3 ways we fool ourselves with social media metrics

This is part three of a series of posts about using social media metrics.

This is not the porn industry here, kids, and this is not about buying a house… SIZE DOESN’T MATTER!

– Steve Olenski, Too Many Social Media Marketers Still Believe Size Matters

An optical illusion: our brains add information that isn't there.
Would you believe the squares labeled “A” and “B” are identical shades of gray? Click the image for proof. (Developed by Edward H. Adelson of MIT.)

Don’t worry, it’s normal (statistically speaking) for people to fool themselves with statistics. So normal, in fact, that the fields of psychology and statistics can tell you exactly where things go wrong. Read on to find out how you and your organization can avoid being fooled by the Fundamental Attribution Error, Sampling Biases, and Information Cascade when you are evaluating social media metrics.

But first, what are we being fooled to believe? People would like to believe that more social media followers are better, more comments are better, more shares are better, etc. This might be, but isn’t necessarily, true. In fact the opposite may be true. Sometimes less is more. Consider the following hypotheticals, based loosely on real world examples:

Ignore social media metrics: what to focus on instead

This is the second in a series of posts about why I advise certain clients to adopt a “dynamic brochure” social media strategy, focusing on publishing, active listening, and measuring “pulse” without attempting to meet numerical goals for metrics such as “likes”, comments, shares, page views, Klout score, etc.

You can read part one here. In this part I discuss the benefits of a dynamic brochure strategy. In part three I’ll discuss false assumptions about the relationship between social media activity volume and ROI. And in a future post I’ll circle back to how social media ROI can be measured effectively, and some of the frameworks that can be used to measure it.

If you can’t connect social media investment to revenue generation, aka calculate ROI for social media, how does a social media  program help you? Let me count the ways. But first, a new metaphor. In part one of this series you were a rock star. This time you are a rock star’s stalker. You want to get to know a rock star online — really, really get to know a rock star online — what are you going to do? You’ll take a spin through all of that rock star’s (brand’s) web properties, gathering information, and saving or sharing the tasty bits with like-minded friends.

In real life (which for most of us means not being rock stars or having stalkers), who’s going to take this information gathering approach?

  • Prospective customers evaluating your offerings, either before or after hearing about you from other sources.
  • Current customers, and other brand fans, who want to share information about you (referrals).
  • Customers and brand fans just checking in to keep up with the brand.
  • Journalists and bloggers considering the brand for a story.
  • Conference organizers considering your people for speaking positions.
  • Potential employees, either before or after contact with your recruiters.
  • Current employees staying connected to the company, or sharing information with potential customers or Continue reading “Ignore social media metrics: what to focus on instead”

Want popularity in social media? Start with the primal urges.

A recent conversation with the founder of a newly-launched company seeking to catch a wave of social media buzz inspired me to create a video post for the Audienz Blog entitled The Masolovian Solution for Social Media Audience Building. The idea is that Maslow’s list of basic human needs can be used to help you spot the images and stories that are going to attract and engage your social media followers. Check it out, and please give me your feedback!

Social media highlights from the Seattle Interactive Conference 2011

As a followup to my post from a couple of weeks ago, 9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011, I put together a quick video blog post featuring just the social media highlights from last month’s Seattle Interactive Conference. I apologize in advance for the primitive tech quality, but try to think of it like pie crust, it’s better when it’s home made and looks it, right?

Here’s the video with my explanatory post on the Audienz blog, 5 social media insights from the 2011 Seattle Interactive Conference, and here’s just the video itself on YouTube:

[Updated on February 2, 2012]

9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011

SIC LogoI recently attended the 2011 Seattle Interactive Conference (#SIC2011) at the downtown Seattle convention center. Besides enjoying the opportunity to catch up with friends in the local marketing and social media communities, I was impressed by the overall caliber of presenters and the hard-won insights they shared. Looking back, they gave us a snapshot of the state of the industry as of Q4, 2011.

The following are some of the presentation takeaways I jotted down at the event (click on any of the items in this list to jump down to the details):

1: Identify and engage with your brand’s social media advocates
2: Brands must plan in advance to be authentic in social media conversations
3: Preempt negative comments about your brand to rob them of their power
4: How to make a “good” social media video
5: Comcast “sucks” if it still hasn’t addressed the underlying problem
6: Social media ROI requires a multiple touch attribution model
7: Brand advocates disproportionally influence content consumption, conversions
8: Content is the carrier, the click is the action
9: Seek to increase social media engagement with actual customers
More insights from SIC 2011

#1: Identify and engage with your brand’s social media advocates

Kim Johnston, VP of Marketing, Desktop Virtualization, at Parallels, spoke Continue reading “9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011”

General advice for businesses posting to social media sites

Bruce WilsonPeople who have been posting to Facebook and Twitter for a while on behalf of a business learn certain tricks and truisms through trial and error, research, and chit chat with others involved in the business of social media. Here is some advice I recently compiled for a business on this topic.

Make it short. Blog posts may be long, of course, especially if they have good introductory paragraphs. But Facebook posts, like LinkedIn or Twitter status updates (which limit the number of characters you can use) should be headlines, using a few keyword-laden words to raise awareness and hopefully drive click-throughs.

Make it rich. Whenever possible, use pictures alongside Facebook posts. Pictures can be automatically inserted whenever you attach a link to a post (if you are linking to one of your own pages, design the page to make it easy to select a good image when you post about that page). Attach links whenever appropriate.

Tricks for shortening. You’re allowed 140 characters for Twitter posts, but plan to use only 120 in case people want to use old style RT (retweet) syntax or add their own comments to your post before re-posting it to their own stream. When you attach a link, use a URL shortening service like Bit.ly or ow.ly (which can be configured inside of Twitter clients like HootSuite) which not only saves precious characters but makes clicks on the links you post trackable.

Listen more than you talk. No offense to any PR people, but most of us don’t want to see a constant stream of press releases when we Like a business on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Be generous instead. Think of your subscribers and the types of things that might interest them. Post questions that they will enjoy answering. Repost news or information from other sources that might interest them. Respond to their posts with appreciation for what they have said (your other subscribers will be impressed that you are “showing love” to your subscribers). Follow others, and sometimes share what they post.

Follow Friday. On Twitter, a great way to show love when you post to Twitter saying “#FF” and someone’s Twitter handle, you’re encouraging your subscribers to follow that person also.

Customize your home pages. This Mashable post by Matt Silverman (thanks, Matt!) discusses how to brand your YouTube and Twitter pages.

What other pointers do you have? Please share!

Social Media 2010: tension will increase between secrecy and openness

Bruce WilsonI recently participated in an online discussion about corporate social media policies hosted within a social media group on LinkedIn. The person who started the discussion posted Intel’s social media policy as an example. But things got really interesting when another participant asked her attorney, Tedrick Housh at Kansas City’s Lathrop and Gage law firm, to compare Intel’s and IBM’s policies. She posted the following response from Tedrick, who has graciously given me permission to re-post it here with the caveat that it represents his own professional opinion, nothing more:

[Intel’s] policy is undoubtedly comprehensive and makes a lot of good points. Without delving into all the links in the policy and exploring them in detail, and notwithstanding the disclaimer that any comments are the responsibility of the employee alone, however, my gut reaction is that this is a little too wordy. It also may create an approval mechanism that borders on “deputizing” all the individual tweets and blogs (“if unsure, check with a manager,” etc.) By exercising control, Intel may find itself liable for not policing communications as closely as the policies promise. The sparser, more colloquial IBM policy leaves more of an impression that as an employee, you swim at your own risk, and will be held accountable for your actions. As an employer, I would want to keep these communications more at arm’s length than the Intel policy intimates.

Thanks Tedrick!

I think this is a highly important issue that will become a major political football within many corporations this year. And although I think Tedrick’s approach – to push responsibility for exercising good judgment down to the individual level – is the optimal one, it runs counter to many corporate cultures and the over-protective tendencies of a majority of attorneys, I would imagine.

Link: Social Media Governance, a repository of corporate social media policies. (Thanks to Chris Boudreaux for maintaining it.)

The world is flooded with cheap writing by cheap writers. Is that bad?

Bruce WilsonGreg Sterling over at his Screenwerk blog recently posted an entry entitled “Is Crap the Future of Online Content?

I’m not a big fan of sloppy grammar and punctuation, bloated writing, or “junk” blog content targeting search engines.

But now that publishing is inexpensive, it isn’t controlled by a limited number of publishers (newspapers, magazines, broadcasters). Barriers to entry are lower and competition higher. We are closer than ever to experiencing a free and competitive market for writing, including both “reporting” and “editorial” content.

And while professional journalists may have been better writers on the whole, besides being relatively few in number they were largely bound by their publishers’ economic and political agendas, and their biases and lapses (as occasionally must arise) were largely hidden from our view under a veneer of ‘neutrality’ or authority.

If it’s true that an open market for writing now exists, then we might conclude that grammar and style aren’t as important to us readers as search engine optimization, “viral” taglines/ graphics, and distinct topical niches curated by energetic subject matter experts, a.k.a. bloggers — at least for now.

Promoting a contest on Facebook? Heads up, new rules!

Bruce WilsonThis morning I learned via AllFacebook.com that Facebook has updated its rules for how businesses can promote contests on Facebook. The new rules are here.

If your business is promoting or planning to promote any kind of contest on Facebook, where contest entrants are selected for a reward either by random chance or because of merit, then this will probably change the way you promote your contest on Facebook. Particularly if you don’t want to have your business’s Facebook page deleted, causing you to lose all accumulated fans.

Although most of the rules seem geared towards companies that are using dedicated Facebook “applications” (specially created interactive offer pages) to manage their contents, and are spending enough money on their promotion that they will be assigned an account manager at Facebook, the rules apply to all types of contests promoted on Facebook. Even small ones.

Here are the three pieces of advice I gave to one small business client that wanted to promote its contest on Facebook without building a relatively expensive Facebook application just for this purpose.

1. Don’t mention the word “Facebook” anywhere when promoting the contest on Facebook. So we’re just saying: here’s our contest, contact us to enter it.

2. Offer an alternative way to sign up for the contest. My client has a physical place of business where most of its interaction with its Facebook fans is happening already. So customers can actually write out an entry and hand a piece of paper to someone working there. (I know, it’s old school, but a surprising number of people still know handwriting and paper is still widely available.) We’re also providing the company’s email address in the Facebook posts that promote the contest as an alternative “online” method of entering.

3. Don’t require people to do anything on Facebook as part of the contest. In other words, people have to be able to enter whether or not they are fans on Facebook and whether or not they post anything about themselves, your company, or the contest on Facebook. (This is easy to remeber if you are already following rule 1, above.)

Another approach: if there’s no reward, there’s no contest, and these rules don’t apply. Or if your deal is set up such that there are no winners and losers, in other words, everybody who signs up gets the reward, then its not a contest.  As far as I know you can still promote non-contests on your Facebook page which ask people to become fans, post something to Facebook, etc. in exchange for a reward. In the case of my client, if we wanted to make it a non-contest we could have eliminated the gift certificates going to the winners, or given everyone who entered something just for entering.

Finally, even if you use a dedicated Facebook application to run your contest, have received permission from your Facebook Account Manager, and otherwise follow all of the rules, please be aware that you are prohibited from rewarding the winners with a “prize or any part of the prize [that] includes alcohol, tobacco, dairy, firearms, or prescription drugs.”

Dairy? You betcha, that’s the rule. That leaves out most Starbucks products as prizes, for starters. OK, I’m taking this as a sign that these rules aren’t fully baked yet–watch this space for further updates (your cue to subscribe to this blog via email, RSS, or Twitter).

New FTC guidelines are not quite law and not fully baked yet

Bruce WilsonThe FTC has announced new guidelines which concern “endorsements” by bloggers (21 of the document’s 81 pages have some direct reference to blogs or bloggers). If I understand correctly, under the guidelines which become effective December 1, 2009, a blogger can be fined for failing to reveal that they received payment or kept an object they were given to review–even a book–if they publish a review of the item or the company that made it.

Three points:

First, we all (not just bloggers, but everyone) should just do this anyway. Your credibility will suffer if you endorse something to me and I find out later that you received something of value from the folks you endorsed, whether or not YOU think it influenced you! So FTC or no FTC, this is a good reminder about minimum ethical standards for communicating about products and services.

Second, there is a lot of confusion about the power the FTC is packing behind these new guidelines. To vastly oversimplify the US regulatory system: this thing that we’re talking about isn’t part of the Constitution (obviously), Federal Statutes (passed by Congress) or Federal Regulations (passed by individual Federal Agencies). It’s more of an announcement by an agency, the FTC, clarifying how they intend to interpret and enforce the laws and regulations that already exist in this realm. Keep in mind that until the FTC actually goes after someone citing this guideline, and their enforcement action challenged in Court, its implications are murky. And in the mean time the FTC can simply change its interpretation or otherwise enforce this (and related) principles in a wide variety of ways.

Third, the FTC seems remarkably poorly prepared to deal with this area of regulation. Which might explain this embarrassing interview between a blogger and a representative of the FTC (thanks to blogger Edward Champion at Reluctant Habits for digging deeper) revealing that the representative (and very likely the FTC) hasn’t really thought this through yet. (Bloggers would be able to open used book stores? Come again?!)

So I’m predicting that these guidelines won’t be featured in any enforcement actions any time soon. But I’m hoping that any bloggers (and non-bloggers) who aren’t disclosing their relationships with the products and companies they review take the hint and begin doing so!

(By the way, these guidelines are by the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, who are responsible for consumer protection, not to be confused with the FCC, the Federal Communications commission, who are responsible for regulating communication via radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, and are central to the “net neutrality” debate.)