Social Media Blog
We probably all know someone who's posted a lost-pet flier on Facebook - and maybe even someone who's found their furry friend as a result - but this might be the first time a missing pet has garnered so much attention on social media. And for good reason; who wouldn't love a face like this?
Jack the Cat went missing a little over two weeks ago when her owner, Karen Pascoe, was in the middle of a move from New York City to Los Angeles. Sad, but not so strange; pets often panic and occasionally go missing in the midst of their owners' big moves. Here's the twist, though: Jack disappeared while in the baggage system at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Pascoe received a call from American Airlines during her trip saying that one of her two cats - Jack was flying to his new home in the cargo hold, accompanied by Pascoe's other cat, Barry - had escaped his carrier somewhere along the way.
It's not the only recent animal fiasco at JFK - remember the tweeting turtles earlier this year? - but it's tweaked the heartstrings of pet lovers and webizens all over the world. (After all, wasn't the Internet made to trade cat stories?) Three days after Jack's disappearance, Pascoe's friend Mary Beth Griffith Melchior started a Facebook page called, simply enough, Jack The Cat is Lost in AA Baggage at JFK. As of 4 p.m. Friday, the page has 13,554 fans. (Myself included - while I'm not quite at the level of the "I Can't Hug Every Cat" Girl, I'd lose it if I lost my Luna.) There's also @findjackthecat on Twitter, which currently has 668 followers.
While the overwhelming support Jack's human family has received via social-media sympathizers is fantastic in its own right, what's really remarkable here is how this Facebook page has managed to crowdsource a variety of efforts - everything from hanging posters at the airport and in surrounding neighborhoods (Pascoe's new job has kept her in LA for much of the two weeks after Jack's disappearance) to creating an airline PR crisis that hasn't been seen since the whole United Breaks Guitars incident in 2008. Jack's fans haven't just been making their opinions known on the Facebook page dedicated to his disappearance; they've been complaining in droves wherever AA is online, from Twitter to Facebook to a whole host of national media outlets.
I'm looking forward to seeing how AA gets itself out of this sticky situation - but more so, looking forward to hearing that Jack's been found alive and well. What should AA's next steps be? Have any ideas? Post 'em in the comments.
Since the future's on everyone's mind right now - by which we really mean the long Labor Day weekend - we thought it'd be a good time to look back at these feel-good AT&T ads from 1993, which depict The Future in some ways that look, from a vantage point of 18 years, remarkably spot-on. (Except when was the last time anyone sent a fax? Or used a phone booth? Oh well, you can't be right about everything.)
While these old AT&T ads are definitely a trip down memory lane, and a pretty accurate vision of some aspects of the brave new digital universe in which we're now apparently living, there's one thing missing in 1993's view of 2011: one-to-many sharing by the masses, otherwise known as … social media. Like the AT&T spots say, we're paying our highway tolls without stopping at a toll booth; we're having video conferences from far-flung corners of the earth; we're watching movies on demand with our kids. But where are the video memes, the LOLcats, the global hashtag jokes? And, more importantly, where was the vision of "civilian" one-to-many sharing that leads to the viral-style distribution now viewed by marketers as the Holy Grail?
That's just it: In many senses, there's no way we could have seen the social media explosion coming, at least not in 1993. Here's an analogy. In 1977, Digital Equipment Corporation founder Ken Olsen told a convention of the World Future Society, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." Olsen was talking about computers as they were, largely, in 1977 - enormous multi-room mainframes built for specialist purposes, not the do-all devices currently resting on our laps or even the clunky desktop PCs of the early 1980s. It was a statement based on the information of the time, just as AT&T's '93 ads were based on a world where a super-fast broadband connection running into your house was about as much of a pipe dream as a personal jetpack.
So here's the point to mull over on your long Labor Day weekend: What's the next big thing that we're overlooking in today's futurist visions? Maybe it's a bit of an unfair question, so to get the flow of ideas started, here's a latter-day answer to the old AT&T ads (this one's from Nokia). Use your imagination: What's it leaving out? Leave your wildest dreams in the comments.
The social Web has been all abuzz the last few days about the next big wave of changes that are coming to Facebook, and for once the reaction doesn't seem terribly negative. At long last, Big Blue seems to have largely straightened out the increasingly tangled maze of privacy settings that users have had to fight their way through over the last few years; one of the biggest disadvantages of Facebook's adding layer upon layer of functionality to their product is the result it's had upon the average user's opt-in/opt-out privacy checklist. (In other words, figuring out how to share only what you want to share can be frustrating at best, impossible at worst.)
According to screenshots in Facebook's official teaser of the changes (we're still waiting on the rollout ourselves), gone is the multi-layered sharing checklist that until now has lived under Account -> Privacy Settings. Instead, sharing options will primarily go inline. Visit your profile's Info screen, and you'll be able to control public visibility section by section. (Don't want to tell the world, let alone your friends list, you're into Britney Spears? There you go.) As a big bonus, the "Preview Profile As ..." button that's been buried under several screens of privacy navigation will now appear at the top of your profile, making it easy to step into someone else's shoes and double-check exactly who sees what info.
This approach carries through to your Wall, too, which is where it gets really interesting. Now every time you post, you're given an easier-to-use dropdown that lets you choose visibility (with a promise that the list of options will grow more granular over time, a la Google+) - as well as edit that visibility later. And here's the game-changer: You can tag each post, whether you're accessing Facebook on your phone or on a computer, with a location. This functionality actually completely replaces Facebook Places as we've known it for the last year. Mobile versions of Facebook will lose the Places menu option, instead encouraging you to geo-identify whenever you post content.
So what does this actually mean - particularly for businesses like Starbucks, who've deeply integrated Facebook check-in deals into their overall marketing plans? (If you're curious, Starbucks stores actually top the list of where Facebook users check in, followed by Buffalo Wild Wings.) According to Facebook's own estimate, an "old-style" place check-in reaches an average of 130 people, which is pretty effective free marketing if harnessed correctly. Facebook promises that check-in deals won't go away; instead, they'll surface in the user's News Feed after that particular user has checked in (here's a flow diagram of how it'll look on the iPhone). But will people remember to look for them, let alone redeem them? And once our personal news feeds are clogged with inline geoposting by our friends, how long before that info gets passed over by our eyes while we're scanning for the details that really matter to us?
So while Facebook's new privacy settings are being pretty well received so far, the verdict really seems to be out on the revamped Places from the point of view of both marketer and consumer. Will this truly be a threat to big-name location-based services like Foursquare, or will it actually be the final nail in the Places coffin? We'd love to hear what you think once you get the new rollout. Post your thoughts in the comments.
This infographic has been making the rounds on Twitter this week, but if you haven't yet seen it, it's well worth a look (click to enlarge):
Essentially, social media marketing firm Hasai took a look at a bunch of pretty standard stats on social media - but then aggregated them into a list that says some rather interesting things about Americans as a whole. Like it or not, the numbers say that we're really into royalty, make up a majority share on LinkedIn, tweet a ton about television and - for those of us on Farmville, at least - spend the equivalent of two full weeks on the job cultivating imaginary homesteads.
But there are also numbers in there that give some more useful marketing guidance than who our fave five celebrities are on Twitter (Gaga, Bieber, Obama, Katy Perry and Britney Spears, if you're curious). Zoom through the whole infographic to get the big picture, but in the meantime, here are some of our favorite takeaways:
- 28% of U.S. adults say they give advice about purchases on social networking sites. What does that mean? People are already talking about your brand on the social Web, so give them a place to talk - somewhere where you can respond to complaints and thank them for good words.
- The purchasing decisions of 38 million 13- to 80-year-olds in the U.S. are now influenced by social media - up 14% in the last six months. And while you can't influence them directly (just like you can't hug every cat, right?), we've never been given such a playing field to work with: All ages, all demographics, all interests. Talking to people you may never have had the resources to reach. Giving you access to audiences you never knew you had.
- Of the more than 149 million Americans actively using Facebook, 70% of them log on every day. That's a pretty regular crowd. Learn when your day-on-day visitors are active, key your messages to those times of day and reward those regulars with some added value for frequent visits. Would you visit a brand's Facebook page more often if you knew you'd get a little something extra whenever you stop by?
- Four out of 10 Americans who identified as frequent social users follow products, services and brands. This means that they're willing to hear about brand messages in their news feeds - not just in banner ads. We're entering a new age of truly mixed-messaging content in which branding and editorial can, in many situations, share equal footing - and while this can make it easier to reach your audience, it also means you've got to make your message sharper, stronger and more interesting than ever.
Now it's your turn. What do you think are the key points in the infographic above, and how can we learn from them? Do you think it's a true reflection of your own use patterns as an American consumer of social media? Let us know in the comments.
Note: This is the final of three blog posts from Samantha Schwartz, our super summer social media intern. She's returning to Grinnell College next week, and we'll miss her creativity, devotion and enthusiasm! Best of luck for the school year.
Ever experienced this? You’re talking to someone on your cell phone when you hear the shrill ring of your home phone. You have a few short seconds to decide who’s more important, and then you have to act. You feel ambushed, overwhelmed and, well, popular. Now take that feeling, and multiply it by 10. That’s what it’s like to work in social media at The World Company. In one day, I could end up posting from 10 different Twitter channels and 6 Facebook pages.
Jessica Schilling (The World Company's social media specialist and my mentor this summer) and I are always amazed at how it comes in waves. You think you’ve got a quiet afternoon to catch up, and then suddenly you have 10 new projects and 50 new messages to deal with. That’s the beauty of it, though. It’s an organic process. The chatter begins when something exciting or controversial is about to occur, and you can feel the intensity with each “whrrrl” notifying sound the computer produces.
This summer has been an all-out whirlwind, and I wouldn’t trade it for a year’s worth of margarita sherbet at Sylas and Maddy’s. (If you’ve tasted it, you know what kind of sacrifice that is.) I’ve learned from the absolute best — Jessica always answered my questions, embraced my ideas and helped me achieve my goals beyond the scope of my internship. I’ll give you just a sampling of what I’ve learned this summer. For the sake of clarity, I’ve divided what I’ve learned into three categories: social media tools, social media skills and life skills.
HootSuite/TweetDeck: HootSuite and TweetDeck allow you to schedule tweets and Facebook posts ahead of time, as well as use multiple social media accounts from one dashboard. Both can crash from time to time (TOTAL disaster), but they’re so much more practical than sending out timed tweets manually. Which is right for you? Here's a comparison of a few key points:
- Website interface, so usable from any browser
- Attractive interface
- Better with Facebook links; you can customize the preview text and photo when scheduling
- Faster update time than TweetDeck
- Downloadable app
- Easy to manage multiple channels in a single view
- Auto-complete @mentions (makes it easier to keep a conversation going)
- Easier interface for searching for and monitoring users, @mentions and phrases
If you only have a few accounts to manage and you’re a social media beginner, I’d go with HootSuite. If you’re a more advanced user looking for special features, I’d choose TweetDeck.
Bit.ly: Both HootSuite and TweetDeck have built-in link shorteners, but if you’re sending out a tweet manually, shortening links you include by running them through bit.ly (or your choice of third-party link shortners) first will leave you with more characters for your message.
Ctrl-Click: Now, I LOVE my keyboard shortcuts. I’m all over Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, and even the advanced Ctrl-K (hyperlink). However, I must admit that before this summer, I did not know the wonders of Ctrl-Click. It allows you to click a link on a page in a browser and have it open in a new tab. It’s so useful for those times when you’re reading something, and midway through, there’s a link to something else interesting, but you don’t want to stop reading item #1. Voila! Ctrl-Click that sucker and read it later. Jessica taught me this on day 1 to help me keep track of the LJWorld.com Twitter and Flickr updates I send out each morning, but now I use it for everything!
Social Media Skills
Twitter Find & Follow: Find and follow is any easy enough concept—find users on Twitter and follow them, hoping they’ll follow you back. But deleting users who don’t follow you back is a huge pain, so finding a relevant audience is important! Jessica taught me to look for similar groups with big Twitter followings to gain an audience. For instance, if I were a new Mexican restaurant in Lawrence, I might scour a list of Lawrence-area Esquina followers or even just local followers of the entire Lawrence Originals locally-owned restaurant group.
Tweeting on Multiple Channels: I got a chance to tweet on multiple World Company channels. Besides the classic @LJWorld channel, I tweeted on @LJWonthestreet, @LJWOpinions, @WorldCoAds (ad department channel), @LJWMarketplace, @CraveLawrence, @WellCommons and @LawGiveBack - not to mention client advertisers' channels. Whew! For each channel, I had to keep in mind the audience and the proper tone.
Twitter Q & A: Put simply, if you never ask questions on Twitter, you won’t get answers. If you’re a cupcake business, for example, ask your customers what their favorite frosting flavor is and you’ll open up a conversation rather than just making boring, flat updates. Similarly, if you don’t answer your followers’ questions in a timely manner, they won’t come to you again. For instance, I was able to bring in traffic before this year's Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale by answering shoppers’ questions about deals. In return, we increased our follower base when we became known as a source for Sidewalk Sale answers.
Managing a Facebook page: On Facebook, your page can be easily spammed if you’re not careful. By checking it daily (or several times a day, depending on the page), you ensure that you delete the spammers before they start to hurt your credibility — and you can also answer real questions from your Facebook fan base, once again establishing yourself as a knowledge source.
Event Support: The day of your big event is an important time to be involved on Facebook and Twitter. For instance, while Jessica managed the insane amount of local Facebook and Twitter chatter during the Sidewalk Sale, I hit the streets, took pictures and posted them to our Facebook page.
Extreme Multitasking: I explained this above. Social media is completely overwhelming, and it’s not a job for everyone. But if you can do it, any other multitasking you have to do in life seems like a walk in the park.
Website Building: Jessica has shown me the websites she’s designed, and she also helped me design my own. This summer I launced Grinnell Kudos, a site where students at my college can post anonymous compliments about each other, and Jessica was full of ideas and suggestions to get it off the ground.
Understanding the (LJ) World of Advertising: I’ve gotten to attend Monday morning meetings with all of the LJW advertising staff, and I’ve learned so much just from listening. Advertising is so much more than “selling stuff”; you really have to get to know your client in order to find the right campaign and the right medium with which to present it.
Being a Teammate: Jessica’s title may be “Social Media Specialist”, but really, she’s willing to pitch in whenever she can. Whether it’s wrapping a balloon around a parking meter for the Lawrence GiveBack Free Parking Day or helping out with Lawrence.com's Dinner and a Movie contest, Jessica lends a hand. It’s a skill I’m picking up, too — just recently, I got to work on Sunflower Horizons and WellCommons radio PSA scripts.
All in all, my experience at The World Company has been a very positive one. If you’re out there looking for an internship, come help Jessica! I assure you, she’ll have plenty for you to do.
Note: Here's another post from Samantha Schwartz, our summer social media intern - and an ace foodie.
Before the internet, recipe sharing meant literally scribbling down a copy of your friend's nearly perfected banana bread recipe. These days, if you just Google "banana bread recipe", you'll find over 5 million results. The Google sidebar lets you sort ingredients, cook time and calories per serving, something that a box full of scribbled recipe cards just can't help you with. Looking for the best? You'll find a recipe that 29,073 people have saved at allrecipes.com, along with a recipe from Food Network guru Giada and one from the trusted baking brand Betty Crocker, all given 5 stars from more than 100 reviewers.
Allrecipes.com alone has 214 banana bread recipes.
It's overwhelming, sure, but I'm willing to bet that these recipes make your friend's banana bread taste like a sugar-coated brick. (Unless your friend is the author of a beloved five-star recipe, of course.) What social media and the Internet at large have done for DIY gourmets is truly amazing; cooks from around the world provide reviews and tweaks for recipes so that you can bake five-star banana bread.
Who wouldn't want to join this foodie network? Here are a few of my favorite sites - and since we're being social, please share your own faves in the comments.
BEST IN: RECIPES
Allrecipes.com: This is by far my most-visited foodie site. It generates recipes based on ingredients, allows you to save custom versions of other recipes and lets you share recipes via email or Facebook in one click. It has about a million features, but my favorite parts of the site are quite simple—I love the photos and reviews. Each recipe has not just one photo, but a whole gallery to provide ideas for presentation and recipe spin-offs. The reviews provide tips on how to make a recipe better, easier, or just more interesting—for FREE. It makes me like humans!
Note: If you have any sort of allergy or intolerance, you can also probably find a cooking community that goes along with it. For example, peanutallergy.com offers nut-free recipes, and celiac.com offers gluten-free recipes.
BEST IN: BLOGS
Cupcakesandcashmere.com: I'm a little obsessed with this blog, despite the fact that food and fashion can be conflicting interests. (The blogger, Emily, has performed a miracle by being a skinny cupcake enthusiast.) I truly can't decide if I am more in love with this breakfast pizza recipe, or this outfit. Her creativity in fashion is reflected in her food, and the raving comments section proves that everything tastes just as good as it looks.
BEST IN: FOOD ADMIRATION
Foodgawker.com: If you eat with your eyes, you've just arrived in heaven. Updated daily, foodgawker takes the best in food blogs and presents large, high-quality photos on which viewers can feast their eyes. Warning: if you're like me, don't read this blog in a public place, unless you consider gasping and nearly licking your screen socially appropriate.
If you haven't been to these foodie sites yet, you're missing out! What's your favorite cooking or recipe site on the social Web? Let us know in the comments.
If you've ever managed a corporate social media account - or even just a Facebook page for, say, your biking club - you'll already know that one of the most challenging aspects of the job is to be on call 24/7. Sure, your business or organization may not run the sort of account that lends itself to comments or questions at stupid-o-clock in the night, but if you're doing social right, you need to have a contingency plan in place for when that does happen. Because it will happen, and usually the issues that come up after hours or on the weekends are the ones that could potentially do the most harm to your brand. After all, if the subject of that tweet or post really wasn't such a big deal, the sender wouldn't be bothering to nudge you in the middle of the night.
Then again, there's always that one person who just posts to be a curmudgeon, to complain for the sake of complaining or to pick nits about something that even they admit is probably insignificant. Again, if you've managed an online community, you're probably right now picturing specific folks with whom you regularly interact - and chances are, you realize that despite their making you roll your eyes now and then, there's stuff you can definitely learn from this contingent.
All this long-winded introduction aside, here's my little story. A few weeks ago, I went from being on one side of the equation to the other, turning into one of Those People - those complainers who mention something tiny but potentially pretty embarrassing in public rather than quietly sending an email to a name on a Web page somewhere. Even worse, I did it on a federal holiday. But seriously, check this out:
I was in Chicago over the Independence Day weekend, and on the last of three nights in the (really rather nice) Westin O'Hare found the above typo on a bathroom washcloth. Doing what I do for a living, of course the first thing I did after getting out of the shower was run and find my iPhone, snap a photo and tweet the mistake.
My followers LOL'd, a few folks retweeted it - and then came the official corporate reply from @StarwoodBuzz, the social voice of Westin's holding company Starwood:
Really? Via CoTweet, which is email provider ExactTarget's answer to a corporate social media dashboard and a shortcut to some pretty hefty social automation? Enter the curmudgeon. At that moment, I officially became one of Those People.
Now this started to get real. My followers joined in the complaint chorus - after all, the @StarwoodBuzz reply just looked like a poorly-worded automatic response to the #fail hashtag in my original tweet. A few hours later, I received the standard "follow us so we can continue this over DM" reply. No, guys. I wasn't going to take this conversation over to DM. In my newfound complainer's empowerment, I felt @StarwoodBuzz owed it to me and my followers to say something reasonable and very non-automated - in public.
But wait. Here's the thing; all of this was going down on July 4. Some poor guy's phone was probably buzzing in his pocket at a family Independence Day barbecue, and he probably had to excuse himself, go out to his car and fire up a laptop to deal with me. (I say this from experience; it's happened to me enough times that friends and family don't really mention it any more.) But to Starwood's credit, their reps blew off the barbecue and made it right. The conversation continued over the next few days (yes, I gave up and eventually took it to DM), and somewhere along the way, they asked for, among other info, my mailing address. I replied, the conversation died down, the work week continued and I pretty much forgot about it. Until I got home a few days later to find a package on my doorstep. Containing this.
One cushy Westin bathrobe, plus a handwritten note from Brian, whose stationery lists his title as "Global Brand Leader." Normally I might giggle at a title like that, but given how far he'd gone beyond the call of duty, I'll buy it.
So what - as social media marketers and consumers alike - is there to learn from my Great Hotel Towel Typo Incident? The sarcastic answer might be something along the lines of this: Bully a brand enough, and they'll cave in and give you what they want. But that's not totally true; there are plenty of examples out there of brand bullies that have not only failed to receive their ransom from their targets, but been chastised by those brands' supporters for their ill will. (This, of course, assumes that you've built up a solid supporter base, but that's another topic altogether.)
Instead, maybe the answer is that really great social customer service surprises and delights. If you're protecting your brand on social media, you're probably already doing some pretty extensive monitoring to make sure complaints that need intervention are dealt with, and potential problems in brand sentiment are addressed before they become big issues. That latter category leaves a lot of room to play, whether it's just a nice reply to someone who didn't know you were listening or something as elaborate as a bathrobe in a box.
What's the nicest response you've ever received when engaging with a brand on social media? Have you ever received an out-of-the-blue reply from a company you didn't mention by name - and how did it make you feel? Let us know in the comments.
Note: Today's post is from Samantha Schwartz, former "Double Take" columnist for LJWorld.com who's returned for the summer from Grinnell College as our social media intern. Thanks, Samantha!
Have you heard of Blair Fowler? Maybe not, but she has a loyal following of 764,871 fans on YouTube, and her videos have been watched upwards of 142 million times. Better known as juicystar07, Blair makes beauty videos on YouTube. She’s not one of a kind, but she’s certainly one of the more famous “Beauty Gurus” on social.
I was tipped onto the phenomenon by my younger sister, Kendra, who began as a fan of Blair and the other gurus, and now has her own channel. So, what exactly are these girls doing? They post videos of themselves doing hair, nail, makeup and fashion demos, and they share helpful tips with their subscribers. When they get famous enough, (to rattle off a few: Michelle Phan, BubzBeauty, Macbarbie07, meganheartsmakeup) YouTube “partners” with them, allowing them additional features and in turn advertising in 30 second segments before the videos begin. Call it stupid or shallow if you want, but we have a lot to learn from the Beauty Gurus about social media.
Apply their tips to your own social media marketing plan:
Create a social media empire: In addition to her YouTube channel, Blair has her own website, Facebook fan page, online store and vlog channel to document her daily life. She stages meetups with her fans, and she holds contests and giveaways using the free products sent to her by beauty companies hoping for free advertising. She’s appeared in Seventeen magazine, met loads of celebrities, and she and her sister Elle were the youngest makeup artists ever to work at New York Fashion Week. In other words, she’s everywhere. And while you may not have the time to devote to a detailed social media presence on every channel there is out there, chances are with some research you can find the media that speak to your customers best. Where to start? Ask them where they’d like you to be. It could be as simple as making a tally sheet at your cash register and asking every buyer who comes in, or sending an email or postcard to your existing customer database sincerely asking for their opinions. (If you add a little incentive for responding, even better! You are asking for some of their time and help, after all.)
Be timely: Remember when all you had to do to get the word out about your product or service was stick a sign out on the street? Social media is about as far from that as you can get. The average Facebook user (according to Facebook's own statistics) has 130 friends, which means that every time that person logs on to Facebook they’re seeing a whole different set of posts in their news feed. If your carefully-crafted post only sees the light of day at 8:30 on a Monday morning, the user that logs in on Wednesday afternoon won’t see it. So in social media, timely means two things: both the relevance of what you’re posting in regards to the rest of the day’s news for your audience, and when and how often you’re posting. Again, ask your audience when they’d like to hear from you; and, if it’s easier for you to manage, consider using social scheduling tools to get your audience that info when they want it.
Find your niche: If you still think beauty blogging is silly, look back up there again at Blair’s numbers. We all have our niche interests and hobbies, so how can your business or organization make the most of that? Even if you’re selling the most generic widget possible, there’s still a niche for you; it’s just a matter of finding it. Even something as humble and potentially boring as, say, a screwdriver can be used to build an amazing child’s playhouse, a deck chair for your grandpa or a Habitat for Humanity house for a homeless family – all of which are stories that can grab the attention of audiences you may have never known you had.
Do you follow any social media beauty gurus - or experts in any other niche interest, for that matter - with an eye toward adapting their strategies for your own? What's the most unlikely source of social media inspiration that you've found? Let us know in the comments.
OK, then! Two weeks of Google+ under our collective belt. Who's got it all figured out?
Didn't think so. We all know that Google's brand new, mysterious-around-the-edges social network (is it really a social network?) may well be the Next Big Thing. Many of us have clamored madly for an invitation and then, once we got in to Google+, stayed up really, really late trying to figure out what to do with it. A lot of us - even though Google says it's cracking down on these - have started up business pages. (LJWorld.com has one; check it out.) And some of us, like Computerworld's Mike Elgan, have decided to swear off all other modes of e-communication.
But when it comes down to it, what are we actually supposed to do with Google+ that we can't do with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, StumbleUpon or any one of innumerable other social networks? Vincent Wong has a fantastic (so much so that you've probably seen it already) photo deck on "What G+ is really about" - and no, it's not social media. Wong's premise is simple: Google+ is about moving everything possible into the cloud, and the ramifications that come with that. That little gray bar that's at the top of all your Google windows now? It includes links to Google-ized substitutes for all the applications most of us use on our earthbound computers, and Wong suggests that our eventual uptake on those apps is part of a "blue ocean" strategy by Google. In other words, while you can still use Google+ to share, +1, comment or tell everyone what you had for dinner - just like the existing social paradigm that Facebook does so well - Google's integration of those "social" goodies with true app-based collaboration opportunity (apportunity?) is the real game changer, what's trading the "red ocean" of cut-throat social media platform competition with a brand new market no one's conquered yet. (Oh, and the link above is to a G+ photo gallery; if you're still not on the service, you can view it on Posterous too.)
The thing is, Google+ just isn't there yet. To be fair, two weeks into the game, we shouldn't expect it to be. Anyone who remembers hanging out on Facebook during its early days (I got on in 2006, which was already coming in pretty late in the day) can remember how much it often felt like, well, a sandbox. Google+ is the same way - which, if you're trying to figure out where your business plan fits into this whole mess, can be really frustrating - but at the same time, it's tremendously exciting. And, unlike Facebook in its formative years, the development of Google+ is remarkably transparent. As you'd expect, there are a ton of Google developers already living their lives on G+, and they're asking for feature suggestions and talking about cool stuff that's coming up next. (Regardless of how bumpy of a ride that may end up being, it's certainly refreshing to be able to take part in a two-way exchange of information after being stonewalled by Facebook for years!)
So what do we do with Google+ right now? Play with it, primarily. Until business profiles are officially sanctioned, folks who are interested in G+ for their businesses are pretty much limited to signing on as individuals and getting used to the interface and functionality. And this may be a good thing: At present, Google+ is about individual people and how they relate, how the social circles we form in real life might be best replicated by Google's Circles features. It's not yet to this point, of course, but the collaboration opportunity that Wong mentions in his slideshow is already changing the shape of Google+. The Wong slide deck is an example of this in itself; the extent to which it's made the rounds will almost certainly have an effect on some of the next G+ features released. And if you think about that, it's really pretty revolutionary. Facebook and other first-generation social networks gave birth to a concept of crowdsourcing; now, we're able to use that crowdsourced power to help build the social network we really want. A developer friend of mine who's been exploring those concepts in a series of very lucid posts on the dynamics of online communities puts it perfectly:
As a software developer this sort of thing really gets my attention, in the same way badly designed software does. It reveals that no one is thinking about it. We are adapting to what we have, instead of adapting what we have to what we need.
It is an interesting and valuable project to architect software that works seamlessly with how people think and how they actually interact with real world communities, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, especially when I see the inadequacies every day and I know it could be better.
So he thinks, writes, posts, and shares with the world - including the people who are building the network. We couldn't have visualized anything like this in Facebook's early days.
What do you want in your ideal social network? How would it behave like the communities you engage with in real life? Share in the comments below.
If the United States Postal Service's campaign is a success, you very well might be seeing more of those funky, blocky, smartphone-friendly website cues in your mailbox (your real one, not your email inbox). The USPS is currently running a two-month summer campaign offering a 3 percent discount to businesses that include QR (quick response) codes on mailpieces - the idea being to "[provide] marketers with a compelling way to reach an internet-savvy customer base,” according to a press release quoting Tom Foti, USPS Marketing Mail manager.
On a local level, Westar Energy is taking part in the promotion (see our story by Shaun Hittle), so the next time you open your electric bill you might want to keep your smartphone handy; we don't want to spoil the surprise, but if you scan the code you'll get to a website with energy conservation tips.
So other than encouraging folks to learn more about saving electricity, what's the point? And more specifically, what's the point for the Postal Service, which stands to lose a bundle in an already eroded market if users scan a QR code to reach, say, an invitation to a paperless billing option?
Well, for one thing, businesses can't quite go that far. The USPS actually specifies that QR codes linking to print mailing opt-out forms don't qualify for the promotion - here's what it says in the official guide:
Can the mobile barcode link to a page that allows customers to sign up for online bill paying or paperless statement service?
A: The mobile barcode must be used for marketing, promotional, or educational purposes. Links that direct consumers to sites that encourage enrollment to online bill paying or paperless statement services are not considered marketing, promotional, or educational for the purposes of this initiative and are not eligible for the discount.
There's been talk in industry blogs (here's one example, though it's unsubstantiated) that the Postal Service recognizes a move like this QR promotion might be a minor act of self-sabotage. On the flip side, though, the USPS campaign does seem to indicate that they recognize bulk mailing is in serious trouble unless marketers - and audiences - realize some value in integrating print and online contact points. Says Foti in that press release: "Consumers have become more comfortable with digital devices and online technologies, and the industry should consider incorporating elements that reflect these trends into direct mail campaigns."
That's not just marketing speak, actually. While the idea of "multiple touches" - remind the customer of your message across media, times and triggers - is something that makes sense even if we never made it through Advertising 101, forward-thinking marketers may be better at expanding into new media (Google+ anyone?) than they are at bringing those new channels back into integration with existing means of communication. After all, how often do we see statements like "click here to subscribe to our print catalog" in, say, our favorite retailer's Twitter stream? Social media and mobile e-commerce are undoubtedly the Next Big Things in communications and marketing for just about any industry, but it's important to remember that they're also members of a larger family that can include everything from a nifty direct-mail postcard to a guy standing on a corner with a sandwich board. The challenge in execution is to make sure all those different media send a unified message and - just as importantly - are aware that each of the others exist. And that's where marketing gets difficult ... and fun for both the producer and audience.
Seen any other QR codes "in the wild" - in other words, in your mailbox? We'd love to hear what you think works and what doesn't. Let us know what you found by leaving a comment.