January 29, 2011

A Moment of Appreciation for Taco Bell

Filed under: Current Events,Social Media — Emily Reeves @ 12:14 pm

I have to appreciate the most recent approach that Taco Bell has taken in response to the lawsuit about the percentage of beef in their products: a bit self-deprecating.  Check out some of the latest Twitter posts by Taco Bell:

Of course the laughter comes only after they made it over the hump of seriously addressing the lawsuit with an official video and statement from the company president last week:

The responses from Taco Bell, both the serious and the funny, were the right ones.  No one really believed they were eating 100% beef when they ordered from Taco Bell, especially those that are actual customers.  And they don’t care because they love the brand and the products.  The news only rallied Taco Bell’s dedicated following: their Twitter and Facebook pages are practically love fests.

While Taco Bell had to address the situation, the acknowledgment of the humor in the situation makes the brand all the more likable and really aligns with its established feisty brand personality.

Here is the video referenced in the Taco Bell Twitter post above. Enjoy.

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Foursquare Growth and the Future of Location Sharing

Filed under: Culture,Marketing,Social Media — Emily Reeves @ 11:13 am

Last year was one of significant growth for Foursquare: 3400% growth in 2010, according to the site.  Foursquare has released an infographic with some interesting facts.  Thinking about Foursquare from a branding and business-building perspective, these are a few of my favorite data points shared by Foursquare:

Knowing when a consumer is more or less likely to check-in and share their location with friends and followers can give a business the opportunity to offer special deals during slower time periods to try to drive traffic.

This graphic tells me when to stay home!

Clever.  Consumers love clever.  Brands should think about the unique qualities of their brands and leverage the data to make the consumer smile in appreciation.  Then, check-in because they want to be part of the inner circle offered by the brand.

The year 2010 proved that location sharing was relevant to the social consumer.  Foursquare has by far dominated that scene.  Some of the questions in 2011 will be:

  • Can Foursquare maintain its dominance or will Facebook’s massive user base switch to using Facebook Places?  There is something appealing about the game aspect of Foursquare that encourages participation more than Facebook Places; but being able to tag friends with you gives Facebook an edge.
  • Will brands figure out how to really use location sharing in ways that benefit consumers and get them talking?  Big brands like Starbucks have used it and small yet savvy independents have used it.  But what about those mid-size challenger brands that are trying to stand out?
  • Will we see the apps for location sharing get more robust?  Some allow photos, some don’t; some allow tagging friends, others don’t.  What about multiple photo uploads to one check-in?  Or user rankings or reviews for each location?  How about options to leave feedback for the business versus posting it publicly to the check-in?  Will we see video sharing options built in?  Might we see some personal analytics tools for “defining” the user type?  How about varied privacy settings a la Facebook so that family can see all posts, certain friends can see limited posts, others can see more, etc.?

January 17, 2011

The Golden Globes Social Scene

Filed under: Culture,Current Events,Technology — Emily Reeves @ 7:33 am

Because I had some work to catch up on last night, I chose to stay home and watch the Golden Globes alone.  But I didn’t feel alone at all.  With my computer in my lap, the Twitter app running and Facebook in my browser window, it felt like I was at a watch party among friends.  I laughed at some posts, rolled my eyes at others and commented on many.  Is the fact that technology can replace the feeling of camaraderie that comes with personal, face-to-face interactions good for our society or bad?  Probably neither and both.

This topic is explored in a new book, Alone Together.  I haven’t read the book yet, but have put it on my list to read soon.  The book was recently reviewed over at The Daily Beast:

“The advantage to all that gadgetry, of course, is connectedness: email lets us respond on the go, and we are in touch with more people during more hours of the day than at any other time in history. But is it possible we’re more lonely than ever, too? That’s what MIT professor Sherry Turkle observes in her new book, Alone Together, a fascinating portrait of our changing relationship with technology. The result of nearly 15 years of study (and interviews with hundreds of subjects), Turkle details the ways technology has redefined our perceptions of intimacy and solitude—and warns of the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections.”

The “alone” versus “together” situation works in reverse as well: when we are face-to-face among a group of people, many of us isolate ourselves by bowing our heads to the mobile devices actively lighting up in our hands.  If you don’t believe me, next time you go out to dinner, do a quick scan around the restaurant and check out what people are doing at each table.

The impact of technology on social mores is not a new topic of conversation, but as technology and social channels continue to improve and become even more integrated into our lives, the conversation will grow.  But will anything change?  Will we pull back on the use of technology and social media now that it is ingrained in our behaviors?

Check out the novel Super Sad True Love Story for a satirical look at the possibility of completely transparent sharing through technology and utter dependency on technology.  It is funny and sad and scary.  Set in a future where people are obsessed with appearances, their smart phones and credit scores, this book tells the story of two mismatched lovers through their journal entries and online communications.

January 16, 2011

2010 According to Google Search

Filed under: Culture,That's Just Cool — Emily Reeves @ 7:26 pm

Google Zeitgeist offers data displays of how the world searched in 2010.  I could spend days playing with the charts and information.  But for non-geeks, Google has a great video that recaps the year:

January 11, 2011

Summarizing 2011 Trend Predictions

Filed under: Current Events,Social Media,Technology — Emily Reeves @ 8:30 pm

It is that time of year when predictions for 2011 abound across the web. It’s always tough to make predictions about technology due to the speed of innovation, but that hasn’t stopped the blogosphere from throwing opinions against the wall. Outlined below is a summary of some the most talked about and interesting predictions for 2011.

  • Online video viewing continues to grow and results ensue.
  • Photo sharing gains in popularity.
  • Social shopping gaining momentum.
  • Location sharing is (still) not going away.
  • Consumer influence continues to grow online.

Online Video Viewing Continues To Grow and Results Ensue

Prediction: More Companies/Brands Using Video to Sell. Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. In four years, more than 90% of internet content will be video.

Online video viewing is now more than just cute kittens. The kittens might get the most views, but consumers are actually just as interested in interacting with brands via videos as they are in laughing at pet tricks. Brands that engage consumers through video demonstrations are seeing the results on their bottom lines. Zappos, as one example, added simple videos of people holding shoes and moving them around to its sales pages and increased conversion rate from 6% to 30%. Based on that success, by the end of next year, Zappos will have ten full working video studios, with the goal of producing around 50,000 product videos by 2010, up from the 8,000 videos they have on the site today.

Toyota is another example: its “The Swagger Wagon” music video garnered over seven million views, only three percent of which were driven by advertising.

And, Travelocity was the first brand to jump on the Chatroulette fad early in 2010 when they placed their signature gnome character in front of the webcam holding signs with clever travel messages. Over 40 days and nights, the Roaming Gnome generated 350,000 impressions on the site, engaged in 40 conversations, and generated over 19 million media impressions for the brand.

In the next year, we will see more brands using video to sell their products and services.

Sources: Mashable, Streaming Media

Prediction: More Mobile Video Sharing. Smartphones with video recording abilities are not new to consumers, and even the ability to record HD video is not new. Up until this point, however, we have not seen mobile video capturing and sharing take off. This is most likely a result of the difficulty in uploading and sharing video instantly due to bandwidth limitations. In the next year, we will see wireless providers improve bandwidth, allowing friendlier video uploads and we will devices improve video compression without sacrificing quality that will assist with immediate sharing.

With this in mind, businesses might consider encouraging consumer use of videos to share their brand and product experiences.  Providing customers with  back-drop and props, allowing access to a wireless connection to assist in upload speed, and giving them a place to share their videos with other customers are all ways to promote brand-specific videos.

Source: Mashable

Photo Sharing Gains in Popularity

Prediction: More Mobile Photo Sharing. Mobile sharing services will hit critical mass as smartphone users install apps in order to keep up with their friends. The iPhone photography app Instagr.am, which launched less that three months ago, claimed this week to have surpassed 1 million downloads. Services like Instagr.am have become so popular because they emphasize simplicity and make it easy to share your photos on social networks; Instagr.am, in particular, is liked for the filters it offers, the community they find there and the ease of cross-posting Instagrammed photos out to other networks like Flickr, Facebook and Foursquare.

With tools like these, average users can look more like professional photographers and they want to show off their work. And, although people already post photos to Facebook, we will probably see an improvement in their photo sharing features that include integration into their Places app that launched in 2010 so that users can share their work with a broader audience of people who also visit that “place.”

Expect to see photo sharing increase in the next year.  Businesses can capitalize on this trend by launching promotions that reward customer participation by photographs or gives customers a forum for sharing their amateur photography with others.

Sources: ReadWriteWeb, CNN, Mashable

Group Shopping Gaining Momentum

Prediction: More Ability to Share Purchases Through Social Channels Allowing Customers to Become the Advertisers. When you add in a reward component, like with Groupon, there are many more people willing to share their individual purchases (or purchase intent) through their existing social platforms. Groupon was introduced to the central Arkansas area in 2010. It is a daily coupon for a local business that only becomes active if enough people purchase it that day. “This creates the incentive to share the deal with friends and family, until ‘the deal is on.’ It’s great for local businesses because they can set the parameters for the offer and they know a minimum for how many offers they will have sold in advance.” Businesses establish the offer and people who have signed up for Groupon receive the notification. If the user decides to buy the offer, they have the option of telling their friends about it – through Facebook or Twitter, thereby spreading the word to their networks, too. Groupon gets its offers in front of buyers via the word of mouth of its 13 million subscribers.

Groupon’s effectiveness is evident in its claim that it now has 35,000 companies clamoring to be a part of the service offerings and only one in eight applicants is accepted. The companies that register with Groupon must already be getting good reviews at online review sites like Yelp, CitySearch and TripAdvisor, and the deals must offer a substantial discount from normal prices and not be similar to other promotions regularly offered by the vendor.

In the next year, consumers will become increasingly comfortable sharing their purchases and getting their friends on board to make the same purchases.  Businesses should make this easy for their customers to do.  With tools like Facebook Connect and linking to Twitter accounts on their websites, companies can encourage customers to share their purchases through their existing social media tools.

Sources: Social Media Explore, TechCrunch, Forbes

Location Sharing Is (Still) Not Going Way.

Prediction: Location Services Will Continue to Grow in Popularity. People will get more comfortable checking in to a business when they realize they can get deals and coupons for doing so. Additionally, with options like privacy blocking, enhanced security will ease the transition.

“Relevance will distinguish [location] services from each other as the two biggest players, Facebook and Google, have the most powerful social graph data to customize deals for consumers. Don’t count Groupon out, though. It more than makes up for its comparative lack of technology with brand equity and scale, as its massive sales force will remain dominant in 2011 by further monetizing local commerce beyond the recently launched self-service platform.”

If you are a business owner, it is “time to acquaint yourself with sites and applications such as Foursquare, Facebook Places and Gowalla. These sites will help you better target prospects’ likes and interests, pique interest and influence purchase decisions by offering discounts, promotions or giveaways when they ‘check in’ to your business.”

Sources: Mashable, Entrepreneur

Consumer Influence Continues To Grow Online

Prediction: Consumers Get More Selective With The Brands They Allow In Their Social Streams. In the coming year people are going to be much more diligent about curating their own content into a more manageable form. While following a brand on Twitter or Facebook is getting consumers good coupons and deals, it is also turning their streams into undesired and overwhelming advertising channels that drown out the social sharing from their friends. “Therefore, what’s happening in Facebook is that consumers are turning off brands posting to their walls, using friends lists to pay close attention only to their ‘real’ friends, and commenting on or sharing only when something is really juicy. In Twitter, a company called Cadmus aims to change the way we view our streams by determining what content is most relevant to you based on your Twitter usage patterns. Other tools, such as Paper.li and Flipboard (for iPad), also curate Twitter, primarily based on content popularity, and make that content much more reader-friendly.”

It is no longer enough for companies to be in these channels generating regular content. The content that brands and companies post is going to have be worthy of consumer curation into their social streams. “If your content is truly compelling and share-worthy, it’ll get noticed and Liked, it will generate Comments and Retweets, and you’ll be okay because it will have legitimately earned its way into people’s streams. If not – you’ll have to have a combination of search optimization savvy [and] fans in high places (influencers).” In the next year, as consumers get more selective in their follow habits, brands will get more creative in their ploys to make into the social streams.

Source: Social Media Explorer

Prediction: Online Influencers Are Celebrities. Consumers want to be heard, and more importantly they want answers. Consumers are already scouring the social web and polling their friends and followers to decide where to eat, shop and stay. Websites dedicated to customer reviews will dominate the social media landscape. Sites such as Groubal.com, consolidating common user-submitted complaints and presenting those petitions to businesses, demanding answers for their wrongdoings.

As consumers are doing all of this, brands are desperately trying to insert themselves into those relevant streams by analyzing Twitter, blog posts and reviews to understand not only who has the largest audience, but how much influence individuals have. These influencers become well-known locally, regionally and nationally as their content is commented on, retweeted and linked to, driving them higher in search results. The past year also saw some brands go full throttle on Foursquare’s game-like geo-location platform, attempting to reward mayors and creating custom badges for the network’s power users. To measure the relevant influence of these online “celebrities,” tools like YouTube’s Partner Program is being joined by new services such as Klout to create an official layer of social credibility.

We will see brands doing more research on their social consumers in the next year as they figure out ways to influence the influencers.

Source: Mashable, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review

January 9, 2011

Who is your social media audience?

Filed under: Marketing,Social Media — Emily Reeves @ 3:09 pm

During the last few weeks of 2010, there were several studies released that revealed social media use by demographics.  As businesses continue integrating social media more into their communications executions, this information is valuable looking toward 2011 plans.  Here is a recap of stats from across the web; look for some more detailed thoughts on leveraging these findings in communications strategies in the coming weeks.

Twitter

In 2010, Twitter increased by more than 100 million users, bringing the total users to 175 million.  Eight percent of the American adults who use the Internet are Twitter users.

And these users are influential, with 16%  having more than 100 followers.  Of those queried, 62% said they post updates related to their work life, activities or interests, with 12% doing so on a daily basis.  Twitter users are nearly equally divided between those who check the site on a daily basis (or multiple times per day) and those who check the site infrequently or never. Just over one-third of Twitter users (36%) check for material posted by others on a daily basis or multiple times per day — this is roughly comparable with the two in five (41%) who say they check the site less than every few weeks, or never do so at all. The remaining one-quarter of users say they check the site for updates a few days each week or every few weeks.

Some of the groups who are notable for their relatively high levels of Twitter use include:

  • Young adults: Internet users ages 18-29 are significantly more likely to use Twitter than are older adults.
  • African-Americans and Latinos: Minority internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users.
  • Urbanites: Urban residents are roughly twice as likely to use Twitter as rural dwellers.

Women and the college-educated are also slightly more likely than average to use the service.

Additionally, these new Twitter users are more comfortable sharing their personal information and show evidence of comfort with their online presence: were much more likely to provide a bio (69%), detailed name (73%), location (82%) and website URL (44%) as part of their public profiles. All of those percentages are more than double what they were in 2009. Also noteworthy is that 22.5% of users are responsible for 90% of all tweets.

Before getting too excited about Twitter stats, keep in mind that email use is still 38% greater than Twitter use.

Sources: Mashable, Pew Research

Facebook

Overall, 50% of all 500+ million Facebook users log on to Facebook in any given day.  Drilling down a bit, 81% of upscale Gen Yers (average age 27) use Facebook every day, nearly twice the number who watch TV or read newspaper content.

The average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 pages, groups, and events.

Of the Gen Y users, 63% use social media to engage with brands and more than 50% say that Facebook, blogs and brand videos affect their opinions about products.  In fact, 44% of overall shares occurred through Facebook in 2010, up 33% from last year. That number does not include shares done via Facebook’s “Like” button, which means the actual, universal percentage of shares through Facebook is likely higher.  And, Facebook users are updating their status millions of times per day.

What are their sentiments when Facebook users are posting all those status updates?  Facebook did some analysis on their own users and Facebook’s data team found:

  • A positive correlation between friend count and second person pronouns, total word count, communication, religion, swear words and sex.
  • A negative correlation between friend count and past and present tense verbs, family and emotions.
  • The time of day impacts word choice. Not only do Facebook’s users tend to talk about sleeping the most at around 4 a.m. ET, but they tend to talk about their work right before they head into the office.
  • Positive and negative emotions are also affected by the time of day; Negative emotions tend to peak at around 1 a.m. ET, while positive emotions tend to peak at about 7 a.m. ET. More importantly, negative emotions tend to increase as the day progresses at the expense of positive emotions.

And, by the way, if Facebook was a country it would be the third-largest in the world.

Sources: Mashable, Mashable, Mashable, Problogger

Blogging

When it comes to blogging, as only half as many online teens blog compared to 2006, while users ages 18 to 33 also blog less than before. Blogging did see a slight uptick among older generations (ages 33 and up), but still accounts for a relatively small number of total users.  However, as of December, 2010 there are over 32 million WordPress publishers; someone is still blogging!

Sources: Mashable, Problogger

Online, in General

The Milliennials – those ages 18 to 33 – are more likely to engage in many online activities than older generations, namely social networking, using online classifieds, instant messaging, playing online games, listening to music, participating in virtual worlds and reading blogs.  Users ages 34 to 45, or the Gen X, however, are more likely than Millennials to visit government websites or get their financial information online.

Regardless of what they are doing there, Americans are increasingly spending more time on the Internet.  In fact, Americans are now spending as much time using the Internet as they are watching television, and the amount of time people spend on the Internet has increased 121 percent over the last five year.

Sources: Mashable, New York Times

Crowdsourcing At Its Best

Filed under: Culture,Current Events,Social Media — Emily Reeves @ 1:21 pm

The NFL has cut a spot together that features captured video of the Saints winning last year’s Super Bowl and have been airing it during the playoffs this year.  The full story of how it came together can be read here.

Watch the video here (while the NFL did the video right, they didn’t embrace the full power of the social web to make it embeddable; a fail in my opinion).

Crowdsourcing is not a new conversation topic on this blog.  I am always impressed by well-done, crowdsourced videos.  And, today’s example actually gave me goosebumps.  Maybe it is because I am from Louisiana and I am proud of the Saints.  Maybe it is because I have become more engaged in football lately with my Fantasy Football obsession (although a losing proposition).  Maybe it is just because I love the fact that through social channels, everyday consumers can contribute to a major advertising campaign.  Maybe it is just really well done.

The Value of Groupon

Filed under: Business,Social Media — Emily Reeves @ 12:40 pm

Organizations today are thinking about how to take their business local, mobile and social in an effort to reach consumers where they are spending their time and money.  Using opt-in tools like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla, businesses are attempting to gather followers with relevant messages in hopes of generating new business.  These tools are fantastic for businesses with an existing dedicated fan-base that is interested in helping to spread the word.  However, as technology continues to evolve, new tools are becoming available for businesses to reach out to new customers that may never have heard of the business.  One such tool is Groupon.

Groupon leverages the collective power of consumer interest by making a deal available only when a certain number of people agree to make the purchase.
“This creates the incentive to share the deal with friends and family, until ‘the deal is on.’ It’s great for local businesses because they can set the parameters for the offer and they know a minimum for how many offers they will have sold in advance.”

As a consumer, I love Groupon: discounts for items I might buy anyway or otherwise wouldn’t buy due to high cost of entry and introduction to brands I’ve never encountered before.  As a communications adviser, I can see the benefits of Groupon: introducing new users to instigate trial, driving traffic and encouraging frequency of existing users.  However, I can also understand the hesitancy of business owners to engage with Groupon for fear of losing money and never seeing results.

The Groupon site has over 35 million registered users. (Source: Mashable)  This is how small businesses can reach a large bank of consumers that might never have heard of them before.  It can be a source for lead generation.  However, “Groupon offers such a wide variety of products (spas, restaurants, and all sorts of weird local businesses)…This attracts a certain type of customer (people who want ‘deals’ and aren’t focused on business quality or returning) and encourages a certain type of behavior (namely low retention because of the deal volume).” (Source: Quora question/answer)

Determining the value of participating with Groupon takes a series of calculations and guesses, which this New York Times post sums up nicely.  To start, consider that Groupon takes a percentage of every coupon sold.  According to The New York Times, “The members who buy the coupon get 50 to 70 percent off on a product or service, and Groupon splits the proceeds with the retailer — usually leaving the retailer with about 20 to 25 cents on the dollar of retail value….Groupon is advertising….It costs money. Instead of writing a check for an ad, you are choosing to lose money on sales.”

There have been many documented complaints from businesses when it comes to their individual Groupon results: minimum purchases, single visits, poor tipping, etc.  However, there have also been success stories: new customers, sales increases, etc.  Groupon may be successful for some businesses and a risk to large to take for others.  Regardless, it is a great opportunity to reach new users and it is the business owner’s responsibility to deliver service and product that encourages repeat visits.  Businesses interested in using Groupon should prepare for impressing new customers and gaining their future loyalty.

While poor performance can’t be solely attributed to the Groupon model, there are ways that Groupon might improve the experience for business-owners (disclaimer: they may already offer these things, but I can’t find any information about it):

  • Hyper-local targeting, by zip code or neighborhood.
  • Provide opportunities for business to re-contact those that bought and/or redeemed the Groupons they offered.
  • Provide additional incentives or rewards for consumers sharing their purchases.
  • Connect with review sites like Yelp and encourage users to share their experiences using their purchased Groupon.