Archive for October, 2010

Is Social Media A Measurable Investment?

It’s important to understand what sort of goals you want to achieve for your company before you set out promoting it.  Otherwise, there’s no way for you to know when you’re succeeding and when you’re failing – something everyone in business needs to know so they can change tactics rather than get swept away because what they’re doing isn’t working.

There are times when keeping track of the effectiveness of something like social media can be overdone to the point of being more detrimental than helpful, but even then you still need to be able to tell whether or not your efforts are being wasted.  It gets delicate in social media, admittedly, because of how much less inclined people are to identify themselves when subject to an audience – that’s what’s behind feelings of stage fright.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate the fact that you need to know whether the money you’re putting into a social media campaign is actually worth it.  No matter whether they’re big or small, companies can’t afford to invest hard-earned money on intangible benefits.  There has to be a real payoff in order to justify the expense.  Fortunately, this doesn’t have to involve any kind of “pop quiz” where a company’s clients have to say whether they decided to do business because of something like a page on Facebook.

Part of the complication is that more people are going to see your website than just the people who “like” it on Facebook.  The friends of anyone who interacts with your site are going to see them doing it, which may inspire them to give your company a chance even if they don’t jump on the bandwagon on social media.

There are other ways to learn whether an SM campaign is successful or not, though.  Tracking cookies are an obvious step, although they can be hampered by people deleting their stored cookies after a while.  Modest coupons, published only through a single SM outlet, can be another way to learn what you need to know – people love bargains, and they’re sure to use the coupon next time they do business with you if they’re following you on that particular SM site.

The point is this:  if you want your social media efforts to be a success, you can’t pressure people into giving you the assurance that it’s working; but you also can’t ignore all methods of confirmation, because that risks bankruptcy if your SM isn’t working at all.  A balance in between is what you need in order to use social media successfully.  That way, you can keep what’s working and replace what isn’t and benefit from social media and what it has to offer for businesses.


, , ,

Leave a comment

So Now There’s A Digital Battlefield?

Incoming!  Time to get in the bomb-shelter!

Except, it’s a cyber-bomb, not a literal one.  In the past few months, we’ve seen a large increase in warning signs that the Internet is going to turn into a literal battlefield one day.  That viral attack that did physical damage in Iran a month ago is a good example.

However, the U.S. Air Force has recently declassified its own manual on protecting oneself against cyberwarfare.  It makes mention of methods far more malevolent than mere identity theft, although those are included as well.  The point is that they’re considering the possibility of more cyberattacks, possibly of equal or greater magnitude to the one Iran suffered.

So, basically, there’s no shelter against this bomb.

And, like sold or stolen nukes, pretty much anyone with the right contacts can get hold of such a weapon.  All anyone can do is shore up their firewalls and antivirus countermeasures, and try to make themselves look like they’re not worth hitting.  At least we have some consolation that these are steps people already take to some extent or other, because this really raises questions about how safe we really are online.

Will it stay your friend?It’s always been apparent that the Internet is changing and will continue to do so in the future, but that doesn’t mean that it should be doing so in the direction of warfare.  Jules Verne once described what’s essentially been equated to nuclear submarines in his “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”, and now such vessels are used by all the major powers of the world.  So what’re we going to find here: digital monsters that zap around their battlefield and can take each other over?  Virtual warriors who can “jump” from one structure to another and breach firewalls with a single “punch”?  Skynet?

Seriously?  Is that what we’re coming to here?  Everyone knows that the Internet isn’t as safe as we’d like it to be, but if it becomes a battlefield – even in a limited war – then that conflict is going to be one without boundaries, because that’s the reality of how interconnected everything online is.  All we can do is hope and pray that such a thing doesn’t actually come about, because there just might be no difference between the front line and the home front if it does.

Leave a comment

Third Half Of Your Battery?

Google’s done it again.  They’re in trouble for toeing the “creepy line”, and want to improve their image.  So, what do they do but extend their field of influence yet again?  Now they’re building a 350 mile power line that’s expected to carry electricity from Atlantic wind farms to nearly two million homes.  All well and good.

But the very thing that people have been worrying about is that Google is getting hold of too much of their lives.  Their CEO recently said that the company should be “the third half of your brain”, but apparently they now want to be the third half of your battery as well.

Honestly, I’ve got no problem with them making money.  But it seems to me that when your company is under fire for taking over too much, the best way to solve things isn’t to try garnering points by doing something PC in a new field of business (that’s more expansion).  Instead, you should clean up your act in the area people are complaining about.

Sure, they’re only funding the start of the project, but how’s that actually different as an effort to improve the way the company’s perceived?  They may be enjoying a little better perception at the moment, but this doesn’t do anything but deflect the ire that’s been directed toward them for the past several months and will probably end up increasing it if they decide to pursue the project after their initial investment runs out.

Google’s been making a lot of enemies both in public and private lately because of their ability and clear willingness to go too far in their quest to provide information to people using their sites.  Expanding things so that they’re also providing those people with electricity isn’t going to help with that in the long run, if it even does in the short run.  And, if you’re watching the “creepy line” so you can toe up to it, you’ve crossed it several yards back.

Leave a comment

Facebook And Privacy – What, Again?

We’ve heard this one before.  Seriously.

Yet they keep telling us the same story all over again.  Now Facebook doesn’t seem to know how to police itself in order to maintain its own privacy policies.  Undoubtedly, they’re scrambling to fix the problem now that it’s become known, but you’d think they would be looking to make sure that this sort of thing didn’t happen in the first place.

Strictly speaking, the problem isn’t Facebook’s fault, because they don’t control the apps that people use.  However, they do still bear responsibility since the apps in question are transmitting user IDs of people  on Facebook.  That’s why people may find that their favorite games aren’t working for a while – Facebook is shutting down (at least temporarily) the apps that have been giving out that data, either deliberately or unknowingly.

Now I don’t honestly want to sound like I’m out to get Facebook, because I’m not.  They’re working to fix the problem, and they’re being moderately upfront about it (although I didn’t find out about this because of them telling me).  The thing is, though, that they’ve been taking a lot of heat lately, especially in the category of the privacy of the site’s users.  Spam is a violation of privacy if you have to deal with it.  Coordinating the site with ski lodges can reduce your level of privacy.  Getting placed in groups without your consent, and sometimes without your knowledge, is a privacy issue.

The point is, people may not realize it, but Facebook is in trouble.  Heck, people are even starting to experiment with “what if we gave up the site for a while”.  The company recently quintupled its stock – that is, cut the value of each stock by 5 & said that everyone had 5 times as much stock as they did before.  That’s a lot of financial success, and we’ve seen before just how dangerous that can be for a software company – Microsoft, anyone?

Personally, I like Facebook, even though they seem to change the format on me every few months.  It helps me keep in touch with people that have moved out of the direct spheres of my life.  But if they don’t stop letting these problems slip past their screening, people are going to start hating the service every bit as actively as they do all the software giants that have gotten so successful that people got sick of them.

Leave a comment

SM, Spam, And The Future Of Online Marketing

Lately, SEO companies have been putting a lot of focus on social media in the hopes that this’ll make sure your company can be found online more effectively than just by focusing on search engines.  This is perfectly understandable, because Facebook is now being used more than Google is by people who go online.

The problem is that new methods are still subject to old ideas, and the past few months have heard more and more clamor about the growth of spam within social media.  Facebook especially has been the target of a lot of frustration over this, again because they’ve got the most people using their site.  Even people who understand that this is a great new way for companies to put their best foot forward are upset that their online comings and goings are being (or are going to be) flooded with more of the same old ads in a new packaging.

The difference between social media and search engines, at least from an SEO point of view, is that search engines are more the equivalent of pursuing new clientele and social media is (or at least should be) about maintaining a relationship with repeat customers.  Someone who goes onto Google or Bing and types in a keyword is actively looking for that thing.  Someone who just signed onto Facebook or Twitter is more interested in seeing what friends and family are up to and doesn’t want to have a notice about something they might be interested in shoved into their screen.

If, however, someone actually follows what a company’s doing, they’ll want to know as soon as something new and exciting comes up for that particular company.  It’s just a matter of letting each individual decide whether or not they want to follow you or not.  If you’ll trust them in that regard, you’ll stand a better chance of being noticed by their friends who may also be interested in what you have to offer.  That’s one of the principles on which Facebook’s Top News feed works – a handy tool that’s going to block pretty much all the spam you could send at it.

Of course, there are going to be companies looking for ways around this every bit as much as there’ve been Black Hat SEO firms trying to weasel their clients into #1 placement by any means at all on the search engines.  However, with everyone who uses Facebook now clamoring against further spamming being allowed on the sites, Black Hat just might have a harder time dealing with social media – there’s not a lot you can do besides hack the website when each individual is effectively blocking you from their pages.

With as many people using Facebook as there are, it’s not likely that social media is going to go away any time soon – even if Facebook itself eventually goes the way of a lot of popular web services and eventually gets abandoned or outright hated.  Most companies involved in online marketing know by now that they need solid social media campaigns in order to thrive.  However, they also need to make sure they’re not too heavy-handed when getting it, or they’re going to have the opposite effect from what they want.

The best idea is to get advertising on the same level as word of mouth recommendations, which can only be done when you let people speak for themselves.  The next six months will probably decide whether social media stays the territory of people who just want to keep up with each other easily or whether it’s abandoned by most of these because there’s too much corporate disruption of what they want to do.

Leave a comment

Facebook Advertising Isn’t All Spam

Lately, social media has become the brain-child in which any company trying to advertise online places their hopes.  And there’s validity in this, because people are extremely ready to voice their satisfaction or displeasure with a company on their personal pages where everyone can see it.  So, companies are spending several fortunes on amping up how they’re marketed on social media.

However.  Maybe Facebook has outsmarted them.  Most people don’t look at their entire news feed, just the “Top News” page, because it’s shorter and tends to focus on the things that interest them most.  That’s where Facebook has won over the dangers of spamming.  You see, they ultimately decide what goes into any given Top News feed.  It’s all based on what the individual Facebook user interacts with regularly or most often, so it’s always going to be about things that actually interest them rather than just whatever happens to be put up.

Sure, a lot of those links to the side of the page – most of them, really – are adds.  However, the Top News only advertises the things that each user actually wants to hear about.  This results in much more relevant “impressions” in terms of what you actually value seeing.  Impressions is a term referring to the things you actually see when you’re on your Facebook homepage, rather than everything that happens to be there.

A lot of people will overlook the value of what Facebook is doing here, because it doesn’t help them get any new customers.  However, it’s immensely valuable because it has everything to do with maintaining repeat business from people who liked your services.  Because, if they’re paying enough attention that Facebook puts your posts onto their Top News feed, they’re going to see when you offer some new product, run a promotion, or just want to remind people of how great you are.  That means that those people are more likely to come back for more – they’re happy with you and you’re reminding them that you’re there whenever they want.

This is a very important strategy for the future, since Facebook is becoming the most popular way for people to find things, and since they’ve recently come under fire for giving people a new way to spam each other.  If you don’t actually interact with something, say a group for which someone else signed you up, you don’t have to hear about whatever they’re doing if you only look at your Top News feed.

1 Comment

Facebook’s Roping You Into Things

It’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard.  Facebook is letting your friends sign you up for groups on the site, without your permission or even your knowledge.  Taking a hand in what shows up on your Top News feed makes sense, but this is more a matter of putting people into things they didn’t show any interest in being part of.

Here’s the thing, though: when you get right down to it, this sounds too ridiculous to be true.  Someone you know, essentially forcing you into something on Facebook without your permission?  I know, for one, that it hasn’t happened to me because I checked my account a few minutes ago.  I’ve got some invites I haven’t decided on, but no groups that I don’t remember consciously deciding to join.

However, it does say on Facebook’s FAQs that the new system they’re using for Groups works that way (right here).  Maybe it’s just a matter of me not “friending” any people who’re going to throw me into things without my say-so.  In which case, avoiding the absurd fallout of this “improvement” to Facebook’s programming is a simple matter of not being Facebook friends with anyone you don’t actually know.

Even so, the fact that the guy who invented the site could wind up in a pro-pedophilia group like NAMBLA is very telling about how easy it is to abuse this change in the site’s software.  Maybe this will get them to stop and think about any changes they make before they apply them to the site as a whole.  More likely, though, they’ll just say this is an aberration and that people need to be careful off who they friend on the site.

Which, of course, is true.  You don’t actually need to be Facebook friends with someone you know absolutely nothing about.  There are people who use the site to steal people’s identities and commit other unsavory or illegal acts, the same as there are on the rest of the Internet.  However, that doesn’t mean that Facebook’s owners and webmasters need to make it easier for these people to do anything from committing crimes to simply forcing advertising on you that you don’t want.  If they let stuff like that slide, then they’re just as bad as Google is about privacy issues these days.

So, be careful who you friend, and keep an eye on what groups you’re signed up for.  Because you never know now when someone’s going to use you to pad out their group and spam you with its updates.  Since no one who uses the site is that likely to close out their accounts because of this (you can disengage from groups easy enough, at the same time blocking whomever put you in it in the first place from ever doing so again), applying a bit of care in what you do is the best solution you can use.


Choose Your Viewers Wisely

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t broadcast that you’re not going to be home for a while to everyone who might pass through your neighborhood.  What a lot of people don’t know is that you equally shouldn’t post that you’re not going to be home to everyone who might pass through your Facebook page.  Doing so can let clever, evil web surfers know that you’re a temporarily easy mark just as surely as a note on the front door telling people you’re not home and can’t answer the door.

This may become a problem this winter, because skiing in Colorado has just partnered up with making posts on social media.  That means that people are going to be able to post things like “I just aced a Black Diamond run” which is the same as telling a cyber-scout for theft “I’m not home, come hit me”.  Obviously, no one should live in fear that they’re going to be spied on in social websites any more than they should be paranoid in the rest of their lives, but a measure of sense is needed to ensure your safety.

For starters, everyone needs to set their accounts so that only confirmed friends can see their status updates and anything else that could give away your location and whether you’re somewhere that makes you an easy target for criminals.  There are plenty of people out there who never even bother with such basic levels of Internet security, even though it can be the same as painting a proverbial bull’s-eye on their houses.

And so we continue to walk the razor’s edge between greater convenience and greater vulnerability in all regards.  Someone who’s particularly dedicated may be able to find anything from your last address to your social security number, but there’s still no reason to make it any easier for people to find these things than it already is.  Using social media to help coordinate with your friends can be a great way to enjoy something like skiing together.  However, you don’t want to share too much info when you don’t know who else may be reading it.

Leave a comment

Buying Nothing For Something? Not Likely

Everybody’s heard of FarmVille by now, whether you play it or not.  But did you know that Zynga, the company that makes it, is making money off of it even though it’s a free-to-play game?  No, they’re not selling advertising space any more than any other social media based game.  What they are doing is selling virtual goods in game to people who want to get an edge on how they’re progressing in it.

It’s similar to how you can buy all kinds of avatar items for Xbox Live, and it’s a simple principle.  You have a game or something similar on a computer (or gaming console) and you give a company money in exchange for some addition to your account that’s intangible outside of the context in which it’s being offered.  What you buy might be something to let you build things faster, heal from injury, or just provide a new look to a character you control.

Some people might get up in arms over it, saying how it’s ripping people off, but there’s really nothing wrong with it.  Sure, you aren’t getting anything but a few bits of data and a pretty arrangement of pixels, but what are you really getting when you buy a video game?  You get a disc or a cartridge (depending on what exactly you buy), but what you’re buying is the data on the disc more than the hardware.  The same thing’s true with a book – you have the paper it’s on in hand, but what you wanted is the stuff you’re reading.

At first, I considered it something of a rip off myself, because a lot of the games that are profitable markets for virtual goods are downright boring if you don’t spend the money on them.  But then I remembered that a lot of people find the games I love to be equally boring.  And that I opted for one of the Halo: Reach pre-buys specifically because it would give me access to armor components that would only be available through the pre-order process – virtual goods as much as that can of Energy-Zow in some of the games you can play through Facebook.

Aside from the fact of how prevalent it’s becoming as an online market, it’s also an appreciable part of social media.  No matter whether you play through Facebook or Xbox live, the forum that these games provide for players to connect with each other is every bit as real and employed as the larger systems through which they’re accessed.  Even more notably, a lot of the major social media centers like Facebook are also getting in on the act:  they have their own “credit” system where you can use the points you buy through them in any number of different apps.

The amazing thing, though, is how profitable it can be.  According to Zynga, less than 3% of its players ever buy anything from them, but that the money it does bring in through the purchase of virtual goods make up the bulk of its profitability – people are buying those digital goods in bulk quantities.  That’s something to think about the next time your FarmVille cows need to be fed:  keeping your online game functional and up to date does actually take work, and someone’s paying for it by buying virtual barns and other things so they can play more.

This is becoming a major part of business these days because of how fluidly it’s been integrated with social media.  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if someone finds a way to use virtual goods to market their real products at some point, effectively completing the circle of its use in the digital world.  Lately, advertising has been a noticeable part of a lot of games (especially Madden football), so finding a way to make it proactive and effective may well become a part of what makes social media an effective place to promote one’s business.

Leave a comment