social is a marketing tool, not a strategy

I often make the analogy that social media marketing is like building your house on land that you don’t own. To be certain, social media marketing is an essential element in today’s marketing plans, but to put all the marketing eggs in that basket is crazy. You have no way of knowing how the social platforms will change and how those changes will affect your strategy. Two things have popped up lately that have reinforced this point to me both as a user and as a marketer.

A few weeks ago, I was in Nashville at a speaking engagement and was shocked to discover that I could no longer check-in on Foursquare. They have split the app and now are forcing me to download a second app called Swarm to check-in.

I could easily go on for paragraphs on why this is a stupid idea (check the dreadful iTunes reviews for Swarm to get an idea of the backlash). But the main reason it affects me is that I don’t use Foursquare “to easily see who’s out nearby and who wants to hang out later” as Swarm promises to do. I used Foursquare as a diary / travel log, restaurant discovery tool, and coupons. (free chips/salsa at Chili’s!)

Unless Foursquare reverts to something similar to what it was before, I will abandon Foursquare much like Peter Shankman did.

Life devastating occurrence? Of course not. As the hipsters like to say, it’s certainly a first-world problem. But all my check-ins are there. If I stop using Foursquare, they’re gone. My personal history wiped because a few people I don’t know changed an app. And the potential for destruction lies in wait elsewhere such as my personal travelogue currently presented as TripAdvisor reviews, all my tweets, etc.

The Foursquare debacle is from an (angry) user standpoint. Marketers using social media have much more at stake with adjustments and changes to the platforms. This Facebook post from a blogger I follow shows the foolishness of how the social platforms are killing their golden goose.

don't trust facebook

And I agree with Matt. Good content always wins, but you need to gain control of your list. If your marketing strategy is just to get more Facebook fans or more Twitter followers, or whatever, then you are ensuring your eventual failure when you no longer have access to those consumers you worked (and maybe paid) to get.

Your goal (every marketer’s goal) SHOULD be to gain more audience who is dedicated to consuming your relevant content. Use social media as a tool to deliver that content, but own your list.

Always remember, especially with social media, that if something is “free”, then YOU are the product that is being sold.

living by the sword

A little over two years ago, Morton’s steakhouse pulled off a promotional stunt that generated tons of publicity by meeting a rabid Morton’s fan (who is also a social media celebrity) at the airport with a steak dinner after he tweeted he was hungry. It was talked about on social media for weeks and the story got picked up by national traditional media outlets.

This past weekend, the Morton’s in Nashville threw a cancer patient out of the restaurant for wearing a cap to cover his hair loss from chemotherapy. They are getting destroyed across all social media platforms and are in major crisis management control mode.

If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword.

I’ve said several times that the underlying key to social media success is simple. Invest less in the social media message and invest more in your people who are on the ground providing customer service. Customers will post both the good and the bad experiences they have. (TIP: You want the good to outnumber the bad.)

oreo was not a slam dunk

From the moment the power went out in the Superdome and Oreo pulled off the social media coup of the Super Bowl Big Game, I knew there would be ad nauseum analysis of it. (pun intended)

And sure enough, over the past two days, it seems that’s all the monday morning advertising quarterbacks can talk about.

While I salute the on-your-feet fast thinking of the Oreo team, I don’t buy it. (Literally. I don’t buy Oreos.) As with all social media flameup darlings that are latched onto by the social media gurus, one essential question is always missed.

Did it sell more cookies?

If it didn’t, it was a marketing failure.

On the flip side of the Oreo phenomenon, everyone (me too) hated the GoDaddy commercials (as always). But GoDaddy had the biggest sales day in the history of the company on the Monday after the Super Bowl.

As I’ve said before, elitist marketing thinking never works with the masses.

auto DM means you’re a snake oil salesman

Don’t auto DM people when they follow you on Twitter. It’s dumb.

What flashes of brilliance do you get from these auto-DMs? Great stuff like:

Thanks for connecting! You can also visit me on Google+, LinkedIn, my Facebook Page, etc. via my blog at {redacted}.

Advice like:

PLEASE take a moment to make sure you are using a SECURE PASSWORD–using UPPER & lower case, numbers & a symbol. DON’T GET HACKED! Thx.

And the very deep:

Thanks for the follow- Just doing my part to share whats going on in my head!

“But they’re connecting with you on a personal level in the way that only a social media connection can do!!” say the “ninjas” and “gurus” who gave the idea to these people to do this.

No, they’re not. They’re old school broadcasting a generic message to the masses. Several of these auto-DMs were sent AFTER I sent that warning tweet which means they never visited me.

And lots of people think accounts who still do this are dumb…

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Before you sign up for any “system” dealing with social media, stop and ask yourself if the same thing could be done with a generic marketing medium. If it can, maybe it’s not a good candidate for social media. Stop auto-following people back, auto DMs, and otherwise automating what should be person-to-person communication channels.

what customers think of your marketing and social media strategy

I enjoy reading James Lileks daily for several reasons. Foremost, he’s clever. He has the knowledge and sensibility of looking back at the past while living in the present and embracing the future. (Sounds complicated, but read him and it makes sense.)

I am always impressed at the constant churn of content that he is able to produce daily. I couldn’t do it. (as evidenced by this blog) He does go off into some areas that I could care less about. His meticulous OCD shopping, eating, and household habits are disturbing at times. He refuses to use a real CMS and hand codes too much. But it’s his corner of cyberspace so go at it.

What I want to bring to your attention in today’s Bleat, he provides a somber reminder to all the marketing peons working hard to try engaging the consumer on a social blah, blah, blah…

But there’s the constant, omnipresent suggestion that I need to log on to a website and tell them how their bread was. I bought some bread today, and of course the seven-inch receipt had a CODE and an URL and a CONTEST and a begging plea to tell them how they did. Based on my recent Topper Scares remarks, you might think I relish every opportunity to tell them just what I think, but no: it’s rare. I bought a fargin’ baguette. That’s it. There’s nothing more to be said. The counter-help was helpful. The bread was bready. The coffee was okay. What can you do to make my next purchase of coffee and bread better? A Dixieland quartet that plays 12 bars of energetic jazz while I sign my name on the receipt, but only 12, because I tire of Dixieland quite easily.

What’s more, dear bread company: I will not like you on Facebook. It is a meaningless act, an empty gesture, and I could not care less if it means I miss out on upcoming deals and events – why, if I find myself in your store unable to get ten percent off a purchase of a dozen bagels during BagelFest ’12 I can live with the sorrow. I will not follow you on Twitter because you have nothing to say. I will not check in on Foursquare because no one cares if I am the deputy sub-commissioner for a place that wants everyone to experience Salad Summer with new sesame-chicken stripes and pita strips. Burger King does this as well, and I remember looking at receipts that told me I’d get a code for a free hamburger if I just filled out the got-damned survey, and even then I thought “no” because A) I would lose the code, B) it would be an exercise in futility, because my complaints would be things like “staff consists of the kind of people who treat customers with rote contempt but then get all oh-no-you-did-nt when they get the same attitude when they’re a customer, and C) really? I tell you that the food was like eating a wad of woodchips soaked in beef bouillon, and this is a surprise to you?

At least the clerk didn’t circle the code with a red marker, which is humiliating for everyone. Her, because she has to do it. Me, because I have to pretend that I might just call it up.

James Lileks

I say this quite a bit when I do consulting and speaking to non-profits, but it’s true for all businesses and organizations: Apathy is marketing’s biggest enemy.

Defeat it and you win. And contrary to what you might think, the way to defeat apathy is NOT always to bring everyone to your way of thinking. Sometimes the way to win the apathy battle is to make the realization that not everyone is interested in your wares. Stop bothering them.

UPDATE: Lileks broke down and took the survey. Useful to look at if you’re interested in how dumb your customer service surveys are designed. My assumption that it was a Panera was right.

the one where I talk about kotex

When most brands try to integrate their social media and traditional marketing, it’s … awkward.

Here’s a current commercial for a brand and a product I am biologically unable to connect to:

You know what helps says the hipster female comedian … Come on, ad guys.

Anyway, the spot ends with the call-to-action of “Tweet #KotexforReal“.

Really? At some point, there was a meeting of ad and social media gurus where someone said:

Let’s integrate our traditional TV ad buy with a hashtag to synergize the social experience and empower our customers to connect with our brand and talk about their menstrual cycles.

Sounds like the bookstore from Portlandia.

So I’m watching the TeeVee while I’m on the Twitter and the spot comes on. I check the hashtag.

95% of the tweets are from 14-35 year-old males who are ridiculing the spot in a vulgar way.
3% are a variation of the tweet, “The TV said I should tweet #KotexforReal”. (which is scary).
The other 2% are #TeamFollowBack and spammers.

Does a personal hygiene brand really want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a TV spot that generates “free” social media mentions like this?

When you try to astroturf social media buzz, you WILL get your hashtag hijacked. Social media marketing conversations are just like any other marketing conversation with consumers. If they’re transparent, they will fail.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Hugh MacLeod: “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.”

Four Online Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make (And How to Avoid Them)

The following is a guest post by digital marketing strategist Seth Spears.

As a small business owner, when it comes to marketing your product or service online, there are two options: jump in feet first as an early technology adopter, or sit back and wait to see if the new methods actually work for those crazy early adopters (your competitors).

In the last few years, the marketing landscape has changed drastically. This is primarily because of changes in buyer habits due to technology advances such as broadband internet access, search engines, social media, and smart phones.

As a marketing consultant to small and local business owners, I’ve seen firsthand the mistakes many of these owners make, usually out of ignorance. It’s very unfortunate, as with a little advance planning, they could save thousands of dollars, and more importantly, hours of time.

So without further ado, here are the top four online marketing mistakes small business owners make, and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1. Poor Website Design, Structure, & Content.

In the rush to get their business online, many small business owners throw up a website as quickly as possible, but neglect the three most important aspects of any site: visually appealing design, ease of navigation, and quality content.

Your website is a direct extension of your business. It’s highly likely that your site is the first thing a potential customer will see when deciding to do business with you. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so what kind of impression is your site leaving with potential customers?

Design: Your business website should not look like it was created on Frontpage 10 years ago, but needs to reflect today’s web standards and capabilities.

Structure: It needs to be easy to navigate, so that visitors have a consistant experience on every page of your site. If I go to your site and have to click the “back” button to return to the homepage, I’m more likely to click the “x” button, and visit your competitor’s site instead.

Content: The information presented needs to be what potential customers are looking for. Who you are, what you do, the products/services offered, and how to contact you.

Without all of these aspects in place, you are giving a negative first impression to potential customers, and probably losing business.

Mistake 2. Lack of Basic Search Engine Optimization.

The way most people use the web is to go to Google, type in the keyword or phrase they’re looking for, and click on the first result. Even if they know the URL of a business they’re interested in, many will still let Google do the work for them, instead of simply typing it in the address bar. Because of this, every website MUST have some basic on-site search engine optimization.

The single most important aspect of SEO (search engine optimization) is the title tag, what you see at the top of your browser when you are on a particular webpage. The title tag tells Google what that particular page is about.

If the title tag of your homepage says “home” your site does not have optimized title tags! (If you’re not in the ‘home’ industry, you probably don’t want to rank for that term.) At the very minimum, your title tag should include the keywords or phrase(s) a potential customer would most likely search for, along with the name of your business. For example, the title tag of Shotgun Concepts looks like this:

Chris Houchens .:. Marketing Speaker | Marketing Author | Shotgun Marketing Blog

Secondly, each page of your site must have a specific meta description. This is the information that Google (or any other search engine used) will show below the link to your site in the search results. (Click here to see what the Shotgun Concepts meta description looks like to Google.) Without it, the big G will pull whatever information it feels is most relevant to the page, without your input. Since you know your business, it’s probably a good idea for you decide what info you want to show up.

Get these two elements correctly in place, and your site will rank much higher for your business/industry keywords.

Mistake 3. Using Social Media as (another) Broadcast Medium

The web has changed marketing. No longer can you simply broadcast your message to the masses and hope your intended customer will see/hear/respond to it. Social media has fundamentally changed all that. Now, past, current, and future customers have a way to communicate with you.

If you have a Facebook page for your business, yet don’t allow comments on the wall for fear of what someone might say, you’re using Facebook to broadcast. If you tweet out a daily special or promotion, yet never follow anyone back or check your @ replies, you’re using Twitter to broadcast.

Social media is a dialog, not a monologue. It’s (should be) a back and forth conversation between you and your customer (or future customer). If that scares you, good! It means you’ll work harder to provide a valuable product or service. It also means that customers will be choosing to do business with those who listen to them, rather than just advertise to them.

Social media is a three-spoked wheel, one-part marketing, one-part public relations, and one-part customer service. Treat it like such and your customers will love and thank you!

Mistake 4. Lack of Consistency

Your web presence can be one of your biggest marketing assets, but the key is consistency. Just like any other area of business, you have to set expectations and live up to them.

If your website has a blog, update it regularly. Whether that is once a month, once a week, or every day, be sure to keep it consistant, as your visitors will have an expectation, and if that expectation isn’t met, they’ll begin looking somewhere else for what you offer. If you can only spend an hour each day from 4:00-5:00 PM on social media, that’s fine, but set the expectation upfront and live up to it.

If a new customer came to your place of business and you had 4th of July sale signs prominently displayed (in August), they’re probably not going to take your business very seriously, no matter what your excuse. The same holds true with your web presence.

Keep your website updated. Be consistant in your social media usage. Treat it as another aspect of your regular business activities and your customers will get to know, like, trust, and buy from you regularly!

There you have it. The top four online marketing mistakes small business owners are guilty of, and how to resolve them. Are you guilty of any of these? Which ones? What steps have you taken to correct them? Any others I’ve left out? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Seth Spears is the chief strategist/principal of Spears Marketing, a digital marketing consulting firm specializing in WordPress web design, local search engine optimization, social media, email, video, & content marketing, brand strategy & consulting. He is a small business crusader passionate about helping small businesses grow through targeted, online marketing, direct-response strategies, and fantastic customer service. You can follow him on Twitter & Facebook.

shoving new ideas into old boxes

There are lots of new marketing tools popping up that you can use to send your message to your audience.

So why are you repurposing this new social technology to fit your current models instead of creating new ones?

don't shove your new social media marketing into traditional marketing models

Don’t shove your new media marketing into your current traditional marketing models. It doesn’t work as well and, in retrospect, it will look dumb.

(bonus history lesson: The photo is of a Hoover Cart.)

the cart and the horse

We’re now on the other side of the curve. If your organization doesn’t already have a toe in the social media waters, you’re late to the game.

But just as “everybody” threw up an online brochure and said they had a website a few years ago, most businesses are just on a social media land grab without a real strategy on how to make it win.

Just because you have a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, it doesn’t mean you’re doing social media marketing.

True social media marketing success will not directly come just from creating your social media channels. Success will come from your customers and fans creating / spreading messages about the customer experience you provided.

If you get the cart before the horse and establish a social media marketing campaign before you are providing a customer experience that you want people to talk about, you may be putting bullets in the gun that kills you. Don’t help create your social media disaster.

Get your customer service house in order, establish the platforms, provide the marketing talking points, and your social media marketing success will happen on its own.

A positive customer experience is the true key to spreading your message in social media. (and offline IRL too)

social media math

This post is not about the numbers. It’s about common sense.

It doesn’t really matter how many followers you have or what your Klout score is — just as long as you’re using those social media channels to engage your target market, drive traffic, make money, or whatever you’re wanting to do with it.

But.

There are currently ALOT of marketing and ad “agencies” who are feeling the traditional crunch and have turned to showing their clients the social media ropes.

The trouble is that, just like the fact that ad agencies don’t know how to maintain a website, advertising agencies also have poor social media presences.

As he has been cyber job stalking, Jetpacks has found several agencies that are AWOL on Twitter

…two “leading” Orlando agencies, or so their sites would have you believe – though I have my doubts about one of them, whose Twitter account hasn’t been updated since October. You can’t really talk about how adept you are in the “social media space” when you don’t use it yourselves.

Realistically, when you’re searching for professional social media help, you do need to look at the numbers and who those numbers represent. If an “agency” only has 198 followers and you subtract their staff, their buddies, their mother, and the spammers, they may only have a few real followers. And yet they are out beating the drums and saying they have all the answers.

Of course, the trouble is that you have people buying cars who don’t know how to drive. People hiring these agencies don’t know how to properly kick the tires to make sure they’re not getting taken. They don’t have the knowledge base to understand they’re hiring someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

This doesn’t affect all agencies. There are several shops who are doing really good work in the social media space and are helping their clients do the same. But there are some agencies who really need to take social off their list of services and outsource it until they understand how to do it themselves. If they don’t, clients will eventually figure it out and the firm will lose all the business.

What do you think?