New year, new destinations, new focus

You may have noticed somewhat of an absence of new content on here, and having declared reform in my last post, it seems I haven’t followed through.

But new year means new starts, right? And with that I’m bringing a new 2014 focus to my blog – still talking about everything to do with social media, but taking it on a bit of a world tour. So armed with my iPad, a 2 hour plane journey ahead of me and Instagram, I give you my first social media #ViewFromThePlane.

photo (1)A snowy Munich #ViewFromThePlane

I want this to be a series documenting the places I’m going to be lucky enough to visit this year, taking a look at how social media differs around the world. Many people make the mistake of thinking that social media is a one size fits all type channel, but there’s a whole world of social networks out there waiting to be explored.

So first stop, Germany. Not hugely exotic you may say, but actually pretty interesting from a social media perspective. From what was initially a relatively slow start, social media is now very much mainstream for the German population, and with this has come a shift away from a more reserved attitude to sharing personal information in a social environment. One of the reasons social media uptake wasn’t as rapid in Germany as it was in other markets was the concept of opening up ones life to people you didn’t necessarily want to share with. You wouldn’t tell everyone at a party everything you’d done in the last week, so why do it online?

But looking at the social trends in Germany, we see this mindset is very much shifting – for at least a significant proportion of internet users. And looking at the top sites used its very much leaning towards those that are geared up for personal connections without the unsolicited intrusion that was first associated with social media (yes Facebook, no matter how much you try to trick us into making our content public, we will prevail). Unsurprisingly the top sites are Facebook, YouTube and Google+, but I’m not that interested in those (although interestingly German is seeing a greater usage of Google+ compared to its European counterparts); what I am interested in is those local networks.

First up we have wer-kennt-wer.de (Who-Knows-Who) – the second largest network in Germany, and particularly popular amongst the non-academic in the south of Germany. But the recent plateau in page visits is suggesting that the community has reached a saturation point. Stayfriends.de has suffered a similar fate – what was the third most popular social network in Germany in 2012, is now too seeing a decline in members engaging within the network. With 5.6 million members it’s still a game player, but the game may be taking an extended half time break.

And then there’s the trend being mimicked that we saw across the rest of Europe (and the world) of the younger generation taking offence at seeing their parents on Facebook and consequently leaving it for something far cooler and newer to the social world. In Germany, the platforms the kids are flocking too is schuelerVZ where you’ll see almost exclusively high school students.

So why the social media uptake now? Well of course time has been a good stamp of approval – a slow and steady uptake has meant those observers have sat back and seen that actually you don’t have to share everything with the world. And the increase in mobile usage across Germany has certainly been a contributing factor, with over 10 million people accessing social networks on their mobiles every day, social on the go has become the norm.

And looping back to the idea of privacy and data protection, it suggests a reason why these local networks are so popular. If people in Germany are choosing their social networks based on the available privacy settings and how safe they perceive their data to be, then there is perhaps comfort in going where others are – safety in numbers.

So what can we learn from our cleverly cautious friends in Germany (clever in the fact that they watched others make social mistakes, learnt from them, and then did social at their own pace)? Other than of course Facebook is dominating, the main learning for me is the importance of understanding culture and behaviour. We may think we all behave the same because geographically we’re very closely linked, but don’t be fooled by that short plane trip; we don’t all need to share a selfie every three minutes.

Next stop, Belgium.

#ViewFromThePlane

The social world of serendipity

This is from an article I wrote for Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe

No one would disagree with the premise that social media has changed how we communicate, but when it comes to the discussion of how best to use social channels, there is still disagreement around the extent to which brands should focus on placing content or planning for organic discovery. 

With the emergence of social media came an evolution of the paradigm for digital content discovery: the primacy of search to deliver trusted, timely and valuable information has now been displaced by sharing. 

And here lies the importance of serendipity. With our social feeds acting as a vehicle for the accidental, but delightful, discovery of something useful, we find content that we didn’t even know we were looking for.

Some people will tell you that the era of social media and serendipity is over, and that social campaigns should be planned for at the same level of detail and accountability as other cross-channel campaigns. Perhaps so in major consumer categories, where branded content – or its hip new cousin ‘native advertising’ – seems present at our every social turn. But in healthcare, serendipity is a phenomenon yet to be fully explored. 

Real discoveries of serendipitous content can be thought of as ‘happy accidents’. For the pharmaceutical industry, that can sound worryingly synonymous with ‘unsolicited’, but this simply highlights that the power of social for pharma lies within disease awareness. 

As digital pharma teams, we spend a lot of time placing our content exactly where people go looking for it – the familiar truism of ‘fishing where the fish are’. But this isn’t really enough. If social is to deliver on its potential for serendipity, pharma teams need to do more than sit back, relax and hope that their audiences visit the Facebook page their agency sold them – they need to provide the prompts that are so necessary to encourage voluntary sharing. 

This is achievable by focusing on three key things:

1. Understanding behaviour
To plan for success through serendipity, understanding the psychology of sharing is a must. As individuals, we share content for a number of reasons: to say something about ourselves and what we stand for, to add perceived value to our communities, or simply because we love it. If you are on the receiving end of ‘the share’, you just might stumble across the information that drives you to an action that ultimately results in a diagnosis.

2. Understanding audience personas and journeys
When it comes to social media, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Therefore, profiling your audience is key. By understanding the demographics of the social journey, as well as the implications of these on trust, preference and expectation, you can organically become part of the conversation.

3. Actually adding value

The chance of serendipitous discovery is more likely when we offer something – be it advice, content or a service – without asking for anything in return. This means actually listening to insights and meeting real identified needs, instead of following social suit with a Facebook page.

If you are still wondering where your social efforts are best placed, turn your attention away from Facebook towards StumbleUpon – a giant collection of the best pages on the internet, seemingly generated at random for your viewing pleasure. How do they do this? Understanding preference, behaviour and personas. Serendipity at its best.

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Tick tock, tick tock

Time and social media

I haven’t been so hot on the blogging recently (half finished drafts sat in my WordPress app I realise don’t count!) but I vow to get back on the wagon. And the reason for my lack of published posts? Social media! Ironic you may say.

I’m having a pretty exciting time at work – social media has now taken over all that I do, and I couldn’t be more pleased, I LOVE it. But, it has meant a lot of long days and no time for blogging, tweeting or finding the twenty-or-so new social networks that have probably come out since my last post.

And with that, I get to the point of this post (and begin to contradict myself…) – time and its relationship with our online behaviour.

More often than not, we face objections to actually doing social (from our peers, clients, and even that voice inside our head) in the form of one of the following:

  • I don’t have enough time in my day to do social
  • Social media is too instantaneous and real-time; it scares me
  • I won’t be able to respond or engage with the community in the real-time manner that is required by social media
  • I can’t see the ROI on the necessary time I’ll need to invest to make social a success

I could write a blog post on each of these alone, exploring the reasons why, in fact, none of these are valid reasons to not do social (duly noted that I used the first one in my opening paragraph…) However, I think when faced with these oppositions, the best thing to do is flip it on its head. Let’s not think of reasons why we can’t do it; let’s think of reasons why we can’t NOT do it. And that of course is just a confusing way of saying, you have to do it.

It was a few months back now, but something I saw that really said to me who was leading the way in terms of understanding and integratng social into their business, was (perhaps surprisingly) the recruitment initiative run by Pizza Hut, ‘Because I’m Great’. This was a complete 180 on the traditional interview – a live LinkedIn review was conducted right before a 140 second interview took place. No paper CV, no half an hour presentation, just 140 short seconds to demonstrate why you have what it takes to be the head of digital. And the reason? To demonstrate an understanding of the short amount of time we now have to grab people’s attention and convince them to take action. And of course using Twitter’s 140 character limit as a rule of thumb for the time constraint. I personally think it’s brilliant.

So back to my original point. If Pizza Hut get the importance of doing social to such an extent that it even impacts their recruitment process, then so should the rest of us. This initiative also goes to show how time doesn’t have to be a barrier to doing social – if we can now recruit our most senior staff in 140 seconds, we can certainly put out a few tweets.

On to the next point about the instantaneous nature of social and the potential risks involved. I again urge anyway quoting this as a reason, to flip it on its head and understand the value of a instantaneous communications tool. The best way to rationalise this is thinking back a few weeks to the birth of Prince George. If my office were to be used as a representation of the British population as a whole, then all 65 million of us  were glued to @ClarenceHouse awaiting the announcement with baited breath. As soon as they knew, we knew. As soon as we knew, all of our followers knew. And so went the spiral until everyone knew about the arrival of the next King.

This demonstrates how important social media can be from a business perspective – using it as a word of mouth marketing tool, but on steroids. Of course, we have to think of the flip-side of this, when things can go horribly wrong and spread like wildfire through the social space. But that’s where you get a good PR agency, a good social media team and a robust issues management plan (get in touch if you’re interested…!).

So to end, I think this quote from Aaron Lee really sums up both the necessity for using social media, and also the need for consideration of time in all its various meanings:

“These days, social media waits for no one. If you’re late for the party, you’ll probably be covered by all the noise and you might not be able to get your voice across. It could only mean that if you want to be heard by the crowd, you have to be fast; and on social media, that means you have to be REALLY fast.”

So hurry up, the clock’s ticking…

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Ever heard of social petworking?

boo the dog

Social petworking – believe it or not it’s a real thing. Not only is it real, it’s growing at a phenomenal rate.

If this is as new a topic as it was to me a few months ago, then let me introduce you to some of the sites leading the way.

First of all we have My Social Petwork – the Instagram of the animal world if you like. This network is based on our love for those cute doggy snaps and the videos of kittens doing crazy things that we just can’t take our eyes off of. Users rate photos and videos of people’s pets (and there really is a whole array – giant snails feature on the home page…) with the aim to become the highest rated photo or video of the day. If we look at the activity all over our Facebook feeds, it is quite clear there’s an audience for this type of community. And I’m just talking about the owners – thats not including the 1 in 10 social profiles that are actually for pets themselves. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at Boo’s profile – the most popular dog on the planet, or so the 7.3 million likes would suggest.

Then we have the interestingly named Yummy Pets – the self proclaimed Facebook for pets. This takes it up a level – owners are no longer owners but indeed ‘pet parents’. I think there’s a lot to be improved on the branding (‘click here to discover yummy pets’ seems a somewhat strange invitation), but with 150,000 members, there’s no arguing its popularity. The community is very much built around what we are used to seeing on the ‘human side’ of social – profiles, status updates, photos, and lists of friends and fans. Having started life in France and launching this year in the UK, it’s certainly a booming business.

Now I’m no huge animal lover, but I do love social media, and I get where this adds value. There’s clearly a lot of pet owners with a whole lot of time on their hands, and that’s no bad thing for the petworking community, but where the value is really added is when these communities can be used as a resource for improving pet care. As examples, the sponsored ads within Yummy Pets take people to practical pet services, the blog provides helpful updates on keeping your pet healthy and of course the VIPets section – it’s always vital to keep up to date with celeb pets…

So my conclusion on the trend that I was initially pretty skeptical about is that it makes complete sense. As a generation we love social media, as a global population we love our pets, ergo we love social petworking. And if you’re still not sold – take a look at this infographic on the top social networking stars (the numbers are a little outdated, but they are still very much stars). Engagement numbers we could only ever dream of!

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When mathematicians aren’t so anti-social…

Social network friend clusters

Social network friendship clusters

As someone who loves social media and has a sometimes not so secret love for maths (love is a strong word, maybe a heavy appreciation and respect is slightly more accurate), the data analysis side of our online behaviour is something that I find pretty exciting.

Anyone who’s ever studied maths will know Stephen Wolfram – he’s your go-to guy for any maths related crisis (oh yes, they exist). Over the past year, he has been running Personal Analytics for Facebook – a research project designed to give users the facts and stats on their personal accounts with some funky graphs and charts. Pretty cool. But the point to the project was to obtain (completely transparently) a mass of data that would allow for in-depth analysis and provide a snapshot of Facebook usage across the world.

The full report is pretty lengthy, but there is so much that we can use to 1) build a case for Facebook (and social media as a whole discipline) and 2) extrapolate the data to develop intelligent forecasts and ROI measures for our campaigns.

And across the ocean, another Facebook study has been conducted – one that alleges to map obesity rates to Facebook activity. Published in PloS One, this Harvard Medical School study concludes that our interests listed on our profiles determine our likelihood of being obese. The idea is that there is a relationship between the lifestyle habits we endorse online and our real-world health.

The research team explored the content users across the US were listing as their interests, what they posted to their timelines and the content they liked and shared. All of which apparently leads to a conclusions about the likelihood of obesity. As pretty well put by the study authors, the potential of this type of data understanding “could be harnessed for intelligently targeted health interventions, such as through online and mobile messaging”. A very, very interesting concept for someone in my line of work.

Looking at these pieces of data analysis lead me to what I deem to be a pretty important conclusion. Never underestimate the power of data.

We are often blindsided by the all singing all dancing social media campaigns we see and get ahead of ourselves when coming up with our approach. But the most intelligent and successful social media initiatives are those that are founded in data, research and well-considered strategy.

With the rights tools and know-how, we can understand our audiences in such great depth as to pre-empt what they will be looking for, where they will be looking for it, and how.

As Wolfram puts himself, “it feels like we’re starting to be able to train a serious “computational telescope” on the “social universe”. And it’s letting us discover all sorts of phenomena, that have the potential to help us understand much more about society and about ourselves.”

So to do social right, embrace your inner nerd and learn to love the numbers before jumping in. And if that’s just not possible, come to me and my team, we love data!

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Anyone can create a Facebook brand page. Or can they?

confused

I’ve learnt over the last few weeks that Facebook do not make lives easy for page managers!!

I have a wish list of things I think Facebook should do – Mark Zuckerberg, if you’re listening, take heed.

Wish number 1 – stop making things so hidden!! What I would like is a list of rules that clearly state: you can do this, you can’t do this, do this and you’ll get closed down, don’t even dream of doing this…you get the point. Credit where credit is due; it is all there, but you have to be some sort of MI5 spy to find it.

Take for example, the cover photo rules. So I know that no more than 20% of my cover photo can be text – easy enough. And I also know that I can’t have a call to action in my cover photo. But, my definition of a call to action and Facebook’s definition could be very different. It’s a term we use a lot in PR to get a community to take action – usually around a disease area or some type of health activity.  My interpretation of what the Facebook rules do not allow is some kind of ridiculously large arrow pointing to the like button…which is fair enough. I would say, two pretty different takes on the term ‘call to action’.

Then there’s all the different default settings – not letting other people share on your timeline, the notifications settings, the positioning of images…to name a few. All things you need to think carefully about – but first of all you need to know that these exist!

Wish number 2 – have insights on posts that others share to the timeline.  Whilst insights is amazing, and almost a bit freaky in terms of the data it pulls, I really would like to know how posts by others are fairing. But hey, maybe I’ve become data spoilt!

However, on the plus side, once you’ve done it once, you’ve gone through so many different scenarios, you’re a pro!

And actually, whilst there is a bit of leg work in terms of getting to grips with the settings, there are some really nice features that work so well for the kind of work we’re doing. Timeline lends itself so nicely to telling a story –  you can go right back to when you launched and call out any key milestones, share historical content and generally get your positioning out there. Who said we couldn’t rewrite history?!

Then there’s the posts themselves and all the different features – back dating, post dating, location tagging, people tagging, pinning, marking as a milestone…the list goes on. What you want your community to see, they’ll see.

And then there’s the satisfaction of hitting ‘publish’ on the page. After the blood, sweat and tears that goes into deciphering Facebook’s Ts and Cs you get to sit back and watch the notifications rack up.

If you ever need ratification of the power of social media, it gets displayed right there in front of you: content sharing, organic engagement and likes without begging for them!

So I think my conclusion is page managers need a check list as reassurance before hitting publish. And just in case Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t follow my blog,  I’m going to make one. Stay tuned! 

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