‘Tis The Season To Get Groupon

In this year of brandicides, there was one company who did nothing wrong from a public relations standpoint, but has still lost a lot of sway.  While there are still thousands of businesses and millions of customers using it, I have hard from many social media savvy business owners that they don’t much see the point of Groupon. Many see the service as a loss of revenue and nothing more.

But, despite some claims I’ve seen to the contrary, Groupon is not going away.  And, chances are, if you’re not using it as a small business, you’re missing out on customers.

What it comes down to is that Groupon is  lot like any other social media.  The ROI isn’t going to suddenly appear.  A small business is not going to make money on the Groupon itself. Where the money comes from is when the *new* customers return. That is, if they return. One big complaint that I hear from businesses on Twitter is that people use the Groupon and never come back.

While there are some people who are cheap (to be blunt) and will never return to an establishment, these are the same people who would only use a paper coupon to frequent a business. The key thing to look at where ROI is concerned is that you placed your name in front of a bunch of eyeballs. Even people who don’t purchase the Groupon saw the name of a business they might never have physically passed.

Secondly, while the Groupon customers are in your store, it’s a chance to get them on your e-mail list. My brother and I recently went to a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington D.C., we were given a card to fill out for a chance to win a free meal – which of course appealed to the money-saving aspect of a Groupon user – and, of course, in return, we gave up our contact information. Which is, of course, the life blood of a social media small business.

Here are some more tips on using Groupon up to its best practices:

1) Groupon is not for businesses that do not get repeat customers. If you’re a hotel that’s not in a touristed area (and working through Groupon’s special travel section), for example, you’re getting all of the costs of running a Groupon with none of the benefits. However, Groupon does give the options for blackout dates where you can help fill unfilled rooms at usual slow times. And these rooms would have gone unsold.

2) Consider using Groupon Now instead of a full fledged Groupon. In larger markets, Groupon Now is a great way to cut through the clutter. What this underused service consists of is companies choosing to run short-term, same day deals. They are localized by GPS so a person can look at who is offering a deal at any given time nearby. If someone is eating a late lunch, for example, they can see who is offering a deal at that moment. This drives tech savvy customers (who studies have show are opinion makers) to your business as opposed to dozens of others. And increases the likeliness of them telling their friends. These can even be set to only include certain things on the menu so it’s like a speechless suggestive sell.

3) Upsell customers if this is an option. A mistake that a lot of small businesses make when they offer a Groupon is offer their top of their line service at discount prices. A better thing to do is offer a low or midline product and make higher level services available to customers for an upgrade (at the usual price differential). Or a business can have signage for the top of the line services in eyesight of the customer while they’re enjoying their reduced cost service. People might return just to try to the top of the line service they’re now curious about.

4) Treat Groupon customer as well (or even better) than other customers. The worst Groupon experience I ever has was having to order off a special Groupon menu (which was not advertised in advance). This left a bad taste in my and a lot of other people’s mouths (and it showed in the Yelp reviews). If you give anyone lesser service because they have a Groupon and are not paying full place, they are not going to come back. That’s a guarantee.

Groupon can’t be seen as the be-all, end-all of a marketing campaign in itself and I fear that some business owners do just that. But it can definitely be a valuable piece of an integrated marketing campaign if used correctly.

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Fighting The Rise Of The Twitter Machines

Much like telemarketers (who are actually in sales and not marketing) have given marketing a bad name, spammers have given Twitter marketers a bad name. Therefore, to not encourage them, I have a rule against following them back when I see them pop up as new followers on TweetDeck. However, some spammers (and their automated bretheren the spambots) have gotten very sneaky. Spammers have programmed their bots to closely resemble human tweeters. And, much like telemarketers damage the reputation of the entire profession so do Twitter spammers.

But, fear not, there are subtle differences. You too, human Twitter user (and especially Twitter marketers and businesses) can rage against the machines!  Sorry, I’m 36.  I had to throw some reference to Tom Morello’s band in here, right?

And, in the process, avoid looking like spambots to the people you actually want to engage in conversation (or legitimate inbound marketing with).

First of all, to get them out of the way, I have to state the obvious red flags that an account is a spam account:

1) The account has zero tweets, almost zero followers, lots of followings: Oh look, this person is interested in following me. It’s a basic human emotion to want to be liked. Especially by someone who expects nothing out of the relationship themselves (like you reading their tweets). It’s a lie! As soon as these accounts get a significant number of followers, which eventually they do since some people follow back anyone who follows them, they quickly spit out advertising links. Or worse, phishing or virus links, then go dormant. There’s a reason they have few followers. Most people are onto them.

  • How not to look like this: Have content before you try to recruit followers. If people don’t know what you’re going to offer them, they are not going to follow you.

2) The avatars are really good looking, scantily clad women with lots of links in their posts: This one is the oldest trick in the book since “sex sells.” These “women” are actually machines and the links are usually to the same one or two company pages.

  • How not to look like this: Even if you’re an attractive woman, Twitter is supposed to be about the user’s mind. No need to break out the bikini shot. Well, unless you’re a fan of this blog and then you can e-mail them to me.

Anyhow. With those out of the way,  it’s onto the more insidious ones:

3) The posts from a Twitter account are all links and seem to have no rhyme or reason: Many bots have taken to being “newsbots” inbetween sending out malicious links or company propaganda. Most real Twitter marketers and legitimate businesses tweet stories about their area of expertise inbetween marketing pieces – to provide added value.

  • How not to look like this: Carefully curate your content. Don’t post links that don’t add to your brand and the experiences people can have while using your products.

4) The posts from a Twitter account don’t have a human tone: Most human Twitter users do things like retweet other users. They definitely respond to other users on a regular basis. Occasionally they’ll take a break from posting links and talk about their day. Spambots are not programmed to do any of these things (usually). Also, a new one that I’ve started to see recently is leaving off the end of news stories so they don’t have a link at the end. Twitter’s spam purges have gotten smart to the fact that a real user will often have a completely textual post. If you see a lot of the start of news stories with no links, it’s a dead giveaway.

  • How not to look like this: Don’t fall asleep at the switch. It’s easy to think you’re generating content just posting other people’s stuff off of blogs, but you’re not. While aggregators can be useful, people are not going to want to follow more than a few. Even if you just post links, write introductions to them to give them a more personal tone.

5) The links that account posts are to content published more than a week ago: Twitter is all about immediacy.  While the occasional meme is revived and passed around, in general most links posted on Twitter will be from the past few days. Spambots, however, are constantly looking for content. The more they post, the more they get exposed to more people. They go for quantity over quality. So many of the links that they post are to stories that are ancient (in internet terms).

  • How not to look like this: Keep current. You don’t have to post a link to every story you see. If you missed the boat on a fresh story, most readers won’t hold it against you. In fact, most will thank you for not posting it again since they probably saw it a bunch already.  If you really feel the need to post it somewhere, post it to Facebook. Ancient stories never die there.

6) The “business” account doesn’t try to be selling you anything: This one is counterintuitive. Most businesses label themselves as such. If an account doesn’t seem to ever talk about its own products, something might be amiss.

  • How not to look like this: People know you’re a business and are on Twitter to hype a product. If you’re doing everything right and not stuffing advertising down people’s throats they won’t care. If you never say anything about your product, on the other hand, people get suspicious about what your true Twitter intentions are.

It must be said that Twitter does an excellent job of purging spammers. If you’ve ever noticed your numbers drop by three or four followers overnight, chances are Twitter deleted these accounts for spammy behavior. However, new spam accounts are being created every day so it’s important to be vigilant, to not follow them back (or even to report them if you’re into that kind of thing), and – most importantly – not to act like one yourself.

Now I have accidentally followed a spam account or two in my day so these six things to look for to detect a spam account isn’t perfect. But I think it’s a good start in winning to war against those who would destroy my reputation.


Sometimes You Just Need A Moment Of Silence

Where were you when Steve Jobs died?

I’m sure that if you’re into social media, it’s a question that you’ll be able to answer in twenty years. Facebook and Twitter grew pretty quiet about every other subject. At one point, 17.3% of all posts on Twitter were about Steve Jobs.

Personally, I was standing outside of Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge, Virginia, waiting for a bus home when the news broke on Twitter. And I had just made the following tweet:

Suddenly, as my timeline began to become a testimonial about the greatness of Steve Jobs, that tweet seemed more inane than it would have ordinarily. In fact, I considered deleting it. Now, conduct a thought experiment, and imagine that I posted that *after* the news of Steve Jobs’ death had started to circulate. It might even seem to border on rude.

Yet, somehow, there were certain people that I highly respect posted similarly off the topic posts at that moment. By accident. The reason? They use auto-posting on Twitter.

If I were to come up with a Ten Commandments of Twitter (as others have), the second would be: THOU SHALL NOT AUTO-POST!

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Now I understand why there is a desire to auto-post. It allows a social media manager to be able to front load content that will post in different time zones at the sweet spot. I know that I, for one, don’t like waking up at 3:30 a.m. to make sure a message gets posted to my Japanese friends at the heart of their day. And as a business, the ability to target a message at the correct time impacts their bottom line.

But the downside of ceding control of the time you post on Twitter (and Facebook) in the name of convenience is that you cede control of your timing. At your own peril.

In the end, I feel that if you auto-post, you will be doing more harm than good for three reasons:

  1. You might step on a story that makes your release seem irrelevant regardless. Or make you seem out of touch. If you were a technology company posting anything other than a story about Steve Jobs when he died, you risked irrelevancy. Silence would have been better!
  2. You miss the chance to connect your brand and its related content to the event. While I personally find this marketing method off-putting, auto-posting takes away the opportunity to use this proven technique.
  3. You miss the opportunity to harness any viral action that might happen due to your content. If a message begins to catch on while there’s “no one at the switch,” you’ve lost an opportunity to connect with those spreading it. Also, if people being to ask questions on your post, you risk alienating them by not answering them within a good time frame.
Of course, it’s up to each individual business or organization to choose if the costs of auto-posting outweigh the benefit. But I think the aftermath of Steve Jobs’ death on Twitter (other social media platforms) proves that there are significant risks to letting technology replace human contact. Auto-posting programs don’t have a conscience. And that’s something that’s crucial to have in marketing in the Web 2.0 world.

You’ve Got A New Follower On Twitter. Game On!

Remember Super Mario Brothers?  Particularly how far out of the way players would go, busting blocks and wasting precious time, to get that stash of unlimited coins?

Squeezing every last coin out of that block!
It's only human. Or Mario.

This was especially after they had already beaten the game. The only desire left for some to play the  game at all was to beat a previous high score. To correct any imperfection that  occurred in previous attempts at levels.

Now there are those out there who will play a game even after beating it just for pure enjoyment. But they’re not the majority. Most people need a reason to still play even though they revealed everything.

On Twitter, there’s a game happening every day for many people. It’s called amassing followers. For some people, if not the majority, their follower counter going up is like squeezing another coin out of a block.

And if you give people the ultimate “win” by friending them back instantly you’re taking away a lot of the desire they would have to keep in contact with you in order to,  for lack of a better term, “curry favor” from you.

Sure it’s Machiavellian, but it’s the truth.

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If you’re a company or association, you shouldn’t follow back everyone. It’s a simple extension of the game theory that states: “the more people who are involved in something, the more people will think others will take care of keeping it up.” If you have thousands of “friends,” people will just assume that others will jump to your aid to answer a question. Keeping a smaller group of “devoted” friends (mutual followers) will encourage this group to become brand ambassadors.

And, if the “outsiders” see this select group interacting directly with your brand, it will encourage many people to try to get into this select group.

Once people are in this cohort, just like you’d reward your real world regulars, reward your Twitter regulars with “level ups.”  You can do this in a number of ways, including:

  1. Giving them @ responses to their non-business related posts.
  2. Retweeting especially funny things they say (being careful to not offend the sensibilities of your other followers).
  3. #ff’ing them if they mentioned your business in a given week.

Some users will take offense to preferential treatment. If you see negative reactions about your brand in your mentions, let people  know there’s a game on to become closer to your establishment.

There is no established best practice to who you should follow back but these guidelines should help any entity, including individuals, get more engaged followers. It’s human nature.


The Multiple Personality Dilemma

From the beginning, almost every business owner or blogger who uses Twitter finds themselves with a simple dilemma.  A simple dilemma with far reaching implications…

ONE TWITTER ACCOUNT OR TWO?

Do you want to have a separate account for your personal “persona” and another for your business “persona?”

The fact that you most likely reached this blog from @MGoldman2_0 on Twitter and not @greenmind0428 (despite the latter having nearly ten times the followers than the prior) should tell you my answer to this question. Yes. By all means. Yes!

One tweet that a friend of mine recently sent sums up my reasoning possibly more concisely than the rest of this blog entry will:

Now my quoted friend is a very outspoken person. But the thing about outspoken people is that they often say out loud what a good plurality of people are thinking internally. And with a lot of people, you don’t get a verbal complaint before they unfollow you on Twitter.

The simple reason to have two account is that specialization annoys some of your generalist followers and generalization annoys some of your specialist followers.

To put it more positively, a specialized (business or otherwise) account allows you to generate deeper connections with your followers than you would with putting specialized information on a generalist account. For example, if you’re a marketing blogger, you can concentrate on posting links and participating in discussions about marketing on a specialized account. On a “main” account, this sort of in-depth marketing talk at regular intervals could alienate a lot of your followers.

In fact, they might even consider you a spam account who is posting nothing but links to topics that they don’t care about.

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Not that having a separate personal account lets you off the hook for what you say on it vis-a-vis your business persona. If people know you are the “voice” of a corporate or organizational account, you must still maintain professionalism on all accounts you manage. There are no walls between accounts as far as reputation is concerned. Some people even use making sure professionalism is maintained as a justification for only having one account.

However, if someone wants to learn more about me personally (like my politics and my love of soccer) after reading my @MGoldman2_0 account, I encourage it! I recommend even, occasionally, posting a link to your other accounts to encourage users who might be interested to follow both.

Another reason the proponents of single accounts cite is that without “personal touches,” business or blog accounts seem almost robotic. And one thing that alienates potential customers or members a lot is the lack of an authentic voice. Therefore, don’t abandon your personality at the door of your business account!

A blog or business account should mirror the activities of a personal account. Participate in Twitter rituals like Follow Friday and, if you have a business specific Foursquare account, you should – sparingly – broadcast your check-ins. And, yes, feel free to post minutae of your day. Especially if these have to do with your “work” persona.

Any sociologist (or maybe even a Women’s Studies major) will tell you that a person puts on many different “faces” throughout their day in their offline life. Why should it be any different online?


What Not To Do When Your Brand Goes To Pot

According to Netflix, I have been a member since June 2003.  And, by and large, it’s been a good ride.  I’m pretty much their typical customer.  I let the little red envelopes sit at home for months at a time and, for some reason, still dutifully pay my membership fees.  I’ve never had a problem with providing this company my money until recently. It’s not their splitting into two companies that’s bothering me. It’s that they’ve shown they have a Web 1.0 mentality of telling instead of collaborating when it comes to their social media presence.

Since I’m here to extol the virtues of a Web 2.0 mentality, I don’t know if I can support Netflix (or Qwikster) anymore.

There will be plenty of post-mortems of the @Qwikster episode by far more academic sources than me. But we’re far enough into the episode, I think, to come to some conclusions about Netflix social media strategy and where they’ve gone wrong in damage controlling a stick social media situation.

BACKGROUND:On September 18, 2011, Netflix announcing they were splitting their mailing service from their streaming service. The traditional red envelopes would be re-branded Qwikster. TechCrunch quickly broke the story on the morning of September 19, 2011, that the capitalized @Qwikster Twitter account was claimed by a “Weed-Smoking Elmo.”  Jason Castillo, the human behind the account, quickly realized he was sitting on a valuable cyber-property and began negotiating to sell the name to unnamed sources. Netflix claimed they never negotiated with Castillo and have since either set up or not set up an official accout for Qwikster at @QwiksterTweet.

Of course the obvious takeaway is that a company, even if they don’t plan on using them immediately, should check to make sure any new product has an available, easy to remember, Twitter handle available. But there are three further lessons here, I think, on brand management in general:

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1. Never miss a viral marketing opportunity. All of the targeted marketing a business in the world can’t generate the kind of buzz that a simple message that people spread barely knowing they’re spreading a message generates. In this case, there was a great deal of buzz around the @Qwikster account in the tech community. Unfortunately, instead of this buzz being harnessed by Netflix and the @Qwikster account spreading their message to an established community (and the hundreds of users who began to follow the account after the article), most of the word-of-mouth about the situation was negative. It didn’t have to be if the company had struck a deal with Castillo ahead of time.

For those who doubt that there was power in harnessing @Qwikster for Netflix, observe the following two tweets:

The first is purely anecdotal, but proves there is a perception out there that Neflix has lost its message control. The second is actually factual. As of the writing of this blog, the official @QwiksterTweet account has 83 followers and @Qwikster has 11,743 followers. If Netflix had a message on @Qwikster, it would be getting a lot more eyeballs (and, therefore, message amplication due to its humor value) than anything they put on the official account.

It must be said that Netflix is unintentionally getting amplification from people talking about @Qwikster, but not the message they’re looking to get out for any other purpose but name recognition.

A great example of a cause using an already existing account (with its existing follower count) to their advantage is @Greenpeace’s Barbie, It’s Over campaign. The organization set up a @ken_talks account for Ken. But, instead of creating its own artificial Barbie account, they enlisted an already popular @Barbie account with its built in followers at the time (rather than having to build an audience from scratch). From the case study overview that I heard at a recent seminar, they got the cooperation of the @Barbie identity to sign up for free because he or she supported the cause. But, regardless of what is used to sweeten the pot, the interaction between a “real” Twitter account and a corporate one looked better and spread throughout the news media. Earned media is always a nice, cheap way to get a message out.

Netflix, seemingly not understanding the power of Web 2.0 missed this boat completely.

2. Don’t be afraid to be the butt of the joke. Another lesson of Web 2.0 image control that Netflix seems to have missed is that the best way to diffuse a public relations disaster in new media is to laugh about it. Instead, all they have done on their @QwiksterTweet account is tweet the following:

Besides the “:-)” at the end, this post comes off as tone deaf. The verbiage is rude and off-putting. Instead of showing themselves as in on the joke, they have invited negative feedback. That is, if anyone ever bothers to look at their account. If they do, they are rewarded with a “stay classy America” tagline.  As if that’s not offensive.

3. Negative internet buzz does not always hurt you brand, but it can’t help it. Luckily for the Qwikster brand, the @Qwikster story hasn’t spread that far outside of the internet community. Then again, it still might. I have very astute social media friends who are just covering the original story now. The mainstream backlash against Qwikster”s Twitter strategy might be days away. There is still time to turn around their marketing on this one, but they’ve already lost a lot of the early adopter, tech leaders who frequent Twitter that they could have had by cooperation with the @Qwikster account. Instead these amplifiers are making fun of Qwikster online instead of spreading their message.

With all of the offline blunders that Netflix has made in this situation, their online strategy is not helping their image or their brand.


Claiming Your Piece of the Internet – Facebook and Twitter

A business wouldn’t even think about not claiming their physical space. Yet, almost as important in today’s economy, many small businesses are not claiming their virtual spaces to their own detriments. Much like intruders come into a real world space and destroy an image through graffiti, your virtual space brand may be getting destroyed without your business even knowing it.

Whether you’re on the top two players in social media – Facebook and Twitter – or not, people are talking about your association or business there. If you don’t believe me, go to twitter.com and in the search box at the top of the page, type in your businesses’ name.

At the very least if you’re a business you should see Foursquare check-ins. But you’ll probably also see both negative and (hopefully) positive feedback about your business.

Since the first businesses started in antiquity, people have been talking in the marketplace about them. But, for the first time, with new technology, these conversations are taking place out in the open and you can participate in the discussion.

Starting on Facebook and Twitter is easier than you might think. And you don’t need a professional social media person to do it.

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Facebook guides you step-by-step at Facebook Pages. They offer business support and advice that is second-to-none.

Twitter has no special pages. A business page looks just like any other. However, this equal footing is not a bad thing. People on Twitter begin to interact with businesses as “friends” rather than service providers. And, not surprisingly, this companionship leads to increased loyalty. Starting a Twitter account is as easy as typing twitter.com into your favorite web browser, and filling in the name of your business, an e-mail address, and choosing a password.

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At first, both Facebook and Twitter can seem overwhelming. Especially if you haven’t used it with a personal account. But there are a few simple starting rules that you can keep in mind that will have your Twitter account buzzing in no time.

1. Be personal. Twitter especially is a very conversational site. While you can get away with posting press releases, people are looking for interaction. Be sure that a human voice shines through in all of your posts. Professionalism still needs to be maintained (i.e. watch your use of curse words), but you don’t need to take on airs. No one will want to interact with a robot! Also, make sure to upload a photograph of either your business or your logo on Twitter. The default avatar, an egg, is looked down upon by most users.

2. Be friendly. It’s important to always post on both sites in a friendly, welcoming voice. When a negative comment comes up, it’s important to follow basic rules of customer service. Put yourself in the commenter’s shoes and try to understand the situation in full, asking as many questions as possible. If necessary, send the person a message behind the scenes and attempt to resolve the conflict. The last thing people want is to witness a business owner losing their cool online.

3. Be available. A good rule of customer service on social media is to always respond within 24 hours. If you can do it sooner, all the better.  Facebook comments all show up on your page. Twitter comments about your business (that are addressed to your account) will show up if you click on the key on twitter.com on your page. Use your best judgement as to which comments you need to respond to.

As far as content goes, this will be discussed in-depth in another blog entry in the future. For now, just make sure that you’re participating in the space. You will be surprised how much of a difference it makes. As the old saying goes, 90% of success is just showing up.