Search vs. Social Media Smackdown, Round 2

A few weeks ago, I applied for a job with a popular travel search engine. The VP of Marketing was looking for an experienced online marketer to manage the company’s SEO/SEM programs—which, for a bonafide genius like me, is child’s play. In my cover letter, I told him upfront that I wasn’t interested in a search-only marketing position. In my characteristically brilliant way, I explained that my talents would be wasted on a search-only marketing strategy and that I had infinitely more valuable capabilities to offer.

Whether he never read my letter or simply found my insubordination irresistible, I’ll never know… the point is, he invited me for an interview.

Once in his office, he asked me about my experience with SEO/SEM as a marketing tool.

“Feh,” I said. “Search is dead to me.”

As the color drained from his face and his fists clenched in his lap, I dove into an impassioned monologue about why an online marketing strategy that leads with SEO/SEM was doomed to fail:

“It’s too narrow, too tedious, and frankly, it’s too 2006.”

I proceeded to tell him that to achieve his company’s lofty goal of becoming the #2 travel search engine in the world (first of all, who sets their sites on becoming #2?), they’d need to broaden their focus to include all that Web 2.0 has made possible—and all that Web 3.0 promises:

Sophisticated search + User-generated content + Social networking + Contextual/demographic/behavioral targeting + Portable personalization = Genuinely relevant content that I trust in whatever media format I prefer.

Simply put, SEO/SEM just ain’t gonna cut it.

He didn’t throw me out of his office… but I could tell he wanted to.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand why Mr. Fancy Pants is so attached to his beloved Search. It comes down to one word: Measurability. As a direct response medium, Search is tough to beat. Experienced search marketers know they wield a lot of power in their SEO/SEM campaigns; they can deliver top-line metrics to their CMO or their CEO or whatever yo-yo is in charge. They can control their CPA and their ROI (had enough acronyms yet?) and make adjustments both large and small with the ease of a keystroke. And though it’s getting harder to produce big, fat results very quickly or without a big investment up-front (search ain’t the new kid on the block anymore!), Search is still King with many online marketers.

And dinosaurs once roamed the earth. So what? Change happens. It’s happening right now.

“Search is a unique proposition — this is why Google is Google and many Googlers are rich. However, search does not exist in a vacuum any more than television or direct mail does. A search engine is no longer the exclusive point of entry to the Internet for many people. Social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook have become portals to a huge number of Web users. If the goal of the marketer is to reach the most potential customers online, thereby maximizing return on investment as a whole, it is critical to engage users throughout their online journey which, as we all become more sophisticated Web users, is increasingly not always begun at a search engine.” —excerpted from The Challenges of Measuring The Performance Of Emerging Media For A Search-Centric Advertiser by Nancy Adzentoivich, Friday, Nov 9, 2007

Here, here!

But don’t just take Nancy’s word for it, or mine for that matter… look at some of the data:

  • WOM ranks highest in driving consumers’ purchase decisions—above TV, Internet, print, and radio [source: BIGResearch, simultaneous media usage study, 2005]
  • Americans engage in 3.5 billion(!) brand-related conversations every day [source: Keller Fay Group]
  • Two-thirds of marketing/communications professionals are planning to increase their investment in conversational marketing within the next twelve months; 57% project that in five years they will be spending more on conversational marketing than traditional marketing [source: TWI Surveys, Inc.]
  • A whopping 96% of 9-17 year olds are connecting to a social network at least once a week [source: Alloy Media & Marketing]

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the next big wave is coming… and fast. You can stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening… or you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps and learn how to take the reigns.

[Or you can see how many overused metaphors you can string together into one meaningless sentence…]

If you’re still quaking in your boots at the thought of exploring the Brave New World of social media, allow me to assuage your fears about its measurability: You can, in fact, measure the impact of your efforts. Here are just a few of the possible metrics you might plug into your neat little dashboard:

  • Number of uniques
  • Returning vs. new users
  • Referring traffic
  • Google Page Rank
  • Technorati authority
  • Time spent on site
  • Page views
  • Conversation index (ratio of blog posts to blog comments)
  • Tone of conversation, comments, posts
  • Speed or velocity of spread, viral

(above list excerpted from Kami Huse’s enlightening presentation on Measuring Social Media)

There’s also the soon-to-be-well-known Net Promoter Score, ideally-suited for measuring social media campaign efficacy:

NPS = % of Promoters – % of Detractors.

It’s not a pure ROI calculation, but it gets to the root of whether a customer/reader/community member would recommend you—or not—as a percentage of the total activity on your social media platform.

So to those of you who—like Mr. Fancy Pants—fear social media because you think you can’t measure it, I say, Feh! You most certainly can. The only reason why there’s so much squabbling over the measurability of social media campaigns (vs. that of SEO/SEM) is that most of you boneheads are still struggling to understand what the heck social media is let alone how it can help your brand.

Whiny, frightened Brand X says, “But what if they write something bad about me?”

Yeah, what if? Sticks and stones may break your bones…

Or in other words, get over it. They will write something bad about you, because you can’t possibly please everybody. And you’re not perfect. Put on your big girl panties, then get educated about how to make social media work for you.

As for measurability: it ain’t rocket science:

Set your objectives. Pick the metric(s) you feel are most relevant to those objectives. Benchmark against yourself (and/or your competitors) over time. Measure. Analyze results. Repeat!

The Genius will now take your comments…

 

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Obsessed with social media? Me, too.

Is it just me or is the social media bubble expanding faster than Kirstie Allie’s waistline?

Between the buzz around Facebook’s recent $15 billion valuation, the hype about their much-anticipated advertising platform, and the steady stream of “one-of-a-kind” social media companies popping up daily, it does feel a bit like we’re all drinking the Kool-Aid.

Heck, even Oprah and Martha Stewart have hopped on the bandwagon.

With every Tom, Dick and Harry Venture Capitalist throwing their money at the next-best social media monolith, it’s easy to lose site of the fact that we’re not just in the thick of an investment-frenzy; we’re part of a revolution.

Social Media = Democracy
The internet is—in a very real way—becoming democratized (at last!). Not only can you reach virtually anyone, anywhere or get information about anything online these days… but you can actually participate! Have a voice! Share all of your [boring, ridiculous, unnecessary… or in my case, totally brilliant] opinions about everything from the HDTV you just purchased to the color of the lint you just found in your bellybutton.

It’s democracy in it’s purest form: everyone truly has a voice. No longer can we blame “the media” for drowning us in propaganda or tricking us into poor choices. (Instead, we can blame our friends, colleagues, and the self-proclaimed experts and “bonafide geniuses” whose blogs we foolishly read.) Where once you had to be famous, infamous, or very well connected to get in the public eye… now, you just need a live internet connection and a desire to express yourself.

Wrote a book? Self-publish it!

Took a picture? Post it on Flickr!

Aspiring filmmaker, actress, or musician? Whip up a sample video and pop it on You Tube!

Pissed off about the crap PC you bought and the even crappier Vista operating system that came with it? Post your raving mad feedback on Microsoft’s website!

Sure, everyone has a voice. But is anyone listening?
As the social media phenomenon gains momentum, so do the possibilities. The question is… beyond our own vanity and relentless desire to be entertained, is there any real purpose to all this “interaction”? Does anybody really care to watch, read, and listen to all this User Generated Noise?

Yes, yes, and undeniably YES!

Side note: I would assume that our sick fascination with reality TV is also responsible for fueling our fascination with social media (guilty!). If I were a geneticist, I’d place my bets on a single gene being responsible for both of these guilty pleasures—and probably for all the neck-craning that happens when we drive by car wrecks, too. But I digress…

Our appetite for new venues in which to assert our brilliance, our uniqueness, and our popularity is virtually boundless:

  • 50 million Facebook users
  • 3500 photos added to Flickr per minute
  • 55 million YouTube users (11.6 million of these are over the age of 55)
  • 713,00 daily active users of the iLike application on Facebook, which allows users to share, rate, and recommend music. Another 15 million registered users on iLike.com

Apparently, we have a lot of opinions and we’re not shy about sharing them. How very American.

Social media will save the world… Now what?
Even if I’m wrong about what drives our interest in both contributing to and consuming the social media bubble (though being a genius, I am very rarely wrong), this much is indisputable: it’s not going away.

If you’re a smart marketer (and let’s face it—most of you aren’t), you’ll get on the ball lickety split and formulate a solid strategy for leveraging this growing phenomena… bearing in mind, of course, that the rules ain’t the same old rules that have made you the fat, lazy dinosaur that you are.

For starters, forget about “positioning” or “packaging” or any of the other P’s you learned about in Marketing School. Social media scoffs at these! The power of User Generated Content embraces a more democratic set of values: like sharing, engagement, authenticity and community.

I’d love to tell you more, but I haven’t updated my Facebook status in at least an hour and my Photobucket upload is almost done…

If you’re not showing Mac users some love, you’re an idiot

I’m sorry, but I cannot understand why the vast majority of “Web 2.0 technology” is launched in PC-only format. This is a question I have posed at least a dozen times in the past month as I’ve done the tech-startup “interview circuit” (that’s right—Yours Truly is looking for a job; one worthy of Her Royal Geniusness)… and the answer I get, time after time, is along these lines:

“With PC-users comprising ~80% of the market, we just couldn’t justify the development costs around supporting Macs blah blah blah blah blah blah….”

My follow-up question to this response usually probes about target audience: who are they trying to reach with their slick new technology?

99.9% of the time, the answer I get is: “early adopters” (or some colorful variation on the theme).

This is the moment when my head starts to spin Exorcist-style at the sheer stupidity of this logic.

See if you can follow the logic with me. You (savvy, Web 2.0 tech start-up) wish to reach the following audience:

  • early adopters
  • tech-savvy
  • heavy internet and media/gaming users
  • passionate about gadgets and new technology
  • ahead of the curve in “Web 2.0”
  • influencers; have the potential to become a WOM marketing vehicle for your product
  • not paranoid about online security; willing to download a new app, be a beta-tester, etc.

But… instead of targeting the loyal Mac user (who by the way, fits the above profile smack-on!), you focus your precious dollars & resources on the Bill Gates Black Hole. Instead of herding Purple Cows, you herd… sheep. S-H-E-E-P!!!!!!

For those of you who still feel the Mac World is a low-volume, high-risk path to traverse, allow me to share a few relevant Mac Facts (provided generously by a great example of Mac-loyalty):

  • IT’S ACTUALLY NOT MORE EXPENSIVE TO DEVELOP FOR MACS: On average, the cost to develop and support Windows applications is 50% higher per dollar of revenue than the cost to develop for Macintosh.
    (Software and Information Industry Association)
  • THEY’RE UH, DOING REALLY WELL: $24 Billion dollars in revenue in FY07, having shipped more than 2 million Macs, 10 million iPods, and 1 million iPhones. After the last earning’s announcement, Apple’s stock price climbed to >$184 per share.
  • THERE’S PLENTY O’ OPPORTUNITY: Macintosh software comprises over 18% of all software sold. Macintosh users actually use more applications than Windows users, citing ease of installation of Mac applications as one of the reasons.
    (Software and Information Industry Association)

  • HEY, HERE’S A NOVELTY: IT’S PROFITABLE!: Software developers make higher profits with Mac software than Windows software. Average revenues per unit remain higher overall for Macintosh software than for Windows applications.
    (Reports from PC Data and SIIA)

But perhaps the best illustration of why developing your Killer Ap for Macs instead of PCs first is the recent iPhone phenomenon. People stood in line for HOURS to purchase a $500 first-generation product, simply so they could have bragging rights (and access to a wickedly cool piece of technology, if I do say so myself)… Don’t you wish YOUR product could engender THAT kind of passion?

And that’s just a glimpse of the potential that focusing on the Mac market holds. They may be only 20% of the market, but they’re also the ones most likely to drive 80% of your sales.

So here’s my advice:
Forget developing for the PC. (For now.) Buck convention—develop your Killer App for the Mac first; show them the love and the loyalty. Arm them with a distinction that 99% of your competitors glibly dismiss: the MAC-ONLY edge. Tap into the rich, passionate community of Mac lovers in all of the places they play, online and off.

Screw Bill Gates.

Sure, you might miss the big Sheep Convention. But who wants to hang around sheep anyway?

Search vs. Social Media

First, an apology for yesterday’s rant. I’m not one for apologizing, given that I’m a bonafide genius and all, but… well, I may have been a bit harsh on those poor, inexperienced CEOs who are blindly burning through their investors’ foolish generosity with a cockamamie “all things to all people” marketing strategy.

What was I saying?…

Oh right—I’m very, very sorry I was so hard on you. Fuck Walk it off.

Now, on to one of my favorite heated debates of late: Search vs. Social Media. It seems that every marketer worth her or his salt has placed their eggs in one of these two baskets. Interestingly enough, the split often follows the left brain/right brain phenomenon which divides marketers into the “creative” and the “analytical” categories. But I digress…

Let’s talk data:

According to IDG, traffic coming from organic search has dropped 7% as a percentage of total traffic in the past year (actually April 2006 – April 2007), while direct visits (from bookmarks and type-ins) increased 4%. Even more meaningful is this bit of data: according to IDG’s research, 70% of traffic to web sites does NOT come directly from organic search.

Meanwhile, social networks are driving more traffic than ever to targeted shopping and classified sites (data on this point ranges from 45-85%, depending on the source). Add in the greater sophistication of Web 2.0 tools and a markedly more experienced, savvy pool of users… and you’ve got yourself a juicy opportunity for creating a deeper, more direct relationship with customers—assuming, of course, that you deliver a satisfying (ie personalized, user-friendly, don’t-make-me-think-just-give-me-what-i-want) online experience.

My point? We’re seeing the first marked shift away from search (since Google reinvented the idea of it) and toward the slightly creepy [but certainly more convenient] future of personalized, interconnectedness that social media and Web 3.0 (that’s not a typo) promise. And I’m betting it’s just the beginning.

Should companies stop investing in search? That depends… on the type of business, industry, and audience, as well as on budget, access to search expertise, and competitive environment. A solid organic search program aimed at landing your company page 1 ranking on Google or other major search engines [for those of you who still believe there are any] could take 6-9 months; perhaps 3-6 if you’ve got the talent and expertise in-house. And by the way, page 1 organic search ranking only matters if your product or service correlates to common and [if you’re lucky] inexpensive search terms (meaning people actually KNOW what they’re looking for). Meanwhile, a solid social media campaign can yield measurable results in a matter of days/weeks and typically costs a whole lot less.

Aside from the advantages of speed and savings, there’s a lot more value to social media programs than simply the number of clicks generated or transactions completed online. It’s about connection, loyalty, transparency… big words that tend to scare big brands… yet those who embrace them will undoubtedly trounce their competitors. Denying what’s right in front of you isn’t what I call “strategy”. I’ll quote CK, one of my new favorite marketing bloggers to drive this point home:

“One must modernize (or face irrelevance). In using the British monarchy as a metaphor for social media…find out why it’s important to modernize, and why it’s critical to reach out to your constituents (if you want them to like you) right here.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see the benefits of hedging your SEO/SEM bets with low-cost social media as just one of the many tricks in the bag. Do it right and you’ll build your brand, strengthen direct-navigation traffic, and possibly even put an end to the Search Engine Monopoly once and for all.

Sorry, Google. (Although if you’re hiring… I’ll gladly reconsider this post 🙂