The Real Pokémon Go Business Lessons

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Pokémon Go is the hottest thing to hit the Internet since SnapChat. Of course, now there are all sorts of marketing posts popping up espousing marketing lessons Pokémon Go. This wave of expert posts was foreseen. Much like the Oreo real-time marketing chatter that ensued after the 2013 Super Bowl power outage, the post-mortem focus is myopic.

The real lessons to be learned are not in the viral success of the app. Instead, look at some of the mistakes made by Pokémon Go developer Niantic as well as the smarter businesses who have turned Pokémon Go into a marketing opportunity.

Word of Mouth Begins with Listening

Like all businesses, Niantic created something that people love. When new technologies become well used, problems emerge that require a level of responsiveness, a sense of commitment that Niantic still has yet to demonstrate. Now players are complaining about the Pokemon tracker and Niantic’s shutting down of third party apps. Customers are revolting.

Will Niantic turn the ship and does it matter?

Pokémon Go may be too big to fail, but how many brands can really afford to anger their customer communities like this? For every Niantic, there are hundreds of thousands of start-ups that will never experience this kind of success. Each of their customers and word of mouth opportunities becomes that much more valuable.

Listening is paramount for word of mouth marketing success. Customers become more loyal when brands respond, even when they are unable to fulfill requests. If there was any lesson learned from the social media era, it was listen to your community. You never know when or where customers will say something about your brand.

Don’t Mimic It, Leverage It

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Image via Polygon.

When I see a successful community launch, I am not interested in copying its marketing tactics, though it is always helpful to see what worked. Instead, I wonder how I can leverage that community to help my clients.

The third party tracker makes a ton of sense, but like other social communities such as Twitter and Facebook that began with open APIs, Niantic has already shown a penchant to crush successful secondary apps. Develop apps at your own risk! I would avoid plugging directly into the network.

Leveraging a successful platform involves a smart marketing play that works off the platform without interfering with it. Consider how some businesses are working with Niantic to offer sponsored Pokémon Go spots. If I was responsible for marketing a public venue, retail store, or restaurant that 1) had significant physical space and 2) wanted to attract younger users, I would explore this. Further, I would consider making the space friendly for all augmented reality apps.

This reminds me of when Foursquare first broke onto the scene. Smart businesses and nonprofits leveraged the platform and created badges, mayoral contests and more to attract social media friendly customers. The Brooklyn Museum was the most prolific example of past success that I can remember.

Becoming a Pokémon Go spot is just one way to leverage the Niantic community. I am sure there are many others, too.

What do you think of the new network?

Understanding Photography on Instagram

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United Kingdom-based Digital Photographer Magazine interviewed me for their current edition (Magazine Issue #173) on Instagram best practices for photographers. The article is titled “Market Yourself on Instagram”, but it is gated, unfortunately. However, I did keep a copy of my answers, which you can find below.

DP: Do you use Instagram to post the same content as your other social media sites?

GL: When it comes to photography, yes, for the most part. I find that crossover between social networks – 500 Pixels to Facebook to Flickr to Instagram to Twitter – is minimal. Each network has its own audiences.

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Some photos don’t translate well due to the format, which almost forces you to be literal about the rule of thirds. For example, I love this Super Moon photo with the Washington Monument in the lower left for foreground (above), but it breaks the rules. It would never work in Instagram. The photo would be cropped either as another full moon photo, or a Washington Monument pic. Extended in a wide format it would be too small. So I wouldn’t post it in Instagram.

DP: How do you think the platform helps emerging photographers reach new audiences?

Nice of Kendall Jenner @kendalljenner to humor me with a selfie. #whcd #nerdprom

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on


Me shamelessly promoting myself at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

GL: I think Instagram has become much more mainstream in the past two years, and is in many ways is starting to replace Twitter. So it’s a good place to brand yourself, regardless of your type of photography. But, for many of us that’s where it ends.

Portrait and wedding photographers could use it for lead generation, but it would require them to actually network with other people, like and comment. It would not work to just post pics for most. Instagram also has additional potential for photojournalists.

DP: Does Instagram’s limited format enhance or impinge creativity?

GL: I wrote four years ago about my dislike for most of the images, and I still don’t like it. LOL. What many of us would consider dodging or burning or adding a bit more yellow to the temperature is replaced with filters. And as a result, bad images are glossed over.

But for the average point and click person, it improves their efforts. And for all intents and purposes, that’s what smartphones have become, point and click cameras.

Most importantly, though, Instagram allows people to share their lives in a visual manner. Everyone uses visual media to communicate about their lives. Because of this viral social network, many more people are falling in love with photography. That’s a good thing.

Over time I have come to realize that Instagram makes good photography stand out that much more. It’s kind of like a Pultizer Prize caliber writer clearly distinguishes himself in an email correspondence compared to the average office worker’s prose. People can see which folks know how to communicate with a lens, and that’s where photographers start to brand themselves.

DP: How do you use hashtags and geotagging to increase your reach?

Misty Morning #blackandwhite #monochrome #forest #woods #mist #picoftheday #photooftheday

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on

GL: I try to use at least five hashtags per pic, and geotag the photos with location. The reality is that this increases reach by 20-30% per pic. It exposes your work to people who search by topical area, news trend, and location. In my mind, that’s just smart marketing.

DP: In your opinion, what are its biggest drawbacks and advantages?

Walk this way. Featuring Fana Lv. #model #asian #asianmodel #walk #picoftheday #photooftheday

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on

GL: The power of Instagram as its own type of social photography is both its biggest drawback and its greatest advantage. Instagram is life stream/photoblogging in my mind. Like blogging it can create a sense of expertise for inexperienced smartphone heroes. Within their medium they are just that.

But outside of Instagram, their photography may not be as strong. To successfully expand their skills, they may need more practice, or need to learn about lighting to take their photography to the next level, or might simply need to learn manual camera basics like ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

For an Instagram hero, this might be extraordinarily frustrating. They may simply retreat rather than grow and become the photographer they probably could be. This happened with many bloggers who were good writers, but could not conquer other media like magazines, books and traditional journalism.

A champion on one level is a neophyte on another.

Walk This Way Beauty Tight Crop Web

The same could be said for pro photographers who post their outstanding work on the network, and find it undiscovered. They are neophytes in social media and in particular, Instagram. So perhaps they walk away.

When these two worlds collide — the point and click heroes with the tried and true photography experts — is when photography grows and becomes a wider, more appreciated art form.

I came to photography ten years ago through blogging and social media, the need for original images was critical. But I would not be the photographer I am today if it were not for 1) a passion for creating visual art and 2) the expert photographers who took me under their wing, and showed me how to realize more of my potential. We need each other in this digital world.

And now my question to you, the reader: What do you think of Instagram from a pure photography standpoint?

RIP Spammy Twitter Marketers (#RIPTwitter)

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A Twitter meme — #RIPTwitter — took the social network by storm over the weekend. Users complained about a rumored change from a traditional Twitter user feed to an algorithmic-sourced feed next week. The angst was inspired by this BuzzFeed post reporting the change.

The algorithm would source the most popular stories in people’s Twitter feeds. Users believed the experience would be bad enough to kill the network. The meme was so overpowering it caused founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey to make a statement and allay concerns:

But in reality, would an algorithm really kill Twitter? I don’t think so. It would probably make the experience better by eliminating bad spammy link-based Tweets usually sourced by marketers and inane ranters.

Tweets that aren’t interesting, including the overwhelming majority of tweets marketers push out every business day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., would lose priority. Without engagement, most of those tweets would fail to trigger the algorithm. They would die in the machine.

Conversely, the tweets that get the most engagement in a stream would rise to the top. I think this would be a fantastic development that would make Twitter’s stream much more competitive with Facebook, LinkedIn and to a lesser extent Google+. And it would force brands to invest in real conversations instead of simply publishing.

Further, based on Jack’s tweet, afterwards power users can simply pull down their screen or refresh their feed to get the traditional timeline. So no, Twitter algorithms won’t kill the social network. But based on the incredible amount of spammy marketing junk and bad content on the social network — even those based on popular topics and hashtags — well, an algorithm can only improve the experience.

Letting Go of 2400 Followers

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Every time I blog about Twitter losing its mojo, I receive several comments about how that’s my fault. Specifically, that I followed the people who post spam, so shame on me.

After my last post about how Twitter can improve its experience, I decided to listen to them and unfollowed 2400 Twitter users. This isn’t one of these, “I unfollowed all of you posts” that bloggers drop for attention. I actually did most of this at the beginning of last month so if I was seeking to draw attention, that would have been the time. Plus I would have dumped another 1500 out of my remaining 2000 followers.

No, this was an experiment to get rid of what Malcolm Gladwell would call weak ties on my social network. Specifically, I cut people I did not know or just had a brief acquaintance with and who are also marketers. I also unfollowed people who simply use Twitter to drop links, marketing or not).

What happened?

My experience definitely improved, not enough to make Twitter thrilling again, but the stream did seem to liven up a bit. I began engaging more, too.

The funny thing was that I did not receive one peep about the mass unfollowing either, which substantiates my belief that these people weren’t vested in being engaged in a conversation with me, at least on Twitter. About 200 people have auto unfollow bots or noticed, and unfollowed me back. The rest stuck around for whatever reason.

I may go further and drop some more followers when I get a chance. Whenever I am in the network and I see someone just dropping links or posting ridiculous spam, I unfollow them then and there. It’s adding up to a better Twitter that I actually care about again.

What do you think?

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?

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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.