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Looking For Dominance In Social Media? Think Small

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

On Twitter or Facebook, conversations usually happen in small clusters. I’ll respond to what someone else has written or they’ll respond to me and the conversation continues. There’s increased likelihood that others will chime in if the conversation is on Facebook, but it also happens frequently enough on Twitter among friends. The important takeaway for businesses is that the conversation groups are small, so you have to think small.

Brian Sheehan writes as much on AdAge in his article, Why Big Brands Are Dominating Social Media, “the emergence of the web, and especially social marketing, now means the highway to success now has many more ‘on ramps’ for smaller companies. So why is it, then, when we look at some of the most effective forms of social marketing, big marketers are vastly out-performing smaller ones?”

It’s an important question because on Facebook and Twitter everyone has an equal footing. Everyone can drive on the “highway”, as Sheehan calls it, because of these on ramps. To take the analogy a step further, it’s important for companies to not just get on the freeway but to actually drive. If a company has a presence on Twitter, Facebook or other social networks, but isn’t actively updating then it’s about as useful as a stranded car blocking the left lane of the highway.

Sheehan points to resources playing a big factor an in an example writes, “Pepsico’s Gatorade has a group of full-time staff who man their “Mission Control” room, monitoring and participating in social media 24 hours a day. Smaller brands may not be able to afford that.”

With varying sizes of companies come varying levels of expectations. If I’m looking for a response from a major corporation, I’ll expect quicker than if I was hoping for a response from a city shop. I think most people can understand that the timing will be different, but they would like to actually get a response.

One way to overcome the resource gap is through creativity. “Big marketers may have access to more creative talent, but small brands need to demand from themselves a higher level of creativity,” writes Sheehan. “Small companies are known for their entrepreneurialism and imagination.”

He’s right. When one customer comes to a mega-corporation with one question, they’ll get one answer. That conversation is just as small as the one I have with friends, but it’s not being overlooked as insignificant because small conversations add to create a level of dominance in the social media field.

An effective social media strategy will be one that incorporates large, creative ideas into influential posts that can be shared quickly in small conversations.

Embracing the web, moving forward it’s as important as ever

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

The Internet is now as popular as TV. It’s true, according to the latest research from Forrester cited by the Wall Street Journal. “The stat marks a big shift for the country at large; this is the first year in Forrester’s survey that people have reported spending equal amounts of time on the two activities — 13 hours a week.”

The amazing thing is that Internet activity has seen such amazing growth. People are still watching TV at about the same rates as previous surveys, but they’re also finding more time to get online.

The Wall Street Journal notes that according to the survey of 40,000 people, “e-commerce and social networking have seen the biggest rise in popularity since 2007.” The number of Americans shopping online has doubled, which can be seen in the numbers of shoppers going online for holiday shopping (cyber shopping increased 12 percent over the same period last year according to All Things D.)

When creating a strategy for public relations, it’s important to embrace the web because it’s grabbing more focus than ever. Thirty-five percent of Americans are visiting social networking sites, a 20 percent jump from 2007.

The New York Times even wrote on how “The Atlantic,” a 153-old magazine, transitioned and saved itself by embracing the web. “The Atlantic, the intellectual’s monthly that always seemed more comfortable as an academic exercise than a business, is on track to turn a tidy profit of $1.8 million this year. That would be the first time in at least a decade that it had not lost money.”

How’d they make the transition? A “cultural transfusion” and “a dose of counter intuition”, the New York Times writes.

Justin B. Smith, president of the Atlantic Media Company, told the New York Times, “We imagined ourselves as a venture-capital-backed start-up in Silicon Valley whose mission was to attack and disrupt The Atlantic. In essence, we brainstormed the question, ‘What would we do if the goal was to aggressively cannibalize ourselves?’”

The strategy isn’t a cure-all template for media companies, the article reads, but web strategy and how to position one’s company and brand on the Internet should be a key part of every business strategy. Embracing the web, moving forward it’s as important as ever.

Decentralizing Social Media Strategy – All For One and One For All

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

I wasn’t entirely surprised when I read the headline “Why The New York Times eliminated its social media editor position” on Poynter. In fact, when you look at how the New York Times has approached social media, it’s one of the best and that’s why the NYT’s social media editor Jennifer Preston is changing positions.

“Social media can’t belong to one person; it needs to be part of everyone’s job,” Poynteer quotes Preston as saying. “It has to be integrated into the existing editorial process and production process. I’m convinced that’s the only way we’re going to crack the engagement nut.”

This is true for everyone who’s interested in social media strategy. You have to take the Three Musketeers approach of “All for one and one for all.”

Mallary Jean at Poynter writes, “The move is part of the Times’ efforts to more fully integrate its print and digital operations. It’s also an acknowledgment that social media needs to be — and is already — a shared responsibility.”

That last part is key. If you’re attempting to drive engagement with an audience, you have to be ready to do it all the time. The same key points Jean makes for helping journalists effectively use social media, can be translated to helping brands use social media.

“What did I hear at the very beginning?” Preston is quoted. “‘Twitter is all about what people are having for lunch.’ Now, no one says that anymore.”

For the uninitiated, social media interaction and engagement can be strange and off-putting. People may think it’s just for over-sharers, but they’d be missing the larger point. Jean writes, “Times staffers regularly use social media to publish real-time news and updates for breaking stories and live events. Some departments… have started using Facebook to help seed communities around areas of content.” The New York Times is acting like a brand in that regard, because it’s seeking to group like-minded people with things they enjoy.

“Hiring a social media editor is an important first step for newsrooms, Preston said. But she sees the social media editor as more of a temporary role than a permanent one. It becomes less necessary, she said, once more people in the newsroom start regularly using social media.” Preston makes another key point there, that as everyone becomes more involved in social media aspects, it’s less vital that you need someone exclusively dedicated to it. The goal is that eventually, people won’t need to be reminded about the importance or use of social media and that it becomes natural.

Within a PR agency, the public relations work we do now links and overlaps extensively with social media. Where one used to write a release and send it out, now the message can be shared and distributed in more ways and following up can be a more engaging process.

Looking For Users, Google Is Giving Away Chrome OS Notebooks

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

Google wants to open up the debate between Mac and PC, and it’s planning on doing so with Chrome OS. Announced in 2009, Google targeted Chrome OS as “an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.”

Today, they started the process of delivering on that promise and are even giving some lucky people a chance to get a Chrome OS Notebook for free.

So what is Chrome OS? Google explains it pretty well in the introduction video.

They want users to be able to connect to the web instantly, which is good for most businesses’ web strategies. “Chrome notebooks boot in about 10 seconds and resume from sleep instantly,” Google claims. They want users to be able to have the same experience everywhere, so apps, documents, and settings are stored in the cloud. Google says you could even lose your computer, and log into another Chrome OS notebook and get right back to work.

From a business perspective, I love the cloud concept because it’s great for strategy. If it doesn’t matter where I’m logging in from when I access my documents, then I can log in from anywhere. That’s beneficial to collaboration and to getting things done.

Google’s also getting into a little bit of one-upmanship by teaming with Verizon Wireless to offer 100MB of free 3G data every month for the first two years. I have to say I was stunned at that kind of deal. There are also contract-free plans for users who will need more bandwidth. Integrating 3G into a device isn’t new, but giving away data on a laptop is a pretty big step.

Another benefit for business that I see in Chrome OS is in the security settings and automatic updates. A lot of the in-depth security features are listed on their page, or you can check out their informational video.

Google says its Chrome OS is “a work in progress” and they’re looking for people to test it out and offer suggestions on how to make it better. They’re taking applications from people to be part of a pilot program. From the selection list, it looks like they’re taking applicants from all walks of life, including business, education, non-profits, developers and the even individuals.

I applied to test drive a Chrome notebook, and it might be worth it for you to check out their site for more information.

A change of face: Facebook’s Zuckerberg talks about redesigned profile pages

Monday, December 6th, 2010

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

Maybe you’ve seen an update in your Facebook News Feed that says some of your friends have the new profile. Before I’d read the updates on TechMeme or watched Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with founder Mark Zuckerberg (which you can watch below), I saw my friends getting the new profile.

I found it to be an ingenious way to introduce people to the new profiles. Instead of just rolling out the changes en masse and upsetting people along the way, with this update Facebook virally spread the profile upgrades to new users.

You only got the new profile if you wanted it and sought it out. That’s exactly what I and millions of others have already done.

So what is the new profile? Facebook has a in-depth explanation in a blog post that I’ll get to in a moment, but it also has a fairly simple and straight-forward video. Click play on the embedded frame to watch.

From the blog post, your new profile “begins with a quick overview of basic information such as where you’re from, where you went to school, and where you work—the kinds of conversation starters you share with people you’ve just met or exchange with old friends as you get reacquainted.

And since there’s often no better way to learn about a person than through photos, the profile now includes a row of recently tagged photos of you. In my case, my profile features pics from my engagement and wedding, two of my life’s most recent and happiest moments.”

The profile offers users new ways to share their interests and activities. One particular change reminded me and Larry Dignan at ZDnet of LinkedIn. Dignan even questioned if the new Facebook design is a threat to the more professional social network. A big enough chunk of Facebook’s 500 million users will use the social site as a work and recruiting tool,” he writes. I have to say I agree and when you look at the way that it’s implemented, you can see the similarities. Facebook says in the blog post that you “can list the projects you worked on at your job, classes you took in school, your favorite musicians and sports teams, and more”, which to me is a direct assault on LinkedIn.

Overall, I like the changes, and they actually prompted me to enter more information than I’d previously shared (which I’d say is a ‘win’ for Facebook and probably one of the aims of the redesign.) I’d mentioned the 60 Minutes interview with Mark Zuckerberg above. You can watch the interview, in two parts, below. I’ve also embedded the 60 Minutes Overtime clip, where they take a run through the new changes.

60 Minutes Interview Clip 1

60 Minutes Interview Clip 2

60 Minutes Overtime Guided Video Tour

A Bully Beats The SEO System, So Google Changes Its Algorithm

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

Over the weekend, I was stunned when I read the NY Times article “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web.” The premise of the article was that a website owner intentionally upset its customers so that they would complain about him online, thus boosting his ranking in search results.

After the NYT story, Google responded bluntly with a post of its own, “Being bad to your customers is bad for business.” Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow wrote “By treating your customers badly, one merchant told the paper, you can generate complaints and negative reviews that translate to more links to your site; which, in turn, make it more prominent in search engines.”

Obviously, Google can’t let that happen. Search Engine Land even went so far as to say the story “illustrates the fallacy of Google’s ‘gold standard’ search results.”

Google’s answer to the problem: change the algorithm. “We developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience,” writes Singhal in the blog post. “The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.”

Even though we don’t have details of how Google has changed its algorithm (because as Singhal writes, “We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day.”) Search Engine Land also followed up, saying he thinks Google is using reviews that it aggregates about merchants from across the web.

Google’s search rankings have for a long time been thought of as a barometer of success. In making the changes to its algorithm, Google is attempting to protect the people that search using Google.com. Google’s policy is even in line with the informal corporate motto “Don’t Be Evil.”

What’s this mean for businesses? How you treat your customers online matters. Creating relevant compelling content is still one of the most rewarding ways to generate client loyalty on the web. If sites aimed at gathering negative reviews are pummeling your brand and business, it could be bad for your bottom line. Facebook and Twitter provide opportunities for customer engagement in good times and in bad. Using social media, businesses can see potential pitfalls in customers’ stories and respond to them directly. It’s better to be good than evil.

The Michigan Chronicle: Well Positioned for the Next 75 Years

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

By MICHAEL LAYNE, Marx Layne

Congratulations to the Michigan Chronicle, its publisher, editors, reporters and staff on 75 years of outstanding service to the African-American and greater metro-Detroit community. Having been in the communications business for over 25 years, I have been fortunate to work with a diverse client base here in Michigan, including noteworthy African-American business leaders, churches, musicians, entertainers, educators, politicians and entrepreneurs.

Through all my years working with Detroit media, the Michigan Chronicle has played an indispensable role in informing—and inspiring—this vibrant community. Your publisher, Sam Logan, is a responsive and independent thinker. He stands in a proud line of Michigan Chronicle publishers and editors, starting with Lucius Martin and Louis E. Harper, who have understood the responsibility that derives from representing what historically has been one of the largest African-American populations in America.

Through the years, the challenges and circumstances facing Detroit have evolved, and the Michigan Chronicle has been steadfast in its mission to readers. In this day and age of instant communications, when anyone can publish or say anything, we must reaffirm the importance of established, committed, reputable community-embedded newspapers. The Michigan Chronicle covers the news in a balanced way, whether addressing local government, schools, the business community or neighborhood affairs. At the same time, it is attuned to the needs, challenges and aspirations of the community it directly serves as a strong voice for our African-American community.

The Michigan Chronicle also has a dynamic, easy-to-navigate, content- and media-rich web site, a valuable resource for readers, advertisers and the community. As the media continues to evolve, it is refreshing to see a community newspaper like the Michigan Chronicle stay ahead of the curve in smart implementation of the latest technology.

Significantly, the Michigan Chronicle has been a driving force in business and professional development, launching many careers, including quality minority journalists for our society. The paper further supports the business community through promotional events and is a reliable advertising platform for job-creating entrepreneurs within the community.

Most importantly, through leaders like the Michigan Chronicle, minority becomes mainstream. New eras brings new challenges—and new opportunities, as we are seeing today with revitalized leadership and expanded employment base. The City of Detroit has many great pages in its history to come and I know that the Michigan Chronicle will be here helping write them for the next 75 years and beyond.

BP’s Disaster Planning a Disaster

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Michael Layne

Last April, the Gulf of Mexico was impacted by a catastrophic oil spill under embattled U.K. energy giant BP, causing ongoing damage to the environment and those working and living along the coast.

We are all made increasingly aware of the enormity of the spill daily. Never before has the public been able to witness live streaming video coverage of a crisis, with underwater cameras capturing footage of barrels of an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil a day spewing into the ocean and aerial views of blackened, thick water.

One would think that a company as large and as involved in potentially environmentally hazardous activities as BP would have a top-notch crisis team – ready to mobilize should a spill occur.

Clearly, all companies need to have both a disaster recovery and a crisis communication plan in place, well in advance of any negative eventuality.

There are two aspects of crisis planning that all businesses should have documented and well rehearsed long before any crisis occurs. The first is focused on the physical aspects of responding and managing a crisis, for example, salvaging water or fire damaged property, dealing with environmental hazards, and getting the workplace back up and running without, hopefully, skipping a beat. The second is solely focused on coordinating communications. Businesses must be prepared in advance to immediately and regularly communicate their responses to employees, stakeholders, municipalities, customers and the media.

No stranger to oil spills, BP should have had a disaster team in place to quickly attempt to cap, siphon and clean up oil. BP did not appear to have either a disaster recovery or a crisis communication strategy in place. Too much time lapsed between the spill and attempts to cap it using a dome containment system. If a mobile disaster recovery team had been in place to manage the physical effort of capping the well, domes would have been at the ready and tested in advance for effectiveness.

Along with the need for a physical disaster recovery team comes the need for a communications management team that is at the ready to communicate with all stakeholders, including employees, municipalities, businesses, and the news media. CEO Tony Hayward has made appearances in devastated areas along the Gulf of Mexico, however his show of empathy was too little too late. It was a fly by the seat of your pants communication strategy. It comes as no surprise that BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward handed over management of the spill to Bob Dudley, Senior Manager.

BP has spent 2.35 billion to date trying to amend the problem and the price tag goes up by the multi-million daily. As oil continues to hemorrhage, BP stock continues to plunge, reaching 14-year lows.  The cost of not responding to this crisis immediately has been a loss of any brand equity that BP strove to earn. As oil drains into the Gulf of Mexico, so is worth draining from BP.