Will digital platforms learn in their old age?

In the past week, I’ve done four speaking engagements, some with my colleagues at THP.  Included in the audiences were students, journalists, PR professionals, small business owners, folks from non-profits, consultants from all walks of life.  A pretty good mix of people.

Some of the focus was on journalism and public relations but in all cases social media was in the forefront.

In all cases though, the message back to me is clear.  We are now in the “mature” phase of the social/digital/online thing we’re living though.

Some observations:

  • We asked a room of small business/non-profits/consultants of they were managing their organization’s Facebook presence.  Last year less than half would have said yes.  This year they ALL raised their hands.
  • We asked the same question about Twitter.  Last year maybe two or three would have raised their hands.  This year ALL of them did.
  • ALL of them where active on LinkedIn
  • Some were managing their organization’s YouTube and Flickr accounts.  Last year most of them couldn’t have even spelled Flickr.
  • Journalists are using Twitter to break stories (not a surprise but always interesting to hear)
  • College students have a much higher level of understanding not only about the platforms and technology but only about their importance to the student’s future and vocation.

All very exciting.  But also the beginning of a cautionary tale.  I know I’ve been beating this drum a little.  Make way because the banging is about to get louder.

More than one person on the business side told us stories about how it used to be easy to get fans on Facebook and get folks to comment.  But now after reaching a certain level that feedback has stopped.  The same on Twitter.  They are finding it harder to start and maintain blogs.

In past posts I’ve talked about the need to ramp up cross-promotion across all marketing platforms to kick start your engagement levels.  I’ve also mentioned that it’s time to increase posts to your Facebook wall because of the increase in speed on most people’s personal walls.  If they blink, they will miss your post so frequency, once a nuisance, is now more important.

In addition, Facebook ads are becoming a necessary tools to grow a “like” base.  Again, social isn’t viral anymore.

All these platforms, Facebook, FourSquare and Twitter in particular, had better listen closely.

They need to make it easier for all customers, not just the big brands, to create ads that grow fan bases, create landing pages that engage, create identities that break through the clutter.  If they don’t they will lose this increasingly frustrated marketing common man who will then go searching for the next big thing.

They will become TV advertising, only catering to those who can afford it and not reaching an ever-growing number of folks who just decide to fast-forward through it.

It isn’t too late but the time is fast approaching.  It is our job as communications pros to help clients navigate these platforms and help them build communities.  Our job is more exciting this year compared to last, but it also challenging and it will also take more time and resources (money) to break through the increased clutter.  We also need the people behind the platforms to create ways to make it easier for all of us.

Would love your thoughts and comments.

Our #PRSARVA presentation

Thanks again from both me and Sonali Shetty for our warm welcome at PRSA Richmond.

We had a great time presenting our thoughts on the social media and digital landscape.

For those who missed it, here’s our Hodges Digital Strategies slide presentation…

The highlights of our POV include:

  • PR is “winning” the social media battle (pandering to the audience, I know) because PR is used to be the leaders in content creation.
  • The days of just creating a Facebook page and seeing people flock to it is over.  You need custom landing pages and ways to engage with your audience.  You also need to cross promote using a combination of traditional advertising, PR, online, email, direct and Facebook marketing/advertising.  This is what drives community growth and engagement.
  • You need to be everywhere since everyone is somewhere.  We call this mulitchanneling.  You need to provide consistently branded messaging across the platform spectrum ranging from media relations across to mobile apps.
  • Mobile is growing so think about mobile-optimized websites and apps.  Also don’t try to be all things to all people as you create your apps.  Thing of the “must haves” and add-on only a few bells and whistles at least at the beginning.
  • Video creation and conferencing will explode with the anticipated arrival of iPad 2 and companies like Cisco creating home versions of video conference hardware.
  • This year will be “tipping point” years for platforms like Twitter and FourSquare especially for business and brand applications, while “deals” and coupon platforms will be the ones to watch.
  • There are a number of “flavors of the month,” like Quora that bear watching.
  • New growing trends include Visual Search and E and F-Commerce that will become more available online and on mobile devices.
  • Think about the difference of B2B and B2C and how you should prioritize your social media presence depending on which you represent.

A lot of stuff to cover, I know so thanks again for all you came, asked questions and participated.

Feel free you use and share the slides, which are available here and on slideshare.net.


So, what’s next? We want to know.

A quick post here to preview a talk that Sonali and I are giving next Wednesday to PRSA Richmond.

They tell me that more than 100 folks have signed up so seats are going fast (more than veiled attempt here to jam the room.)  Here’s a link to sign up.

Even though Hodges Digital Strategies is still in its first year, our learning over the course of the last year or so has been exponential.  I peeked back at a similar presentation I gave last year and it looked prehistoric in comparison.  That being said, we are not experts and don’t have all the answers so some of this will be nothing more than our opinion based on what we’ve learned so far.

First and foremost, our presentation is still in the formative stages so if you’re coming (and even if you’re not) and there’s something you’d like us to touch on please comment below and we will try to cover it.

Some of the topics we are going to discuss include:

  • Public relations and its leadership role in social media
  • The maturing of social media platforms and what they means for brands
  • How to promote and grow your social media presence
  • “multi-channeling”
  • The current status of Twitter, Foursquare and others
  • The “next” platforms and trends
  • Mobile, mobile and did we mention mobile
  • And a takeaway for B2C and B2B and social/digital

Lots of stuff to cover in a short period of time.  If we’re missing anything please let us know.  If you have a comment please do so.

We will post the presentation next week after we give it.

2011: The year of the Tablet

So we gave my in-laws an iPad for Christmas.

I love my in-laws, but when my wife first suggested that we and her uncle go dutch on the iPad for my in-laws I gave her one of those looks.

You know the look.

My in-laws are wonderful but they’re the folks in the family who needed me or my brother-in-law to come over to fix the blinking clock on the VCR.

But my wife consulted her uncle who swore that each of her parents played with his iPad when they visited him.  So we bought the iPad.

And then an interesting thing happened, a week later we talked her my sister-in-law who said that each of her parents spent the whole week on the iPad checking the internet and playing games we had loaded for them.

And that is why 2011 will be the “Year of the Tablet.”

Of course, that’s not the only reason.  This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, more tablets will be introduced to entice the masses.  Some will be smaller than the iPad and other will run on the Android operating system.  But they will offer similar alternatives that Droid phones have offered to iPhones.  Experts expect tablet sales to quadruple in 2011.  They have already eaten into the Netbook market.

And of course, that’s all before the iPad2 launches later this year.

What does that mean for us in marketing and PR?

  • We need to understand how people use their tablets.  They are a great tool to check emails and for internet use.  But it is through Apps that they really come to life.  If your brand does not have an App you will be missing on the great tablet opportunity.
  • If not an App make sure your website is optimized for mobile use.  You may also want to consider how extensive you want to go down the “Flash” road, as flash-heavy websites are still no good for use on Apple products.  This may be mitigated by the growing Android tablet market.
  • If they are better “web-access” tools, they are also better social media platform tools, right?  For the most part.  It depends on how people access their social media platform of choice, through the web or through an App.  For example, Facebook has a much richer tablet (and mobile) experience on the web than through Apps.  On the web you can access custom landing pages, on Apps not so much.  The bottom line is if you think of a tablet as a larger smartphone (more on that coming), and people use their smartphones to check in or update status, then the tablet provides a bigger screen and better experience to Facebook, Tweet, Foursquare, whatever…on.
  • If you believe that the iPad2 will include two cameras, we are then just a short step away from your tablet becoming your videophone, with a much bigger screen.  The new Skype App just released for iPhone is a step in that direction.
  • The bottom line is there are two ways to look at how we communicate to folks online.  First is which platform they use, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Second is which devices they use to access them, desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets.  Brands need to “be” on all these places and they need to offer what consumers and fans want, interactivity, information, offers, etc.

So if you agree that 2010 was the Year of Mobile, 2011 is the Year of the Tablet, or Year of Mobile2, the sequel.  The tablet enables mobile but in a larger-screen way.  For communicators who want to extend their brands, understanding how people use these devices is critical since people not only take them from meeting to meeting but from room to room.

If you haven’t figured out a way for your brand to have a “tablet home” now is the time.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Facebook Places #fail?

So you rush to meet your friends at your favorite coffee hangout and you feverishly look for your favorite mobile appendage so you can click on Facebook and check in with Facebook Places to tell them where you are so they can meet you at the table in the corner.


Wait, you’re not doing that?

Apparently you’re not alone.

An interesting article article from a business site out of San Francisco details all the reasons why younger folks are not using FB Places in big numbers.

And they are not alone.  In a very unscientific survey of friends and co-workers most can count on less than one hand the number of their friends who are checking in using places.

Most cite the issues detailed in the article, lack of availability, favoring other geo-location sites like Foursquare, and the more than perceived continuing nagging privacy issues that continue to dog Facebook all across the board.

So while, Facebook continues to roll the service out around the world (this week it launches in the UK), the initial reaction here that began with great excitement, seems to have cooled to a yawn.

I’m wondering if the launch of this service has finally put the social media darling in its place (s)?

Let me know if you and you friends are using Places.  Why? Why not?

Facebook…the Foursquare killer?

The folks over at Foursquare and other geo-location applications are holding their collective breath today.

It has been widely reported that tomorrow is the day that Facebook will officially announce that it will be getting into the geo-location business as well. This has been teased for months but the hope is further specific details will be released.

So today is speculation day and here are some of the questions:

  • Aside from being able to “check-in” on their mobile Facebook APPS, how will Facebook bring this to life for its 500 million+ members?
  • How will developers be able to use Facebook’s geo-location and incorporate into third-party APPS?
  • How does this tie into the redesign of custom landing pages?  Does it at all?
  • Will Facebook incorporate marketers’ ads, coupons and special offers into the new service and will developers be able to design them as easily as they can currently design and target existing Facebook ads?
  • How will Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla and others fend off the 500-million pound gorilla?

Would love to hear from you in the hours leading up to the announcement.  Please opine and comment.

I know one thing.  If I’m Foursquare, I’d be a tad nervous.

The PR social media crystal ball

First off, thanks again to the PRSA for asking me to present to their Thursday breakfast meeting.  It was a great group of familiar and new faces and hopefully what I talked about was helpful.

For those who couldn’t attend, I thought I’d recap here.  I will also share my presentation though Slideshare, just click here and you can view and download although you may need to become a Slidshare member to do it.

For the presentation I was asked to share my thoughts on “what’s next” for social media.  Anyone who truly knows the answer that question is much smarter than me and likely lying but I took a shot and here’s what I came up with.

  1. Conversing and not broadcasting:  Now that you have gathered friends and followers (and want to increase those numbers) you need to truly engage them, not just throw things at them — in short you need to provide value.  Share good information, teach them.  On Facebook use custom landing pages–here’s the one THP and Compleo did for National Harbor (now that Facebook will once again let you do that), offer games and contests with cool prizes (here’s our current contest for SnagAJob.com), do ticket giveaways on your wall.  Have fun.  But most importantly…START A BLOG.  The blog is the best way to engage, share your                       expertise and opinion and begin a conversation.
  2. Geolocation: Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla, if you are not familiar with them you should be.  On those platforms, people tell other people where they are and what they are doing.  And in some weird social media peer pressure twist of fate through check-in, badges and reviews people are driven to the places and businesses frequented by their friends.  Retailers and businesses are offering real world rewards to encourage more traffic and check-ins as a way to drive more traffic and PRESTO, a new social phenomenon is born.
  3. Privacy: What the head of Facebook publicly states he doesn’t believe in privacy, we’re all in trouble.  For companies and organizations the blur between personal and professional on social media means new rules for them and their employees.  In the social media world we are all ambassadors of all organizations we represent, we don’t have the luxuries that we used to have to say the things online that we’d like to.
  4. Online vs. Mobile: In this day of limited marketing budgets and an increasing number of online devices, where should companies spend their money?  The answer is where their customers or member are the most.  In the new world that may not be on the computer but on their tablet or on their phone.  This may force companies and organizations to make choices between their websites and their mobile APPs.  If you could only afford one, which one would you choose?  And oh, don’t forget about QR codes.
  5. Measurement: Apologies to my friends at social media measurement companies but I still think you have a way to go.  There is no simple solution in this space.  There is no industry standard.  We still have to rely on the old standards of “what is my goal?” and “how can I use social media to reach that goal?”  You also must create your own cadre of online tools to review and manage your organization’s reputation.  The companies are making strides here, but are not there quite yet.
  6. Live “U”casting: We have live blogged, live tweeted, and podcasted but have we really taken advantage of services like Ustream or Justin.tv.  What I can broadcast live video directly from my Droid online for all the world to see as I can now, the PR implications are frightening.
  7. It’s not social media, it’s just marketing: Just like direct and online before it, social media is not an add-on anymore, it is official a key part of the marketing mix, the sooner we treat it that way, the better for all of us and our clients.

Okay, so that’s my best shot.  If you disagree please comment, if you think I’m missing something I’d love to hear it.

The only certainty is the second we feel comfortable Facebook or someone else will pull the rug out from us so be flexible and be ready for the next big thing.  It is likely right around the corner.

The story of #bubbleswarm: Badges? We don’t need…

Foursquare, we don’t need no stinkin’ badges. 

Actually we do.  Really.  Want them. 

But I digress.  The story begins earlier this week on Twitter as Matt Lake of Wine and Beer Westpark (@wbwestpark on Twitter) in Richmond’s fashionable West End, his wife Caroline (who works with me: full disclosure) and others were volleying back and forth on Twitter.  Someone, not sure who it was (maybe Kira Siddall, maybe not) brought up the quest for the holy grail of Foursquare — the elusive “Swarm Badge.” 

Kira Siddall, Caroline Platt (Lake) and don't know the guy (l. to r.)


"Checking in" on Foursquare

Foursquare, for the uninitiated, is the downloadable app/game, that allows people to “check-in” from places that they are visiting, eating at, hanging out at, etc.  It is enabled my GPS technology that now comes pretty much standard with mobile devices since that’s how it knows where you are.  Everytime you check in, you get points.  You can find friends on Foursquare and compete for status through points.  Visit a place often enough and they make you “mayor” of that place.  Foursquare also awards badges (a la Girl Scouts) for milestones.  

The primo milestone is the “Swarm Badge” awarded when 50 or more people check-in from one place within a short period of time.  Once you hit 50, their PDA’s or phones flash with the badge reward, they get congratulatory emails.  Life as they know it is very good in the world of Foursquare status. 

Before I go on and since the aim of this blog is to sometimes educate, I have written on Foursquare and its brothers Yelp and Gowalla before.  They are THE social media tools of the small business owner, who if they play the game the right way will reward visitors in real life for coming to their place of business to play this virtual game.  You can see the opportunity before you, can’t you?  By encouraging people to check in, they are encouraging them to come and spend time and money there in the first place…capeesh? 

Matt Lake of Wine and Beer Westpark with celebratory bottle of Cristal

So, back to this week.  The Swarm Badge.  So during the back and forth, Matt and Caroline made the following offer, come to WBWP on Thursday night at 6:30, we’ll offer some libation.  The goal was to get at least 50 people there to check-in to get the badge.  Hence, the event “#bubbleswarm” was born. 

Fast forward to last night, by estimates more than 75 people showed up to #bubbleswarm.  As is usual in a social media setting, many of the folks knew each other online and were finally meeting each other in person.  For others it was a chance to catch up.  For all, it was their shot at “The Badge.” 

Annette Kennett (foreground) and the "swarm at WBWP

The plan was for a synchronized check-in at 7:00pm sharp.  As happens sometimes with technology, some folks got through, some folks had network issues.  Foursquare also picked that exact time to have capacity issues. 

But we counted, in person and online.  The result?  More than 50 people, confirmed, checked in.  Really.  Scout’s honor. 

Did some get their badge? Yes.  Did I?  For some reason, no. 

Can’t say I’m not bummed. But at the end of the day the point was not the badge, but the fun and the company. 

For Matt and Caroline (and other small business owners), the point was exposure and sales.  As a PR person I’d be lying if I said that my head wasn’t spinning with the possibilities of how to incorporate such events into PR plans. 

There aren’t many things that compel that many people to go anywhere at the same time for a spontaneous (well, all most) celebration.  If you are a small business owner, take note. 

So again, Foursquare we don’t need your stinkin’  badges. 

(I wouldn’t be too upset if mine just magically appeared though.)

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