Social Media As A Living Focus Group

There's an old saying that loosely goes "bad press is better than no press". It's better to be known for something, good or bad, than to be unknown. Or so the theory goes. And due to social media marketing that theory is being put to the test all the time now.

Take for example the latest campaign for Dr. Pepper Ten, a new diet drink that boasts only 10 calories. Their campaign theme is aimed directly at men, and their Facebook page is branded in kind with the "Dr. Pepper 10 Man'Ments"--a code of how to live life like a real man. The all-man-all-the-time approach is familiar--many brands have gone down this road before with varying degrees of success--and even goes so far as to offer the tagline "It's Not For Women". Ok we get it. It's a man's drink with only 10 calories. But that is not what Dr. Pepper is now known for.

Spend a few minutes on their Facebook page and you'll find that Dr. Pepper Ten is now the big instigator in the most recent battle of the sexes. 10.6 million people have liked their page as of this writing--this is enough to make any CMO smile--but an unofficial analysis of their wall comments tells a different story. Alternating in almost a perfect back-and-forth debate, comments range from the defensive ("I'm a woman and I'll never drink this misogynistic soda") to the offensive ("if you don't like it, get back in the kitchen and make my dinner"), from the analytic ("this campaign will kill your sales") to the humorous ("as a lesbian, am I manly enough to drink this?"). This is enough to make any CMO cringe. Or maybe not. Maybe they intended to cause a controversy to rally people around their drink.

In one sense, marketing's job is to create brand awareness and increase sales. This campaign certainly raised awareness (10.6 million people are definitely aware of the campaign), and likely prodded their target audience (men) to buy the product. It definitely alienated some women, but there were plenty of comments from women who shrugged off the controversy and declared their affinity for the brand ("laughing at this *fake* controversy--it's a joke people! Going to chug a Dr. Pepper 10 right now!"). Even some men were offended, but they remained engaged ("going to check back tomorrow to see how Dr. Pepper has ruined women's lives").

The bottom line will be the sales figures, but the line just above the bottom line simply cannot be ignored: more than 10.6 million people know about the new drink. For better or for worse, this very public airing of instant reactions to a marketing campaign mark the rise in power of the consumer. Now when you launch a campaign you get an immediate reaction that is quantifiable and qualifiable. There is no silent majority in social media marketing because the message now gets shaped after the launch by the audience, just as much as the agency creatives and planners who developed it. Dr. Pepper launched a men-only campaign, but women have taken over the message surrounding the campaign to a large degree. The campaign is now a controversy, and garnering plenty of earned media coverage on top of it. The continuing dialog surrounding this campaign will ultimately determine how long it lives or how soon it dies because it is being tested in-market. And the results are coming in every second.

The influence an audience has over what a brand does goes beyond a marketing campaign. Recently there was so much social media backlash against Netflix and their plans to launch a brand for their DVD-only subscriptions called Qwikster, that they scrapped the whole idea before it even launched. What this tells us is that brands are listening to their customers more than ever before. Not because they're suddenly more interested, but because now they have this real-time ability to track and measure audience reaction and response.

Social media is the world's most dynamic focus group.


The ABCs Of F-Commerce

E-Commerce is the process of developing, marketing, selling, delivering, servicing and paying for products and services on the internet. Typically, this means building a website to interact and transact with your customers. Your marketing drives people to the site, and the experience those customers have on the site will largely determine the chances of them coming back.

But “F-Commerce”, or Facebook Commerce, is different from E-Commerce. It’s almost the reverse perspective of E-Commerce in that customers and prospects are already on Facebook—it’s the marketer who must put their business there.

Facebook isn’t a website, it’s an internet platform. It’s a daily destination for the vast majority of regular internet users, almost regardless of demographic categories. It’s a consumer behavior that is increasingly relevant in peoples’ lives (whether they will admit it or not, 750 million people can’t be wrong).

Some of the world’s biggest brands are selling their goods and services on Facebook, and industry watchers are predicting that in 5 years more sales will be transacted on Facebook than on Amazon. This isn’t hard to believe when you consider how many ways a marketer can do business on the world’s busiest internet portal:

F-Stores: Facebook’s development platforms allow brands to install widgets that convert their Facebook page to an online store, with the ability to tap directly into their e-commerce website and supply chain, process orders and payments, and manage their customer relationships.

Group Buying: Trade “likes” for dollars. Provide your Facebook followers special offers that get better with every person who clicks the “like” button associated with your offer. Or generate significant social network buzz by announcing that a special deal will “go live” when an X-amount of people click the “like” button. It’s not just word-of-mouth, it’s crowd-sourced purchasing power.

Exclusive Offers: With traditional e-commerce (not an oxymoron anymore) you can make special offers to a known group of people—the folks on your list. On Facebook your offers go directly to your page fans, and any action they take on your offer is announced and opened up to their social network. You don’t need to ask them to forward the offer to a friend because all activity on Facebook is viral to begin with.

Facebook Connect: This permission-based marketing approach is conceptually similar to the opt-in, but it goes beyond allowing the marketer to connect with the prospect 1-on-1; it’s a 1-on-1-on-infinity relationship because Facebook Connect asks the individual for permission to look at their entire network and gather information on everyone. Think there’s a huge hurdle to get over regarding privacy? Think again. Every Facebook app from Angry Birds to Scrabble to Twitter on Facebook, asks for permission to tap into the users network first using Facebook Connect. The global success of Angry Birds means millions of people decided that protecting the privacy of their network wasn’t so important after all. If the offer is great, people will do whatever it takes to get access to it.

Shop-And-Tell Plug-Ins: Built into your e-commerce site, these plug-ins will tell a shopper’s network about their recent purchase (with appropriate permission granted first), not only on Facebook, but on your e-commerce site itself. When someone visits your site, they can see if someone from their own Facebook network has purchased something from you. It’s a virtual testimonial, almost as if your friend were waiting at the store for you to say “hey, I just bought this here and you should too”.

Check-In Deals: Facebook took the Foursquare concept and potentially became the biggest check-in network on the internet and in mobile, with their already-huge user base. Incentivizing your customers and prospects to check-in at your brick and mortar location with a special offer is one of the most effective ways to drive foot traffic (remember real, actual stores?) to your business. If you operate a restaurant, offering a small discount off the bill in exchange for a Facebook check-in is not only a great way to advertise your existence and location, it’s also a tacit recommendation. And if the customer checks-in on Facebook and includes a favorable comment about their experience, then you’ve just received a review even Zagat’s can’t measure up to.

F-Commerce isn’t an alternative to E-Commerce, it’s an additional component of a fully integrated marketing campaign. Instead of driving customers to your business, F-Commerce drives your business to your customers. And in turn it can potentially drive your customers’ social networks back to your business.


Seismically Speaking

Mid-afternoon in the Midwest yesterday you could feel the earthquake, even if you didn't feel the earthquake.

From just south of Baltimore: Just experienced an earthquake at Walmart

From Westchester County, NY: Holy F*****g earthquake!!!!

From Columbus: whoa...did anyone else feel that?!? Ohio earthquake??

From way up on the north side of Chicago: did my desk just shake or am I imagining things?

From Brooklyn: a link to Loretta Swit singing "I Feel the Earth Move" on the Muppet Show, posted on YouTube

From Maryland: who felt the earthquake on the east coast of the USA? i did not. I was leaving my gym in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Did not feel a thing. It was 6.0 or something??

Back to Chicago: Holy s**t! My desk was shaking!

From North Carolina: Shakin' in Raleigh...how about you? Which earned responses of confirmed seismic activity in New Haven, CT, Boston, Northern Virginia, Jacksonville, NC, and Mount Vernon, NY. California reported stability, "tectonically speaking".

Sitting 16 floors up above a very busy Wacker Drive construction project in downtown Chicago, we didn't feel the earthquake. And if we did we probably confused it with a jackhammer. But we knew about the earthquake with the East Coast epicenter moments after it hit because people from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River started Facebooking about it.

All of the above Facebook postings were made in the span of less than two minutes. It's safe to say that they were most likely the first reactions these people had to just experiencing an earthquake--to immediately post something online about it. Almost 50% of the postings were made from a mobile device, which makes us wonder how many of these people were posting while evacuating a building. Each posting received an average of 4 responses (either comments, or likes). All in the span of less than two minutes.

Wouldn't it be amazing if your marketing could generate that kind of activity? It can.


Google+ or Minus: Do We Need Another Social Network?

Earlier this week I got a coveted invitation to Google+ from one of my Facebook friends, and like the other 10 million early adopters I spent a good chunk of time kicking the tires and experimenting with it.

In essence it really is not very different than earlier versions of Facebook, albeit with a radical new way of grouping members of your network into different "circles". Circles allow you to post to a select group in your network; you can allow your "friends" to see different content from what you broadcast to your "family", which can come in handy for college students who don't want their folks back home to see what they're up to. There's a live stream, you can post pictures and video, and comment on other peoples' posts. Google+ even has an answer to the Facebook "like" in the form of a "+1", which is already popping up on other web pages for full web integration.

At this point, Google+ is not yet allowing business pages, and advertising opportunities are not yet apparent. However, Google says this will change soon as they want individual users to populate the network first. Ultimately advertising and marketing will find their ways into Google+ because, let's face it, Google doesn't exist to not make money. And advertising provides the money that fuels the web machine.

But for most of this week I couldn't escape one nagging question: why do I need to be on Google+ if I already have a well-established and highly-interactive social network on Facebook? I've never asked that question about LinkedIn because of its focus on creating a business atmosphere, and i've never asked that question about Twitter because it's a different animal altogether. But the Google+ question is bothering me.

It's easy to write off Google+ as being a second rate version of Facebook at this point because it is out-of-the-package brand new. There are only about 10 million users as of right now, and the overwhelming majority are male. There have been a few bugs and kinks to work out and the user interface is (in my opinion) a bit clunky too. Proponents will say that this is an opportunity to escape their old network on Facebook with its heavy advertising presence, and Google+ claims it will offer privacy options that Facebook doesn't have. But is that enough?

It's tempting to try and compare this with the original TV networks that sprang up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, saying that consumers deserve options for where they get their content. But TV networks developed original content themselves--in social networks, the users develop the content and the network is just a platform for interaction. This is more like the telephone. Originally there was only one phone company and it stood alone for decades until deregulation created Baby Bells and communications conglomerates. But the phone companies are just networks too, and they integrate very well with each other unlike Facebook and Google+. They are both competing for social media dominance, while desperately trying not to become parity products of each other.

And that is what makes the introduction of Google+ so great: the users will ultimately decide which social media network wins. This will keep both networks on their toes catering more and more to the users, because social networks without a thriving, interactive and dynamic user base have nothing to offer other than a portal to connect.

As proof, we offer Exhibit A: Myspace.


"Listening" For New Customer Prospects on Social Media

Good and bad user comments on your company's Facebook Wall have word -of-mouth credibility. Twitter hashtags (#) can spread news and lies faster than any press release you deploy. But marketers who "listen" to social media can turn criticism into customers.

Social media doesn't prevent marketers from controlling their message, but it does require marketers to pay attention. Reply to wall comments and show a willingness to engage your customers in a positive way. Set up your own hashtags on Twitter to actively entice comments, and then address those comments directly. These are highly reliable portals for customer relationship management (CRM), if you use them the right way.

There are many simple techniques for "listening" to what's being said about your company and your brand. These are also excellent ways to find new customer prospects, and help prevent current customers from leaving you.