social media marketing

Another way to look at Twitter Followers

There’s always been a lot of fluff behind the number of Twitter Followers a profile has. If you’ve been on there for a day, you know how it goes: If you have 20, you aren’t that popular, if you have 1000, you’re at least more popular than most of the people you know, and if you have 30,000 you can think of yourself as a minor superstar.

As a personal feel-good, that’s fine, but as a metric of success it’s shoddy. Businesses tend to measure the success or failure of their Twitter accounts by things like follow counts because they can’t accurately measure how it has increased their conversion rate. This has never been easy to see, since social media generally catches people when they aren’t ready to buy something – they’re there to play. It’s like advertising to people at the park: If they see the ad they may buy the product later, if they think of it, but for now they’re just there to walk the dog or push the kids on swings.

It’s hard to know how many people read tweets, then follow through and buy something. But a follow count is easy to measure. If that jumps up fast, your company and product must be popular, and this must be working, right?

Maybe not – maybe a sharp increase in followers is really a sign that everything else you’re doing, you’re doing right. Look at the stats for Old Spice’s Twitter account, via TwitterCounter.com:

Stats for OldSpice on Twitter

Boy THEY sure got popular in a hurry, didn’t they? They must have really done a lot of following of other people, and posting #FollowFriday shout outs, even paid some company to put their profile on ads saying, “you should follow OldSpice,” right?

That, or they made a TV Commercial that no one can stop talking about.

OldSpice’s twitter follows show the success they’re having elsewhere. It also gives them another venue to catch people who are interested in them because of the commercial. Maybe someone who’s entertained by the commercial doesn’t instantly go out and buy Old Spice. So interested people follow them on Twitter, where they continue to receive messaging from the campaign, and eventually, maybe, give their product a try.

In this case, Twitter isn’t the first or the last stop in the conversion funnel – it just keeps people in it.

So if you want Twitter to work for you, the moral here is to have a larger campaign that kicks off the interest. Unless what you’re posting is so miraculously brilliant you bring in followers who’ve never heard of you before, Twitter is best used in conjunction with a larger campaign.

It’s why social media IS NOT more important than media buys. Television, print, radio, etc. have the widest audience, and are the best means for getting people moving towards your product.

Gary Vaynerchuk and the Power of the New Media Revolution

Saw Gary Vaynerchuk tonight, speaking at Changing Hands Bookstore and promoting his new book, “Crush it.” I was so happy to hear him say the one thing that people presenting on new media rarely do.

He did speak about how Twitter and Facebook were the new printing presses. He also spoke about how all this new media is a C-change for our culture, and how anyone with a dream and computer access can be as relevant as Time Magazine or the evening news.

But what he said that got me so jazzed was that the people who consume this stuff are people.

All too often when I go to a speaking engagement about new media – and I’ve gone to a lot in the last year – the topic always boils down to, “how can you get more conversions/click throughs/impressions/sell more widgets.” It sounds like a fantasy football maniac talking about player stats.

What is rare and so refreshing is hearing someone say that customers are people, and people want to be treated like people. Sure, if you post the same Twitter message 30 times a day, and get 10000 followers to see it, and .5% of them convert, you’ll get 5 customers. Good for you, it’s money in the bank.

But if you actually talk to 100 people, and get to know them, and where necessary slip in that you sell what they’ve been talking about needing, you’ll do a whole lot better than .5%. What’s more, you’ll actually be using social media the way it was supposed to be used – not as another channel for spam.

Listening to him, I thought of all the elements of social media marketing that piss me off so much: Ping.fm, hot chick avatars, following complete strangers in the hopes they’ll follow you back… What Gary proposes is so much more fulfilling. Be a person. Find other people and converse with them just as you would if they were standing in front of you.

Make them want to be your customer.

And, of course, as someone who’s done this all before, I can tell you it does take a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. That’s why posting through an RSS feed is so popular! “I don’t have time to Tweet each person each day – I need to get things moving now!”

Those same people would then say approaching customers like they were drones to be conned into buying something en masse is the economical way to get things sold.

But I have to trust Mr. Vaynerchuk on his approach more, because he actually applied it to a business. His own business, no less. I’ve always said I trust the advice of a self-made millionaire more than I do anyone with 10,000 Facebook friends. And here is a prime example of a person who made his business thrive not through collecting followers and then message blasting them, but through real engagement.

This is what social media’s power is – not the number of people using Facebook, and oh goody I’m going to grab up as many of those idiots as I can.

The power is in it’s ability to let you communicate with others. Getting it to work isn’t about thinking around the fact that it’s a two-way street – it’s about being willing to use it to your advantage.

Using Social Networks’ Mobile Apps instead of building your own

In the past I’ve been pretty harsh on the concept of building iPhone apps to promote businesses. If you can make one inexpensively, then sure, go for it. But given the number of  iPhones in service worldwide, it isn’t likely you’re going to see a huge return in traffic and sales if you invest heavily in one.

That having been said, iPhones – as well as G1s, Blackberrys and Treos – are changing the landscape, as they give more people more places to jump on line from. Large social networks are developing their own applications for these. So instead of developing your own applications for mobile devices, it makes more sense to look at the social networks that take better advantage of mobile devices themselves. If you can get a strong foothold on these, you can “be there” for the mobile phone community, without having to invest as heavily in development.

Look at this comparison of traffic between Brightkite.com, Utterli.com and 12seconds.tv:

I picked these these three sites because they are specifically Geosocial Networks. (Well, 12seconds.tv doesn’t emphasize the Geosocial aspect as much as they could.) Geosocial networking sites like these rely on a user’s ability to access them anywhere, anytime. Doing the same analysis on giants like Twitter, YouTube and Linkedin wouldn’t show smartphone’s utility as easily. (And three let you post from your phone, but they’re enormous for other reasons.)

As of September 2008, of these three only Brightkite had an iPhone app available.

Brightkite and Utterli both allowed users to post with a more commonly used cell phone with camara. (They still do, actually.)

Since most non-smart phones don’t offer video, 12seconds only allowed posting from their site or through an e-mail posting system. The average phone user could not take part.

When 12seconds debuted their iPhone application, their traffic started to increase. Conversely, Utterli, which started out better, dropped as more people started using apps instead of traditional cell phones for posting. On Utterli you can access the site from any phone, smart or not. They built their technology and audience around cheap, average phones. As more advanced phones came into use, their service looked more and more antiquated. Actual audio posts on the site are actually fewer and fewer, with most users leaving text posts. Since there are already enough Twitter clones, they’ve sagged considerably in traffic.

Brightkite has been steadily increasing in traffic with their iPhone and Android applications. These make it easier to post photos, text, and even use the phone’s GPS to post the user’s location.

The point of all this is that networks that use mobile media are smart places to gain a foothold for you and your brand, especially if what you sell is something people “on the go” would want. It’s about understanding how your customers access information. You wouldn’t be posting from your phone necessarily, but if you know the people you want to reach are on the go, this is where you would make your appeal to them.

For example, SkyMall reaches a large number of people on Twitter, but they could reach a more targeted collection of travelers on Brightkite, and the reach of that campaign would only increase over time as more people started using that site’s iPhone application.

Of course, SkyMall also has their own iPhone app. This means they need to generate their own traffic for people to use it, rather than piggyback another network’s application and message to its users. I have to wonder how much business SkyMall gets from their application. The purpose of these programs is to allow users easy and frequent access to their site.

Ebay or Yahoo! Shopping certainly have this kind of user base. SkyMall appeals to the impulse buyer. In order to make their app profitable, they need to develop their own traffic for the app, then make sure the application itself converts users repeatedly. With the phone market further splintering, that campaign will eventually need to create similar applications for all the phones coming out.

In the end, this turns into a lot of money spent just to be able to say you have an iPhone app – when it could be spent focusing on areas where you can get more customers.

Padding your Twitter Followers isn’t Good for Buisness

I’ve been crowing this for a year now, but few appear to have listened to me. Now, however, an article appears at MSNBC.com that may help people get the message: High numbers of “followers” doth not a lot of money, make.

Services are always available to help a business shortcut the natural order of collecting leads – from e-mail lists to Twitter accounts, no one wants to invest time in something if that time can be shortened somehow. The result are thousands of social media profiles with thousands of followers, which they how will lead you to believe they are popular and relevant.

The problem remains that since no time was put into meeting all of these people, these followers aren’t of any value. What’s more, the more businesses there are that can brag of large followings, the less a “large following” is going to be worth. It’s like trying to brag that your company has “e-mail.” Well what company doesn’t have e-mail these days!?!

The article focuses more on how these businesses selling Twitter followers end up coming with more bad news than they are worth, and that’s true – with little money to actually be made on Twitter, they are going to be more concerned with their own longevity. That means using the Twitter accounts of their clients to promote themselves, one way or the other. (A good reason not to use padding services, but also not to give out your Twitter log-in to any service that requires it.)

If you are a business owner or marketing manager interested in leveradging Twitter, remember: The game here is not about collecting the most followers, but the best ones. If you have 20 followers, but they are unabashed fanboys of your company or product, then you can get these people to go out into the world as your evangels, singing your praises, promoting your offers by their own word of mouth to their own followers. If each one had, say 500 followers of their own, that’s 2000 followers you are messaging to.

That, my friends, is how Twitter can be made to work for business. People crow about their follow counts when they aren’t marketing savvy enough to know what is important. Following counts can produce large numbers, which can be impressive on paper. But using it correctly, to meet others, impress them, friend them, and getting them to turn on their friends to you, this will increase conversions and sales, if not directly.

In another article from MSNBC, Best Buy used Twitter to ask users what they thought the qualifications for their Marketing Manager should be. This is certainly a smart use of the technology, as it engages the public direclty. It listens to what others are saying about them, answering a question they posed.

So will this sell more Blue-Ray players in the long run? Will this keep Best Buy on the tips of more people’s tounges? Will they gain a respect they didn’t necessarily have with Twits up until now?

Yes. Because this is now social media works.

Getting the right followers

I just read a great phrase on Seth Godin’s Blog: “Scalejacking.” Dave Balter used this to describe going to a site that has a great number of users, trying to divert them to your promotion (whether they’re quality visitors or not,) getting your 1% conversion rate and calling it a day well spent. A good example would be the marketer who puts together a Twitter following of 30,000 users from anywhere, interested in anything, without any common values – just so when you post a link to your event on Upcoming or new white paper you can show how you got a huge number of page visits.

Being able to show large numbers is always important in proving the success of any campaign, particularly on line where it’s easier to prove large numbers. I take exception, though, to people who look to a follow count as a measure of success just because they can’t prove anything else. Marketers may try to tell you they’ve won a great battle for you by gaining a large follow count because they know the referral traffic from that Facebook Page – to say nothing of the conversion rate – in no way justifies the work that went into it. So instead they point to the huge jump in followers – and that just isn’t meaningful success.

Imagine this: You run a business in Phoenix doing custom hang glider detailing – let’s call the company, “Pimp my Glide,” because I’m just a whore for puns. You then go to Facebook and amass a huge following by giving away a lunch with Paris Hilton. (She’s a friend of your family’s, so the cost to you is only a meal for two.) In a few hours you have thousands of people on your page. A minority of them are in Phoenix, even fewer hang glide… but lookit all them followers!

Just getting followers is actually very easy work. Turning them into customers requires more finesse. This is the kind of thing PPC marketers have known for years. You can get people to your landing page easily enough, with the right keywords and budget; but getting them to continue through the chain to actually filling out a contact form and then buying something is the real goal.

Smart social media marketing requires this same dedication to getting visitors to cross that finish line, not simply getting them to a profile page, possible clicking on a link, and then calling it a day.

The Importance (and Limitations) of Social Media

Social media can keep you in touch with customers, clients, industry professionals who can share a lot to help your marketing campaign… but is it really indespensable?

I’ve been doing social media marketing for years now, and I can tell you it is very important, for all of the reasons listed above, and it will only get more prominent. But there are a lot of SMM (social media marketing) evangelists out there, almost all of whom overstate its importance. Having a sound marketing plan is far more important, but you don’t hear a lot of people speaking to that. (And I’ll admit, it might be because that’s so obvious.)

Why are there so many “Social Media Experts” on Twitter? I think because they actually sell SMM services. Twitter will always be a place where we marketers meet to voice our own expertise so we can get jobs. I think the reason there’s such a sizable bubble in social media is that the news media recognizes that there is something new brewing on line, and they want to be on top of it – not just network news or the even more illustrious E! Network – but Wall Street Journal and Business Week.

I think this gives managers a false impression of how important social media is – though it is important. You can do a lot with social media. But it still isn’t so huge you can divert money from your media budget to your SMM budget. The reason is that while you can get a lot of people to hear you, the sites aren’t philosophically geared towards getting people to convert once they see your posts. It makes more sense to think of it as an element of public relations, and to have your PR people bone up on what they need to do to communicate with local media and other people of importance that way, since it is such a great way to create messaging.

But that just isn’t as sexy as saying, “the greatest communications development since the semaphore flag.” No one wants to insert that unforgiving “but” when talking about what social media marketing can do. So I will: Social media marketing is a great way to get your message to people who are willing to hear what you have to say, BUT, don’t expect to have scads of sales to close immediately after you post a link on Linkedin.

Stay tuned, read about how others are succeeding there, and yes, get yourself on Twitter and Facebook and Linkedin so you’re in the game. At the end of the day, social media is something you need to be doing yourself – because it is only a tactic. And a truism of advertising agencies is that no one knows a client’s business better than they do.