Thursday, May 30, 2013

Social couponing and the Sundance Kid

In my favorite film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, there's a scene where the heroes step off a train at a rural town in Bolivia. Sundance takes a few steps into the plaza, and promptly steps into cow dung -- while Butch extols how much more they can buy with their stolen dollars and pesos.

Sundance surveys the run-down plaza, looks at Butch, and says: "What could they have here that you'd possibly want to buy?"

The scene comes to mind (minus the cow dung) every time I get an email from AmazonLocal, Groupon, or LivingSocial. Each of these online deal aggregators uses the power of social networking and deal-making with retailers to offer half-price deals to members. Call it social couponing.

Ninety percent of these deals are things I would never, ever buy. Even after I've customized my Groupon settings. I've purchased one or two of these offers. The majority, however, are for goods or services I don't find valuable.

Is this a $20 burger?
One example: each of these sites invariably offers a half-price deal on bar food (burgers, wings) and beverages (beer, soda).

That's fine, if you dine at taverns. But most bar food is overpriced and hastily prepared. So the $20 coupon you bought for $40 of retail value really buys about $10 worth of food -- a meal you could prepare better and less expensively yourself, without leaving a tip.

Coupons don't build your reputation or brand. They rarely build relationships. Coupons, whether printed or e-tailed, do one thing: they entice you to try out a merchant you might not ordinarily visit yourself.

To paraphrase Sundance: do social couponing sites sell anything you'd really want to buy?

Also: merchants don't like them. One merchant asked me simply to skip Groupon next time, and call him directly. He'd give me the Groupon discount in person, thus saving himself the percentage he pays to Groupon to post his offers. He wants a relationship with me, the consumer -- not with Groupon.

Social networking (which is how Groupon-like sites wish to be viewed) should work to build relationships. Paying half-price for over-valued items isn't the way to grow your brand, or create value with first-time customers.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Forgotten roses: lost content

An effective PR strategy requires leveraging social media to drive visits to richer content: blogs, videos, podcasts, infographics, etc. Create great content, and you give a human identity to an otherwise faceless business or organization.

But, the content must be rich and active. And, if you once used Alta Vista for online search, you know that, like early roses, nothing online is forever.

Recently I revisited my list of links to blogs and other websites that carry content I’d created. To be certain the URLs were accurate, I clicked each link. More than a few articles – mostly posts I’d written for company blogs – had been vaporized.

Broken links? Worse. After digging, I discovered the hosting service that managed the blogs had folded. The client company (the one with their name on the website) hadn’t restored its missing content, or explained where it had gone. With the hosting service’s servers inoperative, a large chunk of their blog content – the “real people” stories that gave the organization a human identity – was indefinitely marooned, somewhere in cyberspace.

Is this a tragedy? Blogs and podcasts aren’t the raison-d’ĂȘtre of most websites. But, your Tweets and Facebook posts live on and on, guiding them to the payoff: your content. When followers reach a dead-headed page that doesn’t deliver promised content, their opinion of the company quickly sours. They go elsewhere.

If you’re responsible for shepherding your organization’s web content, safeguarding that content should be a priority. And maintaining relationships with your followers is essential. You owe them some explanation or apology for the broken links. And you should indicate if any steps are underway to restore the missing content.

Monday, May 13, 2013

How many public relations hats do you wear?

How many hats do you wear in PR? Counselor? Writer? Media negotiator? Strategist?

Here's one more: ethicist. we need more authenticity. In PR. On Facebook. And maybe in life.

Brian Solis, who blogs about the impact of culture, technology and business, thinks there's room for much more transparency online. Brian had an interesting take on authenticity in public relations and social media, which you can read here.

He argues for disclosing your relationship with a client or company if you write a personal blog or reviews about that company's products. Brian's post doesn't directly talk about the 2006 "Wal-marting Across America" scandal, captured here. But the connection's clear.

Fast-forward; in 2013, authenticity is on the ropes again. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, enable unbridled "liking" and "following" of products, brands, and services. When we cheerily agree to use a Facebook app, we often give it permission to "post on your behalf." That means a birthday calendar app or even "Words with Friends" can post something as YOU -- and you did nothing to initiate that process.

I didn't sign up for that. And I'm betting you didn't either. Except you did.

The worst offenders: word-puzzles that "bet you can't name a state without the letter 'E'," or something similar. Harmless trivia? When you add your answer, the traffic tally rises for the original account holder. Often, it's a radio station goosing its Facebook stats so the site's algorithms give it more exposure.

Is it authentic? Hardly. Should you wash your hands after using Facebook? Yes, you should.

Much the way "Good Morning America" asks viewers to describe their week in three words, I counsel PR clients and colleagues with three words: tell the truth. Ivy Ledbetter Lee said, "Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn't like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want."

Ivy Lee had his conflicts, to be certain. So will Mark Zuckerberg. But with authenticity taking a beating, PR practitioners should do more to counsel their clients to be transparent when using social media to tell their stories.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Finding your voice on social media

This started out as some informal recommendations I shared with a colleague at a large not-for-profit institution. As with many large enterprises, not all areas within the organization get the online visibility they desire. My friend's area wants to earn some visibility with prospective customers -- but the "mother ship" organization's social media strategy doesn't provide the ability to promote individual departments or divisions.

Here's what I shared with my colleague:

Facebook would be an OK place to purchase ads, if that's where your target audience is looking -- and if they will take action based on your ads. When I visited (your department's) Facebook page, I saw 430 views, but just 24 "likes". You want the 'likes' to grow, because they show up on other people's Facebook feeds.

For comparison, a small local non-profit's Facebook page has 64 likes. It's much smaller than your organization, so word of that page spreads via word-of-mouth and some viral visitors who 'like' that page. The small non-profit doesn't spend money to advertise it.

Much of the advertising on Facebook is geared toward selling products or promoting services. There's nothing wrong with this strategy. But I've seen Facebook users grow annoyed at the influx of ads, and they'll download browser add-ons that effectively block most display ads on Facebook.

Connect your social media with content

If it were me, I'd devise a "feed strategy" that revamps and orchestrates your department's Twitter feed, LinkedIn, and other social media channels together to drive people to your "featured" content. Many of your department's Twitter posts should lead your followers to richer, more experiential content. That's content marketing, and those who follow your links expect a payoff in the form of useful or engaging content on your website or Facebook page.

This calls for a steady stream of posts. You can set up the Twitter feed to redirect posts onto Facebook, too. For this to "catch fire," the frequency of "rich posts" can help increase the modest number of followers for your department on Twitter.

But first, you need to answer some bigger questions:

  • What's the department head's objective of using social media? You must set goals and objectives.
  • Does he want to increase constituent engagement for networking and development? Does he want to increase the flow of new applicants? Does he want recognition from conventional news media? You need to prioritize and set expectations.
  • Does he want to get a larger share of mind among companies that may hire alumni of your organization, or offer internships? What persuasive messages will generate actions consistent with his goals?
Once you've addressed these questions, there needs to be a commitment to populate, listen, and engage via these social media channels. And make them work together to create a common voice. It's not "pay and pray," which is what much of online advertising boils down to. Social media needs to work to create relationships with the audiences it seeks to influence.
And that, my friend, means devoting staff resources to this effort. People don't build relationships with Twitter handles; they build relationships with other people.