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The Promises & Perils of the Microsoft LinkedIn Acquisition

msft-linkedin

The ink is barely dry on the announcement that Microsoft has offered US$26.2 billion in cash to purchase LinkedIn and already the usual suspects are lining up to criticise or praise the deal.

Tech commentator Peter Cohan, writing on Forbes, reckons that “Microsoft Wasted $26.2 Billion To Buy LinkedIn” and offered up four reasons why, including these two:

1. The business social networking industry is not attractive
LinkedIn lost $166 million on $29.9 billion in sales in 2015. As a LinkedIn user, I cannot see anything worth paying for and I would guess that there are simply not enough people who see enough value in the service to make it worth “upgrading to premium.”

2. Combined companies will not be better off.
There is no scenario I can envision in which the combined companies will be better off. There is no reason to believe that Microsoft has the strategic skills needed to revive LinkedIn’s growth.

Recode added in another concern:

LinkedIn’s ad business is slowing down.
While recruitment services are the big sales driver at LinkedIn, advertising represents roughly 18 percent of LinkedIn’s business, a significant segment that has been trending in the wrong direction. When LinkedIn reported Q4 earnings earlier in February 2016, one of the concerns was that its ad business grew just 20 percent for the quarter year over year; that compared to growth of 56 percent in the same quarter the year before. Research firm eMarketer predicted LinkedIn’s U.S. digital ad revenue would fall from 35 percent growth in 2015 to less than 10 percent growth this year. In other words, LinkedIn wasn’t selling ads the way people expected it to.

VentureBeat is similarly negative:

Acquisition double-talk, part 1: On the one hand, this deal is all about the oft-vaunted idea of “synergy” (even if that word is not used). The idea is presumably to build LinkedIn into all sorts of Microsoft products. Great! But, does this mean I’m going to get all sorts of messages suddenly asking if I want to share my Word doc through LinkedIn or have some LinkedIn integration with an Excel spreadsheet…or…what? There’s a lot of talk today about how this is going to broaden Microsoft’s reach into all sorts of new channels for selling stuff like cloud services. But does one of the largest tech companies in the world really need to spend $26 billion to reach new customers?

Acquisition double talk, part 2: Structurally, LinkedIn is going to remain independent. Per the Nadella memo:

“LinkedIn will retain its distinct brand and independence, as well as their culture which is very much aligned with ours. Jeff (Weiner) will continue to be CEO of LinkedIn, he’ll report to me and join our senior leadership team. In essence, what I’ve asked Jeff to do is manage LinkedIn with key performance metrics that accrue to our overall success. He’ll decide from there what makes sense to integrate and what does not.”

So why do the deal?

Officially, according to the slide deck announcing the deal, key opportunities for the combined entity include:

  • Realize a common mission by bringing together the world’s leading professional cloud and professional network
  • Drive increased engagement across LinkedIn as well as Office 365 and Dynamics CRM
  • Accelerate monetization through individual and organization subscriptions and targeted advertising

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner explained his perspective, in an email to employees:

Both [Weiner and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] recognized that combining [the two companies’] assets would be unique and had the potential to unlock some enormous opportunities.

For example:

  • Massively scaling the reach and engagement of LinkedIn by using the network to power the social and identity layers of Microsoft’s ecosystem of over one billion customers. Think about things like LinkedIn’s graph interwoven throughout Outlook, Calendar, Active Directory, Office, Windows, Skype, Dynamics, Cortana, Bing and more.
  • Accelerating our objective to transform learning and development by deeply integrating the Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning solution in Office alongside some of the most popular productivity apps on the planet.
  • Realizing LinkedIn’s full potential to truly change the way the world works by partnering with Microsoft to innovate on solutions within the enterprise that are ripest for disruption, e.g., the corporate directory, company news dissemination, collaboration, productivity tools, distribution of business intelligence and employee voice, etc.
  • Expanding beyond recruiting and learning & development to create value for any part of an organization involved with hiring, managing, motivating or leading employees. This human capital area is a massive business opportunity and an entirely new one for Microsoft.
  • Giving Sponsored Content customers the ability to reach Microsoft users anywhere across the Microsoft ecosystem, unlocking significant untapped inventory.
  • Redefining social selling through the combination of Sales Navigator and Dynamics CRM.
  • Leveraging our subscription capabilities to provide opportunities to the massive number of freelancers and independent service providers that use Microsoft’s apps to run their business on a daily basis.

Those are enticing future possibilities, to be sure, but are they really worth 26.2 billion dollars? Some commentators were far more positive.

ComputerWorld provides some current context:

There’s a ton at stake here. Microsoft is slowly dropping out of the hardware business for smartphones as they make a bold move with apps like Outlook for the iPhone and a cool Bing app that provides quick info about movies in your area or local eateries. The world is going mobile, and LinkedIn is one of the first apps most of us install on a new phone. How can you not? It’s how we discover the news, find people to fill a new position, and how we connect socially during the day. Social networking is partly a response to the isolation that comes from working at a keyboard all day. When we need to keep doing business on the move, LinkedIn is one of the best ways to maintain business relationships.

I first realized this when I was working on an article about a new book called “Disrupted” by Dan Lyons. It was a bit of a diatribe against startups in general (and one in particular called Hubspot), and I was curious how people who like the company would respond.

There’s a lot of noise on Facebook, thousands of posts about graduation parties mixed in between serious business news. Yet, on LinkedIn, one quick check on a post by the founder of Hubspot revealed hundreds and hundreds of comments from people defending the company. This is why Microsoft is acquiring LinkedIn. It has become part of the fabric of business discussion. All of those comments are from “the LinkedIn community” in the best sense of the phrase.

The article … was filled with smart comments from people who actually have real jobs. It was filled with people who have something to say and a place to say it. Without LinkedIn, I’m not sure how anyone could parse a discussion like that down to something even remotely useful. Facebook is all over the board. Twitter is too condensed. When we say “woven” we mean useful, that it holds the shirt together. You can stretch it, pull it, drag it over the mud, and even tie-dye it and it will hold up to scrutiny. Woven means it is worth $26.2B and a high stock price.

Microsoft needed something woven, and the acquisition makes perfect sense. Some of their other ventures are a bit frayed at the edges. I’m not sure what will happen with Office, because I’m too busy using Google Docs on a Chromebook Pixel. I’m not sure what will happen with data centers that are so Microsoft-centric, when it’s becoming quite clear that there are thousands of cloud service providers that can do exactly the same thing for much lower costs. I’m not even sure what will happen with the Xbox or Windows 10. There’s some shifting sand beneath these monoliths, and you’d have to be crazy to predict they’ll be around in the same form for the next 10 years.

But LinkedIn? It will have a really long shelf life. It has the same deeply entrenched sustainability as Google ads and Facebook photo archives.

Meanwhile, PC World reckons that the primary reason that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn is to provide content for its digital assistant Cortana:

Picture a typical business trip: meetings all day, drinks at night. A good salesperson knows his or her contacts before he or she steps foot in the door. But that goes for coworkers as well: How you you make them feel comfortable? How do you make them part of a team? How do you let them know who to approach, both inside and outside the company?

All of this usually takes some effort on your part, or at least a competent assistant. And that’s the role that Microsoft hopes to play, especially with its digital assistant, Cortana, and Office 365.

Right now, Cortana provides some basic information about your calendar, suggesting, for example, what time you’ll need to leave to ensure you arrive at your next meeting on time. In Microsoft’s digital future, Cortana will be able to sum up what you need to know both about your business relationship, and what information you can use to cement a more personal connection, too. It sounds smarmy, but a good salesperson will tell you that an emotional connection helps seal the deal.

cortana

If the thought of Microsoft owning more data about you—well, you probably should go delete your LinkedIn profile, now. Microsoft already knows your calendar (Outlook), your meetings (Outlook), your coworkers (Delve) your accounts (Microsoft Dynamics CRM) and some of your expertise (Delve).

Inc magazine spells out a few more considerations:

What LinkedIn has that Microsoft wants is connections — business connections. And that’s critical to the latter’s strategy. Microsoft understands that computing and relationships to the business users that are its mainstay have changed. More people have moved to mobile, an area where the Redmond-based giant has struggled. Computing has shifted to the cloud, and while Microsoft is a significant player in that arena, it’s a far cry from the influence it wielded when companies all had their own servers, whether directly own and run or contracted out to a service provider.

As the statement noted, LinkedIn has 433 million members across 200 countries and territories and 105 million monthly average users. Sixty percent of its traffic comes from mobile, with 7 million active job listings. Two-thirds of its revenue comes from recruiting tools.

Not only does LinkedIn extend Microsoft’s quest to connect business users — Skype and Yammer both previous examples of the same interest — but there’s an amazing amount of data. Microsoft will be able to see what people are doing in business, who’s hiring, what the requirements are for various positions, and the like. To put it differently, this is a way to make the plans and expectations of companies all over the world transparent to a business that wants to sell them the technology they need.

Plus, Microsoft has software for contact management, customer relationship management, prospecting, and other activities that would dovetail neatly into LinkedIn. The social connections become a natural reason for people to take a look at what Microsoft offers.

Tempting or terrifying?

Paul Ford, Co-founder of product studio Postlight, suggests 7 amazing things that Microsoft could do with LinkedIn:

1. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into Windows as a service.
This makes perfect sense: Think about how amazing Hotmail and Outlook could be if you could instantly write to anyone in your second-degree LinkedIn networks. Imagine how exciting it will be when you can beg your friends for an introduction to someone in their professional circles right from your email client with the push of a button. (This integration is the thing that could finally destroy email.)

2. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into Microsoft Office.
Office is about doing things, and people do things socially more often than they used to. LinkedIn is a business social network, and it probably knows more about your company than the people inside the company do. Imagine if you came to a section of your Microsoft Word document that needed, I don’t know—some sort of forecast, or a description of a forthcoming product. You could draw a little rectangle and automagically trigger a request to someone from the product team, asking them to fill in the rectangle. Workflows like this used to be the stuff of fantasy and billion-dollar “unified object model” sinkholes, but Git/GitHub has shown that they can work, and they can work decentralized, and LinkedIn has the messaging network and “InMail” system to pull this off, given a couple hundred million dollars.

3. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into other tools across their ecosystem as a “workplace” API.
LinkedIn knows a lot about what people do and Microsoft builds tools for doing lots of specific, difficult things (I.e. programming, project management, making diagrams, managing databases). If there was a single LinkedIn API that let you do things like: Look up people in your company; find relevant consultants; identify the skills needed to solve problems, etc.; that’s a kind of raw power that we don’t really see inside of most software.

4. Microsoft could turn LinkedIn into the Windows-default publishing platform.
If you want to write a blog post or share some thoughts with Microsoft where do you even go in 2016? I have no idea. Yammer? Windows Live Server? XBox? LinkedIn, for its part, obviously believes that it should be the publisher of record for every horrible list of “inspirational strategies” and mutual ass-kissing glurge that content marketers exhaustedly produce for lazy Fortune 10,000 CIOs. Anyway, there’s a huge opportunity here—become the communications platform of record for the entire global business world! However this is an opportunity that both parties have a proven ability to squander over and over again. We’ll see!

5. Microsoft could mine LinkedIn’s data in order to inform product strategy.
This is the sort of mega-opportunity, and also highly sketchy. Microsoft is a software company, sure, but it’s also a bit of a nation-state with an enormously broad mandate. LinkedIn is an unbelievable data-mining platform; it has the ground truth about the global economy, especially around the technology industry, and it has a lock on that data. Microsoft will know what’s going on with Facebook before Zuckerberg does; it’ll know what skills are being added to Googlers’ resumes; it’ll know what kind of searches HR departments are doing across the world, and it can use that information to start marketing its own services to those companies. It can use LinkedIn as a global knowledge base to make more informed, long-term decisions about its own role in the global economy, and it can combine that information with what it learns from other platforms like Windows, Office 365, Bing, XBox, and so forth. It can answer questions like, “are employees of Google playing more XBox or less compared to last year?” It’s…terrifying. And we’ll never really know what’s going on. Which makes it kind of brilliant. But still terrifying.

6. Microsoft could use LinkedIn’s data to create new advertising products.
Given the above, Microsoft now has an absolutely amazing advertising platform. I can’t bring myself to write much about this because it will make Amazon chasing you around the web trying to sell you another toaster seem like a fun game played by little babies. I mean you’re talking about one company that knows how often you open Microsoft Excel per day, and another that knows how long you’ve been in your current position and if your boss just got promoted. And now they are one beautiful blue company. And the world’s largest advertising agencies and media buyers are just sitting there with their mouths open trying to figure out what to do now. I bet someone will tell them!

7. Microsoft could improve LinkedIn.
Microsoft is Microsoft and will always be Microsoft. But if you look at the recent design work in its applications, it’s capable of first-class, consumer-grade interface design and product thinking.

Microsoft designs for people who have to do boring things with computers in order to make money. It’s the 9–5 software vendor. LinkedIn is the social network of 9–5, too. It’s also a tire fire of failed UX patterns; it looks like robot poop. That’ll be the part we see: When Microsoft slowly starts applying pressure, fixing the long-standing, painful bugs, improving the overall product experience, bringing everything up to code until LinkedIn looks like a fully modern, business-focussed social network. The part we won’t see, though, that’ll be amazing.

Our View
This acquisition is one of those “so big, we can’t afford to let it fail” deals which will define the success or failure of current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Sure, as unkindly noted above by several of the industry observers, the deal comes with a number of pitfalls. But, as others have pointed out, there’s plenty of potential as well.

Without an acquisition such as LinkedIn, how else can Microsoft grow and prosper in today’s cloud-based, AI-enabled world, where:

  • Google follows us from desktop to tablet to mobile phone to smartwatch and senses what we want to know almost before we do, thanks to a combination of search queries, browsing behaviour and GPS-derived location awareness
  • Facebook knows who we know, what our interests are, what we like and what we talk about
  • Amazon knows what we want to buy, what we actually buy, how much we spend and what else we look at
  • Netflix knows what we watch, how long we spend watching, when and where
  • Digital assistants like Siri and Google Now are becoming more and more important in their users’ lives as the data gets richer, behavioural patterns are analysed and harnessed and intent and purpose are more effectively tracked

Microsoft, with much of its clients’ data locked in legacy PC-based systems rather than in the cloud, has been in danger of missing out on the 21st century’s most important innovation – effortlessly harnessing big data to meet users’ needs, with minimal user prompting.

Such data is at its most useful and powerful when it’s available at our fingertips when and where we need it — whether via Cortana, Microsoft Office, Dynamics CRM or otherwise. Let’s hope that the more positive future is the one that comes true.

PS If you’ve yet to discover the full potential of LinkedIn for yourself and/or your organisation (or still think “what’s the big deal about LinkedIn, isn’t just for listing your CV?”), you should check out our How To Use LinkedIn Effectively online training course.

We also delve into these latest LinkedIn developments in more detail in our new Social Media Refresher 2016 course, currently being rolled out.

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Were Your Posts Just Banned By Facebook?

banned-by-facebook

Late last week, Facebook gave businesses the bad news:

Overtly promotional posts will no longer be shown to page followers, beginning in January 2015.

Exactly what types of posts are banned? Here’s what Facebook specified:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

Facebook gave some hypothetical examples of undesirable posts, but here are just a few of the millions of real Facebook page posts that would seem to fall foul of Facebook’s new rules.

Posts that only talk about products you should buy:

banned-post-1

Or contests you can enter:

contents

 

And even big brands have Facebook page posts unlikely to survive the January 2015 promotional massacre:

uniqlo

Those 762 people who like the above post? They’re going to be out of luck, when January rolls around. They won’t see the Uniqlo promotional posts in their newsfeeds, so they won’t know about the deals.

The Continuing Push Towards Zero Facebook Engagement

This move by Facebook is just the latest step in the social network’s efforts to:

  • reduce unwanted clutter on users’ Facebook newsfeeds
  • drive down the reach of brands’ Facebook page posts (towards zero)

From a user-centric point of view, Facebook’s motives are not merely practical but praise-worthy. As Facebook notes, “our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see. When people see content that’s relevant to them, they’re more likely to be engaged with News Feed”.

From the point of view of businesses, however, Facebook’s moves are typically not viewed in such a benign fashion.

As re/code notes, it’s “likely going to anger brands in the process, many of whom spent years building up a following for this very purpose. Why would Coca-Cola pay Facebook to promote one of its posts when it already has 90 million users following its updates?”

Facebook’s own guidelines for business pages spell out the social giant’s thinking:

Publicize exclusive discounts and promotions with ads
If you’re looking to inspire more purchases from your posts, create Facebook Ads with special discounts or promotions.

  • Use link ads to drive people to your site, and include special codes they can use at checkout
  • Drive urgency with a time prompt like “free shipping, this weekend only” or “12 hour flash sale”
  • Promote only products or services you think your audience is most interested in
  • Advertise end-of-year contests and giveaways to drive customer loyalty and sales

In other words, if you want to use Facebook to actually sell stuff, you can now expect to have to PAY.

Overcoming Facebook Frustration & Reaching Your Followers

So what should you do? Simply abandon your carefully-constructed Facebook presence? Or pay every time to reach your followers?

In our Facebook online training courses (Facebook Accelerator and the Complete Facebook Marketing course), we tackle the issue head-on, and recommend that you:

  • use Graph Search to learn more about your followers and the sort of content that will interest them
  • identify the types of posts that your followers are most likely to share
  • create more of those types of posts
  • create posts in styles and formats that encourage more engagement
  • identify when your followers are most likely to be active on Facebook
  • publish your posts at those times
  • post more frequently than in the past
  • pay to promote the best of your posts to your followers
  • bump evergreen popular content
  • aim to drive Last Actor engagement as much as possible
  • crunch your numbers regularly to see exactly how well you’re doing (and whether or not you’re fulfilling your potential)
  • use Facebook advertising to drive Facebook users to your website

 

Free Report on Facebook Advertising

If you want to sell anything through Facebook, it’s time to face the grim reality:

you’re simply going to have to pay to promote your products, through Facebook Advertising.

A word of warning, however: if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to burn through a lot of money fast, with minimal results.

To help, we’ve put together a special FREE report on getting started with Facebook Advertising.

 

GSWFB-cover-cropped-3D

This free report will tell you the 5 essential tips you simply MUST KNOW before you start advertising on Facebook.

So go ahead — grab your FREE copy right now!

Just click here for your free report.

 

 

7 Obvious Signs That Your Organisation Needs Social Media Training

Time and again, we’ve seen that Social Media amplifies – sometimes for good, too often for bad or worse. Say something stupid in social media and there’s a better than even chance that the whole world will find out about it, far sooner than you think.

There’s really only one solution (and even that’s not guaranteed): learn what you should and shouldn’t say on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn and all those other social networks. Get some training before it’s too late.

So how do you know if you need social media training?

If your organisation exhibits any of these classic errors.

7 Obvious Signs That Your Organisation Needs Social Media Training

Social Media Warning Signs

Get yourself social media training fast if your business makes any of these mistakes:

1. Asking open-ended questions (and then ignoring the responses)

2. Getting into an argument and insulting your customers and followers

It was the customer service disaster heard around the Internet. An Arizona restaurateur, fed up after years of negative online reviews and an embarrassing appearance on a reality television show, posted a social media rant laced with salty language and angry, uppercase letters that quickly went viral, to the delight of people who love a good Internet meltdown.

Amy & The Cakes #fail

 

3. Not replying to questions and comments on your social media platforms.

Too many brands simply ignore what’s being said to them, with entirely predictable results. This graph from SocialBakers shows which industries are the best (and worst) at responding:

social media responses by industry

 

4. All you talk about in social media is yourself

Only 10% of what you talk about in social media should be yourself and your own products or services. The rest of your discussions should be about things that matter to your followers. Don’t be like this Donut shop, constantly posting meaningless pictures of donuts and drinks to an audience that couldn’t care less (3416 followers but less than a dozen likes per image).

donut posts that nobody cares about

 

5. Nobody’s talking about you

As you may have heard, Facebook is dialing back its organic reach. What that means, in a nutshell, is that even if someone likes your Facebook brand page, it’s most unlikely that they will see your posts in their newsfeed. That means, to all intents and purposes, that you’re invisible to your followers — unless (a) you promote your posts to them; or (b) you write posts that are sufficiently interesting and engaging that they get shared by the few that do see them (and thus get out to a wider audience).

The Star Wars page on Facebook, for example, despite 11 million followers, was only averaging around 15,000 weekly talks — until May the Fourth (“be with you”), when interest surged and more than a quarter of a million people found Star Wars worth talking about again on Facebook.

May the Fourth Be With You

 

6. Everybody’s talking about you (but not in a good way)

Justine Sacco, head of public relations for UK media giant IAC, flew towards Africa in December 2013, blissfully unaware of the uproar caused by her final tweet before boarding her 12-hour flight.

Justine Sacco

Even though Ms Sacco had a mere 200 followers, the tweet went viral even while she was flying. Her tweet was universally condemned as racist, resulting in the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trending worldwide. Unsurprisingly, Ms Sacco lost her job, her former employer apologised profusely and several AIDS charities received donations from appalled twitterati.

 

7. You post too often (or too seldom)

How often should you post to your social networks? That depends on (a) your networks; and (b) your followers.

If you’re posting to Twitter, for example, and reaching out to a business audience, then posting (variations on the same information) at three-hour intervals during the business day is acceptable — very few will see more than one post, given the transient nature of Twitter.

On the other hand, posting to a consumer audience via Facebook should be less frequent, because posts are likely to linger more there. Take a look at your Facebook page Insights data (via your Page Manager dashboard) and view “When Your Fans Are Online” (under “Posts”).

when your fans are online

Post perhaps twice a day, at times that coincide with most of your fans being online.

fans online

 

Once you realise you need Social Media Training

We would be remiss if we didn’t point you to our range of social media courses: overview here.

  • If you want a comprehensive overview of Social Media Marketing, its principles and its practices, start here
  • If you want a rundown of the latest developments, check out our Advanced Social Media Marketing course here
  • If you want to market your business on Facebook but don’t know how, our Complete Facebook Marketing course is the place to start
  • If you’re already active on Facebook but think you could be doing it better, our Facebook Accelerator course could be the one for you
  • If you operate in the B2B space, we strongly recommend you learn How To Use LinkedIn Effectively
  • If you plan to use social media but won’t be hands-on yourself, you should take a look at our course covering How To Prepare An Effective Social Media Brief

NZ’s Leading Pinterest Pages

We’re slowly assembling a database of Pinterest Pages created by or for NZ businesses and we’d welcome your input. Please tell us in the comments about any NZ business pages on Pinterest with more than 100 followers (yes, as few as that — Pinterest is still an acquired taste for most New Zealand marketers, and Kiwi companies have only a fraction of the followers on Pinterest when compared to the numbers they have attracted on Facebook or Twitter).

On the inevitably-flawed basis of the 497 NZ Pinterest Pages we’ve collected and analysed so far, here are the Top Ten Kiwi pages (ranked by Numbers of Followers), as at March 12 2013:

10. Black Cow Nz (mystichillsnz) — 551 Followers

pin10

 

9. DressMePretty .Co.NZ (DressMePrettyNZ) — 592 Followers

pin9

8. Good as Gold (goodasgold) — 690 Followers

pin8

7. Glassons (glassons) — 866 Followers

pin7

6. Farmers – Your Store (farmersnz) — 918 Followers

pin6

5. Superette (superettestore) — 978 Followers

pin5

4. Pure New Zealand (purenewzealand) — 1192 Followers

pin4

 

3. Styled NZ (StyledNZ) — 2,215 Followers

pin3

2. Air New Zealand (airnewzealand) — 2,338 Followers

pin2

 

And, leading the charge (and, frankly, way, way out in front):

1. Michelle Halford (mgrim) — 15,808 Followers

pin1-580

NB: We’ve included Michelle in this list because her blog accepts advertising and sponsorship revenues, which from our perspective makes her operation a business. We left out a large number of other Kiwis who might otherwise belong on this list because, at least from what we could observe, they pin for pleasure rather than for business purposes.

 

Content Types

The types of Pinterest pages that are topping the polls here are no real surprise. As we noted in an earlier article, these are the most popular content types on Pinterest:

If your product falls within one of those categories, we recommend that you consider adding a Pinterest Page to your product portfolio, sooner rather than later — 291,000 Kiwi consumers visited the site in December 2012, according to Nielsen Online Ratings. That may be only about a tenth of the number of NZ visitors attracted to Facebook, but it’s still a sizeable chunk of potential buyers of your products or services.

PS We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that we cover Pinterest in detail in Lesson Two of our Advanced Social Media Marketing course.

 

Facebook launches Graph Search

In the finest “keep them guessing” tradition of the late Steve Jobs, Facebook had the tech journalist community buzzing over a mystery press conference scheduled for Wednesday morning. Speculation was rife: would the social giant launch a new mobile phone, perhaps, or had it acquired another key player in its ongoing battle for digital supremacy?

Now the wondering is over: Facebook’s big announcement is Graph Search, a Social Search Engine.

Finally! Facebook’s existing search engine is, frankly, not up to the rigours of searching through the trillions of entries of a billion members.

So what do we know about Graph Search so far, what makes it different to Google and what are the implications for marketers?

The first and most important point is that this is not web search, it’s social search. It’s designed to help Facebook members meaningfully sort through content that has been shared with them.

The second key point is that Graph Search is still in Beta release – Facebook is inviting users to sign up for early trials, but it’s only rolling out to a small number (in the hundreds or thousands) at first.

And the third key point is that Graph Search is the method by which Facebook intends to harness the social potential of its members’ accumulated postings (which has BIG implications for marketers).

Powered by Social Proof

For example: you want to go out for dinner tonight. What was the name of that Mexican restaurant your friend Janice loved? Now, instead of scrolling through screeds of Facebook posts — or giving up and phoning/texting Janice — you can use Graph Search to find Mexican restaurants in Wellington. Your results will include listings of restaurants that your friends who have checked in to or Liked.

You can quickly see the implications for marketers. Social Proof suddenly becomes not merely optional but essential — if your restaurant isn’t on Facebook, it won’t be caught in the Graph Search results so won’t even be part of the choice set.

The launch focused on four use cases for Graph Search: people, photos, places and interests.

Forbes, amongst many others, live-blogged these examples as they were announced by Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team:

Searching people: By typing in “friends of friends who are single men in San Francisco and who are from India” in the search box, the search engine highlights those search terms and brings up a list of eligible bachelors for matchmaking purposes.

Searching photos: You can type “photos of my friends taken in Paris” or “photos of my friends taken in national parks.” The searches bring up big tiled photos of the photos in that category. Or you can just search for “photos I like.” This brings in social gestures such as the “Like” that Facebook already has that tag photos and other objects. This is also data that Facebook has that competitors don’t. You can only see the photos that people have shared with you.

Searching interests: You can type in “Movies my friends like” or “TV shows my friends like.” Clearly this section of search has revenue potential. You can also search for “Videos by TV shows liked by my friends” this will bring up just the videos that TV shows have posted. “TV shows liked by doctors” shows that doctors like to watch Grey’s Anatomy. You can also search and see what kind of music people who like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama like.

Searching places: When traveling you can search for “bars in Dublin liked by people who live in Dublin” to get local insider information. Or search for people who have been to Ireland.

On privacy: Facebook has privacy shortcuts in a button on the upper right hand corner. Click on “Who can see my stuff” then photos to see the photos I have uploaded or that are tagged of me. Or you can see just the photos I’ve hidden from your Timeline. You can also send a message to the person who uploaded the photo asking them to take the photos down. For those inappropriate photos.

There’s also a partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine included for information that can’t be found in Facebook’s Graph Search.

We’ll be covering Graph Search and all its marketing implications in our new Advanced Social Media Marketing course (details here).

How to use Social Media for Business: What to Track

Companies in New Zealand and around the world are now starting to use social media for business purposes more effectively, tapping into tools such as Facebook and Twitter, to market their services and to communicate more effectively with their customers.

According to a recent study reported by the Los Angeles Times, around 90% of U.S. small businesses are now using social networking platforms. That’s the good news.

Slightly less cheerful news, however, comes from a study by eConsultancy and Adobe, which finds that there’s little deep tracking going on by those who use social media for business.

use social media for business

One In Five Companies Who Use Social Media For Business Do Virtually No Tracking

You’ll recall the old saying “Half of my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” That situation was almost acceptable in the context of mass marketing, where companies cast their advertising upon the vast watery expanse of print and broadcast media and the only way to figure out what was working was to count the number of sales you made (or, more likely, how often the Chairman was told “saw you on TV” by his golfing buddies) — but when you’re dealing with one-to-one methods such as social media, it’s simply poor business practice not to know what results you’re achieving.

So what should you track?

To answer this question, let’s just focus on Facebook for now. Through Facebook’s built-in Insights tools, you can track:

  • Likes. That, sadly, is where many marketers start and stop their tracking. In our view, that’s a lot like monitoring the number of people who come into your store — but not bothering to track whether or not they buy.
  • Talking About. Knowing this information is a big step up. Social Media, as the name suggests, is all about talking – engaging with your followers, and having them engage with you. Take a look at how many of your fans were actually “talking about” you last week, and calculate that as a percentage of your overall followers. The whole idea, when you use social media for business, is to engage — otherwise, you might as well devote your time and money  to mass media advertising instead, you’ll reach far more people.
  • Reach. Facebook calculates how many people saw your posts, either directly or via your followers. This will be low at first, but don’t worry — one of the first lessons to learn when you set out to use social media for business is that size (of audience) doesn’t matter. Engagement is the key.
  • Sentiment. It’s good to have people talking about you, but if they’re not saying nice things, clearly something’s rotten in the state of Denmark (or Dargaville). Still, it’s better to know when bad things are being said (rather than remain in blissful ignorance) — it may be hurtful, but at least you can do something about it. So how do you measure sentiment (without poring over your own Facebook pages every other moment)? Start with a free Sentiment Analysis tool such as the Chrome plugin offered by Viral Heat, and consider other, more powerful paid options as budget allows.

What else can you track to use social media for business effectively?

As the graph above suggests, Revenue is an obvious measure (and one which will matter most to your CEO and CFO). “Why am I spending so much time on Facebook? Take a look at these sales!”

How can you track revenues and attribute them to your use of social media for business marketing?

  • If you sell online, use a unique web link to send people from Facebook (or whatever social media site you’re using) to your website
  • If you only sell offline, make an offer that’s unique to your social media efforts (eg “free giftwrap when you quote OFFER FB”)

Traffic

Another metric that many of those who use social media for business choose to track: how much traffic was driven from their social media pages to their website. We don’t want to delve into the technical aspects here — suffice it to say that your webmaster (if you have one) will tell you what you need to know about setting up Google Analytics to monitor such efforts.

Social Media Training

If you’d like more detailed advice on how best to use social media for business, we encourage you to check out our social media training courses.We cover a variety of topics, including:

The courses are all online and they provide comprehensive explanations of tracking and the many other aspects that matter when you use social media for business.

20 Ways to Engage More in 2012

If you’re a typical marketer, your tendency will be to use Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus for a one-way stream of information about yourself and your products. #socialmediafail

Umm — they’re called “social networks” for a reason. The idea is for you to ENGAGE with your connections, not simply pour out your own thoughts and ignore them.

In fact, Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm — which determines how visible your postings are to those who say they “like” you — gives priority to posts that are two-way in nature. In other words, the more engaging your content — the more your posts turn into conversations — the more visible they are to your fans and followers.

So, what can you do to engage more effectively through social networks in 2012?

Apart from the obvious — LISTEN to what your connections are saying and RESPOND in a timely manner — here are 20 ways for you to engage more, by constructing relevant, valuable, remarkable content designed to cater to the needs, wants and interests of your audience. Your aim is to add value to your followers, including outbound links to areas that could help them with their goals and purposes.

These are the criteria you need to use to shape the content:

  1. Your message needs to be relevant to your audience — and to their audiences as well, if you want the content to be shared beyond the initial recipients
  2. It needs to be fresh — stale news won’t get past the Delete key
  3. Your news needs to be worth buzzing about
  4. It needs to be exclusive — those potentially sharing the information want to be seen as ’in the know’, ahead of the pack
  5. There needs to be an element of scarcity involved to drive urgency (’only 150 made’, ’only until [date]’)
  6. It needs to come from a credible source
  7. Your product or service needs to be the right stuff (inherently valuable)
  8. Helpful – Does your content help solve problems? “Always be helping” is the new “always be closing.”
  9. Timely – Can your target audience relate to it?
  10. Targeted – Is the content intended to inform those “just looking”, “close to buying” or in the post-purchase phase?
  11. Interruptive – Is there a captivating element that grabs and sustains attention?
  12. Entertaining – Is there a novel or enjoyable aspect that is well-conceived and engaging?
  13. Illuminating – will it lead to “A Ha!” moments for recipients?
  14. Shareable – Does it have a viral quality? Would an influencer want to forward it, or post it?
  15. Progressive – Is there a call to action or “next-steps”?
  16. Versatile – Can it be leveraged across media channels?
  17. Crowd-sourced – Does it involve customers or partners in the spirit of cooperation?
  18. Efficient – Is it concise, perhaps in an effective list format, to offset diminished attention spans online?
  19. Attractive – is it graphically interesting and will it stand out?
  20. Integrated – Does it fit with your existing or upcoming marketing pieces?

You should also regularly ask questions of your constituents, seeking their opinion or input (and responding to them if they give it).

Don’t just treat social media like advertising, you won’t like the results.

PS If you need guidance in how to engage, may we direct you to our social media courses, all of which include a healthy focus on tools of engagement.

Top 100 UK Social Brands

A recent study by social brand consultancy Headstream identified the Top 100 Social Brands in the UK. You can download the full report here, but these are some of the findings that are most relevant:

A. THE TOP TWENTY SOCIAL BRANDS

B. THE INTRODUCTORY VIDEO

A collection of talking heads which will give you a bit of an introduction to the Social Brand 100.

C. TEN KEY LEARNINGS

And here, reported by WallBlog, are the ten key learnings from the Social Brand 100 study:

1. Social brands don’t just send messages, they create value for people and communities.

2 Social brands are happy to exchange rigid control of their brand for greater involvement with people.

3 Social brands manage their brands in a more human context. It is less about the word of the brand guidelines and more about the spirit of the brand, often replacing formality around tone of voice in favour of expressing brand character, values, purpose and cause.

4. The types of content that social brands can create categorised as providing information, utility, entertainment, reward, incentive or something that reflects a person’s character and what they value. Brands are still totems to what we believe, reflecting our personality.

5. Timeliness of response is a critical indicator of social enablement. Social brands are agile and responsive to the needs of people, relishing opportunities as they arise.

6. Being appropriate in social doesn’t mean using a lot of brand outposts. The use of brand outposts is driven by what is most relevant for the community.

7. Negative and positive sentiment is acknowledged and accepted by social brands

8. Social brands create, develop and encourage behaviors that mirror community or individual behaviors. They meet and exceed expectations, often delighting people in doing so.

9. Social brands are true, compelling, authentic and transparent.

10. Social brands simplify their intent and continually act to achieve it. They have established what they want to achieve and ensure everything builds towards this commitment. To be a social brand you have to be a good brand, a good employer, make good products, provide good customer service and have a moral centre to your purpose by those that represent you.