Google+: The Resurrection

Somewhat surprising news emerged recently in the social media world. According to Global Web Index, Google+ has surpassed Twitter to become the second largest social network in the world.

Here’s how the numbers break out: Facebook still holds the top spot with 693 million active users, Google+ has 343 million actives and Twitter comes in at 288 million.

Google+ has had quite a journey over its short history. It started with a bang and millions joined in droves. Then, it went through a period of diminished use and got labeled a “ghost town.” But the site has been steadily gaining interest and traction to get to where it is today.

I’ve always liked Google+. Some have unfairly overly compared it to Facebook, and although it does have some  similarities, it’s a very different site with differing strengths and appeal. G+ users aren’t subjected to advertising. It also offers a cleaner and simpler user experience, not to mention that it’s a great site to connect and engage on a deeper level with others that have similar interests.

A couple recent innovations that I think have helped G+ dramatically include the introduction of Communities and allowing brand pages to more easily connect with consumers. Both moves allow finding and connecting with others to be a much easier and enjoyable exercise.

It’s great to see where G+ has landed. Of course, with the competitiveness of social networks, things can change in a matter of months.

To Blog or Not to Blog

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for blogging, or business blogging at least.

First came the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study that delivered these findings, among others:

  • Blogging declines for the first time among the Inc. 500.  Fifty percent of the 2010 Inc. 500 had a corporate blog, up from 45% in 2009 and 39% in 2008.  In this new 2011 study, the use of blogging dropped to 37%.  Companies in the Advertising/Marketing industry are most likely to blog while companies in Government Services and Construction make very little use of this tool. This decline mirrors a trend in other sectors as this mature tool evolves into other forms or is replaced by communication through Facebook or Twitter.
  • New tools replace older ones.  Facebook and LinkedIn lead the way. The platform most utilized by the 2011 Inc. 500 is Facebook with 74% of companies using it.  Virtually tied at 73% is the adoption of the professional network, LinkedIn.  Twenty-five and 24% respectively report that Facebook or LinkedIn is the single most effective social networking platform they use. Texting, downloadable mobile applications, and Foursquare are being utilized by 13%-15% of the 2011 Inc. 500.

The study was followed by a Digiday post by Jack Marshall that indicated creative agencies are ditching their blogs as well. Here’s the quote that sums up the gist of the post:

“Nobody reads agency blogs, and there are so many out there it’s impossible for people to keep up anyway,” said Sam Weston, director of communications at digital agency Huge. “We put ours on hiatus while we figure out what we want to do with it. We do use Facebook and Twitter. We’ve figured out what works for us there.”

Marshall’s Digiday post caught the attention (or ire) of popular bloggers Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan and Shel Holtz.

From Joel:

Here’s a dirty little secret: I hope more agencies stop blogging. I could also name some bloggers that I’d like to see stop. Why? Am I being mean? Absolutely not. I see too many agencies and bloggers struggle with their blogs. It’s both obvious and painful to watch. They wind up spending too much time writing about themselves or covering the same areas of interest that everyone else is talking about. They’re afraid to have an opinion, step into a territory that they’re uncomfortable with and – most of all – they’re afraid to go “off brand.”

From Brogan:

I’ll tell you without even having to look why nobody reads a blog: because it’s boring. Because it’s poorly written. Because it’s utterly self-referential.

Nobody has time to read junk. Why would you? There’s so much great material out there.

From Holtz:

The assertion that nobody reads agency blogs came as a surprise to Niall Cook, one of the architects of Hill & Knowlton‘s blogging initiative. Cook left H&K last year to start his own consultancy—Sociagility—but says that by the time he left, the agency’s blogs “were generating more traffic and higher search engine rankings than the corporate website.” The website, he says, cost considerably more than the few thousand dollars invested in getting the blogs up and running.

“Even today, there are way more links to blogs.hillandknowlton.com than to http://www.hillandknowlton.com or http://www.hkstrategies.com,” Cook says. His new company’s blog covers topics like why there will never be a standardized social media ROI metric. There isn’t a new-hire or we-won-an-award post to be seen.

In fact, those self-promoting blogs Marshall seems to think characterize agency efforts don’t represent the best agency blogging. Agency blogs that produce the kinds of results H&K has achieved spotlight thought leadership, not awards and new-hires. The ain’t-we-great style of blog—whether from an agency or a company—never appealed to anybody, a fact reinforced by Forrester research that dates back 3-1/2 years.

It could be, given the data from the Dartmouth study and at least the appearance of a decline in blogging among agencies, that businesses overall are coming to the conclusion that blogging isn’t for them, and that’s okay.

I’m pro blogging from a marketing standpoint and feel there can be numerous benefits to the tactic. Not every business, however, fully understands blogging and how to execute it successfully. Or, it could simply be that these businesses have found other channels that yield increased ROI and choose to focus on those. That’s perfectly fine.

The idea that businesses must blog or that blogging is some kind of silver bullet holds no truth. Blogging, like other forms of marketing requires strategy, commitment and hard work. Even then, in most cases business blogs take time to mature.

So, choose wisely. Blogging holds great promise, but should be undertaken with great care and planning. If that’s not the right approach (for your business), the marketing world has many other avenues to choose from.

What do you think? Do you feel business blogging is on the decline?

Social Media Fatigue and the Desire to Engage

I’ve been seeing the term “social media fatigue” quite often lately. It’s really a curious term because social media doesn’t seem on the surface to be particularly “fatiguing.” I do certainly understand it however and believe I’ve felt this fatigue from time to time. No one likes to feel fatigued, so I think it’s important to understand why we start to feel this way, and what the remedy is.

When talking about social media fatigue, I’m referring to it primarily from the standpoint of personal use of social media. Business use of social media has different aspects to tackle when it comes to this particular topic.

Here are some important areas to address when it comes to social media fatigue:

Focus

One of the key areas that brings about social media fatigue is simply being involved in too much. Unless one can participate in social media 24/7, there are realistically only so many hours in a day to effectively devote to it. Yet, how many people feel the need to be involved in every possible platform that comes out? Time and situations vary, but for the average person one or two platforms are the limit for devoting large amounts of time. That’s not to say one can’t have a presence on other platforms, but we should realize our attention and effectiveness on those will be limited, and then lower our expectations as to our levels of engagement.

For me, Twitter is one platform I get more from and spend more time on. Google+ is another that I’m newer to but have interest in and see some potential. I spend most of my social media time on these platforms. I have Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, but don’t spend as much time at those sites. You likely won’t find me on Pinterest anytime soon. Although the platform is very hot right now and looks interesting, it is simply outside my focus.

Individualism

Nothing drains energy and brings about fatigue like having to measure up to someone else’s standards on social media. Forget about influence and Klout. Being you is a much better option and will help stave off fatigue. Resist the temptation to copy what others have done, for the most part. It’s quicker and less fatiguing to do what comes out of your personality.

Exploration

On those one or two platforms of focus, learn everything you can do with them. Try their latest and greatest features. Become a super user. That will help keep things fresh and tap into your creativity. By doing this you’ll derive new value from the platform that will help keep things interesting.

Giving

Adding value to the experience of others is a great way to avoid fatigue. Try and focus more on what you can give versus what you get. In the long-term I’ve found this much more rewarding and energizing. The learning and engagement will still be there for you, but expectations will be better aligned with your overall experience.

Participating in social media can be a very fun and rewarding experience. We certainly don’t want to allow something like fatigue to diminish our productivity in this area, or worse, let it drive us to quit altogether.

It’s your turn. Have you experienced social media fatigue? How have you countered it? Share a comment below.

Picking Sides

It seems to be human nature to want to pick sides. I was reminded of that again this week when I noticed the Facebook versus Google+ debate heating up again. The launch of business pages on Google+ has beckoned advocates on both sides back into the ring.

I read one well reasoned and written post that predicted Google+ will be a dismal failure after one or two more years. I also read an equally well-developed post that outlined why Google+ will be a great success and a real threat to Facebook. Who’s right?

Just as interesting were the comments under each post. One person after another vehemently stating why one platform is better than the other and predicting success or failure based on their opinions.

Ultimately, nobody really knows what will happen to Facebook or Google+ in the long run. Both platforms are similar in some ways and different in others. Both have good features and benefits as well their fair share of drawbacks, whether for business or personal use.

Here’s the important question: Isn’t there room for both?

I know my answer.

Facebook Advertising to Target Zip Codes

Businesses advertising on Facebook will soon have the option to target their ads, including Sponsored Stories, to specific zip codes. This new development will be especially appealing to small businesses that only want to reach consumers closest to their locations. It also enables these businesses to further hone their ad spends and make more effective use of often limited marketing budgets.

Given Facebook’s critical mass and influence, small businesses should now strongly consider using the platform in their marketing efforts. The new zip-code level ads will provide several benefits:

  • Longer-term programs for brand awareness building
  • Targeted promotions for product and service offers
  • Improved event marketing options
  • Stronger advertising for Facebook business pages

Facebook could roll the new zip-code ads out as early as this week. The move should be a welcome change for consumer-facing businesses seeking targeted social ads that are budget friendly to allow more consistent campaigns.

B2B marketers have enjoyed more exact targeting on LinkedIn, which allows advertising to specific groups and titles.

What do you think?

To Grow Followers for Your Brand: Communicate Benefits

I came across a great blog post by Brian Solis titled “Why I Don’t Like Your Brand on Facebook” that communicates some important lessons for marketers hoping to increase followers for their brands. Through an experiment, Solis found that very few brands explained why consumers should follow them on Facebook.

His findings point to the reality that marketers, who are used to promoting benefits for their products and services, often fail to do the same for their Facebook pages. I believe this is in all likelihood true not only when it comes to Facebook, but Twitter, LinkedIn and other brand social media outlets. Rarely do I see brand messaging that conveys the reasons I should follow on social media.

Clearly, it’s time to start thinking about social media outlets in the same manner we assess and promote brand offerings. It starts with an evaluation of the content strategy of the outlet and the value that it provides to the consumer. Once that is determined, it needs to be communicated clearly and persuasively. Carving out a clearly defined social media value proposition will go a long way towards gaining an advantage over your competition when it comes to social media.

If growth in social media is important to your brand (and it should be), greater time and resources must be allocated to communicating the benefits of your social media outlets. When possible, create extended marketing efforts that promote these benefits. Go beyond simply: “Like us on Facebook.” Awareness that your brand is on Facebook doesn’t necessarily lead to preference. Consumers can just as easily follow your competition. Give them compelling reasons to follow your brand exclusively.

Of course, sometimes given the marketing piece it’s not possible to go beyond a simple social media awareness building message. The opportunities are sure to be there, however, to begin making the case for why consumers should follow your brand. It’s time to start marketing what we offer on social media.

What do you think?

To Grow Social Media at Your Business: Measure

If you’re not measuring the impact of your social media efforts, now is the time to start. Although understanding of the value of social media is increasing at the executive level in businesses around the country, continued growth in social media will be driven by the ability to demonstrate a solid return on investment. Let’s face it, every department and business function is under a microscope, especially in a down economy. Your mission is to demonstrate the value of social media in creating brand awareness and sales in your business.

Getting Started: Social Media Metrics

A great (and easy) place to begin your measurement is with metrics. Do you have a Facebook page? Track your number of fans. Twitter account? How many followers do you have? If you have a company page on LinkedIn you can also track your number of followers. If you’re on YouTube you can track the number of subscribers to your business channel.

Once you’ve established baselines for these platforms, measure how they’re doing over time. For example, did you gain more Twitter followers this quarter when compared with the same quarter last year? How about annual follower growth?

You might also track the number of visit to your website referred from social media sites via your Google or other website analytics program. Are visitors increasingly getting to your website through your social media outlets? Are they staying longer and checking out more of your product or service pages? This is very insightful and valuable data to capture.

Advanced Measurement: ROI

If you have a great handle on your social media metrics you may be ready to tackle social media return on investment. This information will be especially critical in demonstrating the importance of social media in advancing key business goals like increasing sales and lowering expenses.

When looking at ROI it’s important to be as specific as possible. Establish processes that can track sales leads back to social media. Was a sales lead closed? How much revenue did it generate? Measure the social media impact on sales over time to get a compelling picture of what these platforms mean to your business.

The other major side of ROI is cost savings. Has social reduced staffing demand in your call center? Has it lowered the cost of lead generation? Has is allowed for low-cost market research opportunities? These are all examples of positive ROI. Be sure to document these savings and ensure your senior leadership is aware of them. Commit to showing how social media impacts your business goals.

Whether it’s metrics, ROI or both, the key is to get started in social media measurement. You will likely find yourself fine tuning and perfecting your measurement program on a regular basis. Social media holds great promise for businesses of all shapes and sizes, why not start to show it?

Let’s hear what your thoughts are on social media measurement.

For more information, check out this Quora stream on ROI in social media.