Social Media. One for the sceptics and cynics of the online world.

The dawn of the 20th Century saw the professional development of a special breed of influencers. Forget philosophers and political leaders. These are the men and women of the marketing world. The ones with the real power…

Marketing techniques have followed the same line of trajectory as technical advancements. From humble beginnings on billboards and in magazines to radio and TV. Then came the internet. Banners, pop-ups, email, then… Social media.

Little wonder then that with the development of social media in the 21st Century, every marketer is looking for new and inventive ways to exploit it.

Marketers are making wonderful use of Twitter as a way of truly connecting with their customers.

Twitter_icon

Social media marketing has changed the marketer/customer dynamic from a one way street to a two way street. This change to a century of marketing best practice has meant most marketers have had to throw the rule book out the window and start a fresh.

The early days of Twitter were an innocent time for marketers where trial and error was the order of the day and social media gurus were still mere mortals.

Social media as a concept is still in its infancy but have marketers already killed its innocence?

Marketing efforts on social media appear to have gone from playful and innocent to sinister and manipulative in double quick time. Consumers are not unaware of this shift however and are perhaps not as passive as marketers presume/wish. The scepticism and cynicism that some consumers view social media interactions is likely caused by the fact that, unlike other media, it was popularized and adopted by the consumer before the marketer. I see this role reversal as a key influencer in the way social media has been approached by marketers and the power that consumers hold over them in the digital space.

The clued in consumer views many Twitter interactions with a suspicious eye. Take this perfectly innocent conversation between consumers and what turns out to be 5 big UK brands.

Twitter conversation

Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.

Is this a perfectly innocent serendipitous turn of events or a well-choreographed Twitter ballet?

Probably the latter but it has humour, connects with people and most importantly in my view, doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. Two thumbs up to the social media Sith Lord behind it.

Believe.in – The next step in charity giving is striding toward its goal

6 months ago I took a look round Believe.in and speculated on some of its future releases. Increased social media integration was at the core of speculations and I am happy to say the Believe.in road map to social media success seems to be well on course.

2 new releases immediately jumped out at me when perusing the site. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t visited Believe.in for a while but the new releases are a definite hook for returning as well as new users.

Facebook

Believe.in kicked off its enhanced social integration releases with Sign in/up with Facebook. As the biggest social network on the planet I’m sure it was an easy decision to make. And, as I highlighted in the first review, charity givers make extensive use of Facebook as a means to raise awareness of causes and donations for charitable undertakings.

Believe.in-Facebook-Sign-in

As you would expect, the Facebook login process is spectacularly simple and, unlike many other Facebook logins, is not massively invasive. Believe.in’s great strength is its ethical stance on charity with its 100% Fundraising – Every single penny goes to charity mantra. I expect excessive cosying up to data hoarder Facebook would not have gone down too well with the Believers. For this reason the Facebook/Believe.in App access is firmly positioned at the public acceptability end of the data divulgence scale.

Believe.in-Facebook-App

In a world where our personal data is ever increasing in value, the last thing Believe.in want to be caught up in is a perfect storm of data breaches. After all, one of the greatest assets those in the charity sector require is credibility.

Events

The next release that caught my eye is the introduction of an Events page. Currently in beta, the Events page will allow users to create an event hub. The event hub includes participants in the event, a running total of sponsors and the total raised so far. There are also nice touches like a Leaderboard of money raised by participants plus Sponsors messages of support in a Twitter feed styleee. All these elements are seamlessly linked together as the focus is still very much on user experience and ease of use.

The first event is the TechBikers Paris to London Cycling Challenge taking place 27-29 September 2013. I don’t know what happens to the event once complete so this page may not be accessible once the event is complete.

Believe.in-Events-page

I would like there to be search within the event so users can navigate to a participant without leaving the events page but I expect that is in the pipeline. This kind of search will be especially important for large scale events like fun runs.

What next?

These 2 releases are fantastic editions to the Believe.in platform.

I expect the Facebook integration is the beginning of further integration with social media platforms. The homepage is beautifully clean in design and function so I do wonder whether third party icons such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus promoting the integration will creep on but that is up to the team behind the site.

The current integration is just the tip of the development iceberg and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see the third party social icons and functionality with an increased presence on believers’ pages, charity pages and event pages. The key will be not to dilute the identity of Believe.in but to accentuate it with social media. A difficult proposition and one I am sure the team are wrangling with.

From Crowdsourcing to Crowdfunding – Giving the Internet back to the people

We are the Internet

30ish years ago Tim Berners-Lee gave us the Internet. It was created for all and given to the world.

Now the Internet is the heart of many aspects of our lives. Most of our business and a fair proportion of our social lives now utilise and in some cases rely on the internet.

Surfing with Giants

In some respects the Internet has been taken over by giants. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo are all huge corporations that dominate our Internet lives. Facebook is the most visited site in the world and Google, the second most.

All the talk of data and privacy issues/scandals surrounding the Internet giants plus their whimsical spending sprees on Apps such as Instagram, Summly and Tumblr means they are rarely out of the headlines.

With the constant talk of the Internet giants it is little wonder that people forget just how important they are to not only the Internet giants’ business but the actual fabric of the Internet that is woven into our everyday lives.

Where would they be without us?

Crowdsource_Platforms

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Wikipedia would be nothing without their crowdsourced content. Imagine how much further the Facebook shares would fall if everyone stopped using it!

Crowdsourced content is at the heart of the most popular websites in the world and without it, they would be nothing.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Wikipedia are all about improving our accessibility to the rest of the web and improving our natural desire to share.

From Crowdsourcing to Crowdfunding

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia are all free but the crowdsource model clearly works. Now to take crowdsourcing one step further.

Crowdfunding has gone down 2 Internet paths.

  1. The charity crowdfund. Charities have benefitted immensely from the Internet. JustGiving pages raise billions of pounds for charity every year. The huge amounts they raise would be near impossible without other crowdsource platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Of course JustGiving takes a tidy 6%. Believe.in doesn’t…
  2. More recently (circa. 2009) Crowdfunding businesses/projects was launched via platforms such as Kickstarter, CrowdCubeSeedrs and BankToTheFuture. This has taken the crowdsource model one step further and has turned ordinary Internet users into investors.

Crowdfund_Platforms

Crowdfunding rejects the conventional investor model of Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, favouring the sourcing of funds as you may expect, from the crowd. Funding can start from as little as £10. In return the funded business gives an array of benefits to their funders from t-shirts and cups to shares.

Crowdfunding is a very romantic concept for both business owner and those providing funds. It is little wonder that thousands of start-ups have gone down the crowdfunding route instead of using the normal methods of raising funds.

The uptake in crowdfunding is likely to have been aided by the economic downturn as banks are shutting up shop along with VCs and Angels erring on the side of caution with their investments.

The crowdfunding model of many investors and minimal capital exposure to loss means the economic climate has had little to no bearing on those people that invest via Crowdfunding platforms, especially as they can choose how much money they wish to invest not to mention the thousands of businesses they can choose to invest in at the click of a button.

Platforms such as Kickstarter, CrowdCube and Seedrs have all integrated with social media to a degree but Twitter and Facebook icons beneath investment opportunities are only the tip of the iceburg for social media integration.

BankToTheFuture

BankToTheFuture, the latest Crowdfunding platform to be launched is fully integrated with crowdsourcing platforms. You are able/encouraged to connect social media accounts to your BankToTheFuture profile, sign in with social media, share content, connect with fellow investors and those looking for investment. This not only enhances the user experience and knowledge of the business they are investing in; but allows crowdfunding to continue to grow in popularity via social media.

Just as users of Believe.in are able to grow their social network of fellow philanthropists, users of BankToTheFuture can grow their network of fellow investors.

The enhancements BankToTheFuture has made to the crowdfunding user experience has taken it to the next level, allowing potential investors to not only learn a great deal more about the company they are investing in but also the people they are investing in and with.

In many ways BankToTheFuture is a social platform in its own right.

With crowdfunded businesses on the up, the exposure via social media will only serve to get more and more potential investors interested.

Is Crowdfunding the latest digital fad?

Crowdfunding is a wonderful romantic proposition for a lot of people and I expect is the reason a lot of them have decided to invest in business be it £10, £100 or £1,000. As with any investment however, regardless of the size, those investing would like a return. Otherwise they are just giving money away. And crowdfunding for business is not charity giving.

So what happens when investors’ money is tied up for years on end or worse (and let’s face it a highly likely option) the business so many people faithfully invested in, doesn’t make it very far off the ground and the money is lost? This is not a pessimistic view of crowdfunding but a pragmatic one.

That said, pragmatism rarely has much impact on romanticism so perhaps crowdfunding will continue to grow and further cement itself as a real alternative to the conventional investment model.

At the moment there are many thousands of people that want crowdfunding to continue to be a viable alternative to the traditional VC/Angel route but time will tell if it can fulfil all the hopes and expectations people are putting into it.

Oh dear, LinkedIn takes another step to becoming Facebook

“It’s like Facebook for the business world.”

There are many parallels to be drawn between Facebook and LinkedIn:

Friends become Connections.

You Follow instead of Like a business.

And you can share updates that pop up in a news feed.

I always thought that LinkedIn was immune to the Facebook gimmicks of mentioning people, places or pages in statuses though such as “Thanks so much Joe Bloggs for the awesome birthday party at Hyde Park”. Apparently not.

LinkedIn Mention

LinkedIn also now allows users to # words in their updates that when clicked on acts in much the same way as Twitter. #Canttheycomeupwiththeirownideas?

These latest LinkedIn updates are another move in a direction that some may feel is a little too close to Facebook and Twitter and in my opinion is something that is a) not warranted and b) devalues LinkedIn.

Is modern digital media damaging childhoods?

15 years ago my brother and I were climbing a tree in our back garden. It was a large thick conifer that was very difficult to climb up and even more difficult to climb down. Of course we didn’t realise just how difficult it was to climb down until we got to the top.

Together we surveyed the kingdom of Hastings and then began making our way back to earth. A few minutes into the descent and we were stuck. Our t-shirts and shorts were tangled in the branches and our hands and forearms covered in tree sap.

We were in a desperate situation. Following a brief consultation period involving the sentence, “shall we call for Mum & Dad or shall we just jump?” We decided that 2 intrepid explorers such as we were that day would never call their parents for help.

As the elder brother and leader of the expedition I made the decision that my younger brother should jump first. As he made his leap to avoid the wall and the nettles beneath us he snapped the branch on which I was precariously perched and we both tumbled to the ground. He landed first and I landed neatly on top of him.

Our expedition was over. We brushed ourselves off and ran to see our parents to regale them with our tale.

That was 15 years ago.

The advent of sophisticated games consoles, smartphones, tablets, and social media marked a new era of childhood.

Children are now connected at school, at home and on the move. Even if the device is their Mum’s or Dad’s it is more than likely that a child will know their way around the device far better than their parent.

It is well documented that children have a far greater capacity to learn than their parents. As a result they are able to pick up a device and shortly after be able to navigate it, then laugh at their parent who is scratching their head with manual in hand.

In some households the balance of digital power rests in very young hands. As positive as this is for computer literacy I wonder the damage this level of device, console and social media use is having on children.

Children may know how to use these devices and social platforms but are they really aware of the potential effect upon them? Playing CoD with your mates on Xbox live is not the same as a kick around in the park after school just as a group chat on Skype is not the same as sitting on the beach with your friends. The increase in childhood obesity follows the same trajectory as the increase in sophisticated games consoles and digital TVs.

It’s not scaremongering to say that the use of digital devices and social platforms could have a real and telling effect on a whole generation and the current tide shows no indication of turning.

Digital influence is growing at such a rate that in the not-too-distant future it will have permeated every aspect of our lives (if it hasn’t already). The influence may be wide-ranging but the line has to be drawn somewhere.

It is up to parents to make sure their children are not influenced by digital and social media to such a degree that their imaginations, real-world social skills, ingenuity, health, relationships, work ethic etc. are not damaged.

If they don’t there could be fewer and fewer children taking the same leap that my brother and I did.

Digital synergy – Website, email & social media

All too often a business’ website, email programme and social media activity are all exclusive of each other. This model of b2c and b2b digital marketing is fractured and inconsistent. Although the inconsistency may not directly damage a business it means these three channels are not fulfilling their business potential. The irony is that some businesses are spending a fortune on the three channels but if they are developed exclusively of each other a huge amount of potential revenue is lost. The key to the success of the three channels is synergy. By creating synergy between the three, it is likely that awareness of, and engagement with, the business will increase.

In an age where everything from newspapers to grocery shopping have become digitized, digital marketing has come to play a pivotal role in both large and small business strategy. Although an important medium for all businesses, digital marketing plays a pivotal role in client/customer interaction and business development for a small business, elevating the three digital channels to a position of absolute necessity for generating awareness and growth. This is not to say large businesses do not need these three digital channels but they have the luxury of being able to utilize far more marketing channels and have far reaching marketing capacity.

Creating synergy may be a time consuming and costly task for a large business but a small business can achieve synergy relatively quickly and inexpensively. The advantage small businesses have over large is, by their very nature, there are less employees, less decision makers, and far more opportunity to change things quickly. Large businesses are spread over several departments/floors/sites and so to effect real change and implement new processes is far more difficult.

Smaller businesses ability to effect change and implement new process is their great advantage over their larger cousins. If a small business lacks synergy between their website, email programme and social media and wants to synergise the three this can be achieved in a matter of days and weeks not months. The speed with which change can be implemented is a big money saver along with the fact that a smaller business is likely to have a smaller website, email programme and social media presence. They are also likely to have less affiliate marketing programmes to be liaised with in order to achieve change.

CASE STUDY:

Carphone Warehouse (CPW) runs a game on its facebook page called Mobile memories.

The basic premise is a timeline of phones through the ages that you select and either lament owning or fondly reminisce about.

CPW works to promote Mobile memories and other games on social media via likes, apps, hashtags and via email (see below)

Once the game is completed a participant is invited to share their story on their facebook wall with links to yourmobilememories.com for friends to take part, or on twitter with a pre-composed post of,


The synergy is working pretty well so far with social media integration along with supportive promotion from email, such as this in a, “Catch up with our latest giveaways, gadgets, news and reviews” mailing.

Where CPW falls down is the lack of integration between all three channels.

The website has no easily accessible sign up form for latest releases or offers and has no promotion of their social media activities making it more a standalone entity than integrated digital channel.

Although there are some links to website from facebook and twitter, the majority of user interaction is based on sharing activity between different social media platforms. The games are built as facebook apps instead of built into the website. This approach concentrates user engagement on social media rather than website interaction. CPW has almost 400,000 likes along with more than 10,000 twitter followers but if these aren’t driven to the website to buy/upgrade/get accessories then what are they for?

An alternative approach to the Mobile memories game would be to integrate it with the website and then give users the ability share their memories on social media if they wish. The game can still be linked to from social media and email but the important difference is that the user is on the website not social media. This approach centres engagement on the website where the buying of products and services takes place. By centring interaction and engagement on social media instead of website CPW are potentially missing out on a huge amount of website traffic.

Better synergy between the three channels would complete the circle for their fans, followers and email recipients. The result would be easier access to all channels and better overall engagement.

Carphone Warehouse is prime example of the synergy between some channels and not others. My research has led me to the conclusion that most businesses certainly use the three channels but in some cases there is a distinct lack of cohesion between them. As I said before, the lack of synergy does not directly damage a business but it means a business is not exploiting the channels to their full potential.

All three marketing channels were born and evolved at different times and as a result, would have been integrated into a marketing programme at different times and with varying degrees of expertise of the implementer. These 2 factors create inconsistencies in the focus and a lack of cohesion from the outset.

Social media is the new kid on the block but for many it has become the focus of a lot of time and money by a lot of businesses (some believe a little too quickly). I say this, not as a jealous cousin (email marketer) but because money has been poured into attaining more likes, re-tweets or pins without the majority of people actually understanding why they are doing it. What does a like on facebook actually translate to? Given recent reports, are the likes on your facebook page even real people?

Social media has been the marketing buzzword of the past few years for businesses wanting to raise their digital profile. The proliferation of businesses focusing their digital efforts on social media may be due to a keeping-up-with-Jones’s mentality as a lot of businesses have a marketing eye fixed firmly on their competitors. There are of course those that see what their competitors are doing and mimic their approach. However without a codified approach toward a marketing channel the danger is that the marketer won’t know how to translate the channel into business.

This is not to say that social media does not have certain benefits. I believe it can raise your profile far quicker than other marketing apparatus. In a digital world where everyone is on the move and digital consumption occurs at an ever quickening pace, social media is by far the most accessible and digestible channel.

I believe the purpose of social media has been over-emphasised. Perhaps its advocates over-stated its abilities as a business generator and somehow convinced the rest of the world that they were right. It does keep you in touch with genuine likers, followers, pinners but prospects do not become customers based on social media alone. Social media is a precursor to website and email engagement. This is where synergy between the channels becomes paramount.

Some have raised eyebrows over the division of digital resources between social media and email. Email has a proven track record of conversion but social media’s is hard to determine. There are those that consider social media the greatest digital swindle since the birth of digital marketing but dismissal of social media is a very narrow-minded view. Social media should not be a standalone marketing pursuit but used in conjunction with other channels.

The term email marketing has long been tarnished with the spam-brush. Some people have pre-conceived ideas that no one reads marketing emails and actively dislike them. This pre-conception simply isn’t true as a look at the DMA’s Email tracking report 2012 highlights.

The reality is that email is a fantastic tool for dialogue between a business and a client/customer and is a proven method of maintaining and improving a relationship. I expect some businesses find the prospect of emailing their clients newsletters and updates quite daunting as they believe they risk being marked as spam or unsubscribed from. Nothing is certain in marketing but what many perhaps fail to understand is that if they provide their recipients engaging content, their subscribers will be more than happy to engage with their email and as a result, their website and other digital channels.

Finding content for an email programme needn’t be a daunting prospect. Content can be created from blog posts, press releases, business developments, new products and a whole host of other sources. A website is undoubtedly the best source for email content. The sticking point for some may well be that their website hasn’t been maintained to a high standard and is preventing a move toward email marketing.

The solution; get an email marketing strategy in the pipeline knowing improvements in website upkeep are paramount to its success. The two go hand-in-hand. If the website is maintained and content regularly updated then there will be plenty of content for email to use. A successful email marketing strategy will lead to greater traffic on the website and greater engagement with the business. The synergy between email and website will be continuous and as engagement with these 2 channels grows so will the social media engagement (and the trinity is complete).

I consider the website to be the lynchpin of a digital strategy. More often than not it is the first place someone will go when first hearing about a business. The website is linked from all social media platforms, email signatures, email marketing correspondence not to mention appearing on numerous Google searches.

As the lynchpin, the website should be maintained to a high standard. I see email and social media’s primary focus as raising awareness which results in website traffic. If the website is not maintained then the efforts of email and social media are all in vain as I expect the majority of web visitors to quickly disengage. The damage of a poor web experience lives long in the memory and is not easily remedied. On the other hand, the reputation of a positive web experience is worth its weight in gold. In the age of digital marketing and digital strategy, the most important marketing tool remains word of mouth. At the heart of every digital strategy should be the question of what people will tell their friends and colleagues. Although we have no direct control over other people’s word of mouth, we can do everything in our power to ensure a positive conversation instead of negative. At the heart of this concept is of course the synergy between digital marketing channels.

There needs to be synergy between email, website and social media in order to maximise a business’ ROI. There are far too many emails and websites featuring facebook and twitter icons that, when clicked on, reveal a lacklustre page that bares no relevance to the content on other digital channels. If this is the quality of your social media page then there was no real point in creating it and certainly no point in cross channel promotion. Unmaintained pages will only serve to demonstrate a lack of commitment and lack of innovation (not the most desirable of business traits). The same is true of a poorly constructed email programme; there is no point in embarking on a digital channel without having the desire and ability to maintain it to the highest standard. It’s all very well conquering one or even two of the channels but without commitment from all three the synergy model falls down. The unhappy result is customer/client disengagement from your digital channels and perhaps from your business.

Effective synergy of the three channels involves continuous and meaningful dialogue between those that maintain them. At risk of sounding like a business-type, everyone needs to be on the same page.

For a company to exploit the synergy to the fullest the channels need to be interwoven. The first steps are evident on most email correspondence. Both marketing and business signatures usually feature twitter, facebook and LinkedIn icons, as do websites, this is reciprocated by links to the website and sign up forms embedded in the other channels. Creating links between the channels is a first step. Subsequent steps involve cross channel synchronization of content releases plus cross channel promotion of content. These steps are the real driving force to better digital synergy and digital engagement.

Content is the driving force behind the synergy of digital channels. If content is decided, not with one channel in mind, but with digital marketing in mind then continuous synergy can be achieved. As the concept of synergy becomes ingrained within a digital marketing programme content is naturally woven across all channels.

The end result of synergising digital channels is a greater user experience, a direct result of which will be greater awareness and engagement. It’s the awareness and engagement that will ultimately provide increased revenue from a digital marketing programme.