This is a repost of an article I wrote for Sprout.
As marketers look for the best ways to build brands on social networks they’ve experimented with a wide range of strategies from friending campaigns to network ad buys, but what efforts are most effective? A recent study by MarketingProfs shows that branded applications top the chart, but are under utilized, with less than a quarter of all respondents having created one. At Sprout, we know from first hand experience that applications are at the heart of the most successful campaigns.
eMarket’s article What’s Working for Social Media Marketers? sums up the research well and identifies branded applications as a rich opportunity area. At Sprout, however, we also understand that getting the most out of a branded applications requires an integrated approach to your overall Facebook experience with fan pages, viral content, and sharing opportunities.
As brands move away from traditional marketing strategies, campaigns are becoming increasingly iterative and conversational in nature, with consumers participating through content generation and sharing. In general, consumers have greater expectations around engagement with brands where they socialize online. At Sprout we work with brands to drive engagement opportunities a key points in the cycle (click to enlarge):
The first stage of the engagement cycle is focused on attracting consumers. For brands that are establishing a presence on social networks, this often means relying on display ads that sit inside and outside of the social networking platform. Sprout helps brands with engaging interactive display ad solutions that include Twitter feeds, RSS feeds, polls and more. Of course, we can make these ads shareable as well to support viral spread.
The next step is to get fans to engage with your brand on the social networking platform by identifying themselves as fans. We create engaging fan page solutions that are social, interactive, and rich. Our fan pages include viral hooks and incentives to encourage fans to share your page with their friends and drive new fan acquisition.
With a fan page in place to serve as the foundation for managing relationships, it’s possible to place rich interactive messages into the stream with our Sprout Publisher tools. For example, some of our clients use this to send out weekly coupons, music releases, or polls. It’s even possible to create applications that are shareable within the news feed, so that your fans can engage and share without leaving their page.
In stream messaging is one tool to drive the initial engagement with branded applications that can include games, quizzes, polls and more. Brands that are still building momentum online may also use ad placements to drive application use. For those brands that have built an extensive fan base, they do not need to rely on ad buys because their fan base is large enough to drive the viral spread of the application experience.
Throughout all the points in the engagement cycle Sprout provides performance metrics to measure the success of ads, fan pages, and applications. Our technology platform allows us to modify all of the above in real time so we can optimize campaign performance based on real time data and take advantage of time sensitive opportunities.
With this cycle in mind, we agree with eMarketer that apps are at the core of successful brand building on social networks, but that in order to take full advantage of their value they must be incorporated into the larger engagement cycle. We believe that this understanding was part of the reason that we were selected to be a Preferred Facebook Developer.
Thanks for reading and we’d love to hear about your experience using applications as part of an integrated strategy.
You’ve probably heard the term “marketing mix” before, it was originally coined to explain the balance of resources applied across the 4 P’s (placement, price, product, promotion) of traditional marketing. I’ve written about this in more detail in an earlier post here. Today, I’ll be writing about the social media mix, which takes the balancing concept and applies it to social media.
Many people I talk with are overwhelmed by the amount of growth and evolution taking place in social media. It can be a struggle to build the case for portfolio adjustments when you’re too busy to keep tabs on the latest developments in social media and maintain perspective on the related trends. It’s true that what’s happening is complex but it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it may first appear. This post aims to put some structure around how to approach your social media mix and provide some tools to develop an online communications strategy. You should be able to run through step #4 in a few hours with your team. At that point there is some research to do, after which you can probably finish up in another few hours.
Step #1: Gather Your Social Media Portfolio
Start by doing a quick inventory of the social media channels that you already use at your organization. Write down each channel onto a sticky note (i.e. Twitter streams, Facebook pages, company blogs, newsletters, etc). A common early discovery during this process is that different channels have been set up, and are managed by, different people at your organization. The result is that communications may not be well coordinated, may duplicate efforts and/or under-serve parts of your community. For the moment, don’t worry about any social media channels that you think you want to use in the future, we’ll get to those later.
Step #2: Collect Your Content
The next step is to do an inventory of the types of content that you currently distribute through social media channels and the types of conversations you’re trying to foster (i.e. product ideas, white papers, case studies, events information, customer service). Start a list but instead of making stickies at this point, simply list each content type on a page with one type per line. You’ll use this as the first column of a table in the next step (frequency & formality lens).
Step #3: Look Through 4 Social Media Lenses
Not all of the following lenses will be appropriate for your organization, but they represent a range of perspectives that should provide insight into your situation.
1: Consider Frequency & Formality
Frequency and formality represent two key qualities to parse how content types relate to each other. Take your list from step #2 and draw out two additional columns, the first should be labeled frequency, the second formality. Frequency and formality tend to be inversely related such that more formal messages go out less frequently. Of course, this depends on the specifics of your business. If you’ve got ten content types, then rank them from 1-10 on each scale. You’ll use this table in a later step.
2: Consider The Condensing Funnel
With this lens you’re looking to see if content is being funneled through your communication channels. For example, your organization might twitter absolutely everything it does, blog about many of those things, and use a newsletter to present only the best stuff. It’s rarely the case that any organization’s messaging will be this simple, but this lens can help highlight how and where content gets redistributed in a condensed format.
3: Consider The Waterfall
As you go through the previous step, you may find that there is a waterfall of content that runs through your channels. For example, some tweets lead to blog posts, and some blog posts might turn into white papers. You want to highlight this because it can help set up some content development practices once you have an online communications strategy in place. More on this in step #8.
4: Consider Subscription Size
Looking at social media channels based on the number of subscribers is important because it will have a huge impact on your ultimate strategy. It takes time and effort to transition communities across social media, and there is often significant attrition when you do it. Thus, it can be helpful to rank channels by their number of subscribers. Add the subscription ranking to the channel stickies from step #1.
Step #4: Connect Content & Channels
The next step is to start grouping your content types under one of the channel cards from step #1. If one content type goes under multiple channels than make a duplicate sticky for it and don’t forget to record the related formality and frequency rankings on each sticky note.
A couple things to watch out for at this point, you might find yourself putting all content types under each channel. Resist this urge! As a general rule, people tend to respond best when receiving a specific type of information from each channel they subscribe to. With this exercise you’re trying to distill what types of content are best suited to each channel. Limit the number of times you assign a content type to different channels. The limit will depend on how many content types and channels you have, but aim to have no more than three channels for each content type.
Consider this, organizations use Twitter in many different ways. Some use it to send out information about where their staff is traveling and presenting. Some use it to send out a stream of interesting industry links. Some use it to share quick ideas, or questions. These are all valid uses but each is most effective when used alone because it offers subscribers a consistent experience they can count on.
One final note on this step, it’s likely that you’ll have one social media channel whose function is to serve as a digest of all the other channels. This is completely normal, and a good thing. The key is to figure out whether that channel is a blog, a twitter stream, a newsletter, Facebook page, or something else. Limiting each content type to two or three channels will allow you to distribute content (or meta-content) through a digest and at least one other channel.
Step #5: Distilling The Essence Of Each Channel Through Consolidation
Ok, you’re half way done. Take a look at your groups of stickies as they sit under each communication channel. Add up your formality and frequency rankings separately, and calculate the averages. Now organize your groups from left to right with informal on the left and formal on the right. If there are two rankings that are the same, place the group with the greater frequency ranking to the left.
Now, look at the kinds of content in each group and see if you can articulate the essence of that content. For example, if you use twitter to share insights from conferences,Â quick responses to articles, and product feature suggestions then you might say the essence is about “thoughts”. Your blog, however, might be where you explain upcoming product features, offer short form analysis of industry publications, and tell product stories, thus it could be about “ideas”. Ideas are less formal than white papers or case studies which may be better suited to a website channel about “intellectual property” (i.e. fully baked ideas). Finally, your newsletter might feature summaries and links to your best content, thus serving as a “digest”.
The next step is to assign a value to each channel. From the above example, Twitter might be about fostering community, your blog might be about brand awareness, and your newsletter might be about establishing credibility. These values will help as you start comparing channels.
Now that you’ve got your channels organized with distilled descriptions, related types of content and values, it’s time to compare them to each other. What you’re looking for is overlap between channels. If you find significant overlap, you should consider combining the channels into one. If the channels aren’t next to each other in your table, feel free to rearrange. You may find that frequency/formality is not the best organizing principle for your channels. If this first approach failsÂ organizing by value may work better for identifying consolidation opportunities.
When you consolidate columns, you’ll save resources that can be applied to other under-served parts of your community. This is where knowing the number of subscribers can play into your calculation. For example, it may not make sense to foster two separate community groups if there is a great deal of overlap with respect to value and content types, especially if the subscriber base on one is significantly larger than the other. You may get more return on your social media investment by prioritizing one, and putting a placeholder at the other that directs people to your active channels.
You work so far should point you in the right direction, but you’ll want to validate your predictions through research. At this point you should have a solid understanding of your existing social media mix, where it’s falling short, and how it might be improved. This is enough information to develop an online survey that can be distributed via your existing channels. I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion of online surveying in this post, but everything you ask should tie back to an actionable change in your mix. In the case of the community group question above, you might ask a series of questions to understand what types of content your subscribers are interested in receiving from these channels, if they are aware of your other channels, if they subscribe through both channels, and if they would consider migrating from one to another?
Step #6: Filling In The Gaps
With online survey data in hand, and an understanding of consolidation opportunities, you should start getting a sense of any parts of your community that are under-served or not served at all. Most of the time, your community will tell you what kinds of social media investments they’d like you to make. Individuals in your community will know the landscape better than you do, so listen to them for clues about where social media can take/bring/foster your community.
At this point, I recommend running a structured ideation process with your team to generate additional ideas. I won’t get into a detailed discussion of structured ideation here, but I do want to share two quick pointers.
Be Crazy – ideation works best when participants feel comfortable contributing any idea they have, no matter how crazy. Encourage outside-the-box thinking.
Generate Quantity – Don’t focus on quality, it’s about quantity. This is not a finesse game at this point, the best ideas arise when you generate lots of ideas.
Next, look for similarities and differences between the ideas you’ve generated, and converge on the ones that are the best fit for your organization. At the end of this step you should have a list of ideas for where you’d like to take your social media mix. The next step is to prioritize them and structure them into a strategy.
Step #7: Building Your Strategy
Strategy starts with the process of prioritizing those initiatives that with return the greatest value for your investment. I’m not going to go into depth here about the strategy process because I’ve already written a post about that here. In this post, I share a prioritization tool that will help you identify which investments to make based on their impact and how feasible they are to complete. The second tool is focused on managing how you get from where you are today to where you want to be by tieing specific tactics to your strategy. Please go check that post out, and come back. If you run through the two exercises, you’ll end up with a road-map for an online communications strategy.
Step #8: Sketching Your Content Flow
This is the final step, and a really important one because it will show the results of all your hard work to your team in a visual way that they can easily understand. Think back to the waterfall lens from step #3, remember how you identified which channels feed into each other? This is the place to sketch out what the flow looks like. Having a picture will help your team stay on track when they’re ready to share content with your community.
It may be helpful to start by putting your digest channel at the center of your diagram and working from there. What are all the inputs to the digest? How does it drive subscribers back to the original content? Spur conversations on your blog or in your networks and groups? Where does IP ultimately get spun off?
In the quick sketch above, I was working with the idea that the e-mail digest might also be where you launch your latest white papers. Perhaps initially distributing white papers through your e-mail newsletter will foster subscription growth (i.e. subscribe to the newsletter to get the latest IP before anyone else). There are obviously many tactics you can use to tune up or down specific channels and how you do it should tie back to your research findings.
Finally, all the content that you’re distributing needs to be accessible on an ongoing basis for your community. Making content accessible will alsoÂ improve your search engine optimization. Following this, changes in your marketing mix are likely to require changes to the format of your specific communication tools (i.e. website navigation, newsletter layout, etc). You can refine these changes through A/B or variance testing as you implement your strategy.
I hope this post is helpful, and I’d appreciate any feedback you have on how to improve it.
The amount of trust people associate with networks depends in large part on the value of what they put in and get out. This also impacts the vetting process involved in extending your network to include new members. For example, I take “connecting” on LinkedIn very seriously. I do not connect with someone that I don’t know, have not met in person, or have not had a significant exchange with. Perhaps I’m more cautious than most, but I was once burnt by someone who was connected to a connection of mine (2nd degree, pun intended) … and it turns out that my connection didn’t know this person very well at all and should not have vouched for them.
Stepping down from LinkedIn, social networks such as Facebook and Myspace are less trust oriented. Here I’ll become friends with people who I know, or know of. Thus, I accept invitations from slightly random people that I meet at parties. My logic is that there is little downside in this context. Worst case scenario, I go to a lame party. That said, I do use these networks to get stuff done occasionally, and I don’t want complete randoms in there.
One step further is Twitter. On Twitter I will allow anyone to follow me and I will follow anyone (barring complete stupidity or offensive behavior). I view this as a completely public forum. That siad, I have considered setting up a family only account … but then I remember that I prefer to interact with my family in other ways. Here’s how I see all this represented graphically:
Any excuse to make a drawing, especially if it’s a graph/chart. Ok, one more:
One of her key ideas is that social networks will be like air … by which she means, that your network will flow with you as you explore the future web. So as you browse Amazon, the recommendations and reviews you see will be based on your network rather than the entire user base. This has broad implications for user experience and ties in well with the Aurora Project that I worked on last year.
It also ties in well with OpenID, which is standardized format for containingÂ personal information, and a data-integration platform, so that you could have a single login for any authenticated site your use (Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc). Man, will that make life easier! But wait, it’s already happening.
I see this evolution as a direct result of the “web 2.0″ work that is being done by zillions of companies that are starting mash-ups to connect all the “web 1.0″ services out there. Essentially, these second generation companies are simply acting as bridges between the first generation service providers. As we build these bridges we’re realizing that it would be easier if we had interchangable parts. Thus, OpenID. Think of it like this, interchangable parts are to the industrial revolution what OpenID is to the internet revolution.