Monthly Archives: July 2009

Twitter has a new home page

Twitter just redesigned its home page.  The most prominent element is a search engine box.  It brings to the forefront one of Twitter’s key strengths vs. search on Google. On Twitter you find out what people are saying about any given topic right now — literally at this moment in time.  That can be very useful to businesses and marketers.  It’s a smart move.

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The latest station in Charlene Li’s crusade to prove the business value of social media

Sometimes I get the feeling that Charlene Li is on a crusade — a crusade to prove with hard data that social media can have real value for business.  First there was Groundswell, co-authored with Josh Bernoff, which highlighted an array of companies leveraging social media successfully to achieve business objectives.  Now there’s a new study from Charlene’s company, Altimeter Group, and Wetpaint, that shows a correlation between social media engagement and financial performance.

Engagementdb

The ENGAGEMENTdb Report looks at the top 100 performing global brands according to the BusinessWeek/Interbrand “Best Global Brands 2008” ranking and measures and ranks their engagement in a range of social media channels for both depth and breadth.  The analysis shows a clear correlation between social media engagement and financial performance.

While correlation is not the same thing as cause and effect, the data is impressive.  And as Mark Pack points out in a blog post, if one assumes that the world’s top performing companies are run by the world’s most capable managers, it’s noteworthy that these business leaders appear to endorse a deep and committed engagement in social media.

The report concludes with a useful assessment of the best practices of four of the most socially engaged brands — Starbucks, Toyota, SAP and Dell.  It’s interesting that the way companies engage in the space can vary greatly.  For example, while Starbucks only permits a small group of designated employees to speak for the company in social channels, SAP has 1500 employee bloggers.

There are a few details missing from the report that I would like to have seen.  Each company was rated on 40 engagement attributes, but the report doesn’t provide the specific attributes.  What’s more, while it lists the specific social media channels analyzed, there is no analysis of which, or in what depth, each company engaged with the individual channels.  This might have helped to better understand while Apple, a company that doesn’t receive particularly high marks from me for online social engagement, made it to the top third of the ranking.

So, what will be the next station in Charlene Li’s crusade to prove the business value of social media?  I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already working on the next quantitative study, the one that show not only a correlation, but an actual cause-and-effect relationship between social media engagement and business results.

Some crusades are good.

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Acquiescence isn’t enough, marketers should actively embrace objectivity from their blogging partners

Much discussion has erupted lately on the topic of partnerships between mom bloggers and marketers.  It seems to have started with a call for a PR “blackout” from Momdot, a mom blogger community:

MomDot is challenging bloggers to participate for one week in August in a PR BLACKOUT challenge where you do not blog ANY giveaways, ANY reviews, and Zero press releases. In fact, we don’t want you to talk to PR at ALL that whole week.  We want to see your blog naked, raw, and back to basics. Talk about your kids, your marriage, your college, your hopes, your dreams, your house and whatever you can come up with for one week.

Burnout, not objectivity, is the reason behind MomDot has recommended a blackout.  They suggest that the array of product reviews, promotions, giveaways, etc. in which mom bloggers engage is distracting them from more general content about home and kids.  Nevertheless, the question of blogger objectivity has come up in posts about the blackout, and the issue of objectivity, paid sponsorship and editorial vs. commercial content has been a hot topic in the blogosphere for awhile, and recently in a New York Times article, as increasing numbers of marketers link up with bloggers for the purpose of reviewing or promoting their products.  Recently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it is reviewing its guidelines for “endorsements and testimonials in advertising” with bloggers in mind.

Compensation for product reviews takes on different forms — e.g. pay per review, free stuff, promotional giveaways — but what is common to all is that most bloggers will only agree to the deal if the marketer in question allows them to write honestly about the product.  While bloggers say this allows them to maintain their integrity, one has to wonder if  — even with the best of intentions — they can remain truly objective when being compensated.  Won’t there be a little voice, whispering from the subconscious depths of their mind, suggesting that, despite everything the marketer says, a negative assessment will reduce the chances of being offered a paid review in future?

That’s why marketers shouldn’t simply agree to honesty and objectivity from their blogging partners, they should embrace it actively and vocally.  Here’s why it’s in their interest to do so:

  • The online social community space rewards transparency, while it sniffs out and exposes secrecy and collusion.  A marketer who tries to manipulate product reviews will be found out eventually.  That negative word-of-mouth will spread exponentially and the overall take away will be that something must be wrong with your product, if you weren’t confident enough to let the product speak for itself, free from manipulation.
  • In contrast, a marketer who makes it known that it demands absolute honesty from its blogging partners builds trust and credibility.  It tells people that you’re completely confident in the quality of your product.
  • Negative criticism isn’t a threat, it’s a fantastic source of knowledge and opportunity.  You can learn better than any focus group or quantitative test about the strengths and weaknesses of your product through an honest assessment from a blogger and the ensuing comments and online conversations about that assessment.
  • The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.  The blogosphere will forgive a mistake, provided that you listen to the criticism, acknowledge the problem and keep everyone informed about what you are doing to fix things.  You have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, provided you listen, show that your listening, take action and follow up.

Several blog posts I read on the topic of transparency and objectivity talk about the steps bloggers should take to make their disclosure and review policies clear to marketers who approach them.  This suggests that bloggers feel the need to defend their wish to remain transparent and  objective when it comes to paid-for product reviews.  Similarly, the FTC’s actions to revise its policies regarding endorsements and testimonials to address online practices would indicate that it doesn’t think the marketing community is taking adequate steps to self-regulate.  The alleged need for these policy changes implies that, generally speaking, marketers are more inclined to manipulate online reviews and comments about their products, rather than encourage the transparency and objectivity that brings true value to both the marketer and the customer.

It’s hard to say definitively if marketers are “doing the right thing” when it comes to embracing objectivity from their blogging partners.  However, when I think of all the articles, posts and comments I have read on the issue, I can’t recall any I’ve seen that have come from a marketer.  If you have, please let me know.

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Why is social media off to a slow start in Germany?

I came across two interesting blog posts discussing the fact that social media seems to be off to a slow start in Germany compared to the United States.  This reflects my own experience, as I find that most of the social media blogs I read (and podcasts I listen too) originate from my native land.  There are a couple of exceptions, and of course, as I am an American living in Germany, I have a certain propensity to read and listen to commentary in my mother tongue.  But still there is no doubt that compared to the number of blogs and podcasts originating State side, it’s slim pickings in good old Germany.

The post in ReadWriteWeb concerns itself mostly with a comparison between blogging and social media activity in the US and Germany.  More interesting are Felix Salmon’s 10 reasons why the blogosphere is failing to thrive in Germany.  While he writes specifically about blogs on economics, I think the points he’s identified apply to blogging in general.  These include:

  • A high degree of respect for traditional standard qualifications and sources of authority.  (As the world knows, questioning authority has not been a historical strength of the Germans — at least not during the first half of the last century.)
  • A general discomfort on the part of Germans to be seen as outsiders, as many bloggers see themselves.
  • Less inherent respect for the voice of the people or the common man, compared to America.
  • A propensity to be methodical and comprehensive in expressing a point of view, whereas the style of blogs (not to mention micro-blogs) favors the succinct, the sound byte and the spontaneous.  (Think of Wagner vs. Puccini.)

Map of Europe

When people ask me about certain typical characteristics of Germans (respect for authority, heightened sensitivity to instability, initial caution and reserve in regard to strangers), I cite one of my favorite theories.  It all goes back to the Thirty Years’ War.  This was one of the bloodiest conflicts in European history, it was played out mostly on German soil, a substantial portion of the civilian population was slaughtered, and society as a whole was shaken to its foundations.  It was a watershed event that left a deep and enduring need in the collective German psyche to maintain social stability and established institutions.

I am more optimistic than the writers of these posts about the future of blogging and social media in Germany.  By virtue of the borderless social web, younger generations of Germans are being exposed to, influenced by and participating in this new style of shared thinking and ideas.  And in so doing, perhaps they are eliminating the last vestages of an ingrained, common societal “angst” and exaggerated caution when it comes to expressing themselves spontaneously.  One hopes this will set their social media spirit free and enable them to embrace the blogosphere and podosphere with the same gusto and enthusiasm as their fellow post-generation-Xers on the other side of the Atlantic.

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Twitter has made money for Dell Outlet — is it just a big yawn?

I was interested to hear that Dell has attributed $3 million in sales to its Twitter feed @DellOutletDell Outlet sells discounted computer products and systems that have been used and refurbished, or were left over from canceled orders, or are the equivalents of “seconds,” that is, hardware that has some kind of cosmetic fault that doesn’t affect its performance.

I just looked at Tweetcounter, which currently places @DellOutlet at rank 75 for Twitter users.  @DellOutlet has 779 thousand followers.

Three million is a sliver of overall Dell sales, but the assertion by Dell that Twitter has actually helped the company make any money at all has been celebrated by some in the blogosphere as validation of the business viability of Twitter. But some critical voices have been raised as well.  They say that the use of Twitter as a sales promotion channel will adversely increase traffic, spam and “fail whales” on the site.  They ask why Dell, and other companies using Twitter to generate leads, announce promotions, etc., don’t limit this kind of stuff to their own online turf.  In other words, “Don’t do your dirty work here, guys!”

A few obvious answers come time mind.  If there’s an online channel that a seller can use free of charge to contact potential customers, why wouldn’t he use it?  Then, of course, there’s the fact that Twitter is so immediately searchable and socially spreadable.  Anyone interested in a 2nd-hand computer system can find a whole range of potential sellers in one place, and can follow all of them easily, and in real time, using Tweet-deck or other applications that allow the user to group and aggregate tweets.  Many Twitter users who hear of a good deal will happily post their finds on their own Twitter feeds spreading the word beyond the seller’s direct followers.

It does beg one question though.  If Twitter starts charging companies to use the service commercially, will those companies still come?  Apparently Twitter and Dell are talking about compensation models.  It will be interesting to see where they end up.

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