Is the Internet Better

I was half-joking with my wife the other night and explained my temptation to completely rid myself of all my social media accounts. My posting activity is probably average in the big picture, but I find myself checking/reading it too much.

Realistically, I can’t shed it. For one, it’s part of my job. Two, I enjoy staying in touch with people I probably wouldn’t otherwise stay in touch with. Three, cats are funny.  OK, I’m kidding on three.

The internet does have utility, though. And meaning.

Then I started thinking about social and the internet versus, um……real life? I say “real life” in part jest, but it’s the only way I can describe the alternative for the point I’m trying to make here.

is the internet betterI’d like to think I’m a pretty easy guy to shop for. The past few Christmases, my wife has gone to the local specialty beer store, the excellent Craft Beer Cellar in Westford, MA and gotten me the beer advent calendar. I get a new beer every day for 24 days in December. Killer!

They don’t really sell it online. In fact, if you look at their header (above), they make no bones about it, it’s a brick-and-mortar store. Stephanie has to call them, reserve it and then drive there to pick it up. This process is not necessarily rife with customer service issues.

This past Christmas, I decided something similar was in store for her. I decided to subscribe her to one of those subscription services that are so popular these days. For coffee.

There really aren’t any specialty coffee places like Craft Beer Cellar, so I had to go online (Starbucks doesn’t count). I’m a sucker for a nice, clean design and simple experience, so I looked at a few sites and settled on a 3-month plan for Craft Coffee.

is the internet better
Everything arrived as advertised for the three months I paid for. No complaints in terms of receiving what I paid for. Steph thought the coffee was okay.

Then the coffee arrived in month four.

I didn’t really notice because I’m not usually around to collect mail and deliveries.

Then it arrived in month five. This time Steph mentioned it to me, so I had to get on their live chat, then I had to call, sit on the phone and work it out. Turns out that Craft Coffee had some sort of issue in that the same account that purchased the gift was also receiving the gift, so they “accidentally” just kept it rolling.

I’m not writing to criticize them about assuming that we wanted to keep it rolling and I can confirm there was no language in my purchase path about such extensions.

It’s clearly an issue they need to sort out, but that’s not the point. Craft Coffee’s customer service was superb in getting things settled properly, because no internet business can survive without top notch customer service.

The point is that, in this case, it was much easier and smoother for Steph to do her similar transaction in person than it was for me to trigger hers online. So that’s saying something, I suppose.

I can’t logically sit here and tell you that I’d be fine without the internet. Or social media. This is a very situational example. Paying bills and banking, for example, is far easier online.

But sometimes these little stories pop up and I realize that it’s possible to NOT do it all on the internet and maybe I should pursue that end more. I would survive. Life would march on.

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Help a Saudi Prince, Won’t You?

I don’t need to tell the story about all the Saudi princes who have emailed all of us over the years, promising vast millions. If I DO need to tell you about these and other online scams, then congrats, because you’ve avoided the internet for this long and your sanity is intact! No need to get on it now!

Over the last calendar year, we’ve seen the rise of chat and chat phone apps. The ones you may have heard of include Kik (150mm users), WeChat (400mm users) the Facebook-owned WhatsApp (500mm+ users) and, of course, SnapChat. There are dozens of others.

chat app
Facebook Messenger Screenshot

More recently, we’ve started to see some actual commerce getting infused into the chat experience. Back in December, the press was abuzz with the news that you could book an Uber car right through your Facebook Chat Messenger thingy (see screenshot of my Messenger app). Seems cool, but you can also see some good specifics of that experience here after a friend of mine tried it.

Regardless, that was a long-winded intro into what I am NOT talking about today. Sorry. That’s bad journalistic practice, I know. My point was that chat is getting huge and it’s inevitable that more and more commerce-enabled functionality is coming.

This can only mean one thing – more Saudi prince types mucking up your clean, fun chat apps. Get ready, because it’s already here.

Case in point – last Friday afternoon. I’m at work, setting up some ad campaigns on Facebook and I see that red Pavlovian notification dot on my chat, so immediately, like a dog, I go click for my treat.

I see my aunt has messaged me.

Now, let me say this before I go any further. I feel like I have a pretty good bullshit detector when it comes to online fraud and spamming. I’ve been doing this digital thing a while now, both at home and at work. But this one, at least for the first 2-3 back-and-forths, got me good. Here’s the exchange.

online scams

I was totally buying it until the “oh lol ok” part (not like a 70 year old aunt to say such a thing). Then it abruptly turned into a “winning money” and investment question. Then I knew for sure this wasn’t my aunt, but I let it go another couple of lines because I wanted to know where it was going.

I immediately checked this person’s Facebook profile and it was completely blank, confirming it was a spammer. Part of me felt dumb for even believing it for those first couple of lines and in retrospect, “hope they all fine” should have been a small giveaway, but people mistype all the time.

Oh well. This is the first time I’ve been hit up like this on Facebook Chat – and I suspect it won’t be the last.

Wherever there’s a positive online commerce trend happening, there’s an ugly duckling trailing behind. It’s inevitable and has been happening since commerce was invented. As technology and the internet progress, it’s actually fascinating to see how scammers dream up their next pickpocket schemes.

My aunt, she’s fine. She caught wind of it and posted a beware message.

You – be careful out there!

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You Can Change Your Mind

change your mindI tweeted this the other day, it was really a passing thought. The more I let it stew, though, the more I realized there was probably a fuller blog post in there somewhere. So here we are.

Some people are always skeptics. That must be hard, though I bet it can come in awfully handy on occasion. I’m happy to say that I’m not one of them, but I could also describe myself as situationally skeptical. I think this is probably the most normal, but I don’t have any sociological data to support that notion.

I’ve always been skeptical of the reporting that companies spit out, particularly internet companies who rely so heavily on the impression, the click, the interaction or my favorite one, the “active” user.

Some companies claim an active user is someone who has interacted with their site in the past 12 months. Some only count active users if they’ve done something on their site in the last 30 days. That’s a wide swing. Personally, I believe an active user should only be in the 1-3 day range for most sites.

The one I’ve been thinking about lately, as my tweet mentions, is the “unintentional engagement.” This doesn’t exist. But it should.

Have you ever been scrolling through your Twitter feed on your phone, using your finger to swipe down, down, down and you accidentally click instead of swipe, so a photo or video comes up? Of course you have. I think it might happen to me every day.

change your mind
If you’re looking at the bottom tweet, the auto-play video on top is counted as a view. Wrong.

Well, Twitter is counting that as engagement. It’s a click. If it’s a video and it plays for just 3 seconds, Twitter considers that a video view. Three seconds! 

If you were an advertiser paying Twitter, wouldn’t you want your reporting about video views or tweet views to be more true? Can’t they detect when you click and revert back to the main feed right away, like in 1-2 seconds? Of course they can. And they should.

Facebook, same idea. Have you ever been scrolling down your feed and a good friend of yours posts a paragraph or two of deep thoughts and you read it for a bit? Yes, you have. But just above that, a video starts playing on it’s own (that’s called “auto-play”) and it continues to play while you read something else? Facebook considers that an engagement, a video viewed! That you didn’t pay attention to it or see it matters none. They have the same 3 second rule in place, too.

YouTube is a little better. They don’t consider a video viewed for their analytics platform until :30 seconds. That seems much more reasonable to me. Unless your video is 20 minutes long, I guess.

Auto-play seems a little misleading to me, too. For example, the sound never goes on. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of recipe videos with text overlaid on them. Clever. But 3 seconds on auto-play counts as a viewed video? Facebook and Twitter say yes. I say no. There have been recent reports saying that as much as 85% of videos aren’t even heard!

So let’s get back to the main point of the tweet. I think it would be great if the social media sites actually reported “unintentional engagement.” They can absolutely do it. They can track if I click something and immediately head back. Facebook could easily not count an auto-played video as an official view for my brand if people have engaged (commented, liked, shared) with a post right below or above mine. It can be done.

But it won’t. Because they need to show HUGE numbers to advertisers as a carrot to get them to spend and keep spending.

Let me also say this, to play devil’s advocate for a moment. I’ve purchased plenty of video advertising on Facebook at my last couple of jobs. I don’t pay much attention to views or impressions, because those are bullshit measurements.

The success – depending on your goal – is usually in the engagement of it, the clicks to your website and the performance once they get there. I’ve generally been happy with the performance, particularly on Facebook.

I just think social media sites could be a lot more honest about this stuff. Or the IAB should come out with universal standards for engagement metrics. I’m not holding my breath.

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Loose Strings

A few marketing-related bullet points that have been rattling around in my brain lately…..

marketing-related bullet points

  • Snapchat. I know. It’s hot. And I swear that I’m historically an early adopter. I also know that as an almost 45 year old male, I’m not in the Snapchat demographic. But I have it and I watch it. I see what’s going on. I even like it. I like the brand stories. Geofilters are cool. But I’m feeling like it’s going to plateau before it gets to the Facebook/Twitter level of almost total adoption across all demos and ages. Why? Because most people my age don’t know how to use it, don’t want to know and like it or not, those people are a lot of headcount. Part of me feels like Snapchat will get there if they can sustain for, oh, another 20 years. Can they? Or will they be part of the upcoming valuation slashing party, which is only just beginning.Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 8.33.06 PM
  • Journalism. I’ve been listening to Kirk Minehane’s podcast lately. Minehane is a local sports radio guy here in Boston, but he’s exactly my age and is the only reason why it’s worth listening to WEEI at all in the morning. His competition at 98.5 is beating him, but he’s the best thing going in the morning. The problem is that you have to also listen to the other two guys on that show, who sound like every other sports radio dolts in the world. Anyway, Minehane keeps asking the journalists he interviews if they think that the printed Boston Globe is going to be around in five years. To a man, they all say no and it’s probably true. I’m with the trends, it seems – I subscribe to the Globe and read my news on my IPad Mini every morning except Sunday. I still need that printed paper on Sundays. But I read this New York Times article yesterday about the state of Journalism and it made me sad. You should read it. Times are changing. Mobile phones are modern day candy machines. The people who are interested in hard news, real investigative journalism and learning will always find the content they need. They drew that inspiration from somewhere, though.  How will the younger generation (really young kids, say, under 10) get inspired to seek out real news going forward? Only time will tell. Journalism as we know it is probably dead. Check out the Minehane podcast though, it’s good snacking.marketing-related bullet points

Instagram. I love it. In an increasingly visual world, this company provides everyone who uses it with access to one-touch photo filters to make their photos look professionally shot. Professional photographers groan at this sentence. They probably should. But much like music, the average naked ear can’t tell good quality sound in the same way the naked eye can’t tell good quality photos. This is a blanket generalization, but it’s true. The problem with Instagram is that Facebook owns it. That means things are changing. If brands wants to reach users, they will soon have no option other than to pay – just like Facebook. As a brand with 114,000 followers at my old job, I can tell you that I was pretty angry when I had to start paying to reach ANY of the 114,000 who I worked so hard to amass. For advertisers, the same thing is happening with Instagram now. For everyday users of Instagram, it means that youwon’t see all the photos of the people you follow, because Instagram now more or less controls your feed. It’s more complicated than that, but in essence that is what is happening. At some point people will rebel against this Facebook/Instagram approach. Not any time soon, though. For now, as always, money talks.

The key takeaway here? Easy always wins. Always. The IPhone is easy. Amazon. Spotify. Netflix. Uber. See the trend here? Easy. All of it. SO easy. Everyone else is chasing them. Quality still means something, but it means less than it used to. That’s just the cold truth. You give someone an easy path to do something, and you’ll win. Figure out the profitability thing later. I need to think of something easy!

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Social Media & Targeting

It’s probably safe to say at this point that I’m all about social media. Like any other form of media, it definitely has its drawbacks (see: political elections) and it has it plusses. What thrills me to no end about personal usage of social media over the years is my ability to keep up to date, if only at a distance, with people I knew and liked so long ago that I had lost touch with. What thrills me to no end about it professionally is the awesome ways you can perform social media targeting.

I think about a good friend whose family moved to Vermont freshman year of high school. I think about some of my youth hockey teammates from the ’80s.

I think of distant family. Of excellent old college professors and high school teachers, some of who righted my ship and changed my life.

College friends. High school friends. Music business friends. Friends from old jobs. I’d never maintain (re)connection with most of these people without social media. What a gas.

I’m almost 45, so my reasons for loving social media so much are far different than, say, millennials. I get it. I should also add that my appreciation of social does go beyond (re)connecting with old friends. There’s far more to it, of course, but I don’t need to get into it today.

My first tweet was in December 2006. It wasn’t anything ground-shaking. Obviously. It does show and prove that I’m a pretty grizzled veteran on it, though, coming up on ten years!social media targeting

My initial Facebook volley was in June of 2007, two weeks after my twins were born (and that post was very, very true, by the way). I’m at nine years on Facebook.

social media targeting

I don’t need to go on. I’m an early adopter. I turned it into a career and learned the professional side of it. I love the rush of massive shares and likes on a piece of work content. I love the rush of seeing great content from great people and friends on social media. Personal or professional, it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned. I’ve supported. I’ve been supported. I’ve been entertained. I love it. I just love it.

Which brings me to my new job. I’ve already mentioned before the transition from B2C to B2B. At this particular B2B I’m at, we’re a manufacturer selling product to a very, very finite set of distributors, with a very distinct set of non-traditional personas. These are not online mavens. Not social media maniacs like myself – and we’re not going to make them be that way. But they’re out there, milling around social.

So the goal isn’t explosive growth. And without sounding like an ass, I’m pretty good at driving growth in social. I took Pure Hockey from 2,800 Facebook followers to 114,000. More importantly, it was done with super-high engagement from our users.  I built, established relationships and cultivated Twitter growth through a dedicated set of important influencers and a steadfast obsession with answering tweets within minutes and sometimes seconds. These are the metrics that matter far more than followers.

when not to be on social media
There’s No Mystery About Who Our Customers Are

The B2B I’m at is, in some ways, a polar opposite. Without getting into too much detail, we pretty much already know who ALL the customers in the USA are, whether they buy from us or not (and a heck of a lot do)! We do not do lead gen because we don’t have to! Let that sink in for a second. That’s pretty nice in some ways. We don’t even allow search engines to crawl our website because we don’t sell to end-users, and why risk our great relationships with distributors? Can you imagine?

This makes social a very interesting endeavor! For the most part, social marketing initiatives involve paid campaigns where I’m uploading our customer list to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google AdWords, etc and targeting just those people. They’re the only ones we need to reach. Talk about targeting. Wild, right?!

Wild.

It’s a challenge. But a fun, interesting and much different one. How do you keep the same (fairly small) group of people entertained and coming back – or doing whatever it is you want them to do?

The nurturing, the education, the entertaining, the content……it’s all a work in progress and it’s hard work. It’s also teaching me even more about the power and different strategies of social media and marketing. Fun.

I will be writing more about this in future posts – a few practices, tips and tricks to effectively reaching a smaller set of distinct people.

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