Is Advertising on Facebook Really Effective?

eMarketer has predicted a 39% increase in advertising spend on Facebook for 2010.  The popularity of advertising on social networks is primarily based on the notion that sites like Facebook  have a great deal of data on their users and this information can be exploited to deliver highly targeted ads to its huge user base. In theory, it makes a great deal of sense. Afterall, users are going crazy and sharing every little detail of their personal lives on these sites so why not leverage that information for marketing to them? In fact, Facebook goes on to claim that businesses should advertise on the site because:

“People treat Facebook as an authentic part of their lives, so you can be sure you are connecting with real people with real interest in your products.”

If that’s true, it’s absolutely baffling why the site serves up inane and irrelevant ads when you browse through it. Take a look at the ads on these 2 fan pages – Microsoft and BMW. You’ll notice that ads on the right have no relation to the content on these fan pages. One’s pitching designer handbags (never mind that I am looking at a software fan page) and the other one serves up  a list of ads with the only unifying theme being they all have pictures of women (Did I mention that I am a woman?! How clever of them to figure that out).

 Microsoft Fan Page


BMW Fan Page

As if those 2 examples weren’t enlightening enough, the ads on the Harvard Business Review fan page are just mind-boggling. I am baffled as to the connection between HBR and pets. And no, there’s no information in my Facebook profile about my imaginary or real pets.

One would think there are advertisers in similar or related categories who would be interested in marketing to the same audience but apparently, that’s not the case on Facebook. Of course, one can just blame the clueless advertisers who don’t know how to optimize their targeting but when you look at the target filters Facebook offers, you soon realize their limitations. The site says you can,

“Target your exact audience with demographic and psychographic filters about real people.”

I am a “real” person, a female of “certain age” who also happens to be interested in luxury cars and operating systems (gasp!). Under Facebook’s current ad model, no matter which page/group I am on, it only serves up ads based on my profile. As an user, it’s annoying but as an advertiser, I would be very concerned about displaying ads to an uninterested audience and with zero context.

So here’s my theory: Facebook either has a very low inventory of ads and that’s why they cycle through the limited number of available but irrelevant ads or the ad targeting model is fundamentally flawed. In either case, I seriously doubt that advertising on Facebook is any more effective  than other advertising options like paid search or contextual ads on traditional sites.

I’ll try to get some data from businesses who’re currently advertising on Facebook and post the findings here as a follow up. If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below.


Top 5 Social Media Predictions for 2010

Here’s my first blog post for 2010 with my top 5 predictions for how social media will evolve in the new year.

#1 Social media will no longer be just another way of driving buzz but will become an integral part of a company’s marketing mix. As social networks mature, companies too will get smarter about their engagement on social networks and start focusing on the ones most relevant to their target market.

#2 This year, we’ll see social media measurement slowly move from raw metrics such as number of fans/followers to business metrics like brand awareness and customer loyalty.  Engagement metrics will become more important than volume and quality of relationships will trump all.

#3 The number of social media “experts” and related services will continue to grow exponentially but in this world of increased competition, these “experts” will have to prove how their expertise can drive business results.

#4 There will be  an increase in location-based social networks, thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and growing popularity of services like FourSquare, Gowalla, and others.

#5 Last but not the least, we’ll see emergence of new technologies and services designed to help large companies integrate social media activities into their backend processes, be it CRM systems or customer support centers.

Feel free to add your predictions below. Happy new year and decade!! 🙂

Using Twitter for Customer Service in the Enterprise

There have been many innovative uses for Twitter since its inception, including finding out when your plants need watering  and many more creative uses are being devised even as you’re reading this post. On the business side, many firms are faced with the conundrum, whether they should use one account to handle all their customer inquiries, sales, promotions, and overall customer engagement. Or whether they should have a separate account dedicated solely to handling customer inquiries and leverage Twitter as a full-fledged customer support channel?

It makes good business sense to help your customers, regardless of where the query originates and for smaller companies, setting up a dedicated support forum on Twitter may be a no-brainer. However, for a large enterprise, it becomes much more challenging because of the sheer volume of queries received on a daily basis and related customer expectations. Here are some practical considerations for a medium to large-size enterprise before they start on their journey down the rabbit hole.

#1  Begin at the beginning…
By now, every organization with any credibility has a presence on Twitter in some shape or form. To determine whether or not to use that presence to handle customer queries, start with an investigation of the support queries your organization gets from Twitter. It’s not just the volume of queries, also analyze nature of queries to see if  you’re getting certain types of support questions more than others. For example: If you have an existing channel or support line for segment A customers, yet you see significant number of questions coming from them via Twitter, that’s an indicator that your customer behavior is shifting or your existing channels aren’t working or it could be a combination of both. Use the data to determine the business case for building out your customer support on Twitter.

 #2 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat! How I wonder what you’re at?
If you’re a sizeable organization, you should already have an existing customer support center/s and related processes. Think about where  Twitter fits into your existing business processes and other Twitter accounts. The critical issue to consider here is whether you’re planning to replace the existing channel/process, supplement it or just address the occasional queries that come up via  Twitter. If your plan is some variation of the first two options, then you should put some thought into how to eliminate redundancies and avoid multiple staff members answering the same query. Include status tracking as part of your process to make sure you’re measuring the number of queries and whether they were resolved within an acceptable time frame. If you decide to handle queries as they come up using your existing Twitter account, you will still need to get some process in place to make sure the queries go to the right person/team for resolution.

#3 No wonder you’re late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.
Regardless of which approach you take, make sure you set clear expectation with your customers. Clarify in your Twitter account description as to what type of inquiries you will accept through the given account and when they can expect a response. If it’s an urgent inquiry, provide them with clear instructions on your escalation process. Don’t assume your customer has the same definition of  a “reasonable” response time. Your turnaround time may be 48hrs but if the customer assumes it’s 24hrs, don’t be surprised if you  find angry tweets about your company’s unresponsive customer support, the very next day.

#4 Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.
One often overlooked item in the broadly prevalent social media mania is the all-important human resource question. Many organizations underestimate the time and effort needed to effectively manage and respond to queries through social channels, so the key is to leverage the existing organizational synergies where ever possible. Despite all good intentions, if you set up a Twitter support channel but don’t have the staff to handle queries in a timely manner, you may find yourself doing more harm or good. One way to handle this with a limited staff is to incorporate Twitter queries into your existing support processes. Assign queries from this new channel to your existing support staff and if you have some social media specialists managing your account, make sure they know where to route the queries internally. While, you will have to provide the jnitial training and set up the   processes, but it will allow you to take advantage of pre-existing efficiencies and also give you some time to map out your plan for meeting potential increase in queries from this new channel.

#5  …But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?
Last but not the least, the question to consider is whether the Twitter platform can scale with your needs. Using the Twitter platform as a supplementary promotional or sales channel is not the same as using it as a customer support channel, since latter often involves dissatisfied customers. I am sure you’re very familiar with the infamous Twitter Fail Whale and Twitter’s “unscheduled” down times.  So if you decide to use Twitter as your primary support channel, always bear in mind that if the Twitter site goes down (which is always a possibility), you will have some unhappy customers who can’t get to your Twitter account to have their issues resolved so make sure you have a back up plan in case of that eventuality.There is no right or wrong answer here, the decision on whether to have your company’s customer support account on Twitter should be made based on your customer and business needs. However, defining your plan upfront will help define your staffing needs as well as routing of the queries and how they should be handled. But the bottom line is to make sure that all queries, regardless of the channel, are routed to and handled by the appropriate team/s within a reasonable time frame.


The Tide is Turning for Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

Steve Wylie, General Manager for Enterprise 2.0 conference set an optimistic tone for the keynote speeches at the inaugural event in San Francisco, California. In his assessment of the current state of Enterprise 2.0, Wylie highlighted that the industry is maturing and it is no longer the domain of startups. Large players like Microsoft are leveraging their enterprise expertise and knowledge to move into this space.

Another observation he shared was the rise in professional services, which signifies the shift as enterprises move from the technology phase into adoption and implementation phase.

Tammy Erickson, President, nGenera Innovation Network, started with a bold and optimistic prediction that 2010 is going to be the year of “A-ha” for the enterprise executives who have been struggling with E 2.0 all this time. She outlined the challenges to Enterprise 2.o adoption,

For executives, E2.0 is like tsunami wave that’s overwhelming, they can’t figure out how to manage (basic, yet) critical issues like data security.

However, Erickson went on to say, that’s changing as executives move beyond the technology and understand the true business potential for this event. She also reiterated the need for executives to adopt and promote collaborative behavior to encourage E2.adoption in their organizations. She pointed out a huge shift in behavior where the E2.0 discussions have moved from technology/tools  to  serious dialogues on business implication.

Christian Finn, Director of SharePoint Product Management, Microsoft followed up with a mock “speed dating” skit designed to highlight that the software giant is serious about E2.0 with the addition of truckload of social features to SharePoint 2010.

The skit itself was wholly uninspired but what was very intriguing was the promise to deliver the best of both worlds. On the “social” side, Microsoft’s promising a slew of social features like streaming podcasts, real-time news feeds, ratings, commenting, and even social tagging. All backed by the company’s experience and expertise in enterprise software and content management system.

SpeakerAndrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist from MIT Sloan School of Management followed up with a stellar speech on what the champions of E2.0 are doing wrong.
McAfee said the tide is turning on E2.0 adoption as the success stories and case studies continue to mount. However, the evangelists are doing a huge disservice to their cause by attacking  the enterprise because they should be working with the Enterprise 1.0 advocates rather than against them. Trying to replace them will just create more barriers to E2.0 adoption.
In their effort to be fair and transparent, many E2.0 vendors and champions over-emphasize the negative aspects and thereby scare off  the decision makers. The positives far outweigh the negatives and that’s something the champions need to constantly reiterate.
McAfee pointed out something that’s very obvious to the end-user but often overlooked by the vendors and that’s to keep things simple. E2.0 champions often fall in love with the features without considering whether or not it works for the end users. McAfee was emphatic,
“Your customers don’t need more bells and whistles”
He also cautioned the audience against the pitfalls of advocating and creating walled gardens within the enterprise because E2.0 is about collaboration and these silos defeat the purpose. 
Another key point he highlighted was the attempt to replace the email was self-defeating because E2.0 and email serve two different purposes, to try to replace email was futile because for all its flaws, email works okay for most enterprises.
Another critical flaw he pointed was overuse (abuse) of the word “social”, as that word has a negative connotation for business leaders. He gave the example of executive who made it very clear that,  “I am not running a social club, I am running a business.”  So, champions need to make sure they don’t oversell the social features of E2.0 but rather focus on the business implications for an effective pitch.
The last (but not the least) speech was from Rob Tarkoff, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Business Productivity Solutions at Adobe. He also started off with a provocative statement that,
“”Enterprise Software is Failing”
According to Tarkoff, the full potential of E2.0 has yet to be realized. He gave a real example of how social web can be used in a very traditional industry like healthcare for real-time collaboration and provide exceptional service to end consumer. He went on to say how Adobe’s focus is on creating end-to-end user engagement while giving due attention to the “on ramps” or the devices that consumers use to access the information.

Why Social Media will not Save Bad Content

I’ve blogged in the past on why social media won’t save your business and I’ll say the same thing about bad content. Social media is powerful in amplifying your messages and increasing the reach of your content BUT, it will not save your bad content.

If your audience didn’t want to read your content when you sent it via email, why presume they’ll read it just because it’s on Twitter? Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you get on the social media band wagon to pitch your content:

#1 Test your content: Experts typically start by asking you to “Create great content”. As if  anyone deliberately creates bad content?! However, the shockingly high levels of bad marketing messages even in this day and age, highlight that many marketers still don’t get the importance of good content. If  your content is uninteresting and irrelevant your customers are NOT going to read it even if it’s on some “cool” social network. Always test your content. Make sure it resonates with your target audience and if your unsubscribe rates are going through the roof, you know you have a problem and it’s probably not the medium.

#2 Be adventurous with different media types: Once you have the “good content” part down, then it’s time to test out different media types because sometimes the wrong media can get in the way of a good message. Test different types of media formats to find the best way to share your content. Podcasts are a great way to connect with an audience that’s always on the move, while short demo videos are highly popular among the tech crowd. Both may be good options depending on your audience, instead of  lengthy documents that no one wants to read. Here again, let your customers lead the way and be fanatical about tracking the viewer/download metrics to see what worked well (or didn’t) for your audience.

#3 Location, Location, Location!  Last but not the least, it’s not just about content and media but also where you place the content is just as critical. If your target audience is on LinkedIn but you post your content on Facebook, don’t be surprised to get low response rates. While millions of folks may share pictures on a specific social network, but that’s not necessarily where they go to find information about your company’s products/services. Wrong messaging on the wrong platform will get you guaranteed mediocre results.

What some marketers tend to overlook, in their enthusiasm to embrace social media, is that there’s no substitute for understanding your customer’s behavior patterns – both online and offline. Knowing what information your customers want and how they want to get it, is the key to successful messaging. Regardless of which social media network you use to promote your content, don’t forget the basics: Make it relevant, make it easy to find, and easy to consume. It’s really as simple as that!


Tips for Tech Entrepreneurs: Moving out of the Coffee Shop










At the inaugural SF East Bay New Tech Meetup last week, Lawrence Coburn, the founder and CEO of Rate It All, gave aspiring entrepreneurs some valuable tips for “getting out of the coffee shop” and getting VC funding. Coburn’s venture – Rate It All, an online distributed consumer rating company, that allows users to find, share and solicit opinions on any topic, completed a $1.4M raise in September 2008.

Here are 4 key elements, according to Coburn, that a venture needs in order to get funding:

Solid Team: When Coburn initially kicked off his venture, he had meetings with many VCs who liked his business plan but weren’t ready to invest in his company because he was a one-person operation. The reality is that it’s risky for VCs to fund solo operations because if the entrepreneur got “hit by a truck” tomorrow, the venture and their investment would go down the drain. So Coburn made the point that VCs are most likely to fund a venture with a solid team and a clear game plan for succession to keep things going if anything goes wrong.

Product: A key point that Coburn brought to everyone’s attention was that VCs will no longer fund business plans  or concepts, so the venture needs to have a solid product or service that’s marketable. Given the competition for the VC funds, having a plan is just not enough as the funding will go to an existing product or service with a clear marketing strategy because that translates into lower risk for the VCs.

Traffic: Even when Coburn was working out of a coffee shop, Rate it All was revenue generating, making over $200K and yet, he couldn’t get funding right away. So, while revenue-generation is great, but it’s still not a guarantee that your venture will get funded. Having a revolutionary product or service is a good first step but to get funding, entrepreneurs need to make sure they’re focused on generating traffic right away (and revenue would be nice too).

Comfort level and Trustworthiness: Last but not the least, VCs want to fund someone they trust and are comfortable working with. This was a very insightful tip by Coburn and that was VCs need to have a certain level of comfort doing business with you – the entrepreneur. It also helps to be known in the industry and connecting with influencers who can help your cause. Some ways of making those connections and increasing your visibility is through speaking engagements and attending networking mixers where you have the opportunity to meet some of the influencers. He also said that inviting some of these influencers as advisors on your firm’s board will also add credibility to your new venture.

Overall, it was a brilliant talk by one of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest entrepreneurs. Coburn also went on to list several key technologies that are revolutionizing the online space including – Facebook Connect,Posterous, and the very well-known micro-blogging site – Twitter. Despite all the new technologies on the market today, Coburn reiterated that email still remains widely popular and is the primary way folks share online content today. He also pointed out that 90% of Rate It All’s 1.3million traffic comes from natural search so businesses shouldn’t underestimate the power of SEO either.


Why Social Media ROI is Still Elusive

eMarketer reported yesterday that marketers still aren’t measuring the investment on their social media investments,

Despite widespread adoption of social media, measurement still lags. Only 16% of those polled said they currently measured ROI for their social media programs.

Lately, it’s become very fashionable to talk about the ROI on social media. You hear the dreaded term everywhere – at conferences, in meetings, on research reports, at your child’s daycare (no kidding) so the question begs to be asked and answered – Why is social media ROI so elusive?

So, here are my top reasons (and please feel free to add your own below in the comments):

#1 This report and many others are making a very flawed assumption – these reports assume social media is a “program” and it needs to be justified like any other short-term program or campaign. Newsflash: Social media is not just a program, it’s a fundamental shift in way your customers and employees consume information and communicate. Social media is fast becoming as ubiquitous as email and when’s the last time your IT department did a ROI analysis on your email network?

#2 Should you measure, track the results on your social media activity? Absolutely! However, you’ll find that with any new channel, the “I” will always be substantially higher because you’re still making investments in this new media and may not have realized any of the efficiencies yet, so any ROI analysis on the new media is skewed. 

#3 In many cases, it doesn’t even make sense to do the financial analysis on some social media activities because it’s pretty much, the cost of doing business. Here’s an example: Adding social sharing tags to your email so your customers can share your marketing email with their friends and family on some social network is a no-brainer and as essential as providing an URL link to your website. It doesn’t justify a ROI analysis, although I would recommend analyzing the click-through/share rate. This is something you should do in any case, regardless of whether or not, any social tag is included.

#4 Having a blog or Twitter account is not a social media strategy. Social media success is dependent on the sum of different parts. Just like you wouldn’t utilize just one traditional channel to market your product or services, it’s ridiculous to think that one Twitter account or a blog by itself is somehow going to generate ROI overnight. That’s why it’s essential to remember that not everything that’s important in business (and in life) can be measured and just because  you can measure it, doesn’t make it important or relevant.

#5 I’ve blogged about this before, but social media will not solve your pre-existing business problems.

A guy goes to the doctor with a broken arm and asks, “Doc, can I play the piano once my arm has healed.”

The doc says, “Of course, you can!” 

The guy says, “Great, I never knew how to play (the piano) before.”

Bottom line, if you weren’t able to accurately track the results from your traditional marketing activities because of your internal tracking/lead management issues, you’re not magically going to start doing it just because you’re using social media.

One reality that most ROI proponents gloss over is that even the most traditional, established media activities don’t have a clear defined ROI. Not to pick on events but let’s look at event sponsorships like Golf tournaments etc.?  How on earth do companies measure the ROI on those or even television ads for that matter?!

Attribution was an issue with traditional media and it will continue to remain an issue, no matter which media you choose.

Trying to assign a specific dollar amount to any social media marketing activity is an exercise in futility because individually these activities are weak but done in coordination, these can move the needle. That’s also why marketing is still part science and part art.

Rather than looking at ROI on specific social media activities, marketers should be looking at their key business objectives, selecting/incorporating the right social media elements to meet those objectives, and then evaluating the overall results. Ultimately, what matters is not whether the social media activity was a success but whether the business objectives were met.