Tag Archives: marketing

Lessons I learned during a year of self-employment

simon blogging

July 31, 2014. That’s the day I walked away from my PR and marketing job with a steady paycheck and into a life of self-employment and uncertainty. It wasn’t that I disliked the people with whom I worked; I still remain good friends with many of them today, and there are times when I see their office Instagram photos and miss the daily camaraderie that was always a cubicle away.

But the truth is that I was bored, and by being the middle cog in a small bureaucracy I knew I wasn’t stretching myself to my full potential. My background is in journalism, and even though I now made my living in marketing, I wanted the greater freedom to write more regularly and then leverage my journalistic brand to advance my career.

I was also in a unique position that allowed me to capitalize on my content marketing background. I’ve spent roughly half my career in journalism and the other half in marketing, so I’ve watched firsthand as brands have grown hungrier and hungrier for high-quality storytelling and thought leadership. With display advertising becoming increasingly ineffective, companies and executives are desperate to find journalists who know how to leverage their reporting skills to reach and inform the core demographics a brand wants to influence, whether it’s on a company blog, through social media, or via an established media brand that publishes guest columns.

Well, it’s been a year. And during that time I’ve managed to 1) generate a steady stream of clients, many of whom pay me to ghostwrite thought leadership articles for their executives, and, more important, 2) make enough money so that I’m not currently in danger of eviction.

I also learned a few lessons about self-employment, many of which I hadn’t anticipated when I put in my notice a year ago. So I thought I’d collect a few of them here in case a person reading this is thinking about striking out alone and could use a good reality check:

Self-employment is incredibly lonely

There’s a reason why many self-employed people try to create a facsimile of office life by joining a coworking space, and that’s because rolling out of bed every morning and walking the 10 feet to a desk in your apartment gets old pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much client work lined up when I quit my job and didn’t feel comfortable shelling out an additional $500 a month for a coworking desk when I was living entirely off savings. So instead I endured entire workdays in which I didn’t come into contact with a single human being. This was only exacerbated when winter set in and I had even less incentive to leave my home.

Eventually, I started making more of an effort to get out, whether that meant going to a coffee shop twice a week or meeting colleagues for lunch. But both of these options have downsides. It can be incredibly difficult to be productive in a coffee shop; it only takes one screaming toddler to ruin your concentration, and it turns out moms really love taking their screaming toddlers to coffee shops. Meeting colleagues for lunch is great because you get to squeeze both networking and socializing into one meeting, but the time it takes up during your work day, including traveling both to and from the lunch spot, often makes it difficult to get much else done on those days.

You don’t get paid for a lot of the work you do

I charge many of my clients by the hour, and when I started out I assumed I would eventually reach a point where I was logging nearly 40 hours a week in client work. In reality, even on a busy week, I’m lucky if I can fit in 20 to 25 hours of actual client work on top of everything else I have to do as part of my job.

It turns out that self-employed people have to put up with a lot of bullshit they don’t get paid for. For instance, in the month of July I spent hours and hours talking on the phone or meeting with potential clients, and then many more hours crafting proposals for them. But only a small number of those phone calls and proposals convert into actual client work, meaning much of that time was completely wasted.

I also try to squeeze in as much time as possible for my own writing, but many of these articles (like the one you’re reading now) I don’t get paid for. So why spend so much time on them? Well, for one, I love writing, and one of the reasons I quit my job was so that I’d have more time to do it. But also my writing serves as a form of marketing; many of my clients have come in after reading articles like this one.

Then there’s the administrative stuff that doesn’t count as client work. Think invoicing, visiting the bank to deposit checks, going to Kinkos to print and scan contracts. That adds up to a lot of busy work.

Finally, you have your general “screwing around” time you always take for granted at a salaried position. You know, that half hour you spend every day surfing Facebook and Reddit? Turns out you still want to do that stuff when you’re self-employed, only you feel a lot more guilty doing it because it’s detracting from the time spent doing things you actually get paid for.

You have to take on every facet of the business

You know the administrative stuff I mentioned above? The nice thing about working at a firm with dozens of employees is that different people handle different parts of the business so you can focus more on your actual core job. For instance, whenever a client didn’t pay the firm we had a team of accountants and lawyers who would hound the company or person until they paid up.

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Working for myself, I have to take on this ugly work myself. At one point, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur hired me to do some marketing work for his mobile app, but when I billed him and then later sent him reminder emails about payment, he always had an excuse. It became clockwork; I’d email him a reminder gently asking him about payment, he’d offer up an excuse about cash burn-rates and then promise to send a check. Flash forward a month later, then repeat. Eventually he stopped even bothering to answer my emails, so I had to figure out how to file a small claims lawsuit, print up all the documents, and then travel down to the courthouse to hand them to the clerk. But then, a few days before a judge was set to hear the case, I learned the court date was canceled because they hadn’t been able to find the guy and serve him the papers. Finally, I just sent the guy an email threatening to contact ValleyWag and convince the publication to do a story on how the startup guy and his investors were screwing employees. Lo and behold, the money was wired to my bank account within 24 hours, but of course I didn’t get paid for all the additional time I’d spent trying to collect the money I was owed.

Self-employment is an emotional rollercoaster

Friends and family who have known me for a long time would never describe me as an optimist, but for the most part I’ve managed to maintain a healthy outlook on life. But for the past several months, I’ve rapidly vacillated through an entire kaleidoscope of emotions, including confidence, doubt, depression, stress, relief, anger, and despair. There are times in which I experience all these feelings in a single day. For the most part, these emotions have been completely irrational, seeing as how I’ve been able to make ends meet without too much trouble, but they still plague me anyway. I have a feeling this situation will become more subdued as time goes on, but I doubt it’ll ever completely go away.

You don’t have as much freedom as you’d think

Quitting my day job wasn’t just about improving my career, I also envisioned it improving all other aspects of my life. Because I’d be mostly working from home I could fix my own food and therefore eat healthier (and lose weight in the process). I’d set my own schedule, meaning I could take time during the day to clean my apartment, go grocery shopping, do laundry, or the dozens of other things we always have to put off until the weekend. In all, I planned to become a more well-rounded adult.

Flash forward to 12 months later. It turns out that all that stuff I’d had to put off until nights and weekends still didn’t get done until nights and weekends. I still only clean my apartment about once a week, usually on Saturdays, and because I spend more time in it now it actually gets dirtier. I’ve somehow managed to gain weight despite eating from home more often and getting plenty of exercise.

Basically, even though you can technically set your own schedule, you still end up working normal business hours. That’s because most of your clients work during those hours and friends and loved ones want to hang out at night. Usually if I end up working at night, it’s only because I spent too much time during the day screwing around on Facebook, not because I took the opportunity to tackle chores.

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You’ve probably noticed all the “lessons” I listed above are mostly negative. Well, I think that’s because most people are overly optimistic about what it would be like to work for themselves, and it’s better to understand all the downsides before taking the plunge. Would I still have gone the self-employment route if I knew everything I know today? Definitely; I still maintain that I had stagnated at my old job and was in need of a good jolt. I also would have done a lot of things differently, like focusing on securing clients earlier instead of spending so much time (and savings) building up my journalistic brand.

Overall, I think I’m lucky in that I’m self-motivated enough to force myself out of bed every morning and I have a good support system of friends and family to help me get through the more difficult parts. I can’t say whether a year from now I’ll still be self-employed, but I do know that if I take a salaried position it’ll be from a better vantage point, one that will allow me to utilize my entire skillset, including the learnings I’ve picked up while fending for myself. I’ll always be glad I took the opportunity to wander off into the wilderness, even though I got snagged in a few thorn bushes along the way.

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The dirty secret in marketing: Most Twitter hashtags are useless

Mobile hashtag vertical concept

If you’re planning to hire a new employee for your social media marketing team and wondering whether a particular applicant is right for the job, you may want to start by taking a look at her Twitter profile. If she uses the #marketing hashtag in her bio or if most her tweets contain a hashtag for #every other #word, then the choice is simple: don’t hire her.

What I just said is blasphemy in certain marketing circles. In this alternate universe, hashtags are an opportunity for discovery; if you employ them, adding them to topic-based words like #econ or #education, then those interested in economics or education are more likely to see your tweet when they search for those hashtags. This pro-hashtag view is held within Twitter itself. When I was an editor at a major national magazine we were visited by a Twitter liaison who chastised us for not using hashtags more frequently. Whenever we write a story about drones, he argued, then we should use the #drones hashtag. He backed up his argument by citing internal statistics showing that tweets with hashtags received, on average, more engagement than tweets without them.

But this is a classic correlation vs causation scenario. Anyone who has spent any time on Twitter knows that it’s populated with millions of bots, spam accounts, and RSS feeds. The use of a hashtag usually means that the tweet was written and sent by a human, so is therefore more likely to be retweeted than a tweet sent by a bot or a spam account.

In all likelihood, most hashtags deployed on any given day are tweeted out much more often than they’re actually searched for, meaning that there are many more people including the #econ hashtag than there are people going to Twitter search and plugging #econ into the field.

What I’m saying is pretty well accepted among the most elite Twitter users. Look at the Twitter accounts that receive the most engagement, whether it’s Justin Bieber or the New York Times, and you’ll see they only use hashtags sparingly. This is partly because hashtags are ugly and make a tweet difficult to read. As Daniel Victor put it back when he was a social media editor at the New York Times:

I believe hashtags are aesthetically damaging. I believe a tweet free of hashtags is more pleasing to the eye, more easily consumed, and thus more likely to be retweeted (which is a proven way of growing your audience). I believe for every person who stumbles upon your tweet via hashtag, you’re likely turning off many more who are put off by hashtag overuse.

But even if you manage to get users to include your brand’s name as a hashtag, something many marketers would consider a crown achievement, the effect is likely to be minimum. The marketing software company Hubspot looked at three instances where the hashtag #hubspot became a trending topic, and two out of the three instances produced no noticeable spike in following.

That’s not to say all hashtags are useless. In fact, when deployed strategically, hashtags can perform extremely well at increasing visibility, driving engagement, or providing context for your followers. Here are a few examples:

Jokes: Some of the best uses of hashtags are when they’re included ironically or to provide subtext. At its most basic, this could be as simple as a #sarcasm hashtag. No, nobody is searching for that hashtag, but it contextualizes the tweet. A linguist at NYU recently studied 1,633 hashtags and found that female Twitter users were much more likely to use these “expressive” hashtags.

Beyond simple subtext hashtags, some of the most frequent trending hashtags are of the humorous “scenario” variety. For these tweets, the hashtag presents a scenario, like, for instance, the mashup of two movie titles, and users try to present the funniest version. As I write this, the #RejectedUniversityClasses hashtag is trending. Scroll through them and you’ll find plenty of gems like this one:

rejected university

Live events: One of the few instances in which users will actually turn to Twitter search to follow hashtags is when something is happening in real time and they want to find people who are responding to that live event. This includes actual current events like the Ferguson protests or the Baltimore riots as well as pop culture events like the Mad Men finale or the Super Bowl. One of the most famous examples of this was the #StandWithWendy hashtag, which quickly reached trending status while Texas representative Wendy Davis filibustered a Texas bill that placed harsh restrictions on abortion. Its quick ascendancy led to the live video feed of her filibuster receiving hundreds of thousands of viewers, most of whom discovered it as a direct result of the hashtag.

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Caused-based hashtags: Occasionally activists will band together in an attempt to raise awareness of an issue by employing a hashtag. My favorite example of this was #TakeMyMoneyHBO, a campaign launched by a software developer who wanted HBO to release a standalone app that didn’t require a cable subscription. It quickly gained traction and led to thousands of Twitter users tweeting out the exact amount they’d be willing to pay each month for such an app. As I wrote previously, it “allowed HBO executives to witness, in real time, how much money they were leaving on the table by continuing to require an expensive cable subscription as a prerequisite for HBO.”

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I’m sure my views here are likely to be rejected by some who still worship at the altar of the hashtag. These hashtag devotees will point to some anecdotal instance where a hashtagged tweet of theirs generated increased following and engagement. But this doesn’t change the fact that hashtags are ugly and, for the overwhelming majority of them, unlikely to increase the audience size for your tweet. And for a platform that limits you to 140 characters, why waste a single, precious character for something that produces so little value?

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Image via Saurage Research

Will the FTC soon rain on native advertising’s parade?

ftc

In late March, CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis reached into his own pocket and paid for a Google Consumer Survey, the results of which should concern anyone who works within the journalism or advertising industry. He did so after browsing the viral aggregation site Upworthy and noticing a miniscule “promoted” tag on the righthand corner of one of its posts. You and I know what that word means — that it’s a form of native advertising, which is paid-for content that appears alongside and resembles editorial content — but does the average news consumer?

No. In fact, a majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, had no idea that any money had exchanged hands for the post’s existence (most thought it was some sort of recommendation, either by algorithm or from the site’s editors). “Wouldn’t it be a helluvalot simpler just to call it an ad?” Jarvis asked rhetorically. “Why don’t they? Why doesn’t any publisher of such promoted/native/sponsored/brand content just call it an ad? Because busy people don’t want to click on ads; if the web proves nothing else, it proves that. So they—publisher and marketer, united—want to fool the reader into clicking.”

Jarvis isn’t the first to notice this obfuscation. Last year, Augie Ray pointed to several studies that shed light on the opacity of native advertising, including an Interactive Advertising Bureau survey that found only 41 percent of the general news audience was able to identify native advertising and a 2013 study revealing that over 50 percent of respondents “didn’t know what the word ‘sponsored’ actually meant.”

These studies come to us as we continue to contemplate whether native advertising is the news industry’s “savior,” here to rescue news orgs from ever-diminishing display ad rates. Over the past few years nearly every major news company has launched an in-house “creative agency” that works directly with sponsors to craft promotional content it thinks will appeal to the publication’s readership. Yahoo CEO’s Marissa Mayer has reportedly staked the future of her company on native advertising and the format now makes up 10 percent of the New York Times’s digital advertising revenue.

Thus far, the industry has galloped into this new frontier, treating it as a sort of Wild West where the chief concern is delivering value to the paying advertiser, even if it’s to the detriment of the consumer. As AdAge reported last year, the New York Times “shrunk the labels that distinguish articles bought by advertisers from articles generated in its newsroom and made the language in the labels less explicit,” all because “several marketers have bristled at all the labeling, suggesting it turned away readers before they had a chance to judge the content based on its quality.”

But just as the Wild West eventually reached a saturation point that required more strident law and order, native advertising, in its near-universal application, may be soon facing its own reckoning, in this case from the Federal Trade Commission.

Many mistakenly believe that a piece of advertising meets FTC requirements as long as there’s some form of disclosure, but that’s not true. In fact, the burden is much higher: the disclosure must be sufficient so that the average consumer recognizes it as paid content, and such recognition occurs prior to them consuming it. As I’ve documented previously, the agency has a long history of stepping in and ruling a disclosure insufficient, and it sometimes offers specific guidelines on how the disclosure should be presented.  Barry Cutler, who was director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection from 1990 to 1993, recounted to me last year how the agency cracked down on infomercials in the 80s and 90s that purported to show man-on-the-street interviews with satisfied customers and scientists in lab coats endorsing products. As Augie Ray explained, the FTC requires infomercials to include the words “‘THE PROGRAM YOU ARE WATCHING IS A PAID ADVERTISEMENT FOR [NAME OF PRODUCT]'” at their start.

Over the last decade, the FTC has slowly waded into internet advertising, issuing several guidelines ranging from how a disclosure should be presented in a sponsored tweet to the requirement that bloggers disclose when they’ve received free products in exchange for reviews.

But so far it has remained reluctant to issue any firm guidelines for native advertising. A workshop conducted in late 2013 with several major news orgs left the agency “with no clear direction about how to police” the format. Considering that one of its earliest cases, in 1917, was against a vacuum cleaner company that placed misleading newspaper ads, the agency certainly has precedent on its side when wading into such issues, but the 2013 meeting merely led an FTC representative to conclude that “this has raised more questions than it answered.”

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Well, it may need to answer those questions sooner rather than later, given that in recent months we’ve seen strong evidence that native advertising is not only making it difficult for consumers to differentiate between editorial and sponsorships, it’s also eroding the wall between the editorial and business divisions of news companies.

In October, a former Vice editor published emails sent from higher-ups in which he, the editor, was repeatedly reprimanded for publishing stories critical of Vice’s native ad partners. And then recently, BuzzFeed, considered to have one of the most successful native ad models in the industry, came under fire for removing a post critical of Dove, a BuzzFeed sponsor. Though editors initially argued the post was removed for other reasons, an internal investigation revealed several instances in which editorial staffers were pressured by the business staff into removing posts.

Is it possible that this could have happened had the sponsors simply purchased standard display ads? Sure. But it’s not difficult to see how creating sponsored content that so closely resembles editorial content erodes the differentiation not only in consumers’ eyes, but in the eyes of newspaper executives as well. And with these companies facing increasing pressure to make up for lost print advertising dollars, the erosion of that wall may prove too tempting to overcome. While no industry welcomes the oversight and enforcement of the FTC, I can’t help but wonder if many editors and reporters would breathe a sigh of relief if the agency suddenly stepped in and ensured that their journalism would continue to retain integrity in a world where marketers are concerned with anything but.

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Why LinkedIn is the most well-positioned social network right now

linkedin

Snapchat. Meerkat. Periscope. Pinterest. If you scan tech news headlines you’ll notice a certain predilection for the shiny and new, a tendency to cover pre-IPO, still-nascent social platforms that have the potential to capture market share from current stalwarts. We’re constantly treated to ballooning valuations and think pieces about how Company X is attracting a lucrative demographic (usually millennials).

But one of the most well-positioned social media companies with vast potential for growth isn’t shiny or new. In fact, it held its initial public offering in 2011 and launched more than a decade ago. Yes, we’re talking about LinkedIn, the website that, up until recently, you only visited when you were looking for a job. With its $2 billion in annual revenue, it would be easy to dismiss LinkedIn as a tiny gnat buzzing around Facebook, which brought in $12 billion in 2014 revenue and currently boasts 1.3 billion active users.

But here’s the thing: while LinkedIn has been long known merely as a network to update and publicly display your resume, it’s becoming the central information and networking hub for career professionals, many of whom are now utilizing its new blog platform to engage in thought leadership and market themselves and their services to an ever-growing mass of daily, addicted LinkedIn users. Given that LinkedIn is the only major social platform focused entirely on careers, it has a lock on the most high-value demographics, most of whom are coming to the site primed to do business.

As I’ve documented previously, LinkedIn’s blog publishing platform, launched to the public early last year, has been a game changer. According to the last publicly-available figure, users are publishing 50,000 posts a week (it’s probably higher than that now). Pieces shared on LinkedIn Pulse consistently rack up hundreds of thousands of views and even a modest push on a LinkedIn channel can result in several thousand readers. After seeing the amount of engagement LinkedIn blogging drives, I have to agree with Business Insider’s assertion that LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth is the most powerful business journalist in the world. It was only a matter of time that users would begin to recognize the unique value proposition of publishing to LinkedIn, especially since it’s almost impossible to drive real traffic to a company blog. Why drive potential customers to your blog when you can bring your blog to your customers?

As LinkedIn becomes a daily habit for millions of businesses and professionals, an entire realm of revenue opportunities open up. It’s already becoming the go-to platform for both job listings and professional recruiters — an industry estimated to be worth an annual $457 billion. Unlike Monster.com and other job listings websites, LinkedIn users spend time on the platform regardless of if they’re actively looking for a job, meaning that hiring managers and recruiters can use it to poach employees who already have jobs. It also wouldn’t surprise me one bit if LinkedIn begins to segue into the personal services industry (think hiring a plumber or someone to mow your lawn), which has already attracted the likes of Amazon and Google.

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I think we’re also going to see a huge influx in advertising dollars to LinkedIn as businesses begin to use it to market their services to other businesses and professionals. While it might not be the ideal network for, say, Pepsi to advertise on, it’ll certainly lure in B2B companies who derive the entirety of their revenue from other businesses. A recent research report projects B2B ecommerce to reach $6.7 trillion by 2020. LinkedIn only needs to bite off a small chunk of that market in order to vastly multiply its annual revenue.

And now, with the purchase of Lynda.com for $1.5 billion, we’re witnessing LinkedIn’s next industry expansion: professional education. Lynda.com, with its video tutorials and online courses, specializes in the creative and technical services for which there is insatiable demand in this new economy. Essentially, LinkedIn is seeking to dominate every segment of the job lifecycle, from professional training to the entirety of a person’s career trajectory.

It’s not that these various industries don’t have major presences on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it’s just that for every business professional looking to network on Twitter there are five who just want to use it to follow their favorite celebrities or sports teams. That’s a lot of potentially-wasted ad dollars if your targeting is even just a little bit off. At the same time, no one is visiting LinkedIn to follow the travails of Justin Bieber, which opens the door for vastly more efficient ad spending.

With that in mind, one can understand LinkedIn’s potential even if it never reaches the user scale of Facebook. It doesn’t want to be the social network for everybody, but rather its goal is to be the fulcrum on which the entire business community pivots and interacts. The teens can have their Vines and Snapchats. When they finally grow up and graduate college they can join the only network that can actually get them a job.

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How to Use Twitter to Conduct Market Research

Market Research

Most users who regularly access Twitter do so merely to read what the people they’re following are tweeting and to check their @ mentions, but because Twitter is an open platform with most tweets accessible to the public, there’s a wealth of information for those looking to conduct market research and gain insights into consumer habits. The key is leveraging Twitter’s search platform to zoom in on specific communities and consumers. Twitter offers a number of free options for this, but you can also purchase tools made by outside companies that perform sentiment analysis and graph longterm trends by accessing Twitter’s API. Whether you’re a lobbyist trying to gauge public opinion on an issue or a consumer packaged good company wanting to see what people are saying about your competitors, there’s no shortage of data to be pored over if you know where and how to look.

John Andrews has conducted marketing for consumer packaged goods companies large and small. He eventually joined the grocery marketing team at Walmart and founded the influencer social media platform called Walmart Eleven Moms. He’s now the CMO at Ignite, a social media marketing agency. We discussed whether sentiment analysis tools are advanced enough, how to find the signal in the noise, and how to detect problems consumers have with your product before they bubble into the mainstream.

Why is Twitter such a valuable tool in terms of gathering intelligence? Facebook is a very closed system, it’s not very easy to search. So Twitter, while smaller in terms of audience, is the world’s largest real-time network that’s publicly searchable.

I would agree with that. I think what makes Twitter such a great informational tool is that instant pulse. If you want to find out what’s going on right now, Twitter is a great place to go. If I’m out having dinner with my family and I want to check a game score, I don’t pull up my ESPN app, I go to Twitter and type in — I’m a huge Duke fan — and I type in “Duke.” And I get the score as well as people’s opinions. I get ESPN, but I also get some guy at the game, some guy sitting at home, and another guy who hates Duke talking about how much they suck. I get this really interesting blend of content from different perspectives immediately. So I watched the Super Bowl, and I watched it on Twitter using the branding hashtag that marketers were using, so I got instant feedback on the advertisements, because that’s something I’m interested in. There are a hundred ways you could have watched the Super Bowl on Twitter and all of them would have been different. If I’m a Patriots fan, I could have just put in hashtag Patriots, and I would have gotten all the Patriots stuff. If I’m a city official in Phoenix and I just want to see how this is impacting my city, I can type in hashtag Phoenix. If I’m Toyota, I could get a view about what people are saying about Toyota in context with the Super Bowl. You can curate that down to as fine as you want and get instant information. What was really cool about the Super Bowl, as soon as an ad ran there was just a deluge of content coming out. As soon as the Nationwide dead kid ad ran, you knew it was going to be derided as the worst ad of the Super Bowl. People instantly went nuts on it. I don’t need any special software to do that. It’s easy to do. I can do it from any device that I have. It’s simple. And marketers have gotten smart about dialing into what people are saying and then really drilling down to what are the things people are engaging with so they can become a relevant part of the conversation.

In terms of market intelligence, do you think brands are too focused on what’s being said about them on Twitter rather than trying to actively monitor what’s being said about their competitors and their industry as a whole?

Most marketers are doing a good job of knowing what’s being said about them and what’s being said about their competitors. To your point, what they’re maybe missing is what is the broader conversation they want to be part of? Elmer’s Glue was a client at my former company, and when I was talking to them I said “No one is talking about glue. No one wants to talk about glue.” And the first time I said that to them I thought they were going to throw me out of the room. Because that was what they wanted to talk about. And I said “That’s what you want to talk about, but don’t you want to talk about what your customers want to talk about?” What consumers want to talk about with glue is spending time with my daughter making a craft project. Being creative putting a gift together for my wife. Inspiration about things that I could do to have a Halloween party. Those are the organic conversations people want to share. Nobody gives a shit about glue.

You’re talking about doing research on ancillary industries like crafting, DIY, things that are related to the industry Elmer’s is in.

What I will say to brands a lot is what kinds of conversations do you want to be part of? What conversations are relevant and interesting to people that may include your products? How can you be part of those conversations in a way that’s helpful or interesting or provocative to the audience? If you went to a cocktail party and all you did was talk about yourself, you’d be viewed as a jerk. But if you look at the way people approach social media, that’s a lot of what they do. You look at a lot of Twitter streams where it’s just pictures of a brand logo or package. Great, who cares? I’m not going to share a picture of a bag of potato chips with my audience.

Let’s say a client comes to you and says I want to be more active on Twitter. Before you send out the first tweet I imagine there’s a fair amount of research that goes into it so you can understand how Twitter can bring value to that client. What kind of research are you conducting before you even send out that first tweet?

 

Like any form of marketing, you need to have a sense of what the grand objectives are. Where the brand lives in the overall environment. We look a lot at sentiment. Whether a brand has accounts on social media is irrelevant because they still have people talking about them on social media. Some of that conversation is good, some bad. For most brands, most conversation is neutral. Our job is to really understand where are those points of engagement? Why as a consumer would I follow this brand? More important, why would I share anything about the brand? And then developing content and testing that content against what people want to talk about. I said to a marketing friend of mine when the Nationwide ad ran during the Super Bowl, I can’t believe they tested that spot, which kind of baffled me. If they wanted to go and test that with several hundred consumers, that’s super easy to do, and they could have easily predicted what the reaction would be.

In terms of sentiment analysis and positive versus negative tweets, do you put much stock in the technology that claims it can scan all of Twitter and spit back out sentiment analysis?

I think that you can get some sentiment out of Twitter, but what I’m skeptical of is the technology that promises it’ll give you this precise assessment of what people think about your brand and tells you what you should say in response. It’s social media, it requires a human. A human should look at data to understand what happens. If you’re going to have computers manage your social media, then you should probably not be doing social media. You have to be able to engage with people, and you can’t do that with a machine. I absolutely think a machine should inform what you’re doing on social media, but a human has to be thinking and writing and creating the interaction.

With something like the Super Bowl where you have this huge audience and these huge brands, there’s just so much volume. How do you sort through all that noise to deliver real intelligence?

A lot of people chase numbers. Two years ago, your ultimate number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers were the main goal. There were marketers whose bonuses and evaluations were based on how many people do we have and do we have more than our competitors? So there was this arms race of “I have to go get a million followers.” And now, I think most people would say that’s not the goal. Engaged followers is the goal. You see lots and lots of brands with these huge follower counts with no interaction. You’re pumping out a lot of content nobody cares about. A professional community manager is the biggest asset that a brand can have. And the reason is they spend time and energy every single day inside a community of people who are engaged with the brand, good, bad, or otherwise. The longer a community manager spends managing a brand’s channel the better the engagement rate they get. That’s because they know the community as well as the community knows them.

If consumers have problems with a company, do you think the first place they’ll give voice to those problems is on Twitter?

It’s a great place to listen and to identify any potential issues. It’s going to happen fast. For any brands that are my clients, I have text alerts so if there are any mentions on Twitter, I know. Most of our community managers that manage individual brands have the same thing. It’s not the only place, though. There are many tools that have sensitive triggers that look for anomalies and jumps in the rate of mentions of a brand. They can spot things very quickly if there’s a change. Twitter can be a very valuable early warning system.

Let’s say you have a client that has lots of enemies and activists, like a cable company or oil giant. Is part of the intelligence gathering identifying all the activists on Twitter and trying to determine whether they’re having any success at stirring up shit against your brand?

I think monitoring the good and bad is great. I think a more advanced strategy is engaging with those people. When I was at Walmart I found some of our harshest critics really appreciated it when you got in a real conversation. With social media you could do that in a way where a lot of other people who were just lurking could witness and be impacted by it.

If you look at a lot of companies with heavy customer service components, companies like AT&T or airlines, a lot of them have launched customer service-specific social channels so those problems are dealt with. I don’t think it’s to get the negative conversation off the main channel so much as companies like AT&T are receiving so many responses that they need to have specific accounts for dealing with certain issues. You see people getting even more creative about it where they’re morphing those customer channels into specific issues, like whether you’re having connection problems or a problem with your billing, etc. I think there’s a reasonable expectation that I can go to a social channel and get help. It’s your 800 number.

Last question. Does monitoring Twitter create a distortion effect where you assume Twitter sentiment reflects public sentiment when in reality Twitter makes up a relatively small portion of the U.S. population? Do brands overreact, not realizing there’s a world beyond Twitter?

Obviously, just being on social media creates a specialized audience. Twitter is not the world. The other thing is, I don’t care how good your brand is, somebody is not going to like it. Somebody is going to always complain. What I look for a lot with attacks, I look at the individual, and frequently they’re just people who complain. That’s what they do. You’ve got to be able to create a sensitivity between that and your customer base as a whole, because that could be a very different group of people. You could be administering to this one person who doesn’t really have much influence at all.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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Image via Insight MEA

How to Use Twitter to Drive Sales

linda

Linda Bolg

 

While it’s certainly nice to use Twitter for thought leadership and to build brand awareness, all these things are useless if it doesn’t help your bottom line. In fact, companies have seen tremendous success in utilizing the platform to drive sales, whether it’s ecommerce orders, app downloads, or increased foot traffic at offline stores.

Linda Bolg has witnessed many of these successful campaigns firsthand. Bolg is the head of marketing at SocialBro, an end to end campaign management platform that allows you to discover and analyze Twitter data – within your own community and the wider Twittersphere – then act on that intelligence to maximize the potential of Twitter as a revenue generating channel. We discussed what kind of products are best for promoting on Twitter and how to track the success of a Twitter campaign.

In terms of actually driving sales, is there a particular type of product that Twitter is better at promoting? Like is it better at promoting an ecommerce product as opposed to trying to drive foot traffic to offline stores?

I’ve been asked this question often by brands and by potential customers themselves. I actually think that Twitter is really good for driving leads and sales for both B2B and B2C brands, whether it’s service or product based. I think what we’re seeing is the entertainment industry has probably been the fastest to use social and Twitter really well. And then we have had other industries like retail, technology, and travel that have been really good at adopting some of the practices that the entertainment industry has been doing. And now we’re seeing a lot of the B2B companies looking to B2C for what they are doing, and trying to mimic them. I think what we’re seeing are industries that are more mature coming to use Twitter and social in general, and because they’re more mature, they’ve been better at driving revenue, at driving website traffic and leads, but it doesn’t mean from my perspective that Twitter isn’t suitable to drive sales and leads for other industries, it’s just that they’re not that mature. They’re not there yet, but I think we’re going to see it.

So part of the problem is just trying to get people on board with Twitter promotion. Like they might be more inclined to go with a safer bet, or what they perceive to be a safer bet like Facebook or Google because they don’t use Twitter themselves.

Yeah, you’re so right. I think part of the problem is they don’t know what they can do with Twitter. Just to give you an example, in comparison with Facebook, Twitter is open, so it allows users to target new prospects but using Twitter analytics to do really deep segmentation that allows you to not only analyze your own following but also analyze the entire Twittersphere to see what people are saying, combining hashtags, mentions, demographic data, and creating these really detailed and focused target audience lists that you can use for both your organic campaigns and your paid, and you can marry them up with your offline campaigns. You just can’t do that with Facebook. Facebook is great within your own community, but the moment you want to reach beyond that, you’re going to have to do paid, and you’re not going to see who is part of the lists when you’re doing paid promotion. They don’t tell you exactly who’s in your target list until people start engaging with your campaign. So there’s a big difference here.

So you’re saying Twitter is better for organic strategy than Facebook.

Well, yeah. I’d say Twitter is perfect for both. And one of the things I love, one of the things most brands don’t know, is that you can marry up Twitter contacts with your email database. You can enrich the information you hold about your database. So I do think Twitter is better for organic, but I also think Twitter is fantastic for paid because you can use tailored audiences. You can use a tool like SocialBro to do really advanced segmentation, look at the mentions, the hashtags, anything you want to search for, and create this really neat, tailored audience-based list. And then you just plug them into your Twitter ad campaign and you’re good to go. So I think Twitter is really flexible. It’s the ultimate flexible network. The only time where I would say where it doesn’t work is when your audience isn’t on the network.

You mentioned the option of uploading your email list and then promoting tweets to users on that list. How effective of an approach is that?

Well, there are two elements. One of the things we do ourselves is we plug our email list into SocialBro, we marry it up with our Twitter list, and then we extract information and put it back in our database. But the other thing is if we wanted to, we could look at our database and see if we have people who are not following us on Twitter yet but they’re subscribing to our newsletter. If we wanted to we can target them with a Twitter ad promotion. But that’s not normally what we’d tend to do. We will engage with them on email and most of them will follow us on Twitter anyway. We’re more interested in things like looking at a core competitor and looking at a particular campaign they’ve been doing in a geographical region and see who engaged with that. How influential were those users? Are any of those people you would want to engage yourself? Are any of them users you’d like to turn into a brand ambassador? There’s really intelligent data analysis you can do and that wealth of data, that’s what makes Twitter so powerful, but you need that granular segmentation to apply to your marketing strategy.

How does a Twitter strategy, especially in terms of driving sales, differ from another strategy on a platform like Facebook?

I think there are certain things you can’t do with Facebook. For instance if you use the example of B2B brands, one of the things you’d do on top of offering great content and having a tailored audience, is that you’d also leverage social selling. So you’d work together with your sales team and you would target the same people. So you create your list with a tool like SocialBro, and your sales team will try to connect with them and speak to them on a one-to-one basis. That one-to-one interaction can’t be done on Facebook. It can be done to a certain extent from LinkedIn, it’s just not what Facebook is for. It would be very odd for a salesperson to connect with a user on Facebook, whereas that works really well on Twitter. So I think Twitter is stronger. LinkedIn is great, but you need to be connected to a person if you want to speak to them, but with Twitter you can speak to anyone who has a public profile.

So let’s say a brand approaches you and wants to do a sales-oriented campaign on Twitter. What are some questions you’re asking them and what kind of initial research is involved?

I can give you some examples. One is the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They’re currently using DM campaigns…

And when you say DM campaigns you mean direct messaging?

Yes. So Twitter direct messaging campaigns, but they’re doing it in very, very clever ways. They have a bunch of automated rules and workflows that automatically put their new followers and their existing followers in lists they set up. So they’re very personalized DM campaigns. They won’t use generic wording. They use automated rules to drive ticket sales for local UFC events. They have an enormous follower basis. If it were a small brand, that would be simple to do manually. But they have millions, so it’s really hard. They have a really clever way of driving ticket sales for regional events. And that’s all done through Twitter DM campaigns and can be tracked.

And when you say DM campaigns, DM to me means something specific, which is to send a private message through Twitter.

That’s what they’re doing.

And it doesn’t show up in the stream it shows up as a direct message?

Yep. And I can give you another example. It’s Universal Music. They have a Twitter campaign for George Harrison, the Beatles player. Obviously he’s not still alive but they still sell his music and he has a lot of fans. So with the Harrison Twitter account, they did a DM campaign where they had a special offer, and they had 71 percent click-through rates to that special offer. I don’t think it was a commercial, it was more like a giveaway thing that then led to a follow-up campaign that was a commercial. We’ve done internal testing as well with Twitter DM campaigns, and the click-through rates are 300 percent higher than the average email campaign click rates. So when you start thinking about those figures, it becomes really attractive. I think the whole key to getting that right is having super targeted communication. If you get that targeting wrong, you’re going to end up annoying the person you’re sending this to, and they’re going to unfollow you. To get it right you’re going to need to use super advanced segmentation.

How much emphasis would you place on promoted tweets and Twitter advertising as opposed to a more organic strategy?

I love both. It depends on the company and what you’re trying to achieve. I would test playing around with different amounts for your campaigns and seeing what works best. If you’re B2B you might find that you want to have it 50/50. If you’ve just launched a new product, you might find it beneficial to put in a lot of money toward a paid campaign but back it up with having an integrated campaign by having a microsite where you’re aggregating all the social content. I don’t think there’s a definitive right or wrong.

What are some of the best tactics for driving offline sales and the best way to measure ROI on that?

I do think companies that aren’t ecommerce-based have to focus on tracking the right things. If you look at the social media awards all around the world, the success metrics have been based on shares, favorites, and all those things, and I think we need to move beyond that. A lot of brands are starting to. We have to marry up our systems and we have to be more clever with what we’re doing, whether it’s in our CRM or our payment system. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ecommerce business or a traditional offline business, you can use social really well, you just need to track what you can do until you prove it.

How important does content play a role? Is Twitter better for broader thought leadership and branding?

I think generally Twitter works brilliantly for both. But it depends if you think of it as this massive prospecting database or a marketing channel. Because if you’re using it as a marketing channel, you basically need to use the same rigor that you would apply to other channels. The things that people think are different about Twitter, these are the same things that are affecting other channels too. You’re less likely to get a click on a Twitter ad unless you’re offering something of true value to the person you’re targeting. That goes the same for other channels too. The creative focus is more shareable, entertaining content, but this is the same for other things. Think about TV advertising, the kind of TV advertising where you have shampoo ads where women are swishing their hair. I think they’re starting to come to look really old fashioned, and a lot of consumers just tune out. I think consumers are increasingly picky in terms of what they respond to. The thing about social is the feedback is immediate and in your face. And the customer’s voice is very audible. And some people don’t like that. But I think you’re kidding yourself if you think the judgement you’re getting on social wouldn’t apply to your previous marketing efforts, whether it’s TV or radio advertising, it still would have been there, you just wouldn’t have seen it. I think marketing just used to be about pushing your message into the homes of people, but now with social it basically brings their voices back to you. One of the great things is that because it’s so immediate, we can use Twitter and apply that feedback across the business as a whole.

We hear a lot about how brands shouldn’t spend all their time talking about themselves. Is there a risk of being too spammy if the focus is too much on direct sales?

Yeah, I don’t believe in that approach at all. If you’re in B2B, you’re a technology company, and you have a fairly long buying process, you want to be focusing on really tailored good content that’s going to help your target audience move to the next stage. And you can have really good targeted paid content that solves their challenges. So I think regardless if you’re B2B, B2C or you’re a services industry, you need to solve your target audience’s pain points. I’m not for social yelling, which is what I tend to call it. It’s about being helpful.

What are some of the best ways to measure return on investment with Twitter?

All your links need to be tracked so you can follow where the user goes using Google Analytics or whatever marketing platform you use. And I think it needs to be married up with your accounting system, like Salesforce. It’s marrying your systems, your Twitter analytics, your Google analytics, and your Salesforce. As a marketing professional you need to collaborate with your salespeople to get that. You can very much see with paid promotion, you can see it instantaneously by adding goals to the backend.

I guess it depends on whether you’re doing direct sales or branding. With branding, things like number of followers and retweets are more important whereas direct sales it’s how many people followed this tagged link and through the content funnel ended up making a purchase.

I think Twitter has now reached a stage where it’s a mature channel. It’s not something we’re just playing around with anymore. And because of that, board of directors and C management are asking for more substantial ROI figures. They’re being tougher with marketing to prove ROI. I think even when it comes to the branding, they still want to see the value to sales, that leads are being generated. I think we’re going to see more discussion around measuring ROI definitely throughout the next 12 months.

Is the advice to start dipping your toes in and spending small amounts of money on test campaigns?

Absolutely. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money at all. The feedback is instant, and you can tweak something in a few seconds. By running tests, you’ll figure out very quickly what works for you. One of the things I always recommend, if you’re running paid Twitter ads, take advantage of all the cards that Twitter offers, whether it’s the website card, the lead generation card, and there are loads of cards for rich media.

And I’m guessing that before you spend a penny on Twitter that you should make sure that everything having to do with your brand has responsive design and is mobile ready since Twitter’s userbase is so heavily mobile-focused.

You do have the option to only do Twitter ads to desktop users, but I think personally that’s a mistake. If I’m running an ad I’d definitely go with the mobile uses and make sure that my site is mobile-optimized, that my landing page is, otherwise I think you’re going to see a lower ROI.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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How to Handle a Brand Crisis on Twitter

bp global pr

Let’s say you’re a major retailer and your head of IT comes to you and tells you the company has had a major data breach and millions of credit card numbers have been compromised. Or you’re the CEO of an organic baby food company and you realize you’re going to have to issue a recall on some of your products. Almost immediately, you and your team must put a plan in action for how you’re going to announce these issues to the public. A decade ago you probably just met with your legal and PR teams to determine how you’ll word the press release and craft messaging for your call centers. But these days a third team needs to be added to the mix: social media. Not only will this team have to monitor what’s being said online during the crisis, but it’ll need its own messaging in order to respond to angry consumers in real time.

Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at Levick, a PR firm that specializes in crisis management. I interviewed him about how to counter activists who are targeting you on Twitter and why brands shouldn’t overreact if they receive negative feedback on the microblogging platform.

What are the kinds of company crises that will have the largest ramifications on Twitter — the kind where the company needs to devote a lot of resources to monitoring and responding to what’s happening on Twitter?

The answer is twofold. It’s usually correlated with the size of the crisis itself. With BP, at the time when its oil spill occurred, Twitter was fairly nascent, but it showed what could happen if you don’t tackle the issue on Twitter. There are those crises that actually start on Twitter. There’s the famous Chrysler tweet, for instance.

So there are crises that begin on Twitter itself, and then there are other crises that occur offline, but you know, because of the size of the company, it’s going to boil over onto Twitter.

Yeah, because Twitter, like most social media channels, it’s just a form of communication. It’s a means through which people are going to express their opinion. Companies have the option to express their position or clarify statements or refute claims in the media. Most companies are not organized enough to have their own army of supporters, all they have is their own brand. So that means they’ve got their Facebook page, their Twitter account, and maybe a few other channels if they’re a big enough company, but for the most part it’s just one or two handles. That’s their singular megaphone. Whereas if Joe Public turns on you, that’s thousands if not tens of thousands of users attacking your brand online.

If you’re a company that has activists who are trying to rile up anger against you, where are most of their efforts going to be focused? On Twitter? On Facebook?

peter-lamotte

Peter LaMotte

Because of the open nature of Twitter, a lot of people are using Twitter. But it’s almost never used successfully as a singular path. It’s usually part of an organized campaign that might originate at a microsite or a Change.org petition. Or it might be through a more traditional campaign like a TV ad with Twitter hashtags. But when it comes to dealing with the crisis, let’s take it from two perspectives. You have the perspective of someone who’s dealing with the crisis, and then you have the general public. And then you have perhaps a third perspective, the activists. The mistake many corporations will make is they’re just reactionary. Twitter is a communication tool, so it should fit into a larger strategy. Any company that is not prepared and does not have its own crisis plan will have a difficult time reacting fast enough in a way that doesn’t just look reactionary. When you look at these brands that are constantly pushing out good news and building up their brands in a positive way, when a crisis happens, they tend to have a more lenient response, because people have seen the more positive things they’re doing. But when a company is caught with their pants down, Twitter is a good way to quickly address issues and answer questions because it’s relatively real-time and can be monitored. From a communications standpoint, with the way that other platforms are closed and locked down, a lot of people don’t realize how important Twitter is for monitoring sentiment. If Twitter loses its popularity and falls off, there aren’t a lot of tools that can dig into Facebook or some of these other platforms to monitor sentiment.

The public at large is trained to search Twitter for hashtags and keywords, and an activist won’t be able to easily organize a campaign on Facebook the way he can on Twitter.

Exactly. Brands rely heavily on Twitter to get that sentiment. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than putting together a focus group. So, they rely on that and should be monitoring it at all times, including pre-crisis, before you even think you have a crisis. Most companies know where their risks are, so they should be monitoring around those risks, whether it’s a manufacturer around some kind of consumer device or anything that might be subject to litigation. So if they’re prepared, then when the crisis happens, they should have an automatic plan to put in place. In that plan, they should know who is going to say what, what the approval process is, and make sure it doesn’t need multiple layers of approval. And sometimes the industry holds you back from that. When it comes to the pharmaceutical and medical industries, a lot of times lawyers get very sensitive to what can be said, so make sure in a crisis they’ve already signed off on your messaging. If you go into these situations unprepared you’re basically walking into a firehose of people saying negative things about you. From the opposite side, it’s much easier to organize hundreds, if not thousands, of voices. They did that with the BP oil spill. If you remember, a fake BP Twitter handle was created, and people really bought into that. They thought, for just a brief moment, this was actually a BP account, and the result was brutal. That Twitter account gave BP’s haters content that they could share and retweet, which then picked up news traffic, which is why we remember this many years later that account in particular. Any PR nightmare is typically going to reverberate across Twitter, so activists are going to organize, using all the tools that brands do, to get their message out there. From a consumer standpoint, it makes it very easy to track, it makes it very easy to keep abreast of what’s going on.

Are there situations where brands have the luxury of preparing a Twitter response beforehand? A situation where you know the news is going to drop. When you do have that luxury, what’s your Twitter strategy?

It probably happens more often than you would expect, because every manufacturer, for instance, knows where the risks are in their plant. Like there could be a fire, there could be a death due to faulty equipment, there could be an explosion. It’s not to say they’re pre-writing these tweets, but they’ve come up with response templates and that would be within a crisis plan. Twitter is just an element of amplifying your messaging. So if there’s a plant explosion, even if you don’t know how or when it will happen, you can determine what will be your messaging one hour after it’s happened, when you’re likely not to have a lot of information about what caused it. What’s your messaging a day after it’s happened once you have more information? The messaging that’s given by someone at a podium, that messaging isn’t just going to be distributed at the podium, but also on Facebook and Twitter.

So is it a matter of trying to predict every kind of message that will be tweeted out by users and here’s a list of responses to all those possible reactions?

It’s not a specific as line by line responses, but at least there should be generic messaging. Let’s say there’s a major retail outlet, they’re going to have a response for if there’s a shooting. It won’t be an exact tweet, but it’ll be a general response like “We’re looking into it.” They will draft a tweet in the moment based on that more general messaging. They’ll also have a checklist about which parties need to sign off on a tweet. And so really the key here is that your Twitter strategy should never conflict with your overall messaging within a crisis. And it should never give conflicting information from what you would give to the press. What it does allow you to do from a more acute, focused level, is respond to very similar claims. If there’s a shooting at a retail store and suddenly people on the news are saying “…and there was an explosion,” you as the head of messaging who knows there was only a shooting, you can say “Rumors of any explosion are not true.” It can put down any escalation of misinformation.

What about the monitoring perspective? I’m guessing that’s a large part in developing a crisis strategy. Are you assigning someone 24/7 to monitor Twitter in real time?

I imagine it correlates to the size of the crisis. If you’re a small retail chain in a city,  you probably don’t need 24-hour monitoring. If you’re a large oil company, you’ll have 24/7 monitoring and also escalation plans in place. The good news for corporations, a few years ago if you really wanted strong monitoring you had to hire Radian6 and you had to pay an arm and a leg. Now, services are fairly affordable. The best things, like Radian6, are still expensive, but there are tiers below that, like Brandwatch, that are much more affordable but still do a good job. Sentiment analysis, I’d say, is mediocre at best.

So don’t put too much weight on claims from these tools about sentiment?

Well, if you’re going through a recall, for example, yes there will be a lot of negative sentiment, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall perception of your brand. A lot of people are pissed at you for one day or one week, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your brand is mud, it just means people found this to be a sexy story. But the point is that there’s much more affordable tools out there, all the way down to free. Twitter has search functionality built into it, so if you’re someone with very limited funds, you can get a very general idea of what’s being said. Startups do it all the time. They’re just monitoring whether anybody is talking about me or talking to me. But then you want to make sure to have a search tab opened about your industry or your competitors.

That was my next question: What should you be actually searching for during these crises outside of mentions of your brand?

Everything I learned about how to use Twitter was done while I was running a startup. What we looked at was our industry, our handle, but also variations of our handle. We looked at individuals, our CEO, the president of the firm. We looked at our competitors. What we’d typically get out of that is more for marketing purposes. Was anyone reaching out to our competitors and saying “Hey, can you guys help?” You’re looking for journalists who are covering your industry to get in front of them.

So you should put Twitter lists together?

Absolutely. You do what makes sense to your business. When you’re a small business and dealing with a crisis, typically you don’t have to have a team monitoring every mention of your business, because typically you’re up 24/7 dealing with it. Or if you’re not your team is in some form or fashion. Really it’s the monitoring when you don’t have a crisis, that’s the difficult part, because crises can emerge without you at first realizing it. Something you said in an ad, something you said in an interview. I think the real difficulty, and this is something we try to tackle here, is can you predict a crisis using social media? Especially from an activist perspective? Can you see the vague threats out there? Are these activists trying to organize a new campaign? And in doing so you need to determine how influential they are, how many people follow them, what’s the real impact they’re having?

Is there an analysis going on where you see people trying to stir up shit on Twitter, and there’s a debate over whether you should respond or if responding will just stir the pot and give them momentum?

In most cases you don’t want to respond at all, unless there’s a financial threat. Most activists out there, that’s their goal, which is to start the fight. They’re never going to lose, because they have no intention of ending it. So what you want to do is if they’re starting to say you’re a bad person, then maybe you should starting thinking about corporate social responsibility initiatives to provide a sort of counterweight to those claims. Then you can use Twitter to amplify and drown out the bad things people are saying about you. One thing you must realize is that people who hate you are going to continue to hate you.

Would you ever buy advertising against a hashtag they’re using?

I would first go to Google and buy those search results. Place a Google ad for any of those key terms. A lot of people who even see a hashtag might look it up on Google first to see what it’s about. And that’s why to this day BP still runs ads if you do any search for gulf oil spill, the first response is an ad for BP that shows what great things they’re doing to repair the gulf.

We know the Twitter demographics, that there is very limited penetration, at least compared to Facebook. Is there a tendency from a client to overreact based on something said on Twitter even if it’s not representative of what the public at large thinks?

If companies lose Twitter, they’re going to be hard-pressed to really get a good sense of what people think outside of expensive focus groups. And I think that’s a mistake companies make, is they see one tweet, or one tweet that’s retweeted 10 times and they think it’s a movement. The fact is it’s an open platform. It could be an ex-employee. It could be someone who has no say in the market whatsoever. If you’re a consumer packaged good, they probably don’t buy your product anyways, and unless they really get traction, they’re not going to have any impact on your bottom line. So you have to have a really good sense and err on the side of caution, because the nature of Twitter is binary. One tweet has the same value as any other tweet. Now the individuals tweeting have their own value in terms of how many followers they have, but followers don’t always measure influence. You see that when these platforms make a purge of spam accounts, sometimes you see users with thousands of followers lose 15 percent of their following because they had all these fake lists. That’s where a lot of these software applications try to measure true influence, and any of them that make this assessment just based on number of followers are not making an accurate assessment. Twitter has influence, but it’s not more impactful than if major media outlets pick up the news. There have been times where something trending on Twitter will jump over into the media, but if it’s something that’s trending on Twitter, you already know about it and you already hopefully have a crisis plan set up for that.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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How to Enhance Your Personal Brand on Twitter

Amy Vernon. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Social Media Week

Amy Vernon. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Social Media Week

If I asked you which social network is best for advancing your own personal career, you might say LinkedIn. But while LinkedIn is certainly a great platform for updating your résumé and interacting with colleagues, the richest and most in-depth discussions in your field are likely occurring on Twitter. The tool is incredibly invaluable for not only keeping up with news in your industry, but also networking with the leading influencers who can aid your career development.

Amy Vernon has experienced the power of Twitter as a personal branding tool firsthand. A former metro editor in the newspaper industry, Vernon went on to consult with top publishers and brands on their social media strategies. She’s amassed over 24,000 Twitter followers and is a highly-regarded voice in her field. We discussed how she gained so many Twitter followers and why you shouldn’t use the platform to just talk about yourself.

You have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. Before we talk about how you got those followers, tell me about the growth trajectory. When did you start on Twitter and what was the growth rate of followers?

I started my account in 2008, and at the very beginning I wasn’t using it all that much. When I started really using it, it was slow at first, and I was having conversations with people and joining in on other people’s conversations. The first Twitter chats started happening, like #Journchat. We were really having those conversations that were much easier back then because there were a lot fewer people using Twitter. So I would say my first 5,000 followers or so came over a year, and it was very slow. Then I started using a tool called Tweet Spinner. It was a company that was later purchased by Moz, which also owned a similar tool called Followerwonk. So I just dropped Tweet Spinner and kept Followerwonk. It helped you find people to follow. I’ve always checked out the profiles of all the people I follow. I know a lot of people are using the tool and set it as automated so that any person who tweets a certain word then the tool automatically follows that person for you. And I never did that because it doesn’t do you any good, and it ends up just flooding your timeline and making it impossible to follow the people you actually want to follow. But I did use it to automate the following, because I’d just go through large groups at a time and look at them and determine which ones to follow. But after awhile I felt I was following too many people and it became untenable. And Twitter Lists came a little too late to the game, and trying to sort everyone I was following into lists at that point was very difficult. So I took six months to really pare down who I was following and make that manageable. And I knew that a lot of people would unfollow me, and that was fine because they were only following me because I was following them. My following continued to grow though, because I was getting involved in a lot of Twitter chats and started being put on “best of” lists and I was also speaking at events.

Sometimes people follow me and I look at their profile and they have like 50,000 followers, but they’re following 50,000 people. And whenever they tweet links to my articles they send almost zero hits. And so I wonder about this quantity to quality ratio. It’s not that hard to get a lot of followers if you just follow people who follow you back, but I don’t think those people are actually following you. Would you agree?

I totally agree. I knew that if someone was following me only because I was following them, then they didn’t care what I was tweeting about anyway. I know some people who follow a lot of people and yet they still get a lot of engagement. That’s fine and I’m glad it works for them. I know some people who follow tons of people and they have tons of followers and I have no idea if they get much engagement at all. I think sometimes people fall into the vanity metrics. It’s very natural. People tend to be very competitive and they want to have the most followers. But it becomes this treadmill where at some point Twitter isn’t useful anymore. Even if you have lists, how many lists are you going to really look at? If you’re following people and you’re not paying attention to what they’re tweeting about, why are you even following them? I also don’t fool myself into believing every person who follows me is hanging on my every word. There are people who I’m sure pay no attention to anything I say.

Where does Twitter stand in the hierarchy of social media platforms when it comes to enhancing your professional brand? If you’re advising an executive who wants to engage in thought leadership online, and you have this pie chart in front of him showing how much time he should be spending on different networks, where does Twitter fit in?

I think that in terms of thought leadership, your own blog, LinkedIn, perhaps Medium, are the most important. I would say Twitter is more important than Facebook. Facebook isn’t really a thought leadership platform. Twitter is, and it’s something I’ve always recommended to clients, that it’s the place where you can show your knowledge and your authority on a subject. If there’s an article that is really important to your topic, even if it mentions someone, or is written by someone that happens to be a competitor, then you’re still better off sharing that because people are going to remember that you shared that and they heard about it from you, and you’re concerned with sharing the most important information even if you’re mentioning a competitor.

That’s something that a lot of marketers talk about, that you shouldn’t use Twitter to just talk about yourself.

Right. You can look at it as a place where you can exhibit your thought leadership. It’s probably the key platform after your blogs and LinkedIn. I think now with the LinkedIn publishing platform, that rises pretty much to the top, but Twitter has always been a place where you can show your thought leadership and show that you’re an authority on a topic.

When you have a client and they’re new to Twitter and looking for the right people to follow in their industry, what kind of strategies do you suggest they use to find the people they should be following?

There are a lot of great tools that can help with that. Followerwonk is one of them. You can search bios and use of hashtags. There are other platforms like Wefollow where people have self-selected categories that they’re interested in. It’s like a Yellow Pages for Twitter. People have put themselves in there for the topics they’re interested in. Those are places you can go to find the people who are talking about the topics you’re interested in. In addition, Twitter chats are a huge resource, and there are a couple of places you can go to find the many Twitter chats out there. Tweetchat.com has a Twitter chat calendar. There are Twitter chats on almost every topic out there and anyone can join in. So if you’re a company in the food industry, there’s #foodchat. Most of them are weekly, some are monthly. You can literally just join in on the conversation. Often they have a guest. Sometimes they’ll just have open questions to the group. For instance #flipboardchat on Wednesday nights, it’s a group of Flipboard enthusiasts, and the people who run it have open questions to the whole group, and people just kind of share their advice and ideas on how to better use Flipboard. There are a lot of chats where you can go just to learn more about different online tools. I really think that Twitter chats are the best platform out there to really find good people.

Do you find you get sharp increases in followers when you do Twitter chats?

Exactly. The thing is it goes back to what I was saying about when I’m having conversations on Twitter there’s so much more interaction than when I just tweet a link. And in those Twitter chats it’s understood that people are jumping in to answer the questions and respond to each other. You can really meet new people and have conversations with them. You’ll find interesting people to follow but other people will find what you say is interesting and follow you as well.

Other than Twitter chats are there any other strategies if you’re new to Twitter to get people to interact with you and follow you back?

Even if you create a list of the top 50 people who you want to interact with on Twitter, and you’re watching what they’re talking about, you can jump in and join their conversations. The nice thing about Twitter is it’s sort of like a cocktail party where someone is standing there and you walk up to them and start talking, it’s sort of that atmosphere where even if you’re not following someone it’s not considered weird or creepy to strike up a conversation with them as long as it’s a normal person conversation. You can just start talking to those people. Ask them a question. Comment on a link they shared. Answer a question they asked. Just say “Hi, I really admire your work.” You really can just reach out and speak to those people.

Would you recommend people purchase Twitter advertising for their own personal accounts?

I think if you do it should be done very sparingly. I know some people who have done it. I’ve experimented with it with my own account. It depends on the topic, what it’s relating to. It’s certainly something I would consider depending on who the person was and what the topic was. But if it was a new product or something and you’re talking about a CEO or someone in the C-suite, I might do that, because that would be an appropriate thing that you’re promoting.

How important is Twitter for driving traffic to blog content? Facebook has received so much press for being a major traffic driver to content, but it seems like on more niche topics Twitter is in some ways more important.

I think that it probably depends on the person and on the blog. It depends a lot on where you’ve built your audience. I know most publishers have never traditionally seen as much traffic from Twitter, but a lot of that was because many people access Twitter through third party tools that aren’t easy to track on anaytics platforms. They don’t show up properly because they’re not coming through Twitter.com.

What are some of the growing pains you experience once your following reaches a certain size? I imagine that keeping up and responding to all the replies gets more difficult.

If someone just retweets a tweet of mine I don’t feel obligated to thank them. Sometimes if someone retweets something with a comment, if I don’t have anything original to say about it, I’ll favorite it, which sends a signal to the person that I saw the comment and appreciated it. It’s saying thank you without wasting the space to say thank you. If someone asks me a question or congratulates me for something or adds something significant to what I’m tweeting, I try to respond in some way. Sometimes it’s as easy as tweeting “That’s a really good point.” Other times it ends up being a conversation. I think about how I would respond in real life and respond in a similar fashion. If someone asks me something, I will answer. When I get the spammy “Hey, take a look at this video” and they’ve tweeted at 50 people the same stuff, I often ignore it because it’s so unrelated to anything I’ve expressed interest in. The other day someone reached out to me about an app he created,  but what he said made it so obvious that he was speaking to me because he even mentioned my dog. This person actually took the time to specifically comment on something I take a lot of photos of, so I actually took a look at his app. In those types of things it’s all in the approach.

Sometimes if I have an article that I want to promote, I’ll schedule three tweets out to the article over a period of hours, and I’ll find three to six people who are most likely to be interested in that content and then add their Twitter handles to the end of my scheduled tweets. So then it’s not spammy.

Yeah, I have done that. Sometimes if I mention a couple people in an article, I’ll say “with shoutouts to so-and-so” in my tweet.

So my last question is: What actually comes out of using Twitter? It’s nice to have a lot of followers, but in terms of advancing your career, what can it actually do?

The thing about Twitter that has been most useful to me has been connections I’ve made with people, and then when you meet them in real life you’re not going through all the small talk because you’re meeting as friends. Very early on Pete Cashmore, the founder of Mashable, used to respond to everyone on Twitter. And when I met him at an event and said who I was, he knew who I was because we’d spoken on Twitter. That’s very valuable to be able to go up to someone who you want to have a conversation with whether it’s for networking or someone who’s a friend and you don’t have to waste time explaining to them who you are because you’ve already engaged in that small talk.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

Twitter marketing cover 2

Image via Andrew Kelly/Social Media Week

How to Craft a Killer Twitter Advertising Campaign

twitter ad

In terms of granular targeting of your messaging, few platforms are more effective than Twitter. Using its various advertising tools, you can boost your posts to place them in front of your targeted demographics, create a trending hashtag, or even target users who are watching a particular piece of live television programming.

Matt Deluca is an account supervisor heading up all digital paid media for Edelman, one of the world’s largest PR and marketing firms that services Fortune 500 companies, major non-profits, and politicians. Before that he worked on the Republican National Committee during Mitt Romney’s 2012 election run. He and I spoke about the ideal advertising campaign for Twitter, how to target Twitter ads to live television viewers, and the perils of running a promoted hashtag.

What is the ideal campaign for Twitter? What instances would you advise a client to spend money on Twitter advertising versus Facebook advertising or display advertising or even print advertising?

It’s not necessarily based on the advertiser, but rather the audience. What we always do at Edelman is look at the target audience — there are certainly clients and issue campaigns where their audience is heavily online. If we were for example doing a campaign that’s really focused on 18 to 34-year-olds who are looking to buy sneakers — guess what? They’re going to be on Twitter, they’re going to be on Facebook. But they’re definitely on Twitter to follow athletes. If there’s an ad or live event on TV, we’re going to have corresponding ads on Facebook and Twitter, especially Twitter because they have really good TV targeting. When we’re defining an audience, we’ll see how they index on Facebook and Twitter and when they’re really highly indexed on one or the other, that’s how we choose which platform to focus on. We’ve also seen cases where it’s a little less proactive and more reactive, where companies are using Twitter to target and influence media in particular, and there really is value there since just about all journalists are on Twitter.

Speaking of the media, a relatively small percentage of Americans are on Twitter, at least compared to other platforms like Facebook. With Twitter, would you say you’re more trying to influence the influencers rather than reach the mass market consumer?

I’d say there are many times where you are going to be reaching the influencers. For a lot of clients, especially those that want to use it as a media relations channel, it is very effective for the media. It’s no secret that the media has an outsized population on Twitter, particularly in New York City, DC, and Silicon Valley where they discuss and formulate stories. And there are certainly folks on Wall Street who look to see what brands are saying online, particularly around earnings. And then we see other industries whose biggest influencers are on Twitter. That’s something important for clients to keep in mind.

What’s the ideal case in which you’re trying to run a Twitter ad campaign alongside something that’s happening on television?

What I’ve seen work are Twitter ads that are run concurrently with national television advertising buys. I’ve seen it be effective when there’s bleed-over onto Twitter of people talking about what they’re watching on television. A major sports apparel company running alongside the Super Bowl or a playoff game, we’ve seen that be effective on Twitter. Or American Idol if you’re a soft drink company or a consumer package goods product, that’s where you integrate. You line up your major audiences on Twitter along with the TV buy. I think you’ll start seeing that on the political side as well. A lot of people are using cable buying to hit audiences who aren’t necessarily in that prime time timeslot. I’m sure they’re going to take that TV data and match it on Twitter, and they’re getting better at doing that in real time. It’s a good way to bolster your online presence against your TV presence.

So let’s use your hypothetical of the sports drink product running during American Idol. What kind of ad would you be running on Twitter?

Matt Deluca

Matt Deluca

What I’ve found to be effective is the use of images and also video now that Twitter is really integrating video more and more into their platform. The other thing that I’ve seen really good engagement on is their website cards, lead generation cards, video cards, and image cards, which are in-line tweets that contain multimedia that’s fitted for Twitter. It looks really good on mobile. And what you do is redirect people offsite. With email cards you can collect emails from users. What I do is align my content to both my audience and whatever targeting method I’m using. If it’s TV, folks will be talking about the big game, so you try to make allusions to that game. You’ve got to provide some type of value to the end user, not just a “Check us out!” There needs to be some apparent benefit to that interaction.

How important is it to include a photo or hashtag in a promoted tweet?

I would say a photo is one of the most important components. A hashtag…I think you always have to be very careful with hashtags. We’ve seen all sorts of brands have issues with them. But I’ve seen them work as well. I’ve found multimedia to be extremely effective on Twitter. It’s a component I really try to push all our clients to have across the board. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and when you only have 140 characters, that can be a real critical component to extending your message online.

Would you say if your client is in any way controversial, like a major cable company or something like that, you would steer away from hashtags because people might try to hijack that hashtag?

Yeah, you have to think about all the positives and all the negatives. You have to weigh one against the other. And you have to figure out what your response is going to be. It doesn’t have to be a hashtag, it can be anything you do online. It’s really just important to think about any potential blowback. Hashtags are very hard for a brand to control. Once you set it down in the sand, it really does become something folks may skew out of proportion. You also have to be careful about using someone else’s hashtag as well. We’ve seen both success and massive crises that occur out of it. A lot of the time what we’ll do is if we’re going to use a hashtag you have to think about all the possibilities of what could happen and how you’re going to respond. That’s something we caution all our clients to think about.

How difficult is it to convince a client to advertise on Twitter versus Facebook or Google? Do you find that if the client isn’t active on Twitter themselves, they’re less likely to value Twitter?

Everything’s a pilot for us. We go to a client and say, “Hey, we don’t need to start in the deep end. Let’s try a couple things out. Let’s see if it’ll work. Let’s test it out. We’ll work with you to determine what your key performance indexes are going to be, what matters for you. And then we’ll sit down and figure out what went wrong and what went right. And how we can do better next time.” I’ve had clients who say we’re just not going to do it. And that’s fine. I’ll say for the most part it’s been fairly easy to work with clients in terms of at least talking about the pros and cons. It comes down to the budget. While you can do pretty small buys, you have to think about your scale. Sometimes marketing budgets need to go into what’s clearly most effective dollar for dollar. And that’s why we like to do the tests.

A lot of people are consuming Twitter on mobile. Does that impact what kinds of products or services you want to advertise on Twitter? I’m guessing people would be less likely to order a product on Amazon while on their mobile phone rather than their desktop. Or am I wrong in assuming that?

I think we’ve begun to see more and more consumers making purchases on mobile. I remember seeing an article that on Black Friday, a large percentage of Amazon’s sales were made on mobile and tablet devices. So I think we’re starting to see more users feel comfortable, particularly if Apple Pay takes off. It may not be the predominate way of making purchases online, but it’s much better than it was two years ago. We’re certainly seeing clients begin to think about their mobile strategy. Especially with any millennial targeting, which is a critical demographic, they’re going heavily mobile. You have to constantly think about what your website looks like on a mobile device and is my purchase funnel optimized for mobile.

Making sure there’s a mobile ready site waiting for them.

Yeah, if it’s not mobile friendly, then we have to be very judicious with what we do online with our Twitter advertising, including just targeting desktop users.

You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Twitter through a political lens. What’s the best kind of content for politicians to run Twitter ads against? Is it issue-oriented tweets targeted toward people who care about the issue? Tweets on election day targeting voters?

It’s a completely different platform now compared to what we were seeing in 2012. There are a lot more options for a campaign between generation cards — to get email signups — to video and website card features that drive people to specific landing pages within Twitter with a native looking ad. They’ve done a lot with their targeting mechanisms and have introduced better email integration — being able to match up your voter file, your in-house email list, and being able to do targeting off that. They’ve done conversion-based tracking and retargeting. The TV targeting is certainly something worth testing out. Both the Romney and Obama camps would be salivating now over what can be done on Twitter if they had access to what’s available now. From the content side, I think it’s critical for the next one and a half years that campaigns are using Twitter to talk about the candidate in an effective way, share their messaging, inform their supporters, challenge their opponents, and work with the media. It’s not just putting up pictures at a state fair anymore. You need to be testing constantly. I think the one thing I find interesting is what happens when you have candidates who actually tweet themselves. A lot of times they’ll hand over the keys to the car, but Chris Christie has been well known to be tweeting himself. Rand Paul has as well. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes at all. I’ve always found it to be pretty fun.

What kind of research are you doing beforehand so you know where to target your Twitter ads to maximize ROI?

A lot of that is driven through your first and third party data. The analytics backend is helpful. Looking at prior messaging and prior content. If you’re just starting out, it’s always good to look at crosstabs and target using that. There’s not much targeting you can do from an organic side. You can’t geotarget or interest target without paying for an ad. I use email list and our in-house CRM data to target people who have shown a propensity to be engaged on an issue. On the organic side you have to think about what everyone is interested in, because it’s like a megaphone. And in terms of micro-messaging, that’s where you want to get into paid ads so you can target them just to who will care about them.

Twitter is known as a real-time network and the marketing world is known for there being a lot of red tape in terms of getting things approved by a client. Are there ways to deal with the immediacy of Twitter with this slow approval process?

We don’t really struggle with it. We believe in the creative newsroom approach, and the critical component is being agile and pre-planning the process. Asking ourselves: if we have a piece of content show up, what’s the approval process and making sure somebody is available to discuss and approve as quickly as possible? On the political side there were rumors about the approval process of tweets [for Mitt Romney]. You have to think about all the legal implications of what a tweet can mean and what it says. And you have to do that from the consumer side as well. There’s trademark, copyright, and other things you need to think about. So you want to set up that process early on and set it up with the client so the client is onboard. Walk them through what it would look like and what the process is — if this scenario happens, here’s how we’ll respond, etc. A lot of it is about establishing a level of trust, and that needs to be done ahead of time, not the day of.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

Twitter marketing cover 2

Image via Mashable