Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Contributed Article: Is the #hashtag dead for marketers?

It's been awhile. Bad blogger. Here are some words I penned for PRWeek on the venerable #tag. I was tasked with creating as case for its demise. While I feel there's still room for the properly applied #tag, the task was to come out on the negative. 

My full article is here, which also includes a pro-hashtag counterpoint. Note, this is behind a firewall.  

Enjoy on, gentle reader. More to come in 2016...
Hashtags have jumped the shark. They have moved from a means of gathering disparate discussions around a topic to a punchline.
Brands often find well-constructed hashtags become the playthings of haters and trolls, while most people use them as a form of Internet humor. It’s time to move on.
Let’s look at the facts. Marketing on Twitter is littered with hashtag #fails (sorry – couldn’t resist). Na├»vely, some brands assume a hashtag will guarantee the ability to shape social conversation. Not so.
In 2012, McDonald’s #McDStories became a target for haters, who happily shared their horror stories. #QantasLuxury went live the day after the fleet was grounded, generating vitriol – not the desired brand love. The NYPD’s #AskACop trended nationally, but did so for the wrong reasons. And the less said about Susan Boyle’s #susanalbumparty, the better.
Still, there have been successes. Hashtags can create engagement, categorize discussions, garner clicks. But in a reflection of traditional media’s sense of "if it bleeds, it leads," the vocal minority love finding and exploiting flaws in brand hashtags. 
We have to work out if the risk of attempting to create a conversation around a core phrase outweighs the benefits. And before we use them, run them past teenagers to see if they can find innuendo (they probably can).
There are other indicators of the hashtag’s demise. For example, Twitter has called the # symbol "arcane," and improved search functions in social networks are increasing their ability to categorize and group conversations. Realize that success isn’t just in getting clicks but in being relevant.

And brand love for hashtags is hurting this once-valuable feature. The overuse of hashtags is leading to a backlash whereby they are increasingly seen as representatives of brand noise and not compelling content.

There’s an imbalance – brands are hoping people will rally around a strapline versus playing a meaningful role in community-generated conversations. This surely is the key. Listen and join when appropriate. Add value to the conversation.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Measure Twice, Cut Once (and Cut Out AVE)...

I was copied on an internal discussion about AVEs (Ad Value Equivalency) the other day. The question was, how else can we prove the value of our media relations efforts? Here are some rambling thoughts. Over to you, gentle reader...

If the question was ‘what’s the financial value of our media coverage’ then our industry struggles. While seemingly a valid question if you’re used to purchasing ad space, as we all know we can’t measure editorial in the same way. Does raise a good question, of course, on how we can measure editorial. I’d rather measure editorial’s ability to do something.

Most B2B and B2C buyer studies conclude that editorial plays a critical role in the awareness and consideration phases of the decision. At first, coverage such as news announcements help our buyers understand the available solutions and provides product or industry information. At the consideration phase, coverage such as case studies or op-ed pieces help more informed buyers create qualified short-lists as they move on towards their decisions.

The tough thing in assigning a financial value to this (or any) broad marketing output is that the B2B buyer in particular is naturally influenced by a range of content through a number of channels. Not to mention, of course, historical vendor preference, predetermination to buy from existing suppliers, relationships with sales people, proofs of concept and 101 other things that ultimately contribute to a purchase decision.

On the plus side, marketing automation tools like Eloqua, Marketo and HubSpot are helping us understand the role these buyer touch points are playing in driving people towards a B2B decision. Once someone has entered the purchase funnel and exchanged some kind of profile info, they’ll typically be tracked in some way. Their content preferences will be used to create an marketing approach that will push a variety of content at them (plus salesperson engagement if warranted). The program will evolve based on the actions the prospect takes. Once purchased are made, this buyer behavior data can be used to create ROI metrics showing the value of the marketing tactics versus the value of the ultimate purchase.

So, back to editorial. In the model I put forward, unless there’s a link in the article to a particular client-owned webpage, it’s very difficult to determine with any accuracy the specific role it played in the ultimate purchase (unless media coverage was the only promotional technique for a particular event and then you could measure foot traffic). You could use some funky math to work backwards from a typical sales cycle and assess related media coverage to see if there was any correlation.

But I think we’d be chasing our tails a little if we went down this path. If the client is wanting to answer this question, it will take a combination of educated guesses, primary research and integrating media relations with their pre-sales processes. I’m thinking:

1. Primary research to question know prospects and buyers and determine the role media coverage (and other content / channels) plays in the stages of their decision (awareness, consideration, intent, purchase). Best to extend this to other tactics. 

2. Establish touch-points in the communications program where media coverage / other tactics can hand-off to marketing automation / demand generation / lead generation systems (or in the case of B2C purchases, fulfillment systems). 

3. Build programs aimed at getting people into the funnel or to purchase – using tactics such as driving traffic to landing pages. Referral traffic data will show the if media outlets are driving traffic and goal / conversions in Google Analytics or marketing automation systems will show if prospects from media coverage convert. Given B2C purchases frequently occur in-store, you could look at things like dynamic number insertion (DNI) where unique 800 numbers are put on webpages for different campaigns and then fulfillment can track back to this interaction.

Sorry for the ramble, but a good discussion to have. Long story short. We need to work out the pieces we can be accountable for influencing in the purchase. And measure our ability to get people to take those actions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So...Which Brands Won CES 2015?

Last month, my employer Text100 in association with our partners Redshift Research and Brandwatch undertook a comprehensive study to help brands make the most of their investments in the 2015 International CES.

On January 7, the Text100 data team lookedat whichbrands were being discussed, which individuals or outlets drove conversations and which products were getting the getting the most mentions. Two days later, we dived into Intel’s dominant role in CES.

Today the team analyzes the same three criteria to see who took the honors for the show as a whole, and review changes in topics as the show progressed. Not surprisingly, 95.9 per cent of the mentions came through tweets, with the remainder in Facebook and in online news.

Brand champions
Intel dominated discussion with more than 48,000 mentions, almost double second-placed Samsung (who led discussions in our previous analysis). Product updates and a diversity initiative announcement contributed to the wider discussion. LG came in third with 25,000 mentions, mostly attributed to the G Flex 2 curved smartphone.

Apple jumped Sony to come in fourth, largely on the back of Apple Watch and Home Kit discussions. Panasonic and Toyota dropped out of the top 10, replaced by Betabrand and Razer, both with big jumps in mentions on  January 8. Betabrand’s partnership with Logitech generated more than 15,000 mentions while Razer’s jump can be attributed to its Razer Forge TV announcement.

 Figure 1: Top Brands by Online Mention, CES 2015

Conversation drivers
@CNET, with more than 132 million impressions led CES online reach. Engadget (@engadget) moved from number 10 to second place, thanks in part to celebrity retweets from will.i.am (@iamwill) and Justine Ezarik (@iJustine) on January 7 and 8 respectively.

TV-personality, music producer and CES Entertainment Matters Ambassador, Nick Cannon (@NickCannon) came in third place for the show, largely on the back of tweets covering personal appearances. He was followed by @iamwill with 69 million impressions and media outlet @mashable with 66 million.

New to the top 10 is live streaming video platform Livestream (@livestream). They only mentioned CES directly 10 times during the show and vendors tagged them less than 150 times. However there were more than 62 million impressions generated through @mentions and retweets.

Figure 2: Top Media/Authors by Impressions, CES 2015

Products you want
The number one product mentioned over CES was LG’s Flex 2 with 12,500 mentions. The Flex 2 featured heavily in show recaps and benefited from being announced pre-show. The Apple Watch came in second place – with the yet-to-be available product being used as benchmark for all wearable announcements and benefiting from a range of clones that were available at the show.

Razer’s Forge TV came third with 6,746 mentions and the Lenovo ThinkPad came in fourth with almost 5,000 mentions (disclosure, Text100 is Lenovo’s agency of record). Samsung’s CES Best-of-Innovation award-winning SUHD TV rounded out the top five.

Figure 3: Top Products by Online Mention, CES 2015

Text100’s data team and our partners Redshift Research and Brandwatch will next manage a research exercise to assess consumer reaction to CES, compare this with mentions and impressions and develop a perspective on how brands can make the most out of their CES investment. More on this to come.

Methodology: Text100 used Brandwatch to monitor online news, Twitter, Facebook and discussion forums between January 5 and 10, 2015. We tracked and analyzed more than 675,000 US CES mentions over this period.

A version of this post appeared on Text100's HyperText blog on 13 January 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Who’s Winning CES 2015?

Last month, my employer Text100 in association with our partners Redshift Research and Brandwatch undertook a comprehensive study to help brands make the most of their investments in CES. The study, which compared consumer needs with brand output raised several key findings. They included a conflict between brand and media use of Twitter and consumers’ use of this channel as a discovery mechanism, and significant disconnects between media interest and consumer desire.

Now that the 2015 International CES has kicked off, Phil Kam who leads Text100's data team and I took a look at related online conversations to understand who’s driving or, more critically, leading conversation, which brands are dominating discussion and which topics are capturing the imagination of your consumers.

Brand champions
Out of a quarter million online mentions tracked between January 5 and 6, Samsung dominated discussion with more than 16,000 mentions. It’s clear the range of announcements helped them lead overall buzz. However, disappointment in the fact that they weren’t releasing a new phone also contributed. LG was second with 13,000 mentions, mostly attributed to the G Flex 2 curved smartphone. Sony came in third with its Walkman ZX2 contributing to more than 10,600 mentions. Twitter accounted for 95 per cent of conversations, followed by Facebook (4 per cent) and online news (1 per cent).

Top Brands by Online Mention, CES 2015
Conversation drivers
While media outlets such as @CNET, @mashable, @USATODAY and @engadget dominated the top 10 in terms of online reach, it was interesting to note that individuals also drove online conversations. Of the 350,000 CES-related impressions tracked, rapper / songwriter / actor and philanthropist will.i.am (@iamwill) came second to @CNET in terms of impressions, undeniably aided by his more than 12.7 million followers. Mashable journalist Samantha Hey (tweeting as @HeySamantha) and the Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey Fowler (@geoffreyfowler) also cracked the top 10, with Fowler outpacing the @WSJD tech handle by more than 17 million impressions.

Top Media / Authors Ranked by Impressions, CES 2015
Products you want
And now, where the rubber meets the road. The top five products so far at CES are dominated by Lenovo (disclosure, Text100 is Lenovo’s agency of record) with ‘ThinkPad’ and ‘ThinkPad Stack’ coming in first and fifth respectively in terms of overall mentions. Apple Watch comes in second - which is significant as Apple didn’t make any CES announcements, nor is the company participating in the show. Netflix – both a product and brand – came in fourth with 2,500 mentions over the past two days. While in previous years, the talk was all about tablets and wearables, TV and PCs seem to be making a comeback.

Top Products by Online Mention, CES 2015

Methodology: Text100 used Brandwatch to monitor online news, Twitter, Facebook and discussion forums between January 5 and 6, 2015. We tracked and analyzed more than 250,000 US CES mentions over this period. 

A version of this post appeared on Text100's HyperText blog on 7 January 2015

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I've Seen the Future of Marketing (and it's all about the Data, the Content and the Influencers...)

I recently attended the MarketingProfs B2B Conference in Boston. This conference is all about what's working and what's next. It brought together 850 fans and customers of all things B2B marketing to worship at the altar of content.

This is my second Mprofs event and this year brought a mix of new ideas, rehashed old ideas and original stuff...So what's the future of content? Funny you should ask...

1. Data, data, everywhere
At last year's conference, big data was the holy grail. We nodded happily and software companies bombarded us with emails. The future was clearly automation and predictive analytics - we could all go to the beach and let the bots do our job. It was refreshing this year to hear a more cautious approach from many of the presenters. Not saying data isn't great (it is!), but more that data's messy. We don't know what we're going to get from a research exercise - and that's OK. Speakers talked to the challenge of getting disparate forms of data into some kind of legible format, the causation / correlation issue and the dangers of reading too much into social media data (especially from teens). Great to hear that the industry's love affair with data has moved from infatuation to pragmatism.

2. Sales funnels aren't going anywhere (for now)
While we've been spending a bunch of time trying to reinvent the sales funnel, it appears the majority of companies (based on this rather biased sample set) are still using the classic funnel. While McKinsey and a raft of others have tried to turn it into moebius strips, dodecahedron and a range of other shapes, the challenge of leaving the beloved funnel behind is that it's simple. While purchases and decisions are complex, mapping a marketing strategy onto another shape is tough. Regardless of the shape, however, the drive continues to map behavior to marketing content or action. 

3. Hackers will take over marketing
The love affair with geek culture has made it into content marketing. Several speakers talked to ways of taking the hacker / coder ethos into marketing. And why not? It lends itself to creative solutions, solving problems in different ways, and is all about the consequence of actions - the mystical cause and effect of marketing that we've desired forever. Understanding technology has shifted from being a 'back end' discussion to being critical in the way we reach and engage with consumers. The rise of the CDO - Chief Digital Officer - with one foot in IT and in marketing is testament to this shift in approach. Have we moved from 'every company is a media company' to 'every company is a software company'? An app company?

4. What do we do with influencers?
At last year's show, influencer relations was the new black. An array of software vendors shared their wares, each claiming to be THE answer to influencer identification and management. One take out from the conference was the need to use multiple influencer ID tools (and the need to talk to your client's SMEs, vendors and customers) in creating your influencer list. It was also interesting in the intervening 12 months was to discover the industry has moved from ID to engagement - and an array of tactics were discussed. One of the most compelling was co-creation, where brands looked for opportunities to collaborate on collateral such as eBooks or conferences. Great to see brands are moving beyond simple Twitter interactions and LinkedIn shares.

5. Making great content 
I've always said, just because you can publish, doesn't mean you should. It's great to see the industry is taking this to heart, with a move to creating better quality content. 
The publish and pray approach we embraced when we discovered that every company was a media company has moved to a more considered approach that focuses on quality and engagement versus simply the output. The rallying cry was 'write content for the audience that will amplify' and this connection between brand content and advocates and influencers is a great step forward. Also critical was the need to mix up your content. After all, B2B isn't boring to boring.

Any thoughts? Fire me a comment, tweet, build me an infographic, show me data to support your case, or have a third party reach out on your behalf...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Troll Therefore I am: A Case for Social in the Age of Trolling

I was recently contacted by Campaign Asia for some thoughts on online crises, social monitoring and how brands should react. The Q&A follows. I'll revert with a link to the story when it runs. Happy reading!

Do brands need to be hypervigilant?
Jeremy Woolf, PR, Social Media, Digital MarketingI feel brands need to be more vigilant than in the past, but I don’t think they need to be hyper-sensitive. A social monitoring program is hopefully now just part of the cost of doing business, and this should certainly be used to identify both negative and positive opportunities for response or proactive commentary.

How can they guard against the worst offenses?
Establish a strong social monitoring program, be clear on who is influential conversation around their brands and topics of interest, establish relationships with brand advocates, and have a comprehensive strategy in place to deal with potential crises or issues.

But do they want to be completely inoffensive? Is this a good comms strategy?
If you mean do brands want to be completely inoffensive, then I think ‘vanilla is a dangerous strategy. They need to have the audacity to have an opinion, a brand ‘voice’ and personality. I’d err away from deliberately offensive, unless you’re aiming to shock (like Burger King in Singapore in 2010) and even then it should be used with a great degree of caution. Don’t be afraid to express a controversial opinion, but do so only in keeping with the established brand personality, otherwise you’ll be at odds with yourself.

What have brands who have offended in the past learnt from their mistakes? (could you references some cases that have been in the public domain? 
The classic example is Dell, who after suffering the well-publicized ‘Dell hell’ blog posts, have created one of the world’s best social customer strategies. More recently, US Airways suffered major embarrassment with a NSFW response to a customer tweet, but has subsequently been very responsive to twitter issues and customer comments.

Sometimes brands have done nothing wrong (Cadbury Malaysia / Jollibee Singapore) and yet they're a target. What can you do when this situation arises?
Hashtags are frequently the source of twitter issues. While campaigns such as McDonald’s #mcdstories or the New York Police Department’s #myNYPD started with the best intentions, brands have to realize they don’t own hashtags – and that internet trolls are quick to pounce. Before running any social media program, best to run it through a filter to ensure any possible mischief is planned for (and communicated internally as a possible outcome). When the situation arises, best to be contrite, reinforce the intentions of the program, hope brand advocates come to your aid, and, if all else fails, fall on your sword and kill the program.

If you can’t guard against everything, what should you do? 

If this is the mindset, then don’t use social channels. Yes, things can go wrong. Certainly, plan for eventualities. But don’t use the fear of problems stop your brand connecting with its most important audiences through social channels.

Update: Here's a link to the resulting article