Although I do have a topic in mind for today, I feel compelled to address the rather shrill castigation of social media professionals that appeared in the Business Insider today. Since I frequently write about marketing through social media right here on this blog, and since I have helped companies large and small to market their products through social media, you might even call me one of the social media experts Peter Shankman's article seeks to condemn.

So you might be surprised to learn that I actually found myself in agreement with much of Shankman's argument. As an Internet veteran who rolled with the boom and bust of Web 1.0, I see numerous similarities between that time and the borderline hysteria around modern social media -- though to me it feels a bit late in the game to make that comparison. If the peak of the hysteria hit, realistically, maybe a year ago, perhaps the sputtering economy served as a tempering force. A marketer may have been a crazed, impassioned social media zealot, but few companies could act on such zeal in an environment where ROI -- immediate, substantial, measurable ROI -- was mandatory. That's the reality that I, as a digital marketing professional, see all the time: an impassioned desire to leverage social media, but with an equal imperative to demonstrate ROI.

Shankman makes the point "It's about using the tools to market to an audience that wants to help tell your story." I agree. But why wouldn't you want the person you employ to use those tools to have expertise in how to use them? Do you really want your social media expert to "die in a fire" (to quote Shankman) and leave his or her duties to an intern?

Before I go too deep into rebutting an article I can't be entirely sure you will take the time to read, I'll segue to my segue. Shankman seems to hold a certain amount of disdain for social media marketing because it's easy, and certainly because it's popular. But as a marketer you'd be a fool not to take advantage of those qualities as they pertain to any outlet -- from social media, to broader digital media, to traditional media and beyond.

You've probably heard the cliche that creativity is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. In fact, a similar ratio applies to digital marketing. (And of course I am referring to the unpaid variety, paid advertising being a separate piece of the puzzle.) Ten percent of digital marketing is at the quality level that I would call "perfect peach." It's the campaign-driven, highly creative, cutting edge marketing gold that has the unique power to cut through the noise and reach customers. This is the kind of marketing that often comes out of an agency setting, where multiple minds can be brought together and brainstorming is part of the daily routine. The 10 percent is hard. It requires something too rare and in many cases squandered in the grind of the working world, and that's talent. As Shankman points out, it doesn't hurt to have some writing skills, but the real equation for growing your perfect peach is more nebulous than just that.

Then there is the other ninety percent, or what I would call the low hanging fruit. If you'll forgive me for doubling up on metaphors, the low hanging fruit are the meat and potatoes of digital marketing. The no-brainers. You need to post on Twitter. (And you need to address what customers are saying back to you.) You need to have a presence on Facebook. (And if this is news to you, maybe you do need to hire a social media manager.)

But frequently I am surprised by how few companies actually pick the fruit that hangs low. What got me thinking about this to begin with is the experiences I've had recently with a couple of start-ups you may have heard of. One is Get Glue, a service that solicits you to rate your favorite books, CDs, TV Shows and so on for sharing with others. The other is Glass, a browser plug-in that places a digital overlay on top of any Web page with a comment window that let's you share comments right there in the context of the page. Both products are cool. Both are worth tracking. But check out the emails I received from these companies once I became a registered member. First GetGlue:


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All I can see when I look at the above image from GetGlue is wasted opportunity. No company logo. No links to their homesteads on the social networks or any encouragement to share. And what inspires just a little bit of outrage in me as the civilian recipient of this email is that this was not even my registration acknowledgement but a subsequent marketing email. They put our entire new relationship on the line by sending me an unsolicited message -- though I willingly gave them my email address -- and then this uninspired email is what they saw fit to represent them.

Glass, on the other hand, has a registration acknowledgment email that is working a little harder for them.
 
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It's graphical. It's informative, telling me a couple ways I can use their service, and it points me to a few of their social media channels.

I'm a strong believer in the power of email. Back in 2005 I went as far as to start a daily email service about cool things in L.A. called SingleShot. So if Glass were mine to play with, I would probably take this email even further. Why not? Like Facebook and Twitter, it's free. It's reach has the potential to be massive. All it takes is someone to recognize and unlock its potential.

And maybe, just maybe, that person should be a social media expert.

What low-hanging fruit do you see? What do you think is the recipe for a perfect peach?

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Just thought I'd share some of the extra special April Fools Day cuteness I stumbled upon on LinkedIn this morning. In case you can't read the text, my "People You May Know" page is suddenly populated with a lot of famous names, from Ernest Hemingway to Robin Hood, who has his vocation listed as "Activist/Chief Fundraiser at Nottingham." I'm so gullible that I figured I must have friended someone with deep connections in the fiction community.

I love LinkedIn for doing this. Yeah, business is all right, but what is life about if not to have a little bit of fun? Now, if only the GoDaddy CEO elephant shooting scandal that erupted yesterday were such a skillfully crafted ruse. I bet a lot of GoDaddy shareholders are wishing it were.

Who Needs a Pay Wall?

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With so much talk about the new pay wall the New York Times introduced last week I'd like to turn your attention to a publication that has no pay wall, the paper of record for my own city, one I read regularly, the Los Angeles Times.

The image above is a screen capture of the Times (yes, New York, we call ours that too) home page, over the weekend. It had an impressive ad buy on display Sunday from cable channel Showtime. The ads nearly blanket the page -- from the innovative vertical banners running up each side of the main content window, to the aqua blue margins, to no fewer than three banner placements above the scroll -- this is an ad that's hard to miss. The creative seemed to give equal billing to shows Nurse Jackie and the United States of Tara (which I've always thought was a funny name, considering that its star is an Aussie, but anyway ...).

Because I'm a lazy blogger, I haven't done the legwork to know whether the L.A. Times has a pay wall slated for the future, but an ad like this one for Showtime sure appears to be a sign of life for ad revenue. Let's hope there's enough coming in to keep any plans for a subscription model at bay indefinitely.

The only thing I find a bit puzzling about this buy is the timing of it. It ran on Sunday, which strikes me as a particularly old-media time to run an ad. You buy an ad in the Sunday paper because it's the biggest circulation day. You want to be in the Sunday paper without a doubt. But why do an online buy that day? I've spent years running websites and have looked at a lot of analytics. For the great majority of sites, peak traffic hours mimic work habits. People browse when they are at work, and traffic is highest during work hours. For most of the sites I've run, Wednesday at 3pm has been traffics golden hour. Sunday is usually one of the worst days in terms of traffic.

Either way, good on you, L.A. Times, for giving your advertisers a reasonable amount of exposure without cutting into the content. And since you're basically the only game in town in this country's second largest city, let's hope this is enough to keep you afloat.

 

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Twitter turns five today, spurring a whole lot of analysts, writers and users to take a look back. But I'd like to use the opportunity to look at the service in the here and now, and maybe even into the future.

Despite the emergence of the term "social media" to describe a whole array of sites that somehow connect us -- from FourSquare to LinkedIn to Tagged and so on -- for most people social media means Facebook and Twitter. They are the two 300-pound gorillas in the space, and all the other players are just hopefuls.

But for as often as these two services are lumped together, the pace at which they are diverging can only be described as break-neck. These days Twitter behaves much more like a broadcast medium than an interactive platform, with a small minority responsible for the lion's share of the content. More specifically, 22.5 percent of members generate 90 percent of the tweets, according to a report last month from eMarketer. And if you drill down into the statistics even further, it becomes clear that a tiny minority of power users produce a tidal wave of output. It's wall-to-wall coverage just like a 24-hour TV news channel. And just like a news channel the source is a mere handful of hosts, Twitter's power users.

Today, to celebrate turning the big five, Twitter is touting a nice little celebrity-laden video. Notables from Snoop Dogg, who raps elequently about Martha Stewart, to Martha Stewart, who raps not at all about Snoop Dogg, talk about how they use the micro-blogging service. But the most telling quote comes from someone who is more Web celeb than household name. Wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk's kicker quote says it best: "I use Twitter to listen."

I got the idea for this post from a conversation I had with an old friend, Steve, who said he really preferred Twitter to Facebook. He said he liked the way people were more prone to share information on Twitter, where on Facebook it was all pictures of his friends' kids and a line about what they ate for breakfast. His comment took me aback a bit, because being more of a Facebook user myself, the pictures of kids are what I like about the service. I get the news from news outlets like the L.A. Times website, and I turn to social media for news about my friends. Clearly, Steve, like millions of Twitter's members, relies on Twitter as a source of news and information. I began to wonder if maybe my love of Facebook was just a girl thing.

But in reality, it's not fair to say Twitter is a just a guy thing. In fact both services are dominated by women, though Twitter slightly less so than men. That said, I mentioned we might look into the future with this post, and so we do. If the two social networks continue on the divergent courses they've been on in the past year, then perhaps my headline will prove prophetic, and whether it's Facebook or Twitter that dominates your life will depend on the status of your Y chromosome -- or lack thereof.

Or maybe another service will emerge that appeals to both genders.

The recipe for creating a Facebook "like" is complex. It's a sprinkling of "I already like your brand and want my friends to know it," and a dash of "I hope I get a free coupon." There is a little bit of "keep in touch," and another half cup of "just curious." Whatever the reasons why consumers click that "like" button, there is value in building a connection between your brand and as many potential customers as possible.

But the quest for likes has its pitfalls. For one, it's a mistake to measure the success of a branded page by its number of likes alone. Engagement, though more difficult to measure, is a much better indicator of success. What good is it to have a high number of likes if your likers are skipping your messages? Are ignoring you? Maybe even hiding you?

You probably have noticed that Facebook allows you to be friends with someone but also hide their messages from your feed. And on the flipside, page administrators can also find out which likers of a branded page are hiding that page. Here's how to do it:

  1. Go to your Insights page (You must be listed as an admin to do so)
  2. At the very top of the page, click on "Old Insights Dashboard"
  3. Scroll to bottom graph "All People Who Like [page name]"
  4. Tick the box for both "Total Likes" and "Hidden from News Feed" 

hidenseek.jpgThe difference between that blue line on the graph and the orange one should give you a grasp of the percentage of your purported fans who are hiding you.

One rule of thumb is that the number of likers who hide your page should remain below 10 percent. Higher than that and you should ask yourself whether you might be holding your likers as prisoners. There might be a compelling reason why they stay liking you, such as a regularly distributed coupon or voucher, but object to receiving your messages.

If you find that the number of your likers who hide you is creeping northward, it might be time to consider your messaging strategy. Are you posting messages to your wall that others might consider boring - or worse - annoying? Is every one of your messages a sales pitch, or do you attempt to incorporate useful information or humor into your stream? Are you creating a two-way conversation, or merely broadcasting your message? Missing the mark on any of these questions could make you more of a pest than a pleasure and could force your highly-valued community of likers ... into hiding.

 

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If you haven't seen it yet, you really ought to check out Target Ain't People.

Isn't that just the way media is spread these days? You get the link to the video, and you get my endorsement, all in one swift motion. Watch this video. You are my friend, and I know what you like, and you will like this. Increasingly, companies rely on viral video to promote their products. And do you blame them? If you've been paying thousands or millions of dollars for broadcast TV commercials and you happen to own a TiVo, you might start to wonder. Viral distribution is practically free and the potential reach is infinite. What's not to love?

But that low barrier to entry can also be exactly what works against you as a company. I've never seen a commercial for Target on the Web (and I'm hard pressed to remember any from broadcast TV either), but I sure will remember this Target Ain't People video sponsored by MoveOn. The video captures a musical in-store protest against Target for a campaign contribution the company made to an outspoken anti-gay gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. Before the age of viral video, a protest like this one could have been pretty easily contained. It might have made the St. Paul papers, or maybe even the local news -- and that would probably be the full extent of the reach. But as I write this, the YouTube video has close to a million views, and it's only been kicking around about a week.

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CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized for the campaign contribution and said future political contributions will undergo a review process. But where is the viral video for that? I'm not saying the situation is unfair to Target. In fact, it's extremely fair. In fact, I might even say the odds are stacked in Target's favor because the company has all the resources in the world to produce a clever video of their own, while MoveOn had nothing but a rag tag band of performers and possibly a really good point. But what if you were Target and you were hit with a campaign like this one? What would you do? What if the information in the campaign were, say, factually inaccurate and you never made any such contribution? How would you respond, when your response is basically guaranteed not to have anywhere near the viral impact of the campaign against you?

Target issued its response through traditional channels, traditional media. If I didn't tell you that, would you know it?

Critiquing the video for a moment -- the video I love. It's wholesome, it's compelling, I'm a Depeche Mode fan from back in the day -- but if I were producing that video I wouldn't muck up the anti-Target message with the stuff about the Supreme Court. It just confuses the cause. Again, I'm not saying they don't have a good point -- but I'd save it for a different video.

Before I go boycotting Target myself -- and let's face it: That would hurt me so much more than it would hurt Target -- I'd like to know more about the company's stance on LGBT issues. Time will tell -- and Target's actions will tell -- whether that campaign contribution was an isolated incident or evidence of the company's general stance. And the best that Target -- that any company -- can do to defend its itself against this or future attacks is to take away the  for the attack by doing the right thing.
The problem with blogs is that you have to write them.

And I have a bunch of excuses for why I haven't been writing mine, and all of them put together amount to one thing: L-A-M-E. I haven't written, and that's lame, and there really is no excuse.

And the saddest part of my not writing lately is that there have been terrific topics to write about. And so even though this posting might be a day late and a dollar-fifty short (adjusted for inflation), I'd like to get my thoughts down for the record.

This_Too_Shall_Pass_edited-1.jpgSo, for starters, I think it's worth mentioning the hubbub over the latest video from OK Go that erupted a few weeks ago. (Ouch. A few weeks ago. Time is a blur.) And which continued on with the premier this month of the Lady Gaga / BeyoncĂ© duet, "Telephone."  

If you don't know the band OK Go, and you don't know what I'm talking about, take a look at their latest video, the one for their song "This Too Shall Pass" -- and it's worth noting that there are actually two videos for this song. Both are worth watching, but the Rube Goldberg Machine version is the one you will send to all your friends.

And if you Google a little deeper, you'll find previous OK Go videos, such as the famous treadmill video for "Here it Goes Again," and the ever-charming, eponymous "OK Go, Dancing in the Back Yard."

Taken together, these videos, with their home-spun charm, their genius-on-a-shoe-string aesthetic, and their 10 million-plus views -- make OK Go something much bigger than their music. They are a cultural phenomenon. And thank the gods for viral distribution, or most of us would probably never know about OK Go, and a world without OK Go is a sad little world indeed.

But the world does know the band. And if you're not from a generation that would enjoy the music, perhaps you can still appreciate the too-rational-for-a-rockstar NY Times Op-Ed piece written by OK Go Frontman Damian Kulash Jr. He makes a wonderfully cogent argument for allowing music videos to be distributed virally via embedding. I don't have much to add here, except:  Record labels, listen to the man. 'Nuff said.

Gaga_Beyonce_edited-1.jpgAnd if Kulash needed a case-in-point beyond the story of his own band, he could have found it in the Lady Gaga / Beyoncé video that premiered this month. Who would even be able to see the adults-only version of "Telephone," if it weren't for viral distribution? OK, so MTV says it hasn't officially banned the video -- but then isn't MTV famous for banning all music videos? For being the music video channel that doesn't show music videos? And if MTV isn't showing them, who in traditional media -- i.e. television -- is?

Music videos are an important marketing tool. If TV has no room for them, they should be on the Web. They should be free. They should be embeddable -- if that's a word -- and the people who make them should feel elated when they spread like wildfire across the new media universe.

Not only do music videos sell records, they can sell merchandise. As Dan Neil points out in his insightful advertising column for the L.A. Times (prior to his departure to the Wall Street Journal),  the Lady Gaga video for "Bad Romance" features product placements for no fewer than 10 products, ranging from a black iPod to the fashions of the late Alexander McQueen.

If you're a marketer worried that the audience you used to reach by TV is now Tivoing passed your pricey commercials, here is an outlet for your message that viewers will not only not attempt to bypass, but they will embrace, emulate and attempt to incorporate into their lifestyle. What's not to like?

Now if only someone could convince the record labels.

Email: Not So Out of Style

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Back in 2005, I had an idea. (Yes, I have about one good one every five years.) I looked at the success the daily e-mail newsletter Daily Candy was enjoying, and wondered why there wasn't a Daily Candy equivalent for men. Daily Candy, with its trend spotting and sample sales, its chic illustrations and its girlish slang, was using an Internet technology, email, to hit women in a sweet spot that the magazine industry had been hitting them in for years. But why should women be the ones to have all the fun? Who was serving the male market?


This struck me as a window of opportunity, so to fill that void I started Single Shot. The format was simple: One email a day, once a day, every business day, targeted squarely at men. Not being a man myself, I was perhaps not an expert on what would appeal to the less-fair sex, but I did my best. I dove in and started churning out daily emails, trying hard to tap into my inner male, and relying on my husband to edit out anything too un-dude-like.


Although Single Shot ultimately succumbed to the demands of my day job, I have ever since believed that email is a hugely under-developed medium. For a while, it looked like RSS feeds might kill email as a medium for commercial messages of any kind. RSS seemed like a great way around the boatloads of spam that was filling up inboxes from Gmail to Outlook. I personally set up a Bloglines account and set all of my commercial emails to stream into it, side-by-side with my favorite blogs.


There was just one small problem: I never visited it. Only rarely did I go back to my Bloglines account to catch up on my favorite blogs -- even the ones written by close friends who happen to be comedic geniuses. The commercial emails I opted in to receiving -- mostly retailers like Banana Republic, whose clothes I actually wanted to look at -- quickly overreached the maximum capacity of my account, so that any new messages could not be viewed. RSS -- at least the way I had set it up -- just didn't work for me.

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So it warms my heart to see signs that email is back on the rise. To me, the clear evidence appears in the form of a handful of fashion companies making strides in both e-commerce and editorial. If you're having a hard time seeing the money, let's start with the leader of the pack, the Gilt Groupe, valued last summer at $400m.  Follow that up with Rue La La, which is basically in the same business, then Billion Dollar Babes, Top Button, The Outnet, and for kids, Mini Social. With some variation, the business model of all these sites is essentially the same. One sale a day. Once a day. Every day of the week. And though they hold the sales on their respective Web sites, you receive an alert not by RSS feed, but by e-mail. 


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It's not that I buy from these sites every day, but I just like to look at their merchandise. And I do it every day. I like to know what's out there, to know what my peers are buying. I just like to look at fashion. It's like a small vacation I take while I'm sitting at my desk. It's pure pleasure, antithetical to all the other work I do at my desk. And because I look at it so often, naturally I have my moments of weakness when I actually buy.


Then there are sites like Who What Wear. The emphasis here is not on e-commerce, but on editorial. Pictures of celebrities and models off-duty, and detailed descriptions of their fashion choices. Throw in a few lucrative product placements and what's not to like?


So for me, it's fashion. But what is it for you? Shoes? Cars? Golf courses? Vacation destinations? The variations are endless. Email works. If it didn't why would spammers keep piling it on? They do it because they know the numbers are in their favor. And even after all these years, after new technologies, after trend after trend, it still works.

 


More Social Media Trends

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Anyone with any interest in how corporations behave in the social media space should read Burson Marsteller's Global Social Media Check-Up 2010, which reveals some pretty interesting statistics about how companies in the Fortune 100 are using services such as Facebook, Twitter -- and even blogs.

Read it on Mashable.

It ends with some good advice for companies who want to use social networking to extend their brand.

The American Way

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American Apparel2a.jpgI hope you can forgive this small diversion away from my usual topic of the Internet industry, but I've been mulling something over and I can't rest until I just put it out there. (And no, it's not about nude yoga, despite the picture.)

When I think of American Apparel, the clothing company based in my home town of Los Angeles, whenever I see one of its hyper-sexualized billboards (or Web site, where the picture came from), or stumble across one of its ubiquitous retail outlets, I smell a fish. And I've run across them often, in cities as far flung as Montreal, or even Soeul. That company has stores everywhere. Many, many of them. I just passed one on the way to Malibu that was on water-front property, in fact.

And there was that fish smell again -- and it wasn't coming from the ocean.

According to the American Apparel entry on Wikipedia, "The company was ranked 308th in Inc.'s 2005 list of the 500 fastest growing companies in the United States, with a 440% three-year growth and revenues in 2005 of over US$ 211 million." They have 200 retail locations world-wide, and while that is only a fraction of the thousands of stores that a company like the Gap has, I still find myself asking: Who is wearing this stuff?

For all of American Apparel's rapid growth, it's retail stores cropping up in malls and on high streets the world over, I can't put my finger on one piece of their clothing in my closet. Moreover, I don't know anyone else who can. And to achieve the kind of growth that a company like the Gap has achieved, you'd have to have Gap-like ubiquity. Let's face it: everybody wears clothes from the Gap. You may not always want to admit it, but you wear them. And everyone you know does too.

And is that so bad? The quality is there, so who needs to know your cotton cable-knit pullover didn't come from, say, Nordstrom? Bloomingdales? Any other place with more cache? American Apparel doesn't have near the quality of the Gap, and though the price point may be tantalizingly low, wear too much of it and you won't look Gap stylish, you'll just look, well .... cheap.

So how, I ask you, HOW does this store not only stay in business, but spread. Like a brush fire. The answer is, it can't last. Mark my words, American Apparel is not long for this world.