Sunday, August 21, 2016

Measuring the Effectiveness of a Social Media Effort

I’m often asked, how can we measure whether or not our social media efforts are successful? Well, the answer depends on the scope of your expectations and how you choose to evaluate available data. Rare is the occasion where something you post results in a sudden uptick of sales. Of course, it does happen, but really it’s an unusual occurrence. So why bother with social media if you can’t see or measure results in such stark terms? Well, if you look at the history of advertising, clients have been asking the same question since pretty much the dawn of the medium. Yes, every now and then a campaign can result in a surge of sales, but that’s not the norm, and even in such instances, short-term success is often fleeting - disappointingly ineffectual when looked at through a long-term lens.

Have you ever asked yourself why when you go to buy toothpaste, you (if you’re like most people) are most likely to choose a brand you’re already familiar with? Well, there can be several reasons of course, but one of the reasons you can likely exclude is the result of any one particular advertisement. Successful brands simply don’t measure results on short-term timelines (time-sensitive campaigns excepted of course - such a sale or some other kind of limited offer). Of more value to those in the know is storing brand details in people’s subconscious. So when you go to buy that tube of toothpaste, you don’t necessarily think of any one advertisement, but your subconscious familiarity with the brand preordains your choice.

Social media, when working well, functions in much the same way. Yes, a killer post every now and then has value for sure, but of more importance is making sure that posts are frequent, generally interesting and engaging as possible. To the latter point, don’t be afraid of incorporating a little controversy or flirting with an alternative point-of-view, but that in itself is a topic for another day. The idea is to create engagement, because engagement functions in the part of the brain where the subconscious resides. If you’re successful, then your brand of toothpaste is what’s going into into the shopping basket.

When asked to measure the success of a social media effort or campaign, there are various quantifiable methods to look at. Analytics will tell you a lot, as will information relating to the degree of participation from your target audience (ex. comments, replies, follows, likes, surveys, etc.), but in and of itself, none of this information is a singularly reliable method to ultimately determine whether (or not) your social media efforts are worthwhile. Indeed, the only way to measure the success (or failure) of your efforts is to look at the collective results. What I’ve found (stats guys hate this) is that the measure of success is sometimes best evaluated via your “gut”. Oft times, it’s a feeling you get analyzing not just the statistical results of a campaign, but by measuring the mood and tone of the audience response. It’s sometimes hard to connect those dots to sales, but rest assured that if you’re doing your job and creating a positive level of engagement, then those sales are going to happen - maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week - but they’re going to happen. Bank on it. Temper your expectations with what long time advertisers learned a long time ago – that it is best to measure success not on a minute-by-minute basis – but on a scale that takes a longer view of the big picture. That point of view will tell you more-so than any kind of analytics assessment whether your social media efforts are worthwhile or not.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Power of Visual Marketing Cannot be Underestimated

I’m often asked, “Tom, how can we be more effective with our social media efforts?”. Hearing this, a bunch of answers spring immediately to mind. While all are valid, one in particular stands out to such a degree that all of those answers collectively pale by comparison.

It’s tricky sometimes decipher the marketing lingo of 2016. Everywhere you look, people are talking about “influencer marketing”, “inbound marketing”, “outbound marketing”, “content marketing”, “viral marketing”, “mobile marketing”, “guerrilla marketing”, etc., etc.

Throw in a mix of advertising terminology, such as “Native”, “Disruptive”, “Programmatic” and… well, you get the picture. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Oganizations and businesses that I talk to seem perpetually in search of a singular answer that will result in instant overnight success. I have to shake my head.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these subgenres are in any way meaningless. In fact, all of them are worthy to one extent or another. The degree of worthiness however is always in question and is an element very much linked to the organization and type of business, as well as the products and services being offered. In the days and weeks to come, I’ll talk more about many of these, but from an immediate and practical perspective, how should one move forward to create a more effective social media campaign?

Well, the short and sweet answer to that is simple. Incorporate “visual marketing” into the mix. Not just once or twice, but constantly. Use visuals to attract attention. They could be photos, diagrams, illustrations, even animation and video. All work as eye-catching tools to draw attention to your message. Now the best visuals actually go beyond. I’m talking about infographics. Infographics are a fun, but highly effective way to describe processes. They can be simple or they can be complex, but either way, they serve to attract attention and, if done right, tell a story. And that story is your opportunity to engage with the audience you seek.

Companies that utilize visuals in their social media and marketing efforts engage more profoundly and more frequently with their target audience. In turn, that generates demand - demand for the products and services you have to offer, but also demand for more stories and more engagement.

I can point to several studies that verify all that I say here, but for me, having worked in the field of advertising for over twenty years, and as a still avid consumer who (like so many of you I’m sure) spends way too much time on my smartphone, I know these principles to be true. I’ve seen first hand, time and time again, how social media visitors (typically) react to content. An exquisitely written chronicle will generate a reaction to be sure. Likely, you’ll get a few shares and quite possibly attract more followers. But complement that message with a colorful piece of visual ephemera, and stand back! What I have seen over and over again is an immediate increase in resonancy and anywhere from a 10 to 100-fold boost in terms of shares, in turn generating an exponential response and increased audience for your message.

The long and short of it is, people like pictures. The more colorful and attractive they are, the better. When they tell a story, well that’s a bonus. When the pictures connect, using humor, logic, empathy, cuteness or whatever, you have successfully forged a path that with proper and ongoing care can serve as a means to sell more products and services.

There are a lot of different ways to employ marketing methodology, but none that I’ve yet seen that hold a candle to the power of visual marketing in its purest form.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Social Media Videos: We Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet!

Video is all the rage in social media.

Yes, we’ve always been able to post links to videos, but that’s not the real issue. The issue is the definition of the word video, at least in a social media and social networking context.

Video, to social media audiences, is live and in-the-moment. After the moment has passed, forget about it. We’re talking yesterday’s news. Call it what you will, but for all intents and purposes, it’s over. Done like dinner. Time to move on. And move on they do, to the next live video. Repeat ad infinitum.

There are many reasons for this.

First of all, the cost of producing live videos and the technology to deliver them has morphed from forget-about-it to what-am-I-waiting-for. Not long ago, I had to look into streaming options for a medical conference. Instinctively, my first calls were directed to video producers, all very agreeable, and sadly all-too-expensive. Desperate for alternatives, I began to look at social-media options such as Periscope and Snapchat. Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I was at first mortified by the quality of what would be generated (we’re talking video shot by the camera in your smartphone after all). I was also discouraged by the fact that, in the case of Periscope for example, the recordings could not easily be archived – fading away after 48 hours, never to be seen again.

Before folding the tent however, a colleague convinced me to look at Facebook Live. Facebook Live is not fully implemented on the Canadian side of the border as yet, but the technology is more-or-less in place. I could broadcast our recording live, make it accessible as a link in our Facebook timeline and then leave the links as archived recordings for later viewing.

It was decided. The conference proceeded and Facebook Live was used to capture it.

Now don’t get me wrong. What we shot was no Hollywood-production for sure. We set the phone up on a little stand. Conference visitors walked in and out of the view constantly. The video was grainy and totally amateur. After the event, I braced for what I thought would be harsh words and hysterical laughter. Surprisingly however, none of that happened. In fact, several of the viewers who watched the event on Facebook had nothing but words of thanks for making the event available to them. Wow.

What did I learn from this experience?

First of all, videos broadcast in a social media context do not have to be award winning productions. Far more important to the audience is the ability to experience and interact with an event in real-time (seen visually in the form of floating emojis and short captions). It can even be said that monitoring other people’s reactions to an event is in many instances as entertaining as the event itself.

I also learned that for social media audiences, yesterday’s broadcasts are of little interest. Oh sure, some events definitely need to be recorded and saved for posterity, and in those instances one shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to a professional videographer. But for most, interest levels are piqued during an actual broadcast. Tomorrow, or even five minutes from now, some other live event is going to be more of a draw. To hold attention in this new reality, you simply have to keep broadcasting.

For brand managers and advertisers, this is especially profound.

Ramp up your communications productivity or be forever cast to the wastelands.

Facebook, who I previously mentioned was still in the process of ramping up its video strategy, has been particularly provocative of late. They see the whole issue of live video as being in the beginning stages. They feel, and who are we to argue, that live video will soon become the dominant messaging medium in the social media world. In five years they say, video will completely replace the written word. It’s all very mind-boggling, but likely true. If one is inclined to apply Moore’s law, chances are the wholesale migration to live video will take place even sooner.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Growth of Ad Blocking Software

It’s estimated that roughly two-hundred million people use online ad blocking software of one sort or another. Factor in those using their phones to access the internet, and the figure is even higher.

In the interests of transparency for this article, I must first admit that I use AdBlock Plus and have been for over seven years. Considering that I work in the advertising field and am a long-time admirer of advertising vehicles in all their forms (print, video, audio, etc.), I may come across as somewhat hypocritical and yet ad blocking plugins remain rigidly installed as part of my browser plug-in portfolio to this day.

Do I have mixed feelings about this? Yes and no.

Those of us with any appreciation of advertising history will know that advertising is hard work. Anybody can say pretty-much anything they want about anything, but to do it in such a way that really resonates with an audience and convinces them to buy whatever it is you or your client is trying to sell is really challenging and always has been.

For those who know what they’re doing, creativity is the key. Words, pictures, sounds… all are part of the essential toolset that established advertising professionals use to communicate.

In today’s world however, creativity (while still somewhat important), has increasingly taken a back-seat to ads that are boorish, easy-to-produce, non-relevant and forgettable at best - annoying at their worst.

Hence the development, onset and popularity of ad blocking software.

Amongst those who sponsor or publish web content, this has led to much consternation, anger and hand-wringing. Without the revenues associated with advertising, there’s a very real prospect of their business models evaporating. The anguish is palpable. What’s to be done?

Well, as I read more and more of their responses, I confess to utter disbelief.

Many web entities have recently taken to disabling user’s access to their site content upon detection of ad blocking software. I just read for example that Yahoo Mail has chosen to lock-out users unless they disable the ad blocking software from inhibiting their website. Wow. All this does is create anger, and worse compel users to seek out alternatives - of which there are plenty.

There are many more examples such as this. Newspaper sites are particularly bad. “Turn off your ad blocker or you can’t have access” is a recurring theme. The conceit here is that what they’re offering is only available via their source and is so exclusive and desirable that you will concede. Fail!

Like I said, I’m in the advertising business, and yet I feel little to no sympathy for most of my colleagues in this space. They’re lazy, uncreative and unmotivated. Maybe they are undervalued by those that hire them. I wouldn’t doubt it.

So that all said, am I a hypocritical anti-advertising zealot? Hell no! In fact, I want to see more advertising - good for my clients and certainly good for me. But in order to push this agenda, advertising producers and the clients that hire them must aspire to produce advertising that is topical, interesting and inviting. Ads must be creative for sure, but placement must be topical and technically unobtrusive. In every instance where online advertising fails, it’s usually not that difficult to see the why, where and how. In the worst of these examples, it’s also easy to understand the allure of ad blocking software.

Threatening or blocking users isn’t the way to engage them. Engaging them is. When that’s been achieved, people will gladly disable their ad blocking software. Until such time however, it’s just not going to happen.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert

Two days after the fact, I'm marveling at the impact of Roger Ebert's death on the cultural community.

I, like so many others, was also affected. What was it about this man, known primarily as a "film critic", who somehow was able to touch so many people's lives? From as far back as I can remember, Ebert was bullheaded, opinionated and self-righteous. His on-air debates with fellow Chicago film critic (and equally bullheaded) Gene Siskel were legendary, often funny and great theater unto itself.

After two decades, I held an established stereotype of Ebert as a scowling disagreeable sort, that is until the 1999 episode of "Siskel and Ebert" in which he paid solo tribute to his former sparring partner. The look-back (and deeply personal) episode, filled with classic "Siskel and Ebert" moments, was moving and revealing. Underpinning their on-air partnership, as boisterous as it was, was deep respect for one another and genuine friendship. Airing his grief on-air seemed to somehow humanize Ebert - for me at least.

For those that weren't around at the time, or weren't fans of the duo, it's hard to convey how deeply entrenched the names "Siskel and Ebert" were with one another. We're talking a brand by any definition. "Ebert" without the "Siskel" was scarcely imaginable. Think "Laurel" without "Hardy", "Procter" without "Gamble", "Macaroni" without "Cheese" - it just doesn't compute.

For a while, the show carried on, at first with a variety of replacement film-critics (eventually settling into a successful run with Richard Roeper). But it just wasn't the same.

The new century held serious health challenges for Ebert, cruelly robbing him of his physical voice and dramatically altering his physical appearance. Blows such as these would fall lesser beings, but not Roger Ebert. Aided by the support of his devoted wife "Chaz", along with his own unconquerable spirit, Roger emerged with an even larger voice than ever before. I'm not talking vocally (surgeries and the removal of his lower jaw had seen to that), but with something else altogether - his thoughts, and words that could still be communicated via his wholehearted embrace of technology. The speech synthesis software that mimicked his own speaking voice comes to mind, but more-so, the medium of social media - that intentionally or not, Ebert helped to legitimize (via his blog, twitter postings and other forms of digital media).

It should be said that Roger Ebert's love of film never wavered, nor did his honesty or passion. As his constituency on the internet grew, we (or I) became exposed to a broader picture of the man, especially his left-leaning views on politics and outspoken admiration for those he found to be personally inspiring. Whether you agreed with him or not, Roger Ebert remained as opinionated as ever, provoking argument, debate and impassioned defense of views for and against a wide variety of subjects. He clearly did not, and never was, willing to suffer fools. At the same time, he seemed more gracious than ever, expressing sincere gratitude to his audience and especially his wife (whose job going forward will be to carry on and promote his amazing legacy).

An entire generation, unborn or too little at the time to remember his heyday as television's premier film critic, instead think of Roger Ebert as a standard-bearer for their voice - ironic to a degree, but ultimately amazing.

What are the lessons we can take away from this man?

Well, that's a debate for the ages and presumably one Roger Ebert himself would relish. I think:

  • Engage. Converse. Put yourself and your beliefs on the line - frequently and without reserve.
  • Listen. Retain an open mind. Expose yourself to many points-of-view (even if you don't necessarily agree with them). Respect other people's opinions.
  • Prepare. Research. Come ready to defend and articulate your position, clearly and concisely.
  • Soldier on in the face of adversity.
  • Stay positive. No matter what curves life throws at you, there will always be things to smile about and be grateful for.

Those are the qualities of Roger Ebert's life that I choose to inspire me, and it's clear from where I sit in the balcony, that I'm far from alone.

"Thumbs Up" Roger for a life will lived.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Being Nice Never Hurt Anyone

One of the perks of getting older is the opportunity afforded to keep learning. My curiosity never abates, so I'm always on the hunt for new knowledge and deeper levels of understanding (I just find it so darn rewarding whenever I come across new insights that I can incorporate into my worldview).

Of late, I've been using this blog (and other social media forums) as an outlet to share what I've learned about marketing, graphic-design and communications (obvious areas to focus on given my professional choices), but it occurs to me that I also have an opportunity to talk more broadly.

Today, I want to talk about one of the most important lessons I've learned. A lesson so profound, that it impacts every aspect of my waking life - personally and professionally. I'm talking about how you treat others around you. Okay, I'm not the first person to talk about this - that's obvious. And there are clearly countless experts who can give far better voice to this subject than I ever could, but given how impactful this topic has been to me personally, I can't shake the sense of obligation to talk about it.

"Being Nice Never Hurt Anyone" - you've all heard this phrase. I'm not sure who coined it originally, but does it really matter? The fact is, it's true. I really can't think of a single instance where making the conscious choice to be nice to someone ever resulted in a backlash. In fact, in my experience, it almost always generates tangible rewards. Let me explain.

Helping other generates its own rewards
Have you ever held a door open for someone? Most of the time, that simple gesture will result in a verbal or physical acknowledgement of appreciation - a "thank you" or smile usually. I don't know about you, but that momentary acknowledgement makes me feel good. Even if the person for whom I'm holding the door open passes through without acknowledgement, I still take solace from the fact I'm not like that person. It's a win anyway you look at it.

From time-to-time (though not near frequently enough), you'll hear the media report on a phenomenon known as "pay it forward". There are many iterations of this, but here in Canada, the most widely reported involves the institution known as Tim Horton's - as well known for its long line-ups through the drive-through, as it is for its coffee, donuts and sandwiches. What happens is that upon reaching the cashier window, a customer will not only pay for his own order, but that of the person immediately behind him. Imagine the surprise when it's your turn to pay, only to have the cashier tell you your order was already taken care of? In Winnipeg recently, this behavior triggered an unprecedented 3-hour marathon of "pay it forward" transactions at one particular Tim Horton's location. The story both startled and amazed Canadians across the country.

How does something like this happen? Well, it's not that complex. Going out of your way to do something nice or unexpected, even for complete strangers, has its own set of tangible rewards. In the case of Tim Horton's, the paying patron is denied the opportunity to see the immediate reaction of the customer behind them, but gets to imagine their response, based on their own experience of having been the recipient of somebody else's generosity. That's "feel good city" - and rewarding by anyone's definition!

By no means is being nice to someone the exclusive domain of individuals. I read recently where a Chili's restaurant went out of its way to accommodate the needs of a young autistic customer. The story as reported goes like this: Chili's institutes a policy of slicing hamburgers from the children's menu into two halves (for easier consumption). To 7-year old Arianna Hill however, the appearance of the hamburger was akin to being "broken", resulting in untold distress. To their credit, the Chili's server and her manager swung into action offering not only to repair the "broken hamburger", but also proffering a complementary plate of french fries while "repairs" were being effected. The result? Crisis averted and an ecstatic Arianna Hill, whose visage of her kissing the replacement hamburger immediately went viral.

7-year old Arianna Hill at Chili's Restaurant
Don't think for a moment that the happiness surrounding this moment was contained to young Arianna. I can assure you that everyone involved in this story took something positive away from the incident.

Terry O'Reilly, whose fantastic marketing radio show "Under the Influence", recently spoke of many such stories with similar outcomes. If you can spare a few minutes, pop on over to his website to read of other such inspirational tales in the corporate world.

The point is, whether in business, or in your personal life, going out of your way to help or be nice to others comes with its own set of rewards. Most of the time, it'll just be a warm fuzzy feeling, but every now and then fate will return the favor big-time. In the case of Chili's, they couldn't have scripted the story of Arianna Hill or possibly planned for what happened, but the quick-thinking actions of a few kind-hearted employees, not only made one little girl's day, but in its wake brought forth a tidal wave of goodwill for the entire restaurant chain.

I'm not overly spiritual, but I do believe in Karma. Over the years, I've learned to be more tolerant and respectful of other people - even those I don't know personally or professionally. My only motivation in holding that door open is to experience that brief moment of appreciation from the person walking through. It may not always come, but if nothing else, I feel good about who I am at that precise moment - and I always half-joke with whoever's with me at the time, that I'm banking "Karma points". I say "half-joke" because I actually do believe that good things eventually come to those that go out of their way to do good things for others.

It seems to work for me, and it just might work for you.