Interesting times for Digital Marketers

interestingSome weeks very little changes across the platforms we use to reach our customers and prospects. Those are what I think of as good weeks. The only certainty however is change, and this week has seen a whole heap of changes from Google and Facebook. Here’s a little about each and some links where you can read more in depth analysis.

Google Places becomes Google+ Local

Google are beating the Google+ drum hard, despite the weak engagement numbers, and have given their local business product the Plus treatment with this overhaul of features and functionality. TheNextWeb concentrate on what Google+ Local means for users while Google Local expert Mike Blumenthal covers how the Google+ Local changes affect businesses.

Google kills etailers free traffic source, Google Products/Shopping

After a decade in beta, the trouble-prone (setting and letting it run never worked very well, with the constant data format and required field changes) Google Base/Products/Shopping part of Google is going away. When it worked it could be a reasonable source of traffic, but now Google have laid to waste the comparison shopping sites it was intended to compete with, by way of the Panda updates, they’re free to start raking in the cash by making it a purely pay to play deal. If you want your products to appear in the SERPs like they used to it’s time to crank up the Ad budget.

price-comparison-trends-uk-june-2012
UK Price Comparison Websites traffic trends since 2009

Facebook finally doing something for their real customers

Facebook, reeling from the reality check of their post-IPO stock slump, have rolled out a couple of long overdue new features for the people who ultimately keep the lights on: their advertisers. Page admins now have some shiny new abilities that will make managing a page just a little bit easier. First up is scheduled posts. Sure you’ve been able to do that before with third party services (and these services remain useful still, particularly ones that allow you to post an RSS feed to Facebook, but now you can schedule a post in the future. Mashable have a little bit of a kvetch about the interface  whilst AllFacebook set out how to use it.

Secondly, something that third party tools weren’t ideally placed to provide – you can now assign different levels of admin roles, all the way from ‘Insight Analyst’ – someone who can’t make or comment on posts (other than as their own personal account) all the way up to Manager, with each subsequent level gaining the ability to comment, add posts and finally the ability to assign admin privileges to others. AllFacebook has the details.

Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Prague Food Festival took place for the 4th time back in late May of this year. It had been in a number of different locations over the four years and this year it was in arguably the most prestigious – the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle.

The weather co-operated and the sun shone throughout. Many of the city’s top restaurants were there serving tasting-size portions of their best dishes.

All sounds great apart from the fact that the organisers made some basic mistakes that led to much disgruntlement amongst visitors to the festival. As opposed to previous years there was very little in the way of ‘built-in’ furniture for sitting on at the venue. The grass was off limits even for walking on and there were nowhere near enough tables. Nobody thought to co-ordinate with the restaurants leading to lots of places serving very similar dishes. When the whole point of such an event is to try out lots of different things this was a disappointment for many. Other organisational mis-steps were cited, such as requiring advance ticket purchasers to go to one specific entrance, where the queue was longer than for people purchasing on the day, and a lack of toilet facilities. These concerns were all posted on the PFF’s Facebook page (some of them were removed to, a whole other level of fail) along with annoyance at how the prices for dishes had become excessive – though they were little changed from the previous year. The overriding criticism was that the organisers of PFF were only in it for the money and didn’t care about the visitor experience.

Marquees at Prague Food FestivalThis weekend saw the first FoodParade – an alternative to Prague Food Festival, featuring some of the same restaurants as PFF and whole load more from outside the central square mile of the city – up and coming places, or places with strong followings of locals but with a desire to expand their customer base. The festival was located out of the centre of the city but still just as accessible by public transport. As a visitor to both the difference can only be described as like night & day:

  • The odd PFF practice of giving you a set of chromed plastic knife & fork when you enter, that you are supposed to re-use (or find somewhere to wash, incidentally not very easy), gave way to an altogether more sensible ‘metal cutlery available at every stand’ approach.
  • The festival currency, “chefs”, had a conversion rate of 1 chef to 10 crowns, which was printed on each ‘chef’ whereas at PFF, each “grand” was worth 25kc, which you had to remember. A little touch that was aimed to be more transparent about how much dishes were costing you.
  • Tables were conspicuous by their abundance not absence.
  • All the restaurants and food retailers were treating the event as they should – a marketing exercise rather than trying to make out like bandits. Some even gave coupons for money off when you go to their restaurant.
  • The weather forecast on Sunday predicted rain. In anticipation of this the organisers put up marquees and posted pictures of the marquees to their Facebook page so people could visit without worrying about getting rained on while they ate.
  • FoodParade’s Facebook page is full of enthusiastic compliments from visitors, already looking forward to next years.

Without a doubt FoodParade’s organisers saw what was wrong with PFF and have put together an enjoyable event that stands as a true festival of food.

The marketing takeaway?

Keep an eye on what your competitors’ customers are saying in social channels:

  • Watch their Facebook pages (you can subscribe to a Page’s updates as an RSS feed)
  • Create saved Twitter searches
  • Set up Google alerts for their company names or product names + words like review, complaint, feedback.

And of course you’ve already got this kind of monitoring set up for your own brands and products haven’t you?

Five Useful Free iPhone apps for Local Business Marketers

iPhone in handThe iPhone is a handy little business too for business local marketing, here are just a few apps, all free, that can help you create content, spy on your competition and keep up with what your customers are saying about you.

Share 360 degree views with Photosynth

Creating 360 degree interactive panoramas used to cost lots of money and take lots of time. The only places you’d see them would be fancy hotel and real estate websites. Armed with just an iPhone 4 and a copy of Microsoft’s (yes, I was surprised too!) free Photosynth app, and a Windows Live account (Hotmail, live.com etc) you can shoot, upload and embed on your own website a very neat 360 panorama. The embedding part requires you to log in to Photosynth.net with your Windows Live account to get the embed code. Any business that has a physical location they want to show off has no excuse now!

Keep your finger on the pulse with Twitter

For instantly updating your Twitter stream, posting news and specials, keeping up with what your followers are doing, or checking up on your saved searches. Make sure to turn on notifications for mentions and replies to maintain a decent response time to enquiries too.

Spy on the competition with Foursquare

Foursquare might not have hit the mainstream in terms of user numbers, but those that do use it are very much the vocal minority. As a business owner you should claim your listing, make sure your business is correctly classified and run specials anyway as the app draws attention to anywhere offering a special. So why would you want to use the iPhone app itself, when you really shouldn’t be checking in to your own location? A few reasons:

1. Keeping track of any new comments by Foursquare users (especially complaints!) at your own business but also your competitors.
2. Finding out who your (Foursquare using) regulars are, and maybe following/friending them
3. Keeping tabs on any specials your competitors are offering
4. Seeing where’s hot nearby right now (places with lots of people checking in)
5. Posting photos of your location – you can upload photos directly from the iPhone app, and places with photos get more attention

Update your Facebook page on the go

Whilst the Facebook app doesn’t make it easy to update your Facebook Page status on the go (a menu item for ‘Your Pages’ would be nice!) all you need to do is search for your Page then when you’ve found it, add it to Favorites, then it will appear on the second page of your Facebook app’s menu. Once there, getting into it is simple. Anything you post via the Facebook app will get attributed to the Page, not your personal account.

Create video slideshows with Animoto

With the Animoto app and a free Animoto account you can create 30 second videos by picking photos from your iPhone Photo Library, choosing a soundtrack from Animoto’s categorised collections then share that video on Facebook, Twitter, by email and more. Paid accounts are available that lift the time restriction and for a per video fee you can create higher resolution versions. Creating a video slideshow like this is a fun thing to do when you have a special event. You can get something up on Facebook within minutes.

 

image credit: John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons on Flickr.

So you’re starting out on Twitter

Barn Swallow Chicks in nestStarting out on Twitter, particularly if you’re planning to be on Twitter in a business or professional context, can be confusing and dispiriting. The suggested user list doesn’t give you much to go on and Twitter seems pointless when you’re following nobody.

Twitter is what you make it

Everyone’s Twitter experience is different. It’s a combination of who you follow, who follows you and how you interact on Twitter. Do you actively look for new people to talk to and follow based on what they’re talking about or ‘grow organically’?

This isn’t about getting more followers

Well it kinda is. You know who gets huge numbers of followers? Celebrities, media outlets and people who tweet useful, helpful, interesting things. If you’re not in the first two groups, you’ll have to try that last option. Oh there’s one other group, it’s the people who pay for followers and get nothing but bots following them. It might look good to have a couple thousand followers but if all of them are default-icon bots then it looks as shallow and pathetic as it is.

OK, where do I start?

The collection of posts linked from Chris Brogan’s Best Twitter Advice is essential reading. A good way to begin is finding some interesting accounts to follow yourself. You could use Twitter search and search for keywords and hashtags, or try out one of the Twitter directories, like Twellow and WeFollow. An interesting shortcut is provided by Tweepi which helps you follow the followers or friends of a specific Twitter account.

Bear in mind that unless your Twitter stream is populated with worthwhile tweets (not just RTs and Foursquare check-ins!) you won’t get many follow-backs from anyone other than users who use auto-follow tools (you can do that if you want, using tools like SocialOomph).

Happy Tweeting!

Image credit: Alan Vernon via Creative Commons on Flickr

Getting an RSS Feed to post to your Facebook Page’s wall

Sounds so easy doesn’t it?

Here’s what I learnt in trying to get a custom-created RSS feed (not one generated by blog software) to appear as posts/status updates on the wall of a Facebook Page. This information applies to all kinds of RSS feeds though. If you’re using WordPress, there are several plugins that purport to offer this functionality. In my experience they can be unreliable, usually through no fault of the plugin author or WordPress, rather Facebook changing something that breaks the plugin.

The purpose of the exercise was to get the latest special offers on an e-commerce site appearing on the company’s Facebook Page wall.

Facebook Notes – not quite what we’re looking for

The most straightforward option should be the one provided by Facebook, right? Notes offers the ability to import a blog/RSS feed into the Notes tab of your Facebook page and in so doing post an announcement for each ‘note’ to the Wall. Sounds great but what you get in practice is a link from the Wall to the individual note, which appears in it’s entirety. The objective was to take a user from the Facebook Wall post straight to product page on the e-commerce site, so this clumsy and unnecessary intermediate step means Notes doesn’t do it for us.

RSS Tab for Pages – does what it says on the tin, but no more

This application, which creates an RSS tab on the Facebook Page imports the feed just fine, and if that’s all you need then it’s all gravy. It is supposed to also post items to the Wall, but that feature doesn’t work.

Social RSS – Fell at the first hurdle

With a score of 2.3 out of 5, and the latest post referring to the fact that things are broken, this one didn’t merit a try.

RSS for Pages – Disappointing

I’d expected more from Involver, “the web’s most trusted social marketing platform”. RSS for Pages doesn’t deliver, or at least, it didn’t work how I’d hoped. It created a ‘News’ tab with my RSS feed on, but there wasn’t anywhere to specify that items should be posted to the Wall (and none of the items were), even though automatic posting to the wall is mentioned as a feature (though that may be in the paid for version only) and the suggestion that I upgrade to get a refresh time of better than once a day, with zero information on cost, had me searching for an alternative.

RSS Graffiti – We have a winner!

RSS Graffiti works almost exactly how I want (I wouldn’t mind being able to remove the ‘via RSS Grafitti’ annotation, but that’s probably a compulsory thing, and the Source and Published lines seem like overkill). The main thing is the user clicks the link and goes to the page you want, not some interstitial page. There’s no unnecessary tab added to the page, the settings for how it works all make sense, and you have a fair degree of control, including the ability to post to the Wall items dated in the past – handy if you need to get some older items posted.

If you’ve found any other solutions that work well, please share them in the comments.

image credit: jovike via Creative Commons on Flickr

Guerilla Marketing in Real-time

I’ve long been a fan of guerilla marketing. Maybe it’s my parsimonious nature. Or maybe it’s just the fun aspect of it.

The original book on Guerilla Marketing is 27 years old but its central concept is more relevant with every passing year. Real-time is this year’s buzzword and makes it into the title of David Meermen Scott’s latest book, Real-Time Marketing & PR.

I’ve not read the book yet but from all the examples Scott has given on his blog and in interviews it’s clear that real time marketing is essentially guerilla marketing at internet speed.

So how do you do it? Seize opportunities the instant they present themselves? How do you even find these opportunities? Simple – either buy a lot of screens and try and spot things like that scene in The Matrix where Neo and Mouse are looking at the glyphs on the screen, or you learn how and where to pay attention.

Right now in Paris conference speakers and attendees are arriving at the Le Web conference. These people are digital media and marketing thought-leaders. And they can’t get online in their hotel rooms. What’s the opportunity here? Anyone with the ability to get them net access, right this moment, (bars or cafés, companies with offices nearby, mobile internet providers) gets themselves a lot of goodwill and favourable coverage.

But how would a business be able to find (let alone react) so fast as to benefit from this opportunity? Setting up a marketing radar is a good start. Keeping tabs on upcoming events in your neighbourhood, find the hashtags for conferences taking place on your doorstep, run searches on twitter for them, follow the people tweeting about it. Dig deeper and read reports, reviews and summaries (and tweets, if twitter would let you go back that far) of previous years’ events to find out how you can be useful to these guests in your city.

Amazon and Wikileaks – another #amazonfail or not?

There was an outpouring of indignation this week, calls for a boycott of Amazon and the resurrection of the #amazonfail hashtag on Twitter (first seen prominently when Amazon reached into people’s Kindles and remote wiped their copies of 1984) immediately following Amazon’s eviction of Wikileaks from their cloud hosting service.

In short – Wikileaks moved their site onto Amazon’s cloud because their existing hosting provider couldn’t handle the Denial of Service attacks their servers were coming under since Wikileaks began releasing the diplomatic cables it had acquired. That Amazon’s cloud servers are located primarily in the U.S. ought to have given Wikileaks pause for thought.

Amongst the rest of the week’s Wikileaks stories, it certainly looks like Amazon are part of a conspiracy against the site, comprising a US Senator and numerous national governments, as well as the DNS provider for the Wikileaks.org domain – that now having gone offline and Wikileaks resorting to a .ch (Switzerland) version of their domain name. Throw in Wikileaks’ founder being pursued on sexual assault charges by Interpol and it all adds up to an establishment conspiracy.

Yet taken on it’s own the Amazon story goes something like this:

Wikileaks signed up for AWS, accepted the terms of service, put their site onto Amazon’s ‘cloud’ and assumed everything would be fine. With the massive media exposure, Amazon’s admins must have noticed something big (bringing massive DDoS attacks with them sticks out somewhat), and given the content being hosted on Wikileaks, it was a clear violation of the ToS. Specifically the part about having permission to publish the content of anything that you host with them and that content hosted shouldn’t cause anyone to suffer physical harm.

Basically a service provider enforcing the terms of service and protecting themselves (and their other customers) isn’t such big news.

Whatever the knee-jerk reactions we’re seeing on blogs and on social networks, Amazon’s duty primarily is to their existing customers (on their cloud platform) and to their shareholders. Making a stand for ‘free speech’ by continuing to host Wikileaks would not serve either of those parties.

All in all, despite the wider implications of the Wikileaks case, Amazon have done nothing wrong nor could they have handled things much differently. Amazon’s biggest mistake in their handling of the whole situation was that the first statement about their decision to stop hosting Wikileaks was made by Senator Joe Lieberman, rather than a spokesman for the company. By failing to take control of the message and explain their decision in their own words, they allowed the message to be put out by an opponent of Wikileaks, this weakening their position.

Now that Paypal have stopped processing donations for Wikileaks, maybe the ire of online reactionaries will move on to the world’s largest single online payment provider.

To each according to his influence

Palms’ chief marketing officer, Jason Gastwirth, is currently building out “The Klout Klub,” which “will allow high-ranking influencers to experience Palms’ impressive set of amenities in hopes that these influencers will want to communicate their positive experience to their followers.” The Palms is already pulling in data from Klout and referring to it as part of their reservations process.

That quote is from this piece in AdAge which has a lot of great comments and the main thread running through them is this “treating influencers differently creates an unrepresentative impression of your brand experience”.

I can see the ones-and-zeroes sense in taking note of influencers, using software to identify them makes a lot of sense but there are plenty of problems with this. Treating someone as a VIP because of the influence they wield means they will never be able to give an unbiased opinion of a service because they haven’t experienced it the same way a regular person is likely to.

The last thing a restaurant critic ever wants is to be recognised before the meal is served. If a critic’s readers found out that a review was compromised in that way they would lose respect.

A big part of this week’s Six Pixels of Separation podcast with Mitch Joel and Joseph Jaffe is on this topic and Mitch followed that up with a blog post explaining why he doesn’t want to use the influence or platform he has to get special treatment and by using tools like Klout, as Mitch implies, brands are asking for it. Read the comments to Mitch’s post too, some great stuff there.

It’s a thorny topic – preferential treatment based on celebrity and status, driven by a desire to please and to be praised can make a brand seem sycophantic but the alternative risks provoking the wrath of the influencer. Surely even thinking that way is the brand admitting ‘our regular level of service isn’t good enough to be remarkable and can randomly fall apart so badly as to make people angry’. Should brands aim to solve for the many or salve for the few?

Image credit: TimOve

What’s your Groupon Strategy?

Businesses are falling over themselves to get featured on Groupon and its clones.

Prague alone, a city of just over a million people, has a double-digits number of group buying deals sites. I’ve taken the opportunity to buy a number of deals myself from several different sites. The curse of the marketer is to evaluate every experience they have as a customer from the other side. So this is the “here’s how I’d do it” post.

A while back I wrote about the pros and cons of using group buying deals sites as a marketing tactic. Since then there was a very interesting first hand report by the owner of a cafe in Portland, Oregon about her experience running a Groupon promotion and how it nearly put them out of business.

Even if the site you’re looking at working with doesn’t take 50% (or 100% if the deal has a sticker price of less than $10 – yes seriously!!) as Groupon does, you’re looking at drastically reduced revenue, so you’d better do your sums and be trying damn hard to make the deal worth your while long term, because short term it’s very likely to be in the red. If you’re not sure, don’t jump into it because everyone else is, there are plenty of cautionary tales out there. Still set on it? Here’s my take on what a business should do when they run a Groupon…

Be smart about the deal

The last thing you want to do with a deal is lose money or damage your business’s long term viability by attracting bargain hunters that won’t come back or training customers to buy only when there’s a special. Think about what you could offer very carefully. Consider offering something that by its nature is likely to lead to return business. It might not even be part of your regular offering, it could be an introductory class if you teach something or provide a service, restaurants can make their deals exclusive of drinks (usually the highest profit area anyway), or for a special event (tasting evenings perhaps) rather than offer a discount that can be used anytime within three months. Retailers should consider long and hard what they’re offering – half off $50 worth of any goods means you’re left with $10 or so to pay for the product. The best option for retail would be to offer a single product or range of products which normally have enormous margins (maybe talk to the supplier about running the promotion), to make sure they cover their costs, and that they put into action the rest of these suggestions.

Before

  1. Do your sums. I know I’ve said that already but this is the fundamental ‘no money, no business’ part. If you’re losing money on every sale you’re not going to be in business for long. Work out how much you need to make extra from each customer. What extra products or services can you sell? Deals that can only be used one at a time, for a partial amount of a bill give you the best chance of making full ticket price revenue on the rest of the order. Most of all, don’t try and sell more than you can handle. If you’re a service provider (say a fitness instructor) don’t try and sell 3000 hours of your time for a tiny sum, you’ll end up resenting the customers.
  2. Keep it quiet (publicly) – you’re about to run an offer at a dramatically cheaper price, don’t damage your revenues in the days leading up to it by tipping anyone off.
  3. Tell your team. Make sure everyone who works for you is aware (but sworn to secrecy) of the impending deal. Explain the conditions so everyone is clear.
  4. Get a commitment from the site for how long the expired deal will be published for, at a well keyworded URL – but not including your business name. Make sure the links to your site on the page are not nofollowed and if possible, use valuable keywords, not ‘click here’ or ‘website’.
  5. If you can, find out if the site will let you follow up with buyers of the deal by email, and if you can identify redeemed and unredeemed deals.

On the day

  1. Tell your network – tweet it, post it on your Facebook wall, your blog and website. Consider emailing it to your list. You might think this contradicts point 2 above, and goes against the whole ‘group buying deals are about getting new customers’ line but as Joseph Jaffe teaches us in Flip The Funnel, your existing customers deserve to be treated at least as well as new customers. If you don’t tell your existing customers it’s like you’re hiding it from them. And hiding the truth is like lying, and lying is bad (see, I learnt everything I needed to know about marketing in kindergarten). Plus if you’re running this offer, you want it to ‘tip’ (become valid) and you want it to spread. Your existing customers are the most likely to share the deal with friends because they already know you.
  2. Be staffed well enough to handle the enquiries. Even if the deal doesn’t start till the next day, expect phone calls, emails and personal visits.

When the deal is being redeemed

  1. Schedule demand, if you can – if you’re a service provider, try and spread out the bookings so that you can be available for full-price paying clients.
  2. Stand by the conditions, but don’t be a stickler – in the story of the cafe owner, she was prompted to write the blog post to tell her story because she refused a longtime customer’s Groupon because it had expired. It would take a really understanding customer not to feel mistreated. Most customers aren’t. Saying ‘we have to stick by the rules because other people took advantage’ doesn’t cut it. The cafe had received the money (what little there was) from that customer’s Groupon, expired or not.
  3. Get something out of the interaction – assuming most of the buyers of the deal are new to your business, take the opportunity to grow your email list (tag it if you can, that information is going to be useful), Twitter followers or likes on Facebook. Print up some fliers to hand people when they present their deal coupon – taking a ‘what next’ approach. Suggest places they can write reviews, or connect with you further. Consider that these are value-conscious consumers and for many any loyalty they have is to the deal site, but if there’s something you can do to capture future business, now’s your chance. Have a loyalty programme? Tell them about it. High-tech with plastic cards? Give them a form to fill. Low-tech with paper cards and stamps for each visit? Hand them their card with the first stamp on.

After the deal has expired

  1. Go for the final squeeze – if you segmented your mailing list with new signups from the deal now is a perfect time to go for a final squeeze – what action would you like these people to take? Remember this group aren’t quite like your organically grown list of existing customers, so tailor the ask to that. If the deal site allow it, write to deal buyers through them.
  2. Measure – if you planned well, you had metrics that you would judge against. Now’s the time to do that – take the scores for whatever you were pushing for – revenue? Facebook likes? Email signups? Repeat visits?
  3. Evaluate – take the numbers from the last step – did it make sense for you to do it? What could have been done better? What did you learn? Would you do it again?

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed several nuances. If you agree, let me know in the comments.

Update: If you want to run the numbers, I recommend downloading the Groupon profitability spreadsheet helpfully prepared by Rags Srinivasan.

Image credit: NCReedPlayer

What’s on your radar?

BattleshipsYou’re busily going about your work, doing what’s necessary to keep things moving, reacting as things come in.

What can you do to be more take a wider view and be more proactive?

A good start is to get an idea of what’s going to be taking place in your city over the next three to six months – we’re talking conferences, festivals, exhibitions, even concerts.

You will be amazed at the variety and number of events taking place right under your nose.

Fortunately the Internet makes this kind of research much easier than it ever used to be.

For general events check out eventful.com or upcoming.org, for conferences and trade shows worldwide then biztradeshows.com is indispensable.

Ninja tip:
Many of these sites provide information in the form of public calendars or RSS feeds. Make sure to subscribe to them in your calendar (iCal, Google Calendar etc) or RSS reader to keep up to date.

What to do with this information?

If you’re a local business, think what you can offer to people in town for just a few days. Some conferences have twitter hashtags and other ways to find out just who is attending. If you’re a restaurant or cafe, there’s probably a list of places nearby on the event website. See about getting a link there (for an SEO boost that keeps on giving as well). Not all conferences are in hotels, and even if they are not everyone can afford to stay at the conference hotel. For concerts, there’s always plenty of people who buy tickets then figure out where to stay later. If you’re an accommodation provider, watch Twitter for people looking for somewhere to stay, then offer your services. Got a blog? That’s a great place to put a post about your special room rates for the event – competition for “{Event Name}+{City name}+hotels” is never going to be as stiff as for “{City Name} hotels”.

Even if your business doesn’t offer local services, this information is still useful. It’s a rare conference season that won’t bring a whole heap of potential clients to town. Use that opportunity to deepen relationships with people you’ve only met online. Play host. Everyone loves to be shown around by a local.

What are the resources you use to put events on your marketing radar? And how does having that information power your efforts?

Image credit: Amanda M Hatfield, via Creative Commons on Flickr