Twitter Needs Stronger Conversations, Not Longer Spam

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Barrack Obama types in the first presidential Tweet with Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey watching.

The Internet is abuzz about how to fix Twitter. The conversation revolves around the potential expansion of Tweets to as many as 10,000 characters.

It’s a bit of a Trojan horse of a conversation. The real issue is how can Twitter break out of a slump that has the social network stymied with no growth, quarterly losses, and lackluster engagement.

Unfortunately, longer tweets won’t fix the problem. Twitter’s slump revolves around the network’s lack of human connection rather than its format. Specifically, the social network’s problem is a never-ending stream of spammy links and a lack of connectivity to other human beings.

Is It Really News?

Adrienne

Twitter made a decision a long time ago to describe itself as a news service, and a place to find out and discuss what is going on. This was an effort to differentiate it from Facebook and other social networks.

The ongoing news focus came with a price: Sharing stories, news, and content in the form of links. Links to useful information aren’t bad, but what Twitter has become as a result of the links, well, that’s another issue. What many people see in there streams are a series of short (and often poorly written) headlines and comments with links. Rare is the conversation or simple reply.

Janet

Many of the links featured in the stream of links don’t expand. Even pictures are shown as links half the time, depending on browser and bandwidth.

Worse, because of the public nature of Twitter, it has become brand marketers and PR folks’ number one or number two go-to-social network to share information. Unfortunately, their idea of information is most people’s idea of spam or just boring content (see content marketing rant).

One could say the same for many of the links shared by everyday users. Some are interesting. Most are not.

Of course, you could say shame on the people who follow these folks. But even the most casual friend seems to use Twitter to 1) drop links and 2) rant or complain. It’s hard to follow no one on Twitter and be a part of any experience.

What Can Be Done?

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Twitter’s issue is not maximum tweet length. The way 10k would come across, it would look like any other blog post with a lead and link to the whole thing, so I see no inherent value or detriment. No, the issue is feeling that whenever you log in, you’re just going to be sourced a bunch of spammy links, some pushed by brands, some pushed by users (we’ll call this UG spam for user-generated spam). But can Twitter be saved?

Now you see the wisdom of Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Each of those networks naturally embeds posts and pics in posts. In the case of Facebook and Google+, their algorithm curates the most “interesting” updates to spare readers from what they may consider to be mundane or spammy.

Daniel Waldman

I asked several people for their suggestions on what could fix Twitter. Some of the answers are embedded throughout the post. One of the most compelling ones was simply making the 140 characters used for text, and have posts show images and stories automatically as embeds sans character count.

I agree with Shireen, but am not sure format is enough to save the day. In comparison to the other social networks, Twitter is not fun very fun or useful in the social context.

The other social networks have function beyond sharing news and ranting about it on the side. They offer unique focus on social functions like family and friends (Fakebook), or business interactionss (LinkedIn), or friends who show and don’t tell much (Instagram), or contacts who share and store useful information (Pinterest), or places where you can avoid public eyes (SnapChat et al).

Horvath

What does Twitter offer that those networks don’t? News trolls? Publicly quantified pundits? What’s missing is the conversation and interestingness, and that’s what Twitter really needs to restore if it wants to continue to grow and develop. After all, it should be about the people who use it. That’s the way it used to be. Perhaps using some sort of an algorithm to filter the stream is necessary, but that would fly in the face of the social network’s stream ethos.

I don’t pretend to have an answer, but maybe you do. Feel free to weigh in.

LinkedIn Is What It Is: Personal, Employer, Business

LinkedIn Page

I opened the new LinkedIn Android app the other day and saw an unexpected message, “The One Stop Shop to Manage Your Personal Brand.” Because of my own hang-ups about the term “personal brand” I was taken aback. But like it or not, LinkedIn has become the place to manage your professional reputation.

It has also become much more than that. LinkedIn offers brands an ideal platform for employee communications — future (e.g. recruitment), present, and past. The social networks also provides B2B brands a great place to market.

For those that are still stuck in the Twitter and Facebook for brands universe (and maybe, just maybe Instagram, too), please keep in mind how big LinkedIn has become. More than 400,000 million people are using the social network to talk about their professional life. Let’s take a quick look at each of these three forms of communication on LinkedIn; personal, employer and business.

Personal Marketing

Profile Pic

With most people looking for work online today, LinkedIn has become a nexus to build a personal profile and network. There are many ways to stand out on LinkedIn and strengthen your presence.

LinkedIn profiles serve as a place for potential employers to check out your history. In many ways, the profile has become the modern resume. In addition, potential contracts and speaking opportunities can come through LinkedIn.

Attracting people to and making your profile stand out are the primary means of personal marketing on LinkedIn. Here are a few methods:

This latter point may seem obvious, but don’t post your cute dog pic on LinkedIn. If social media made a level of uncouth personality acceptable on the Internet, then LinkedIn became the social media place where the old school mindset of act in a professional manner still reigns. Many people and brands are relieved about that, too. Save the personal posts for Instagram, and button it up on LinkedIn.

Employee Communications

Lockheed

I remember when LinkedIn launched in the early 2000s. It was hyped as a place to network and find new jobs. After a period of time, employers started using LinkedIn for recruitment purposes.

Then LinkedIn built company profiles. Networking became smarter and you could identify past and present employees through search. The algorithms began sourcing news about company x, particularly when there was a clear tie between an employee and corporate page.

The reality for most brands is that employee communications should begin inside their physical and virtual walls and on their web site. It begins with culture in direct communications up and down the ladder. Another reality exists: Many conversations are occurring about brands out of those domains, and on social media sites like LinkedIn and GlassDoor.

With so many people talking about work and their future on LinkedIn, it can become the central hub of an HR and recruitment social media strategy. Here are some quick tactics to help facilitate that:

Market Your Corporate Brand

Adobe Marketing

Not only has LinkedIn made itself a great place to engage in employee communications, it has also become a fantastic marketing venue for B2B marketing. Conversations and content galore on professional topics ranging from IT security to digital marketing are everywhere.

Businesses that offer some sort of B2B offering — product or service — need to experiment with LinkedIn as a means to brand and generate initial content leads. Here are some ideas for your efforts:

  • Build an engaging corporate profile page that shows what the company does, and how it helps the industry and your customers). Use Showcase pages to highlight particular product areas and include calls-to-action to drive traffic to your site.
  • Use LinkedIn’s advertising platform (sponsored updates) to communicate with customers. This is a good way to extend the reach of your corporate profile.
  • Pulse Articles are also a great way for a brand to show thought leadership. Find spokespersons who are willing to use their profiles and publish articles, then promote them on your company profile page.
  • Consider LinkedIn sister brand SlideShare as a means to create content that engages prospective customers. You can integrate SlideShare into your page.
  • Manage a group to build subject matter expertise for your company

    . LinkedIn is in the midst of revamping its groups for better functionality and results.

What LinkedIn marketing tips would you add to these lists?

Catering to the Lowest Common Denominator

A couple of weeks ago, I attended TrackMaven’s Spark conference. There were many discussions on using digital tools to market, backed by several brands showing their best practices. Using data to ensure that a marketing program doesn’t simply mimic its competitors’ efforts or general best practices was a central thread.

I really appreciated the conversation because it addressed a common marketing mistake, doing what others do because its popular or it worked for several others. Digital communicators live in a world of social media best practices with the added pressure of executives seeing success stories unfold in the media, then wondering why they, too, don’t have a successful Instagram strategy.

Communicators scramble to add the same type of marketing and outreach, whether it may be influencer generated content or Snapchat accounts featuring a daily non-wow moment. They ape the best practices espoused by social media blogs, blogs often written by people who have rarely done it for anyone or anything other than their own personal brand.

This is catering to the lowest common denominator, doing what others do. It remains one of the greatest dangers in marketing and PR.

Catering to the lowest common denominator offers a whole series of safe outcomes that make it an oft chosen method of marketing. You can appease internal stakeholders by showing that you are doing what the competition is doing. Evidence from the social media darlings lets you claim that you are indeed following best practices. Unfortunately, it does not account for customer fatigue with the tactics, or market position leadership.

Like a false pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the outcomes fail to meet the illusion. Your audience is non-plussed at another “me, too” campaign. Soon the executives become non-plussed with your second or third or worse place performance. They see no tangible results. Share of voice, in-bound traffic, and other performance metrics tell the tale of a laggard instead of the hoped-for leader.

How Data Helps You Find a Better Path

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The best most strategic marketers go further, and innovate with their communications efforts. Often innovation is disguised as incremental change and experimentation, but that’s how evolution happens. In that vein, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer because there is so much data out there to inform these changes.

Data helps by telling you what your competition is doing, where they are generating share of voice, and why. More importantly, it lets you see why and where your content resonates and how it under or outperforms your competition. Data lets you A/B test little format changes, for example number of words or characters, red versus yellow visuals, etc.

Understanding the lay of the land allows you to apply creative and try to better the situation. And when success occurs you know, it, and can then expand your marketing to meet the community with the right types of communications.

Of course, TrackMaven‘s tool helps marketers do these things, and thus the Spark message fit the. But it’s a good message, and one that should be repeated across the space and in university classrooms across America.

I remember when we strategized at Vocus about our content, we would look at competitors in the space. If our content was the same as theirs, we would challenge ourselves to go further. It was not enough to do the same as other successful brands. The only way to escalate and elevate position was by going beyond “me, too” approaches.

Go beyond the lowest common denominator. Measure to elevate your creativity and your overall marketing game.

How Men and Women Differ Online

I am not sure writing about this is a good idea, but after reading Pew Internet’s report breaking down how women and men use social media in different ways, I could not help myself. As the above statistics show — though there are drastic standouts — generally, men and women use the same networks at roughly the same pace.

BUT, one obvious conclusion after looking at these is that women gravitate more towards visual networks, with higher percentages of women using Instagram and Pinterest. Meanwhile, men prefer more, shall we say, martial networks (cliche alert) like Twitter and reddit where there is more sparring and contested debate.

Pew offered this analysis, “…online discussion forums are especially popular among men.” My personal take is that people use social media regardless of gender, with men preferring to spout off online, and women digest a wider array of richer and diverse information types.

Further, outside of Pinterest every type of network has at least a 1/3 to 2/3 ration showing that gender usage is pretty evenly distributed. With the Pinterest exception, it’s safe to say that one gender doesn’t dominate any particular type of network or medium.

So How Do Men and Women Differ?

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1960s vintage photo by Christian Montone

So what is the difference between men and women on social media? Ask a psychiatrist. LOL.

Perhaps they differ in the same ways that men and women face cancer. While their are difference between the way men face colon cancer and women face breast cancer, when they have a similar type of cancer (for example, lung cancer) both genders cope in the same ways.

Want a social media example? If you were following stereotypes, you’d say women are more likely to touch up their photos. In reality, men touch up their photos as much as women do, according to a study by PicMonkey.

PicMonkey

The above graphic shows which types of pic genders are most likely to touch-up. Seems pretty evenly distributed to me. Exceptions, guys who post photos of themselves working-out (so much to say) touch up their photos much more then women. Add some shadows, deepen that muscle tone, son! Women are more likely to touch up their baby photos. Hmmm.

For the record I compulsively touch up every photo that I post now. It’s a bad habit. But I digress.

I think we all know men and women differ. But outside of the drastic lean towards Pinterest, I see few statistical studies that show many hard differences on actual usage. More than likely, it’s just in the way that each man and woman uses it.

What do you think?

You Don’t Need an Instagram Strategy

You don’t need an Instagram strategy. Or a Snapchat strategy. Or a Facebook strategy. At least not yet. Instead, figure out what makes you or your brand remarkable to that specific audience group and then make sure you convey your message in a way that will resonate.

Go ahead, answer the question, “What makes you remarkable?”

This is a reoccurring problem in social media. Brands optimize community management and native ad spend network by network. They use data to hit the right audience, the correct time slots, and then drive more traffic.

But the content and conversation is lame, or as Ann Handley says just good enough. The whole initiative suffers for it. More than 90% of the problem cases I examine boil down to bland over-messaged content and social network “conversations”.

A Snapchat Strategy In Play

SnapChat

In some cases content created haphazardly for social networks feels awkward, lacking context and meaning. Just yesterday I was looking at the general Washington, DC feed on SnapChat, and in the midst of the updates Jim Beam ads ran, ten seconds each. The ads featured the new brand’s new apple flavored bourbon spots.

The product is designed for millennials, but the spots were the usual high gloss ads you might see during a football game or on ESPN.com. They seemed so out of place compared to the raw user generated videos of DC hipsters. The Jim Beam ads felt like a complete intrusion. So, there you have it. A SnapChat strategy targeting the right audience in the right place with almost no relevance.

Differentiation Requires More

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Here’s a message to the marketers of the world trying to reach hip social media audiences. If you want to differentiate and stand-out in an increasingly competitive and noisy marketplace, reach deeper than “me, too” social media strategies and ads.

Think I’m off on this? Check out the top approaches CMOs are looking at for growth over the next twelve months, according to the CMO Survey. Market penetration is the only category that’s expected to shrink while diversification is the area targeted for the most growth.

Every marketer and every agency is under great pressure to create strategies that will leverage new media. I’ve been there, too. It’s so important to take the time, pull back, and do it right. Use all of that data to inform and build better content and conversations that people will actually care about.

Social media is a method to reach people, but throwing unremarkable junk out there to meet a data-centric strategy that points to where the right audience is won’t work well. You need to engage (let’s not go too far down this 2008-esque thread). And you need a remarkable story to compel audiences to engage back. The content is just the vessel. If your offering is not remarkable, if you don’t have a conversation, then expect mediocre results.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. If you have a strategy to leverage a tool instead of a valuable and interesting reason to talk with your customers — regardless of medium — then success will be hard to achieve.

Jodi Gersh on Social Media-Driven Journalism

Jodi Gersh is the Director of Social and Strategic Brand Marketing at USA TODAY. She has been with Gannett since 2000, and has helped guide the company through the social media revolution. She will be speaking on a panel with the Washington Business Journal’s Jennifer Nycz-Conner at xPotomac on how the digital media revolution’s continuing impact on journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jodi on behalf of xPotomac as a sneak preview of her session. You can see her speak at xPotomac on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: What’s the biggest thing you have seen changed in journalism as a result of social media?

JG: The two-way dialogue and as journalists we are no longer deciding what you need to know. People are telling us what they want to know. It’s a different dynamic. Journalists always trusted their gut, and [decided] this is what you need to know; this is what we are going to report; this is what’s important.

In social media, you get interactions and pings from the crowd saying, “Hey this is what’s important.” If you are doing it right, you start to recognize this is something we maybe wouldn’t cover or an angle we wouldn’t take, but it is resonating with the people so let’s do that.

GL: You have a unique perspective because of your position within Gannett, and USA TODAY and its local newspapers. How do you differentiate between the stories on social?

JG: There is a difference.

Local journalists live in those cities. So they can be tweeting with someone and then run into them at the supermarket. It’s harder for USA TODAY to have that kind of relationship because the community is everywhere, BUT they can be a very engaging brand online. They have engaging personalities and they have very social content.

On a local level, the brands can also be engaging, but the journalists have more of a connection, an emphasis on being recognized, being knowledgeable, being experts in their community, and living in the same place that they are reporting on. It’s very different. The way both local and national approach social is very different.

Of course, social content is social content. Choosing what to share and how to share it, that’s going to be the same nationally and locally. You want to make sure the way you share things on social media is going to engage the audience that’s in that social zone.

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GL: How has data changed the formula?

JG: There are different types of data, and we actually have many, many types of dashboards. We are looking at a way to pull it into one dashboard. We have social data, we have website data, and we have audience data for our communities of people.

Last year, actually, we rolled out a whole training program for all of our journalists where they were shown how to look at and use their dashboards. So rather than just making the data available, we walked them through what it means and how to take action on it. If you see something happening in Chartbeat or Omniture, how can you do something to see if it will make it better? We have put a big emphasis on using data that way. Actionable.

There’s the marketing funnel and the data coming in from our CRM, our audience, our subscriber databases and our email sign-ups. There’s a lot of data there, and we have a whole other team looking at that. I am not as involved with that right now. Although for paid social, it is all relevant.

GL: What was it like on the broadcast side before the split [Tegna is the new company representing Gannett’s former broadcast properties]?

JG: I worked with social champions across all of the TV sites. There were different ways they looked at social for TV than the ways we looked at it on the publishing side. When you watch your local newscast, you’ll see a few local stories, then you will see stories from other local markets, affiliates within the network. You are accustomed to that.

They would approach social the same way. They weren’t just sharing their local stories, they were sharing stories from across the network if they were super social. Things like a cat stuck in a tree, saved by a fireman.

There was always a back and forth about whether that made sense for our print or publishing sites to do. For the longest time, I felt that didn’t make sense, that this kind of news was a commodity, and that everyone is sharing that viral story about the cat in the tree.

I believed local publishing sites shouldn’t do this, and especially after our Facebook reps told us if every news site shared the same story they won’t show it to as many people. They don’t feel like that is a good user experience. It’s not curated.

Now we’re trying to decide if there can be a mix of that. Can you go for the slightly easier social win even if it is not a local, local story, if you are also providing good local content? Can you create related content for social media that ties into a local market? The answer is probably yes. Those stories are popular, even if they aren’t from your local market.

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GL: You’ve seen the rich media trend, but you work with all types of media. Which media forms are winning out, or is the rich media trend hyperbole?

JG: It’s hard to answer that. When you say which kinds of media are winning, I think that people’s media diet includes all kinds of media. Obviously, print [like newspapers] is slowly dying. Will it ever go away? Circulation is going down every year, and every year they say print is going away, they say five years, but it’s been like that for 20 years. I think there will always be print.

It’s not always by age. There are some hipsters who like their Sunday newspaper, and it’s totally fine. Yes, it’s an older demographic that usually subscribes to newspapers, but that doesn’t mean younger demographics don’t like newspapers.

We’ve done a lot of focus groups with the millennial age group and younger Gen Xers. The way they share information is so different. They are not necessarily loyal to a brand but getting that information from their friends has gone to a whole new level. We were speaking with some younger millennials, and they get their news from their friends via text message. They will take a screenshot of a story on a website and send it to their friends.

So you can see the media type could be anything or anywhere. People get news today on Instagram. How is that? The media diet is really varied, podcasts are in there, apps, photo storytelling.

GL: We’ve seen social become a validator, the success of a story becoming measured by how well it is shared. We’ve also seen the value of conversation. We’ve seen hard data. Have we seen the end game for social or are we going to see something else come along and blow this thing up again?

JG: I don’t think so, we haven’t hit the end of it. I was just talking to someone about how only a few years ago, we started having social media managers in the newsroom. We said, well this is kind of a temporary thing because in five years we won’t need social media managers anymore because everyone will be social.

It’s the opposite now because social has become so fragmented across so many different areas. It’s more important to have a group or people in organizations who understand where and how it’s being used. We’ve got our circulation department using it, our ad sales people selling it, we’ve got editorial using it, we’ve got brand people promoting it; it’s all over the place now.

We’re not at the end point. It is so much a part of the fabric of everything, yet we’re still not where everybody truly understands it. Five years ago you had executives who said ‘why are we wasting time on social.’ But now that’s all they ask for, but they still don’t totally get it. Until everyone gets it – which might not ever happen – we’ll still need expertise.