Saturday, March 23, 2013

3 Tools for Creative Social Media Images

A picture paints a thousand words, if you believe Frederick R. Barnard or Telly Savalas, and images certainly help boost EdgeRank in Facebook, stand out in G+ (which has a few built in tools of it's own), and make for something to populate the profile with (over on the left of your main page) in Twitter.

There's a tonne of photo manipulation tools out there that link to your profile, from Instergram to Hipstermatic, and all the tools like them that FourSquare and the others have crow-barred into their mobile interfaces - which are fun to play with though really social media channels (or channel supports) in their own right. This is not what I want to highlight. What I want to share is a few tools for making custom images, because sometimes you need something a bit special and it's these that get the likes and get passed around. Yes, it takes some effort, but effort is invariably rewarded with community support. What we're looking for, to be blunt, is the more 'pinable' kind of stuff without needing the skills to do all this in Photoshop.


Ok, I love this tool. I use it a lot for more fan based channels where I want to highlight quotes or whatever, but sometimes for clients too. If you need a simple sign or graphic, this is fried gold.

here's one I made earlier

As with all these tools it's not the tool but how you use it that counts. Think about how to get the best out of this and make sure it's of value.

Let's say you're my good lady wife, with a new Steampunk cooking book coming out this year. How about using it for seeding recipe ideas or quoting Victorian literature about food? Say you're an accountancy firm like my buddies over at Sedulo (who rock all over social by the way). How about picking out a 2013 Budget quote that's going to affect business? Posting topical quotes, inspiring messages, home-made haiku, tips, hints, whatever suits the channel or brand and will be fun for the community, will help spread the good word and show you care enough to make something just for them.

I've got some deep admiration for this as an online app. It's apps like this that really give you an insight into where the web is heading in the future, when tools like this will be in the cloud instead of locally on your machine. PicMonkey, even the free version, does pretty much everything (and does it very stylishly) that you need to edit imagery for your communities. Stickers, textures, adding text (with a decent font bank), some decent touch-up tools, etc. The 'Themes' area has some nice groups of tools to help you make a start. You can see a features list on the site. You can also edit screen grabs and stuff with the Chome add-on. Nice.

The opportunities are fairly obvious, but I find I use it mostly for making easy collages of images and for adding text.

Animated GIFs

When I make a GIF (on the Mac) I use GIF Brewery, which goes for a song at £2.99 in the app store. It's pretty no-frills, but it lets you crop and save presets and that's really all you need.

Animated GIFs are pretty hot right now, and have been getting a resurgence since the advent of Tumblr. I've always had a massive soft spot for them and used to do them the old fashioned way with stills in Fireworks. They work great in G+, and for blogging obviously, but Facebook and Pinterest (while they recognise them) don't animate them. Google Image search also has an animated image search now, so it's a nice little nod for SEO moving forwards. I also like them (if subtle) for Twitter profile images, where appropriate.

Animated images give a special kind of impact, offer a slice of life, attract the eye, get passed around, and often use imagery taken out of context to make a point or (with text) to highlight a message. Choosing what clips you use, and where and how you use them, is the difficult and creative part. Big corps. are now using them for movie trailer previews, the possibilities are a lot of fun.

a special kind of impact

I'm told that GIF Animator is good on the PC, and Gickr and GIFSoup (which also has a big collection of pre-made stuff) are a couple of the better ones on-line - but to be honest I've not tried them. For smartphones there's GifBoom for the iPhone and Android, which let's you do the necessary live and for free - I've tried this but couldn't really find a use for it at the time. If you find anything good let me know, I'd love to add them if you've got recommendations.

So there you go. Something a bit different. Social channels are catering for images and the web is getting more visual. Making something unique, putting into the web (and not regurgitating the same old drok) is where the shares are. Go make something cool.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Leveson Policy Needs to be Reviewed for Bloggers

As Chairman of Enquiry of the ongoing investigation into the practices, culture and ethics of the press, Lord Leveson wants to regulate the print media. He has suggested that judges should have the power to award full costs and ‘exemplary damages’ against any unregulated publishers.

Having worked in publishing in the past, for the DMGT and Associated Press for 7 years, I’ve been keeping a casual eye on this. What he's proposing are fairly strict measures, and the press need them (not Associated I must add, to my knowledge) but this policy is steeped in ambiguity. It's very possible Lord L only ever saw this new legislation applying to the large and unwieldy print publishers and not to websites (unless they belonged to these publishers), but that’s not something that’s made it into the small print.

incredible naivety

What I’m seeing now, in the current proposal before the House of Lords on Monday, is that these regulations apply to any size of publishers and are going to apply to all UK websites. This is totally bonkers. They also appear to apply to anyone who generates content for (and publishes) a blog. This could have extreme repercussions, with ordinary blog publishes and small businesses potentially falling foul of crippling regulation and forcing many to stop the publishing that is an essential part of their SEO, community support, and content marketing. If there's more than one author of the blog, it looks like they'll also be forced to join a 'self regulator'. You can see a list of the current rulings, and their wording, here.

It seems to me that this policy needs to be seriously reviewed. There's serious lack of clarity in the current proposal, and wording and delivery like this is frankly naive in relation to the developing digital landscape of UK business.

As stand alone entities, websites where never a part of the phone hacking scandal. They shouldn't be required to be crow-barred into self-regulation in this way. It’s frankly crazy, and this needs to be reviewed before going before the House of Lords on Monday.

If you feel as I do, please take a look at the facts and consider adding your signature to the Open Rights Group campaign on this matter.

Every signature helps, and even if it doesn't it'll make us feel like we tried.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

How to Identify Your Brand Evangelists

In social media, brand evangelists are worth their own weight in gold. These are the fine folks who are behind your product or service enough to pro-actively tell the rest of the world about it with little provocation and with maximum gusto. These are the folks who 'share', 'plus', 'like', 'comment', contribute, and are truly passionate about spreading what you do out there in the world.

identifying those who'll spread your message

As a percentage of your overall community it's difficult to say how many you will have, but you will have them (to varying degrees). Initially they will probably be staff or family members, but if you keep a community active and engaged you'll soon start to see more - from experience I'd say it's probably around 1 in 300. Without going to the trouble of paying for software to identify these people for you (you'll want to be considering this when a social channel goes over around 5000ish, as that seems to be the 'confusion tipping point' (for me anyway)) just create a decentralized (Google Docs) spreadsheet of any individual comments, the name of the person doing the commenting, and the name of the forum, blog, review site (like Yelp or Review Centre), or social media channels (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) where the comment appears. Comments tend to stand out better then simple button clicks ('likes', yada, yada) or shares, and commentary is a stronger mark of evangelism. If you find an individual (or firm) chatting about you across multiple channels they're definitely what you're looking for, but people can be passionate in just one channel too (especially social) so that's not a dominating indicator. What they are saying, and the frequency they are saying it, are usually the big clue.

NB: Just a quick note, a Brand Evangelist is not necessarily an Influencer. Influencers are the peeps with the big networks and followings, but they may not give a pair of fettered dingos kidneys about you or your brand. If you can get a Brand Evangelist who IS an Influencer then that's great, but for this exercise they're two different things - as a casual observer I like to use the Klout tracker Chrome extension for Twitter to keep an eye on Influencers who might be passing stuff to their followers, and I run down my list of recent engagements in the 'connect tab' to see if anyone stands out. I'm not a massive fan of the likes of Klout, Trackr, or Peer Index as (if the truth be known) I don't honestly trust the accuracy of their figures - but they are a handy first indicator.

Fostering NEW Evangelists

creating people who'll sing your praises

To make new evangelists in social media you need to find new opportunities to make conversations. This means going out there and talking, giving things away, soliciting reviews, all the usual stuff. Reach out and partner up with suppliers, people who share similar ethics (like green recycling policies, or those who are involved in the same charity work as you, etc.). Be the 'real deal' and join conversations about things you or your brand are interesting in - don't just flog your widgets. You need to help people, talk to people, and give them practical solutions. Try using social to run simple competitions, even just for small fun prizes - basically, stimulate people to talk about you.

The obvious method is to just push the boat out a bit and to give good service - for example, my break light went out and I was passing the dealership I bought my car from so I popped in for a bulb. They insisted on fitting it for me, and not charging me for the bulb. I'll be an evangelist for Smart of Derby now forever. It cost them 10 minutes, a bulb, and a smile, and now they have my good will across my entire network of friends, fans, and followers.

Tools You Can Use

If communities get too unwieldy for manual comment collation, or you want to examine trends by individuals in 'likes', 'shares' etc., you're going to have cough up some pennies. Tools can be well worth it as part of a short-term out reach campaign, or for larger communities over longer periods. There's plenty out there for Influencers, but not that many for Brand Evangelists (i.e. filtering out the Kool Aid drinkers in specific communities).

ViralHeat is pretty simple, probably the best for this, and has a 14 day free trial then only $9.99 a month. There's also Twesier, which has has a Pro package that let's you sort your friends and followers by popularity, influence, activity levels, etc. with 7 days free trial and then £9.99 a month.

What To Do With Evangelists

Once you know who these people are it's time to get creative. How about inviting them to events or to come and take a look behind the scenes? How about sending them new products or asking them about new services? How about just sending them a bottle of wine when they've just a special occasion, and saying congratulations? How about giving them some money off codes to spread around amongst their friends. There's lots of options, and they all foster sign-up, inbound links, good will, word-of-mouth, and eventually sales. It's really down to what suits the brand personality and to what suits your wallet.

Hope that's of use, and if you know any more tools for specifically identifying a Brand Evangelist (over influencers) please let me know, I'd love to add them.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Pros, Cons, and Alternatives to Buying Friends, Fans, and Followers

There are services out there who will sell you YouTube 'views', 'likes' and 'subscribes', Vimeo plays, Tumblr likes, Facebook follows and 'likes', Twitter followers, Instagram followers, even SoundCloud plays, in fact pretty much anything you need to boost the ranks of your social channels if numbers are all you care about.

Whether I think this is right or not - I often have to explain the benefits and the downfalls of this for clients because, put simply, most of them ask. Most people see these services and think "Why shouldn't I throw fifty quid at this to get the ball rolling and get the Pages hopping - can you do this for us Nik?" Let's assume community growth is part of the strategy, here's the impartial answer I give them:

The Pros

Having a healthy number of followers boosts credibility, meaning others are (psychologically) more likely to sign-up and join the community, watch the video, eat the Soylent Green, whatever, because they believe it is of value because of the perception of worth indicated by the 'likes', 'plays', 'friends', 'followers', etc.

It's probably cheaper than social ads.

The Cons

Most of these services are compleatly untargeted and/or fake accounts, even if they claim to be otherwise. As a consequence people don't care about the Page or account they are following, and their interaction stops here. If you could get blood out of a stone Mount Everest would be covered in black pudding factories, it's not, and it's the same thing trying to squeeze interaction out of bought friends, fans, and followers.

Friends might not be as reliable as you think...

There is an ongoing drop off to followers and subscribers that will continue indefinitely. A percentage of these accounts are real people, and eventually these real people will realize you are clogging up their stream with news and stuff they don't care about (probably because your chatting away in a different language or not about Justin Bieber). Eventually they will unsubscribe, and user numbers will start to fall almost immediately - this is especially true with Twitter where many of these are opt-in-bulk-follow-back arrangements.

Channels, notably Facebook, are cracking down on this. Back in August they announced a new automated system to weed out fake accounts and followers, and said they'd penalise numbers accordingly. There's not much point paying for followers if they are going to be removed automatically. If they take this further and penalise EdgeRank, for example, you're in a world of pain. Technically it's against most sites terms and conditions, so you also run the risk for getting your whole profile wiped - which I doubt makes for shits and giggles.

The Alternatives

So I'm going to look at this simply. How would I spend that £50 (or less) to get better results?
  • Targeted Facebook social ads (or Promoted Posts if you've got something good to say). At least this 50 quids worth of targeted accounts will care about what you do and you might actually get some shares or sales out of it. How about some LinkedIn ads to target companies that need your services? If you need a bit more money signed of for this, how about creating your own and ploughing anything you make on blogs AdSence back into your social marketing? If you go for tight local targeting that £50 will be much better spent.
  • Contests, sweepstakes, giveaways. I've always liked WildFire apps for this, they keep everything under correct terms and conditions and they're cheap as chips.
  • Fan-specific (you gotta be a 'liker') coupons and discounts (see WildFire apps again)
  • A reveal page. If they don't click 'like', they don't get the good stuff. Here's a simple how to.
  • Do some outreach. Here's a trick I use for Hootsuite to find Twitter peeps. The rest is chatting in groups on LinkedIn and being happy to answer some questions on the likes of at QuoraYahoo Answers, and commenting on blogs and Tumblr etc. It'll cost you nothing but time.
  • Posting awesome content - take some time to create some white-paper quality stuff, and to spread it around creatively. With a bit more time build an Editorial Calendar and some user personas, and get your colleagues in sync to produce some serious stuff that people will actually want to read.
  • Using viral apps like Questions and Offers. It's all there in Facebook's interface, ready to rock.
  • Asking f/f/f's to tell their buddies (which is free, but you gottta give them a reason to do so).
  • Embed video everywhere. Videos on YouTube are great for long tail search, but embedding Facebook vids in your blog content is a greater reason for people to click-through to your community.
  • Check your literature and website. Are your social channels EVERYWHERE? Have people got the URL and links in front of them so that they can easily find your Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, G+, Flickr, whatever?
I could add a lot more alternatives, but I'm starting to bore myself. Weighing up the pros and cons seems to have obvious results. Personal biased aside, that's a lot you can do with just a tiny bit more effort that will be a lot more effective than paying for numbers. There's no substitute for effort, and that's where you should place your £50. If you don't want the hassle yourself, imagine that money is going towards an hours work and to someones wages within your company, it's often a lot easier to justify to the powers-that-be.