Adapting to Well-Informed Customers

The power of knowledge and information is no longer in the hands of companies, businesses, and products. The spread of information has grown exponentially with the advent of search engines, Wikipedia, and most importantly, customer reviews via sites like Yelp. According to SAPVoice via a Forbes article, “Customers are tracking down information via Google; looking at what other consumers have to say about products and services on Amazon and Facebook; and researching what other business buyers are saying on LinkedIn.” This means that you, as a business, are no longer in total control of your reputation, and every blunder, misstep, and snafoo you make can be broadcast to the public. And you cannot delete them. You shouldn’t even try, because we all know attempts to delete or hide information from Internet users will only lead to an exponentially opposite reaction (see the Streisand Effect). So what can you do? The landscape of business and closing a sale is forever altered, and those that fail to adapt will fall behind. Social media and customer engagement is the key.

Social media sites are where you customers congregate, socialize, and subconsciously share information that may be valuable to you. That’s how sites like Facebook advertise to their users so effectively. As a company, you have to stop thinking like a company and start connecting with people on an individual level, and that means appointing a Community Manager – someone who knows the ins and outs of social media sites, and most importantly, someone who is great at interacting with people. In other words, you need a face, a voice, and a personality to be at the forefront of where your customers and potential customers will receive their first impression of you. As a company, your priority is to make a sale, but with a great Community Manager, you can leave a positive and lasting impression that will keep a customer coming back for more. Play your cards right, and they’ll bring some friends with them. Creating a stellar personality and profile and your customers will become your advocates, and this is where you want your social media presence to land.

Customers as Advocates

Like I mentioned earlier, people’s impressions of you and your products come not from you, but from the experience of others. If you have ready, willing, an able customer advocates, you’re essentially receiving free advertisement! If you’re good to your customers, they’ll be good to you.

The Facebook Giveaway Scam

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You must’ve seen it before: Pages on Facebook claiming to give away FREE iPads, iPhones, and other Apple accessories. That’s right, FREE! Did I mention it was FREE? All you need to do is Like and Share the Page with all your friends and you’ll be automatically entered into this FREE giveaway! Simple, right? So what are you waiting for?

STOP!!!

Before you agree to any terms and conditions set out by this “altruistic” Facebook Page, just note one thing: IT’S ALWAYS A SCAM! Unless you see news from an official Apple source and not just some Page that was created a month ago (that’s right, check the creation date of the Page!), your default reaction should always be “It’s a scam!” Every. Single. Time.

So what do they get out of someone just sharing a Page? Information about you, and everyone you get to share. How? Take a look at this section here:

Share What do you suppose happens when you click on the number of shares so far? It shows you a list of everyone who shared the Page, image, or post, which in turn gives you access to any public information on those people’s accounts, including geographic location, email addresses, websites, and even phone numbers. In the world of scam artists, this type of information is absolutely crucial, especially when the old method of acquiring that sort of information requires the purchase of mailing lists, which can be unreliable and expensive. By participating in these Facebook scams, you’re literally helping the scam artist! So what comes next after your Like and Share? Most likely they will have a link for you to click on that requires you to fill out a simple survey to enter completely. Like so:

Giveaway

Notice that the top three “offers” you have to complete involves installing something on your computer. Any time anyone tells you to install something so that you get something else for free, they’re either scammed or trying to scam you. The rest are surveys you need to fill out, which requires you to enter your email address, name, phone number, physical address, and date of birth. Getting this type of info from you is every scam artist’s wet dream! Not only that, let’s take a look at the privacy policy of these so called “survey” and “contest” sites:

privacy noticeShown above are the last 3 segments of a long privacy policy that basically says that you’re agreeing to let them sell or transfer your personal information to anyone, including third parties, if their company ever gets bought, merges with another company, creates an alliances with another company, etc. Oh, and also they can change their Privacy Policy at anytime without notice to you, because the onus is on YOU to come back and check the page. Any legitimate company or website worth their salt will send you a notice via email.

These types of scams are incredibly effective because they take advantage of the hype built up by official companies like Apple, who spent millions of dollars to generate hype and demand. Scam artists take advantage of this by using powerful and enticing terms like “FREE” (notice the all caps for emphasis), and “Giveaway”. Everyone wants free stuff; it’s a very basic marketing tactic that’s been around as long as commerce. Don’t participate in it. The battle to end the trade and sale of your personal information begins with you! Be mindful of marketing language, and more importantly, always be aware that scams are still a rampant problem. Every new social platform gives these crooks and criminals a new way to implement their old tricks. Remember: in the world of social media, protecting yourself also means protecting your friends and family.

Combating Fake Likes Starts With You

What’s more important to you: the number of likes you receive on your post or page, or the quality of the people who like your content? At first glance it might seem like the two are one and the same – post good content and the likes will come. However, there are some people and businesses out there who value popularity over content, vying for larger numbers rather than fostering a growing community. Rather than engage with existing customers, they opt for a shortcut: buying Likes.

To the average user, the business of buying Likes on Facebook might seem like a rare and shallow practice, but in reality it is rife amongst small businesses who don’t understand the nuances of social media. Yes, a larger number of Likes will give you an air of legitimacy, but you must understand one thing: fake likes cannot be undone. Not without Facebook’s auto-filters catching them and deleting them. And in the long run, it will only hurt your businesses, because social media revolves around one core mechanic: being social. You can’t be social with dummy accounts.

So what does a typical fake Like account look like? At first glance it will look like a normal user with a profile picture, cover photo, an about section – all the trappings of a real live person. But take a look at their timeline and you will notice one trend: the account has hundreds, maybe even thousands of pages that it Liked but hardly any personally posted content. These “interests” the account has accrued has no rhyme or reason, as they are used and reused until they are flagged and deleted.

How does this harm your business? Facebook’s algorithms take into account many deciding factors in your followers’ demographic, including age, gender, geographical location, and interests. By analyzing this data, the site decides whether or not your posted content is relevant to them, which in turn affects your organic reach (unpaid visits/views dished out to your followers). If your followers are mostly fake, then you are reaching, or attempting to reach, fake accounts. You will find no business there. As a result, your engagement suffers, and your overall page suffers.

What can you do about this? Just don’t buy Likes. You’d literally be throwing money away by actively participating in a scam. While you’re at it, file this under “worst practices”.

When You TELL Your Story, You SELL Your Story

Every once in a while it’s nice to see a credible source confirming your ideas on marketing and social media, namely how you should approach supposed “best practices” that seem to rehash the same strategies over and over again. It makes you wonder if there has been any progress in the industry, or if the writers of these articles are just summarizing other people in a huge circle of paraphrasing that leads nowhere. In any case, I’ve always pushed for companies to use social networks in a very basic way: as a social network rather than just a marketing tool. This means your company or business needs to have a personality. It needs to have a story. Check out this TED Talk with Simon Sinek, says “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The most important circle, the center of everything, is WHY you do something, and that’s where your story comes in. The “why” does not mean “to make a profit”, but rather a personal statement on what you’re trying to achieve independent of whether or not people want to buy your product. What does your company’s mission mean to you, CEO? What special significance does the product have for you, Social Marketer? Look at number two on this Forbes article titled “Increase Customer Acquisition by 400% With Storytelling“: Be a trusted person not trying to sell something. This incredibly important method of utilizing social networks for marketing purposes requires you to be a person whose personality emulates that of an expert fan of your company. You need to be as enthusiastic about your product as your most loyal customer, providing information in palatable, easy-to-understand terms, as well as an inside look at the company’s inner workings. The person you hire to fill this roll needs to be an inside source for your audience, a spy that can give them exclusive information in a seemingly secretive way, but also on a highly visible stage: social media sites. Be human. Sound human. Something as simple as a reminder any questions can be handled through private messaging or even a form on your site will create an open and welcome environment for your target audience. Once you find a healthy balance between human activities and company marketing, you’re going to reach people in a more meaningful way.

Are Businesses the Bane of Social Networks?

The support of big corporations means big money for any site, especially social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but does business involvement ruin the social experience for everyone? I think so. If you introduce money and profit into social networking, then the entire package becomes a business. The social network needs revenue to pay for ever-expanding server and maintenance costs, and businesses want to advertise to as many people as possible; what better way to do so that with social media? It’s where people focus their attention, not only during downtime, but also during work, on lunch breaks, and any time a free moment presents itself. We are a connected generation, and for that reason alone we are being sold to the highest bidder, often from right under our noses. Most people don’t even realize it?

So what about you is being sold? Information, of course. Every time you visit a site, click a link, click into and out of a social network, or read an article, data about you is being collected using tracking cookies. Your behavior, your likes and dislikes, the activities and interactions between you and your family – all of this is being monitored, quantified, and studied in order for corporations to advertise to you more effectively. Why are clickbait articles so rampant? Because people on social networks are clicking on them. Each site featuring these clickbait articles and lists knows exactly where you came from, who shared the referral link, how long you spent on their site, and how often you click on similar articles. They then pay Facebook advertising money to shove more of the same articles into your newsfeed. Don’t you ever wonder why ads seem to only feature things you’ve looked at or are interested in? It’s because you’re being watched.

When a social network cares more about the money it makes and less about the communities it fosters and the connections its users make with each other, it starts to show over time. Facebook’s Pages now longer have the organic (unpaid) reach it used to, because, according the Facebook admins, they want reduce SPAM. The people most affected by this: small companies, start-ups, and people who want to get a leg up in a vast community that used to be a treasure trove of potential followers. You can access the people you want to follow your Page…you just have to pay to make it happen. So no, Facebook, it’s not about reducing SPAM. You’re a multi-billion dollar company. You can find a way to fix this problem without hamstringing everyone who can’t afford to pay.

Facebook’s Real Name Policy

What name did you choose for your Facebook account? Apparently if it’s not your real name, as it is listed on your credit card, driver’s license, or student ID, you’re at risk of having your account deleted due to Facebook’s Real Name Policy. That’s right, if you have a nickname or any name the admins deem “fake” or “not real”, your account can be deleted without warning! The controversy began several days ago when some self-described drag queens and stage performers had their accounts deleted because they used their stage names and chosen names instead of their legal name. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? Not only does this alienate people who do not wish to be found on this ever-popular social network, it alienates the LGBT community. Furthermore, it seriously affects activists in other countries who go by pseudonyms to protect their livelihood, and even their lives! Your legal name may not be the one to which you identify yourself, and to force users to use their real/given names seems entirely arbitrary as a rule. Facebook has since responded to these complaints, stating that the policy will not be changed because it discourages “bad behavior” from potential troll users.

One possible solution given to stage performers who had their accounts deleted is to create a fan page. However, that completely kills the reach and connections they have with friends and family; if you’ve been reading my blog and following Facebook’s organic reach policy, you will see that a Page’s reach has dwindled to numbers as low as 2%. This “solution” farther alienates the people forced to make a Page because they’re refused a user account, because with the current reach algorithms, they’d be a member of Facebook but almost completely disconnected from their friends. Unless they pay money. That’s how Page reach works nowadays.

I don’t know what Facebook’s thinking, but they seem to be pushing their users to move on to other, newer social networks like Ello (I’m a member now!). What is your take on the Real Name Policy?

An Ad-Free Social Network? What’s Your Deal, Ello?

ello2Have you heard of Ello? I recently found out about this brand new social network that’s currently in a beta phase. If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you will know that I am a staunch advocate for online privacy, especially against advertisers and sites that will sell your personal information to the highest bidder for the purpose of flashing banner ads in your face. Some of the largest offenders of this philosophy: social networks. Ello, however, seems to be a proponent of the user’s right to privacy, claiming in their manifesto that they do not and will not ever have advertising on their site. For this reason, they and the people who back this social network have dubbed it the “Anti-Facebook”. At first I was suspicious. If they become as popular as Facebook, how will they pay for all their server costs? Every company needs to generate some sort of revenue in order to keep their operations running, right? Their About page explains it all.

It appears Ello will be running on a Freemium platform, which many people have seen in the gaming industry. For those unfamiliar with the term, freemium platforms offer a base service free of charge, but with special features in the form of microtransactions. In other words, you have the initial account for free, but if you want small special features, you need to pay a small sum of money to have it. I am a gamer myself, so the freemium motto is no news to me, nor is it a practice that I support; most freemium games include tons of advertising to generate their revenue. In Ello’s case, it appears it may be a necessary practice for the purpose of generating revenue, since they won’t include any advertising.

My verdict: I will request an invitation. Hopefully I will be able to join and see what features they offer and compare them to Facebook’s functions. I will also be keeping an eye on what the base service offers and what paid special services will be available in the future. Hopefully they will be very separate functions that don’t look like they should be a part of the base service. You know, stuff like paying $3 to streamline your menus so that anyone who paid for this special service will have a much more convenient time navigating the site, whereas the base service members have a nearly unusable platform. Keep this in mind, Ello: don’t make the paid services a necessary feature for your users to have a satisfactory experience. The network itself should stand on its own!