Archive for September, 2010



03
Sep
10

social media done right is all about improving customer lives through a better online experience

Social Media Are Easier Than You Think
By MP MUELLER

With so many new technologies and tools, we business owners often feel as if we’re playing catch-up — as if we don’t even know what we don’t know. In just the last few years, there’s been a land grab by newly minted social media experts staking claim to social media prowess. Last month, the team over at Thought Lead hosted an online meet-up of 60 social media and online marketing experts titled The Influencer Project. The one-hour seminar gave all of the experts 60 seconds to offer their best advice on how companies could increase their influence online. For anyone with attention-deficit impulses (ahem) this was nirvana.

Marketing and Twitter and Facebook stars like Guy Kawasaki, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing and Gretchen Rubin, who penned The Happiness Project, suited up. I was sold on attending the free gathering when I saw Scott Porad, who created the LOL cat phenomenon I Can Has Cheezburger, would be chiming in, too.

While the conference focused on helping social media companies enhance their influence, the takeaways apply to many small businesses. We listened here at Door Number 3, and we were surprised. As mystifying as social media can seem, the collective advice sounded like a primer for — here’s the surprising part — parenting 101 or social skills 101. Basically, all it takes are good communication skills:

Tell great stories. The secret to creating brand allegiance is giving people a story along with every purchase. And what better venue than a social community that is there expressly to interact? Follow smart people like Brian Solis to learn how to hone your company’s storytelling skills.

Mr. Solis is a principal at Silicon Valley’s new media agency, FutureWorks. Check out his Conversation Prism, which is a visual synopsis that shows how all of the social media sites out there can be leveraged and how they overlap and build on each other. Be multidimensional. Share your passions as well as your expertise. People buy products from companies whose values they align with.

Be consistent. And flex your Twitter finger. Share good content consistently and your audience will keep coming back. Talk about things you know, provide relevant and interesting info. If they like what you’re serving, people — not unlike livestock — will come back at the same time every day for their daily diet. Repeat your Twitter posts up to four times in eight hours — you’ll get the same amount of click-throughs each time because people don’t go back to read what they’ve missed on Twitter. Make sure the story you tell about your brand is authentic and, yes, be consistent.

The content can’t be all about you. My friend Lisa often jokes when we are catching up, “Enough about me talking about me. What do you think about me?” The social media consultant Michelle Greer, who won the 2009 Austin Social Media Award, says social media done right is all about improving customer lives through a better online experience. And that starts with content.

Start a conversation, educate, entertain and create a better user experience. Stop talking about your products and services. Offer free samples and creative thoughts. Social media give you the power to listen to conversations and connect the dots. People want something to talk about and rally around. Social media allow businesses and nonprofits to bring people and passions together. In 2008, Ms. Greer organized the first Blood Drive Tweetup, a crowdsourced fund-raiser that doubled the traffic for the Central Texas Blood and Tissue Center. The project became a national blueprint for other blood banks around the country.

Listen, respond and take it offline. Social media are really just about talking to people, so start that dialogue on Twitter and Facebook. Then listen intently and respond. Identify bloggers who are influencers with your target audience and reach out to them. Freshbooks is an online time-tracking and invoicing company in Toronto that keeps the dialogue running with loyal customers on Facebook. The Freshbooks team members have titles like Chief Handshaker, Chief Cat Herder and Support Rockstar. And they take it offline, hosting suppers with their users to find out what they like and need.

Meanwhile, Pandora Radio holds town hall meetings across the United States where Pandora users can tell Tim Westergren, the chief executive, what kinds of music they want to hear. And then, guess what? Pandora fans blog about it, and upload video of meetings to Flickr and YouTube, further sharing the love for the brand.

Pandora has truly hit a sweet spot with customer service. Proof? The Onion satirized the company’s zeal to find the music a listener wanted in a “news” story. And then, of course, Pandora posted the story on Twitter.

Be transparent, be honest. Creating a good relationship requires these things. It’s no different online.

Social means not being alone. Use it as one tool of many to reach and motivate your target audiences. The real sweet spot in marketing your company comes from a confluence of different vehicles where the net effect is your brand being seen, heard and reinforced on many levels. Each medium has its strengths: television delivers emotion and impact. Coupons can drive trial and purchase. Search advertising lets people find your company easier. And billboards often direct people to your closest location. Social media, done well, strengthen the bond between the company and the end user. To create enduring brands, a marketing program uses many different touch points.

There. Demystified. Building your company’s influence through social media requires simple, straightforward communications skills. The only thing you may not have known about creating influence through social media is that you had the power to do it all along.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

02
Sep
10

Apple jumping into the social networking business with Ping

From Apple, a Step Into Social Media for Music
By MIGUEL HELFT
Published: September 1, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple jumped into the social networking business on Wednesday, introducing Ping, a service built into iTunes that is intended to help users discover new music and, presumably, buy more songs from Apple.

Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, showcased Ping at an event here along with a string of other new products. They included updates to Apple’s iPod line of music players and new software that allows wireless printing from iPads and iPhones.

Mr. Jobs also introduced a much-anticipated upgrade of its Apple TV set-top box that is smaller and, at $99, significantly cheaper than its predecessor, which did not sell well. It allows users to rent television shows from Fox and ABC for 99 cents, and like many other devices, it can also stream movies from Netflix.

Mr. Jobs said the changes to the iPod lineup, which include new versions of the Shuffle, Nano and Touch models, were the most significant since Apple introduced its first music player in 2001.

“This year we’ve gone wild,” Mr. Jobs said. Sales of iPods have declined this year, but revenue from them has continued to grow as more buyers choose the higher-priced Touch model.

An unexpected announcement from Mr. Jobs was the introduction of Ping. With it, users will be able to follow friends and see what music they have bought or enjoyed, what concerts they plan to attend and what music they have reviewed. They will also be able to follow bands and get updates on their new releases, concert tours and other events.

Many other online music services like Pandora and Zune Social from Microsoft already have features that allow friends to share information about music.

While other social networks have struggled in the shadow of Facebook, some analysts said that Apple had a chance to turn Ping into a success. The service will be instantly available to 160 million iTunes users, as long as they download the latest version of the software, which Apple released on Wednesday.

“Apple wants to create even tighter links with iTunes users and keep them a click away from buying a song,” said Mike McGuire, a vice president with Gartner. “Ping will give people more reasons to spend frequently and rapidly.”

While Ping may put Apple in competition with Facebook, its impact on the struggling MySpace may be more pronounced, analysts said. MySpace has emphasized music over the last few years.

“This isn’t about reconnecting with your girlfriend from eighth grade,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. “This is about talking to people about music.”

A spokeswoman for MySpace declined to comment.

Mr. Jobs said Ping would have simple privacy controls. Anyone will be able to follow bands and receive their updates, and users will be able to say whether they want to be followed by anyone or only by people they approve.

The new iPod Touch is thinner than the previous model and comes equipped with front- and rear-facing cameras, as well as Apple’s FaceTime video chatting software. It also has the same high-resolution retina display that Apple first showcased on the iPhone 4 earlier this year.

The Touch comes in three versions; the cheapest has 8 gigabytes of storage and costs $229.

Apple shrank the iPod Nano by replacing its wheel interface with a touch screen. It costs $149 for an 8-gigabyte version and $179 for 16 gigabytes.

In introducing the new version of Apple TV, Mr. Jobs acknowledged that the set-top box had not been as successful as he had hoped. The new version replaces the download-to-own model with a rental service that has shows from Fox and ABC for 99 cents. Mr. Jobs said the other networks had yet to agree to Apple’s pricing.

“We think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board with us,” he said.

But that is far from guaranteed. All television studios are wary of distributing their shows in new ways on the Internet for fear of harming their existing businesses, which rely on cable and satellite subscriptions.

Fox and ABC agreed to Apple’s pricing model only after lengthy negotiations and heated internal discussions, especially at Fox’s parent, the News Corporation.

ABC’s participation is not surprising, given that Mr. Jobs is the largest shareholder and a board member of its parent, the Walt Disney Company.

For its part, Fox suggested that its agreement with Apple was something of an experiment. In a statement, Jim Gianopulos, the chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said the studio was excited to work with Apple over the next several months to “explore this innovative offering.”

Other networks, like CBS and NBC, are pointedly not participating in the rentals program. “Episodic television is not a pay-per-view business,” said Keith J. Cocozza, a spokesman for Time Warner, which owns HBO, TNT and other channels. Companies like Time Warner are instead supporting the existing subscription TV model, which is being gradually extended to the Web.

Analysts said that the new Apple TV was likely to be more of a hit than its $299 predecessor, in part because of its low price, but also because of software that allows users to stream content from their iPhones and iPads to their TVs through the set-top box. But they said Apple’s challenges in securing more content underscored the continuing difficulties that technology companies faced in cracking the TV market.

“Apple has not yet made a significant play for control of the TV,” James L. McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester, wrote on his blog.

Brian Stelter contributed reporting from New York.

01
Sep
10

social media should be fully interleaved with your company’s total communications plan

Radio: The original social media
31 August, 2010 11:18:00

Neil Glassman
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I fell in love with it as a kid that radio was one of the original social networks. AM had Top 40 formats (mashups), DJ shout outs (tweets), contests to win logo T-shirts (badges) and exclusive clubs to which everyone belonged (Facebook groups). I got into late night talk shows (blogs), which had an intimacy and affinity with listeners that radio has lost and web social networks have yet to fully discover. Later, FM jocks changed my music buying habits and political views (influencers).

Now that I have one foot firmly planted in social media and the other precariously in radio, I note that radio has evolved away from its “social” roots, with radio brands failing to fully leverage the new social media platforms that could bolster their listenership and bottom lines. There are many pundits more informed than I am who can predict whether better integration with the other social media platforms can help “save” radio. My position is that the other social media platforms are tools that can help radio in the here and now.

It’s always good to start by establishing a few basics, such my definition of social media and my biases when it comes to broadcast radio.

I despise the terms “new media” and “old media”. Let’s use “linear media” to refer to those platforms — broadcast radio and TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. — that are fundamentally unidirectional. User participation requires a back channel — postal mail, telephones or private emails.

“Digital media” puts two-way communication on the same technology pipe. A website serves content based on my requests, drawing content from a variety of sources in a non-linear fashion. “Social media” is an advanced form of digital media with a content provider hosting a media stream on a platform that allows significant user generated content. Social media grants users the ability to interact with the collective, as well as other users individually — user connections are non-linear.

Me? I’m a lifelong radio listener who still gets chills when a jock pulls off a flawless segue. I admire the radio personality who — though s/he is communicating with me via a point-to-point data network, with no eye contact — sounds like s/he is talking directly to me, along with hundreds (or hundreds of thousands) of others.

I’m also a big branding guy. That’s how I make my living — helping businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B) create and maintain strong brands as the foundation of their marketing. You may have noticed I used the phrase “radio brands” above, when you might have been expecting “radio station” or “radio group”. It’s your brand — whether your company consists of a bunch of studios and a tower or data centers and electrons flowing through networks — that defines your business. If it does not match your brand — or, better yet, enhance your brand — perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it.

When we speak of social media, let’s not ignore the “social” elements of “linear” broadcast radio. I was fortunate to have been with Telos Systems when its telephone hybrids vastly improved the sound of call-in and talk radio just as those formats experienced exponential growth. The technology of talk radio is social; the use of the telephone for a back channel does not seem out of place because it predated digital media platforms. Stations with local call-in and talk are better poised to have a brand that is social, as opposed to stations with their own brands subjugated by the brands of national hosts. I’m not saying it can’t be done by the latter group — I’m just saying it’s more difficult.

During my tenure at Telos, I helped promote a George Clinton audio concert to demonstrate Macromedia Shockwave — the precursor to Flash — that turned out to be the first multimedia event to grind the Internet to a halt because too many were trying to log in. Of course, the technology got much better. Was I naive to think that streaming technology would be embraced by radio brands as a way to decentralize programming sources and increase their potential audiences to, well, everyone in the world? Not quite how it played out.

Streaming’s social potential has been demonstrated by platforms that allow favorites and playlists to be shared. Most of the streaming platforms also facilitate sharing with other social media platforms. Last.fm is an example of a social streaming platform. Remind me to ask someone at CBS why the powerful CBS brand is not more prominent on Last.fm.

Stations have the option of adding HD Radio. The technology was (and still is) flawed, but the radio industry has managed with far-from-perfect tools in the past and used them with great success. Endless-loop tape cartridges stand out as an example. HD Radio was the hand we were dealt and, better than no hand at all, I was a strong proponent of the technology.

I was persistent and insistent — did any of you attend one of my presentations on behalf of BE? — when describing to programmers and managers how HD Radio created new potentials for innovation and profits. But the introduction of HD Radio in the US met the perfect storm of roadblocks — the decline of radio advertising, the recession and the failure of consumers to consider broadcast radio as an element to be included in their digital entertainment toy box. That last one may be partially attributed to the attraction and growing popularity of social platforms; there is nothing inherently social about HD Radio not found in analog broadcast radio.

Though we are still in the early stages of the social media evolution, its rapid rise and successful use by brands to increase sales tells us we can’t ignore it. Actually, we have to incorporate it into our sales and marketing or our brands will be left behind. New platforms — like location based services, such as Foursquare and Gowalla — continue to roll out and are embraced by consumers. Social media is blossoming in the recession; imagine what might happen after recovery.

When I say radio brands must engage in social media, I don’t mean just getting a Facebook page, a Twitter account, etc. These current platforms may or may not achieve permanence. Think of another social media platform for early adapters — CB radio. The technology is far less important than what the drivers wanted to do with it.

Research shows that brands that engage in social media with strategies are far more likely to profit from their efforts than those without strategy. No surprise there. The good news is that the best successes stories in social media are B2C — business to consumer — representing your relationship with your listeners. The bad news is that B2B — business to business — how you get your revenue, is less proven.

Radio brands have assets appropriate to social networking that presently are just slides on business plan PowerPoint decks in some other industries:

– Local radio brands are expert at building loyalty/community among listeners.

– You’ve got experience earning both national and local advertising.

– No matter how the mudslinging over FM chips in mobile phones shakes out, your brand is portable to nearly every mobile phone using social media. And your signal is portable to nearly every smart phone.

– There are just so many hours in a day people can listen/watch/chat/etc. Your task is to retain and increment your listeners and advertisers; new entrants concentrate solely on conversion, which is based on their being compelling to your audience and you’re not.

I recently did a webinar on B2B leads generation and conversion using social media entitled, “Why B2B Leads from Social Media Are More Like Joe Biden than Lady Gaga.” One of my key points was that a brand’s social media must be a part of — not apart from — it’s overall strategy.

Many companies are uncertain whether digital media activities are the responsibility of marketing, sales, customer service, human resources or some other department — the answer is all of the above. Note that I said digital media, as some brands are still having this internal debate about their websites as well as their social media.

To be successful, social media should be fully interleaved with your company’s total communications plan. This may require internal education and, sometimes, a change in corporate culture. If, as one outstanding marketer told me, Facebook will become the operating system of the Internet, brands cannot risk failing in the social media universe due to lack of strategic deployment.

There are those who dismiss the social media tools and science we have. Someone who says that marketing using social media has yet to take off is probably right. However, we’ve enough experience and best practices to be strategic — and some of those who are building solid B2B social media foundations are starting to see benefits from their investment. It may be a new frontier, but let’s be sure to use the maps and compasses we have to help us navigate our way to sales and profits.

— Neil Glassman is a digital and linear media marketing strategist whose clients benefit from improved new customer acquisition and enhanced customer retention. He has helped turn startup underdogs into wonderdogs and guided underperforming brands through their midlife crisis. He blogs on the WhizBangPowWow and Social Times. Based in New York City, he’s a pretty good cook.




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