Monday, May 20, 2013

Too Soon? Facebook Already Changing GraphSearch Bar

Recently Facebook took the search world by storm launched GraphSearch, their supposed answer to Google's search dominance. You know, your friends know better than a collection of experts on a topic, right?

 Facebook's GraphSearch has been, in a word, abysmal. The results are irrelevant or non-existent and, even worse, they can't find basic Facebook-specific content which forces you to Google it and then click back to find Facebook content.

 But, GraphSearch launched not too long ago -- so why the change? Even with its poor performance, it must have turned people off -- or worse, they're flat out not using it. Today Facebook changed the search box to be a more prominent white instead of the blue bar that used to sit at the top of your browser. See for yourself here:


 Will it pay off? Does it matter? Honestly it doesn't. Facebook won't win in search, and GraphSearch will eventually land in a long list of me-too products that the company felt okay throwing in to the scrap heap.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Companies Should Avoid "Socialteering"

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I've seen brands doing Like or retweeting promotions whereby they'll donate money to the Red Cross et al for each action followers and fans take.

Don't. Please, don't.

I'm calling this distasteful phenomenon "socialteering".

Damaging your brand by trying to capitalize on a tragedy is tasteless. Just donate the damn money and tell your fans that you did. You'll gain respect, or at least not lose it, for doing the right thing and not acting like complete marketing douchebag.

Updated at 8:44 PM: Chrysler's RAM Trucks brand posted this on Facebook and it's the perfect example of HOW TO GIVE -- not by forcing people into gimmicky Pinning, RTs or Likes. Do the right thing and your customers will remember why they buy and talk about you!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fake Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers -- And the Implications for Brands

This post originally appeared on the Large Media blog.

There's been a lot of talk about Twitter followers lately, including both presidential candidates, celebrities, musicians and the like utilizing services to game their numbers. Specifically, a lot of the "Top 10" have been found to have a substantial amount of fake followers, in some case to the point where 70% of their following is either bots or inactive profiles. Most articles and infographics on the subject are telling, however with a little digging you can find out that there are also social media "experts" utilizing the service to give the appearance of bloated numbers. Intrigued, and given our rare propensity to tweet as an agency, we wanted to see what the fuss was about.

So we gave it a try.


In August we saw some ads on a third party Twitter "profile checker" site  saying they can send a thousand followers your way for $9. The process is pretty simple: select how many followers you want, select the account you'd like them applied to, pay, and within 48 hours -- boom -- you're in business with several thousand new followers. So it turns out for under $20 you can buy a few thousand followers. And, to the service's word, the bot-like, systematic approach worked. Our numbers went from a few hundred followers to over 3,500 in 48 hours. What was interesting to note was that there was no authentication process whatsoever involved. No OAuth. No logins. Nothing. The system we went through was to enter the username we wanted the followers "applied" to, then pay for the followers. That's it.

Who Are These People?

Upon researching their profiles, we found that most had less than five tweets, profile pictures and were scattered across the globe. Most had bios that appeared to be scraped -- but with typos -- from legitimate Twitter users. Their profile photos were random, with some female names having male pictures and vice-versa. We're still plugging away at blocking each of these people so they don't show up in our follower count as there aren't any third party apps to automatically drop them all. This takes time, obviously, but we'll right our numbers soon enough.

What Was The Value?

What we found is that doing so as an experiment told us what we already knew -- buying numbers delivered on the follower count, but that's about it. These followers don't account for a single reply, retweet, mention or other form of interaction. Instead, we have a bloated follower count that, when tracked against engagement as a percent of followers, is driving down all of our metrics that matter.

Wait, But Why Did You Do It Again?

You might ask "Why did you do this?". Is it ethical? How can an agency that claims to advise clients on social media best practices and ethics do something like this? We did it because if we don't know how it works we can't advise our clients about exactly how it works. I didn't approve this because I wanted the agency big numbers as we rarely tweet (see: our tweet number) or a big following. We advise our clients that the number isn't what's important, it's what you do with them. Engage them. Learn from them. Excite them and make them remember why they buy your products. But I digress.

If I wanted to sit up all night and day and follow people I could.  I've built up over 4,300 followers "the old fashioned way" on my personal account. And I am systematically going through and blocking these new fake followers for the company account. It takes time, but eventually it'll get evened out and we'll continue the slow burn of building a following -- namely engaging with our community and providing good content.

What Did We Learn

Is it all bad? No, actually it's not. Ethically, of course, it's a complete misrepresentation of having humans follow you on Twitter and Like you on Facebook. And yes, there are also fake Facebook accounts you can have follow your brand.  You might want to revisit your Page's data to see if any unexplained spikes in Likes were obtained. Back to the lesson.

What we did see is that our Twitter account started receiving new and reciprocal followers on Twitter because our follower number appeared to be high. Perception is what matters to some on Twitter, which is why they need to have the appearance of being followed. Because of the onslaught of MLM, life coach and porn spam followers on Twitter, people are more discerning about who they'll follow back. Most people will rarely follow the person or company with low numbers; it's a badge of legitimacy, even if those followers can easily be proven as fake. Is it right? No, but that's the system in which many "influencers" (including those in the social media field) have built their online empire.

Why Does This Matter for Brands?

The implications of having fake Twitter followers and Facebook Likes for brands is enormous. It goes beyond basic marketing ethics. It implicates your brand -- or agency -- as one that is unethical. Here are three reasons why this is huge:

1. Your Agency May Have Been Lying

For starters, your agency may have purchased fake followers in order to meet their goals. It would explain sudden bumps/spikes in Likes and Follows (remember you can do this for Facebook too), as well as decreases in engagement. As such, your agency may recommend additional ad buys to reach fans -- and then collecting a commission for making the ad buy. Quite a nice ponzi scheme, huh?

2. Your Numbers Undoubtedly Dipped This Summer

It's fairly obvious to spot when this account purchased followers. 

In doing some research on a few of the brands that I follow,  I noticed a decrease in fans this Summer/Fall due to Facebook's announcement of shutting down fake accounts. One friend's brand recently saw a 7,000 fan drop over the span of a week. It's going to be hard to trace it back to a specific instance unless the agency that purchased the fans did it outside of any specific ad buys or campaigns; 7,000 fans isn't easily traceable when you may have been running a legitimate campaign/offers to garner new customers/followers. It is worth noting that on Twitter the purchase is much easier to spot:

3. Don't Expect So Many Likes/Follows From Paid Endorsers

For brands sponsoring celebrities, there's a major implication that is worth speaking with your lawyers about. Whenever a brand works with a celebrity - or any personality with large follower/Like counts - those numbers are factored into the negotiations of "gets" for the brand, meaning that along with things like appearances, usage of their image and rights to a song, brands have been also asking for status updates and tweets from the talent. In retrospect, it also explains why a tweet or status update from a mega star with a lot of fake followers/Likes didn't move the needle for your brand's Likes/follows as much as you were expecting.

Moving Forward

Fortunately it's not all "buyer beware" for brands. First, you can protect yourself by checking out StatusPeople's Fake Follower tool and inspecting the blogger, celebrity, musician - or social media "expert" -- you're thinking about working with to see what percentage of followers are legitimate.  This will help set expectations on reciprocal follows/Likes as well as negotiate a better rate for working with a spokesperson. Taking it a step further, brands can also check out Wildfire's Monitor tool to pinpoint the exact date in which the suspect purchased their followers/Likes. In case there were any doubts, the era of social media transparency is beyond being "here".  And it's high time those in the image business and brand folks alike took note.

Update:  This post has been very well received --  except by those who've tried to game the system. The account denoted in the chart above has figured out a way to game StatusPeople so that their "fake" count is now down to single digits, even after fraudulently purchasing 40k followers and unfollowing 20k. However, Wildfire still shows the massive spike -- and now decline -- in their numbers.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Understanding Ethical Blogger Relations

I can't believe I'm writing this post in 2012 but as recent events have come to light apparently some advice about ethical blogger relations needed to be published as a reminder of what it means work with bloggers the right way. And by "right way", I'm not even going to touch myriad of "Don't call me a Mommy" or ignoring Dads or other issues that come from not knowing the people or space you're pitching. This is about general, ethical blogger relations and two specific examples of big agencies that are doing it wrong.

Case 1: Yes, You Can Pay Bloggers

The first example I want to discuss comes from a blogger who sent me a pitch that she received for a product review. The response from the blogger was that she ultimately had a fee schedule;  it costs money if you would like her to write about your product. It wasn't a lot of money -- especially given the hourly rates large agencies charge -- but ultimately she wanted to be compensated. Oh, and if they'd read her blog they'd have seen that other brands have paid her. 

Whether you're for or against paid reviews is irrelevant; this is not an unusual request and this is been the direction that blogging has been heading in for a long time. I'll say it again in case that didn't sink in: It should not come as a surprise that bloggers want to be compensated for doing working for you. "But this is earned media!" doesn't hold up when you're asking for their time. Yes, writing is work for them -- not a hobby that pays the bills. Then again, if the folks pitching actually attended blogging conferences and spoke with bloggers they would know this, but I digress. Payment, or lack thereof, isn't what is being done wrong here. Nor is the agency's position that they are looking to engage in earned media. 

Tip #1: It's a lot easier for bloggers to write about products they love when they actually like them. Start your search for bloggers to "earn" media with among evangelists.

The response from the global PR firm was that they couldn't pay her because the firm "only practices ethical blogger relations per the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) guidelines". This was their policy and she was only following orders. 

This statement and policy-- that you cannot pay a blogger -- is completely untrue and while it may be the firm's policy to not pay bloggers, is really an unethical way of citing a trade association's guidelines to circumvent payment to bloggers.

The fact is, you can pay bloggers provided they publicly disclose that there is a material connection between the brand and blogger. 

Another blogger, separate from this incident, disclosed to me that she "regularly corrects PR people" on the FTC guidelines for ethical blogger relations. Despite massive education efforts, the guidelines are being misread or translated internally at very large firms on a regular basis. That's scary not only for bloggers and the firms but also their clients whose names are being associated with these practices.

Tip #2: If bloggers have to teach your staff how to work within an association's FTC guidelines you need to invest a lot more in blogger relations education or stop doing it.

Case 2: Contractually Guaranteeing Positive Reviews

In last week's episode of Newsroom Will McAvoy brought in a fallen journalist turned blogger to follow Newsroom employees around to get a one-week sample of what it's like to work there in exchange for a glowing cover story. This is set up as being a "test" for the blogger, with everything being off the record. A provision of this "Newsroom 2.0" story was that Will had editorial control and right to censor any piece of the story he felt was unbecoming to the piece being positive.

Anyone who's watched the episode can see this is unfolding to be a train wreck in the making for Will.  The journalist in the episode has pieced together why he's been brought in to write this fluff piece but unravels a racy, inside scoop about ACN. Part II is next Tuesday, but in essence Will has asked a member of the free press to not speak negatively about him, his relationship with his producer or the show. 

This fictitious,  made-for-TVscenario isn't dissimilar to a blogger relations program sent to me wherein a global PR firm was asking a blogger for a product review and giveaway.  When the blogger responded asking for the product, she was sent acknowledgement of the agreement to do the review along with a written contract. 

In this instance, the firm and blogger are treating this as an earned media opportunity -- e.g. non-paying -- in which a blogger was sent a contract to sign and return before she could receive the product and perform a giveaway. 

Tip #3: If you're asking a blogger to run a product giveaway, there are costs involved in doing so in addition to their time. Shipping and legal/rules are two such examples. Either arm them with the tools to run it properly, or pay them to cover these costs (and for their time).

Understandably, whenever there is a material connection between a brand and blogger it should be disclosed, and this firm chose to employ the use of a contract so they and their client would not be held liable if the blogger refused to comply.

The contract states that the blogger must be honest. +1 for that. The contract states that the blogger must disclose. Another +1. In fact, while verbose, it does provide a nice working framework for keeping the firm and client safe from the FTC because it provides evidence that all parties involved will be ethical.  

The problem with this contract is that one of the paragraphs reads as follows insert part about disparaging the client or the PR firm here:

"Blogger shall not make any false, misleading or disparaging remarks about individuals or organizations or their products or services;"

False? No problem. Misleading? No problem. Disparaging? Wait, what? So a blogger, if agreeing to this, can't say something bad about a product? Earlier in the contract it said to disclose your relationship. Earlier it said to be honest. Just don't say anything bad.  Will MacAlvoy would be proud.

Tip #4: If you're not confident a review will be positive, either don't send it out for review, set your client's expectations that it might not be all roses and have prepared responses or don't do it. Honesty, not covering up negativity, is the best policy and authenticity will sell more cases than shilling.

Earned, Owned or Paid: Education Isn't Being Done Properly

These are just two examples sent to me within a few days of one another, and there are plenty more examples.  It's happening daily by firms who are supposed to be setting the standards for ethical blogger relations, are part of associations that claim to police their members, and by brands that in all honesty are getting bad advice. It goes without saying that regardless of whether you follow an association's policy or not, or whether you're a blogger trying to right an agency's wrong, the devil's in the details of people understanding and consistently following the actual standards.

David Binkowski is a partner at Large Media and "wrote the rules" for working ethically with bloggers for WOMMA in 2006. He also drafted the association's FTC Blogger Relations guidelines and has used his blogger relations experience to throw some of the most talked about blogger events over the past few years, including the dressbarn Runway Show at Type A Parent Conference and the Schick Intuition party at BlogHer. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

As Predicted, iOS Brings Twitter to the Masses

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently revealed some startling numbers about the microblogging service at Web 2.0 in San Francisco that will blow your mind. 250 million tweets are being generated each day, new user signups increased at a 3x rate thanks to integration with Apple's iOS, and 50% of their user base is publishing daily. That's sort of growth is incredible, and it was all made possible thanks to Apple.

While at one time we were bearish about Twitter, if you were a Large Media client, you'll know that the announcement from Apple was something we advised would be a game changer for Twitter. Putting the service at the fingertips of every iPhone and iPad user took Twitter from being an early adopter phenomenon to scale almost overnight. It was a bold move by Apple to embrace the microblogging platform, no different than how iMessage quietly changed texting forever for those using iOS devices over wifi.

There's a great takeaway here for brands looking at playing with startups: First mover advantage as a marketer with new technologies is still a completely hit or (mostly) miss game. And much like an up and coming artist, there's no guarantee of future success or a sustained career. Have a plan for why you want to partner with a startup and have an exit strategy. Remember, not long ago Gowalla was pitching brands on creating custom icons for $25k apiece, Facebook's Page management features were horrendous which allowed third party apps to thrive and Twitter was struggling to figure out a revenue model and even shut down texting in the UK due to costs.

The iOS/Twitter integration provides another great takeaway for startups looking to break into mainstream: Forget throwing parties with social media influencers, think like a marketer and go after your target audience where they work, play and live. There are still four P's in the marketing mix (and some might argue seven) and in the case of Twitter, the Apple iOS integration  -- Place, not Promotion -- took a startup and made it part of your everyday life.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Seven Mandatory Things To Do At SXSWi

I recently saw an infographic about 10 "awesome" things you should do at SXSWi and felt it was lacking several key ingredients of not only the conference but the Austin experience (side note: celebrity stalking is done much easier in LA and NYC with actual celebrities). With that, I present to you the 7 mandatory things you must do at SXSWi. And yes, all of them are legitimately worth doing.

1. Learn from worthy sessions

I was a bit surprised to see that the first reason for going to SXSWi on the infographic wasn't about learning. Even those of us who troll the internet all day and are on top of the latest shiny object can't know everything, every start up and every technology that is coming down the pike. Even in the world of digital, while it's great to be a specialist, there are experts on subjects that you can learn from. Study the panels, presentations and sessions before going and pick those that are of interest to your company and/or clients. Pro tip: Some people re-hash the same presentations over and over again at conferences, so if you're conflicted between two sessions try searching the titles and speakers first; you may find that this is just repackaged material.

2. Network like crazy

There are roughly three thousand people descending onto Austin and needless to say this is the ultimate networking opportunity, whether it's to meet agency types, brands, recruiters, start ups, journalists and freelancers. There are a plethora of people so don't forget your business cards, because you're going to need them. And don't play the "I need to meet [insert popular Twitterer here]!" because chances are you're going to have a very meaningless exchange with them. Sure, it's nice to appear in the party Flickr albums with them, but realistically it's not going to help your career.

3. Talk to Saul Colt

Saul is throwing one of the biggest parties at SXSW, but that's not why you should meet him. "The Smartest Man in the World", aka the "Mayor of Twitter" and Graduate of the Handsome Boy Modeling School is one hell of a word of mouth marketer. Forget the loud duds, Saul's the real deal and should be someone you connect with. And unlike a lot of the big talkers and "celebrities" in the social media world, Saul actually gets his hands dirty and does the work (as him about his SXSW guerilla marketing stories and tips!).

4. Buy a Beer

There is a ton of free booze at SXSW. And that's great if you're in college, but the local bars that aren't giving away free stuff because they're sponsored by startups and agencies need your dollars too. This is the town's Superbowl, and ignoring them because you want to save two bucks (Yes, the beers in Austin aren't priced like they are in major markets) is insane. Go local and support these pubs.

5. Take a Walk Down SoCo

Speaking of going local, just up the road from the conference center and newer downtown area, across the river on South Congress (SoCo) is the "cooler" part of Austin. Take a walk down Congress and enjoy some vintage clothes shopping, food trucks, restaurants, artisan shops and a lot of what makes Austin weird (but cool). Also, if you're planning on getting a tattoo from Award-winning South Side Tattoo it's best to schedule in advance as they're usually booked.

6. Go To Bed Early

This isn't me being your Dad, it's you maximizing your time in Austin. Nothing good ever happens after midnight, especially after an afternoon, dinner, and evening of free booze. You'll regret that last drink or taco truck enchilada the next morning -- TRUST ME.

7. Tip Your PediCabs

Sure they might be sponsored, sure they might be hipsters, and sure they might not get you there as fast as a car ride, but the hard working women and men of the pedicab crew deserve a tip. They're a treasure trove of information about the area and can tell you where to check out to avoid the crowds and are part of what makes the town cool, so don't be cheap on 'em.

BONUS: If you're interested in making the  most of Austin, be sure to tweet at and meet Spike Jones. He might even give you a copy of his book about word of mouth marketing!

There you have it -- seven (ok, eight) solid things to do at SXSW that will leave you a more enriched person and your company better off having sent you. Any others to add that I missed? Leave 'em in the comments.