Posts Tagged ‘ marketing ’

Tweeting against a playoff

Push marketing has survived every new development in media over the past century, the Internet included. Instead of just interrupting your reading, ads started interrupting your listening, then your viewing, and now your web browsing.

But one thing has changed. Now you can push back.

Two-way conversations and relationship-building dialogue were the underlying themes of all three fantastic research presentations I heard recently on web marketing. The details differ, but the overall mantra is the same: talk to your customer base and also also listen to what they have to say.

My fellow classmates sum up this philosophy much better than I can, and I highly recommend the online versions of their presentations. You can find David Hollander’s presentation here, Cathy Freeman’s here and David Parsons’ here.

It all makes the process of talking with consumers seem so engaging, so uplifting, so affirming.

Now try it as the voice behind college football’s loathed Bowl Championship Series, the entity standing in the way of the playoff system so many fans passionately want.

It isn’t pretty, as the BCS’ brand new Twitter account, INSIDEtheBCS, demonstrates. As it touts the benefits of the bowl system and the flaws of a playoff format (they even created a website dedicated to bashing playoffs), the feed is clearly meant to convince some fans that having polls decide who plays for the national championship isn’t such a bad idea.

What’s happening instead is that the BCS’ many enemies have a place online to rally. Try searching insidetheBCS on Twitter and you’ll come across the barrage of negative comments lobbed against an institution most fans feel is standing in the way of fairly crowning a national champion.

But does that make the attempt a failure? Whoever is manning the BCS account has taken the time to respond to many of the negative posts since the feed started a couple of weeks ago. This is exactly what marketers are supposed to do with social media, as criticism comes with the territory.

It’s in addressing the criticism and winning over new converts that social media marketing has its value, and the jury is still out on whether the BCS will win in this regard. Having the BCS actively respond to proponents of a playoff is much more endearing than conference commissioners arrogantly proclaiming on network TV that the current system must stand.

But it’s doubtful the BCS cares at all what its Twitter followers have to say. Despite heavy media and fan pressure to do so, BCS officials have shown zero interest in a new format. Unless they’re taking input into account for possible changes to the bowl system, then this is a social media effort that’s all talk.

If you’re going to stick with the traditional push marketing tactics, there’s not much use for new media. That’s a forum best saved for those eager and willing to act on their audience’s input.

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Social media offers little if there’s no plan in place

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re an active user of Facebook and Twitter. So quick show of hands, how many Facebook fan pages do you actively check? What about commercial brands you follow on Twitter?

For all the talk about the potential of leveraging these social media spaces for profit, few companies enter with a real strategy on connecting with customers. As a result, you get a glut of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and very few that have active audiences following their content. They’ll sign up. Maybe check in every now and again, but ultimately move along to their friend’s photo album from the weekend.

This is of course a gross generalization. There are some smart and creative users of Facebook and Twitter who build an audience for their company/organization. But it’s highly unlikely anyone who just shows up is going to build a following.

This is where web analytics come in, enabling the companies with a plan to comprehensively track activity on their site and see if it matches up with their predetermined goals.

That’s assuming you have a plan. Many don’t.

Being able to clearly articulate your social media objectives is absolutely essential before making the Web 2.0 plunge. That was the central point my classmates and I heard today from PR and Marketing professional Mark Tosczak, who has worked with many clients in tracking their web presence and expanding into social media.

“Being on Twitter is not a plan,” Tosczak told the class. “It’s not a strategy. It’s not a goal. It’s just being on the web.”

Merely being on the web may have been impressive for a company …. in 1996. Nowadays corporate organizations need to define their goals for cyberspace. Is it just to get a bunch of page views? Is it to sell a product online? Is it to get consumers to sign up for a mailing list? Is it to expand into a new region? Is it to foster customer loyalty?

These are goals that can be measured through analytics by looking at the concrete results of what people are doing once they reach the site. It’s here that an organization can keep tabs on whether their website or their Facebook page is fulfilling it’s intended purpose or just taking up server space.

Once the objective is defined, then comes the challenge of wading through all the data and putting it in proper context. That’s a valuable skill where firms like RLF Communications, where Mark Tosczak works, can provide a great service to corporations.

But nothing happens unless the goals are there first. Nowhere is that more evident than on the social media spaces that are created just to exist. As I’ve blogged about before, these pages need to be offering valuable content, building customer relationships and offering something unique in order to stand out.

Just existing on the web isn’t enough.

Blogging for bucks

For all the hoopla surrounding new media (blogs, podcasts, social media), it’s still a rough landscape for those looking to turn a profit. Take Twitter, which has tens of millions of users and active accounts from every organization and corporation out there. For all the investment it has generated, it still struggles to find a viable business model.

It should come as no surprise then that very few are using blogs as a direct money generator. Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere survey for 2009 shows that very few are cashing in just through a blog. The survey polled nearly 3,000 bloggers, and less than a quarter are blogging professionally. Of that subset, just 17 percent say it’s their primary source of income.

So why is everyone under the Internet sun launching and nurturing a blog? It’s because they have potential as a marketing tool driving customers to the main product. It’s hard to sell ads on even a well-trafficked blog. But if the blog has built up a loyal readership, it can then turn that audience into customers.

There’s a tricky balancing act to follow. Straight-up shilling will be recognized as advertising and tuned out the way we fast forward through commercials when given the chance. But if the blog is offering useful info, it becomes both an engaging read and a chance to demonstrate expertise in a topic. This builds relationships that will create customer loyalty for a commodity or service.

It’s the same thing with Twitter. A growing segment of users aren’t signing up to tweet about their lunch plans, they’re marketing their companies. News organizations have recognized this value. Travis Lusk, director of new media for WCBS, spoke to my class today about what works in the New York radio market and emphasized the importance of actively using Twitter to cultivate an audience and drive followers to top stories.

Anyone who evaluates new media in terms of direct revenue is doomed for disappointment. But viewed as a marketing tool for a larger campaign, its value is immense. Not only can it be effective in generating sales, it’s far cheaper than traditional print and broadcast advertising, and builds the kind of loyalty no sum of ad dollars can buy.

How maps survived the threat of GPS and even became cool again

The extroverted children played with action figures. The introverted ones sketched pictures.

I was a weird hybrid of the two archetypes. I charted maps of the neighborhood.

Now I might get to revisit that outlet of youthful imagination.

Just when it seemed that maps were dying a slow death at the hands of GPS systems, interactive media has opened up a limitless range of new possibilities to put visual representations of streets and terrain to practical use. These are uses that go beyond what Mapquest offers or even the voyeuristic appeals of Google Streetview and Google Earth. Now both the content and the design of each map can meet the unique navigational needs of each user. They can also help spotlight a particular subject and function as the perfect establishing shot to orientate audiences to a new interactive world.

Take North Carolina wine, a product that figuratively speaking really has struggled to get on the map against better known European and Californian competitors. Dozens of new wineries have popped up across the state in recent years, but they’re usually in remote areas and hard to discover navigating with traditional maps alone. Enter the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, which put together this interactive map that makes it easy to plot out your own wine trail and compile info on each stop along the way. It cuts out all the clutter and simplifies the interface around the target objective — getting visitors to explore multiple wineries no matter where they live.

On a much more advanced level, the Los Angeles Conservancy is also using an interactive map to build awareness of the city’s historical attractions. It simplifies what is usually a crowded-looking metropolis on any map into an organized set of info that invites users to plan their own trips and see the city as a living museum. You can scratch the surface, go into details or use it to figure out which sites to see in person. In this map, they no longer have to compete for attention with L.A’s plethora of distractions, making it both a navigational tool and a promotional spotlight.

On the news side, check out this interactive map on the potential consequences of global warming. You can see what parts of the world will be underwater if the oceans rise by various amounts. At 1 meter, my brother in Wilmington is still safe. Beyond that, his city starts sinking.

These sites are just scratching the surface. Imagine being able to access an interactive grid of power lines or water pipes next time there’s a break in your utility service. Envision learning about military history by scanning  maps of old battlefields to see where troops were positioned and how enemy ranks were broken. Consider getting wrapped up in a fantasy/sci-fi tale by scanning a map of the fictional world to learn about the culture and zoom in on any location for more detail.

Maybe it’s just that kid in me who’s still charting roads while on his bike or marking down landmarks while  hiking trails, but interactive maps are among the most exciting and dynamic uses of the the communications technology already available to us. Over the next few months, I hope to come across countless more examples of their potential being realized, and reengage in my own love of map-making  all over again.