Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Uncanny Valley of Social Media

You know it the moment you see it. You get an email, or a Direct Message, and it's friendly, outgoing...and wholly automated.

"Hi /Your Name/!" It says in imperturbably cheerful tones. "Here's what I can do for you!" Build your website presence, advertise your business, get more friends/followers/contacts, whatever. When you don't know that person and you don't need that thing, you just dismiss it as spam and move on.

But it feels even weirder when you do need that thing, or know that person and are creeped out by the lack of real connection between you, that person and the message you're reading. Who is it for, you wonder? Why am *I* getting it?

You are looking at the Uncanny Valley of Social Media.

Automated Social Media seems like the most obvious and helpful tool. One message across all your platforms will reach the most number of people with the most efficient use of your time. But this is where the Valley lives. In the same way that Advertising works better when you invest money in it to saturate your audience with your message, Social Media works best when you invest time to make your interaction with people authentic and relevant.

Your audience will be able to identify automated Social Media Marketing instantly. You, your business and your message go right into their mental spam filter and not only have you missed your opportunity to connect this time, you've blown it for next time too. Depending on your industry, this could be anywhere from minimally damaging to massively so. A website designer is going to have a harder road to hoe to make a connection on the second try than someone who is selling, say, chocolates.
Your "efficient" form of communication may be perceived as even creepier than you intend it to be. Watch this:

In the above video, you know *exactly* the moment you can see that the face is human, and when it is not. The video was created to study what factors people use to understand when a face looks alive. You can understand instantly when that face is an animation and when it is human. Even knowing that you are watching a simulation, it's hard not to be creeped out by it. Equally, even when I sign up for your newsletter, the tone of your communication might indicate to me that there is no one in there. Like eyes, words are incredibly powerful. Sending generic messages, spammish offers of business development help and automating one message across multiple platforms are dead giveaways. It doesn't take a sophisticated user to identify when a communication is fake.

To avoid the Uncanny Valley in Social Media focus on messaging that is actually relevant to your audience and addresses their needs directly and individually. Take time to get to know your audience, otherwise, you're just another 'bot.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Social Media Means Helping Others

It's the time of year when reports of acts of kindness fill the news. Average people reach out to make life easier for other people who are trying to get by, making the world just a little better, one moment of decency at a time.

Social Media is no different. Your Twitter stream is likely to be full of links to non-profits, stories of good-hearted people helping others and celebrities using their popularity to support causes of importance to them.

Popularity can drive passion. The more followers/friends/contacts you have, the more impact a simple request for a donation to a charity can make.

But you don't have 10,000 followers, you say. You can't make that kind of impact. No, maybe you can't with one tweet...but you can if you focus your niche into a cause that resonates with your audience. Using the Social Media you already have access to and no more, you can rally your existing customers into a force for good.

Once again, I offer my other blog as an example. On Okazu, I review books and other media. One of the habits I have formed over the years is to donate some of what I review (and other books I read, but do not review) to my local library. One of the pain points for many of my readers is that their libraries do not carry books they are interested in. Over the years I've encouraged readers to donate their unwanted graphic novels to their libraries, to use Interlibrary Loan to expand their reading and generally assist their libraries in developing strong graphic novel collections. This has expanded into a strong support of libraries world-wide among my readers. For Banned Books Week, I offered any Library that requested it a complete library of all my publications.

I have received emails and comments from people all over the world about their donations to their libraries becoming a kernel of a new collection. And some of my readers have begun buying extra copies of what they read specifically to donate to their library, something my wife and I now call "Feeding the Library." I often add books I might not otherwise get to my orders to give to the Library - and I've encouraged a few local companies to donate books and even DVDs.

Supporting my local library may not change the world, but that's not the point here. If it makes a positive difference in one life, it makes a difference. Like Toys for Tots or giving school supplies, the goal is to make life better for a person. If I encourage the reading, the writing, the artistic endeavor of one person by my donation, I've succeeded. And so can you.

You know your niche. Whether your focus is to be the best sandwich shop in town, the fastest and friendliest tire store, the best accountant, the vet doctor that everyone loves, there's a way to turn your niche into support for a cause that will light a fire in your and your customer's hearts. Run a restaurant? Why not ask folks to contribute to a food donation drive, then lead the way with a gift of your own? Sell shoes? Maybe the local Battered Women's shelter could use some of those left-over stock from last year, or donations of  barely-worn, good shoes for the kids in the Shelter.

The niche you live and breathe every day can become a cause that brings your passion to your customers. You can make a few people's lives a little better and cement your reputation as an important member of your community.

Donate your time, your expertise, or your skills to a cause that means a lot to you and that ties in with your business. Use your Social Media to spread the word of the cause that warms your heart. Build your reputation, your audience and your community up with one act of kindness.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ROI Means What in Social Media?

One of the things that most confuses people about using Social Media is the concept of Return on Investment. Confusion about ROI in Social Media stems from several different areas of the overall process of trying to map traditional marketing tactics to a Social Media model. Today we'll look at exactly what "Investment" you're making in Social Media, so it will make more sense when you think about why (and how) one should measure them and any Return on them.

Money - In reality, there are two major things that can be invested in Social Media. Money is the first.  Whether you hire a Social Media Professional to develop a strategy or Twitter for you, have someone on your internal staff build a Foursquare presence, have a writer blog for you, or put ads on Facebook, you are investing money in Social Media. If you are reaching out to your internal staff, the cost appears to be less, because they are there doing work for you anyway and all that's left is an opportunity cost. But any way you slice it, you're still paying for that work.

Because traditional marketing was based on investment of money, with well-established formulas for marketing campaigns targeted to specific media, specific demographics, times of day, expected number of viewers/listeners, etc., it all seemed rather straightforward.  Any mathematical formula applied across variables will yield *some* kind of number. Online advertising doesn't yet have established formulas, and measurement has to change to account for changes in technology. Since technology is changing at a rapid pace, things like Pay-Per-Click become obsolete as soon as they become standardized. Ultimately what gets measured most are the easiest, least useful numbers.

Throwing money at Social Media will make it easy to measure the investment, but there is no tried-and-true formula to measure the return.

Time - In the currency of Social Media, Time is the Gold Standard. Every business wants to be able to send out a single status update to all their Social Media presences at a single click of the button and have business pour in. But Time is a counterintuitive spend. When it comes to relationships, the *more* time spent, the more you are indicating that this relationship is important to you. Consider the power of a lunchtime chat when catching up with a friend as compared to a holiday-season "update from the Smith family" letter. Which is more authentic? Which do you think shows that the other party values you? We know that we spend more time with people who are important to us than we do with people who are not. The truth is obvious to anyone who has ever received a letter from a company with the greeting "Dear Valued Customer."

Time is the one thing you *must* spend in order to create any sustainable relationship.


Time and Money are the biggest spends when executing any kind of Social Media plan. But they aren't the only things you're spending....

Reputation - When you've been in business for any length of time, you have built up a reputation. When you start to put yourself out there for people to communicate with, one of the first things you are doing is investing that reputation. If you've built an awesome reputation, people will want to be part of your network, to be part of your team. Conversely, if you've got a reputation for avoidance and obfuscation, when you venture into Social Media, you may be taking a gamble that your reputation will make you a target.

Investing in your reputation means you'll have reputation to invest when the time comes to enter the Social Media world.

Creativity - This seems obvious, but almost no one considers their investment of Creativity when they look to create a Social Media presence.  For instance, you may look at your creative team and ask for something cool, innovative, engaging, but easy to manage and measure. And you want it in a reasonable time frame. In order to get even most of what you want, you need to invest a lot of Creativity in the process. There are limitations to hardware, software - and people. Imagining something completely new sounds great, but do you and your team have what it takes to get there? Or are you going to fall short and get something that's easy for you and less functional for your customers?

Consider the amount of Creativity you and your team have to invest before you start to dream.

Stake - Big corporations talk a lot about stakeholders. Stockholders, employees, customers all have some stake in the well-being of a company. Even in your small business, there are more stakeholders than just you - your family, your customers, your vendors all have some stake in your business.

You can leverage this stake if you need to, to invest in your ability to develop, support and grow a healthy Social Media presence.

Before you question what the Return on Investment of Social Media is, know what you're Investing in Social Media in the first place.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Social Media

There are Rules in Social Media.

This comes as a surprise for a lot of intelligent, creative people. They are sure that, mavericks as they are, the Rules don't apply to them. They'll stride right in there and show the pundits and self-styled Gurus what's what. They'll Walk the Walk and show everyone how it's done.

There are Rules in Social Media?

Of course there are Rules in Social Media! For the same reason that walking into a room and screaming at the top of your lungs that your arches in your feet have collapsed, there are simply some things that are not done - whether you use Social Media personally or professionally.

Some of these Rules are written. For instance, in order to create a presence on most networking platforms, you have to register and create a profile. When you first go to logon to that system, you will get a notice saying that you need to do Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3. There will be an agreement you will make about the use of that platform - what is, and is not, acceptable. These are obvious, written rules.

There are also Unwritten Rules. These are, perhaps, more awkward to understand, as they are not specifically stated.

The most important Unwritten Rule in Social Media is - the Point of Being on a Social Media Platform is to Expand Your Network on that Platform.

You may think this is self-evident - why go to a party if all you plan on doing is standing in a corner and not talking to someone? But that's exactly the point. Many people do go to parties and do just that. Why? Because they have some other reason for attending. They may be there out of Obligation (your boss requires you to have a presence on Social Media); Peer Pressure (Your restaurant should totally be on Yelp!) You might even have a presence for Fans to follow you.

Recently, I read an incredible article. It was a head-nodder. Yes, I kept saying, yes, exactly. I saw that the writer was on Twitter and thought how nice it would be to follow them - until I saw that they follow one person. I told the folks who had RTed the article to me and they also were confused by this person's use of Twitter. One person? Why be on a platform whose first and most important Unwritten Rule is to connect with other people?

The author commented that they use Twitter "differently." Ah, I said, a maverick. This is a person who does not need to follow the Rules, because they only apply to other people - thus rendering Twitter into a one-way form of conversation. That person speaks, we listen. That's the second most important Unwritten Rule of Social Media - Be social. It's a conversation, not a monologue. The author followed our comments up with a pretty stiff-armed attempt at intimidation, which convinced us all that the person was an excellent writer...but kind of a jerk as a person.

Which brings us to this third Unwritten Rule - If you act like a jerk on Social Media, expect to be called out about it. Jerkishness is alot like the old adage about a duck. If you seem like a jerk, talk like a jerk, etc... On Social Media, because of the "social" nature, when a person notes that your response was awfully jerk-like, you can expect that other people will take note. Of course you have the right to be a jerk online - no one can stop you from making a fool of yourself in public - but freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.

As a company, you might be tempted to tell a customer to frigging wait, the damn thing was shipped already!, but you won't, because it would affect your reputation. So will following 10 people when there are 10,000 following you. It shows that you are more interested in being heard than in listening. It shows that you are, in other words, a jerk.

Walking the Walk and Playing By the Rules are not mutually exclusive in Social Media. The best use the Rules, both written and unwritten, to develop excellent relationships with their customers, peers, vendors and potential audience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Who Needs to Know About Your Blog?

In descending order of importance, here are the people who need to know that your blog exists:

People who Care About Your Topic

Blog Reporters in Your Field

Major Blog Aggregators

Social Media Aggregators

Search Engines

This seems horribly counterintuitive, because most people will tell you to keyword up so people who are looking for information on your topic will find you through search. But how do you actually rise in the search engines? By getting links to your blog from other, reputable sources.

The people who need to know about your blog most are the people who are *already* interested in your topic. They may be hanging out in forums, on mailing lists, Facebook or Google Groups, Twitter or IRC. Unless you find them and tell them about your blog, and about what it can do for them, they may never find it. Why? Because they are *already interested in your topic.* They have established hangouts and sources of information - they aren't searching for sites or information on the topic. These are the people who would comprise your core audience - if they knew about your blog.

Every industry, hobby and interest has someone, somewhere, collecting information and sharing it. Whether that person calls themselves a reporter or a linkblogger, online journalism has greatly expanded the sources a person can potentially use to learn about a topic. A few minutes with a tool like Alexa, or a Search Engine can lead you to the top sources for information and news in your field. Contact the editor - offer to write a piece on your topic, add some material to their encyclopedia, provide news for their feed or links through Twitter - do whatever you can to get noticed by them. This gets you on their radar and turns your blog into a source of information. News sites and news blogs often have a lot of followers - many only tangentially interested in your angle, but your name will get out there in front of a lot of people who would otherwise never have heard of you - and who *might* be interested if they knew your blog existed.

While you're out there looking for Links In to bolster your search ranking, don't forget blog aggregators in your topic area. Some are automatic, and will scrape your content through your RSS feeds (probably without permission) but others will require registration and/or submission of your blog. These aggregators are surprisingly excellent ways to get attention for your recent posts.

Social Media Aggregators like Reddit or Digg are incrementally useful if your topic is specialized, or you're entering a field with established opinion leaders. For instance, a Mashable post is going to get way more Diggs than anything I write here. It's not an expression of quality, but of quantity. If you have a small, but devoted following, asking them to share your links won't hurt. Don't expect them to bring in a gazillion new followers, but they might bring you incremental growth in people who actually care about your topic.

If you've done all the above - and you've got a blog built on a foundation of relevant content - the final step is a no-brainer. Search Engines will find you, because your keywords and phrases are well-placed, you have links in from reputable pages and people are looking for your blog, specifically. Set the other pieces up and the Search Engine piece will fall into place as naturally as it can. Be mindful of the relative size of your audience, the other sites and blogs with which you compete, so you're not delusional about the importance or impact of your blog on a Search Engine - and don't assume that being on Page 3 of a Search Engine is the end of your blog.

Work outwards from a small core of people who care, to build a solid blog audience that will support you in your expansion. Drop stones carefully into your pond and watch the ripples move outward to create a greater impact.

Project Wonderful