Friday, November 18, 2011

Reputation Mis-Management

I'll fess up - I follow some brands on twitter.  I like a discount or a coupon as much as the next guy, and I also like to keep tabs on brands that I am truly interested in.  I don't generally interact with these brand accounts, but I have on occasion.

One thing that I notice brand twitter accounts doing is retweeting positive messages about their own brand.  For example, if a random twitter user sends a tweet saying "just had a great flight on @delta" it is common practice for Delta to retweet that.  It's a little self-promotion, but it's generally accepted in the twitterverse.

Brands need to be cautious of this, however, as it may not always convey the best image about the original poster.  I was browsing my twitter stream this morning when I came across this retweet by Mandalay Bay (image at right).  I checked the clock and saw that it was 11:49am.  That would make it 8:49am in Las Vegas.  I was just a little appalled at the thought of drinking a Guinness and eating BBQ at 9am.  I applaud the original poster for his iron stomach, of course.

It was only then that I noticed the little time-stamp of "12 hours ago."  There is nothing wrong with beer and BBQ at 9pm.  That's perfectly normal, even a little tame by Vegas standards.  In the haste to promote their brand and give a little self-back-pat, Mandalay inadvertently made the original poster look like someone who really enjoys his Vegas.  While this case is a little amusing with little harm done, it's always best to be careful what and when you retweet.  Just because you walk in at 830am with a list of mentions, it always helps to use a little common sense when you decide which ones to re-share with the world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Reality of HGTV

The current lineup of tv shows would suggest that doing most anything is easy, from home design to earning millions on a marriage.  The current crop of DIY shows neatly packages home design or cooking or any other task into 30 easy minutes.  As a society we are currently facing a barrage of information and media overload, all which somehow trivializes hard work and actual effort by sensationalizing those rare success stories.  The saying goes "if it was easy, everyone would be doing it" and that is as true today as ever.  The problem today, however, is that many people are trying to succeed and they are just not doing it well.

I was recently flipping through the website of my local newspaper.  I saw an article titled "Digital Marketing 'is the tool' for Small Businesses."  This caught my eye for obvious reasons, so I gave it a read.  While many of the points are valid at a broad level, the article misses some key points about branding, social media, and customer service.  The article implies that small business success will come running after you as soon as you send your first tweet.  While social media and an online presence may cost less than a mailer or a newspaper ad, having an online presence requires its own skill and strategy to be successful.

During my senior year of college I was enrolled in a class that was designed to give us real world marketing experience.  Every student in that class hoped to be assigned to a world-class client that would have an exciting challenge for the semester.  My team was assigned to a sole-proprietorship; a man who made saw blades in his garage.  Mark Zuckerberg barely had a driver's license at the time, but I am sure we would have recommended a social media campaign if those tools existed.

There have been several cases where social media has been a tremendous success (or a miserable failure).  Because we hear these stories about the little guy making it big because of twitter and Facebook, we think that anyone can replicate that success.  It's the same phenomenon that drives people to play the lottery every week; the hope of the payout drives you forward.

Many of these social media success stories leave out an important part of the equation: hard work.  Creating a facebook page and a blog is the easy part.  Filling those channels with relevant and accuarte information is the hard part.  We hear of the social media blunders that happen almost daily, and no business owner wants to be in that spotlight.  Many of those gaffes are the result of poor planning, poor execution, or both.  It is for this reason that I was angered by the article I read.

Social media is just like any other marketing channel.  How much stock would we put in a story that advocated a small business create its own television commercials?  Would we all run out and start negotiating air time and print rates?  The low cost of using social media does not imply that everyone will have success; at least some skill and business acumen is required.  I am not saying that every small business needs an agency or other person to manage social media.  Instead, I think it's prudent that every person wishing to use social media as a marketing tool should enter with the same strategizing, planning, and, research that would go into any other marketing initiative.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Flash in the Pan

When the first iPhone was released in 2007, one of the bigger claims was that the phone would deliver a web browsing experience identical to that of a desktop web browser.  At the time this was a huge deal given the sad state of WAP browsers and web pages.  The one little caveat that Steve forgot to mention, however, was that this breakthrough new experience would not support Adobe Flash.  This may not seem like big news in today's HTML5 world, but at the time it was shocking that Apple would not support a technology that was on the majority of web pages in existence.

Over the years much has been said about Apple's choice to exclude Flash support.  Lawsuits have been filed, pundits have expressed more than their fair share of opinions, and competitors used the fact as a unique selling point when Adobe released Mobile Flash in 2009.  Today marks the end of that era with Adobe announcing the end of development for the Mobile Flash product.

This is big news in itself, as future versions of Android (and thus Android handsets) can no longer tout this as an advantage over iOS.  Adobe also mentioned that it would start investing more in HTML5 development as it scales back on Mobile Flash.  This little nugget of information is probably the larger news, despite it not being the main headline of the day.

With Adobe adding support for HTML5 it is essentially abandoning a flagship product that has been the underpinning of the internet for a decade or more.  As Apple products have moved to the mainstream over the past few years, so has the opinion and viewpoint that Flash is an unnecessary technology.  Steve Jobs famously blasted Flash in an open letter, citing HTML5 and other technologies as the successors to rich internet experiences.

This does not mean that Flash will be dead across all media.  Flash is still very much alive in the regular desktop experience.  With Adobe first making the move to HTML5 by creating the Adobe Edge product, and now the decision to jettison Mobile Flash, there are a lot of questions raised about the future of Flash as a whole.  Add to this the monthly stats about increased mobile browser usage (and decreased desktop usage) and you can't help but wonder just how much time is left on Flash's clock?

Should Adobe eventually abandon Flash altogether it will have a ripple effect across the entire industry.  Restaurants, bars, and clubs will need to completely redo their clumsy splash-screen websites.  Banner ads and rich media display ads will need to be converted to HTML5 or another new technology.  Online video watching will also be drastically different as FLV goes away.  It's fairly easy to see why Flash has maintained such a stronghold across the internet, but with its own creator turning a cold shoulder it looks like that fifteen minutes is dwindling down.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

You like me. You really like me!

No one likes a beggar.  We sneered at grade-grubbers in high school and college.  We avoid all contact with panhandlers on the street.  We change the channel when we see the latest victim of a sex scandal groveling for our forgiveness.  With all of this animosity towards those who beg us for something, why are we so eager to click the "like" button just because someone asks us to?

Personally, I have never been fond of the like button.  Back when you could only "like" a picture or a status update it made sense.  It was your way of approving of someone; a virtual high-five.  Now, however, you can "like" nearly anything on facebook (and even off facebook).  The like button is so ubiquitous and has so many various meanings that it has lost just about all of its value.  Perhaps this is why so many companies are having such a hard time placing dollar values on social media - one of their main success metrics just doesn't have real value any more.

Nothing irks me more than seeing a company begging for a "like" from consumers.  In many cases it's almost a con: "like us to enter a contest" or "like us to learn more."  Often the user will be given his instant reward and be left floundering in the digital wasteland, spending months seeing pointless updates from the brand.  I have only ever "liked" one brand on facebook, and I got so tired of seeing new store openings litter my news feed that i promptly revoked my "like."  Because number of likes is viewed as the ultimate success in social marketing, companies will do anything to collect likes and then never engage with these users afterwards.

Based on what I read online and various conversations I have been a part of, many client-marketers measure social media success by facebook likes and twitter followers.  To me this is analogous to measuring search success by the number of keywords in your campaign.  You use keywords to target and drive visitors to your site with the goal of taking some sort of action.  With facebook we should be using those who "like" us as a mailing list of sorts.  We should now target to these users and get them to take some form of action.  Even though the "like" is mostly without value, we should reward those users who give us a digital thumbs up.

Instead of amassing "likes" that mean very little, marketers should look at the value that each of those "likes" can bring the brand.  If a user has taken the time to click the like button for you, basically saying you are virtually cool, dont be a Regina George and abuse those who make you popular.  Instead, take advantage of the network you have built up to speak your praises and spread your message.  If you give back a little to your fans, they will return the favor exponentially.