Thursday 11 June 2015

Brands should not miss the Google+ Bus

The Data Myna 

Why is everyone in SA ignoring Google+? It never seems to generate a blip on the radar of social media analysts, the Plus button is often absent from websites, yet it has, according to GlobalWebIndex, a significant number of active users in this country. And its new strategies enabling publishing to niche audiences could make it an even more effective platform than Facebook for brand-building, provided you get your content strategies right.

Monday 1 June 2015

Privacy, Dark Social & ROI

Privacy, Dark Social & ROI

Research & Insights – by Kathryn Kure

Lars Basche, EMEA Digital Lead at Text100 Global Communications spoke to Kathryn Kure of Data Myna about privacy and dark social media, consumer rights, branding and many other items relating to social media marketing and analytics.

The first question that was asked of Lars had to do with how do companies actually calculate their ROI on social media, given the increased consumer need for privacy and concomitant behavioural changes that this gives rise to, such as the use of  Dark Social (such as online chat and old-fashioned email which is less easy to track) and/or regularly deleting their search history, amongst other strategies.

Lars responded that is definitely an issue and, certainly in Germany, where he lives and works, in order to include social data into your CRM it is legally required that you have to get the OK from your customer and only then can you use their data. Although it is very easy to get loads of data from your customer, permission is required for you to be allowed to use that data.

Furthermore, from a regulation point of view – if people are not granted this ability to control what companies gather - they will be increasingly hesitant to talk about themselves online.

If You are Not Paying for the App, You’re the Product
Lars was then asked how this applies to smartphone apps in particular since, either you have the app, and grant it permissions which it decides upon, or you don’t. There is currently no middle ground and, once you click on “Accept”, they typically go on a major content grab and then initiate other services, such as ‘Fine Location’ tracking (which tracks you via cell-phone towers even if you’ve switched off your GPS).

Lars believes that, in the future, these user settings will be changing, and become far more fine-grained from a user perspective, in terms of agreeing to enable each and every option - or not -  item by item. In particular, governments are increasingly requiring app providers to change their way of operating. In general, however, while public awareness of privacy issues is growing - particularly off the back of Snowden’s revelations - at the same time, if you are not paying for the app, then you are the product; how companies negotiate permissions with customers is going to be fundamental to their success, going forward.
So, the issue at the heart of it all is simply that - those who make the apps we all download for free and then use -  need - somehow to make money. Hence, as with traditional advertising, they defray their operating costs through utilising the information gained to sell adverts to consumers. Hence, you do pay – but indirectly and consumers are increasingly weighing up the costs and benefits involved.

What Do ‘Free Apps’ Mean for Competition?

One of the issues this raises, though, is that the little companies are increasingly unable to compete against the established behemoths - which leads to monopoly, winner-take-all situations, and where the smaller companies, in order to compete, attempt to grab more and more content in what one German commentator has referred to as a “cowboy capitalism". So, while start-ups may figure it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,  as they go about ‘breaking things fast’, this then leads to a consumer backlash as disclosures are made relating to how information they are unwittingly giving out, given that the idea of consent is predicated upon that of being fully informed.  

So the question Lars was then asked is, is user behaviour changing and ‘dark social media’ (i.e., the use of old-fashioned email, for instance) growing – and, if so, what are the implications for analysts? In other words -

Is What You ‘See’ What You Get?

In the early days of personal computing, the acronym WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) was coined to indicate the transparency of certain computer products, where what you saw on the screen is pretty much how it printed out.  The question to analysts, however, from a sampling point of view is that, while you always have this cornucopia of data from certain individuals, are these individuals actually representative of the population at large? From an analytic point of view, is what you ‘see’ and therefore ‘get’ actually all there is to see?

That is, is the online population whose behaviour you can track easily different from that population which uses private groups (such as those set up in Google Plus) and dark social to communicate and share web-links and other information?

Lars felt that that depends on the relative size of the different groups and, more importantly, if these groups differ markedly from one another. There are commentators who believe that people increasingly do not worry about online privacy. Or, as others would put it, “If you want online privacy, don’t go online”, but this certainly is something companies absolutely do need to bear in mind when analysing their data.

Private Online Spaces

Lars went on to say that, since public awareness of the needs for online privacy is growing, and their behaviour changing as a result, then moving towards promoting private spaces or engaging directly in private communities may become a strategic necessity for companies.

Fragmenting the Social Media Market:

Effectively, though, we are looking at the concept of market fragmentation, and there are two issues here: the first is that, on sites which enable private communities, such as Google Plus, then privately posted content is difficult to track at scale (unless a third party app is granted explicit permissions – but which not all consumers may grant) and secondly, your younger users in particular may engage in behaviours in which they ‘hide in plain sight’ through use of in-group argot or jargon, thereby disguising their true intentions, as danah boyd and Alice Marwick point out in their 2011 paper, Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens' Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies.

It is fascinating to note how teens “develop intricate strategies to achieve privacy goals" and they quote Nancy Fraser, who notes that repressed groups often create “‘subaltern counterpublics’ which, from a civic engagement perspective, can be understood as ‘parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs’”.  To give concrete examples of how teens are evolving strategies to enable some kind of privacy in public networks, they have been documented using strategies such as:
·       segmenting friend groups by service (which is not that easy if there is a social expectation that you 'must' be on a particular service);
·       deactivating the account daily - which means you can send messages or leave content only when logged in;
·       always deleting others' comments on your page after you have read them and deleting your comments on others' pages day after posting them there; 
·       or engaging in what boyd & Marwick call “social steganography” since “‘steganography is an age-­‐old tactic of hiding information in plain sight, driven by the notion of “security through obscurity.’ Stegnographic messages are sent through channels where no one is even aware that a message is hidden”. For instance, referencing the Monty Python song, ‘Alway Look on the Bright Side of Life’ knowing full well your mum will think you’re cheerful but your friends will pick up you are, in fact, depressed.

Which Social Media Platform Do You Use?

Lars acknowledged the difficulty of the fragmented social media landscape that, currently, Facebook has no real competitor from a user point of view, which has to do with family and friends, however, other platforms offer interesting opportunities, though possibly you need to craft different messages to different groups of people. Facebook is evolving into a paid media platform, and with mobile ads their revenue has increased a lot, but other sites, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and G+ you are not getting typical marketing activities occurring, they provide more of a pull than a push medium. Twitter enables people to be active and communicate in real time; Instagram has very heavy users and younger users, as a demographic; Google Plus, on the other hand, has a strong focus on good content and interaction and it is useful to use G+ from an SEO point of view in that your posts there are more visible than those made on other platforms.

However, regardless of social media platform, the main issue Lars felt needed to be iterated (again and again and again) is simply, this, that -

Content Remains King (and Queen, and Jack of All Trades ...)

Lars felt you cannot emphasise enough how content is fundamental to your social media marketing efforts. So, although you can currently still buy followers on Twitter and Facebook, you soon enough realise these are fake accounts, and that, in the future, such purchases of followers will become much harder to manipulate.

But, above all, in social media, there is a huge issue with ‘signal vs noise’. So, how do you control the noise, given a focus on pushing information out? Is it better to have fewer, stronger signals over and above plenty of clamour and noise that simply adds to the endless chatter?

Lars responded that success is often gauged by the fact that, in an event, for instance, you are mentioned more than the competition, but that – if there is a lot of noise, it doesn’t mean a lot. Instead, brands should rather think of market enablement, whereby they must focus on their own networks, not just create a brand platform on Facebook with hundreds of thousands of other brands, but whereby they evolve this into being able to talk to a targeted and select group of people.

However, the question always remains as to how to access them and how to have a conversation with them.

Lars responded that, particularly when it comes to social media for sales, you can help the sales department to use social media to add value,  by helping them to use social media for information and to create content and reach out to people and identify people who are influential - the influencers and analysts out there. So that change we are seeing is the focus on how to reach people with whatever is relevant. Hence, enabling sales departments can help them also with lead generation - provided these are quality leads and you can link people to their address and measure success in the real context of the sales person.
For instance, who are the top 10 influencers in the field? Are they amplifying your message? So, instead of sending out 10 000 messages, rather check if they are relevant and use influencers to amplify these messages.

Lars advocates the use of various tools to identify the influencers, as well as desk-top research, but various social media monitoring tools such as Radian6.

Integrated Communications

More than anything else, however, Lars felt there is a strong necessity for integrated communications which means you need to integrate the different communication departments into one hub, so whether your personnel are in sales or HR or external communications – they are all, in fact, PR for the company. In an ideal world all departments would function in an integrated way and also be reaching out to customers. There will always be customers who have problems, products or services that don’t work as promised; it is important to find unhappy customers and react quickly to their discontent.

In other words, tone is really important to keep consistent across all channels; regardless of whether it is earned, paid or owned. It is important to integrate your advertising into it, use social media to engage with influencers, and, given how your social media activities are increasingly about customer acquisition as well as retention, from a strategic thinking point of view, you have to be more than simply just active, but you actually have to know what to do. So, for any content you put out, you need to know, is it relevant, is it strategic? The biggest gap in social media communications is often the strategy – are you doing the same as you always have done, or are you using your digital communications strategically?

No Excuse for Avoiding Strategy

Lars felt that it was fundamentally important to emphasise that, for companies, they need to define how to communicate and what to communicate, and what the goals are – which goals must be more than simply gaining more Facebook likes; if you as a company don’t understand your brand and what it stands for, you’re doomed to failure – and not just in the social media space.

As Michael Porter put in aptly named article, There's No Excuse for Avoiding Strategy:
"If you don’t clarify choices and their implications, then, as in a Rorschach inkblot test, employees (and especially salespeople and other customer-facing groups) will fill in the blanks with their own constructions. The result is diverse behaviors that fragment your resources and increase the risk of becoming a global mediocrity: a firm that’s good at many things but not great at any particular things, and that’s the surest way to dissipate any competitive advantage." 

Lars is Digital Lead EMEA for Text100 based in Germany. As Digital Consultant, Lars assist clients entering and dealing with both the technologies and the communication challenges of the digital and social media world. In his current role, Lars leads an EMEA team of digital expert as well as a wider team of local digital leads in each of the 9 EMEA offices and he is responsible for the development of the Text100 digital services in EMEA.
LinkedIn: Lars Basche
Twitter: @larsbas

Kathryn Kure of ​Data Myna focuses on actionable insights relating to digital data, with a specific focus on web-site and social media analytics. 

About Data Myna

Over and above the obvious riff on 'data mining',  the Indian Myna is highly articulate, curious, adaptable, innovative and successfully out-competes other birds in its niche, which Data Myna argues is precisely what you want from your marketing intelligence.

Kathryn Kure - Data Myna 


Copyright and Her Limits Go to the Creative Commons

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