A Tsunami of bullsh*t

This week I reviewed a really interesting video presentation by Professor Mark Ritson from Melbourne Uni. which was very different and very confronting, that is, if you happen to be an avid believer in digital marketing being the only way to go for putting your brand front and centre, and seriously reaching and engaging with your customers.

There were so many choice quotes coming out of the video that I don’t really know where to start. The real take outs for me were “can you feel that hand in your underpants”, “what the f*** is going on here” ,“digital video is a Tsunami of bullshit” and my favourite “Digital Marketers are part of a mad cult”. Of course I’m quoting none other than Melbourne Business School’s very own Professor Mark Ritson. (view video here)

Professor Ritson offers bucket loads of factual based data to support his argument during a 45 minute myth-busting rant on the digital landscape and how the “dreary D word” is hurting marketing.

Ritson challenges not just the success of digital marketing, and social media in particular but goes on to compare digital reach with traditional marketing channels, such as radio / TV / print and even lays in to the media companies for supporting the bullshit commentary that traditional media is dead. This is compelling viewing.

Reflecting on his own Twitter following, Ritson exclaims “I’m a private individual with more followers than K-Mart, VB , Tim Tam and the Bendigo Bank. Combined. Times two. How is that f****** possible? “. Just brilliant! My only regret watching the video was that I was at work during lunch and laughed out loud with my head phones on and looked up to see the whole office looking at me. “Doing research” was about all I could offer.

This does sort of conflict with many people’s understanding of how social media can be used by businesses. One of the biggest myths being that social media works well for building brand awareness and creating a link between a brand and the audience. As the data showed, less than two thirds of all Australians actually follow brands on Social Media. The average Australian follows just 1 brand. This actually makes perfect sense, who really wants their newsfeeds interrupted with adverts and posts from businesses trying to push their brand in your face.

Although, I would argue that whilst this holds true for most major brands, there are always exceptions to the rule and many small businesses have managed really well on Social Media with customer engemement and are more likely to be prohibited from using traditional tactics such as TV / Radio advertising due to the high cost of traditional advertising in comparison.

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Look! It’s a whole arm full (represents your overall customers on Twitter) Source: M Ritson.

I decided to run some of the examples he gave on a Social Media following for a Government agency and was really quite surprised by the results. Their Twitter account  has 360,000 followers out of a potential national  audience of 15 million people (based on ABS data for the working population). This represents just 2.4% of the total audience. Active users during the last week were just 1,400 or 0.009% of the total audience. Facebook works out to be not much better. Sobering thoughts.

Thankfully, I don’t personally buy in to social media being a silver bullet for connecting to customers, especially if you are looking to raise brand awareness or to sell product. There are many ways this can be achieved more effectively by using traditional marketing tactics and I agree with Ritson that it needs to form part of a broader marketing strategy. I do think that too many people are putting way too much emphasis on digital marketing and as Ritson points out, quite rightly, that digital marketing is in fact a tactic, not a strategy and should be viewed as that. “You must know the difference between strategy and tactics; strategy first, followed by tactics”.

What I did find really interesting about Ritson’s talk was that is wasn’t actually an attack on those using digital marketing, more of a plea, a wake up call to stop the distortion of information about the topic and recognise it for what it is, a marketing tactic. It wasn’t a campaign not to use it but to use it in consideration. It may well be appropriate to set aside 80% of your budget to digital if that’s part of your considered strategy.

Reflecting on Ritson’s video one final time, it has made me realize that where I work we are starting to see a drift, a fracturing of the marketing function. “Digital” is its own department, isolated from the marketing team. We do have Social Media in our section but the website, apps / mobile website and analytical functions etc. are all controlled and managed by Digital. They have their own strategy, objectives and goals which do not necessarily align with what marketing is trying to achieve. To quote Ritson one last time, “how is that possible, what the f*** is going on?”.

I would love to know your thoughts on this. Leave me a comment below.

Analytics and metrics: It’s all in the interpretation

The backdrop to this week’s post is a paper by Germann et al. (2013): Performance implications of deploying marketing analytics. The paper gives a sobering narrative of the use (or not) of analytics in marketing and the impact this can have on the improvement of the overall decision making process; not just for marketing practitioners but also for customers / audiences.

A couple of stand outs for me from the article were that in a recent study of 587 executives from large International companies, only 10% of the companies regularly deployed marketing analysis. The biggest push back on using analytics was that it slowed down the business and caused “analysis paralysis” (which is the inability to make decisions due to having to wait for data). (Peters and Waterman 1982)

The term “analysis paralysis” for me takes on a completely different form. It is not so much about not being able to make a decision due to waiting on data but similar to consumer choice paralysis, it is more about not being able to make a decision because of having too much information. Therefore, the bigger issue is not what to report on, but finding the balance between having the right data to tell the story, versus the management’s ability to actually process the information and then make decisions.

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Image source Lab Bratz – It’s all in the way you look at it

One of my key deliverables at work is to compile reports on what was happening across our social media landscape. High level results (vanity metrics) provide the management team with a quick snap shot of how we are travelling. But what do these figures even mean, and are they even useful?

Understanding on what to report, and how to report it, is key here. All communication, including Social Media campaigns should be based around some form of strategy. As Avinash Kaushik notes in his article Digital Marketing and Measurement Tool, the strategy should contain clear goals and objectives, so the reporting should reflect and align with this. Some reporting you can cover with vanity metrics but in most cases you have to dig deeper, much deeper to be able to fully understand and convey the results.

Simple charts, high level results and key metrics will help get the message across much better than complicated spreadsheets full of data and often a simple infographic can be used as a summary. Adding a narrative to help explain the results is very important and if your report has a lot of terms that people may not understand (such as impressions, mentions etc.) a simple glossary can work wonders.

Social Media Analytics

To help explain how Social Media analytics and metrics works I have broken it down to three specific levels of information.

  • High-Level Reporting (what the result was)
  • Analysis (establishing what is happening in the data)
  • Interpretation (determining what the results actually mean and any implications)

High-Level Reporting (Vanity metrics)

This is high-level information that is provided in the form of metrics for specific attributes such as impressions, engagement, number of likes, shares, retweets, video views etc. Management love vanity metrics. They are easy to understand and it provides some indication that “something” is happening. Although, without additional information they can be very misleading. For example, “the results for Facebook comments this week are 200% better than last week”. What a great result, right?? Well that really depends on whether everyone is commenting on the fact that they think your brand sucks or not, or maybe the week before was just the worst ever and this one isn’t much better, it’s just better than last week. It’s easy to get caught up in the big numbers and positive results without really understanding what they mean. That’s where analysis comes in.

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The man has spoken!!!

Analysis (examining the data)

Breaking down the metrics to look at things such as; trends over time, performance against benchmarks, performance against competition, platform comparison and so on. In simple terms this is looking at the data at a deeper level to identify things that are happening within the data. Analysis is an important step in identifying “what” is happening to your Social Media activity but often lacks the “why” and this is where the interpretation of the results come in.

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Positively trending charts make people happy, but what do they actually mean?

Interpretation (deep level analysis of data and narrative explaining the results)

Data interpretation is a specific skill set that is seldom used or sufficiently resourced yet is one of the most critical stages of the whole data analysis process. It is much more than just looking at the data and picking trends or movement in the data, it is about understanding the results and their implications. It is about identifying not only what we know from the data but also what we don’t know and then filling that gap with factual data, knowledge and experience to identify opportunities and then communicate these findings in the form of a narrative to aid the decision making process.

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In a nutshell

In the section where I work we don’t have a dedicated resource for marketing analysis and interpretation. Yet the interpretation stage is where a good analyst will start questioning the results, and will prove (or disprove) theory or assumptions to provide an evidence based narrative. Without interpretation of the results by someone that understands the data and the situation it represents, it is left to the audience to work out what’s happening and that could be a recipe for disaster.

For example, during a recent campaign an announcement was made that a video that we had released on social media was the most successful yet. This statement was made entirely based on vanity stats (the number of times the video was viewed). The data was analysed further and the resulting trend did in fact show the number of video views was higher than any other video in the previous six month period. High-five everyone, break out the champagne!!!

When it came to interpret the results however this wasn’t the case. The objective of the campaign was to encourage viewers to watch the video until the end. The previous campaign had been run on YouTube and the most recent one was an embedded video on Facebook. It also transpired that the number of video views also included auto play on Facebook and a deeper dig in to Facebook insights showed that 95% of those that viewed the video did so for less than 10 secs. In terms of the objective, this was actually one of the most underperforming campaigns to date and highlights why interpretation of the results is such a critical step. Without it, the next campaign would have just followed the same course.

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Data, it is all in the interpretation. Reducing cheese intake saves lives!!

Mavens, craft beer and a heap of these !?!?!?!?!

This week I’m going to base my post on some interesting research by Torgeir Aleti, Paul Harrington, Marc Cheong and Will Turner that looks at how the Australian brewing industry influence consumers on Twitter.

The research is fairly comprehensive and is structured around proving, or disproving a number of hypothesis based on a series of constructs;

• Indegree influence and retweet influence
• Message formulation and language
• Native platform behaviour
• Reciprocity and;
• Persistency

One of the key points that the authors make is that organisations on Social Media should be using maven-like behaviour to influence their audiences (Feick and Price 1987). In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book The Tipping Point  Gladwell defines Mavens as “Those who influence through their ability to accumulate, interpret, and share information” and I certainly agree that mavens can stimulate and encourage engagement on Twitter especially with audiences seeking (and wanting to share) information.

What I found really interesting in the approach the authors took was the acknowledgement that the traditional influencers (opinion leaders and highly-connected individuals  etc.) may not actually be as influential when it came down to how small businesses interact on social media and that ordinary users could be just as influential, if not more so. This makes it even more important to create the right information that people are seeking and would be likely to want to share.

So the key to this it would appear, as is the case for most things in Social Media, is content. And as Bill Gates rightly proclaimed in 1996 “Content is King”. I’m sure there is a quote out there somewhere that will say “all roads lead to content”, if there isn’t, I’ll claim it now because pretty much everything on Social Media in some shape or form seems to come back to that.

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That’s a very good question and well worth a retweet

Without going through Aleti’s paper in its entirety, there are a couple of areas relating to Social Media content that pricked my attention. The first was the hypothesis based around the frequent use of pictures and videos in tweets and the research on the use of question marks and exclamation marks being associated with higher levels of indegree and retweet influence.

The results showed that the hypothesis which was tested around more frequent use of pictures and videos being associated with higher levels of indegree and retweet influence was only partly supported by the research.

This is supported by my own research in to the use of images and video in tweets, where tweets containing images often achieve significantly higher levels of engagement than just text based tweets. Although saying that, there are always exceptions to the rule. With weather services we often have warnings that are heavily retweeted from text only tweets, but as a broad benchmark, in terms of engagement and specifically retweets; from the top 100 tweets we send out in any given week 90% will contain an image / animation or video.

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Wow!! So many exclamation marks !!!!!

And finally, the hypothesis relating to the use of question marks and exclamation marks being associated with higher levels of indegree and retweet influence was not supported by the research, which does tend to make sense. Although it was interesting that exclamation marks could be viewed as shouting and were unlikely to be retweeted at the same frequency as tweets not containing them (I think that needs more research as I suspect it could change based on certain demographics, such as age / culture). Again, there are always exceptions to the rule and like most things relating to content, it comes back to context. Here is a tweet from Louis Tomlinson from One Direction to their fans containing exclamation marks which attracted over 400,000 retweets.

And on that note, that’s a pretty big number, but what does it actually mean? Well you will just have to wait until next week’s post on “Analytics and metrics, it’s all in the interpretation” which addresses that very question.

 

You talking to me?

This week’s inspiration is drawn from a great piece of industry reading from Forbes Insights on Customer Engagement: Best of the Best. If you have some time, it is well worth a read. The article provides some excellent examples of customer engagement in both the on-line and off-line space and there are also plenty of great examples of where the introduction of technology has significantly contributed to an increase in engagement (and value) between business and consumers.

One particular point that seemed to be consistent across all the case studies was the use, and analysis of data to inform strategy and aid in obtaining a much better understanding of who the consumers are and how business can maximise engagement with them. (I will cover off on the use of and interpretation of data in more detail in a couple of weeks).

In the article’s summary, the sponsor (SAP) dropped this little gem into the narrative “The way that businesses engage with customers and manage relationships has radically changed. Today’s customers are digitally empowered through mobile and social technologies, and they are better informed than ever before. Customers are now in control of the relationships they have with their favorite brands—not the other way around.”

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I have something important to say about me

This got me thinking about a comment I made on another students post last week about Social Media engagement where I made an analogy that posting corporate messages on social media was like being invited to a party at someone else’s house where there are a whole range of discussions going on and rather than just joining in and being part of the conversation you just decide to change the topic and start talking “at” people about why you are so awesome.

As noted in an excellent 2013 paper by Robin Croft (Blessed are the geeks: An ethnographic study of consumer networks in social media, 2006–2012), the transition from one-way / push communications of the past to a community based two-way engagement and conversational model does appear to be a struggle for many businesses. In the Department that I work, this has manifested itself into an actual inclusion in the Social Media Policy to specifically not engage with the social media audience.

This points to an acute lack of understanding about how Social Media fits in to the communication landscape and ultimately leaves the audience isolated from the conversation the business claims it wants to be having.

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This is just soooo engaging!

As the Forbes article notes, customers are in control of this relationship and decide the conversation, so if we want to be part of it we need to understand how to work with the audience and not just force feed them the  content we want them to have.

As marketing practitioners we need to move away from one way broadcasts on social media if we want the audience to engage with us, otherwise we risk the message quickly becoming more of a boredcast.

This is an add on to the post that I though I’d include which I came across today and it’s a really good example of two way engagement, it starts with a customer of Sainsbury’s in the UK making a comment on Twitter and went off from there.

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Facebook segmentation and engagement

This week’s blog article is based upon the Hodis et al. (2015) article “Interact with me on my terms: a four segment Facebook engagement framework for marketers”.

The paper covers off some great research about why segmentation is so important for Facebook engagement and identifies four clear segments for consideration.

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Facebook segmentation matrix (Hodis et al. 2015)
  • Attention seekers – users looking for admiration and appreciation (low levels of consumption and high levels of creation)
  • Entertainment chasers -people trying to escape boredom (consuming small bursts of entertaining content)
  • Devotees – addicted to Facebook users (high level of consumption and creation)
  • Connection seekers – Connecting with friends / family is their primary reason for using Facebook (High level of consumption  and low level of creation)

The essence of the article is around breaking down the audience to specific audience types, tailoring the content accordingly and then to consider using paid advertising to support your Social Media activity on Facebook. This  allows you to get much higher engagement than a fit-for-all-approach as the relevancy of the message increases and in-turn the organic reach increases (the amount of times the message is distributed).

But is this enough?

In fact, research from Sashittal et al. (2012) suggests paid targeted advertising can actually work against you to the point that really well targeted advertising on Facebook was often viewed by the audience as creepy, and the more targeted and specific the advert, the more uncomfortable the audience potentially viewed it.

Segmentation as a way to increase engagement isn’t exactly breaking news, so is there more we can add to the mix if we really want to maximise engagement?

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Get your employees behind your Social Media activity

For example, empowering your business; such as your employees, volunteers and stakeholders (as well as your existing audience) to extend engagement through Social Media interaction rather than just using organic reach and Facebook paid advertising to achieve this. (If all of your staff liked and shared your posts, overall engagement would increase as a result as would the organic reach).

Here is a great article from Ryan Holmes at Fast Company on this topic which talks about the success Companies such as Starbucks, Zappos and Southwest Airlines in the US have had with their employee advocacy programs.

Either way, Social Media interaction is critical for driving engagement and maintaining an active brand presence, so getting it right and engaging with your audience becomes a high priority and by doing so, you have a real opportunity to influence your audience’s behaviour.

There are a couple of good blog articles from Deluca (2011) and Goad (2011) that note that a user’s shopping behaviour becomes increasingly influenced by their social media interactions and social media consumer to consumer communication can make a big difference in how your message is picked up by your audience.

This is supported by Li and Bernhoff in the book Groundswell, who note there has been a shift in how consumers now use technology to get from each other what they would traditionally get from corporations, and de Valck et al. (2009) extends this further noting that “word-of-mouse” is just as powerful in impacting consumer decision making as face to face influence.

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Source MSL Group on Employee advocacy

So, if engagement is the key to success; empowering the people in the business to get behind your Social Media activity, encouraging them to engage with your audience and to interact with them (and each other) would certainly be a strategy worth considering.

 

Burgers, Coke and the Black Death

This week’s topic is viral marketing. To get your head around this subject there is a great academic paper which provides some insight in to this exciting area of Social Media Marketing.

Kaplan and Haenlein’s paper, “two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance” is an extremely thought provoking must-read.

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Burger King Whopper Sacrifice Campaign

The authors work their way through the mine field of viral marketing with some great examples of campaigns that went really well (Diet Coke / Mentos and Burger King) and campaigns that just went “thud” (Jet Blue, Starbucks and Sony). The Burger King example in particular was amusing with 82,000 Facebook users sacrificing (unfriending) 234,000 of their friends to obtain a free burger. I found that inspirational.

In its simplest form, viral marketing is an explosive form of word-of-mouth marketing, whereby the audience spread the marketing message significantly quicker, and more efficiently than the advertisers could do on their own. According to Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) word-of-mouth marketing has been shown to sustainably influence consumer attitudes and behaviour. One reason for this success in influencing the decision making process is because word-of-mouth marketing helps to reduce the decision making time and risk, as friends tend to be perceived as unbiased sources of information (Smith et al. 2007).

One point that jumps out for me about creating a viral epidemic in the social media space is so simplistic it is brilliant. To make viral marketing work, you need the right people to get the right message under the right circumstances. (Kaplan and Haenlein 2011).

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Five pieces of advice when spreading a virus (Kaplan and Haenlein 2011)

The important thing to remember with viral marketing is that you can’t just sit back and expect your message to go viral, and you can’t just expect your campaign to go viral because you think it’s awesome. Social Media audiences can be very fickle. Although, you can certainly improve your chances of success if you apply a strategic element to the planning and execution of a campaign and make sure that the rest of the marketing mix and marketing communication supports the activity you are planning. In short, don’t over think it and don’t view it as a silver bullet. Not everything you do will go viral, and sometimes success requires a large amount of luck to make it happen.

The right audience means targeting the message to the segment of your audience so that it will resonate enough with them for them to want to tell anyone and everyone they know about it. To go viral, the message needs to have impact and trigger a positive (or negative) emotional response with the receiver of the message (Dobele et al. 2007) and finally, it needs to be relevant and timely.

And if you can pull it off, the dividends are huge. In the case of Diet Coke and Mentos, the viral campaign led to a five percent increase in market share with their target group, which clearly demonstrates a change in consumer behaviour.

Social Media and Consumer Behaviour

This week I had the opportunity to review the latest Sensis Social Media Report and it made for some fascinating reading. The report contains some great statistics and trends on consumer and business engagement with social media, such as, the proportion of businesses with a social media presence, what type of devices people use to access social media, which social networking platforms are being used (or not) and what level businesses are investing in their social media presence.

The report is seriously comprehensive and covers off pretty much everything happening in the social media landscape for the Australian market. Some of the sample sizes are a bit questionable with data extrapolated out from as little as 54 respondents, although there were no major surprises in the trends or the analysis around the results.

One statistic that jumped out for me though, was that among the 14% that use social media to research something that they wish to buy, 59% of that research lead to a purchase (Sensis 2016 pp. 39).

Path to purchase2

Source”: Sensis Social Media Report 2016

 

This got me thinking…

 

Traditional consumer behaviour models for the decision-making process (such as Schiffman et al. 2011) focus on the buyer’s family and friendship groups being the biggest influencers. So, how do “virtual influencers” such as Facebook friends, which you may not actually have a real world connection with, fit in to this model? And specifically, what influence can social media have on what was a well-defined model for consumer purchasing behaviour.

Using social media to research product is certainly a trend worth following. In a recent paper the author (Constantinides 2014) makes note that social media made customers more sophisticated and helped them develop new tactics in searching, evaluating, choosing and buying goods and services.

According to Bigne et al (2015), Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) information exchanges can enhance competency during the purchase experience. They go on to explain that consumers trust these exchanges more than traditional communication media because they consider this information to be reliable, nonbiased, and timely. However, in their research findings they concluded that customers are willing to share information obtained from external influences in online environments, but they do not base their purchase decisions on it, nor do they transmit it to the people with whom they have close offline bonds.

This would be a fascinating area to research further as social media continues to shape how the consumer and business interact with each other and how the decision making process is opened up to a whole new range of influences.

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