3 Tips to Consider Life Without Facebook

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skynet_FBFor the past several months, I’ve watched Facebook’s changes to paid post reach, content throttling, Mark Cuban’s comments, and the most recent, Facebook “Emotion Experiment”.

There are so many ways to go with this… but one has to wonder just how far Facebook will go and possibly completely caving in on itself. It was never going to be G+ that would “dethrone” Facebook, but it seems that Facebook itself may create its own demise. Either that, or it pulls “a SkyNet”, becomes self aware and launches a full scale nuclear attack against us humans.

I’ll save my personal opinions on the emotional experiment for a chance to discuss them with you over a drink . But here’s my professional opinion on what to do about Facebook as a social marketer:

  1. Start to Branch Out: Maybe you have been focusing on core platforms for a while. It’s time to start to determine what other social media spaces may fit your brand.
  2. Review your Facebook Ad Budget: What could you do with this money if you no longer spent it on Facebook? Consider all or even just a part of that ad spend. What else is possible? Increase head count? Different ads? New directions?
  3. Consider What You Will Lose: Similarly, what would you lose if Facebook went away? Whether or not you decide to limit your Facebook marketing or it implodes on itself, where else can you get what Facebook is giving you now?

In closing, I’m not suggesting that you close out your Facebook Brand Page. But I am definitely suggesting that we all take a moment to consider what life without Facebook might be like.

What’s the Deal with Facebook’s Graph Search?

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ImageSo Facebook has a search function? Hasn’t it always had that?

Yes, but it only gave you search results for profiles and pages – this is a different thing all together. Facebook will now provide search results on all the data contained in your profile, and the profiles of 1 billion other people. If you’ve “Liked” something, it will show up here. Users will be able to search on things like people near them, who like sushi and Star Wars who are single – Facebook might just become a massive dating site, so watch out eHarmony! (seriously – watch out)

Will there be unique opportunities for marketers? Sure, but we really need to get our hands on it to see what we can do with it and learn more about how it works. This is all pretty early in the game.

Here’s what I see as some of the key points…

Graph Search will allow Facebook to monetize results with ads, like Google does. The other key element is that this kind of search is something Google cannot do – Google can’t compile contextual searches like this (Well, it has tried with +1’s but that’s another story). Graph search doesn’t “hurt” Google, but it certainly stands to make Facebook more relevant. These ads may be of real interest to marketers.

There is a danger here – it’s not so much a privacy issue but one of user concern. Users will come up in searches for things that they may have “Liked” (or been a “fan of”) several years ago – perhaps things that they don’t like anymore. Facebook seems bent on the concept of Timeline to map your life from birth till your last status update. Makes sense now. There are of course, user controls to limit or protect your privacy, but it’s never easy with Facebook.

It’s also possible that many users will abandon Facebook – users who originally signed up so they could connect and share with friends and family, who now find themselves caught up in something much deeper than that.

Will this produce new revenue growth to bolster Facebook’s stock price? It’s too early to tell… but it’s clearly designed to do this.

This isn’t a time to be prophetic about whether Graph Search is a “game changer” – but I am looking forward to using it.

One last thing – I’ve seen many posts about this, and I 100% agree that “Graph Search” is probably the worst name for this tool. It just doesn’t sound dynamic or fun – Just about anything could have been better!

Social Integration vs Destination

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LikeI made some predictions at the end of 2012 and stated my advice was to view social as less of a destination for the coming year.

So, what does that mean, exactly?

I’ve seen a number of brands do a great job with social media marketing – but have the “social too” focus. That gets enacted something like, “Like us on Facebook!”, or “Follow us on Twitter!”. It made sense to do this at first, as social media really took a firm grip on how to market your brand and saw rapid adoption and staggering growth.

This led to brands prioritizing their Facebook Page over any other asset. Broadcast TV ads directed consumers to Facebook Pages, not their website. I always viewed this cautiously – as Facebook is a separate entity. Facebook changes all the time, and as I have often said – it’s the fans/customers/consumers who really own social media, the brand is simply providing a structure for them to participate in. Brands don’t own their Facebook user data. Facebook is a completely separate business with its own agenda.

Now – where I’m coming from is to discontinue this practice of using Facebook as a destination. Its simply not enough to drive toward Likes and Follows – drive users towards goals and targets that are integrated into a larger marketing message. Drive them to a reason – to a focused message. Prioritize your own assets – your website, your app.

Social sites are still of huge importance – but what I’m saying is how you strategically integrate them into your mix is the real key. Remember, most Facebook users consume your content through their Newsfeed – and rarely come back to your page. When’s the last time you checked out a brand’s Twitter profile page? And increasingly – all these activities are happening via a mobile device.

So don’t just be “social too” – make social central to how you communicate. Don’t make someone else’s business the destination for yours.

Mark Cuban was Wrong and Facebook is Right

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CMark ubanMany of us have lost our way. It took the Mark Cuban/Facebook story to help me realize it.

Here’s where I’m coming from…

Essentially, Cuban was pissed that he (or the Dallas Mavericks to be specific) would have to now pay a fee per Facebook update – to ensure all that all a brand’s community would see their post. Cuban was upset that he’d have to pay for a platform that was previously free. Now, it’s true that a brand’s updates weren’t previously being seen by a number of its “Likers”, and Cuban did follow-up with an article in the HP further explaining his position on Facebook.

But the key take-aways were that this was a grab for money to increase shareholder value, and that Facebook was decreasing in importance vs. other social sites.

I agreed. I saw this as a clear stab at driving some revenue for Facebook. It made sense. I had also had discussions with friends/contacts about Facebook’s standing in a basic social media strategy – and Facebook fatigue.

Cuban’s opinion made sense to me – it gave me the feeling that my internal Facebook criticisms and client advice that I was giving was not in isolation. I felt validated because I think that Cuban is a pretty smart and successful guy (NBA Championships and billions of dollars tend to prove this).

That lasted a while – but then I realized that I had broken my own rule. Keep social media social.

Here was a major sports brand – upset that it would have to pay (and quite a bit per post I will add) to reach its entire Facebook fan base. I had previously blogged about keeping social media social, that this was not your website – but the fans’ space, that by prioritizing brand posts over fan content was basically a bad idea. If you want to broadcast – use your website. Especially if you are the Dallas Mavericks. Keep Facebook a “fans first” environment. I realized that I had lost sight of this.

Facebook charging a fee (that all your community will see)  per post is good thing – if you struggled for clear sponsorship cost justification, that problem is now solved for you (remember of course, keep sponsored content engaging and fun). This is your fans’ space – not yours, so treat it appropriately. Facebook never should have been the core of your digital strategy – you don’t own it and you can’t control it. If you are overly concerned about your content being seen, you are missing the point of Facebook.

Take this as a reminder – as I did. Use Facebook for what it does best – a daily opportunity to connect with your fans. Talk with them, feature their content, keep Facebook a place for and about them. Be smart about what content you do feature, either sponsored or your own. Don;t forget where you came from in social media – and keep it social, will ya?

The Unified Approach to Social Marketing

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I previously blogged about the segmented landscape of social networks – it’s a niche world now with many valid places to be like Pinterest, foursquare, Instagram, etc…

So brands are now busy in many of these spaces, but I still think the approach is a bit scattered for the most part. There is a way out of this and I’m calling it the Unified Approach, but I didn’t invent it.

The idea here is to encompass all the social and digital spaces into a single entity. Gather up all your assets like Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and locate them into a sub brand that unifies them all. A few sports brands have done this – a great example would be the Boston Bruins DEN (Digital Entertainment Network).

This makes sense for a lot of reasons. It provides an organized approach to multiple networks – fans can choose how they follow their team. But the key here is also how it impacts corporate partner and media sales. If you work in that business, then you know it can be a challenge for sales teams to position and sell social assets; and likewise, clients often require a lot of education on what they are buying and even how to buy it.

The unified approach provides a clear vision of what all these assets represent – but – the kicker is, by combining all your social assets into a single package, you can also position this on the media buy – not just the sponsorship buy. The total of all these social assets can be a significant number and allow you to position this as a media buy opportunity.

The unified approach makes a lot of sense for a lot of brands – and as a last point, I still think you need to pick your spots. Should you participate in all these possible social networks? How do you prioritize? How do you allocate resources to manage it? How can you monetize it?

That’s where this blog post turns into conversation – use my Contact Page if you want to talk about it.

Social Media is Still Social – Isn’t it?

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In doing some regular review of how teams operate their Facebook Page, I noticed how little the teams were connecting with fans.

Every Facebook Page has a button where you can display posts from the Page or the posts from the fans as a default. Very few teams prioritize their fans’ post over their own – this makes no sense to me…

Social marketing should be… SOCIAL.

Teams would counter that their content gets lost in the stream of fan posts quickly.  Social marketing isn’t just about dropping links to the team site. Maybe I’m wrong, but last time I checked, Facebook was all about the fans.

Yes – I’ve preached about corporate sales presence in social media (a lot). And yes, a post with corporate content could get lost very quickly – but who says a single post had any real value to a corporate partner in the first place? Corporate sales needs to be more of a consistent presence/partnership – ideally, well integrated with the brand and fans alike.

If teams find it a problem that their fans are so talkative and engaged with their brand, then I think perhaps its time to return to the basics…

  • Up to 2/3rds of tweets should be @replys to fans
  • Leverage fan content by RT’ing it
  • Comment on Facebook photos
  • Thank fans for their comments
  • Customer service
  • Engaging corporate partnerships
  • Featuring content from fans
  • Providing exclusive content
  • 3-4 FB posts per day (few more on game days)
  • 1 tweet per hour on average
  • Interact with fans regularly
  • Ask for opinions, ideas

Social marketing is a dynamic place – not a static stream of team posts. These are your fans – treat them well. There are other digital assets like your website that are strictly focused on your content. Use social media for what it does best – being social. Build and reinforce those fan relationships and they will be more apt to consume/share your content, buy your product and be advocates of your brand. We call them fans – but they are your customers.

Interview with Boston Celtics Director, Interactive Media: Peter Stringer

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The Boston Celtics have one of the strongest and most recognizable sports brands in North America.

With millions of fans worldwide and a total of 17 Championships, the Celtics also command a huge presence online.  I caught up with Peter Stringer, Director of all things Digital with the Celtics for a brief interview focused on their massive Facebook following…

1. You are one of the most famous brands in sports – is this an asset or a challenge in your social marketing efforts?

This is clearly an asset in terms of amassing an audience in the social media realm. It’s much more natural for people to want to “Like” a sports property, and follow us for updates. There’s a natural affinity built into our brand, and being 17-Time World Champions, that rich team legacy adds to our appeal.

2. How does your current population compare vs. daily users? How many or what percentage of those users are interacting with your Page daily?

Few fans ever re-visit your Facebook page after they “Like” you. In fact, I’d argue most never even see it. They like you by seeing it on their friends’ profiles. So I’m not too concerned about daily interactions with our page. I’m more interested in things like clickthroughs on links and RTs on Twitter. Facebook comments and “likes’ on posts are overvalued as well, I’d say. Most comments are unrelated to the posts, and don’t really represent true interaction or engagement. It may help your EdgeRank score and hence broaden your audience, but I don’t get caught up counting Likes and comments on posts unless a post drastically over or under-performs.

3. The Celtics Facebook population continues to grow rapidly at several thousand per day. Many teams would envy just a day’s growth at those rates – are there any “be careful what you wish for” aspects of this for you?

Well, you have to be very careful with an audience of 5.3 million. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, there’s no going back. So you have to be extremely thoughtful about what you post to this type of an audience.

4. The Celtics Facebook Page features a team store integrated right into the page itself – do your fans purchase from there more than from your website? Does one of those stores have priority over the other?

Celtics.com’s store wildly outperforms our Facebook commerce, mostly because fans don’t end up on your Facebook page unless you direct them there. I think  average social media users are still wary of transacting on Facebook, much like people were reluctant to buy online in the early days of e-commerce. But again, if people aren’t going to your actual Facebook page organically the way they visit your website, you’re not going to sell much there. And the tests we’ve done on in-post shopping have failed to produce sales as well. I think there’s a long way to go before “f-commerce” becomes a reality.

5. The “3 Point Play” tab on Facebook – How well does this work to provide email addresses? Is email a primary focus of your communication with fans or is this a way of gaining some user data from the Facebook platform?

3-Point Play helps us gather data on our Facebook fan base, while offering fans the chance to win tickets to games. I wouldn’t say it’s a communication platform by itself, but by gathering that data, it allows us to identify our Facebook fans, get them into our database, and then continue the dialogue with them via email and special offers, and hopefully turn them into customers down the road.

6. How does your organization handle the duties for social media? Do you have dedicated resources, or do certain people “platoon” these efforts?

There’s a few of us here who handle different aspects of social media at times. But we’ve integrated it into all of our marketing efforts and work closely with various departments across the organization to get their messages out.  It’s a critical part of our marketing efforts.

7. How do sponsors fit into your social media marketing and activation?

The NBA is very restrictive on how we can use social media for partner activation, but you’re going to see more and more team partners across sports being a part of social media. Every partner who comes to the table these days wants to know how they can activate with us across these channels. It’s just a matter of time and the league loosening restrictions, something we’ve pushed for pretty aggressively.

8. What’s in your social media tool kit (mobile device, apps, sites, networks you participate in, etc… )?

I’m a Mac guy, so for me, it’s Twitter on the Mac and my iPhone, and Facebook.com on the web. I still don’t completely trust third party tools, and when you have a massive audience like we do, you just can’t risk getting hacked.

Checking In on Location Check-ins

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Location based media and Check-ins have been called “the next big thing” for a while now.

I have to admit, 18 months ago, I was dismissive. I didn’t feel that location media would catch on and some would say that it hasn’t really. But, over this time, check-in technology has advanced, user bases have grown and times have changed.

Yesterday, Facebook announced a repositioning of location/check-ins on their platform. This is similar to what we see from Twitter as well and seems to represent “where” location is at relative to social networking. Location is not so much a front and center type of activity, but a layer of social information relative to content. When Facebook launched “Places” last year, many felt this was the end of start-ups like Foursquare or Gowalla. And here we are a year later – Places is no more, and Foursquare has reached the 15M user mark and a fresh round of $600M in funding.

So now the landscape of Check-ins positions location as relevant background with social content, apart from Foursquare, where Check-ins are the focus of the content.

The kicker here as I see it is not really a location “issue”, but the growing and established importance of mobile. The very concept of mobile goes hand in hand with location. With mobile internet use due to outpace desk-top use by 2015 – what was once seen as “the battle for location” is really all about mobile.

User value in Check-ins remains in 2 primary places:

  • Deals -“What can I get for checking in?”
  • Status – “Look where I am (sports event, concert, etc…)!”

Keep those two values top of mind and have them guide you when looking to leverage location and Check-ins for sports marketing purposes.

Facebook Contests: What You Need to Know

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Despite an increasing awareness among digital marketers of the benefits and limitations of holding a Facebook Promotion or Contest, I’ve still seen many “illegal” contests on Facebook.

There have been a lot of changes regarding what you can and cannot do on Facebook. Likewise, a  lot of people have a lot of questions about the rules to holding a contest on Facebook – so here it goes:

Rule #1: First and Most Important

You cannot leverage the Facebook platform as a method of entry. No status updates, no comments on status updates, no “Liking” something, no photo uploads. None.

Yes, this is frustrating. These interactive elements are what Facebook does best (!). They were fun and engaging methods of entry that had real strong benefits for fans and brands alike. This is all about liability and privacy issues – somewhat of a sensitive area for Facebook. So, yes – this kind of sucks and this is why many contests out there now are “illegal” – so let’s get over it.

Rule #2: Keep it off Facebook

You may promote your contest or promotion on Facebook but it must be hosted on a 3rd party site (like your website or an app).

There a number of 3rd party apps that comply with Facebook’s rules – the most commonly used being Wildfire. There are several more 3rd party apps available as well. You can of course, host the contest on your own website – this is a good idea if you are looking to increase referral traffic to your site.

Rule #3: Follow the Rules

If you do not adhere to these rules, Facebook may freeze or shut down your page.

Take my word for it – it’s happened to me, this is how I found out about these rules 2 years ago. If you are not following Facebook’s guidelines, you run the risk of having your page shut down. Simple as that. Beyond that, not adhering to the rules makes you look out of the loop and amateurish. Lastly – this is your FAN PAGE. It belongs to the fans – don’t risk it.

Got a specific question? Contact me.

Sponsor and Brand Impact: Photo Tags on Facebook

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Yesterday, Facebook announced that users can tag Pages in Facebook photos. This is kind of a big deal and can provide a profound effect on sponsor activations in the social space.

The first impact falls on your sports brand as fans can now tag your Page in their photos. Consider fans’ photos wearing team jerseys/apparel, or photos in your arena… the ability to tag your team Page layers a new level of visibility and engagement.

The second impact falls on your sponsors. Activations can now involve your Page tagging a sponsor’s Page in a photo – situations like this provide:

  • A passive social marketing opportunity
  • An increase in using images of/with sponsors
  • A greater focus on product placement
  • Cross page promotions – Sponsors tagging your Page on their photos

Up to now, most sponsored activity on Facebook has been located in status updates or tabs. Photo tagging presents a new opportunity to include images as an important asset to include in your social media kit.