Success in Social Media: The Path

How do you measure success in social media? I’ve been asked this many times during interviews, and I always answer the same way: any and all interactions that place your brand in a positive light. Many people might disagree with me and focus more an metrics and numbers, but if we look at the path social media marketing has taken in the past few years, you will see that the measure of success has shifted into a more subjective realm. Does that mean the metrics and numbers don’t matter? Of course they matter! That’s the point of marketing, isn’t it? But in social media, the marketing aspect has quickly shifted over to branding, presence, and overall engagement with your followers.

Let’s take a look at the original metric that social media marketers used to measure success: Followers. The more followers you had, the better, right? Having a huge number of Likes on Facebook means that people actively sought out your page, clicked the Like button, and would then receive news and updates whenever you post them. Well, at the time it was the only important metric you had.

Social media marketers then started to focus on creating viral content, and the measure of virality was the number of Likes and Shares a post received. In came the flood of clickbait titles, “Like if you agree” image macros, and “Share if you love your mother” posts. Companies wanted to know that their content was being consumed, or, with the changes to the Facebook algorithms, seen by their followers. We’re at the tail end of this practice now, and we’re quickly shifting over into forming direct, emotional connections. Frankly, I feel like this should’ve been where we started as social media marketers.

How do you create emotional connections with your followers? Just check out the tagline of this blog: Be more human. That the adage by which I formulate my social media strategies, and companies and brands should pay attention. Be more human. Just take a look at the first word in “social media”! It’s “social”! The more you advertise and broadcast to your followers, the faster they get fed up with your content, which means they’re more likely to just ignore you. When that happens, say goodbye to your organic reach, which means you pay more to advertise your content, which exacerbates your problem. Literally throwing your money away. People on social media don’t want to be bombarded by ads on a daily basis. To reach them, you have to become like one of them, which means using the social media site as it’s intended: to create connections with people on a personal level. The playing field is already set; you just have to play the game instead of trying to create your own rules!

Each social site has its own expectations of etiquette and behavior. On Tumblr, for example, you’re expected to have fun and not take yourself too seriously. On Instagram, you need to show of your staff and show everyone what you’re up to. On Facebook, you want to be the person starting conversations and share your opinions (just be careful about this part).

If you’re likeable to the point where people can relate to you, they will take the time out of their day to support you. So how do you measure success in social media? Be more human today.

Facebook’s Latest Update: Bad News for Page Owners (Again)?

It looks like Facebook is updating its algorithm again, and it could be that Facebook Pages will take another hit to organic reach. This time it will be posts by your friends that get prioritized on the News Feed, which is great news for users and possibly bad news for businesses. This is, by in large, old news; Facebook has been hammering down on calls to action and clickbait content since November 2014. If you and your social media strategies have not adapted by now, then you need to step up your game and catch up to the rest of the social world.

Facebook has said time and time again that the type of content prioritized on your Followers’ News Feeds is relevant to their interests. And what’s relevant to their News Feeds? The type of content their friends share. Let that be a lesson to you: the days of pure advertising and calls to action are at an end in the social media frontier. To make it in this landscape, you, as a business, need to start becoming more human, and that means developing a brand voice and personality, and more importantly it means trusting your social managers to do their jobs. Of course that also means finding a trustworthy social manager who knows how to navigate the potentially dicey social media environment.

So how do you go about finding your brand voice? It depends on your business, obviously, but the first thing you should do as CEO, owner, president, or higher up management is set some ground rules. Are you a fun-loving business that likes to get into ridiculous conversations with your customers and fan base? Are you educational? Professional? Sensational? Ask yourself: How would you, the owner, talk about your company to interested parties? Take note of your vocabulary, cadence, and emotions. This is how you want your business to look and sound on social media, and that’s exactly the type of message you should get across to your social manager. When you’re online, you’re not a salesperson; you are a human being who is proud of their business or product, and you want other people to see that. Passion is contagious. If you feel it, your audience will feel it, too. That makes all the difference in how people react to your content. Be more human today.

Buzzword: Clickbait

What is clickbait? It’s a term used to describe sensationalist headlines used specifically for generating traffic. The “bait” part of this Internet portmanteau comes from “bait and switch”: you are promised one thing but given something else after you’ve paid. While on the surface it may seem harmless, the reason clickbait exists is to generate traffic and revenue. More traffic means more ads may be loaded, which in turn generates money for the host site. You might’ve seen something like this all over Facebook:

Untitled

Rather than a simple explanation of what the video is about in the title, it instead uses a hyperbolic statement. Most of these videos are uploaded to Youtube, but take a look at the URL; rather than a direct link, the host site, Distractify, embeds the video link so that it can use its own titling scheme. The actual name of the video is “Natural Pools – Natural Pool selfbuild”. So why do this? Why jump through so many hoops just to get you to visit their site to load ads most people will probably never see or click on? Think back to my earlier post on our insidious little friend, the tracking cookie. Each time your computer loads an ad or website, tracking cookies are used to gather information about you and your activity; this data can include geographical locations, other sites you’ve visited, your email address, and if you choose to log in via your social networks, ANY AND ALL DATA YOU’VE CHOSEN TO LIST AS PUBLIC ON YOUR PROFILES.

So how many tracking cookies can you expect to see from your average site? Usually 1-3, which is the case with popular social sites like Reddit and Youtube. How many are on clickbait sites like Distractify? According to a handy add-on called Ghostery, there are 12 tracking cookies on that page alone. TWELVE!

ghostery

Three of them are overtly advertising, four are social widgets, and the remaining five are analytics trackers – cookies used to study your behavior online. They will gather information that affects what ads are shown to you, what videos are suggested to you at a later date, the types of emails you receive, all with the main purpose of manipulating your behavior. If you think Facebook’s recent psychological “study” was offensive and wrong, trackers and advertisers have been doing it for years, and right under our noses! Here are some browser add-ons that will make your life a lot simpler. If you have any to add, please share:

Adblock Plus: Prevents ads and trackers from loading when you visit a website. Also blocks ads on Youtube so you can enjoy the video without being interrupted. Note: these are indiscriminate, so if you want to support your favorite broadcaster, you’ll have to manually turn it off for them to get ad revenues.

Ghostery: Tracks the trackers attempting to load on a website, blocks them, and gives you a description of what they do and who they are. Highly recommended. Updates frequently.

Lightbeam (Formerly Collusion): Shows you the third party trackers connected to any site you’ve allowed cookies to be installed. Wonderful tool.

More Likes Than Friends – The Truth About Facebook Likes

Facebook_like_thumbWhat if I told you I could get you a hundred followers on your Facebook page in under an hour? How about two hundred? Five hundred? Would you believe me if I told you I could get you 1000 followers, and you won’t even have to lift a finger? It’s true. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. This is called “Like Inflation”. While it forced social media industry to focus more on engagement, it has become a self-inflicted wound in the social strategies of companies who see large numbers of followers and likes as the bottom line.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. You are a small company or just someone who wants to launch a social media page or account in hopes of getting attention from potential fans and followers. The problem is that without a large following to begin with, you think people won’t take you seriously, or worse, fail to recognize the legitimacy of your page or company. So you reach out to a company or person who can guarantee thousands of likes and followers for a small sum of money. The truth is they can deliver on their promises. Most of these services come from India where, for a small fee, several workers will log in and out of thousands of accounts to add likes or followers to your social media accounts. More efficient “companies” will have computers set up to automate this process. Your accounts will explode with false popularity literally overnight! The problem is the aftermath.

fb-edgerankSocial networks have advanced algorithms, like Facebook’s EdgeRank, that determine the “worth” of your posts by measuring the quality and frequency of engagement with followers, fans, and communities. The more engagement you have on your accounts, the better your posts and ads will do on news feeds an ad space. With Like Inflation, your accounts are suddenly littered with thousands of dummy accounts that have no real history of engagement or even real people behind the accounts at all! They are profiles made by a single person or corporate entity for the express purpose of selling likes and followers to small businesses hoping to gain an edge over their competitors, or simply to give the impression of popularity. Now when it comes time to spend some money on actual advertising, a vast majority of the news feeds you reach belongs to these empty, personless accounts. By the numbers, you’ve reached THOUSANDS of people, but of those thousands, a tiny percentage will respond. To the algorithms, your dismal engagement rate makes your posts very unimportant, which diminishes your social media strategies. In short, a short term solution will become a deep hole from which you’ll have to work much harder to escape.

logo1There are also online services like AddMeFast that advertise “Like Sharing”. You open an account and submit links from your social media pages that you want people to like or follow. By liking or following other users’ submitted links, you are granted points that act as currency, which you then spend when someone likes or follows the links you submitted. Users set the “cost” of their links between 1 and 10, and the higher point values are assigned greater priority. Sound like a great idea? Like and share with other active users – what harm can come of it? Well, it hardly stops anyone from creating dummy accounts simply to rack up points for their own links. And since any link can be submitted by anyone, you can even use “Like Inflation” to foil the social media strategies of your competitors. In my personal experience, services like AddMeFast are driven by selfish motivations, not active communities; there is no search function or filters for any of the links. They are randomly generated and serve no other function than being an AddMeFast ATM.

declineIf you find yourself in such a hole, there are some ways you can reclaim a foothold over your social media influence. One such way is paid advertising. By targeting the interests of your intended followers and creating visually appealing ads, you can increase the popularity of your social media accounts and direct traffic to your sites and landing pages. However, it might be very costly to maintain this strategy considering the time it takes to gather enough active users. A less costly method is reaching out to your customer base through email marketing. Many of these people may already be followers, but it’s worth it to reach out to those who haven’t responded yet and give them a little nudge toward your online presence. Although you pay for the mass email service, this method might be the closest thing you have to significant organic reach.

At the end of the day, it’s tempting to turn to an easy fix for the lack of social media presence, but they are short term solutions. Very short term. The whole point of social media marketing, the very essence of it is to be SOCIAL. Injecting fake accounts into your social pages is the same as filling an auditorium with mannequins for a lecture, then wondering why no one’s responding. You’re perfectly free to do it, but it will be a detriment in the long run.

Buzzword #3: Engage

speech-bubble-mdEngage. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it? The point here is not that you engage your customer or fan base, but how you go about doing it. We’re used to the idea of social media accounts being private or personal, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that everything you say and write can potentially be seen by anyone and everyone. The latest example of how social media engagement can go horrifically and spectacularly wrong comes from Amy’s Baking Company, or ABC, as illustrated in ZDNet’s article. It’s also a perfect example of something going viral in the negative spectrum (see Buzzword #1: Viral).

The potential for negative engagement is great, but the external and visible aspect of  social media can be used to your advantage! These accounts are windows and keyholes into your company’s operations, and they are the primary way by which fans and customers look in. This means you have a great deal o control over what they see, hear, and read about you. You show your hand first, and they engage you in response. If you pay your cards right, they won’t even know it’s happening.

There should be an ease to your interactions. Go with the flow. Be knowledgeable and professional to show you’re an expert at what you’re promoting. Be casual to show you’re a real human being with shared interests. While it’s easy to see just names on a screen, it’s imperative that you treat all your visitors as real, genuine people. They are your guests when they come to your page. You are a teacher and a helpful guide to those with questions. You are a friend to those who love what you promote. And remember this well:

NO ONE IS YOUR ENEMY!

KindDo not argue, and do not be defensive, offensive, or confrontational. Always be courteous, even in the face of dissatisfaction. If things get heated, take it to PMs (private messages). A majority of people will engage you in private messaging if you take control of the situation by making PMs the only place where they will get a response – and that’s ultimately what we’re after in social media, isn’t it? A response!  But don’t let the term “private messages” override any lessons you’ve learned. Anyone who knows how to use the “Print Screen” button can reveal the full contents of your conversation, and that’s the kind of power you never want to relinquish to anyone. Private or not, always be kind to everyone!

So how can you actively engage your fan base? Well, if an interest exists, there’s a group dedicated to it in social media. Facebook has Groups, Twitter has #hashtags, and Reddit has subreddits. Find these groups and become an active member. See how other members of these groups interact with one another and follow suit. The best way to market yourself and your product or company is to be as enthusiastic as your fans. You appear more trustworthy if you’re not just someone who works for your company, but rather an enthusiast lucky enough to land a job with them.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next Buzzword!

Buzzword #1: Viral

Buzzword #2: Organic

How to Take Advantage of Unpaid Internships Before They Take Advantage of You

unpaid-internWe’ve all seen this one too many times, especially in the past three year: “This is an unpaid internship”.  We were understanding at first, if a little grudgingly, because the economy took a nose dive, and we hoped it would turn around over the next few months. Little did we know, those months became years, and the “unpaid internship” became the norm, and the norm became annoying, and in many cases, illegal. Many of the ads I see on Indeed.com, Craigslist, Mediabistro, and other job listing aggregates include open positions that are, in every sense of the word, “jobs”. However, by adding the word “internship” to the end of the ad, that position magically becomes a source of free labor. Don’t fall into that trap. There are many things to look out for while job hunting, and once you recognize them, you’ll be better equipped to protect yourself against labor exploitation.

First and foremost, you need to understand the definition of a proper and legal internship. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are 6 criteria that a legal unpaid internship must meet:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Doesn’t sound like 99% of the job ads you’ve seen, does it? Most of the social media internships I’ve seen ask that you are an “expert” in social media. In many cases they’re seeking “ninjas”, “gurus”, and on occasion, “Jedis” (I’ll have a post about this coming up next). If you’re already experienced in social media, then the job lister had better come up with some advanced social media techniques to teach you, otherwise they only want your skills for free. What about number 2? Some would argue that the experience you gain from that internship is a direct benefit to you. True, to an extent. But if you’re not learning anything new, and you’re doing actual work, then you ought to be paid for it. Then there’s number 3. You need to be working under close supervision from existing (and usually more experienced) staff for the position to be a legally unpaid internship. And no, having someone check in on you once in a while doesn’t count. Most important is number 4, which is why I highlighted it on the list. It really speaks for itself. If a position needs to be filled, and that position serves an important function to the company in question, that position is, by definition, a job, not an internship!

This message is geared toward those who want to break into social media, because that’s where I have the most experience. This career path utilizes a tool that you use every single day to communicate frequently and effectively to large audience. You already know how to use these social platforms, and what’s left for you to learn are the bells and whistles you might not yet understand or even know about. If you’re looking to become more experienced, look for a legitimate internship where you know you will be taught the right kind of language, methods of written communication, and proper use of social media tools. There is a wealth of knowledge and tutorials on the web, and if you’re serious about becoming a social media marketer, you need to educate yourself on your time! So how do you know what to look for? By seeking out illegal unpaid internships.

Wait, isn’t that a little counter-intuitive? Not necessarily. By looking for these job ads (don’t worry, you’ll find them quite easily), you can find out what potential employers are looking for in an ideal candidate for a paid position. Once you know what employers want, you can take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, find the tutorials and online classes you need to bolster your skills, and become more desirable on the job market.

Just remember: internships are for learning and gaining new skills. Jobs fulfill a specific function for a prospective employer. You can learn and gain new skills without some company reaping the benefits of your hard work. You shouldn’t have to compete with more experienced people to land a position that’s supposed to educate and help the less experienced. It’s wrong, it’s immoral, and most importantly, it’s illegal. Find out what skills are required for the job you want and educate yourself. You can put these skills to practice on your own and make it as visible or invisible as you’d like.

Buzzword #2: Organic

urlWhat exactly does “organic” mean in social media terms? It’s actually very similar to the definition of the farming and food definition. Organic search results in search engines like Google come about from hard work and dedication without paid advertising or bidding on keywords. When an employer wants better ranking in organic search results, they are asking for the very basics of search engine optimization. While SEO may be the most cost-effective way to maximize your online marketing efforts, it is also the most time-consuming. It requires you to post quality content frequently while managing inbound and outbound links and making sure what you’ve submitted becomes visible and easily found on all your social media platforms. The process might be methodical, but the content is where you show off your expertise in whatever you’re advertising.

How can you be sure your submissions are counted by Google? Like I mentioned early, you need to post quality content frequently. But what does “quality” really mean? It means to avoid copying and pasting large blocks of text. It means flexing and expanding your vocabulary. It means to be creative. Organic results are awesome, but only if you put in the time and effort to make it worthwhile! As a long term investment, it will make you a strong and reliable source of information, which in turn maximizes the influence you have in directing traffic and generating hits.

Tips:

1. Avoid expository text in flash objects. Your text might very well contain the keywords required to improve your organic search results, but because they’re imbedded in videos or flash files, Google cannot pick findthem! If a video or flash object is absolutely necessary, make sure to have a well-written description that make use of your keywords.

2. Vary your terms! While it’s fine to use terms like “social media” frequently if you’re optimizing for social media, you can break term up and still be relevant to Google’s search bots: “See what media is saying about social networks”.

3. Pictures draw them in! If you’re going for a longer article, make sure to include a picture every few paragraphs to give the reader a different kind of mental stimulation. It will keep them interested in what you have to say. Likewise it is usually best to start off with a picture to get their attention in the first place.

Click here for Buzzword #1: Viral