Twitter turns 10

Twitter is all grown up! If you hadn’t heard, the social media stalwart turned 10 recently. From a marketer’s perspective, milestones like this are a good chance to more closely examine a particular platform – what do we like? What don’t we like? And is it working for us?

After 10 years, Twitter has undoubtedly become an integral part of the social media landscape. Millions of users – and thousands of brands – consider it an indispensable part of their daily social lives.

As a platform, it’s far from perfect, however. Indeed, it may be the most controversial or oft-debated platform when it comes to marketers and where they allocate social marketing resources. We decided to look at the good and bad of Twitter for marketers:

The Good

  • Passionate user base. While its overall user base dwarfs in comparison to Facebook and Instagram, those who consider themselves regular Twitter users really, really like it. Brands successfully using Twitter regularly find creative ways to tap that enthusiasm.
  • Savvy user base. Regular users tend to be savvier and progressive when it comes to technology and trends. Brands can create a positive halo effect by presenting themselves as savvy and forward-thinking in the same way.
  • Improving content capabilities. Twitter’s come a long(ish) way from the days of 140 characters. While the character limit still exists, they’ve made it much easier for users to integrate multi-media assets like photos, videos and even GIFs into their content. This is particularly important for brands.
  • Potent customer service tool. Brands that really excel at Twitter leverage it as a conversational tool. Moreso than even Facebook, Twitter enables true one-on-one customer interaction, which can be of great value for companies.

The Bad

  • Labor-intensive. Utilizing Twitter well can require a lot of your time. It’s fire-hose delivery requires near-constant monitoring and observation.
  • Short content shelf life. The rapid-fire nature means your social content has a very, very short shelf life comparative to other platforms. This feeds directly into the issue with it being labor-intensive and requiring constant observation to maximize engagement.
  • Relatively small user base. It may be passionate, and it may be savvy, but it’s still relatively small comparative to the other major platforms. When so much of what determines success in social marketing is driven by data and sheer numbers, Twitter’s small audience can make it hard to justify the effort when compared with the outcomes.
  • Steep learning curve. Twitter pales in comparison to counterparts like Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat when it comes to attracting and retaining new users. This is because figuring out how to use Twitter – despite the platform’s best efforts – is still pretty much a nightmare. Those that tough it out and stick with Twitter almost invariably end up loving it. It’s just those are still a small percentage of people who actually try to do so.

As you can see, Twitter can be a dynamic and important platform for brands – but it is not without its challenges. It is certainly growing up before our eyes as a marketing tool through the continuous addition of new features and benefits – but we’re still not sure if it will ever grow up enough to truly play in the big leagues.

Mad science

Marketing, the saying goes, is part art and part science. Good marketing, the saying also goes, is determining how much of each part a client or campaign requires. Social media, it turns out, is becoming increasingly valuable when it comes to figuring out how much science is needed for success.

Of course, amassing and mining all that data used to be a Herculean – if not impossible – task for most in the marketing world. Social media has made the process of data analysis much more accessible, efficient and effective. You just have to know how – and where to look.

After all, each like, share, comment, retweet and regram on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc., adds to the growing, valuable pile of social data attached to your cumulative social presence. Facebook Insights, for example, makes it easy to see and understand everything about your activity and presence. That includes making it easier to answer the questions most commonly asked by marketers:

  • Are we connecting with the right people? Social sites make demographic data of your followers available, which helps to ensure the people you’re talking with on social media are the people you want to be talking with – your customers and other key audiences. Further, they are getting increasingly sophisticated at providing psychographic data as well.
  • What’s generating the most interest and engagement? You can view data attached to the content you’re sharing on a post-by-post level to determine which types of content generates the most engagement among your audience. Better understanding which content is most effective – and which content isn’t – helps you answer the next question.
  • What do we need to change? The additional beauty of social data is that it enables you to make changes or refinements to your strategy in real-time. If we find content that is performing markedly better than everything else, how can we adjust our content strategy to increase its role? Conversely, how can we minimize or eliminate the content that isn’t working? This can apply to every detail and aspect – even to the days and times you post.
  • Is what we’re doing working? Answering this question is the ultimate goal when leveraging social data, and answering each of the questions above, ideally, makes it easier to answer this one. It’s important to remember that this question – and how you answer it – is fluid and ongoing. Set touchpoints on a regular basis (monthly or quarterly) to sit down, dive into the data on a deeper level and reach this conclusion.

Data plays a crucial role in understanding the science part of the marketing game. Social media has democratized the process of compiling and understanding data – and using it to positively impact your overall marketing strategy and business success. That’s where the art comes in.


Getting in the game

It’s Super Bowl week, you guys! While most people get excited about the game, our focus is on the real stars of the show – the ads, of course.

Advertising in the Super Bowl is a wee bit on the pricey side, if you hadn’t heard; an average 30-second spot in this year’s game is now pushing $5 million. This astronomical cost helps to explain why so many advertisers want to get the most out of their spend by creating ads that will go viral, extending their shelf life indefinitely online. It also explains why most brands are eliminated from participating in advertising’s biggest day of the year – well, officially, at least.

This is mostly because a growing number of people don’t just watch the game – and its ads – on their TVs anymore. Increasingly, they’re bringing a second screen (phone, tablet, laptop) into their viewing experience. This second screen enables them to discuss and debate in realtime with their social networks via Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. It creates a conversation around the single most watched that is instantaneous, intimate and entertaining all at once.

It also creates ample opportunities for enterprising marketers. Sure, you may not be able to drop a couple million on a 30-second spot, but you can still take advantage of the most captive audience of the year, using your brand’s official social media channels. Here are a couple of relatively easy ways to bolster your brand during the big game:

  • Offer your opinion. So you couldn’t afford an ad yourself. Big deal! You can still share your opinion on the all the ads shown throughout the game. Use humor to discuss what you like about each spot – and keep a running list of your favorites to share after the game wraps.
  • Home in on hashtags. To take full advantage of the sizable second-screen audience, observe which hashtags are “official” or most widely used, especially when it comes to the game’s ads. This extends the reach of your tweet or Facebook post or Instagram post beyond your traditional audience in an exponential way.
  • Put out a little play by play. Sure, we’re partial to the ads, but some people like watching the game, too! Offer commentary about the game, especially on big plays. As Oreo showed a couple of years ago, you can make a social media splash even when the lights go out.

It may cost you some time out of your Sunday evening, but marketers can score a touchdown for their brands in front of one of those things that are increasingly hard to come by in today’s decentralized media world – a massive, captive audience. And it won’t cost you $5 million.

Chief Executive Cheerleader

Much is discussed about the importance of brands identifying and engaging with key influencers – the prominent customers and other leaders that stand tall in their respective industries – and turning them into social advocates on behalf of its products and services. And for good reason – their support lends an authenticity to your marketing that is hard to produce otherwise. We so often cast our gaze outward when identifying these influencers, however, that we sometimes forget the most powerful ones may be right in front of us.

Creating brand ambassadors and advocates out of our own employees offers significant upside for brands. After all, as this column recently reminded us, employees are a company’s most valuable and important asset. Beyond that, however, they are often regarded as its most trusted influencers.

At the same time, enabling employees to become brand advocates is not without its risks and potential pitfalls. To ensure employees are not just enabled but empowered to act as social advocates, marketers need to make sure employee advocates:

  • Know the rules. Establish an official social media policy for anyone and everyone who may represent the brand in any capacity via social media, and make sure everyone clearly understands it.
  • Know the story. It stands to reason that employee advocates should clearly know your brand’s voice and personality to ensure consistency of voice across all communications and touchpoints.
  • Know the game plan. Educate employee advocates on your marketing strategy – especially the role social plays in it – so they have objectives and goals in mind when developing content and engaging with audiences.
  • Are supported. Creating and/or curating high-quality content that reflects positively on your brand ensures employees are armed with the resources necessary to be consistent, compelling and sustainable in their activity.

The thought of ceding control to employee advocates can understandably make some marketers nervous. Done carefully and with proper planning and preparation, however, turning employees into social story-tellers can be a powerful, long-term marketing tool.

This just in

Where do you get your news? Like, really get your news? Think about it for a second – is it through traditional outlets (print, TV, radio, etc.)? Or are you part of the increasing social_media_desknumber of Americans who, according to a new Pew Research study, get their news from somewhat surprising sources?

Specifically, the study, which surveyed more than 2,000 adults age 18 and older, showed that almost 2/3 of people (63 percent) claim both Facebook and Twitter as primary sources of news for them. These social networks are becoming more than just places to keep up with friends and family; they’re now places to keep up with the world.

Beyond demonstrating the shifting definition of news and underscoring the ongoing challenges traditional news outlets face in this rapidly evolving landscape, the study offers some important reminders and insights for brands when it comes to their own activity on Facebook and Twitter:

  • You are a news source. That may seem kind of scary at first, but it’s actually a marketer’s dream. Remember: You are already an expert in your industry, and sharing industry news, trends and developments with your audience provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and authenticity. Sharing with and helping to explain industry news to your audience makes you a news source yourself.
  • Your content strategy is important. If your content mix right now consists of almost exclusively self-promotional posts, you’re doing it wrong. The easiest way to formulate an effective content strategy is to follow the “rule of thirds,” which says 1/3 of your social content should share ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry. Again, this makes you a news source for your audience in the process.
  • Your social activity should provide value. While it may not cost anything to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, you are asking your audience to invest their time with you, and that’s no small thing. Ensuring that your content mix includes helpful information, clear expertise and insightful analysis in turn ensures that you’re providing a return on that investment.

Breaking news! If your brand is active on Facebook and/or Twitter, you are a news source. And if you follow some basic rules when it comes to your content strategy, you should be very excited about this particular piece of news.

Tear down this wall!

A website is like a work of art.social_media

If you close your eyes and concentrate hard enough, you can just picture a web developer uttering that very phrase.The funny thing is, it’s true. A website can be like a work of art – but sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

After all, when you think of an actual, literal work of art, what comes to mind? Something hanging on a wall…in a museum…behind a rope. Don’t touch!

And for many organizations, this was – and continues to be – how they approach their presence online. Something beautifully designed, to be pushed live once, and never to be touched again. After all, it’s too time consuming and expensive to constantly update or change a website, right?

Slowly but surely, this mindset is changing from one of a static website where form rules all, to one of a dynamic website with integrated content – and a stronger overall focus on function, user experience and value.

This change can bring a new challenge – where do we get all of this dynamic content everyone keeps talking about? Again, it’s too time consuming, expensive, labor-intensive, etc., to be generating content for digital on a consistent basis.

Following this line of thinking, of course, overlooks a ready and current source of content that brands are already active in – their social presence. Consciously or not, too often we build a wall between our official digital presence (i.e., our website) and our social presence.

At first, we thought we could break down that wall by posting links to our social properties from our website – drop a little FB logo on there and link to our FB page. Done.

But that can be a double-edged sword, because doing so actually sends people away from your site – with no guarantee they’ll return. (It’s only a few clicks from your website to your Facebook page to bacon recipes and cat pics.)

The good news: Now, it’s getting easier – and more cost effective – to integrate your social presence and, most importantly, your social content. There is a host of services cropping up that automate the process of truly integrating your social feeds into your website. (We’re partial to RebelMouse, but there are others as well.)

The reasons for, and benefits of, baking your social feeds into your site are many:

  • Use what you make. As mentioned above, you’re already creating this content for your social properties – get as much value out of it as you can. That means leveraging it across all properties.
  • It makes Google happy. Especially compared to a static site or one that is rarely updated. Search engines favor sites with regularly updated, dynamic content.
  • It drives traffic to your social presence. Visitors get a much better idea of your social personality and activity when they can see it firsthand through your site, as opposed to clicking a FB or Instagram logo.
  • It drives traffic to your website. More traffic to your social channels increases the awareness of those channels among people’s connections. The more people become aware, the more they’ll use those social channels as gateways to your website.
  • It encourages audience interaction and engagement. People are more apt to interact with a brand via its social channels as they see how active it is. No better way to demonstrate than by putting it directly on your site.

The time to truly break down the wall between digital and social is upon us! It’s never been easier or more effective. If you’re not fully integrating your social presence into your digital one, it’s easy to get started. Your website can still be a work of art, of course – just one you keep working on.

Automatic for the people

Work with social media long enough – or, not that long at all, actually – and odds are you’ll see ads or promos for sites and services that make it easier to manage your many different profiles and pages. If, like many, you have several pages and profiles to manage, either for yourself or on behalf of other brands, there are many potential benefits to utilizing one of these services. They can enable you to centralize your content management and distribution, for example, making it easier to not only share one piece of content via Facebook, Twitter and your blog, but also track audience engagement and interaction.

robotA feature many of these tools offer is one that, while it may seem at first glance to make the life of a social media manager infinitely easier, can become a serious double-edged sword. And even the biggest brands in the world aren’t immune from the damage it can cause.

That feature is automation. More specifically, many of these management tools enable you to schedule your social media posts ahead of time – hours, days, weeks, months in advance. There’s great convenience with a feature like this, to be sure. But there’s great danger, as well – if you’re not around when a post is published, for example, and it elicits feedback or questions (or worse) from your audience, what message does that send?

Beyond that, there are many who feel that automating social content publishing goes against the spirit (and strategy) of utilizing social as a tool to begin with. The whole idea of a brand using social, after all, is to be present and engaged with its audience. To many, automation takes away that connection – and defeats the purpose of social as part of your marketing strategy.

Coca-Cola learned firsthand the perils of automation this week, through an equally automated but slightly different social media execution. The massive marketer used its ad in Super Bowl 49 to start a Twitter campaign around the hashtag #MakeItHappy, whereby it asked users to share “sad” text followed by the hashtag. A little automated Twitter bot that Coke had cooked up would then take the text and turn it into happy ASCII art in Twitter. All well and good, and certainly in line with Coke’s brand identity of creating “happiness,” right?

For a little while, yes. And then it all went wrong. It didn’t take long, of course, for some Twitter users to realize the opportunity the automated process – i.e., a distinct lack of human filters – presented. Most notably, the online site Gawker took to tweeting excerpts of “Mein Kampf” followed by the hash tag, which inevitably put Coke in the position of tweeting portions of the infamous book. By the time they found out, the prank had spread to virtually all corners of the Internet. Coke quickly shut the bot down, but it was too late. The damage had been done.

The moral? As always, user-generated content is great in theory, but much more challenging in reality – as is automating any portion of your social media experience. Like all things, automation is okay in moderation. Used to excess – as in building an entire Super Bowl campaign around it – is just asking for trouble.

Sure, the manual part of managing social media as a marketing tool is a big part of what makes it challenging. But it’s also what makes it so effective and valuable.

Friendly reminder – You do not own your brand

Well, technically you own it. You hold the copyrights and trademarks and service marks for your logo and name and all that good stuff. What you don’t own is much more important and valuable – the perception of your brand.

You can – and you should – do everything you can to shape and positively impact how the public perceives your brand, of course, but at the end of the day it’s up to them how they view it and what it stands for.

In the “good ol’ days” of traditional media (print, TV, radio, etc.) this was a bit easier for brands to accomplish. Nowadays, however, in the world of social media and real-time conversations with consumers and customers, brand perception is a much more fluid, subjective concept. A brand can devise of a campaign centered on a hashtag or phrase, for example, only to see a concerted effort by a group of consumers or activists derail it by connecting the phrase to negative perceptions of your brand – or worse.

Chevron found this out the hard way recently – and also found out that Twitter is prime real estate for this type of brandjacking, as it’s often called. Unlike other examples of brandjacking, however, what was most eye-opening was that the hashtag (#AskChevron) wasn’t even started by the company.

No, this time, #AskChevron came out from a group of Twitter users that wanted to point a list of transgressions it believes Chevron is responsible for. As you might imagine, the hashtag took off on Twitter, catching Chevron completely off guard as the phrase shot to the top of trending topics on the site within hours.

Chevron brandjacking

What does this mean for you and your brand? While you probably don’t have to worry about a Twitter hashtag trashing your brand going global any time soon, it certainly serves as a reminder just how much the game has changed when it comes to how we shape public perception today – and how much easier it is for those who don’t own your brand to still play a very important role in owning how it’s perceived. What it also means is that hyper vigilance – always being aware of what’s being said or shared about your brand – and reacting when necessary is as important as ever, and will only become more important in the coming years.