Don’t hate me, bro!

You may have heard the news this week that Facebook is getting ready to unveil a “dislike” button. While the majority of users gave the news a big thumbs up – people have been clamoring for a dislike button on Facebook for almost as long as Facebook has been around – brands were less enthused. Now they have to worry about a deluge of dislikes? Should they dislike the dislike button?

First and foremost: The dislike button isn’t really a dislike button. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in announcing the feature, it’s more of an empathy/sympathy button. There are experiences/news/events people share on FB – the death of a loved one, loss of a job, injured child, etc. – where users want to commiserate, but the like button doesn’t seem appropriate. Now, users can share a frowny-face emoji or click a thumbs-down button, for example, for a “sad” post.

The ultimate goal, from Facebook’s perspective, is to give users more opportunities to interact with each other in more ways. Its goal is not to make it easier for users to trash or disparage brands – it’s those brands advertising on the site, after all, that keep FB in business. Does this mean brands shouldn’t be prepared for the button – should it come to full fruition – to be used in ways other than FB intends? Of course not. Conversely, does it mean brand pages will be overrun with dislikes on each post? Most likely not.

Remember: If someone wants to voice their displeasure with your brand, it’s already very easy for them to do so. They can leave a negative comment on any post. They can create a negative post on your page. They can publish a negative post on their own profile. They can like someone else’s negative comment or post. They’ve always had the means; this new feature – if it comes to be – would be just another way for them to voice criticism or complaint.

On the other hand, it can also be a way for brands to be more empathic, more personable, more human. It makes it easier to interact with their audience on a personal level, in turn strengthening their connection on an emotional level.

So is the dislike button adversarial Armageddon for brands? Almost certainly not. Is it something brands should be aware of and prepare for? It wouldn’t hurt. Can it be another opportunity to connect with your core audience in a meaningful way? Absolutely. And that, ultimately, deserves a big thumbs-up.

Burn it down

Social and digital marketing can often feel like a constant game of catch-up, especially if we feel like we “got in the game” late. We do something because we see competitors do it. We create presences on platforms because someone said we should, and we dive in and start posting without any sense of long-term strategy or overall objectives and goals.

We maintain what we do because the alternative – blowing the whole thing up and starting from scratch – is far too scary.

But should it be?

Sometimes, blowing your strategy up and starting from scratch is the best thing possible for brands. (This great piece got us thinking more about the topic.) To be sure, we’re not recommending you delete your brand profiles across the board. What can make a world of difference, however, is taking a step back and starting from the beginning when it comes to your strategy. Stop chasing content ideas. Stop making it up as you go. Stop keeping up with the Joneses. Instead, stop and start from scratch.

Your next question, most likely, is: what does that mean, exactly? It means taking a clean slate and rethinking everything about your social / digital presence and, most importantly, emerging with a true vision and long-term strategy.

To build out your strategy, be sure to address and answer the following issues:

  • Audience. Who are we talking to? Who else are we talking to?
  • Objectives. Why are we talking to them? What do we want to accomplish with our social / digital efforts? How will we define and determine success – or, conversely figure out what isn’t working and needs to adapt?
  • Lineup. Who’s the pilot and co-pilot of this ship? What non-marketing staff will be available as SMEs and resources?
  • Operations. What is the standard operating procedure for planning, producing and sharing content? How often do we want to post? Who owns the calendar and schedule?
  • Integration. How can we ensure our social / digital efforts are integrating with our overall marketing?

It may sound overwhelming at first, and it can require some heavy lifting at the outset, but reaching comprehensive, consensus answers to these questions lays the crucial foundation for true, long-term strategy. But done right, it can make your team and its output refreshingly efficient, effective and successful.

And it may seem like the only thing left behind when you blow up your current approach is a fair amount of scorched earth. Instead, what you’ll find is a blank canvas – ready for your strategic work of art.

The state of things

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is one of Silicon Valley’s most legendary and prestigious venture capital firms, having helped give rise to some of the largest and most famous digital_icons_lgcompanies in the world, including Google, Twitter, Amazon, Spotify and Uber.

So when leaders at KPCB talk about the future of the Internet, people tend to listen.

And, as she has for the past several years, KPCB partner Mary Meeker did just that, giving her hotly anticipated and widely read annual “Internet Trends” at the end of May. Even though her presentation – all 196 slides of it – is almost overwhelmingly comprehensive and wide-ranging in its topics, there are several trends it touched on that should be of particular interest to marketers, even if they’re not all that surprising:

  • Ecommerce keeps moving to mobile. Our on-demand culture is meeting head-on with our increasingly mobile culture, meaning brands have to get increasingly sophisticated in order to make their mobile shopping experience as simple as possible.
  • The death of email (again). Proclaiming email overwhelming, too cumbersome and, as a result, on its deathbed is nothing new, of course. It’s just that there’s more and more evidence this is the case – take the explosion of internal communications and collaboration apps like Slack.
  • Users generating content in droves. The explosion in smartphones makes it easier for people to create content on the go and share with their networks. The challenge – a perpetual one – for brands is to monitor, capture and share high-quality content, which gets more and more difficult as the number of content-sharing platforms continues to grow.
  • Speaking of content, a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to writing, millennials are all like, “whatever.” It’s no coincidence that the explosion of visually driven social networks – Vine, Snapchat, Instagram – has come as millennials came online en masse over the past several years. So it’s important for brands – especially ones with younger audiences – to understand that content isn’t just the written word anymore. Indeed, it’s often anything but.

You can view the full report here – as always, it’s a deep dive and very educated guess into what the future holds, especially for marketers.

Are you prepared for armageddon?

Most people are calling it “mobile-geddon,” to be more precise, but it’s the closest thing to a doomsday scenario for folks in marketing land to have to encounter in a long time. mobilegeddon

What is mobile-geddon, and how can you tell how big its impact on you may be?

It’s a major change Google began implementing this week to the algorithm it uses to display search ranking, specifically on smartphones and mobile devices. Through this update, sites Google determines to be more “mobile-friendly” will get better rankings in searches done on smartphones and other mobile devices.

“Big deal,” you may say. “That’s not really a ‘-geddon’ of any kind! It’s only for searches done on mobile devices, after all. That’s still only a tiny portion of searches overall, right?”

Not so much. The share of total search done via mobile is growing exponentially; in the final three months of 2014, for example, 29 percent of all U.S. search requests were made on mobile devices. And, for certain businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, clothing/apparel, and just about any other kind of retail/brick-and-mortar – mobile search is of vital importance, as an increasing amount of people use their smartphones to compare products in stores and look for restaurants nearby. Beyond that, with the continuing growth of smartphone usage and our increasingly mobile lifestyles, this will become more and more important to more and more companies regardless of their industry in the coming years.

So what is Google looking for in mobile-friendly sites?

  • Designs that load quickly on mobile devices
  • Content that’s easily accessible by scrolling up and down – without also having to scroll to the left or right
  • If a site features buttons for making purchases or taking other key actions, said buttons should be easily identifiable and touchable on smaller screens

Click here to see if your site’s mobile-friendly.

The question, then: Will my site be reduced to the nether regions of the second page of Google search results by mobile-geddon? Google actually makes it easy for you to get an idea of any impact the changes may have. And if the changes look like they’ll be big, Google also has a handy step-by-step guide to get your site on the right side of the law.

For a lot of brands, it’s big changes like these that may be the “inspiration” they need to understand what people mean by the mobile revolution – and to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Do you know your peeps?

For marketers, positive word of mouth + social media = BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. influencer_marketing

This equation should come as a surprise to just about no one these days, especially to those who work in marketing and brand management.

Most marketers get the social media part of that equation, too, as we continue to better understand and appreciate its power as a platform for communication and engagement. Where we still often find challenges, however, is on the “word of mouth” side, especially when it comes to identifying who the most important mouths belong to.

Any positive word of mouth is a net positive for brands, of course, but not all word-of-mouth is created equal. Where it can really pack a punch, and where it can scale through the reach of social media, is when it’s coming from not only your biggest fans but your most influential ones as well. Simply put, making a positive impression on influential people can make an exponentially positive impression on your brand – and your bottom line.

The studies underscoring this premise are numerous. A recent one, for example, found that 92 percent of consumers turn to people they know for referrals above any other source. Still, generating word of mouth in a strategic, systematic way can be a tricky concept for many brands to get their arms around. To help, the study identified two types of strategies marketers can use to bolster their brands via social:

  • Influencer marketing: Here, marketers seek out and partner with people who have large following on social media and whose interests/focus align with their products/services
  • Advocate marketing: Here, a company leverages the collective power of its most loyal consumers, its employees and other partners to drive a common narrative and positive perception of products and/or services

While there’s some overlap between these two, more important are the areas where they complement and strengthen one another. As the studies referenced above indicate – and as many studies before them have done as well – there’s nothing quite so powerful and potent for marketers as a growing, organic wave of positive perception via word of mouth.

Knowing the potential power of word of mouth backed by social media, the question becomes, do you know who your brand’s influencers and advocates are? If so, how do you engage them? And if not, how do you start finding out?

Of mobile milestones – and momentum

Whether the smartphone/tablet revolution has made it easier for us to live more mobile lives – or whether our increasingly mobile lives have created the need for the social_tablesmartphone/tablet revolution, one thing is clear: our society is at once both a mobile and a connected one.

This is, by and large, a very good thing. Staying connected is important for us, both personally and professionally, and we greatly value being able to carry our digital experiences with us in the palms of our hands. At the same time, the momentum behind mobile means many, many things we have traditionally used via our desktop or laptop computers are moving to our mobile devices – and that includes something very near and dear to our hearts.

We speak, of course, about advertising – and mobile advertising is prepared to hit two significant milestones by the end of 2016:

Taken on their own, each milestone says a lot about the incredible growth of mobile advertising. Put together, it’s a serious statement about how the digital advertising landscape is shifting right before our very eyes.

Mobile advertising brings with it any number of challenges for brands, to be sure, but also offers up a number of promising opportunities. More than anything else, it forces us to think differently about advertising – people are interacting with brands on the move, on a small screen, held in their hands. More often than not, what we think of as traditional advertising – even in the digital realm – won’t work. It may not always be the easiest thing to start from scratch when thinking about how to advertise in a paradigmatically different platform – but it may just be the thing we most need.

Mobile advertising is coming – and it’s already here. Is your brand ready for it?

Who do you think you are?

Now, don’t take that the wrong way. We’re not asking this question in the sort of accusatory, defensive way we often associate with it. Just the opposite, actually. clarity_sm

We ask because it’s such an important question to begin with. We ask because we care. Perhaps the better question to ask – and answer – here is, “Do you think your customers know who you are?”

Social media is a powerful marketing tool for any number of reasons – not the least of which is that it provides a platform for your brand’s personality. This assumes, of course, that you know what your brand’s personality (or voice, as we can also call it) is. We’ve talked about the importance of developing personas for your customers before, and the exercise – and its importance – is no different when it comes to you.

Just ask yourself – “What is our brand voice?” What type of language and overall personality comes through in your Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, comments, replies, etc.? Is there consistency? Is there character?

If you’re like a lot of organizations, you may have a vague sense of what the answers to these questions are, but don’t have anything concrete and official in place. Or worse, your brand voice on social is that of whatever intern or first-year employee you have managing your social presence.

The easiest way to avoid this type of brand cognitive dissent/brand disconnect is also the most effective: Sit down and define it. Take 30 minutes and as comprehensively as possible, define what your brand voice is – or will be from that moment forward – throughout its social presence and all touchpoints. List out 3-5 personality traits (happy, friendly, helpful, etc.) you want to come through no matter where someone interacts with your social presence. And once you do commit it to memory and make sure everyone in a position to act as a representative of the brand on social is completely and clearly aware of it.

It’s important to understand your customer personas. It’s no less important and valuable to define and understand your brand’s persona. After all, it’s much easier for your audience to know who you are once you truly do.

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.

New Year’s Revolutions

It may be because it’s the new year. Or it may be because CES has been dominating the news all week. Or, and perhaps most likely, it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, we’ve been thinking a lot lately about what trends and developments will dominate 2015 – in the world of marketing, to be sure, but in the technology that makes those trends possible as well.

2015With that in mind, we were inspired to pull together a quick list of a couple big things for marketing and digital technology in 2015 and beyond.

Get smart. From belt buckles to HVAC vents, anything and everything is going smart, i.e., connecting to the Internet via WiFi and making adjustments to themselves as they “learn” your preferences, habits and routines. While some may be of very limited value in terms of actual impact on your actual life, they all combine to emphasize the growing notion of us always being connected to the “Internet of things” (which we’ve also talked about).

Who are you wearing? Fitness trackers have reached that weird equilibrium where they’re both exploding in popularity and still barely scratching the surface in their potential reach and market share. If CES is any indication, wearables will only get bigger in 2015.

Going mobile. If it sounds to you like the third or fourth year in a row where “mobile” is the next big thing, you’re not alone, and you’re not imagining it. That being said, mobile will continue to grow – especially in the shift of ad dollars and marketing budgets.

And going native, too. Speaking of marketing budgets…native advertising (or brand journalism, as it’s also known) continues to grow in prominence. This is both a cause and effect of the shift to digital among many marketing budgets; because of this, brands are looking for new, engaging ways to connect with consumers, in addition to their traditional digital advertising efforts. This also underscores the importance of content strategy.

As always, the question becomes, “What does this mean for me and my brand?” And, as always, the answer is, “It depends.” For marketers, the most relevant of these may be the growth of native advertising and, more importantly, how it underscores the importance of a solid content strategy. Consistently generating high-quality content, after all, provides brands much more flexibility and possibility in what platforms you use to leverage it (such as mobile).

Beyond that, it is always important for brands and marketers to know what trends and developments will impact their world in 2015 and beyond.

Plus, it’s fun to think about wearing a smart belt buckle. Or maybe that’s just us.