Thursday, December 15, 2011

Social Media Predictions Beyond 2012 [pt. 2]

"I figure lots of predictions is best. People will forget the ones I get wrong and marvel over the rest." ~ Alan Cox

With a few basic top-level predictions earlier this week - namely brands beginning to better understand social ROI, integration of shopping functionality into social channels, and web 3.0 and the semantic web doing our discovery and finding our markets for us - let's take a look at a few more for the coming year (and for the future of social media and the Internet in general). It's fairly safe to make predictions this year, as apparently the world is going to end before I'm proven wrong. Here goes:

Pitiful excuse to use a picture of extreem awesomeness.

Social Gaming, and Gamification

With games like Farmville attracting millions of users and creating billions of dollars in revenue, it's not surprise that the social gaming industry is huge. Around 60 million players strong in the US alone, and growing daily. One in five Americans from the ages of six and upwards currently take part in some sort of online social gaming platform. Revenue possibilities don't only look good, they are the sort of 20ft barrel throwing gorilla we just can't ignore. In 2009 social gamers spent $2.2 billion on virtual goods. In 2013 it's expected to hit over $6 billion.

Looking at this another way, being on a diet is now a social game. We are encouraged by our peers and through input by friends and relatives. ”I ran 5 miles and burnt a bazillion calories” is now a common thing to see from a friend in our streams, and we give them a quick casual click to say well done, point, "go you". Facebook is encouraging this still further with it's new integrated apps and imminent 'Timeline' (legal problems pending) and Google+'s inherent games platform.

A lot of iPhone and Andriod apps seamlessly connect to our social profiles, almost by default, and let us keep track of our progress as well as share the data with our friends. We want to share our achievements, and there's a certain 'gamification' that bridges social and real world together almost seamlessly now.

Social gaming is definitely growing, but more brands are going to cotton onto it. Already we're seeing growing game sponsorship, especially by the entertainment industry, and free sharing applications based on achievement (all sponsored by brands).

Even Klout is a form of social gaming, gaming the channels themselves, and it's possible we'll see a call for regulation in 2012 and for an 'independent social standard' in this area to fight current skepticism of such metrics.


All serious social channels have a mobile component. Smartphone access to our channels is in our pockets 24/7. There's 160 million Apple iDevice users and 152 million Android users. I've personally posted photographs to Facebook (and Twitter) from just about everywhere, and logged into 4SQ from the top of the highest peak in the UK. I love Instagram (and it's coming to Android any day). Network coverage is growing, functionality is growing, apps are getting more affordable and the internationally accessible skill base for developers is growing. We share our lives, immediately as they happen, via mobile. We share our experiences of products and places, immediately as they happen. If we want an app it's within our reach to build our own, and we can already see a massive shift in the time spent on social networks on mobile devices. This is going to continue to rise. Soon, word-wide, the majority of people will experience the World Wide Web in their hand, and not their desktop or in their lap.

Imagine combining our geographical location and with added Web 3.0 targeting. Imaging that Mall scene out of Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks into the mall and the advertising knows who he is, but instead your phone is receiving push notifications when you're in a certain geographical area with products, deals and services that are targeted just to you. Imagine quickly sharing that with your networks. Delivering advertising based on your geo-location AND your interests could be gold, both together. Ok, maybe not so much in 2012 but we're getting closer (Japan is way ahead of the game) and it's only just around the corner.

Starbucks and others are already using smartphone technology to allow you to make payments. We should keep an eye on this for sure. The Google+ app for Android has a mobile payment system, which could open a wealth of possibilities for shopping and payment.

The age of the all purpose Star-Trek Tricorder is with us NOW, and it's growing. Just wait 'till India catches up, which brings us on to...


Right now there are 860 million social network users, and growing. Anyone can set up a social channel. It's part of our every-day and integrated into our routines. Look at the London riots – from coordinating clean-up to coordinating unrest – it's part of life now...

India and other countries and catching up. Wi-fi and 3G, soon 4G, are everywhere. More an more people will get access, and the world is multi-linqual. The point of social is it gets people talking, from the scientific community to hobbyists, and this will continue to grow and people will find new ways to use social media that we just don't expect. It's social. It's the best and worst of us (well, those of us who have access) as a species, and the number of people getting access to connection and technology is growing by the hour.

Changing Channels

Sort of obvious really. Things will become more popular, and less popular, and things will stay the same. I know, I know, but it's true.

Sure we can make some broad sweeping statements. Google+ will get integrated into EVERYTHING Google does in a very obvious way, but will grow slowly. Facebook will still rule the playground, but be prepared for supersaturation and further security related back-lashes. Tumblr will grow in popularity. Traditional blogging will get less prevalent, but increase in quality and retain it's SEO value.

On the whole we'll still have to monitor audiences closely, but be sure they will change and the channels will keep moving the goal posts. The only thing we can do is be vigilant, maintain strong standards, and be true to our friends, fans, and followers by listening.

So there we have it, combined with the post earlier this week that's my top-level guesses for 2012 and beyond.

Oh, also, just to put your mind at ease, I very much doubt the world will end and I'm prepared to go on record saying that. If I'm wrong, who'll be around to hassle me on Twitter about it?

I'd love to know what you think, and if you see any top-level patterns forming you'd like to add?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Social Media Predictions Beyond 2012 [pt. 1]

"The groundhog is like most other prophets; it delivers its prediction and then disappears." ~ Bill Vaughan

It's that time of year again when we have to dig out our crystal balls and do the obligatory blogging of predictions for next year. As a futurist, here's a few top-level guesses based on the technology, trends, and the direction we're naturally drifting, for 2012 and for the future of the social web:

When this baby hits 88 miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious shit.

Brands 'Get' Social ROI

Companies are going to start understanding one of the core elements of social media. Sure, they do 'a little' already, but be prepared for every niche commodity and his dog to see the light of day. They have to or they'll fail, and watching those of us out here making the headway is going to educate them. If they don't get it in 2012 they'll miss the boat.

Social media ROI is not about numbers of followers, it's about engagement, evangelism, and good will. Businesses is going to genuinely start to see the real opportunities of letting B2B and B2C customers behind the curtain and the advantages in sharing what they do.

In the very near future just about everyone will be able to see a place for themselves in the social space. They'll realize that ROI depends upon what you are trying to accomplish with your social media campaign, and that channels are a tool toward accomplishing that. Social CRM will go 'prime-time', and I'm glad we're already here.

Online Shopping

All the digital heavyweights are making a play for your living room. Apple, Netflix (especially in the UK), Hulu, Amazon, Google...

It started with Warner Bros. offering The Dark Knight through its official Facebook page, and now brands are really starting to see the real results driven value in having a custom eStore in their social channel.

Look at Starbucks. They have a captive audience of nearly 27 million people in Facebook. They add one tab, that's a lot of coverage. Who needs to direct people anywhere else? There's less and less need for a destination site when there's the potential for people to click away by clicking on yet another page. Why not do it directly in the social channel? We've built store fronts for clients selling everything from souvenirs, to wine, to concert tickets and it's always boosted sales massively.

In the next year your favorite social sites are going to become some of the major channels of future online shopping, maybe (eventually) even giving Amazon a run for their money. Even better if we can gather recommendations from our friends and get trusted input in our purchases. As reported by Internet Retailer, an online study showed that a massive 68% of consumers with Facebook accounts say a positive referral from a Facebook friend would make them more likely to buy from or visit a retailer. The future of social-shopping is very bright indeed.

Social is an integral part of the marketing mix, and the big companies will be leaning on it more and more to keep their customers in-the-loop. Best Buy, Macy's, Target, and Wal-Mart publicized their Black Friday deals early to their Facebook fans. Amazon and Toys R Us ran contests, giveaways and flash sales to coax consumers into "liking" their Pages. Best Buy created an event page for Black Friday and got nearly 28,000 people to RSVP as "attending." The future is shopping.

Web 3.0

The back-bone of the web is changing all the time. Flash is on it's way out. @​font-face is on it's way in. HTML5 is going to get more widespread and designers will find ways to make it rock our world (for better or worse). User experience will continue to grow as a paramount concern. These are technical certainties, but it all goes far beyond the code we see on the surface.

Web 3.0 will be, for want of better description, a self-aware web. Already, if we 'opt-in', we have an integrated social media experience. We tag pictures, register our thumbs up with e-commerce sites and publish them to Facebook, we have our Twitter feeds publishing on our Linked-In and Facebook profiles , we give a casual +1 to a button on a niche site about the new Avenger Movie and Google might soon be generating us a Spark for Marvel Comics.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are collecting this (and other) information about each any every one of us: Our likes and dislikes, our interests and preferences. A massive, and some might say scary, amount of data attached to each and every one of us. This, as defined by the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, Tim Berners-Lee (who coined the phrase), will be called The Semantic Web. This is Web 3.0, where machines will become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers.

Soon, we'll not need to search for information in the way we do now. Instead, data is going to find us based on the collected pool of information about us. 2012 will see the web, no doubt driven by search giant Google, moving more and more in this direction. It's all about the data, and if we embrace it without a skeptical back-lash the right information will be served to the right people at the right time, saving us all a lot of effort and energy. Imagine the applications for this within, and because of, social channels. The semantic nature of social networks is going to allow us almost unimaginable targeting to whatever we see as our perfect demographic.

We are going to have amazing targeting power in the future, and 2012 will move us closer. Just look at Facebook Social ads, and that's only the beginning.

Anyway, that's a few to begin with, more in Part 2. As per the groundhog, I shall now disappear.

I'd love to know what you think, and if you see any patterns forming you'd like to add?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Bit of DIY

So this weekend I made the big push to get the first part of the standing desk sorted. I took a good look at what I had and worked with it. No point spending a fortune or rearranging my whole work environment if it's going to cripple my back or not be practical.

A good place to start seemed to be with the existing shelves in my office. I don't have a lot of room, but I can squeeze a running machine in if I want to.

I found a couple of chunks of good solid mahogany in my dads shed (I was going to go down the route of welding extra bits to brackets but it turned into a faf so I ditched that idea and dad suggested wood) and spend a tenner on bolts, a bit of shelving board, some cheap beading, and some screws.

After I attached the beading (with wood glue) I resined the whole thing (plug for my dad's website at UK Epoxy Resins, cheers dad) to seal it (in the certain knowledge that keyboards and desks gather more dead skin than a George A. Romero film). A bit of drilling and it all went together fairly painlessly. I'm not that practical when it comes to DIY, but measure-twice-cut-once served me well as a manta and it wasn't rocket science.

The biggest problem was space. I've lost one long shelf (that was 90% marketing books and Doctor Who stuff) plus desk access etc. My office isn't exacly cavernous and there's the 'European action figure and plastic tat mountain' in there. A lot of juggling and shuffling went on for another day just to find a space for everything, which I eventually did. The cat's not chuffed - but it's not exactly a rent payer - as it's now relegated to the window ledge. I did gain the space under the desk and a few other cubbly holes, which I made the most of with some serious Tetris skills. It's all still a bit jumbled, but it'll do for now so I can crack-on with work.

Anyway, it's done and tomorrow's my first day standing. Will report back on how that goes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Social Authority and SEO

15 years ago when I first worked in search engine ‘submission’ (it wasn’t called ‘optimization’ back then) everyone wanted to be on Yahoo, Lycos was our faithful search hound, Jeves served up 'natural language' search, and getting a client listed on Dmoz was like getting a hole-in-one. That all changed with the advent of Google, and it became about bots, spiders, algorithms, and we never looked back. That was then, this is now. Things have changed, but the priorities are still the same.

I get asked a lot about SEO and social media, especially by my old industry colleagues, and the dependencies involved in taking advantage of social for SEO. There’s a relatively new (and underrated) concept called ‘author authority’ (or ‘social authority’ if you’re Bing) that acts as SEO for the social space, and it’s well worth paying attention to.

So how does it work? It’s a fairly simple metric (as to be honest is all SEO, if you know the equation). We can learn a lot from traditional SEO methodology and tactics, and social can have a real impact on SEO in return.

The core of ‘author authority’ relies on a link from a social media profile being initially rated depending on the account (or profile/person/business) that’s posting it, and how ‘authoritative’ that account’s deemed to be. This is just like ‘PageRank’ (in SEO terms) and ‘domain authority’ used by Google to determine the quality and reach of one website linking to another. ‘Authoritative’ seems something of an abstract concert, but here’s how it could be defined in the social space based on my/our SEO and social experience:

Within Twitter you can easily see the number of followers a profile has, and the number of followers the accounts that follow the account have (plus the ratio of followers to people the account is following). Add to this simple metrics like the age of the account, how many times a day it posts, the number of lists people have added the account to, and the reach of the account (perhaps how many times it’s retweeted and the reach (total follower numbers) of those retweeting it). Then look at the network of the other accounts around you, notably the ones who follow you and their calculated ‘social authority’. All this plays a part.

Are we talking Klout score here? Well, maybe something similar, and fostering relationships with your industry leaders has obvious benefits in the distribution of content as well as boosting link ranking, but there are other factors to consider if you want social to benefit your SEO and SEO to benefit your social.

If these factors are important in ranking the ‘authority’, then this is an easy comparison to how the big search engines rank SEO values, and therefore how they value what we share in social channels. We can, tentatively, take this analogy a bit further and examine potential common elements between SEO and social media:

  • Popularity - It’s conceivable this could also be the actual popularity of the link itself. Not only by occurrence and distribution, but also by it’s relation to the stored PageRank and popularity of it’s destination and potentially by ‘likes’, 1+’s, click-through rates, retweets, ‘shares’, and other peer distribution systems. If it’s tweeted to 10000 people, 500 of whom pass it on, this is going to be a flag that (based on a 5% referral rate) the link is popular. The same can be said for ‘other methods of sharing in other channels. Different social channels affect different search engines – Bing likes Facebook, for example.

  • Relevance - In SEO there’s greater credence given to an inbound link from a relevant website (i.e., it being from a site that’s on the same or a related topic) than one from a non-relevant website. It’s likely this also applies to links in social media. For example, if you are a vineyard looking to foster social media links to positive reviews etc., then links from profiles mentioning wine (with associated domains related to viniculture and from people who regularly post wine reviews or talk about the industry) are likely be considered of more valuable than links from general profiles (who usually have no relevance to wines and spirits).

  • Text (and possibly text weight) – this is classic old-school SEO. I shouldn't really use the word 'keyword', which are technically a field or tag in a pages code, but I will to demonstrate the concept. We use this tactic for clients all the time when writing blog posts, and weight titles and linked text accordingly. There isn’t usually a lot of text surrounding a link in social media, especially in the likes of Twitter, so we need to make the most of it. There’s a little more for us to play with in Google+, linkedIn, and Facebook. It’s fairly safe to assume keywords play an important part, even in this reduced textual real estate, and that search engines will use the links surrounding 'keywords' (and the overall subject matter usually addressed in the profile or other architecture) to further determine relevancy. In traditional SEO text weight also plays a part, essentially the number of times a keyword (and potentially, in social media, other associated on topic concepts) are mentioned. Thinking about keywords and their incorporation, not just when writing the likes of a blog post and especially in channel creation, is going to be critical for the long-term future of your social media efforts.

  • Link-building - in SEO this is a widespread tactic. Basically, 10 links from 10 different sites is far better than 10 links from the same site. It shows ‘variety’. We can assume the same applies in the social space, and 10 profiles posting a link is better than one profile posting it 10 times. Social media is perfect for link-building, and I now consider it essential in any long-term SEO campaign. It’s easy to see the appeal of social media to those trying to bolster their traditional SEO efforts. Naturally the more relevant and higher profile the links, the better.

Achieving a high level of traction on social media platforms, particularly if that traction comes from profiles with a high ‘author authority’, can have a real long-term impact on your search engine rankings - not to mention your website traffic and core objectives. Just like traditional SEO the fostering of relationships and building of connections can’t be faked. If you’re looking for a quick SEO boost social media isn’t for you. It takes time, effort, and real communication. This is a long-term tactic (unless you’ve got access to lots of high authority and relevant social accounts), but for those invested in their consumers and social media, if done right, in my experience the SEO benefits can be very real indeed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

What Google+ Means for Direct Marketers

The tools may have changed, but the song remains the same.

The Web is now personal. VERY personal. Everyone is a content producer, whether they realize it or not.

Google realizes this. Google's deal with Twitter has run out so it no longer has Twitter content in its search, and Facebook is giving content to Bing, so Google needs its own source of social from which to draw content and, most importantly, in which to embed its advertising platform (AdWords).

Google knows personal recommendation is important, and so do we. It knows business has to have its place in any new channel in order to generate advertising revenue. Google, still the search king, knows it needs to sell advertising, and that Facebook social ads lead in the social space. Google, just like those of us in one-to-one marketing, realizes it's all about people. Because of this, Google has built its own social network: Google+ (which is now open to everyone, no invite required).

Everyone is posting links, sharing content, making recommendations, telling their friends about the good and bad in their daily lives, about the great coffee they just had, about the lousy service at the hotel they just stayed in, and about their love of a million long-tail niche hobbies and interests (perfect for generating ad revenue by displaying relevant opportunities along with the public message). The basic principals are there across every tool and channel.

Strategy should not be based on tools like Google+. Strategy should be based on business objectives. Tools like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are, as appropriate, a means to achieving business goals through communication, but are not strategies in themselves.

Content is king, even today, and the not-so-secret sauce is in the message and what you do with it. That's not going to change for direct marketers anytime soon. Research, engagement, listening, measurement, creating good content, fostering relationships, these remain the same. What is changing is the opportunity, and how you can use it.

When people choose to be a part of your community, it's important to give them something in return. They are letting you into their Google+, Twitter or Facebook streams, and it's critical to give something back. That may be as simple as offers, entertainment, a behind-the-scenes look at our brand, 'secret' knowledge, breaking news, etc. but should always be human and engaging. You still have to generate genuine opportunities to get your community talking and sharing. A community should feel that it is being heard and that, when opinion is sought, it is being acted upon. Being inclusive, and being personal, is being social. These are the fundamental principles of communication, and regardless of your goals or the delivery method they're key to good community. That's unlikely to ever change.

We can bet that soon Google+ will give us business profiles and then paid advertising. Just like Facebook, this is your opportunity to reach out to your audience and show them the value in becoming a part of your community and tuning in to your message. It's your chance to listen and gather opinion and deliver good, entertaining content value. How you do this should be based on clear strategy, and should be sympathetic to the community you gather. Here you can say "Join us. It'll be fun, rewarding, and advantageous."

One of the most valuable elements of one-to-one marketing in the social space is the ability to recognize those loyal customers who make repeat purchases, and to let them know they are appreciated and that they are important. Who is adding to the conversation? Who is taking your message forward? Who CAN take the message forward? These people are the ones to foster and reward above all others. Heck, you owe them that even if it's just though personal thanks and good messaging. A bottle of wine in the post or a voucher for a special event goes a long way to turn someone into a lifetime brand evangelist. The tools may change, but the principals remain the same. Social media lends itself perfectly to one-to-one marketing, and this is where powerful lifelong relationships can be forged.

Google+ is new. Anyone who claims to have a secret answer to making it work for business right now is selling snake oil. There are, however, those basic core principals of communication that will see you through. There're a million tricks and tips and tweaks for every tool and channel, but there's always a constant: social media is about people, and what's important is how you talk and listen - not where.

This article was first published on the Target Marketing Magazine website, Sept 21st 2011, and is republished with permission.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Note on Facebook Updates

That wasted 10 minutes in Photoshop, but it has made me feel marginally better.

I'm seeing a lot of negativity in status's of friends and relatives. I gotta say, I can't believe Facebook totally alienated their user-base on the same day Google Plus opened it's doors to everyone. Not a strategy I'd have recommended... :-S

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Facebook and You

I found this somewhere a while ago, and it nicely sums up the motivation of channels I was recently trying to capture in my Social Media Evolution post over at Conversify. A picture paints a 1000 words and all that. Let's try and remember this after F8 shall we.

It's free. Deal with it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Ethic of Reciprocity

If I could pick an engagement maxim and 'social media mantra' to live by it's this: The Ethic of Reciprocity.

Sometimes known as the 'The Golden Rule' it translates very simply to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Ignore the religious undertones, in social media following The Ethic of Reciprocity means that you (and/or your brand) should exemplify the behavior you want to see from your community. Simple as that.

Be Excellent to Each Other.

Good manners and staying on-brand count for a lot, but that's not everything. What I'm talking about works everywhere, from LinkedIn business relations to sharing cat pictures on Twitter. Have you ever noticed that if you smile at people they smile back at you? Here's what I mean:

Do you want people to spam your community? No, of course not, so don't you spam the community either. Stop selling. Advise and educate.

Do you want your community to listen to what you have to say? Of course you do. So you're going to have to listen to them first and use what you hear to watch trends, build a better community, spot the opportunities, ask questions, and identify the influencers.

You want to start conversations with the thought leaders? Naturally. So credit them for their original thought when you tweet. It takes 10 seconds to add an authors twitter handle to a tweet when you are spreading good content. It might be on Mashable, or TechCrunch, or WebWorkerDaily, or some comic review site, but it still has an original author who invariably goes uncredited and the site takes all the glory. Sure, credit the site too, but I can't count the number of times I've been thanked personally for doing a few seconds research and adding the writer into the conversation (which has then started up a dialogue). By the same token, when someone re-tweets or credits you a quick personal 'thank you' and 'did you enjoy it?' go a long way to building relations.

Want to get more readers and more comments on your blog? How about subscribing to and reading more independent blogs. When you read something you enjoy leave a comment, and (if the situation fits) replies on comments, and add to the conversation. If your like minded (or even contentious but erudite) it encourages them to investigate you and to reciprocate. Nowadays comments are immediately traceable back to a profile page. You don't have to posting links and trying to sell all the time to make an impression and drive traffic.

Want fans and other pages to like, share and comment on your Facebook Page? Credit people and other communities using object tagging, and be positive and open to discourse. Use your Page profile to Like, share and comment on posts from fans and content from other Pages. Be pro-active and ask questions and share information that's going to stimulate the conversation.

I could go on (and I usually do) but I'm sure you get the gist. Social media is about being social. It's about conversation and engagement. It's a 2 way street, and (at all levels) it's about stimulus and response.

Be excellent to each other. Think social, and remember The Ethic of Reciprocity. As a social media mantra, it works.

Party on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Selecting the Right Social Network

I was recently asked by by one of our account managers: "How do you select which social networks to participate, and which tools to use?" In dashing off a return email it dawned on us that this was information that might be useful to our readers:

Every client has objectives, assets, a target audience, goals and things they want to achieve as part of their marketing mix. Our channel selection is based on our ongoing knowledge of the channels and the participation of the clients target audience, what they want to achieve, the clients limitations (like time, resources and security issues), plus the clients brand personality. Often we look at existing or proposed PR efforts where we can tie-in or grow an audience/community based on what the client already has in the pipe-line.

Social channels lend themselves to different clients, for example: if a client has a wealth of pre-existing video content then YouTube is a possibility, if they want to deliver quick local news to a dedicated audience, if they have a rich arts based cultural following then Facebook and event based booking channels might be a must, or if they are 'local' and a physical place then geo-positioning tools may be an option, the list goes on.

Often decisions like this come from listening. What are people saying in a channel about the brand or company, or their rivals? Are they being listened to? Is there an opportunity to gather support and a community, for fun and community not for broadcasting a message? There may not be a need for a 'John Smith Bacon' Facebook Page right now, but there may well be a call for a 'We <3 Bacon Sandwiches" Page, sponsored by John Smith Bacon.

Every client is different. There are a lot of variables. Every client, and every clients community, is unique. Choosing the right channel is all about understanding the client, audience, and the channels we are suggesting. It's about applying our previous experience, creating the channel right (for the future) and then using them properly to build community, listen, and to provide a service.

It sounds so easy when we put it like that, yet a typical social media marketing plan (with research) can take up to a month to get ready for presentation to a client, and we have regular meetings and open dialogue with them every step of the way.