of list building and list health. You will be surprised at how easy it is to generate opt ins with some of the resources you already have. Don’t miss it!

Pinterest vs TheFancy: Social Media Marketing for Brands

Pinterest has grabbed the attention (and free time) of women and a lot of interest from social media marketers, but there is another quietly emerging player in the social bookmarking space. TheFancy is a visually stunning collection of the coolest images and products from around the web.

Pinterest has grabbed the attention (and free time) of women and a lot of interest from social media marketers, but there is another quietly emerging player in the social bookmarking space.

TheFancy is a visually stunning collection of the coolest images and products from around the web. Instead of adding images to boards like on Pinterest, users “fancy” images and add them to categories for others to view and “fancy” as well.

Users share images the same way on both sites.  Retailers can add Pinterest and TheFancy buttons to images to encourage users to share, but since both sites are relatively new most images come through users clicking a “Pin It” or “Fancy It” button in their browser’s toolbar.

Pinterest and TheFancy differ in the flavor of what is shared. Pinterest has an undeniably feminine Etsy-esque feel. The majority of Pinterest users are women, and as a result there are a lot of home décor, recipes and children’s product shots shared on the site.

TheFancy has a more unisex, urban, minimalist, high-design feel. The differences between each site’s content are obvious when you look at the brands that have a presence on each. Brands currently on Pinterest: Cabot Cheese, Lands’ End and Paula Deen. Brands on TheFancy: Brooklyn Industries, Williams-Sonoma, and Yves St. Laurent.

If you represent a luxury fashion, home décor, or tech brand then adding products to TheFancy is a smart marketing move, because unlike Pinterest- TheFancy is openly working with brands to drive sales through the site.

On Pinterest, if a user (including the brands that have set up Pinterest accounts) posts a price within a pinned image’s description, the price will appear as a banner in the corner of the image. Pinterest will then automatically pull the pinned image into the gifts category on the site. This is great, however Pinterest wants to keep users within Pinterest and is not at this time making it easy for users to leave the site.

In order to reach the original site to make a purchase, Pinterest users have to click pinned images twice. Some users I have talked to were unaware that they could even do this, since when an image is clicked once users are taken to a page where they are encouraged to like, repin or comment on the image within the Pinterest site. There is no prompt or link for Pinterest users to leave Pinterest and visit the original site. Pinterest has been designed as a social media destination.

TheFancy on the other hand, has been designed to easily move users to original sites for product purchase. When an image is clicked in TheFancy, users are presented with a “Buy It” link on the right hand side. Clicking this link will take the user to the original site where that product may be purchased. This is a great feature since the whole focus of the site is discovering products that you may never come across in a retail store.

Users can also unlock special deals from retailers by clicking “Fancy It” on their product photos. These special deals are typically discount codes that can be used at checkout on the retailer’s site. Current deals offered to TheFancy users are featured within a Deals tab at the top of the page, which makes it easy for TheFancy users to find. There is also an easy to find list of retailers on TheFancy, something which is missing on Pinterest at least at the moment.

TheFancy also seems to be here to stay. With significant investment from the French fashion firm PPR, who owns brands such as Gucci, Alexander McQueen Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, as well as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who is also on the start-up’s board. Yves Saint Laurent announced on Jan. 30th that Fancy buttons will be on every page of the brand’s website.

For social media marketers looking to ride the surge in social bookmarking site popularity, especially to promote luxury and boutique brands- TheFancy is one site to hop on.

Social Media, the Super Bowl and Planned Parenthood

planned parenthood social media

So, within more or less a week, we all got to see the full breadth of living in the viral, social media “activist” world of 2012. Three unmistakable cues to the times we occupy.

Madonna pulls off a stunning Super Bowl half time event complete with historically compelling “people as props” staging and her co-performer M.I.A. flips the bird and mouths off verbal no-nos. The drama didn’t end at halftime, as NBC totally blamed NFL Productions (and vice versa) in a kind of “Human Malfunction” and You Tube is getting page views like crazy – quickly approaching 2 million.

But as Dustin Hoffman’s character in Wag the Dog said, “That’s nothing.” That’s nothing compared to Gisele Bündchen, wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, calling out her husband’s teammates for dropping a few too many passes. Yes, she was egged on and yes, it was captured as content and also uploaded to YouTube, where it gained traction. I think the big winner of Giselegate (we know who the losers are) is the guy who got her to make those comments and video it all. He gets drinks for life at any New York bar by just saying “I’m the guy that…”

When Susan G. Komen for the Cure went public with its intention to stop grants of $700,000 to Planned Parenthood because of a “congressional investigation,” Planned Parenthood launched an articulated, highly mobilized and coordinated response that included traditional media tactics – like giving the lead to the Associated Press, ensuring blanket coverage – direct mail to supporters, and a rigorous social component.

According to Opposing Views, “More than 2,000 supporters shared the above email they received immediately on their Facebook wall and on Twitter. Planned Parenthood wrote, “ALERT: Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers.” More than 500 Twitter users retweeted that message.” The numbers and support over social media is astounding: On Facebook, Planned Parenthood has added more than 32,000 fans since last Tuesday; Twitter users sent more than 1.3 million Tweets referencing Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and related terms and hashtags, according to a Twitter spokeswoman. This pressure got Komen to change its funding position and gave the VP/strategist behind the move no way out but to resign.

I wrote this blog from the point of view that all three stories couldn’t be more different, yet are similar given the social media forces. People get emotionally into “issue driven” content that is provocative, unscripted, unintended or random – just ask M.I.A. or the now reclusive Gisele. But people really get into content that is agenda based or political (or seemingly so) when it is about people we love or emotional connect to.

Ferris Bueller Super Bowl Commercial & Social Media: Honda Fumbles the Snap

Ferris Bueller Super Bowl Commercial

When the mystery teaser for a Matthew Broderick/Ferris Bueller Super Bowl commercial dropped last week, the Internet’s collective head almost exploded. Could it be? Finally, a sequel to Ferris Bueller, one of the most beloved movies of the ’80s? And we’d see the trailer at the Super Bowl? Not even a Clockwork Orange-style forced viewing of the abysmal Ferris Bueller TV show could dampen the excitement.

Then, the full ad was posted online before the Super Bowl. And the air was let out of the Internet’s balloon.

It was revealed to be an advertisement not for a Ferris Bueller sequel, but for the Honda CR-V. In the new advertising environment created by social media, Super Bowl ads are now being teased with previews, then released online before the game (see Volkswagen’s Star Wars themed commercials from this year and last, as well), making the actual airing during the Super Bowl a kind of non-event. The point is to drum up more interest, more hype, and make it last. But what about if it backfires?

I argue that it did backfire with the Ferris Bueller ad, because people were genuinely let down when they learned there was no sequel coming. This isn’t to say that the ad is not successful or people don’t like it – there are just as many positive comments as negative ones (thousands) on YouTube, and it is really well done (special props for the “I Am the Walrus” callback). But instead of being surprised or delighted by seeing this for the first time during the Super Bowl – as would have happened in years past – the general consensus after the online reveal was basically, “Oh…it’s a car commercial?” And then no one really cared about its airing during the actual game at all.

If there’s a lesson, it’s that presenting things in the right context and at the right time is more important than ever thanks to social media. Since the teaser did not even show a car, it could only disappoint people to find that there was no new Ferris Bueller movie coming. And would the ad’s shelf life have been longer if they didn’t tease it and didn’t release the entire thing online before the Super Bowl? For brands, knowing when to push things via social is essential to sticking the landing in modern advertising.

Pinterest for Brands and Marketers: Opportunity Awaits

If you have an interest in marketing to women online, then you have an interest in Pinterest.

Pinterest is a site that allows users to create and share “pinboards”. Pinboards are photo collages of images users find around the web or create themselves all focused around a certain theme. Users typically create multiple pinboards which are shared with their Pinterest followers. Users can comment on photos within pinboards and also “repin” photos to their own pinboards.

Visits to Pinterest surpassed Google+ and MySpace in the week ending 1/21/2012 making it the 7th most popular social networking site, though Pinterest is invite-only.

Source: Hitwise US

The site has grown organically as users are allowed to send invites to friends and family. There is also a months long waiting list on Pinterest for people who do not have a friend with an available invite.

One indicator of Pinterest’s popularity is their Facebook page. Pinterest created the Facebook page, but never posted any content. Instead the Facebook community has used the Pinterest Facebook wall as a place to post pleas for Pinterest invites which are fulfilled by other Facebook users. Without a single post from Pinterest, the Facebook page has garnered over 680,000 likes.

Pinterest has been embraced by women. According to Hitwise Pinterest users are 58% female and has a large representation of users who live in states that don’t usually lead the way in early adoption of social networking platforms like Utah, Idaho and Alabama.

Source: Experian Hitwise

Pinterest has gained a following among women ages 25-44 around topics of food, DIY, fashion and crafts. This is the elusive “household decision maker” demographic, the consumers who brands are working hard to connect with on Facebook, Twitter and through blogger outreach.

Marketers are always trying to reach consumers in the moment when their intent to purchase forms. This is what Pinterest does best, allowing people to create photo collage boards of their aspirations and intentions such as products they want to buy or recipes they would like to cook. However, there are very few brands using Pinterest to market their products.

One of the earliest brands on Pinterest was Nordstrom who has created seasonal wishlist boards and trends boards. Nordstrom has over 7,000 followers on Pinterest. Lands’ End Canvas has also jumped on Pinterest. During the holiday season, they created one of the first brand sponsored Pinterest contests called “Pin It to Win It”. Lands’ End posted rules and put out the call for entries on their Facebook page for fans to create boards of their products and then submit the link to their board via email.

Pinterest has a list of guidelines called “Pin Etiquette” that requests users not use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion. However, there are no specific guidelines for the use of Pinterest by brands. This is a great opportunity for brands to experiment and find what resonates with this audience without the restrictions they find on more established social networking sites like Facebook.

In addition to creating a contest or Pinterest account on behalf of a brand, there is another way to encourage users to share brand messaging and products on Pinterest. The “Pin It” Pinterest button can be added to a brand’s website to encourage sharing of product images on Pinterest. Instructions for doing so can be found here on the Pinterest site.

Pinterest is the site to watch in 2012, it will be interesting to see if the site’s traffic continues to grow and how brands use the site for to promote products and messaging.

Interview: Ethan Nicolle, Co-Creator of Axe Cop – Part 1

Ethan and Malachai Nicolle

Axe Cop, Avocado Soldier and Uni-Baby. They don’t sound like the names of traditional comic book characters, but then, there’s nothing traditional about the bizarre-yet-brilliant webcomic in which they appear. Launched in 2010 to massive viral success, Axe Cop stars, true to its name, an axe-wielding police officer in adventures featuring vampire ninjas, a T-Rex with Gatling guns for arms, and a female Abraham Lincoln. It is crazy, hilarious stuff, making for one of the most original and downright fun comics in years – online or in print. And if it sounds like it comes from the mind of a child, that’s because it does: Axe Cop is written by 7-year-old Malachai Nicolle and illustrated by his older brother, the Eisner-nominated artist Ethan Nicolle, whose gifts for straight-faced humor, action and storytelling help make the comic so effective. In part one of our two-part interview with the elder Nicolle – also creator of the excellent new Bearmageddon horror/comedy webcomic – we discuss how Axe Cop came to be, how it quickly went viral, and the origins of some particularly strange story details.

Flightpath: I know you were doing creator-owned print comics like Chumble Spuzz before Axe Cop. What led from that to launching a webcomic with Axe Cop?

Ethan Nicolle: Well, I got into comics before the Internet was a big thing. I was in high school still, and the Internet hit when I was around 15 or 16. So, I always thought the way into comics was through a publisher. You gotta get them to print your book, and then they gotta sell it for you. I was always working towards that goal, and I finally accomplished it with SLG Publishing, with my book Chumble Spuzz. I realized that after all that work, they finally print your book and they put it back on a little shelf in the back corner of a comic book store, and very few people are willing to go back and spend the money to actually buy that book and check it out. And I started realizing that my goal wasn’t to make money off that bat like that, my goal was to build an audience; and if I just want people to read it, why not just put it on the Internet? I had planned to do my next book that way, which was Bearmageddon, but then I wasn’t sure how to go about doing a webcomic.

So I wanted to do a practice run first, and I had these Axe Cop comics that I created over Christmas with my brother. We were playing and Malachai wanted to play “Axe Cop,” because he had been given a toy fireman axe but wanted to fight bad guys. As we played, the first episode of Axe Cop happened and it was so funny, I drew it. I ended up drawing the first four episodes during that visit. We were like, “Well, we’ll just throw these up online and make kind of a quick website.” Just to test the functionality and see how people react to the way that we lay it out and everything.

I could never have foreseen the success. Basically, in about two days, it exploded and became my job overnight.

Flightpath: That’s amazing. You did have a lot of critical success though, with Chumble Spuzz. You were nominated for an Eisner.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, a little bit. I had an Eisner nomination, it got some great reviews. It’s just that hardly anybody actually read them. The people that did read them loved them, but that was the thing. I was going, “Man, people that actually read this love it. But I can’t get anybody to read it. They don’t want to spend 10 or 11 bucks on it.”

Axe Cop Episode 1Flightpath: So you had some Axe Cop stuff in the can that you did with your brother, and you decided to put it out there. Once you posted it online, you said it became a success in just a couple of days. Did you do anything to actively promote it, or did people somehow find it?

Ethan Nicolle: You know, I had a small amount of fans that followed me at that time from Chumble Spuzz, from the rock band I used to be in. So there was like a handful of fans that any time I posted something, they’d check it out and share it with their friends. We put all the sharing buttons on it, as you usually would do. StumbleUpon, Digg, a Facebook button, all those things. The best I could do, tracing back how it went viral, it was through sites like Reddit and Meta Filter and these sites where a lot of people go on and share stuff. It was just all over those websites, and it all happened kind of in one night. Entertainment Weekly [named it Site of the Day], that was a big one. It was just a really fast climb.

Flightpath: Did you log back in and check the visits? Were people emailing you? What was the signifier that something was going on?

Ethan Nicolle: Well, that night I was actually not even at my house [or] at my computer. I just had my phone, which was receiving emails, and emails started coming in like crazy. “Ask Axe Cop” questions just starting rolling in really fast, and I had my Twitter account set to notify me when a new person started following it, and I just started getting rapid amounts of Follow, Follow, Follow. [Laughs] It was just going crazy. And every time I checked my email, a bunch more emails would be in. It was just rapid fire emails all night. I fell asleep for like three hours that night, and when I woke up there were like another 100 emails in my inbox. It was crazy.

Flightpath: Going into your technique for creating Axe Cop – how exactly does it work with your brother? Do you sit down and guide him through story construction, or do you draw what he’s telling you, as he’s telling it to you?

Ethan Nicolle: There’s lots of different ways that we do it. It really comes down to playtime and kind of an interview. It’s almost like I’m a cop at a crime scene and I’m interviewing him because he’s a witness, and I’m trying to get all the details I can and piece it all together. [Laughs] He tells it to me out of order, and the story constantly changes here and there. So I find the pieces that fit.

The first few episodes, I credited him as “creator.” The first few episodes I never even planned on publishing, it was just something for the family. So I just decided to call him “writer” and me “artist.” But my bigger job beyond just drawing it really is piecing it together, especially as we’ve gotten into these bigger projects, where [there’s] a full-on big story. It’s the part of the project that’s, I don’t want to say a headache, but it’s a real struggle, you know? [Laughs]

Flightpath: Do you see his storytelling chops evolving as you do more and more of these?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, he gets the hang of certain things. Earlier on, I would have to try and explain, “For it to be a good story, we need something bad to happen, so that something good can happen and we can be happy.” So I’ll try and find out, “Do any good guys get killed? Does anything bad happen to the good guys?” One thing I just started doing was have us pretend to be bad guys, so that we’d actually start inflicting lots of damage on the good guys. So if I keep switching sides of Malachai, because a lot of it’s role playing, he’d give me what I wanted. It’s not that I want him to come up with a specific outcome of the story and repeat it back to me, but I just look at the story and go, “This needs a big fight here, it needs some kind of conflict.” Just a general idea. And I ask him questions until I have a full story, basically.

Flightpath: There are a couple of recurring themes or motifs in Axe Cop, and I wanted to get your opinion on them and where they come from.

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Okay.

Flightpath: I noticed there are lots of decapitations.

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Yeah. If you think about kids playing with toy swords and just fighting each other, they’re fake fighting, swinging the swords, going, “I cut your leg off! I cut your arm off!” They’re not imagining that guys have blood shooting across the room. [Laughs] They’re not reveling in the gore. What makes Axe Cop funny to me is you take that kind of innocent look at [violence] – I wouldn’t even call it violence, in the context of what Malachai’s playing, because he’s not thinking violently –

Flightpath: It’s like Looney Tunes violence.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah. And so you take that, you put it in the world of Axe Cop, you illustrate it out and you put that dead serious look on his face, and it’s comedy gold. [Laughs]

Flightpath: There’s another one, which is someone getting something on them, like blood from a dinosaur, or they eat something, and then they become that thing. Where does that come from?

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] I don’t know where he got that. All I know is, that [while writing the] original Axe Cop, that first episode, we were playing together and we’d just cut off some dinosaurs’ heads. I love horror movies, over-the-top gore Peter Jackson kind of stuff, and I was like, “Oh man, I just got blood all over me!” And then Malachai goes, “I got dinosaur blood all over me, too! I’m turning into a Dinosaur Soldier.” [Laughs] He decided right there that if you get something’s blood on you, you turn into it. And it just became a running thing.

Flightpath: It’s funny because it kind of established the rules of the Axe Cop universe, in a weird way.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, and it’s funny ’cause when we started playing together, he assigned me to be Axe Cop, and he was Dinosaur Soldier. And since for the story I needed Axe Cop to stay Axe Cop and not keep changing, it worked, because he gave me that control. So I keep Axe Cop as Axe Cop, and he kept transforming. [Laughs]

Ask Axe Cop #1Flightpath: You were talking before about how you wanted to break into comics, you got published, but you ended up going to the Web, where you could reach a lot more people. Do you think that’s the future, especially as the print industry changes? Will webcomics take up more and more of the comic book landscape?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, I think that the Internet is effecting all forms of media, for sure. I don’t foresee in my lifetime the printed book dying off completely. I think most people that have held a book are going to want to hold a book later on, but that’s because I’m ignorant of what technology may come down the road. There could be a device invented that’s a great replacement. They’ve got the Kindle now, but I don’t think that’s a great replacement for comics. The iPad is kind of cool, but I don’t feel like I own the book until I have it in paper form.

People are now used to getting to sample things more because of the Internet. They’re used to more interaction. They’re also ordering things online now more, so you’re getting less people walking into stores and flipping through pages to buy your book. Things are just changing, so you have to have an online presence. It just doesn’t make sense not to. I’m interested to see where it goes with comics and books myself.

Flightpath: If you had decided to self-publish Axe Cop in print, do you think it could have possibly reached the level of popularity that it has as a webcomic?

Ethan Nicolle: No. Number one, I don’t think I ever would have, unless I’d gotten a bunch more done. I’d only done four of them [when we launched it]. At the point that I had those four done, I was only thinking that every time I’d visit Malachai for a holiday, I’d do another couple of them with him. I wasn’t thinking that it was gonna be what I did all the time. [Laughs] And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t think that was the reality. It was like, “I can’t spend all my time playing with my little brother and making these goofy comics. I gotta work.” [Laughs]

Be sure to come back this Thursday for part 2 of our interview with Ethan Nicolle!

The Flightpath Roundtable: Facebook Timeline

Facebook Timeline Cover Photo

Welcome to the latest installment of The Flightpath Roundtable, where we gather various Flightpath employees for a discussion on the hottest topics in digital.

Today, we discuss Facebook’s latest change, Timeline. Unlike some of the minor cosmetic alterations Facebook has made over the years, Timeline significantly changes the look of one’s profile and the presentation of its information.

The participants in this discussion:
Dan Brooks, Digital Marketing Manager
John Lee, Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics
Wesley Martin, Interactive Designer
Cliff Medney, Chief Creative Strategist
Betsy Smith, Senior Social Media Strategist

Dan: Betsy, I thought we’d start with you. Maybe you can give an explanation of what Facebook Timeline is, for those who don’t know, and what you think about it.

Betsy: So, whereas Facebook used to have segregated content – your photos would be in one place, your status updates would be in another – now it’s all in one cohesive timeline that can go all the way back to your birth. Unless you’re a toddler or a preschooler, Facebook wasn’t around [early in your life]. And so, what Facebook would like everyone to do is to pull out their photos and upload them. Now the danger, I think, that people see, is that this is another way for Facebook to know absolutely everything there is to know about you. And I think that kinda freaks people out, but I think if you manage it correctly, it could be a really interesting tool.

Dan: Do you think it was a necessary change?

Betsy: Well, for one thing, Facebook has never been a particularly beautiful site. And Timeline is visually really interesting, and it is sort of like the voyeuristic fun part of Facebook. Like, going in and looking at somebody you haven’t talked to in 10 years. Now you can see who they married, and yeah, they divorced like you thought they would. [Laughs.] And all that fun stuff.

Dan: Wes, as a designer, what do you think of the look of it?

Wes: As a designer, I think it’s not very UI friendly. There’s a lot going on, and if you want to keep up with your friends’ stuff, it’s showing you too much at once. What I don’t like about it is there isn’t a filter for it. It would be cool if you could do a Timeline of just people’s images, but instead…

Dan: It’s everything.

Wes: Yeah, it’s everything. I’m not the biggest fan of the left-right-vertical view of Timeline. I would have preferred if they did horizontal and kept everything on one plain. [Demonstrates on computer.] So you see, they do this left-right thing. And I can’t tell what’s the order. Is the left the newest? Is the right the newest?

The photos is where Facebook grasped the older generation. And now I feel like it’s so hard to find [them] and find what’s important. I feel like they went so far, and then they pulled back. If you can narrow a Timeline just by photos, that’s the story itself.

Facebook Timeline Stories

John: I see what you’re getting at, Wes. You have to go through the Timeline to find stuff, as opposed to it filtering out.

I can’t really speak about the UI, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, visually. Just the way sites are, it seems that Facebook in the past forgot about the visual elements. Betsy, as you said, it was pretty boring before. But here, they’re trying to be a little more modular. They’re trying to break things up and organize the content, make it more easily scannable. Did they have to call it Timeline? I don’t think so, I think this is sort of like the new Facebook, or what’s it going to be.

The thing that I find interesting is the fact that they’re opening this up to the development community and allowing them to build apps. And I think it’s gonna be interesting to see what kind of cool apps are going to be available.

Betsy: And supposedly this is going to roll out for [brand] pages in September, so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that.

John: Yeah, that was kind of the question I was thinking about. How do brands utilize this?

Betsy: Right. Do you want to go back a year and see when Red Bull changed its ingredients, or whatever they added to the Timeline?

John: Yeah, that could be really cool. I think there’s a lot of potential there.

Dan: One of the things that struck me was that when I converted my profile over to Timeline, is that there’s a demo/commercial that shows you what Timeline is. And it’s almost exactly the same as the Google’s “Sophie” commercial for Chrome. The tone is the same, and the content – taking you through someone’s life – is the same.

John: Well, they all kind of copy Apple’s emotional appeal. I mean, you never really think of Google as being an emotional company. I was surprised to see Google come out with a commercial like that.

Wes: What I do love about it is they’re staying true to their 2012 strategy campaign, which is, they’re bringing it back to the human. Because Facebook did get sort of taken over by corporations and businesses, and Timeline does bring it back to emotion. Facebook was originally made for people.

I just feel that it’s weird to continue to show everything. Because after a few months, no one’s going to care about people’s posts.

Dan: Unless you’re doing Facebook Stalking, which people tend to do. [Laughs.]

John: Like you, Dan. [Laughs.]

Wes: Posts become irrelevant after a day. After 10 minutes, posts can become irrelevant. From a user standpoint, I would love to see them filter it more by category as opposed to time. Everything’s in chronological order by the last month.

Dan: One of the reasons why I think Facebook became popular, I thought, was because it was so clean and streamlined compared to MySpace and Friendster. And now there’s a lot of stuff on there.

Betsy: I think people need to go in and clean up their Timelines. Because this can be an issue. People always say, “You have to be careful about what your employer might see!” You might have said something four years ago that – you went to a party and got trashed, or something – and because there were so many likes and comments, that’s gonna pop up on your Timeline. And so you have to go in and make sure that stuff isn’t there.

Facebook Timeline Apps

Dan: There was a Mashable article saying that Timeline is really like your resume now. Do you think there’s any truth to that?

Betsy: One of the political things about Facebook and Twitter is when you joined. Especially if you’re in [the digital] space, how long have you been on Facebook and Twitter, and do you want people to know that, is an issue. Also, you need to control whether or not people can tag you. That seems to me to be an issue for people who are not 23 years old. You’ve had a lot of past relationships, and when there’s a “dumped the loser” kind of post, and you’re tagged as the loser, do you want that in your Timeline for the whole world to see? But you can change in your privacy settings that you get the chance to preview any tags that are back in your Timeline.

Wes: It’s becoming a chore. Facebook is becoming a chore. It’s becoming too much to update.

John: With the privacy settings, they make changes and they don’t necessarily notify you. The defaults aren’t always in your favor. But that’s been the thing with Facebook since the get-go.

Betsy: But now I think it’s so mainstream and something people almost need, that I think they’ll put up with it. You know, my mother, who’s on Facebook, is never gonna go in and curate her Timeline. It’s just all gonna be out there, and that’s gonna be the case for most people. And they might go in and add life events that, as a marketer, I might find very interesting. You know, that you have three children, and these are their ages, and that you’re divorced, and that you’re converted to a different religion, and that you had a major illness. There are all things you can add to your Timeline, which as marketers, is really interesting.

Dan: Wes was saying something interesting in that they’re bringing Facebook back to “human,” and not so much a corporate identity. Cliff, do you think they’re successful on those grounds? Or is it too early to tell?

Cliff: I think this is as much a marketing ploy as it is a human ploy, because brands are followers of the human condition. And clearly this human condition of 2011, 2012, is that it’s easier than ever to have a pictorial account of life. And I think they’re just on the front end of what companies want. They want more story selling through pictures and words.

Betsy: Marketers always want to capture people in that moment where they’re making a decision. “If we could just know their intent, we could leverage that into a sale.” Timeline is like a reverse look – what may determine your future actions may be what you’ve done in the past, so that’s interesting for marketers.

Facebook Timeline: Add Life Events and Marketers Could Thank You

Facebook Timeline was released last month as an invitation for all of us to share our whole lives (including pre-Facebook lives) on Facebook. What Facebook wants you to include in your Timeline isn’t restricted to your newborn picture.

When you click on a point in the past on your Timeline, you have a number of options many of which are familiar.  You can add a comment in the form of a status update to a point in your past, photo from your 1st grade class picnic or check into the dorm you lived in freshman year of college. These are all variations of the options that users are used to seeing when they create a normal present-day status update. However, there is one new option- “Life Event” that is very different than the rest.

Clicking the Life Event button brings up a list of events that are common to a lot of people’s life stories. Marking the day you had a baby, broke a bone, lost a loved one or changed your religious beliefs are just some of the options Facebook presents.

Social media is supposed to be about transparency and honesty. Although it seems people would be reluctant to share major illnesses they have had in the past, divorces long settled and weight gained or lost in reality this is what Facebook does best. In Timeline Facebook has created an even better space where we can feed the human need to connect and learn more about people we care about, though maybe not enough to actually call.

From a social media marketing point of view, “Life Event” could be a game changer.

Currently advertisers can target Facebook users for ads based on the basic information user’s provide as well as their likes and interests. If Facebook allows advertisers to display ads to users who have had certain life events, or even better- users who have had certain life events within a select time frame, this could be very exciting for brands.

Car insurance ads could be displayed to parents of children they had 16 years back on their timeline and orthopedic surgeons could target those who have broken a bone in the last few months.  Ads could be even more highly targeted, which means higher click-through rates for advertisers and more revenue for Facebook.

Facebook has yet to allow advertisers to target users based on their life events, however if they do look for even more relevant Facebook ads coming to your Facebook profile.

Inside the NHL’s Innovative Use of Social Media

NHL logo

After the 2004-05 lockout, NHL popularity dropped significantly: TV ratings were low, attendance was down. While many rule changes and innovations post-lockout – most notably, the fantastic Winter Classic outdoor game – have helped the league recover, it’s the use of social media that has taken that recovery to another level. With the rise of social, the NHL has been able to reach fans directly, and that direct contact was integral in repairing the damage from the lockout. But more than just using social media, they’re using it well.

The Rangers and Flyers just completed this season’s hugely successful Winter Classic, and much of its success is owed to the excitement and hype drummed up by the NHL’s social channels. To mark the occasion, I’m delving into the NHL’s superb use of social media to see how they do it.

Constant Updates. The NHL itself and its 30 teams are on Facebook and Twitter, and they all provide a steady stream of content through every channel. It’s a multi-pronged approach, where they supply news, marketing, or mask marketing as news, but it’s highly effective and does not stop during holidays or weekends. Whether promoting the build-up to the Winter Classic, giving score and penalty updates or celebrating Sidney Crosby’s return to the Penguins, the tweets and Facebook updates come often.

Quality Video Content. In addition to news or fun stuff, there’s also some pretty great exclusive video content being provided on Facebook and Twitter. The NHL is something of a master in online video, and the sharing of highlights is a big part of its social media identity. Beyond in-game highlights, the league offers content that would appeal to even non-fans, such as a very cool time-lapse video of this year’s Winter Classic rink, going from construction to game in just over a minute. And that’s content you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Playful Tone. What’s most refreshing about both the league and team accounts is the positive and playful tone of its social media content. On January 3rd, with the New York Rangers holding the best record in the league, the team posted a screenshot of the standings to its Facebook profile, writing, “Who LIKES the look of this!!!” It’s fun, it’s celebratory, and it entices fans to engage.

Encouraging User Interaction, Physical and Digital. As a Rangers fan, I follow their social channels. During last year’s celebration of the team’s 85th anniversary, Twitter was a key component. Contests where users had to go to a surprise physical location to win autographed sticks or merchandise were all done with Twitter. It was handled so well that I even hopped on a subway to try and win something, and I never do this stuff.

In addition, the NHL created the LIKE/DISLIKE Facebook post, where users are challenged to Like something (a play, a game outcome, etc.) or explain why they don’t. It’s simple but effective, and can often spark some smart debate, and at the very least, gets people clicking.

They Respond and RT. Not all brands, even the smallest, take the time to answer tweets, and that’s a mistake. When a brand interacts with fans on Twitter, it’s a recognition that the customer exists and is valued. The brand hears them. So, when small companies don’t reply or acknowledge Twitter correspondence, it’s even more admirable for a major sport to do so. Imagine being a young fan and having your favorite team respond to your tweet? It would feel empowering and exciting. The NHL and its teams routinely retweet and answer questions, and their Twitter presences are more powerful as a result.

The NHL’s success with social shouldn’t be measured absolutely in number of Likes or in purely mathematical numbers, which are impressive anyway. But rather in the quality, human element it brings to social media. Marketers would be smart to watch and learn from them.

The Flightpath Roundtable: Social Media & Customer Feedback

social-media-customer-feedback

Welcome to the latest installment of The Flightpath Roundtable, where we gather various Flightpath employees for a discussion on the hottest topics in digital.

Today, we discuss the phenomenon of customer feedback via social media, and the impact it’s having on brands – in particular, the recent highly-publicized social media backlashes against Netflix and Bank of America, among others – as well as our own use of social to praise or complain about products and brand experiences.

The participants in this discussion:
Dan Brooks, Digital Marketing Manager
Denise de Castro, Director of Production
John Lee, Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics
Cliff Medney, Chief Creative Strategist
John Whitcomb, Social Media Strategist

Dan: Alright, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the relationship between social media and customer feedback, because there have been a couple of high profile cases in the last couple months where social media users have had a real impact on brand decisions even before a product is released. Things like Netflix with the whole Qwikster thing, where they ended up cancelling it based on the negative buzz online. And Bank of America with its plan to charge people just to use their debit cards, and there was such negative feedback on social that it forced them to cancel the program.

I feel like in the past, people used to vote with their dollars, and now it’s not even coming to that. It’s like before they even have a chance to do that, they’re just using their voices via social media. So I wanted to start off with your thoughts about this. Maybe it’s a new phenomenon? John [Whitcomb], you can go first.

John W: Well, you know, from personal experience, I had a Bank of America card and we switched to The Credit Union when we saw that there were [new] debit card fees. I didn’t go on and blast it in social but I did actually let the dollar speak. So, I don’t know if it’s so much a matter of people just not letting the dollar speak as opposed to kind of doing both.

I think that Facebook and Twitter give the consumers a voice that they didn’t have before and they utilize that to voice their displeasure with these companies over policies. I think the bottom line that made [Bank of America] switch is the tone of the conversation as well as the actual results from the consumers. Because I do think that a lot of people had already switched over to other banks, and they saw that, and needed to do something. So I don’t know if it’s a direct result of just the outcry on social for that particular case. I do think it’s kind of the combination of the actual results of that outcry on social that in that particular case and getting people to drop their cards.

And for Netflix, I don’t really have that much of a personal attachment to it, but I would venture to guess that it’s kind of the same. I think Netflix was scared of all the personal outcry and you know, the displeasure that consumers expressed, but I’m not sure that’s what caused them to change as much as when they actually looked at the numbers and saw that people were dropping subscriptions because they were upset.

Dan: Do you think it’s almost like the dark side of having a presence on social – maybe fans feel more connected to a brand, and when they’re offended by something, that is also amplified. You can have instant feedback with the brand on Twitter and on Facebook, and that can be positive, but you also have the negative, which can be amplified.

John W: I remember last year, I think it was Jeremiah Owyang – he gave the keynote out at WOMMA, and his main thing was how we need to train the consumer that social media is not just a complaint vehicle and that it’s not a help desk. Basically, consumers right now are being trained that if you have a problem, go to [the brand’s] social outlets, and they will resolve it. Before, it may not have been a problem that they could have gotten resolved for whatever reason, or it might have been such a small problem that they wouldn’t have bothered, and this sort of gives them a new avenue to connect to the company and get those problems fixed. And his worry is that over the next few years, consumers are only going to use social for that purpose, and instead of an actual positive engagement with the brand, and kind of learning from them, it’s just going to be a complaint hub.

Dan: When you go to a Facebook page and all that you see is people complaining about stuff, I mean, that can’t be good.

John L: Since the beginning of message boards, the Internet has always been an outlet for people to complain. People love to complain online because it’s somewhat anonymous, and it’s always been a place where people like to start flame wars and things like that. “Voice of the customer” is nothing new, but with social it just makes things a little more public. High profile platforms, ubiquitous platforms, like Facebook , Twitter…it’s not as unknown as something like, a slash-dot of the ’90s, where people complain about stuff. Most people didn’t even know what the hell slash-dot was, even though it was a great message board. But now everybody knows what Facebook is, everybody knows what Twitter is, and so there are a lot of eyeballs on it. It’s very mainstream, and so the complaints are just a little more visible for everybody. So that’s why the corporations are a little bit more aware of those complaints rather than it being placed on more unknown site.

Dan: Do you think there is an element of bandwagon jumping? With the Netflix price hike and then Qwikster announcement, the outcry was crazy. Even I wrote some blogs about it, and how I didn’t like what they were doing. Ultimately it was just about DVD rentals, and for Netflix users, it was like the world was collapsing around them.

John L: Well, that’s basically it. They saw that they were going to be charged a little bit more, so yeah, there’s going to be an outcry for that, right?

Dan: Right.

John L: I don’t think there would have been as much negativity if they were actually getting a price cut [with Qwikster]. I doubt the whole Qwikster thing would have been thrashed on the way it was, but I mean, everyone is going to complain if they have to pay a little bit more.

Denise: Well, I don’t really have much to say about the Netflix thing besides seeing it all on my Twitter feed, and it was getting very annoying because everyone just wanted to complain about it. One person starts and then everyone starts complaining about it, even if they don’t subscribe to Netflix. They just jump on the bandwagon and Tweet, “Yeah, I’m so with you on that!”

Dan: You’re very active on Twitter, right?

Denise: Yes.

Dan: And have you ever complained about anything?

Denise: Plenty. Plenty of times. I guess the first complaint I ever made was last year. And I complained to Saks Fifth Avenue because they sent me a shipment that I had to do a special order on, and I was so excited, ready to use it and then I found that the product was used. So right away, I went to Twitter, because that’s my outlet. I got a response within a couple of minutes. They had a sales associate that lived by me drop the new product at my apartment and had it all taken care of.

Dan: What was the tone of your message to them? Was it very angry or was it more calm, like, “Hey, I have a problem…”

Denise: I wasn’t swearing, for sure. [Laughs] It was calm.

John L: I remember this. I think you were like, “Ew, gross!” And you actually included a TwitPic.

Denise: Yes! I did a TwitPic of it! That’s what it was. And you know, a picture speaks a thousand words, right? So I let the picture do the talking. So then that eventually spread out.

Dan: Do you ever, on the flip side, have a good experience and let the brand know?

Denise: Yeah, plenty of times. If I have a great hotel stay, I do say that. I do a #TravelTuesday for them as well. If I have a good dining experience, that goes out on my food Twitter handle. I don’t necessarily go onto Facebook to say, “Oh my gosh, you guys are great!”

I try not to complain. I went to a conference last year. I can’t remember which, I think it was 140 Conf. or one of those other social media meetups, and they said that social media is more of a cathartic platform, because everyone can complain on it. And ever since I heard that, I was like, “Shoot! Maybe I should change the way I Tweet and not be so negative.” So I keep that in my mind. But in general, everybody just likes to complain. So sometimes I just hit that off button or use my TweetDeck to just to sort out the negative people.

Dan: For me, it’s sort of the last straw in dealing with a brand, that makes me complain on Twitter. So I don’t really do it that often. Except this one time I went to Hale and Hearty soups and I didn’t think there was enough crab in my crab soup and I complained about it. [Laughs]

Cliff, I wanted to ask you, because we’ve talked offline about New Coke, and I know you were working through that whole thing – do you think that whole debacle would have been changed in any way if, let’s say, before Coke released New Coke, they announced what they were doing and people had a chance to go online and talk about their feelings? Would it have been with the marketing blunder it became? Could it have been avoided if social media was around back then? What do you think?

Cliff: Right. I think the interesting part of the question is, they did a lot of research. You would have thought that they would have secured the kind of sentiment that most brands don’t go to the lengths, historically, but now they get it naturally through social media. Coke had 200,000 people in the queue, in terms of the quantitative range of people, they engaged. Not just quantitative, but focus groups, blind taste tests over a huge population and they thought, very projectable.

Now, because social is real time, all the time, they might not have looked at it as a research endeavor; they might have looked at it as real backlash that they had to manage, which is the difference, right? I think brands inherently look at social as something like Denise was saying: it had to be managed before it got out of hand. And Saks, which is such a premium level player, and they are under such competition, they want to make sure [the brand does not get hurt by influencers]. They might have already identified you as a taste maker, they might have known your score, and how influential you are, so all of a sudden – boom! They took care of you and the problem. Whereas in research, they talked about, you know, what happens in a customer service environment, because they do all this testing and drilling. So, I think social now, has upped the ante.

If you were New Coke all the way back when and you got a crap load of sentiment of, “You’re screwing with an American institution,” it wouldn’t have been a couple of percentage points that said that in focus groups [that was drowned out by the positive feedback]. But if people were saying that you’re messing with Americana, and then people started commenting on the comments, you could imagine it going viral and it would have made a real difference than just what goes down in focus groups.

Research is viewed, all too often still, as academic and not real world. The real versus academic is what’s social now. Really.

Denise: I can say that the use of social media, in terms of complaining or getting some sort of result, is sort of more effective than the old fashioned “picking up the phone.” Because my husband had issues with his Droid, now iPhone, and he would like, call Verizon Customer Support, over and over. He would talk to them for hours, over any given amount of time. And it got to the point where I was like, “You just wasted so much time. How many “x” dollars is that?” So he eventually Tweeted it out and then he got the issue resolved in just a couple of minutes. So hours on the phone versus a blast…it’s unfortunate that you get faster of results on social media. But you know, now all the issues are resolved. All it took was one Tweet versus many phone calls.

Google+ Brand Pages Pros & Cons

Finally, Google has officially launched Google+ brand pages. Marketers and those involved in social media are quick to point out the comparison to Facebook, although Google does not see itself that way, as this interview with Google VP Bradley Horowitz demonstrates.

However, as marketers, it is our job to explore these various options so we can recommend them to clients and help them meet their business goals. Below is a quick breakdown of this new offering.

Pros

  1. Direct Connect – The Direct Connect feature is the ability for the Google+ brand pages to be found right in the search engine. By adding a + in front of the search query, users are connected right to the brand’s Google+ page where they can add to circles.
  2. Segmentation of customers – Circles is a core feature of the Google+ platform and the brand pages also utilize this functionality. Brands can divide their customer base into various subsets and target messages specifically for them.
  3. Huddles allow for exclusive content – Video chats with the company allow for a customer to experience more of an intimate connection with the brand. The demo video emphasized this feature using the neighborhood bike shop as an example. This more direct, more real connection was one of the purposes of this medium in the first place.

Cons

  1. Banning contests and promotions – This to me is the biggest flaw of the new platform. I had hoped that I would be able to use a contest and promotions to help build our clients followers.
    This is not something that hurts just the marketers, however; this affects the consumers directly. Study after study, including this graphic below, has shown that consumers connect with brands for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason is to receive special offers and discounts. This makes me ask Google, “What were you thinking?”
  2. Single admin – As of right now, Google+ pages only allow for one owner. Unlike Facebook, where you can add multiple administrators and work as a team to produce content, Google has limited it to one user. You can share the e-mail that was used to create the account, but even using that tactic has its limitations, as you cannot determine who on your team was posting what content. Overall, it just makes things less intuitive behind-the-scenes.
  3. Lack of analytics – A favorite saying that I use when thinking about analytics is, “You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know where you’re starting from.” With Google+ brand pages, it is hard to figure out a goal and a target because there is no way to measure your progress. The complete lack of analytics makes it very difficult for marketers to see what is working and what isn’t, which makes strategic planning almost impossible. That said, I am sure a robust analytics feature is coming.
  4. Lack of scale – At this very moment, I am hard pressed to recommend any of our clients get involved within the platform. The reason is simply that the users are not there. While it seems like those involved in the industry – marketers, branding experts, etc. – are all active within the Google+, it has yet to cross over to the mainstream consumer. Spending money on this platform is equivalent to paying for a sign in the middle of the woods where no one will see it.

Google+ brand pages are a brand new offering and as Google has mentioned, they are still in a learning phase. As they receive feedback on what is and what isn’t working and as the user base continues to grow, the platform could become more of a key component in a complete online marketing strategy.


 

5 Facebook Halloween Campaigns We Love

Facebook Halloween Campaigns

Halloween is one of those holidays that allows brands to be just a little more creative, and honestly, a little more fun than they usually are or can be. With the rise of Facebook, many companies use Halloween to present their products in new ways that call on user interaction and clever ideas, which show that A) these brands do have a sense of humor and B) they’re cooler than you thought they were. Below are five favorites by brands (actually, four are by brands – one isn’t linked to any product or company, but it was just too good to leave out) that captured the spirit of Halloween and built intuitive apps to support their creativity. Selected by Flightpath’s John Whitcomb and Dan Brooks, in no specific order.

Take This Lollipop – Let’s kick off the list with a bang – or in this case, a little stalking. This site has quickly become a viral sensation with its clever use of the user’s personal information and profile, playing on our fears of the big bad Facebook man watching our every move and ignoring privacy concerns of their users. After all, this is Halloween, and no fear should be left unturned.

Connect to this application and you are quickly transported to a dark hall of some creepy building. In it we find the main character, who is clicking away on the Internet. He decides to login into Facebook, but not as himself…he logs in as you! As he goes through your profile and glances at images he slowly starts tweaking out. A map is displayed of your house and he turns towards you with an evil grin on his face. Next, he is driving to what is supposedly your neighborhood with your profile picture pinned to his dash.

The best part about this whole experience is that it has nothing to do with marketing – no brand is attached – it is simply the sick and twisted mind of an individual who knows how to turn a social network into a “scary network.”

Visit the site now…If you dare! – John W

Mike’s Hard Lemonade: Zombifier – There are few things I love in this world more than zombies. Whether it’s The Walking Dead comics, George Romero’s films, or the Resident Evil games, zombies occupy a surprisingly large percentage of my entertainment pie chart. But I don’t like bad zombie stuff; I’m picky with my zombies. Also, since we’re here to talk about Facebook, it’s worth noting that I’m quite selective about my corporate Facebook likes. The last thing I want is my Facebook feed filled with junk messaging from brands I don’t really care about.

So it probably speaks pretty highly of Mike’s Hard Lemonade that I converted to “liking” its Facebook page just to use its new Zombifier, which allows you take a photo of yourself and zombie it up with easy-to-use tools. What actually sold me on the like conversion was the great landing page image: a Zombified photo of a female fan that looked really, really good.

From there, I selected a photo I wanted to use, chose the right gashes, decomposed nose and decaying eyeballs, and I was done! Zombie Dan was posted to my wall and made into my profile picture in about two minutes. What I also really liked: the zombie photo was not branded with a Mike’s Hard Lemonade logo. It may not seem like much, but I appreciate that liking them was enough, and I don’t have to actually advertise the brand with my new photo. – Dan

Target: Get Gourdeous – The main reason I chose this campaign, besides the word play in the title, was because of its simplicity. A user uploads a picture, which is then placed on a virtual pumpkin. The pumpkin can then be posted to the wall of the user or sent to a friend and, voila! Customized Facebook Jack O’Lanterns.  

Pumpkin carving is an activity that I look forward to every year, and now Target allows me to take that idea online. Now as long as no one smashes my virtual or real pumpkin carving masterpieces, this will make for a great Halloween. – John W

Unicef: Trick-or-Treat Costume Party – Not all Halloween campaigns have to be scary; some can actually be charitable, as this example from Unicef shows. Their Trick-or-Treat Costume Party campaign is a great way to not only have some fun but also help out a great cause as well. Users upload a photo either direct from Facebook or their computer, and then use the costume creator to see what various costumes look like superimposed on their photo. The charity part comes in with a great and simple tie-in from the organization, where for a small donation amount, more costume choices are unlocked.

There is also the shareability factor built in with messaging and the ability to share the photo to your wall, or make it your profile image. Additional options such as hosting a Halloween party and other things you can do to assist the organization make this a treat for them and you – with none of the tricks. – John W

Kraft Foods: Halloween Hunt – This is a basic tab/landing page, but it’s really effective and contains more content than one would think. On the page, you’re looking at a classically spooky, cartoonish haunted house in the moonlight, complete with a grave in the front lawn and other details that you don’t see until you look deeper. Your mouse turns into a skeletal hand, and as you move it over different objects, things pop-out and animate. Click that pie in front of a tombstone, and zombie hands reach out from the ground, followed by a quiz about Jell-o popping up. Get the quiz right, and you win access to a Halloween-themed recipe. Click on Kool-Aid Man, who’s staring out of one of the windows of the haunted house, and he flies away, dressed as Dracula, while a different quiz pops up.

I like the well-produced Disney-esque music and monster groans and grunts (and I usually hate the music and sound effects with these things), the basic-but-fun animation, and the interface. But I really love the way it encourages interaction and exploration in an exciting, simple way. Really well done. – Dan

New Facebook Insights Helps Marketers Understand Potential Targets

As many are aware by now, Facebook recently released an update to its Insights product. This was the first update to this section and was, according to the release issued by Facebook, a response to requests from brand marketers for a deeper understanding of the community they were building.

The update was filled with a number of new features, including the new “Talking about this page” metric, which shows first time users the level of engagement each community has, along with its size. However, a little more digging into these updates and one now finds demographic data for the group that Facebook defines as the “reach.”

Reach is made up of consumers who are in some way connected to the page but may not directly be a fan…yet! They may have seen a post in their friend’s feed, or they may have been exposed to an ad produced by the brand’s page. Up to this point, most community managers could easily describe the demographic of their community, but only a handful could define the connections of their community members. This group is what my current supervisor likes to call “the low hanging fruit” of our potential audience – in other words, these are people who we should be able to easily convert to actual fans.

Now I know the whole point is to increase engagement and not the number of fans, so using it for this purpose is contradictory to why the update was released in the first place. But let’s be honest; for now, my clients are still going to look at fan growth as a significant metric of success, so any thing I can use to help me achieve that growth is helpful. Once I have them on the page then I need the second part of the strategy – which is to engage them and get them talking.

So how do we use this demographic information? We can use it in a number of ways, from growing the community to product development. If, for instance, you have a new product idea, you can match it up with this potential audience to see if it would fit in that demographic. If your potential demographic is mostly made up of young woman from 20-35, and you primarily produce product for older children, maybe it would make sense to expand to some products geared towards younger children as well. One way Facebook could increase the usefulness of this potential even more is by displaying top likes of your reach as well and associated interests. This would give us a better idea of their activity and who they are, as opposed to just the demo data.

As the network continues to stress ties with brands and make the platform more useful for marketers, it will be interesting to see what other data they make available that could help us in our campaign planning.

f8 Conference: Takeaways on New Facebook Changes

During yesterday’s f8 conference in San Francisco, Facebook’s official conference that brings together the world’s leading social network and developers, Facebook announced plans for an entirely new user experience on its platform.

Most of these features are not yet public, but hold both positive and negative implications for users and marketers. There are still a lot of questions that have not been answered yet, but here are some of the major themes and takeaways from these new announcements:

History Will Be Reborn – “Facebook Timeline” will soon become a new buzzword if it hasn’t already. The concept behind this new look and feel is to make your profile a more complete story than what it is today. As it stands, items that come up in your news feed appear for a brief period of time and then are lost, unless you scroll to the bottom and keep hitting the “more posts” button. This new change will take your important events and bring them back to the surface so that you can re-experience what happened and in some case discover new aspects of the event that you may have not known about.

This is going to make storytelling more important for brands. If brand pages do go this way, I imagine the ability for a brand to tell its history and emphasize tradition within their own pages. It will no longer be about the immediate status update but rather an overall narrative that the page will tell. Brands will have to be much more strategic with what story they want to share with the consumer.

Use Friends for Discovery – The second major change that comes from this timeline initiative will be a new way to discover products, places, music, movies, etc. The ticker, which has already appeared in the upper right of a user’s profile, will still show each and every action a friend takes. But if multiple friends are engaging with a certain product at the same time, that becomes a highlighted story and lets the user discover it based on a trend of usage amongst their friends.

Marketers will have to be extremely strategic here. Not only will your overall story have to be shown on the page, but each experience will have to be engaging enough to make users want to share it with their friends. By getting an action to show up in multiple users’ feeds, you have a chance to have it be seen by a lot more people.

Graphrank – One of the largest promotion vehicles for brands is an innovative or reward-based contest or promotion. “Like us and then enter” is messaging that is frequently employed by brands on pages to encourage this interaction. Already, people have been arguing that a Like is not the true value, and with this new rollout, apps that stress a one-time engagement will become even less important. Starting now, an app will only have to ask for permission once and then every action will be recorded in the timeline. The ticker will still record every engagement, but the timeline will hold summaries of a user’s activity.

The new addition of Graphrank will make user engagement even more important. The quick idea behind Graphrank is a personalized scoring experience based on a user’s friends and personal engagements, and repeated engagements over time will make that score higher.

Visual Importance – Another recurring theme from the launch announcement was the importance of aesthetics in this new experience. From the additional large photo that will be at the top of the timeline area to the layout choices that designers will have to work with when deciding what stories to tell with their applications, visual cues will help increase engagement.

Marketers will have to re-look at their asset libraries and give users new assets that can help them make the most of their profile. It could be as simple as offering a pre-sized image that is provided by a brand to a user to plug into these new areas, or designing new assets that are a better fit.
In the timeline, each story will be more popular with a powerful image that can be associated with it. Brands need to make sure their assets can be used to help a user tell certain stories.

There was a lot more that came out of the f8 conference, and we will be keeping a close eye on it as different features are rolled out over the next couple months.

The Flightpath Roundtable: Google+

Google+

Welcome to the first installment of The Flightpath Roundtable, a new feature where we’ll gather various Flightpath employees for a discussion on the hottest topics in digital.

Today, we’re talking about Google+, Google’s fledgling social network. Google+ was launched with much fanfare and expectation, and is perhaps the greatest threat to Facebook’s dominance. But how has it fared so far? We talk Google+’s Circles innovation, how Facebook has responded, and what the future may hold in the social network wars.

The participants in this discussion:

Dan Brooks, Digital Marketing Associate
John Lee, Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics
Cliff Medney, Chief Creative Strategist
John Whitcomb, Social Media Strategist

Dan: So we’re talking about Google+. What’s everyone’s take on where it stands now, whether or not you think it’s been a success up to this point, and will it be a success in the future?

John L: It’s really their second attempt at social media. Their first attempt with Wave just kind of fell flat, which could’ve been caused by the bad publicity they got initially, because of the privacy issues. Honestly, I don’t have a Google+ account. But it’s basically not too different from Facebook. Whether or not they’re going to be able to surpass Facebook, it’s highly unlikely. Google, although they do things very well, I don’t really know where they stand in terms of social media. They’ve been trying to penetrate that market for a long time now, and they’ve kind of fallen short in comparison to Facebook.

Dan: You mention how they failed with Wave. Do you think they’re big enough that they can kind of will this to be a success on some level, and just have it around so that they’re in the space?

John L: I don’t think you can really be in that kind of position where you can just sort of have a piece of it. The way it seems with these social networking platforms, you’re either it, and everyone uses, or you’re gonna die out, like MySpace or Friendster. People need that sort of common platform to share everything, and whether or not people want to use two platforms, I don’t really see that happening either.

Dan: Like VHS versus Beta.

John L: Exactly.

John W: Well, there’s already two platforms that exist too, that people are competing against, and that’s Facebook and Twitter. Google is actually the third major platform that’s coming into play. Twitter is still considered a social network that you use for sharing items throughout your social graph.

Dan: Twitter’s a little different. It’s not as robust.

John W: No, it doesn’t have the same features.

Dan: Well, you’re our social media expert. What’s your take on Google+ so far?

John W: I think it depends on what your definition of success is. From when it started, it quickly grew because of all the press that it got, and one of the main reasons is the Circles feature on Google+. That’s an advantage it has over Facebook. Typically, right now with Facebook, your status update goes out to everyone, and you have no control over who sees what. But with Circles, you really get to pick and choose.

John L: But in Facebook you still have a feature where you can sort of have different groups, right? Where in those different groups, you have your posts and pictures, and select who has access to those. It’s not as well defined as Circles, but…

John W: You can set it up, but it’s very clunky. It’s not very easy for the user to grasp how to use it, it’s kind of hidden behind the actual settings of Facebook. Whereas with Google+, it’s a main component.

Cliff: Isn’t Facebook doing Circles or a Circles-esque kind of thing?

John L: I think they’re trying to refine it.

Dan: I know that there’s a drop-down now. When you make a status update, you can pick who you’re sharing it with.

John L: My wife’s biggest complaint about Facebook when she started using it was the lack of a Circles feature. But I’m sure it’s definitely high on their list in terms of refining it, especially since Google came out with it.

Cliff: And it’s the kind of handle that everyone defines it by. You know, while there may be many other reasons to think that it’s very good or maybe not not so good, Circles is, if not an obvious thing, it seems like a very human thing in a kind of environment or venue that’s sometimes viewed as not-so-human. Things that Zuckerberg did that were just either stupid or viewed as ruthless, insensitive; so to have something as emotionally rich as Circles, which just as a pure play metaphor for your circle of friends – where there was such a cavalier sense of friend-dom to begin with – turns it all on its head to a degree, and re-institutes a little bit of humanity, in the kind of oxymoronic sense, of what social media should always have been.

Dan: I actually made a post about this on Google+. I think the Circles are a great idea, but if I had somebody who I considered a friend, and then I found out they put me in their Acquaintances circle, I’d be kind of offended. [Laughs] You know? And a lot of people kind of agreed with me on that. It’s giving you more control over things, but at the same time…

John W: It’s making you define.

Dan: It’s making you define your relationships.

John W: Right, which can both be good and bad, depending on who the individual you’re defining is.

Cliff: Do we have any cases or situations where friendships have been broken? Where you thought you might have ranked pretty high –

Dan: And then you find out you don’t.

Cliff: [Laughs] Oops!

Google+

Dan: The other thing about Google+ so far, is that I find whenever I login to check, there are like, no updates from anyone. Granted, my network on there is not as big my Facebook network. I think I have like 25 friends on Google+ compared to maybe a few hundred on Facebook, but it’s the same two people posting updates on Google+.

John L: It’s because everyone’s still using Facebook. That goes back to what I was saying about having two competing platforms. Nobody wants to deal with two platforms to get status updates, or check in on what their friends were doing. It’s kind of lame to post things twice on both of them, you know?

Dan: Someone called me on that, in fact.

John L: [Laughs] Yeah. “I just saw this on your Facebook. Why are you posting it on here, too?”

John W: I would agree with that. I even find trouble logging into Google+ on a regular basis. The Circles thing is the big difference, but if Facebook can master the Circles, then people are still using Facebook so often that Google+ will most likely just go off the radar. It already has, in my opinion.

John L: Yeah. There was a lot of hype about it – a lot surrounding the controversy with privacy, but then it just kind of died out.

Dan: Hitwise was saying that usage peaked in July, and then took a dip in August, and it hasn’t hit those numbers since.

John L: Yeah. People were curious and then it’s like, “How is this better than Facebook?” The Circles thing, if they think that’s the winning component, I don’t think it’s enough. Because Facebook is probably going to develop something very similar, if not better.

Facebook

Dan: Social plays more of a role in search now – they incorporate what gets shared in social into search results.

John L: They definitely are. I mean, they’ve been doing it for quite awhile with real-time search results. Having Twitter feeds within their search results, you don’t really see that as often, because they’ve found that not many people actually click on that. But even pages that incorporate the Facebook Like button…is it part of the algorithm? I think somebody from Google actually did admit that it’s part of the algorithm. It doesn’t hold as much weight as a backlink, but social components on a page I think are going to get more and more heavily weighted in terms of how pages show up in search results.

Dan: They have a lot at stake in Google+. Can Google give more weight to Google+ in the search algorithm, as a way of forcing it on the world?

John L: If they want to include that into their algorithm, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

John W: But couldn’t they go as far as not only including it, but making it such a major factor that it diminishes Facebook, and they drive users to Google+? I mean, no one regulates them, so couldn’t they basically just change their algorithm, and all of a sudden only Google+ results are only showing up in search?

John L: I think that would be a little too obvious. Google, their whole business is around ads. All they’re trying to do is serve relevant search results to their users, and if they start serving up pages that are heavily influenced by Google+ users, that would sort of contradict everything that they’re trying to do. To be that biased for their own benefit that way, I don’t think it would be good for the user, and again, contradict what their overall mission is, which is to serve up quality information.

John W: So in other words, even though they could, you don’t think they would, because it would hurt their overall search business.

John L: I think so. I don’t think it’s in their long term best interests, just to push a social media platform. They would kind of turn into that ugly, big, evil corporation that they’ve always claimed they don’t want to be.

Dan: What about brand pages? They’ve deleted Mashable’s and everyone’s brand pages.

John W: Well, they’ve made announcements that it’s officially coming at some point. And that’s why they deleted the other ones, because they didn’t want people putting up false brand pages that weren’t officially recognized by Google. Once they get this process in place and they go through, to me, that’ll be the most interesting aspect of what Google+ is – especially from a marketing perspective, is how the brands could use it. If there is still usage at that point, the ability for a brand to be able to target users based on certain criteria by putting their own fans in Circles, and then only sending messages out to just those particular fans – that’s a pretty powerful tool for any kind of brand that’s looking to market, because you have that relevance in the message already. Whereas before you’re blasting out to somebody who likes you, because they pressed the Like button, but they may not be interested in that particular update that you have that day. And so you can better target and make your messaging even more relevant, if that feature comes into play.

Cliff: At the end of the day, how does a company overtake Facebook? These guys seem like they’re not going to be giving up a lot of their lead. What would it take? More than Circles, what could it be?

Dan: If you go back to Friendster, when I used it, I thought it was great. It’s like, “What could be better than this?” And then MySpace came, and that was great, and I thought, “What could be better than this?” And you’re kind of introduced to things, and ways of using it, that you didn’t know you wanted.

John L: That’s very true.

Dan: I don’t know that Circles is that for me yet, but I think it’s going to come along at some point. Either Google+ introduces that new thing, or something else comes along that will take Facebook’s audience away.

John W: I think it will depend on how Facebook fights back to each of them. For this one, it’s very easy, as we mentioned earlier, for them to kind of take this new feature that Google came out with – Circles – and import it into their own system and continue their dominance. If somebody can come up with something that’s truly unique to their experience that Facebook can’t copy, then I think that’s when Facebook fails.

Interview: Hank Kanalz, Senior Vice President of Digital for DC Entertainment

DC Comics – home to classic superheroes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and more – made headlines this summer with the announcement that it would be rebooting its entire line with 52 new No. 1 issues. In “The New 52,” characters are being de-aged (and in Superman’s case, de-married), redesigned and revamped in efforts to connect DC with a wider audience, and hopefully reverse the trend of the industry’s rapidly declining sales. It looks like DC might be onto something; according to USA Today, pre-orders for the debut issue of the new Justice League have passed 200,000 copies, already making it the year’s biggest seller. In another big move coinciding with the relaunch, DC, which is owned by Time Warner, will now release every comic in digital on the same day as the print version, marking a true acceptance of the format as playing a key role in the future of comic books.

In advance of tomorrow’s historic launch, we spoke with Hank Kanalz, Senior Vice President, Digital of DC Entertainment, about the decision to go same-day digital, fighting piracy, and why he’ll never get rid of his print comics.

Flightpath: We’re right around the corner of the big relaunch. What’s the feeling around the DC offices right now?

Hank Kanalz: You know, not to sound cliche, but it’s positively electric. We moved into a brand new space, we’re all under one roof working on this incredible project. It’s so exciting. We’ve had daily updates on what’s going on, hourly check-in points on moving towards this launch. I’m knocking on wood – everything’s going according to plan.

Flightpath: The relaunch represents a real move towards embracing digital with same-day digital and print releases. What made now the right time for that?

Hank Kanalz: It was a very clean time, you know, with the 52 new number ones as a jumping on point for new readers. So what better way to get new readers than to go as wide as possible with all these number ones? And to go as wide as possible, you have to go digital. We could’ve kept this all in print, but if you want to reach an audience that can’t necessarily get their comic books, digital is the way to get to that audience.

Flightpath: I know that the whole industry had kind of resisted same-day digital releases for different reasons – not wanting to anger retailers, not wanting to cannibalize sales of the print version. Was the decision to go same-day digital a no-brainer with the relaunch, or was there some internal debate about it?

Hank Kanalz: From my perspective, it was definitely a no-brainer, and it’s something that we’ve been pushing for for quite some time. We were pushing for this, in my group, obviously long before The New 52 was announced. As a company, historically speaking, it’s something that we’ve always been looking at. And when we restructured, it became a top priority for us, so we went from 0 to 100 miles an hour in a matter of minutes.

So yeah, it was very much a no-brainer. But if you take a look at what’s out there too, we’ve been noticing that there’s a lot of the pirate sites, so we were already losing some of our audience to piracy. So why not give people an honest alternative to get their comic book material, right?

Flightpath: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. How big a problem is comic book piracy? I remember years ago, a friend of mine sending me a PDF; someone had just scanned their comic and uploaded it, and I never would have thought in a million years that anyone would do that. Do you see that as something impacting your business?

Hank Kanalz: Oh, absolutely. It impacts the entire entertainment business, not just us. We’re certainly not alone, and we’re fighting this together as a company. Warner Bros. – Time Warner specifically – we take a big stand against piracy. I don’t know if we’ve ever done a study to look at the financial impact, I don’t know if that’s possible, but clearly it’s impacting our business in general.

Flightpath: The LA Times says that print comic book sales have dropped consistently over the last three years, and they’re down 7 percent in 2011. Why do you think that is, and do you think that releasing them same-day digital, and just having more digital initiatives, will help reverse the trend?

Hank Kanalz: I definitely do. I mean, that was a very candid article. I read it, and I was like, “Wow, I’m really surprised at how candid the article is!” [Laughs] But, you know, it’s the world we live in. Obviously, as the SVP of digital, I firmly believe that this is additive and this is definitely something that grows the entire business. This is not just, “Here’s another way to turn a buck.” This is something that I think will have a very positive impact on the industry in general, print specifically, and then comic shops as well. This is a terrific way to get new readers into our business.

You are never going to replace that tangible feeling of holding a comic book. You know, we have an archive library here too. Walking into that library, there’s this terrific smell of collected paper comics. And for that reason, I will never get rid of my comics. It’s my collection. It’s part of who I am, and the years I’ve been collecting.

But yeah, we absolutely believe it’s completely additive, and it raises all the boats. We’re talking about DC, but this is not just a DC thing.

Flightpath: I’ve been waiting for a day where I could buy graphic novels and download the single issues. At the same time, I do still love the single issues that I had growing up, and I’ll always keep them. If you look at the music industry, vinyl is making a comeback. I don’t think print will ever go away, in the same way that vinyl still means something to people.

Hank Kanalz: I don’t think it will ever go away either. But this is a great sampling opportunity. How unique is it to get someone to try something for free, or for 99 cents, or $1.99, or even $2.99? Here, try this one thing, it’s only gonna cost you two bucks. If you like it, you can buy a whole bunch more in the same format, or push this button here, and we’ll tell you exactly where your closest comic book shop is. And go there, and pick up everything that you can get your hands on and can afford to.

What if someone says, “You’ve got to read Planetary. It’s an amazing series.” You’ve got a couple of options. Find a comic shop, get a back issue, try it, and then purchase your trades or your hardcovers. Go to our app though – real easy, and sometimes we run that first issue for free or 99 cents – try it, if you like it, you can buy all 27 issues right there. Or you can go to your bookstore, and now you know that if you’re going to invest the money in it, that you’ve tried it and you liked it and you want to buy more. I can’t see how it’s not additive.

Flightpath: It seems to me that all the digital stuff you’re doing is a way to break down the barrier of having to go to a comic book store or having to find this stuff on your own. It just makes it a lot easier.

Hank Kanalz: It really does. I actually have some friends who thought that Green Lantern was a movie character. They had no concept that it was based on a comic book. It became the topic of the barbecue. “How could you not know he was a comic book character?” They don’t have access, so they didn’t know. And they loved the movie! “So if you love the movie, then step into my library.” So I set them up, and then I was realizing when I was stacking some books [for] them, it would be easier if I just got them the digital [copies], so they don’t have to carry it on their vacation. It’s just so convenient.

There probably are people who don’t realize that Batman is a character that comes from the comic books. They know him and were introduced to him by either the cartoon show or the movies. There’s a generation that was introduced to Batman in the ’60s with the Adam West version. It’s a completely different entry point. So I would like to have our material readily available, and the best way to get it readily available is this, as digital. So you’re looking at your DVD, and in there you can have a preview of a book. It’s great.

Flightpath: Can you talk a little bit about the actual digital delivery? How’s it going to work, from what’s available to actual ownership of digital files?

Hank Kanalz: When you make your purchase, you’ll be able to download the files to read onto your device. If you’re going to be reading it through the Web, it streams, so you don’t actually have the files downloaded to your hard drive. But if it’s on your iPad or on [other platforms], it downloads the file. So you can load up your iPad and then get on a plane and read an entire series, depending on how you’ve structured your memory allocation on the device itself.

We’ve been experimenting with different ways for people to purchase in bundles or series or collections. There will be more developments with that over the next couple of months, but right now we’re selling the backlist as individual issues. We run the occasional sale, where you can buy everything in the sale or you can select the different items that are for sale. We have character 101s, so there’s a “Batman 101,” which is basically your introduction to Batman and then 101 of his essential books that we have available digitally, that we recommend you try. So we do that with all our characters, and we rotate those through. And we get new customers that way too, so whenever we get new customers, they start their library with this great sale and they add to it after that.

Flightpath: And what about price-point?

Hank Kanalz: Our standard price is $1.99, and then we have select backlist items that are either free or 99 cents. For the same-day digital books, we’ll be matching the price for the first month as the [$2.99] print price. It’s very interesting. I really thought that people would wait until the price drops, but people want their comics and they want them now. So they’ve been purchasing at the same price. And we want price parity because we want people to choose, but we don’t want them to choose because of price-point. We want them to choose because of their preferred format. Some people actually don’t want a big long box in their apartment or house; they don’t have the room, their spouse won’t let them, they just don’t want to deal with moving it – they prefer to keep their comics digitally. So we want to give them that choice. But then after a month, which is pretty much the period of time that comic shops will sell their frontlist books before they put them in the back bins, we’ll drop it to $1.99, and it becomes a backlist title. If the comic book happens to be $3.99 on the stands, then it will drop down to $2.99.

Flightpath: On an iPad, double-page spreads might not fit the aspect ratio of the screen perfectly. Do you think the digital format will cause the art form to change and evolve?

Hank Kanalz: I don’t think so. We don’t have any intentions of limiting double-page spreads; they’re just too spectacular and fun. All we really do when we prepare for digital is we set it so that all you have to do is turn your iPad to landscape, and then it really does look beautiful. And depending on how the artist constructed the pages…if it’s a full-bleed page, we really try and accommodate that, but then we have the black framing, so it’s really not noticeable that it doesn’t fit perfectly in there. It has the same dramatic impact, I think. And then the difference though, is now that with the iPad, you can zoom in and you can see all the stuff that you would otherwise miss.

Flightpath: Let’s say someone might love comic book movies, but they don’t buy comics or they don’t know where to start. Is there one title from the new DC relaunch that you’d recommend as a good place to get on board?

Hank Kanalz: Oh, goodness. It’s so hard to be objective. We’re so immersed in it. My entry comic book that really got me hooked was Justice League, because it has all the characters. [Justice League No. 1’s] got such a nice feel, and it really is drawn cinematically and paced cinematically. I’m not just saying that because it’s coming out [tomorrow], and we’ve been working hard on this issue. It looks terrific. That’s a great starting point. I would say that, obviously if they’re a fan of a particular movie, then stick with that. If you’re a Batman movie fan, then Batman and Detective Comics are obviously the way to go. But Justice League has it all. It has all the characters, it’s a great starting off point, and you don’t need to know anything that happened prior to that point.

The Importance of Disruptive Messaging in Social and Digital Media

disruptive-marketing

There is clearly more information trying to enter our head and heart space than ever. Streams and reams of Tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube content combined with commercial messaging in every shape and size, trying its best to influence an attitude or transaction. Before social media and mobility, the noise level was high on a seasonal basis during things like holidays, but manageable the rest of the time. Now, as the cliché goes, it’s “24/7” noisy. It’s amazing that any brand has any significant recall or unaided awareness or is able to capture eyeballs, let alone get someone to blink!

The original idea of “disruption” centered around shock value in service of getting attention or market share. Disruption occurs only if the brand “activist” can say “got ya.” Got ya to pay attention or most poignantly, disrupted the individual from another engagement and got an action/transaction. Hip hop artists including EMINEM and energy brands such as Rockstar and Monster were disruptive from the get-go and the status quo. It’s not that EMINEM is just an in-your-face artist, it’s that he’s a down-your-throat lyricist that motivates his fans and adversaries to listen forcefully (not passively) and react. Simply, if there is no reaction, there’s no disruption.

So what exactly is disruptive messaging and what makes something disruptive or not? On YouTube, a video goes viral because it is crazy funny, outrageously stupid or in some other way uniquely entertaining – or maybe because it’s commercially/financially supported. Given disruption is all about the status quo being manipulated – in all forms of content today – Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is the it girl of disruptivity because it pushed people’s buttons in a way rarely seen. The reaction by way too many was over the top mean, but the millions of aggregated views and of all the knock-offs and parodies illustrates today’s reality that commercial or otherwise manufactured content, for better or worse, can be wildly disruptive through social channels. Old Spice, with the “Your Man” campaign, gave the world a smell of disruptive engagement with an over-the-top idea that mixed inventive production values with social and traditional media. While the brand had made significant strides in reinventing itself before the Old Spice dude came on the social seen, it really lost all of its historical baggage (of belonging/smelling like dad) through him. It was beyond disruptive.

While some love to say that with social, the “medium is now truly the message,” I say just the opposite. Facebook is no more the message than ESPN; content (user or commercially generated) is what makes both of these the category killers of their respective and intersecting platforms. What’s true is social media enables commercial messaging to be more strategic, targeted and engaging, and therefore, compelling. But truly disruptive messaging provides the breakthrough element against competitive realities, let alone high decibel reality.

There are three simple things that make for successful disruptive messaging in traditional and social media:

1) World Play – Puns, provocative hooks, profanity, entendres, acronyms, broken up words (to-get-her), and the slight/unexpected word in a sentence that grabs attention and gets a re-look. The highly successful brand, Kind, has used “nuts” in almost all of the above ways to its advantage, be it in its Kindness truck tour, outdoor boards, web-site and social media.

2) Visual Intensity – Photoshop and computer aided design/manipulation has made it common to be and see outside reality. Design language is so good and consistently original across media and virtually all consumer categories that, in a nutshell, we are living in a disruptive design age where so much of what grabs us only has us for a second until the next grabber.

3) Playing to Interrupt-ivity – Social media, especially Facebook, engages us in a totally interrupt-ive way with friends, family and cravings. Unlike sequential media (like a movie or book), the wall on Facebook is in a constant state of “posting interruptions,” and to get noticed, the human in us needs to respond with provocative/OMG language, ridiculous photos and all kinds of updates.

So remember, if you’re looking to grab attention or make an impression, in social media or an encyclopedia – a little play on words – don’t be literal, be satirical. Or be silly or a little bit snarky. Regardless, let’s all give it up to those who disrupt!

140 Characters Conference Highlights

140 Character Conference

Held at New York’s 92nd Street Y from June 15-16, the 140 Characters Conference featured speakers from all over the digital landscape giving bite-size 10-minute talks (in the spirit of Twitter’s 140 character short info-blasts) on social media, or “The State of Now.” From world-famous icons like Deepak Chopra to little-known Nebraska farmers, all presenters managed to fit into the theme of the conference and offer unique takes on Twitter, Facebook, mobile apps and what they all mean to the world.

Here are some highlights and our picks for the best speakers:

The Lupus Ladies of Twitter. Far and away, this segment encapsulated everything the conference tries to convey as well as exemplifying the potential of Twitter. Three young women, all with Lupus, took the stage to discuss their condition, how Twitter and social media brought them together, and how they’re using these tools to make a difference. Brenda Blackmon, co-anchor of My9 WWOR-TV’s 10 p.m. newscast, whose daughter Kelly suffers from Lupus and was on the panel, told emotional stories about Kelly’s fight, and the difference the Internet has made in spreading the word. This was real life stuff, and it resonated.

Sesame Street. Sesame Street has always done a great job in creating smart content for both adults and their children, and the same is true for their forays into social media. Hearing Dan Lewis, Director of New Media Communications at Sesame Workshop, discuss how they achieve this balance was fascinating. A prime example: this haiku from Cookie Monster, released as a Tweet and as a viral video. Ironic and smart enough for any English major, as well as educational and just plain funny enough for the 5-year-old in all of us.

Cody Heitschmidt, VP Biz Dev, LogicMaze. In discussing the impact of Twitter and social media on small towns, Cody brought a very honest and down-to-earth feeling to the conference. There was no speak of using Twitter to reach customers, grow a brand or whatever. Instead, Cody talked about how being from a small town, he just was not exposed to different kinds of people or modes of thought, and Twitter has helped remedy this by expanding his world. It spoke to an inherent truth about the good side of social media, which is that it can bring open-minded people together, who would otherwise never meet.

Deepak Chopra. Appearing live via Skype, Chopra gave an impassioned speech on how social media is building “new neural networks for a planetary mind.” It’s connecting us and creating a new consciousness. What we do with that consciousness and with that power — whether to create good or to waste it on nothing but entertainment — is up to us.

Middle School MicroInterns and NY Startups. A group of 7th graders took the stage and performed a play about the role social media has in our lives, and it killed, garnering laughs and offering real insight. But the best part was the Q&A with the students that followed, where they revealed just how deep a grasp young people have of the technology and what it means to properly use it. When asked about how to use Facebook without getting in trouble, one student simply replied, “Be appropriate.” If only certain Congressmen were this smart…

Facebook Friday: Weekly Analysis of Facebook Campaigns – Arby’s Chicken Salad Taste-Off

Welcome to Facebook Fridays, our new weekly feature where we look at various Facebook marketing campaigns, and examine what went right, what went wrong, and everything in-between. First up: Arby’s “Chicken Salad Taste-Off” campaign.

How do you launch a new product offering to the masses and utilize social media to help you gain buzz and trial?

Chicken Salad Taste OffWell, if you’re Arby’s, you conduct a taste challenge against a similar offering. So was born the great “Chicken Salad Taste-Off,” which pitted Subway‘s Orchard Chicken Salad Sub against Arby’s Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich and Wrap. (We know which sandwich wins for Most Unnecessarily Long Name. Are you supposed to say, “Yes, I’ll have one Arby’s Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich and Wrap,” every time you order one? But I digress…onto the ins-and-outs of Arby’s Facebook campaign.)

The Campaign:
1. Like gated coupon was given to consumers for the new offering from Arby’s.
2. Consumers were encouraged to try both sandwiches and return to the page to vote for the one they liked best.
3. In order to encourage voting, Arby’s partnered with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and pledged to donate $1 per vote, and up to $25k, to the charity partner.

The Results:
The campaign recently ended and one of the most glaring results was that Arby’s was unable to achieve their goal of 25K votes. The total vote count, according to the Facebook page which housed the application, was just under 10,000. The good news for Arby’s, however, is that their sandwich did receive over 80% of the votes, making it the clear favorite. (Big Surprise there.)

The impact on the page does seem to be pretty significant, with the total number of Likes increasing by 58% from 323,600 to over 510,000 in just the 12 days the campaign was active (according to monitor.wildfireapp.com).

What Worked:
There are a few significant things that worked about this campaign:
Simplicity of offer: A Like gated coupon is a great way to help build a fan base. It is simple for a user to do, and also gives them a reward for this simple action.
Buzz worthy: Arby’s could have easily designed a landing tab for the coupon and any new fan who liked them would receive the coupon, but left out the challenge aspect of the campaign. By throwing down the gauntlet and directly challenging the competition they created significant buzz around the event.
Support: Arby’s also conducted a blogger outreach campaign to coincide with the launch and pushed the story through traditional media as well. This integrated campaign promotion helped drive the results.

And ultimately, the huge increase in Likes was a big win for Arby’s. That alone makes the campaign a success from a marketing perspective.

Where It Fell Short:
The campaign was successful by most measures in helping to drive awareness and trial of this new product, but where it was lacking was in the continued interaction they were requesting from the consumers. To ask someone to not only visit for your offer once, but then return and re-engage, is a tough task for any brand and one in which Arby’s missed the mark.

Takeaway:
The biggest takeaway is to make sure your goal is tied to a simple action from your fans. If you make things too complicated or ask them to take multiple steps, you will naturally decrease your conversion rate, as you lose those who just don’t have the time to complete the second action. By trying to tie your end goal to a single simple action that a user can take, you are more likely to increase your conversions and the engagement with the brand.

BlogHer Food 2011: Takeaways

This weekend I attended the BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. I came to the conference to learn more from about food blogging from the agency-side and from a blogger’s perspective, as I write my own food blog. It was a breath of fresh air to step away from the agency side of things and meet with other bloggers to discuss food, recipes and techniques, as well as building a network of friends. I told a couple of colleagues that this conference felt more like a community than a place to network and find leads.

BlogHer Food had various sessions covering topics including recipe writing, social media, branding and search engine optimization. Here are my takeaways from the two-day event:

General Food Writing

  1. Write from the heart. Readers like authenticity. Think of your readers and you will always make the right decision.
  2. According to Amelia Pane Schaffner (@ZTastyLife), when writing a restaurant review,”It’s good to have a balance; excessive ranting is bad. There must be something positive about a restaurant.”
  3. Donna Pierce of @BlackAmerCooks advises food bloggers to be honest and write negative reviews about restaurants.

Recipe Writing

  1. Food blogging is not repurposing someone else’s work.
  2. When adapting recipes, ask for permission from the author/creator of the original recipe.
  3. Useful sites to read for info on ethics and copyrighting : www.blogwithintegrity.com and foodethics.wordpress.com

Social Media

  1. Use social media to promote your brand.
  2. Use the different social media channels effectively.
    • Mrs. Q (@fedupwithlunch): “The power of #socialmedia: you can reach so many, [and more] when you use a hashtag.”
    • Facebook is for conversations.
    • Twitter is for nuggets of information.
    • Be careful when using social media. According to cookbook author David Leite (@davidleite), “It can take years to build a reputation, but it can take two tweets to lose it.”

Search Engine Optimization
This SEO session offered great tips on how to optimize recipes without sounding like a robot.

  1. Have keyword phrases and voice – these are the two most important things about blogging. Write like you are going to write normally and keep your keyword phrase(s) in mind. It will come to you organically.
  2. Want to be seen in Google ? Use Google Rich Snippets, or hrecipe.
  3. Content is king, but structure is queen. All recipes should follow the same structure.
    • Recipe Title
    • Ingredients
    • Directions or Instructions or Method
  4. Name your photos. An example they used is ‘Braised-Lamb-Shank.jpg’.
  5. Optimize your website for mobile using HTML5.
  6. If your blog runs on WordPress, utilize the following plugins:
    • HRecipe
    • EasyRecipe
    • RecipeSEO
  7. If you use Blogger (like me – deecuisine.com), you can optimize your content manually with the HTML editor by effectively using:
    • unordered lists <ul> to list Ingredients
    • ordered lists <ol> to list Instructions
  8. Again, structure is important. It may seem daunting the first time, but after a few blog posts, you’ll get the hang of it.

The closing keynote was inspirational, motivating, and the perfect way to end a conference with these key takeaways, which can be applied to anything beyond a food blog:

  1. Quality is everything and can sell itself. Having quality content will allow you to make a name for yourself.
  2. Stop giving away your value so cheaply.
  3. Think outside the laptop! If you want to be a brand, consider modifying your website to be readable beyond the laptop; use HTML5 so your website is readable on mobile devices.

My favorite quote from the BlogHer Food conference comes from David Leite. “You [food bloggers] are some of the most powerful people in media right now. The first time a blogger posted a recipe from my site I flew into a fury. I wanted to bring out the lawyers I was told very quietly by my publisher — don’t annoy the bloggers. They are too important. But don’t abuse your power. You can use it for good or you can use for evil. You can be seen as great, or you can be seen as skanks.”

Getting the Like is Only Half the Battle

“A Facebook Like or a Twitter follower has no value to a brand until they are activated.” – Zuberance CEO, Rob Fuggetta

This quote was made during a recent panel discussion put on by Zuberance and Big Fuel. The panel was titled “How to Turn Word of Mouth Marketing into Sales,” and focused on utilizing a brand’s advocates as their best marketing tool.

Turning a customer into an advocate doesn’t always happen automatically, and as marketers, it is not our job to produce the great product or create the great service. Instead, what we are charged with, especially in the age of social media, is utilizing tools and platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to encourage this activity and help our client’s bottom lines.

So how do we encourage this behavior and turn more consumers into advocates?

  • Utilizing a platform to create a shared experience

    This speaks to giving relevance to a conversation between consumers. By allowing them to have a shared experience, you give them something to talk about and connect with that they are passionate about. A great example of this concept was the JetBlue “All You Can Jet” program.
    This platform allowed customers to purchase a ticket for a one-time fee and use it to fly as many times as they wanted on any of the Jet Blue routes during this period. The program utilized Facebook as a place where consumers who had participated in the promotion could congregate and share their adventures with each other, or propose the way they would use the ticket once they purchased it.
    This sense of community developed to the point that the members launched their own event that was attended by over 200 people in Las Vegas. Jet Blue did not set this up, but instead the consumers themselves organized and hosted the event on their own.
  • Create content of value

    This means that in social you can’t use the platforms as a sales channel only. In fact, one of the panelists even went as far as to say in his mind that a brand has to earn the right to talk about their product.

    Instead, your content should be something that provides value to the consumer. Huggies traditional media focuses on the product’s value proposition, i.e. best absorption, most comfortable, etc., but in the social space their content is centered around being a resource to help moms with potty training. They focus on helping to solve this problem and develop a relationship with the consumer by being a resource on this issue.

  • Don’t pay, but thank

    Social Media is all about transparency, and if you are given a recommendation by someone but later find out it was bought you, feel shilled, and it harms the reputation of the person making the recommendation. However, it is important to thank a consumer once they do advocate on your behalf. This shows other consumers that you appreciate the action taken and they might be more willing to engage in that action themselves.

  • Allow the advocate to feel invested

    To further the concept of thanking the advocate, you also have to make sure that they feel their feedback is important as well. By opening up the lines of communication through the social channels, you allow the consumer a feeling of importance, and if you take that even further and utilize that information, you provide them ownership. If you feel like you own something, you most likely will want to share it.

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p class=”MsoNormal”>Building up a large number of likes or increasing your followers is a great accomplishment in the eyes of most brands, but being able to turn that community into an energized group of advocates is where the real value lies.

For more insights from the panel check out #NYBAS on Twitter.

Social Media Marketing 2011 Trends and Best Practices

2011 Social Media Marketing Trends and Best Practices

Everyone knows by now that social media in general and social media marketing in particular is incredibly fluid and dynamic. With that disclaimer, I want to introduce a new Flightpath deck entitled ‘2011 Social Media Marketing Trends and Best Practices.’

Some of the ideas and concepts contained herein date back 2008 and publication of the breakthrough book ‘Groundswell,’ by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Some of these innovations were introduced by Facebook last week. Some of these points are common sense and some of them are open to debate.
It breaks down as follows:

PART 1: SOCIAL MEDIA TODAY – With facts, stats and observations about the overall SM landscape

PART 2: SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING MECHANICS – Presenting overarching themes for development of Social Media Marketing campaign

PART 3: KEY CAMPAIGN COMPONENTS – With practical, usable guides to things like Facebook Ads, effective Facebook Promotions, building a Twitter following, and key social media campaign measurement stats

We welcome your comments on the deck and hope you’ll share it with friends and colleagues that may find it to be of interest.

Follow this link to download the deck.

This Earth Day We Encourage You to “Think Global Act Social”

Social media has brought us closer to the planet we love and “live” for! On the day the world comes together for the sake and health of our home- we can all disagree on many things-sport teams, religion, politics, low top/high top Cons, but we can’t argue about where we live, and where despite our differences in opinion this is the place we all call home-it’s the big rock called Earth!

So on this Earth Day, when more of us have come together as one world on Facebook or Twitter, via a check in on Foursquare or checking it out on YouTube, the dreams and needs of Earth will be most likely be fulfilled because of Earth’s community social media revolution. With that: Think Global, Act Social.

There are some great examples of individuals doing just that. Here are some of our favorites from the large well known brands who share the planet to the more cause driven entities we are all in this mission together.

So whether you have already taken part in one of these campaigns or you want to help spread more awareness about this important day through Twitter (#earthtweet), Facebook messages or by writing your own blog entry. Remember that we may be different but we all share the same place so we here at Flightpath encourage you to #ThinkGlobal and put Social Media to work for your planet.

How will you think global and act social moving forward???

The Intersection of Sports and Social Media

This is one of the best times of the year for a lot of sports fans. It is the time when the sweet smell of freshly cut grass fills our nose and the unmistakable sound of the crack of the bat fills our ears. Sports bars will soon be filled with ball fans and millions across the country will join together at their respective club’s ballparks to cheer on their favorite team.

The magic of sports is not one that is best enjoyed alone, although it can be done. The true enjoyment of the game comes from the social aspect of coming together and “sharing” your love and enthusiasm for your game. Yes, we all know Yankees fans don’t always agree with Red Sox fans but the sport of baseball is what brings us together. In fact, one of my colleagues mentioned the fact that sports can take the place of regular social interaction. “It gives you something to talk about with someone who you don’t know and may otherwise have nothing to talk about.”

It is this sharing of your passion and love for the game that makes sports a natural fit for social media. To me, and I think most would agree the main purpose of social media is to facilitate connections by sharing content that others will find valuable. So when I saw a recent article highlighting the MLB Fan Cave and how they proposed to use social it was intriguing.

The MLB Fan Cave is the second part of a campaign that originated last year. Last Year Major League Baseball encouraged fans to compete for the dream job of the ultimate fan. Fans were encouraged to use social channels to explain why they should be chosen.

Mike O’Hara, who was picked from the 10k+ applicants will be manning the fan cave along with his sidekick Ryan Wagner. According to the article the main job of this fan is going to be to hang out in a Manhattan location that is equipped with 15 flat screens to watch all 2,430 regular season games. The two will also be expected to be tweeting from an official MLB Fan account (@mlbfancave ) and not only offer their own observations but also respond to comments and connect to other fans.

The duo will also be authoring a blog and producing videos . In short, they are expected to use all of the major social channels to broadcast their experience and share their opinions and observations of the game. Now of course there are also some additional features such as well-known players stopping by (Joba Chamberlain and others) as well as prizes and contests for everyday fans who visit the physical location.

What makes this interesting to me is that it capitalizes on the very essence of what makes sports social. It allows these two otherwise unknown individuals to share and connect with other fans using all of the tools and from an official capacity of the Major League Baseball Name. It is too early to tell whether or not this campaign will be a home run, but by bringing the traditional offline activity of sharing and connecting around your love for the game to the online social channels that help facilitate connections it is clearly a smart play.

SXSW Crazy Energy One Week, “End of Social Media” the Next…What Gives?

We all know the truth can hurt. We also know it can help. But the truth, whether you can handle it or not, has a lot of shades to it.

Last week’s AdAge CMO column framed a POV on social media that got some of us at Flightpath – and from the post’s comments,  many other digital shops, too – really talking about the state of social media.  Given the recent evangelism at SXSW Interactive, attended by the rock stars of the industry (including our own #AustinSix), we figured why not share!

Below is the beginning of the column by brand strategist Jonathan Salem Baskin. He heralds the end of “a fad. No, not the end of social media, but rather the beginning of the end of social media’s infancy.” (Guess they went for the extra shock value of a misleading title.)

Do Campaign Failures, High-Profile Firings Signal the End of Social Media?

The latest news involving social-media pioneers isn’t good. Pepsi has fallen to third place behind Diet Coke in spite of its widely heralded switch from Super Bowl ads to a huge social charity program called Refresh Project. Burger King has grilled through a couple of CMOs and fired agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky after producing Facebook campaigns and viral videos that got lots of attention while the business witnessed six consecutive quarters of declining sales…

Every CMO should use this occasion to pause and reflect on the assumptions that were behind these efforts, especially if you’re about to roll out a social-media campaign or start giving away content for free. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t, and may not.

For one of our troops, Michael Liss, it all goes back to Gary Vaynerchuk‘s presentation at SXSW about his new book, The Thank You Economy. Some highlights from Mike’s notes:

This is the beginning of the humanization of business. It’s about hitting an emotional center, not pushing coupons. Social media marketing shouldn’t be about push. You shouldn’t be trying to close in one minute – everyone in social media marketing acts like a 19-year-old boy, trying to close too fast. You need patience – this is a cocktail party, start the conversation, break through the noise. There’s no such thing as a social media campaign – a social media campaign is a one-night stand; this is about relationship-building. Social is about talking to human beings. We’re living in the first time when the consumer can interact with you. It’s accepted for us to go into the conversation.

And then, interestingly enough, Gary predicted this entire debate:

Social media is going to start getting beaten up: Does this really have value? People will start looking at the money they’re pouring into this. The next couple of years might be a bad time for social, like the internet from 2000-03, when people thought the internet was a fad.

(You can read much more about the seven things Mike brought back from SXSW – five extra lbs. not included.)

Flightpather John Whitcomb agrees completely with the notion of “smart social,” as referred to in some of the AdAge post comments. He finds some of those comments  dead on, especially when it comes to ROI:

It’s amazing we still haven’t been able to come up with a system that utilizes social media metrics and quantifies them with actual results tied into business objectives. If this was the case, perhaps Pepsi and Burger King would have abandoned the strategy mid-way or at least tried to tweak it to make their campaign work.

I think the real issue, though, is that we cannot force people to buy anything using any sort of advertising medium. All we can do is create brand awareness, and hopefully drive affinity through the connections we forge on these various platforms with our consumers. But that’s still just leading the horse to water.

The Beginning is Ending, Yeah, Long Live the Ending!

So what to make of this debate? The coolest part of being involved in social media is the constant state of change. Change isn’t just in the air, it is in the DNA. The importance of social marketing (fine, media!) is how it connects people to people, people to brands, and people to opportunity in the most seamless, organic way.

If you believe the reality of “if you build it, they will come,” then you know what the build-out of any new and imaginative field is about: not infrastructure, but possibility.  Brands will take advantage of an ever-growing range of social options because community engagement is as rich a philosophy in marketing as it is in life. Social media will clearly lead brands to people and meaningful revenue to brands in the years to come.

Or, to slip in one more movie quote: “Evolution finds a way!”

SXSW 2011: Photo Report – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our collection of SXSW photos. (If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.) In this final installment of our Photo Report, you’ll see more people, panels, food and fun stuff. Enjoy!

sxsw-2011-star-wars-uncut
Star Wars Uncut was a scene-by-scene recreation of the original Star Wars film made by fans around the world, using everything from animation to live-action to stop-motion. And it’s a great example of crowdsourcing. The first 15 minutes of the movie was played, and it was truly a blast.

sxsw-2011-star-wars-uncut-panel
The folks behind Star Wars Uncut, left-to-right: Jamie Wilkinson, Casey Pugh, and Annelise Pruitt.

sxsw-2011-facebook-jumped-the-shark
At the “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark” panel, everyone pretty much agreed that it hadn’t. More interesting was the debate that emerged on whether or not young people should or should not censor themselves on Facebook.

sxsw-2011-social-media-and-comedy
At the great “Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!” panel, featuring Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black (far left and far right).

sxsw-2011-marc-maron-twitter
Marc Maron discussed (in hilarious detail) an infamous tweet he made next to former GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman.

sxsw-2011-marc-maron
Marc Maron gets emphatic!
sxsw-2011-trade-show
The view from the trade show floor. Tons of companies, ranging from small to large, all showing off interesting software and gadgetry...

sxsw-2011-trade-show-storyteller
But this was my favorite thing there.

sxsw-2011-google-bing
My view from the floor of the Google/Bing Q&A. The message, as always, was that content is king.

sxsw-2011-aint-it-cool
Harry Knowles, founder of Ain’t It Cool News and altogether Nerd God, along with fellow AICN writers at the “Ain’t It Cool News 15th Anniversary” panel. What I learned here: their early review, which was not too positive, of “There’s Something About Mary,” earned them major respect from both the studio and the Farrelly brothers. Also, Jar Jar Binks was originally going to die in Episode III!

sxsw-2011-star-wars-app
Josh Shabtai (hands), Creative Director/CEO of Vertigore, shows off his company’s awesome iPhone/Droid game, “Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner.”

sxsw-2011-lucky-j
Finally, I leave you with this. Bask in the glory of Lucky J’s

sxsw-2011-chicken-waffle-taco
...and their amazing chicken-in-waffles taco.

And that does it for our SXSW photos! If you want to share your own SXSW memories (especially if they’re chicken-in-waffles-taco-related), please leave us a comment!

Social Media tips for non-profit to corporate brands

This was my second time attending SXSW and I’ve picked up a lot over the course of the four days I was there from corporate culture to development to social media. A consistent theme of SXSW is relevance, transparency, and timeliness in social media. This holds true for advocacy in non-profits and corporate brands.

Non-profits
Social media is shifting the expectations of constituents and their organizations. It is expected that organizations be on Twitter and Facebook. Sure you can have a social media presence, but you must provide relevant information quickly as well as engage in a bi-directional, engaging conversation with your followers/fans/supporters. People expect a dialog and response, especially with supporters of the organization.

Corporate brands
Customer service via social media is growing. Customers expect quick responses, so do not ‘Photoshop your response’ and keep things transparent. Taking three hours to type a response is not the way to go. Don’t have an immediate response? Take the conversation offline, and address the issue publicly by acknowledging you will handle the issue privately via DM/email.

Another side of transparency comes when social media is outsourced to an agency. It is important to let it be known who is the person behind the brand.

Like what Barry Diller said during his interview, “The internet is a miracle. You push a button and publish to the world.” So when you do push that button, just make sure you’re sending a meaningful message because that message has greater reach, and there’s nothing between you and your potential reader. Social media is global.

Seven Things I Brought Back from SXSW (Five Extra lbs. Not Included)

Attending SXSW Interactive felt like being inside a popcorn popper: You ricochet from one idea to another, hurling into everyone around you, energy bursting everywhere. What did I bring back from Austin beyond the 5 lbs I probably packed on? Where to even start?

Attending SXSW Interactive felt like being inside a popcorn popper: You ricochet from one idea to another, hurling into everyone around you, energy bursting everywhere. What did I bring back from Austin beyond the 5 lbs I probably packed on? Where to even start?

It’s a Social, Engaged Community (Duh)
For all the digital landscapes we carve out, there’s nothing like interacting with real people in real life. SXSWi registration was up 40% this year, and it wasn’t small to start with. This was truly a community of passionate people – and truly a community. That conversation on the shuttle, in line, before the panel, at the party was every bit as meaningful, inspiring and enlightening as the biggest keynote addresses. And everyone was open to that conversation.

Be Enchanting
Achieve likability. Perfect your handshake. Achieve trustworthiness. Default to yes. Make sure everything you do is Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering and Elegant. Launch with a story, not a feature set. Empower action. Plant many seeds: Today’s nobodies are the new somebodies, and you don’t know where the people are who might embrace you. Enchant all the influencers: It’s not the top down, it’s the bottom and the middle.

It’s a Thank You Economy, Stupid
Your brand should hit an emotional center and do something that matters, instead of just pushing more coupons. Humanize your brand. Don’t try to close in one minute. A social media campaign is a one night stand – and this is about relationship-building. What’s going to work for you as a human being is going to work for you as a business. We’re turning into a small-town world. Human elements matter. Have a voice and a point of view, and don’t talk like a corporation.

What’s a Social Media Expert, Anyway?
Ask 10 different people what the ROI of SM is, what the value of a fan is, what Facebook strategy really means, anyway, and get ready for 57 different answers.

Open Book Brands
It’s not about apps, technology, campaigns. The brand has to emotionally connect with the consumer. Brands are no longer the mirrors that define us, but have to be magnets that draw us in. They have to deal with us with trust, transparency and truth. Own mistakes, then turn them around. Be genuine and authentic.

Follow Your Curiosity
Barry Diller got into the Internet in ’92 or ’93 because he was intrigued by this new way a screen was being used, and wanted to explore it. “So many people at SXSW are following their curiosity,” he said. “The miracle of the Internet is that it allows everybody who has curiosity to figure out the ideas in their brain, get it together, push a button and get it out.”

Have a Big Vision
The Foursquare founders knew what they wanted to do since their days at Dodgeball. They created the product they wanted to create to make people’s life more interesting, and went where that took them. They’re following their own strong sense of mission, leading always with how they can make their users’ lives more enriched, and doing it as a team.

Sounds pretty easy, right?

SXSW 2011: Photo Report – Part 1

We know that many of you couldn’t make it to SXSW this year to experience all the panels, sights, free stuff, parties, people and BBQ. But fear not! Flightpath gives you a glimpse into what SXSW was like with Part 1 of our SXSW Photo Report. Enjoy!

SXSW-convention-center-crowd
Outside the Austin Convention Center, the main hub of SXSW, in the morning. Lots of people, but nothing compared to inside the building...
SXSW-badge-pickup
Badge pickup. Not the most exciting part of SXSW, but essential nonetheless. The wait wasn't too bad, and all the convention volunteers were really friendly.
SXSW-escalator-view
The view from the escalator at one of the many hotels in the area hosting panels. For as many people as there were, it never felt suffocating like some other (::cough::New York Comic-Con::cough) conventions I've been to.
SXSW-comics-panel-crowd
The crowd awaits Anjuan Simmons' discussion about what lessons app designers can take from comic books.
SXSW-dual-twittering
As would become my habit, I was covering all the panels I went to with both my personal and Flightpath Twitter handles. And praying I didn't make a Chrysler-like mistake.
Anjuan Simmons, right, discusses comics and comic book fans. He ended the panel with a comic book trivia contest. Not to brag or nothin', but...
SXSW-comics
...I won.
SXSW-Pepsi-Max
The PepsiMAX lot. Free wi-fi, free food, and the PepsiMAX flowed like water.
SXSW-outside-clown
What would SXSW be without clowns on stilts...
SXSW-ice-cream-sandwiches
...and free ice cream sandwiches.
SXSW-crowded-SXSW
The view from the escalator at the Austin Convention Center. Pretty amazing.

And that’s it for Part 1 of our SXSW Photo Report! Come back soon for Part 2, as well as more coverage of SXSW 2011!

SXSW 2011: Finding Twitter Secrets Through Comedy

SXSW 2011

Before I jump into the topic of this post, I just want to report that SXSW 2011 is indeed living up to its hype. Tons of interesting panels, people, and an amazingly good spirit throughout. It is definitely the best convention/trade show/conference I’ve ever been to.

Now, to the topic at hand. Two of my favorite panels thus far have been, “Being Funny On Twitter (Without Getting Fired),” with talk from Chapin Clark of R/GA and Ross Morrison of Huge Inc. on bringing humor and personality to brands through Twitter, as well as “Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!”, which featured comedy-Twitter giants Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black, among others. These were especially timely panels after the Chrysler Twitter debacle last week.

While the two panels attacked a similar topic from different angles – “Being Funny” was about knowing when to use humor on Twitter and for which type of clients, and “Social Media and Comedy” was more about how Twitter has become a new tool for actual comedians – they both ended up presenting similar messages. As Maron said during the “Social Media and Comedy” panel, “You’re not rewarding your fans [if you’re always promoting something].” In other words, people go to Twitter for honesty. If you’re a comedian or a corporation, people aren’t interested in following you to be bombarded with advertisements for your next stand-up special DVD or product release. They want to get a sense of who you are and what your personality is. That’s why being funny on Twitter is valuable to companies where it doesn’t stretch the brand image too far, and why Twitter has become such a great source for comedy from comedians: it’s all about cutting through the facade and learning something real about a person or company.

During “Being Funny,” R/GA’s Clark talked not just about being funny on Twitter, but general conduct as well for when you’re managing a corporate Twitter stream. First-person Tweets from a corporate account tend to raise eyebrows, whether they’re humorous or not — people want to know who is actually writing this stuff. Remember that you’re not just playing to the room, you’re playing to the world. If not everyone is going to get your joke, especially if it’s a corporate Twitter account, it’s best not to Tweet it. Also, however, don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit. If you’re going to try and create a Twitter account for a company with some humor and personality injected, try different styles of humor and see what the audience likes. But what happens when you achieve Twitter success through comedy? Do you hold back once you have a mass audience?

At “Social Media and Comedy,” we asked Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black during the panel whether or not they feel pressure to self-censor as their Twitter followings grow. Both said no — they’re only emboldened to share more of themselves, though Ian Black admitted that when he does feel like he’s self-censoring, he says something more outrageous. This might not be the best strategy for a company using humor, but it does speak to the need to be consistent and not let your followers down. As long as you’re being true to them and yourself, you’re doing your job on Twitter.

We have lots more coming in the days ahead from SXSW 2011, including a photo report, more blog posts, and as always, more Twitter updates! Keep an eye on this space, as well as our Twitter account, @FlightpathNY, or the hashtag #austinsix for all updates from the Flightpathians at SXSW 2011.

SXSW Always Gets The Human Side of Digital

SXSW

Man, did I love SXSW 2010!  It was an incredible experience for a creative marketing digital-newbie-guy, even when gagging on people talking in code…like CSS and HTML5.  Honestly, it was the most profoundly immersive trade show or festival experience I had ever attended.

This year I am SOL (meaning so out of luck...I need this job, okay!) with personal commitments and tons of client stuff; there’s no way I can attend. But six lucky Flightpathians are going – I have affectionately dubbed them the “Austin Six” (hashtag #austinsix on Twitter) – and here’s their rap sheet. They are great, interesting people. If you see them, their Twitter stream, or their meme badge, just say hi for me.  This year there is so much human-ness in the presentations, sponsors and all the before/during and after parties; I know because I have been jealously digging anything SXSW 2011, and wish I could be there with the Austin Six.

I want to end this quick post before having to run to a Vet appointment – my digitally native Airedale Abby had major ear surgery a few days ago and is now deaf, but doing great – with three things you must do in addition to hooking up with the “A6”:

1.       Go to Wholefoods. Their global headquarters store is an easy one mile walk from the show – it is the coolest foodie store – and their breakfast tacos are clearly illegal in NYC!

2.       Think/act like somebody else, for at least one day. If you’re a geek, act like a designer or story teller or desperado for a breakfast taco…but leave your comfort zone for a bit!

3.       Forget about the parties as networking opps. Think about the networking opps as parties. You walk into opportunities everywhere, every minute. Make it all a party – it is the best freakin show on earth, and what better way is there to capture the human side of digital than by truly enjoying your time with the people behind it all?

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FlightpathNY for continuous SXSWi coverage, as well as hashtag #austinsix to keep up with all the Flightpathians in attendance. We’ll see you there!

The “Austin Six” Are Psyched for SXSW

SXSW The Austin Six

Six members of the Flightpath team (dubbed the “Austin Six” by Flightpath’s own Cliff Medney) are eagerly anticipating their trip to the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. The festival promises to be a whirlwind of networking opportunities, learning at every corner and of course the chance to experience all the sights and sounds that Austin has to offer.

SXSW has a huge following and just keeps getting bigger every year. Taking place this year from March 11th to March 15th, topics covered range from social media to design to programming. Most of the members will be experiencing SXSW for the first time, but we do have one repeat visitor as well. So starting with the experienced, here is what our team members are looking forward to the most.

Denise de Castro – This is my second SXSW trip. I’m looking forward to great eats, great panels, and catching up with other social media mavens that I tweet with but have never met. I learned my lessons from last year: I’m bringing a battery charging case for my iPhone and planning out what panels/sessions I’m going to attend. Okay okay, what I’m really looking forward to is The Food: barbecue, tacos, and bbq tacos =)

Dan Brooks – Definitely “Social Media & Comedy: F**k Yeah,” on which Marc Maron (who I talked about in my podcast blog post) will be a panelist. (This is a subject we’ll be tackling soon on the Flightpath blog via an interview, though I won’t spoil with whom!) Also, “Ain’t It Cool News’ 15th Anniversary” panel – I don’t think they create the most well-written (or well-thought out) movie/comics reviews around, but they were just normal dudes who created something huge out of nothing, and I’m interested to hear their story. Last (but not least), I’m looking forward to “Second Screen: TV Meets the Web Backchannel,” which is about laptop/mobile usage during TV viewing, a subject recently debated on the Flightpath blog.

Ryan Kitson – Sunshine, tacos, and nerds will definitely make for a great environment to absorb information. Though not surprising, it’s nice to see there is quite the assortment of mobile and tablet sessions, and “Your Mom Has an iPad: Designing for Boomers” has already got me thinking.

I recently had a conversation with my girlfriend about the fact that her mother (who has never had any interest in technology or SXSW, for that matter) is a proud iPad user. Since bringing home her iPad, she heads to bed early each night, curls up with her new Apple wonder, and watches past episodes of “The Bachelor.”

She may not be making full use of the device there, but it’s nice to know us technophiles are not the only ones enjoying the portability of this technology. I look forward to hearing the shtick.

Michael Liss – BBQ. Okay, other than eating some real BBQ, I’m most excited about being awash in people who eat, drink and breathe all things digital – that contagious passion I pick up at industry events that should be rocking to the nth degree at SXSWi. The people, companies, products and ideas that are changing the landscape faster than we can map it. SXSWi doesn’t just gather to examine where the digital world is going, but to forge it, to make it happen, right there.

New products and companies roll out in front of your eyes. Ideas and new ways of thinking come flying from all directions. I’m excited to be in the middle of it, to soak everything up, discuss and debate it, be inspired and invigorated, meet new people who live for this, and come back ready to reengage with a fresh perspective, fresh approach, fresh ideas and a pure excitement for putting what comes next into action.

And I also can’t wait for the BBQ.

John Whitcomb – Everything is bigger in Texas. While this may or may not be true, it does reflect what I am looking forward to the most. A chance to experience a new area of the country that I have not been to that has its own culture and way of doing things. From what I hear, Austin is not your typical Texas vision but it is a different city and will give me a chance to get out of the New York area and discover something new. I am sure the sessions will be full of new discoveries as well and that excitement of seeing and learning something for the first time is what I anticipate the most.

Alex Lindgren – Right now, nothing too specific. But I’m excited to see what new things companies are doing and announcing, and learning about new trends in tech – particularly mobile. I’m also really hoping not to be shot, since it’s my first time in Texas, and I hear it’s a place you don’t mess with.

There you have it! That is what each member of the “Austin Six,” as we are known, is looking forward to during SXSW. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FlightpathNY as well as hashtag #austinsix to keep up on how the festival is living up to our expectations. We’ll see you there!

Jump…into Social Media!

If you look at marketing magazines and read all the industry trades, social media seems to have been widely adopted and understood by everyone. However, sometimes as industry professionals, we get wrapped up in our own game of inside baseball. We forget that for a lot of America, and some of our clients, this is still an unknown area, and therefore a little bit scary.

I recently attended an event that reminded me of this fact and was the inspiration for this post. The event was Social Media Boot Camp, and it was a daylong workshop of various sessions dedicated to different topics. Throughout the day, I realized that the attendees in the room had varying levels of experience within the social space, and therefore, their comfort levels were different as well.

Empathy is a human emotion that we strive to achieve, and when dealing with clients, empathizing with them and understanding their fears is a huge help—especially in the world of social media. Imagine if you were about to embark on something that scared the bejesus out of you—like starting a company Facebook page. For me, personally, a good example would be to go skydiving. I am not a fan of planes, in general, and the thought of falling out of one, with only a parachute, is not a very comforting thought.

Now, if I do decide to go for it, I want an instructor who is patient with me. Someone who won’t try to force me into something I’m not ready for. The ideal instructor would understand why I am scared, and really make an effort to make me feel at ease. This may mean that it takes more than one plane ride to summon the courage. And it may also mean that I need to take some incremental steps to feel comfortable with the big leap.

When discussing social media with clients, I always try to be this instructor and understand exactly what fears the client faces. It could be they are scared of the negative feedback. It could be they are worried about the business infrastructure they have in place, and they wonder whether their business is truly ready. Or it could be they are worried about wasting their investment—with little or no return. I make every effort to understand these emotions when planning campaigns for clients.

It’s worth it to take the extra time to be a client’s social media (read: skydiving) instructor. Making sure they understand the basics of the platforms, the how and why of the various tools, and what measures they can take to safeguard their reputation, builds trust. It also makes explaining the business case of social media, and how it does affect their bottom line a whole lot easier, too.

Once you have explained the safety features, you still need to gauge whether clients are comfortable assuming the risk. Because like in skydiving, we can’t guarantee the future and can never eliminate risk completely. What you CAN do is make sure they understand how to mitigate risk, and make clients feel confident because you’ll be right there with them—freefalling in the digital open.

Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres Tweets Up V-day

Nobody does chocolate like Jacques Torres (@jacquestorres), and after Valentine’s Day 2011, nobody tweets like him, either. The man is truly passionate about both his product and his brand. This love could not have been more evident than through his one-man V-Day crusade to get people buying into his stores—and all that damn good chocolate.

He tweeted nonstop yesterday about his special heart creations. And he was on the move all day, telling followers where and when they could meet him at his various NYC stores. If the 70’s were, themed around “power to the people,” Twitter is defining a new era of “passion to the people.” I noticed Jacques’ stream-of-consciousness tweets, and was impressed how effectively he was using the platform—cutting through a lot of clutter on arguably the biggest chocolate day of the year.

But now, V-Day is over (oh-so yesterday), and I hope he killed it on sales. The man certainly earned it. What I learned from this passionate chocolateprenur are three, delicious things:

  1. Tweet a story by planning a story. Live narratives offer can’t-stop-reading excitement.
  2. Be part of the story. Jacques may create original and delicious chocolate treats, but he manufactures something even more tasty: undeniable, mouth-watering passion.
  3. Twitter is about what is real in real time. When planning events, from flash mobs to openings, nothing has more of an active voice than tweeting all about it.

Hope everybody had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, it’s almost time to start planning 2012!

Shareables from Social Media Week Boot Camp

I could write with a lot of passion about my day at Social Media Week Boot Camp (#smwcampny) all the great sessions, the cool things I learned, and meeting some wonderfully creative and inventive people.  But that would be too easy, and besides, I’ll include a couple of key links, Twitter handles, etc. for you to get the information directly.

The beauty, the reality is the longer I am in the ever-evolving world of social media, the more I see the reality of real openness and sharing. It’s a truly “real time” re-definition of communication transparency, corporate and societal. Compared to partially closed societies, authoritarian nation-states, or even less evolved organizations, the overwhelming sense from a conference like #smwcampny was being in the widest, most open ecosystem of people, places, and things imaginable.

Being on the inside is everywhere on the social web. Therefore, ironically, it makes the inside irrelevant. The “back office” complaints of yesterday are totally done, gone.  Anything a company does can be C-suite level concern incredibly fast.  United Airlines was highlighted at #smwcampny regarding the widely known, like 9,000,000+ YouTube view known,  guy who wrote and sang some damn good songs, glorifying (gore-ifying) United’s total disregard for his guitar. It just proves you don’t mess with a guy’s guitar, even if his name is Dave (and not Slim) in today’s often overexposed social media world.

I’ll take liberty to reflect a little bit here. I have been in love with the idea of totally exposing yourself (in a non-porn kind of way) since watching the value of it in my third-favorite movie of all time, 8 Mile. The essence of this kind of exposure is revealed in the scene where Eminem as “M” freestyles against the reigning champ Papa Doc. M totally outs himself about his pill-popping mom, along with his upbringing and various other issues, including a friend who shot himself—all so Papa Doc would have nothing to say that wasn’t already said. M not only understood the power of transparency, he got the social media reality of today that being first out and owning (therefore managing) even negative stuff is a success-driven strategy.  BTW, how hot is Mr. Mathers after the Chrysler “Detroit” Super Bowl spot? He’s been trending on Twitter and huge on YouTube. Gotta love how he always connects his humanity to his world at large…very large.

My final reflection is about what was so great about #smwcampny. It was the breadth of involved people, from the highly experienced to newbies in marketing or the social space, and in some cases, both. This is what made it a Shake-Your-Boot-Camp kind of event. See some of #smwcampny for yourself, and/or follow these tweeps who I got to see and really rocked as embracing and engaging presenters:

My 2011 Social Media Resolutions

As 2010 winds down and we all gear up for the start of a new year, there will be many posts about the topic of resolutions. The New Year gives us an excuse to start over and have another shot at making this year the best yet. There will be resolutions for weight loss, quitting smoking, spending more time with family, and all of the other classics. Since I am immersed in social media on a daily basis, I am also sure I will see many resolutions in regards to social media.

Most of these resolutions will come in one-size-fits-all dimensions and will not be tailored to the individual. So instead of doing a broad post about what you should do, I am going to share my personal social media resolutions, so you can take away from it what you will and maybe apply it to your work, life, or whatever. Without further adieu:

Continue to expand my knowledge base: One of the most important aspects of my job is to stay up to date on the latest and greatest trends that are happening in the social media world. So in 2011, I will make a dedicated effort to spend some time each day to read the blogs that will help me do that.

Document more: I don’t know about you, but my head is always filled with various trends and ideas, tools and more, that I usually learn about from following my first resolution. The next step in making all that knowledge applicable and usable is to do a better job of documenting what I read.

Improve my writing: Even though social media is a different kind of communication than formal writing, improving this skill is a great asset that can help me in many ways. Professionalism is still a very important skill, and nothing looks less professional than updates or e-mails with spelling and grammatical errors. In my case, it also will help streamline the process and make it less burdensome on the rest of the team.

Process is important: One of the things I learned over the last year is that you can have the best idea ever, but without the proper process to make sure it comes to fruition, it can quickly die a tragic death. This ties into resolution #2, because having a properly documented process can mean the difference between a ship-shape team and total chaos.

Prove value: Another important takeaway from 2010 is realizing that not everyone perceives value the same way. It is important to not only show the value in our actions and plans, but also to make sure we are cognizant of how others perceive value. With that insight, it’s much easier to understand how to prove our actions are adding value.

So there you have it. These are my personal resolutions for Social Media in 2011. As I mentioned, I hope you can look at these and utilize the concepts in your own resolutions. I hope you accomplish all of the goals that you set for yourself this year. Happy New Year to everyone.

Rules for Having Only Fun with Technology during the Holidays

Some of us need a little nudging—more like a good shaking—to remind us we’re actually not at work. The pull to check your email, send a file, tweak a deliverable, or post to a work-related social media account is constant and tempting. Even chocolate and good company is no match because separating yourself from something you’re deeply committed to and engaged by is a challenge.

But in the end, the people that really suffer are the people you care most about—your friends and family. Your kids can’t get through to “Blackberry Dad” and your friends don’t want to hang out with “Social Media Sarah.” It’s a conundrum you have to find a graceful way out of, and there are definitely some things worth trying to make it work. No judgments here, just helpful rules, from equally tech-work absorbed people, for making the most of your time off for the holidays.

Rule #1 – Turn off all work-related devices and streams. Go cold turkey for a few days. Not every email needs a right-now response, and you’ll be surprised to find that some things work themselves out when given a little bit of time.

Rule #2 – Make every computer/mobile interaction just for fun. It’s impossible in this day and age to unplug completely, and why should you when technology is this much fun? So when you find that shiny new iPad under the tree, boot it up for no other reason than entertainment.

Rule #3 – Set up emergency contact protocol and stick to it. Not everyone can abide by rule #1. Some gigs are just too demanding, but you can filter what’s important. Give your contact info to someone you trust, and tell them to reach out only for emergencies. Then, relax and enjoy yourself.

Rule #4 – Spend some quality online time with the kids. Hang out with your kids online over the holidays, and get ready to learn a few things. You may not make it on their Facebook profiles, at least the one their friends see, but you’ll get to see what sites they like and what digital haunts they frequent.

Rule #5 – Let yourself be engaged by the present moment. Living a digital life, one gets pretty used to navigating a constant stream of information. This is a good thing when you’re trying to manage a project with several moveable parts. It’s not a good thing, though, when grandma is telling you a story. Just listen. Don’t think about your next tweet or worry about shaving more time from a task to stay on track.

All right, enough with the instruction manual. It’s the time of year when sharing time and making memories with the important people in your life is the hippest and most connected thing in the world. Everyone does this in their own way, and the time has officially arrived. I’m signing out now to spread the joy.

Happy Hug-a-Days! HomeAgain Brings the Holiday Cuddle to Facebook

We are a little over halfway into a holiday-themed Facebook photo contest that we created for our pet microchipping client, HomeAgain. The results to date are very encouraging—impressions, entries, likes, etc., are all way over-performing. But this blog is not about numbers adding up, though it is about sharing a story of success, even before the end of it. Now before you hang up, out of a pending feeling of self-promotion disgust, let me fill you in quickly why we are sharing this story now and hopefully convince you to hang long enough to feel the hugs.

It’s a true story of the holidays. Not a commercial story, not a BOGO story, not even a 60% savings story, but a brand essence story that is all about this time of year. You see, if we waited to tell this story after the New Year, the season to tell you about love, devotion, and great hugs would seem so yesterday. So now is the time, before all the data has been collected, parsed, and analyzed—and clearly, even before our client would ever allow us to share anything.

HomeAgain is a special brand, as it really does special stuff, like helping about 10,000 lost pets a month return home. They aren’t called HomeAgain for nothing.  So how do they get 10,000 families every month to thank their lucky stars and willingly shout out about that feeling of thankfulness?  Through two very important things they do: 1. permanently identifying a pet and linking it to its pet parents through a small piece of technology called a microchip, and 2. providing and enrolling pet parents in an annual service filled with pet protection and recovery benefits.

This year, for the holidays, HomeAgain decided to do something different to spread the cheer. And with our help, they created a sweepstakes campaign on Facebook that celebrates pet/pet parent love and devotion.  Happy Hug-a-Days asks people to enter a holiday “hugshot” of themselves and their pet engaged in a heartwarming, day-lifting, and life-affirming hug. The results have been far greater then we initially hoped for, as we work a transparent social media platform to achieve its most natural end—to create and share joy. Having a client that’s ready and eager to take these new media “risks” is the great catalyst for innovation. We aspire to inspire and, quite literally, live for these opportunities. So thank you, HomeAgain, for being so damn huggable!

My desire to do this blog has nothing to do with sucking up to our client, though I do run the risk, but I have been guilty of worse.  It has all to do with what we, at Flightpath (and many other digital shops), love most: getting deep into the human reality of today’s social and digital landscape. Consider HomeAgain, who may have started in the technology business, but that business clearly became way more and about the human-animal relationship, than simply the product they sold. Same with us programming, production, and digital marketing “creative types.” We all started somewhere else in the business, but have mostly all come back to the human-most side of why we do what we do.

So here we are, at the one time of year when hugging co-workers and pals is not only allowed, but expected, maybe even celebrated with a chest bump or low five.  It’s the holidays, and if you’re in the pet protection business or the digital agency “human protection” business, then this is our time of year! And psst, if you have a furbaby, be sure to enter the Happy Hug-a-Days contest on Facebook today. The world always has room for another good hug.

12 Days of Social Media Gifting

Ahhh, digital socialites, you know the type: popular, nice, chatty, and communal. By the time you get home from an IRL event, they’ve already uploaded photos, tagged everyone, and graciously tweeted kudos to the host. Their digital reputation shines like polished silver, and you constantly wonder how they maintain so many flawless and updated online profiles. These influencers deserve a little more than envy, so how about giving them what they really want? A little more, and well deserved, social currency.

Here’s a play off the old holiday jingle, devoted to gifting the social media mavens in your life.

  • 1 Super Cool Groupon Deal – Forward that find. You never know whose spam filters were acting up, and you gotta keep up the good share karma for all those awesome deals you’ve received.
  • 2 Blog Pingbacks – See something interesting? Link it. Mutual interests are the best way to start a conversation.
  • 3 Twitter Retweets – Make it a habit to RT the good stuff, at least three times a day. Share what’s cool and hot, and leave the spam alone.
  • 4 Foursquare Check-ins – Don’t let a sick day put your friend’s mayor status in jeopardy. Get over to their apartment, grab their smartphone, and defend their territory—or login with their username and password.
  • 5 Gowalla Badges – Plan a day-long tour around your friends’ coveted Gowalla badges. You’ll get to hang out and make their day in one shot.
  • 6 Noms on Foodspotting – Life’s too short to hold back the noms. Nom big. Nom bold. Nom often.
  • 7 #FFs – Shout out about seven magnificent tweeps you think the world should follow.
  • 8 LinkedIn Invites – Expand your network. Link up with people in groups. It’s good for everybody.
  • 9 YouTube Subscribers – Stay in the know by subscribing to all your favorite vloggers. Then, you can be the first to comment.
  • 10 Facebook Credits – Keep your friends in the game. You wouldn’t want to see their crops fail or their luck to run out at the big table.
  • 11 Delicious Bookmarks – Content is a dish best enjoyed together. Share those tasty sites with your friends and fam.
  • 12 Shopkick Kickbucks – Be the best kind of social and donate your hard-earned kickbucks to those in need.

The best part about this list? It contains the most economical gifts out there. All you need is your computer or smartphone and a little bit of time to make some social someone’s world that much brighter. Doesn’t it just make you want to smile? XD

Plan to Succeed Using Social Media

Some of you might be familiar with the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is true in many of our everyday tasks, from making sure you have a shopping list to creating an emergency plan in case a crisis ever strikes. Planning is especially important when talking about any kind of communications plan or strategy development. However, the speed of execution sometimes makes that task difficult to complete.

I still hear, from time to time, the dreaded phrase “we need a Facebook Page,” or “we need to be on Twitter.” This is fine, and for the most part true, but creating a profile on Facebook or handle on Twitter doesn’t lead to immediate success. And instead, you may be disappointed in the results if you rush in headlong. It’s best to take a step back, breathe deeply and think about why you think Facebook or Twitter will benefit your company. Do some initial research about each platform to learn about the strengths, weaknesses, and tools available. Brainstorm to develop an effective plan on how not only to create a presence, but also to capitalize on these platforms and tools to help achieve your business goals.

Solid planning also allows you to gauge where you are, in terms of overall effectiveness. Evaluate your entire industry and take a really close look at your competitors to learn some best practices. You’ll discover what’s working and what isn’t and gain deeper insights into social media platforms. With a little bit of luck, you’ll start picking up the language, too.

Once you feel confident that you understand this new space, it’s time to look at measurement. Once you launch this Facebook page or start tweeting on Twitter, how will you know how it’s going? By taking the extra time to plan, you give yourself the opportunity to develop a system for tracking and measuring. Even more importantly, you can record from the onset how your social media efforts on these new tools can tie back into your overall business goals.

I am personally a very goal-oriented person. The main reason I think goals are important is because they give you something to measure yourself against. After all, how do you know where you want to go if you don’t even know where you are? Once you have goals set, the next step is to utilize what you learned from the research phrase. Analyze the best practices insights and target audience research you gathered to develop a road map to help you get to your destination. And just like planning a road trip requires accounting for some unexpected stops, as well as some necessary pre-planned detours, so too, should your communications plan, or your plan for pretty much anything.

The Three E’s of Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of Mouth Marketing is the one of the oldest forms of marketing that there is. It refers to the process of recommendations about a product or service from one consumer to another. This basic premise is still one of the strongest influences on purchasing behavior. New online tools have increased the importance of word of mouth marketing because they allow for greater and faster sharing of information among consumers. The bad part is that keeping up with new technologies is a 24/7 endeavor by itself. So instead of focusing on merely keeping up with technology, it’s much more important on using the right technologies in the optimal way. That’s where the three E’s come in:

  1. Engage – Engagment is the first step, assuming that you have already been listening to your consumers and know their digital hangouts. It involves reaching out and starting a conversation. There are many way to engage your consumers, such as blogger outreach, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, discussion boards, and the list goes on and on. Just remember if you are not engaging in conversation with your consumers, then you are missing valuable opportunities to make real connections—and you’ll wind up playing catch up when a crisis arises.
  2. Encourage – This next step has two main components: making all of your content shareable and making it really easy for your consumers to share your content. When you make content shareable, you encourage your consumers to talk about your products and services all over the web. But first, you’ll have to create content that people will want to share. All content a company produces should be from this frame of reference. Then, close the Encourage loop by putting all necessary share icons in place—Facebook, Twitter, Digg, del.icio.us, Stumble Upon, etc. A little research will tell you which ones matter most to your consumers.
  3. Empower – The is the last step in the three E’s process. It goes beyond encouragement, as it involves freely giving consumers the information or resources they need to become a brand advocate. A great example of this is the new Ford Fiesta campaign. Ford realized that, in order to encourage buzz around their new car, they needed to harness and empower individuals to do so. Ford gave away a number of the new cars and allowed select people to test drive them and share their experiences. By utilizing these ambassadors, Ford went from just encouraging organic sharing to actually empowering their consumers by recognizing them as brand advocates.

Despite the tactics you use, and which of these three steps your tactic focuses on, there is one more overarching E that also needs to be considered: the Emotional connection between a consumer and a brand. Because let’s face it, without this connection, it is very unlikely that a consumer will share their experience.

ShopSocial 2010

It’s that time of year. Time to get out there and start shop, shop, shopping for those holiday gifts. Some of us love it. Some of us hate it. And some of us never stop. Here at Flightpath, we’ve become a little enamored with the latter, those distinctly devoted shoppers gifted with the skills of finding a good deal anywhere. We’re especially curious about their online shopping prowess and their need (duty?) to share deals, purchases, and other “shopinions” out in the digital open.
The Shoppers
These types of individuals, dubbed social shoppers, make the shopping world go round. They’re digital natives that are part of generation share, and they never shop alone. So this holiday season, we’ve decided to channel our research efforts into learning all about these shoppers—from their point of view. We gathered a handful of social shoppers and put them under our lens to hear what they had to say about their digital-social shopping habits, behaviors, and motivations. We’ve got so much to learn.
The Channel
Visit our ShopSocial 2010 channel on YouTube to check out the one-on-one interviews with our shoppers. See them dish the dirt on the favorite shopping campaigns, mechanisms for sharing, and even how great it feels to get a good deal. Bookmark the channel and stay tuned for more videos from additional interviews and other user-generated submissions. Comment on, like, share, and embed your favorites!

The Contest
Love social shopping, too? Chances are you’re not shy, then, so how about sharing that love with us? Share your own tell-all social shopping video describing how you navigate the social web to find, share, shout out, and support—all in the name of shopping. The contest runs from December 1 – 31, 2010, and you can share your YouTube link at our microsite, www.ShopSocial2010.com. We’ll add your videos to the ShopSocial 2010 playlist, and four lucky shoppers, whose videos receive the most views by midnight December 31, 2010 will win a gift card.

My First WOMMA Summit: Not Everything that Happens in Vegas Should Stay There

Last week, I attended my first Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit (WOMMA).  It was a great experience full of amazing insights that truly gathered some of the best and brightest in the business…and it was in Las Vegas.

It’s ironic when you think that a word-of-mouth marketing conference would take place in a city that has long used secrecy as a campaign slogan. “What happens in Vegas…”you know the rest.  And I’m sure that some should probably live by that rule.  But key concepts and ideas discussed at this year’s WOMMA should definitely not stay secret. So here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Measurement is still a hard thing to quantify. Ask anyone who works in social media what one of their largest challenges is, and inevitably, you will have them list measurement, ROI, or proving the value of their efforts. This is a problem that has not disappeared, but one that, according to many in the field, we are getting closer to figuring out. Josh Bernoff of Forrester, and author of the new book Empowered, addressed this issue in his keynote speech by introducing the “ROI of Word of Mouth Pyramid.”  Bernoff identifies three levels to this pyramid:
  1. First, is the measurement of activity or items, such as interactions, fans, twitter followers, etc.
  2. Second, is comparisons, slightly more advanced than straight reporting, as this involves taking those numbers and comparing them to other efforts.
  3. Third, is the pinnacle, and the point where all efforts converge is the final measurement of value. This includes emphasis on comparing one activity to the other and a deeper look at what value these interactions have to the overall marketing objectives.

In addition to Bernoff’s keynote, a number of sessions featuring some high profile brands (ESPN, Coca Cola, etc.) also addressed the topic of ROI and measurement.

  • One-on-one conversations are hard to scale. One of the last panel discussions, moderated by Jeremiah Owyang, a leading researcher and analyst with The Altimeter Group, discussed the importance of brand ambassador and advocate programs. Owyang explained that it is impossible for any company to scale individual conversations with customers, but programs that are designed to utilize brand advocates and ambassadors can prove to be very valuable.
  • Engage in dialogue with your fans. This last piece of advice seems like a no-brainer but was still a very popular discussion.  Complete panels were devoted to delivering the best customer service via social media and the resulting wins for the brand.  A panel from Ben and Jerry mentioned they saw a huge uptick when, instead of telling their followers where they were going to be, they asked them where they wanted them to go.

So what is the number one thing that I took away from the summit?  I think it’s this: As much as technology can change and move from platform to platform, there are still going to be some golden rules to live by in social and word-of-mouth platforms.  Keep in mind the three items listed above, and make sure that everything you do provides some sort of value to your community.  Do this and you will have a huge leg up on your competition.

The New Non-Geek Computer Speak

Recently over happy hour drinks, I sat listening to a friend of mine discuss her sudden weight loss. This was by no means extraordinary, but what was interesting was exactly how she chose to talk about it. Attributing her new slimness to a recent job change, she stated, “sitting and staring at the computer used to be my default setting, and now, I’m constantly on the move.” The phrase “default setting” jumped out at me, and as I began to break it down, I realized the complex semantic underpinnings at work. The opposite of personification or anthropomorphism, my friend crossed into new terrain, likening human behavior and consciousness to that of conventionally inanimate, yet not entirely lifeless, technologies. And she was totally comfortable, if not eager, to make this comparison.

Consider a few more examples. Often after a hard week at work, I tell my family and friends that I’m taking the weekend to “unplug and reboot.” Sometimes, during an especially dry film or conference, I check out from the present moment and go into “sleep mode.” Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three instances this week of someone telling me they’d like to discuss something “offline.” And I’m sure that you can think of dozens of similar tech-come-human phrases appropriated in your daily conversations, too.

I think these examples signal a very important shift, if not transcendence, in mainstream consciousness. Gone is the era of hysteric technophobia. In its stead, a new age of cuddly techno love and acceptance is dawning. And what’s particularly interesting is our willingness not just to accept technology, particularly computers, but to empathize with them. At some point, we began to see a likeness in our own consciousness, a familiarity of being. That’s a radical change.

Arguably, computers and other technologies are engineered to mimic human brain processes, or at least what scientists think they understand about human brain processes. Therefore, one could purport that it’s only natural people adopt those words and phrases traditionally set aside for computers, sensing a likeness in their own brain function. It’s a solid counterpoint, but narrow-minded in the sense that it doesn’t honor the emotional pains taken to achieve that sense of familiarity.

Feeling at ease with technology didn’t happen overnight. It took decades for humans to develop benevolent feelings toward computers and hours of one-on-one time to seal the deal. Certainly not everyone is hip to this trend, but the mainstream has spoken with a voice that doesn’t get ignored. The new non-geek computer speak comes loaded with technological innuendos and reveals our true sentiments, one flippant happy hour conversation at a time. We like computers. They’re like us. And together, we’re gonna share this state of being.

This new dawn we’re witnessing really excites me. I believe it means that people have opened up that warm, lighthearted, and fuzzy side of themselves that was traditionally locked away from technology. It’s a new dimension in the collective consciousness, full of empathy and richly emotional, that’s begging for creative word play and fun.

Being a Trust Agent Means Taking Action

As part of our monthly book club here at Flightpath, we recently read the book Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.  The book lays out principles that an individual can follow to become a so-called “trust agent,” and then illustrates how to apply those learnings to interactions in new media and emerging technology.  The concept of the book is important, but since it is not the main focus of this post, I will quickly outline the six key principles or tactics:

  • Make Your Own Game
  • One of Us
  • The Archimedes Effect
  • Agent Zero
  • The Human Artist
  • Building an Army

If you want to dive further into the book, I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself.  It is well written, easy to understand, and a quick read.

There is more to this book, however, than just the basic concept.  The lesson or insight that really hit home for me was how every chapter, and the book as a whole, was designed to be an actionable asset, as opposed to basic theory.  This becomes evident in how the book is completed.  The book does not end with a summary, overview, or re-hashing of everything the authors wrote.  Instead, it ends with action items and a plan with the foundation for actual execution.

This to me was the greatest asset the book offers.  I believe the author wrote the book from this specific frame of reference, and this is one of the reasons why it is so easy to relate to on many levels.  If they had a goal for what this book should accomplish, I believe it was exactly that, for the reader to internalize the content in their own way and then apply it and utilize it right away.  When the authors first address the concept of currency and how it relates to digital content, they begin by mentioning a joke.  I won’t repeat the joke here, but the point was that the joke becomes an asset in itself, something that an individual can use for their own benefit.  This to me is how this book becomes a valuable asset that should be applied in each individual’s own way in their everyday lives.  Just like the joke, however, the way one applies it can be completely different.  One person could use the joke as an icebreaker for a one-on-one conversation, another person could use the same joke as an introduction to a room full of people, and yet another could use it to explain his point of view in a blog post (wonder which one I am?).

The point and lesson is that we should approach everything in this way.  You have all heard the quote “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  This is perfectly applicable here and in everything you do.  If you don’t have a plan to put those intentions to use, then they are just that—dead intentions.  Instead, try to start looking at the world from an actionable perspective.  Ask yourself the questions, “How can I apply this to my situation, my business, my life?”  It is only with this deliberate practice that anything will ever get accomplished.  So what is your plan?  Don’t simply tell me, but as a famous shoe brand says, “Just Do It!”

Five Tips to Make a Facebook Wall Post Communicate

Almost anyone’s Facebook wall is a torrent of posts and comments flowing forth at a pace that would make the fastest stream-of-consciousness poet dizzy. And it’s not merely that it’s a stream-of-consciousness medium, but rather, that it’s a stream-of-many-consciousnesses medium. So how does your brand keep up? How do you break into that fluidity and actually communicate?

It’s easier than you might think, but you may have to change or break free from your normal (comfortable) communication style. Being successful with Facebook wall posts requires that you learn some new rules and abandon that me-brand, you-consumer mold. Here’s a few tips to help you get started:

1. Start a conversation. The biggest reason anyone comes to Facebook is for social interaction, so give your fans what they want. Introduce yourself and open up the lines of communication. Start asking questions your fans want to answer. Try asking lifestyle questions, which are much more effective for rallying fans around a brand, instead of direct product or service questions. And get ready to take up the art of active listening.

2. Use their lingo. This requires some study, but the payoff in comments and conversations is well worth it. Scout your own page and learn how fans are talking to each other. This is about both the style of communication as well as the exact vocabulary used. Visit similar fan pages and take notes from pages with lively and active feeds. Just like in real life, it’s much easier to talk to someone who’s on your level.

3. Keep it short. When you have less than 10 seconds to reach your fans, less is undoubtedly more. Opt for short sentences and get right to the point. Don’t worry about being high-brow or wordy. One-sentence posts are actually preferred. Just looking at a short paragraph of text tells readers they have to invest time in reading and responding. That’s a big turn-off to busy social butterflies. It’s better to craft hard-hitting one-liners, so people know right way if they’re interested.

4. Give fans the spotlight. Even though Facebook is social, it’s undeniably a “me” medium, and you’ve got to let your fans have their time under the big lights. Almost everything you post needs to be about them, or they’re just going to find another page that meets their personal-social needs. Keep people on your page by constantly asking for their feedback and contributions. Transform them into resident heroes, sages, entertainers, and comedians, and you’ll build a real community.

5. Broadcast only when necessary. Your business or brand undoubtedly has some news or information that’s important to share with fans. Shout out about those happenings, but limit these posts to the types of announcements which are truly relevant and interesting. A constant broadcast of your brand and its accomplishments, services, features, or benefits runs the risk of boring and alienating fans.

Change Is In The Air

Fall is always a fresh and interesting time of year for me: the end of summer heat, the crispness of the early AM chill, and warm afternoons filled with memories of seasons gone by. This change of season could not be a better, timelier metaphor for the new Flightpath website and blog that launch today. Without going point by point, comprehensively, let me say our change to a fresh site design and a re-focused blog is based on our evolving point of view of the real importance of emotional content in a digital world.

What I am saying surely rings true for many of us who started early in the brave new world of digital marketing. I launched the agency that is now Flightpath back in 1994, and for quite some time, strong visual design and breakthrough technology won the day. That said, great technology is no longer the killer app (pun intended) of great digital marketing but, rather, functions now as a practical and understood fundamental. Visual design is still important, but as a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself. As an agency steeped in a constantly evolving skill set, we know and thoroughly appreciate the importance of the many sides of what digital fluency means today—from the broad view of the social web to the opportunities of dynamic SEO/SEM nimbleness to being very hip to app development and deployment.

So what’s the Flightpath story as we race toward 2011? It’s not a design story and it’s not rocket science either (read: tech). Our work on behalf of many of our clients over the past 12-to-18 months or so reflects a real evolution into what we think of as rich “emotional currency,” the telling of important and insightful brand stories.

Digital platforms, social media, and even the specific world of blogging have provided incredible tools to deliver compelling “humanity-infused” brand value and story. This is the first of many posts that will thread this discussion.

Our blog historically, over the past two years, has been about a collective agency review of “everything digital.” While this blog will still patrol the digital landscape for important, influencing developments across the industry, our refocused Flightpath blog will really earn its keep by focusing the majority of its time/posts on connecting across the “digital un-divide” between the digital and emotional world. We know there is a lot to explore, a lot to say regarding the how (let alone the where, when and why) of digital platforms, and a lot to share about these brand stories told from a very human vantage point. I love adding value to clients and to our readers. It’s why the idea of creating “emotional currency” really works for me; it’s a declaration of value.

Thanks for reading and welcome to our brave—yet quite emotional—new world.  Welcome to the New Flightpath Site – And Blog.

The Transition to Being a Social Friendly Brand: Tasti D-Lite Tells All

I witnessed a compelling presentation from BJ Emerson, Social Technology Officer at Tasti D-Lite at today’s BDI Conference. The conference was dubbed “Mobile Social Communications” and BJ’s Case Study presentation was called “Using Social Technology to Reward Brand Loyalty.”

While far from purely focused on mobile, BJ recounted the path of his organization from analog entity to social media poster child, sharing a number of great insights along the way.

  1. Avoid Social Negligence: BJ explained that one of their first (successful) steps in the social space was to identify/locate existing brand advocates, connect with them and turn them into energized ambassadors. Engage with them directly and/or send them some freebies. This is a great way to get started.

  2. Leverage Search Engines: Cross-link between multiple channels (Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.) for maximized search engine visibility in order to achieve the largest number of potential customer interactions.

  3. Use Targeted Twitter Searches: BJ told a great story about how he searched for “Empire State Building” within Twitter when they wanted to promote Tasti’s new ESB location. He hit the mother lode by identifying an ESB-dwelling blogger. Then, rewarded him with coupons and followed up with a delivery of physical goods to his office. This key influencer became a great ambassador/mouthpiece for the brand.

  4. Integrate Your Efforts: Tasti’s efforts peaked when they replaced their old-school loyalty punch cards with electronic smart cards that feed a master CRM database and even integrate directly with Twitter, automatically informing followers when you’ve made a purchase at Tasti.

  5. Foursquare Connections: Tasti D-Lite has effectively used Foursquare’s “Specials Nearby” engine to drive store traffic and spike sales.

Some of BJ’s final takeways included: “invest in relationships, “think long term,” “trust your customers.” From the mundane to the sublime, this set of actions has helped dramatically impact Tasti D-Lite’s growth. According their CMO, Bill Zinke, 90% of all of their marketing is now digital/social vs. 10% “traditional.”