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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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5 Key Facts You Should Know About Messaging Apps

You’ve probably noticed that more and more people are using messaging apps on their mobile devices. You may even have signed up for one or two yourself, especially since Facebook split its messaging capabilities off from its main Facebook app and pointed its members to Facebook Messenger instead.

As it turns out, however, mobile messaging apps are far more important than you might have realized.

Here are five key facts that you really should know about messaging apps:

1. Messaging Apps (combined with other Dark Social sources) dominate social sharing

dark-social

What is Dark Social?
The term “Dark Social” was coined in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal, tech editor at Atlantic.com, to refer to web traffic that comes from outside sources that web analytics are not able to track. Dark Social sources include messaging apps, email and other private digital communications.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that, as traditional social media networks such as Facebook have gone mainstream, consumers have been less inclined to share their personal lives through such public channels. Instead, they have become much more likely to use Dark Social tools to share the juicy stuff with their friends.

In fact, Facebook has, according to a recent report from The Informant, been struggling to reverse a 21% decline in “original” sharing (personal updates) across its 1.6 billion monthly active users.

As the Guardian newspaper notes:

After more than a decade of picking up “friends” – everyone from your BFF to your grandmother to that guy who lived down the hall in your dorm way back in your first year of college (what’s his name again?) – we’ve decided that maybe we’re not 100% comfortable sharing intimate details of our lives with such random and disparate groups of people. Or, maybe we’re just all on Snapchat now – another major anxiety of Facebook’s.

Facebook employees are blaming something called “context collapse”: where people, information or expectations from one context invade or encroach upon another. Despite its elegance as a term, it’s a complicated and nuanced phenomenon – one that evokes norms of behavior, communication, sharing and privacy all at once.

For users confronting collapsed contexts on Facebook, the withholding of personal anecdotes and information isn’t a problem – it is a solution.

For years, Facebook’s strategy has caused regular controversies around user privacy and ethics – blunders that got people exposed, outed and emotionally manipulated along the way. Users seem to have combated the problem by taking Facebook’s own advice, as shared by Facebook’s president of communications and public policy, Elliot Schrage, in 2010: “If you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t.”

As messaging apps have gained traction, they’ve become the first choice of many for sharing information on a much more personal level.

2. Messaging Apps are now more popular than Social Networks

By the beginning of 2015, the top four Messaging Apps collectively had more users than the top four Social Networking Apps, according to BI Intelligence.

messaging-apps-big-4

Most of that growth has taken place since the beginning of 2014 — it’s an impressive ‘hockey stick’ pattern by any measure.

From those figures, you’d get the impression that nearly three billion people are now using messaging apps. No so much — there’s a lot of duplication.

3. Messaging App adoption is spread across multiple apps

Messaging App usage is far more splintered than social network usage, for a very obvious reason: if you’re connecting one-to-one, you need to use the app that your friend/family member uses. Because it’s trivial (and free) to download a messaging app, when you need to connect to a friend who uses a different app, you simply add that app to your phone.

messagingapps-individual

In the old days, people migrated from mySpace to Bebo to Facebook because that’s where their friends were clustering — but that was pre-smartphone. Nowadays, with messaging apps free and happily co-existing on the same device, those who use messaging apps typically have several different apps, with different clusters of friends connected through each app.

4. Young Adults are (currently) more likely to use Messaging Apps

Half (49%) of smartphone owners ages 18 to 29 use messaging apps, while 41% use apps that automatically delete sent messages, according to a 2015 Pew Internet study.

That’s not surprising — as Facebook went mainstream, younger web users were amongst the first to realize that it wasn’t a good idea to post content publicly that they didn’t want their parents to see.

Of course, the desire for privacy isn’t confined to the young, and the messaging apps have plenty of growth in them yet, as consumers of all ages graduate, not just from Facebook but also from limited-functionality SMS texting, to more powerful messaging apps that allow them to share multimedia in realtime, for free (in wifi zones) or nearly free (as part of smartphone pricing bundles).

5. Artificial Intelligence is taking over messaging

“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.” Those chilling words, spoken by the HAL 9000 computer in Arthur C. Clarke’s legendary “2001 A Space Odyssey“, sum up both our hopes and fears when it comes to Artificial Intelligence. We want computers smart enough to understand us and take appropriate action — whilst at the same time we worry about what might happen if they are that smart.

We’ve already seen Siri, Cortana, Google Now and Facebook’s own ‘M’ at work, taking simple steps in response to our instructions. Now Facebook thinks that “chatbots” — AI programs that strike up a conversation with us — represent the best opportunity for corporates to involve themselves in messaging apps. We should note that competitors like Kik, Line and Telegram have had their own bot platforms running for some time, so the concept isn’t exactly new. What’s important about Facebook’s announcement is that the leading player in messaging has now put its weight behind the technology.

At April 2016’s f8 Developers’ conference, Facebook announced that (after running various pilot programs with select businesses) it was opening up its Messenger platform broadly, in beta, to let chatbots into the app on a large scale.

So far, the results from Facebook trials have been somewhat underwhelming:

poncho

So will chatbots actually be beneficial for businesses?

Yes, according to data collected by Daden Limited (based on chatbot usage on websites in the past):

  • “the use of avatars on Dell’s site found that users who interacted with them were twice as likely to give personal information than those who didn’t”.
  • “online campaign featuring avatars for V Graham Norton and Celebrity Big Brother…. generated clickthrough rates of 30%“.
  • “when avatars are used for e-learning content, use of the online courses increases by 400%
  • “Revenues increased by £6,000 a month
  • “Sales increased by 35%
  • “Click-through rates increased by 250%
  • 62% of visitors converted to registrants”
  • “Site traffic lifted and sustained by 200%

In other words, it’s good for the bottom line. So off you go, start building your Cyberdyne Systems bot.

In Summary

Messaging Apps are now an essential component of the digital marketing world. You owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about messaging and how you can it in your business.

If you’d like to know a whole lot more about Messaging Apps, we cover the topic in detail in Lesson Two of our new Social Media Refresher online training course. For more details, click here.

 

NZ Facebook Marketing 2015: June Update

There’s been a lot of talk — and, frankly, a fair amount of doom and gloom — about marketing on Facebook in 2015. The most significant development in that sphere came from Facebook itself, which announced late last year that from January 2015 self-promotional posts on Facebook pages would no longer be shown to Facebook followers.

As we’ve commented previously, that’s both good news and bad news. Bad news because marketers fondly hoped that the fascinating news that they were offering a discount or having a sale would be freely distributed to all their followers by Facebook; good news, however, because the new rules actually require that marketers create posts that are relevant and interesting if they are to be shared.

So, here we are at the middle of 2015. How are we doing?

NZ Facebook Marketing 2015

If we look at how New Zealand Facebook pages scored this time last year versus this year, the answer is: not so good.

Across the 25,603 New Zealand pages we track, just 0.75% of followers were (to use Facebook’s terminology) “talking about” the pages in June 2015, compared with 1.92% in June 2014.

In other words, on average expect less than one in 100 of your followers to be “talking about” your posts this year, half the engagement you might have expected last year.

As always, of course, there are outliers — Facebook pages that achieve far better results. Let’s take a look at some of those pages and see what we can learn.

Most engaged Kiwi Facebook page of all (in percentage terms), at least in mid-June 2015, was the Fox Glacier TOP 10 Holiday Park & Motels page.

This normally unassuming page, with just 647 likes, achieved a “talking about” score of 812.86% – 5254 people were talking about this page, more than eight times as many as actually followed the page.

The reason for this indecent popularity: a single good Samaritan post that was widely shared.

Fox Glacier TOP 10 Holiday Park & Motels

This success is, alas, likely to be a one-off. On the other hand our next example is more replicable. It’s from Kings Sound Centre, whose page enjoyed 367.69% popularity thanks to a series of videos as part of an online talent quest, their NZ Music Month Ibanez Guitar competition:

Kings Sound Centre

For a more sustained success formula, check out ZM Online, whose success (272.82%) derives from multiple posts each contributing to total engagement.

ZM Online Facebook Stats

One common thread that you see across all these pages: these marketers are NOT talking about themselves, surprise surprise!

Media channels such as ZM Online obviously find it really easy to talk about other things that are relevant to their audience, without lapsing into self-promotion. They’re simply doing online what they already do through their own channels.

On the other hand, if we look at some of the NZ Facebook pages that are under-performing the average, we typically find plenty of posts that Facebook has deemed self-promotional and not to be shared (without the advertiser paying for the privilege).

For example, when NZ Breakers writes about products it is selling, such posts only get 9 likes and 1 share (despite the team’s 79,209 Facebook followers):

NZ Breakers

On the other hand, posts about its returning superstars do so much better:

NZ Breakers-2

Similarly, despite 1391 followers, My Little Gift‘s really cute pictures also fell afoul of Facebook’s new rules and attracted just 10 likes.

My Little Gift

Perhaps the toughest task in NZ Facebook Marketing 2015 is faced by retailers (both online and traditional), who’ve been accustomed to posting their new products to Facebook and attracting attention as a result. Now, businesses such as Designer Gear Women are greeted by deafening silence (just a single like for the post below) despite having 6,854 followers.

Designer Gear Womens

It’s not that their followers don’t like what’s being posted, but rather that (under NZ Facebook Marketing 2015 new rules), they’re simply not being shown the posts.

By the way, we should note that the three examples we’ve chosen are simply that — examples, drawn from the 13,836 New Zealand Facebook pages that have less than 1% of their followers talking about them. In fact, these three are much more successful than most, having already attracted thousands of followers. All we’re saying is that times have changed and now new Facebook Marketing strategies are required in 2015 and beyond.

 

So how can you actually succeed with NZ Facebook Marketing 2015?

For you to achieve success with NZ Facebook Marketing 2015, you need to put on your thinking caps and do some serious brainstorming about your content.

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

PS We would be remiss if we didn’t suggest that you check out our Complete Facebook Marketing and Facebook Accelerator online training courses, which discuss in great detail exactly what you need to succeed in NZ Facebook Marketing 2015.

Is OTT Messaging The New Social?

We’ve all become increasingly familiar with the tragic tales of people going for a job, standing for a public position or simply claiming to be off sick, only to be outed by their Facebook posts which reveal their failings, sins and indiscretions to the world.

We live in increasingly glass houses, where our lives are (in the finest tradition of The Truman Show) broadcast live to the world. Even if we avoid posting selfies in flagrante delicto, we can still end up tagged in photos that unflatter us. In the process of sharing stuff with our friends, we’re more and more likely to end up sharing with Google and its few billion acquaintances as well.

We’ve tended to view this is as an inevitable social transition, as the archaic notion of privacy is abandoned in favour of an always-connected “what happens in Vegas … now stays online forever” transparency paradigm. Yes, today’s employers may tut-tut and refuse to hire those whose indiscretions are blatantly displayed online; but tomorrow’s employers, their own failings similarly emblazoned across social networks, are likely to be more tolerant (or so we hope).

What we’re now seeing, however, is a move away from open social networks to the closed user spaces of OTT* messaging applications, especially amongst teens and young adults who are tired of leaving a digital trail which can be seen by parents and employers and by which they can be judged.

* These messaging applications are called OTT (Over The Top), to indicate that they sit on top of the mobile infrastructure, using internet data connectivity rather than the cellular messaging facility, usually at a much lower pricepoint

The move to OTT messaging is problematic for marketers, however, for several reasons:

1. No Clear Leaders

As ReadWrite notes:

“The messaging landscape is fragmented. Teenagers are ditching social media to chat on services like WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat and KakaoTalk. Apps like Kik, Line and Tango are other popular SMS replacements, [along with] Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, GroupMe and Skype.”

2. Advertising May Not Be Welcome

It doesn’t help that service providers such as WhatsApp are saying they don’t want to include advertising:

The people at WhatsApp say explicitly that they “are not fans of advertising.” Because of this, “WhatsApp is currently ad-free and we hope to keep it that way forever.” Are you listening, every other company? Because this is what users want.

Mainstream OTT messaging providers such as Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts will be more sympathetic to marketers’ needs — but first they need to capture a significant market share.

3. Messaging Platforms Are Aiming To Keep Those Eyeballs Engaged

As always in the mobile space, the Asian markets demonstrate the future of OTT messaging platforms. According to BGR:

Mobile apps linked to messaging services are taking over the two most important Asian app markets, Japan and Korea. Today, nine out of the ten biggest revenue generators on South Korea’s Google Play app chart are Kakao apps. It is effectively becoming impossible to launch a major hit in the Korean app market unless you use Kakao’s messaging app as your platform. This in turn means that everyone interested in mobile apps is using Kakao. The messaging app has turned into the dominant platform for game distribution. LINE’s role in Japan is not quite as strong, but games for this messaging app regularly hold about half of the positions in Japan’s top-10 iPhone and Android app revenue charts.

… Time spent on messaging apps is exploding even in markets where games linked to these platforms have not yet taken off. According to The Hindu, people in India now spend 27 minutes per day on chat apps, up from 7 minutes just two years earlier. Many of the most populous countries in the world — China, India, Japan, Korea — have now fallen in thrall of the messaging apps. Their share of the daily leisure time of consumers is rapidly expanding. This will inevitably give messaging app vendors a golden chance to turn into content delivery companies. And to stage a serious offensive against Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Second, revenue growth generated by games linked to messaging apps is unearthly. LINE is now generating 67% revenue growth — between quarters, not annually. China’s WeChat is already on a big, global marketing binge, which has helped it boost its presence dramatically from Italy to Nigeria over the past summer.

Finally, one of the hottest app industry topics in Tokyo [at the Japan Game Show in September 2013] was the expansion of content services that we are about to witness. Over the next year, a rapidly expanding selection of comics, videos and music will start flowing to users of WeChat, LINE and Kakao.

4. OTT Messaging Is Taking Over from SMS

OTT Messaging isn’t only competing with Social Media, of course — it’s also taking on good old SMS text messaging, and (according to an April 2013 study by Informa) it’s already won. Business Insider reports that 41 billion OTT messages are now exchanged every day, compared with 19.5 billion SMS messages.

A late-2012 white paper by McKinsey highlights the key drivers of OTT adoption:

  • Technology Readiness, in the form of 3G or 4G networks; and penetration of smartphones
  • Cost Incentives, with SMS too expensive relative to data charges
  • Social Propensity, particularly driven by smartphone adoption amongst teens and young adults
  • Market share of specific OTT messaging applications

Here’s how those triggers drove adoption in South Korea and the Netherlands, according to McKinsey :

ott-triggers

Do most of these triggers apply in New Zealand? Indeed they do.

5. Blink And You’ll Miss It

As if the proliferation of messaging platforms was not enough to worry about in itself, we’re now seeing the development of content that, like SnapChat, self-destructs. Forbes reports:

[Ephemeral apps, such as, in this example, Frankly, work like this:] send a message, and your recipient will initially see a box of blurred text. Once they tap it, a set timer counts down the seconds till the message has been deleted; sent to the digital afterlife. Chat windows, for the most part, thus stand empty at all times. Each time someone sends a text, they can also tap a black “x” afterwards to take it back, in case they change their mind. The idea is that the sender is always in control.

“Maybe, just as the rise of big data and government surveillance and privacy concerns and the over-curated self images on Facebook, people are saying, ‘I miss the days when I could have a private conversation,’” says Frankly founder Steve Chung. “‘Maybe I’m not saying anything bad, but you and I sit down in a coffee shop and we remember what we remember. When we leave, we don’t have reams of paper that recorded it all.’”

The question then isn’t if people want their messages deleted — plenty seem perfectly happy to keep reams of recorded texts — but whether they want more control over what is recorded.

Other ephemeral messaging services include such little-known names as Wickr, Blink, Gryphn, Ansa, SecretInk and Tiger Text. They’re fighting for market share in a still-developing arena, responding to consumer demand for a little more privacy.

Your messages probably still aren’t safe from the likes of the GCSB, Julian Assange or Edward Snowdon, but at least your boss shouldn’t be able to read them without your permission.

PS We cover OTT Messaging in detail in our new Mobile Marketing course

The “Where’s Wally” Approach To Social Media

We’re more than a little puzzled by the increasing tendency of traditional marketers to think they’ve done their social media job when they add words like “find us on Facebook” to their mass media advertising, without bothering to provide any specific web address (eg “facebook.com/yourbrandnz“).

The reason we’re bemused is simple: the Facebook search engine is, ahem, challenged (no offence intended). Little wonder — with 900+ million members in its database plus millions of business pages, Facebook’s search facilities have a lot to chew through. So unless your brand is globally unique, you’re unlikely to be served early in any search results. As a result, telling consumers to find you on Facebook is definitely like asking them to find Wally in a sea of lookalikes.

Solution? Simple — tell them your Facebook address right there on your advertisement. Yes, it may take up a little more space or time, but otherwise you’re just wasting your breath.

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.