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Retrospect – 6 Undeniable Marketing Truths Learned in 2012

by Jonathan Barrick

Another year, another look back.

2012 was a year of contention in marketing. Debates raged on many fronts, but none were more heated than the battles on two particular topics: Social Media ROI & Influence Scoring. Other issues came and went throughout the year as well, such as what kind of metrics marketers should be using, and if EVERY business really needs to be using social tools.

Throughout all the fiery Tweets and divisive blog posts created through the last 12 months, however, I came to learn (at the very least) six key points that influenced me in 2012, and will continue to do so going in to 2013.

Behold! These six undeniable marketing truths are:

1: Influence Scores aren’t evil, but people are using them for evil things. – Klout, Kred, PeerIndex made some people stand up and cheer, and others reach for their pitchforks. There are few topics as divisive in marketing right now as influence marketing. Opponents raise valid points about the poor use of such scores in things like job interviews and as a credential to provide proof of expertise, and they’re right. Using a Klout score as the definitive measure of influence or expertise is just plain stupid, much in the same way that using an SAT score on its own without context is just as foolish. If you’re ever asked in an interview what your Klout score is, or if the job posts a ‘minimum required’ score, run away. That company is clueless. The text marketing platform can be helpful for companies to make their brand aware to public.

Where social scoring sites do some good, however, is as a starting point in identifying the most active, well-known personalities in social media related to a particular topic. ATTENTION: It’s absolutely essential to note that activity and visibility are NOT the same as influence, but what these numbers do is give you a place to start. Now that you’ve found these people, DIG DEEPER. Look at their content, connections, accomplishments, personality, and activity that surrounds them. Then, and ONLY then, will you have a somewhat valid picture of their true level of influence. Realizing what the tools actually do (measure activity & visibility) and using them accordingly where we need to go from here.

2: Blogs still matter, but only if they’re awesome. – Find me a better way for a company to showcase their personality, expertise, dedication, and professionalism alongside their appreciation of their customers, desire to improve, and commitment to their industry. I dare you. Bet you can’t find one, can you? They allow you to truly prove that your business is a leader by writing about things that matter to your customers, to your business, and to your industry. The catch? You have to publish good stuff, because junk content won’t do it.

A well-written blog that has a purpose, that is maintained regularly, and that stays relevant is one of the greatest brand-building tools a company can have. Quitting a blog after three months because ‘it’s not working’ is an all-too-common scenario for many businesses. To use the stereotypical analogy of social media ‘experts’ around the globe, a blog is a marathon, not a sprint. Building an audience and reputation takes time, as does refining your writing style and personality. Stick with it, and the benefits will be huge. Search engines love blogs and readers love blogs, so have one and make it awesome.

3: Social media does have ROI, but it’s not the same for every business. – Now this one ruffled a lot of feathers this year. Anti-ROI people claimed that social ROI is inherently unmeasurable. “How can you tie brand affinity to a dollar amount?” “What’s the ROI of your mother?”, etc. Pro-ROI people claimed that EVERYTHING can be tied back to a measurable return on the investment. You just need to look at the right clues.

The unavoidable conclusion: They’re both right. Not everything a business does ties directly back in to a sale, but everything a business does CAN be measured. What’s the time savings you’re achieving through social communications with customers? What’s the market research value of 30,000 Facebook fans? What’s the long-term loyalty aspect of social activities? Sometimes YES, you can measure in simple $, but sometimes you can’t. This doesn’t mean the return isn’t there. It just means you need to look deeper. How your business measures the ROI of social is up to your business. Start with what your goals are, and figure out how social is helping you meet them.

4: You can measure anything, but without context those numbers are useless. –
“We got 5,000 referrals from Google this month! YAY!” So what? What do you do now? How does knowing that you got 5,000 referrals from Google give you any idea whether your marketing is working or not? Marketing people have been tossing around generic, meaningless metrics for way too long and nobody’s said anything. Well, I get the distinct feeling that those kind of metrics just aren’t going to fly in 2013. Likes? Followers? Hits? Forget them, they aren’t helping. It’s time to dig deeper.

Need some examples? Try ‘Share of Search’. Google can tell you who many monthly searches occur for a specific set of keywords. How many of those searches does your web presence capture? This is your share of search. If it goes up, you’re doing something right. If it goes down, your competitors are. What search terms are you dominating with vs. what search terms are you failing with?

Need another one? How about ‘Social Sentiment’. Are your customers ranting about you or raving about you? What about your competitors? How does your sentiment rank against theirs, and what’s the share of conversation you’re capturing? CONTEXT is what makes metrics work. If the numbers don’t tell a story that helps you improve, they aren’t worth measuring.

5: Listening in social is not the same thing as paying attention in social. –
It’s really easy to set up alerts & social monitoring. Every time a keyword gets mentioned you get notified, but what happens then? Are you simply listening for your own name, or are you really paying attention to the conversation? One example I had the pleasure of observing recently illustrated just how easy it is to look stupid in social if you’re not paying close enough attention. A Twitter user sent out a sarcastic Tweet mocking a lame commercial, and the business responded (two days later, mind you) with a cheery ‘Thanks for the compliment!’. Suffice to say, the original tweeter thought it was pretty funny, and so did I, therefore it was immortalized with a blog post.

It was a tiny little tweet in amongst billions of others, but it shouted loud and clear “Yeah, we’re listening. Kind of. Mostly.” Set up the notifiers, but when you get notified THEN PAY ATTENTION. Social media monitoring tools can’t catch sarcasm, so be sure the person tweeting out the responses for your company can and will. It’s easy to set up the alerts, but it’s even easier to look silly. Be vigilant.

6: Yes, every business should be social, but in their own way. – The question isn’t whether businesses ‘NEED’ to be social. The question is ‘Why wouldn’t you want to be?’. Customers aren’t’ there? Please, just stop, because you know that they are. No time? BS. Nobody has time, you need to make time. Find where you’re wasting time and resources and shift them. Don’t have anything to say? Then you shouldn’t be in business. It’s not an all-consuming process to be social. Tweeting all day isn’t the answer. Plan it out and schedule it just like you plan out everything else you do for your business.

This isn’t about being all things to all people. You don’t have to be on EVERY social network, but you damn well better be wherever your customers are and where they want to see you. To paraphrase some guy named Scott Stratten, ‘Stop marketing to people the way you hate to be marketed to.’ Do you like sorting through piles of junk mail? Do you love clicking on banner ads? Do you live for the newest billboards? No. You love to check out cool pictures, interesting videos, and helpful articles. Give customers who like your business the same regard that you want from business YOU like; VALUE. Connect with them on their terms. Answer their questions, don’t push your agenda. Show them what they want, not what you feel like broadcasting. Educate, don’t preach. Be awesome, not annoying.

There you have it. Six points that shaped my view of marketing this year, and will no doubt be a factor going in to 2013. It will be quite interesting to see what the hot-button topics will be over the next twelve months. Will influence continue to divide marketers? Will ROI continue to be elusive and confusing? Or will marketers take the lessons learned in 2012 to heart and shake off the fear of abandoning comfortable, old-school, dollar-wasting marketing in favour of truly connecting with customers and giving them real value on their own terms? I know what I’m going to shoot for. How about you?

This article originally written for http://crowdshifter.com

Jonathan on Google+

Return On Influence – A Book Review


Whether you like it, love it or hate it, whether you agree or disagree with its philosophy or purpose, there’s no denying the fact that Klout and other social influence scoring sites are changing the way we all think about online influence and social media. This is the overarching theme of Mark Schaefer‘s latest book, “Return On Influence – The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing”.

There is a simple reason for the meteoric rise of social scoring sites like Klout, Peerindex, and the newest kid on the block, Kred. They promise to keep a running score on something that’s inherently elusive and extremely difficult to measure in any quantifiable way: How likely is it that you will affect behaviour and actions related to a specific topic?

It’s pretty easy to see why this would be valuable information to have. Being able to identify key influencers around specific topics would give businesses and individuals much greater ability to communicate precisely focused messages.

There is of course a great deal of debate around whether such a thing is actually measurable, and whichever side of that argument you fall on I’ll leave you to decide. Ultimately though, the perspective presented in this book will provide insight in to how the algorithms calculate influence scores, the different ways certain actions will affect your score, and how businesses are using these sites to their advantage.

Mark Schaefer does an excellent job in this book by looking at the popularity of Klout, PeerIndex and others as a simple reality of today’s online world. The bottom line is: These sites exist. If trends continue, it’s clear that they aren’t going away anytime soon, so you’d best understand what they do, how they work, and what they can mean for your business.

Schaefer presents both sides of the story through relevant anecdotes and personal experiences. You’ll hear stories of tremendous success along side stories of people gaming the system and being discriminated during job interviews because their scores aren’t high enough. You’ll also hear how social scoring companies like Klout are constantly working towards more effective measurements and minimizing the chance that the system can be gamed.

Social scoring is in its infancy, and as a result it’s sound advice to keep an open mind about it. Given the frequency with which new communication tools have appeared in recent years, I don’t think that anyone can guarantee a prediction about how the business of social scoring is going to play out. But this book gives clarity to some very muddy waters. Overall, Return On Influence is an excellent read, and it will certainly give you pause to rethink your position on influence scoring, regardless of whether your for it or against it.

Find ‘Return On Influence’ on Amazon

Note: This review was not solicited in any way, and my copy of Return On Influence was purchased.

This article originally written for http://crowdshifter.com

Measuring Online Influence – Ridiculously Subjective, Subjectively Ridiculous

Influential? Maybe. But influential about WHAT exactly?

Yes, once again we’re talking about the ultimate divisive topic: Measuring Online Influence. Now, up until just today you’d be very hard pressed to get me to agree that the commonly referenced ‘influence scores’ are anything but arbitrary numbers that depict nothing more than the level of activity observed across the social landscape.

However, my opinion of the logic behind the approach of various influence measurements is now in a state of flux, and it’s the result of the least likely (at least, from my point of view) person who would ever influence me about anything: Justin Bieber.

Personally, I think the ‘manufactured celebrity’ that is ‘the Biebs’ is ridiculous in all forms. And one would assume that his actual ‘influence’ would be negligible to anyone over the age of 15. However, influence is a very subjective term, and can really only be used when talking about influence over a particular topic or action. It needs to be placed in to context, or it just doesn’t make any sense.

Bieber has a perfect Klout score of 100, theoretically making him one of the most influential people online. But influential about what, exactly? What’s the context?

The context for this particular example? Instagram

Bieber posted his first Instagram photo (a shot of a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour) a couple of days ago, and within hours had gained over 1700 followers. Currenty, he sits at over 5300 followers, making him one of the most followed users on the photo sharing service.

According to this article:


“Bieber was picking up 50 Instagram followers a minute in the hours after joining, with one comment every 10 seconds – unprecedented numbers for Instagram, which has seven million users.”

It’s also easy to rationalize that of the 11 million followers he has on Twitter, a portion of them likely ‘discovered’ Instagram as a result and proceeded to download the app and begin using it. He’s essentially increased the speed of adoption of Instagram among a certain demographic (ie: that of his followers).

So, we can safely assume the following course of events:

  1. JB uses Instagram
  2. JB gains thousands of followers on his Instagram account
  3. Instagram gains users from his pool of followers on Twitter
  4. Instagram’s user base increases as more of JB’s followers join
  5. Perceived value of Instagram goes up incrementally as user base grows

It sounds completely ridiculous that one single user can drive such adoption of a photo sharing service, but the proof is there. Justin Bieber has influence over his followers to adopt a new social photo sharing service.

But as you can see, this is one very specific instance of how someone with ‘celebrity’ status can influence a large group of people to adopt a service that doesn’t cost anything to use, and has no barriers to adoption other than simply owning an iPhone. His influence over his followers in other areas is likely insignificant. For example, I don’t imagine he’s influencing people to vote for one particular party, or to choose a specific college, or to choose one brand of car over another.

In addition, the current influence measurement systems have no way to actually distinguish between a topic of actual influence, and one that just generates activity. The two are often mutually exclusive. For example, if you make a mention of ‘elephants’ in a funny tweet that gets spread around, and all of a sudden the current metric systems believe you’re influential about elephants. Hardly an accurate measure of your real online presence, however.
I think that when put in to context, a person’s Klout score, PeerIndex number, or TweetGrader level may actually have an accurate correlation. The problem is identifying that context, and determining if it was simply a one-shot instance, or realistically representative of that persons actual expertise.

What’s my point? Your Klout score or PeerIndex number is fun to see, but should NEVER be used as an actual measure of someones influential value. They simply measure activity, and at best, the likelihood that in a specific instance their endorsement may possibly encourage adoption of certain things. Bottom line: It’s just not possible to measure someone’s influence based solely on activity. There are far too many other factors that come in to play.

5 Awesome Reasons & 5 Terrible Reasons to Give +K on Klout

There’s been a great deal of talk recently about how the current iterations of ‘influence’ measurement don’t really measure the actual influence that individuals have over their followers. What they were really doing is simply extrapolating the amount and type of social media activities that the individual engages in, and then repackage them as a superficial measure of influence. For a while though, it’s all we had to use as a yardstick to compare how we were performing in the world of social media communications.

Now, Klout has introduced the +K system, which allows users to manually apply ‘influence’ to individuals based on certain topics of interest. It’s a definite step in the right direction. Now, rather than simply be based on the raw numbers of tweets, followers, and mentions, someone can be marked as influential on a topic based on their CONTENT and the effects that they have on their audience. In my opinion, this is a far more reliable measure of how influential someone is.

Of course, there are loopholes and ways to game the system. The first one that I’ve seen rear its ugly head is people flat out asking their followers to give them +K points. Really? Doesn’t this completely defeat the purpose of the +K system? If your followers don’t take it upon themselves to give you +K on their own volition, perhaps you’re not as influential on your topic as you may think you are.

Image linked from: http://www.socialfresh.com

This got me thinking about what would really be a good reason to give someone a bump with +K. Should you just give them to your friends? Should you give them to the most popular users in hopes that they notice your action and return the favour? Possibly.

But maybe, just maybe, we should be selective in who we give influence points. After all, don’t the people we recommend provide insight in to who we are and what we’re all about? If someone said they are influenced by some loudmouth malcontent who just posts drivel and garbage, my opinion of them may decline a little bit. Who we look up to is indicative of how we strive to be, so in the long run excessive generosity with +K points could reflect poorly on you.

Here are what I believe are 5 great reasons to give someone +K:

Image linked from: http://cooleycooley.blogspot.com

1 – They fascinate you

If someone continually posts articles that you absolutely must read, they may be deserving of +K. If they have a lifestyle or philosophy that you admire, they may be deserving of +K.

2 – They make a difference

If someone you follow is generous in their community, helping everyone without thought of reward, they may be deserving of +K. If someone you follow is dedicated to a charitable cause, and advocates for those who cannot advocate for themselves, they may be deserving of +K.

3 – They give you advice that you use

If you ask a question, and they give you a solution that you can use, and it works, they may be deserving of +K. If you take an article they wrote and actually apply the concepts to your everyday life, they may be deserving of +K.

4 – They are tremendously successful

If they continually win at anything they do, sharing the stories of their success as they go, they may be deserving of +K. If their customers/clients continually win as a result of working with this person, they may be deserving of +K.

5 – They give you ideas you never conceived of

If they share a new idea or concept that stops you in your tracks and say ‘WOW’, they may be deserving of +K. If they constantly surprise you with solutions to problems never before considered, they may be deserving of +K.

Now, with any type of reward system, however simple it may be, there will always be those who use it in awful ways that make kittens cry. Here are five of those ways:

Image linked from: http://rob.nu

1 – Giving +K to people who are already ranked at the top of a topic

Does giving Barack Obama +K for politics do anything for anyone? Not really. Does giving Starbucks a +K about coffee make others go ‘OK, maybe I’ll try it’? If they haven’t tried it by now, very few things will push them to change.

2 – Giving +K to people because they are your friends

We all want our friends to succeed, but you wouldn’t recommend them for a job they’d be terrible at, so don’t do the same here. If they don’t ACTUALLY influence you on the topic in question, don’t say that they do just to be nice. Everyone has something they’re great at, so if you’re going to give them points, do it on their real topic of influence.

3 – Giving +K to people solely because they gave it to you

It’s a nice gesture, but just don’t. I didn’t give you the +K just to get some from you. I really felt you were influential on a topic so I gave you a bump. If you’re just being nice, then say thanks, or start reading my blog and give me your feedback. Your opinion and comments are far more valuable than a ‘gimme’ to my Klout score.

4 – Giving +K to people to farm for your own +K

As indicated above, there are those who like to reciprocate when given appreciation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this instance it does more harm than good. If you purposely look for those individuals known for reciprocating and give them +K just to get more for yourself, you’re just gaming the system.

5 – Giving +K to gain popular Twitter followers

No secret: It’s hard to get the attention of some of the big Twitter personalities out there. Really, really hard. They get countless mentions and replies every day, so how do you break through the clutter? By doing something ‘extra’. Giving someone who is really popular a shot of +K could be the ‘nudge’ you need to get them to follow you back. If this is the only reason you’re doing it, then you’re flat-out doing it wrong. Do you really want to get followers by cheating? (Hint: Please say ‘no’.)

So there you have it. For the first time, measures of online influence can finally have some kind of ‘meat’ to them. But just like any other metric, they can easily be skewed to the advantage of unscrupulous individuals, rather than used for their intended purpose. I sincerely hope that the majority of users out there really make use of the +K system as the creators of it clearly intended: To place the power of real influence measurement in to the hands of the community. We finally have the ability to effectively gauge influence based on the effects of the content being produced. Let’s not ruin it, ok? Thanks!