Is Facebook Polluting Itself From Within?

By now, if you’re on Facebook enough each day, you’ve probably noticed the persistent presence of some people who think you should know about them. They aren’t your friends and they aren’t Fans of your business page.

No, instead these special un-invented guests to your Facebook News Feed belong to a category of what’s called Suggested Posts. And if they’re any indication of how Facebook “knows” you, its brain isn’t looking so smart.

In any given week, I get posts polluting my Facebook stream pertaining to lowering my bills (with a picture of the ugliest senior citizen you have ever seen), annoying Multi-Level-Marketers, political figures I would never support and more. You’ve undoubtedly run into them too.

Sometimes we want to help our social media channels get to know us better, but we have to be convinced that the networks we choose really “get us” within a very short period of time. If Pandora can help us discover better new music based on our preferences or Amazon can find us better book recommendations, the bar of every channel’s “brain” is going to be raised in terms of speed and accuracy. We’re only going to demand more.

But here’s the thing. I don’t want to help Facebook know me. It’s not even a privacy thing as much as my believing Facebook can’t make better recommendations than they currently do without a lot of work – and it shouldn’t need to come from me.

After all, I have “Liked” 267 things online that Facebook could monitor and learn from as is. It would not take a rocket scientist to understand many of my major passions in life: Branding, the Chicago Bears, Mexican food, craft beer, Apple and more. This isn’t guesswork. Anybody can see it.

If it’s truly a suggestion based on my preferences, the fact that these suggestions are, more often than not, just plain awful doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence. And call me lazy but do we need much more than a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” voting mechanism? Do I need to choose from about 6-7 different reasons to tell Facebook why I didn’t like the suggestion?

I think Facebook underestimated one thing about these Sponsored Pages – they’re a prisoner of their own genius in that people have a fascination with checking their stream multiple times per day – anything that interrupts that action, even temporarily, causes a reaction between mild annoyance and downright anger. Especially when it’s something intended to blend in and clearly doesn’t. Therefore, while they might’ve thought “friends of friends” equals instant results for an advertiser, the fact that 5 of your friends might’ve liked that page actually still gets trounced by the fact that it’s still your stream and you want control over what you see.

Natural human behavior beats functionality of technology. Oh wait – a Big Datahead just told me that the Math Men of data were defeating the Mad Men of advertising. Oops. Just maybe not in this case, then.

Facebook Ads a better way to go?

If you want to run a true ad for your business, then run an ad. I don’t know how to say it any plainer than that. Don’t make it a wolf in sheep’s clothing by making it look like a post that belongs in a news stream. Run an ad and don’t apologize for that. If there’s room for it, tell them what you want them to do.

Not everybody has had glowing reviews of Facebook Ads but I’ve actually been very happy with the results for clients thus far. When appropriate, it can work very quickly for generating an audience in a matter of weeks.

Know what I really like about them? I know they’re ads. I know where they are and what they’re trying to do. They’re not masquerading as posts. So I know they’re not trying to barge into my Facebook conversations like an obnoxious drunk guy at a dinner party.

Are we trying to get someone to like a single post or build relationships for the long haul? I assume the latter. So why not put more energy into getting them to Like our brand by clearly defining ourselves or a compelling call to action/offer in ad form – and then having them feel rewarded for that Like with ongoing messaging they want and have asked for?

We have to remember we’re still living in an opt-in world that doesn’t merely pertain to eNewsletters. It’s not just about e-mail sign-ups or RSS feeds. It’s about respecting the circle of friends that person has constructed. It’s something your brand needs to earn.

That takes work. That takes smart content. That takes a manner of writing in a way that tells the person, “It’s like I wrote this with just you in mind.”

These latest avenues from Facebook are shortcuts. It’s all too easy to pay to get into the party. But if the organizers realize they didn’t invite you, your brand will be tossed out quick. Instead, show you know the room or act like you do. What does the audience enjoy reading about, what are their current challenges, what do they love to share with others and if they comment, what are they saying? No matter what mechanism you use, Facebook or otherwise, laser focused targeting of your audience has never been more crucial for placement and messaging.

Still think just talking about yourself works?

Sorry. That’s an idea I just can’t sponsor.

Will Wall Street “Like” Facebook In The Long Haul?

As a social media brand strategist, it’s often hard for me to leave Facebook out of the equation entirely in recommendations. Oh, it happens. But not as much as other social media channels that could be completely left out of the media mix.

That part of “buying in” to Facebook is relatively easy, whether that means creating a Facebook Page, choosing Facebook Ads, etc. Practically everyone I know is on it and some of those people don’t hop from social network to social network with ease. So I don’t see Facebook disappearing anytime soon. I think it’s going to be around for a while, which is more than I can say for other social media channels that come and go.

Yet, the new part of “buying in,” literally buying Facebook stock, may give some people a degree of pause. Here’s why. The question becomes whether or not we believe it can continue to evolve and give us new, exciting experiences vs. having reached its peak.

This is going to be a huge challenge for Mark Zuckerberg because on one hand, he has to not only bring those new developments to the table to appease a new audience of investors but he also has to appease an audience of users who can be extremely sensitive to change (Timeline or Beacon, anyone?). Granted, people have to deal with that change and unless it’s a colossal miscalculation on Facebook’s part, I don’t see those users switching away with each evolution.

But when you think of Apple, for example, is it easy for you to imagine their next evolution without enraging a core group of fans? Sure, I can see that. Not everybody may buy, say, an iPad mini version, but it’s probably not going to be met with a backlash by those who don’t buy it.

When you think of Google, there are different products that are put forth from the company – some make it, some don’t – but we still by and large turn to Google for what we need, whether that means search, Google+, AdWords, etc.

It’s potentially harder for people with Facebook because so many changes they have affect the whole of the product. We can’t easily select what we want and don’t want from Facebook. They just do it and it’s our option to put up with it or leave entirely. They tell us these changes are good and we, sometimes reluctantly, have to go along with it because it’s not worth leaving behind the connections we have.

The other hard question to ask is this – do we want a social media department store? Because if Facebook evolves, it may have to keep adding on and buying companies like Instagram. But what if we don’t want all of our social media in only one place? Maybe we like having Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. in many different channels rather than One Channel To Rule Them All. If we look at physical department stores like Borders and Circuit City, we can see that the strategy of having many media under one roof doesn’t play with the public as well all the time as you’d expect.

Can a social media network actually reach a point where it becomes too big, too clunky, too fast? This concept has happened with other industries. Whether you buy Facebook may depend on whether or not you buy into the belief that each evolution they make will be fluid, intuitive and elegant or like turning around an aircraft carrier.

Why I do buy about Facebook is this much – there will be change, a portion of the audience won’t like that change (inevitable with an audience this massive), the size of that portion will depend on how great the change is and there will continue to be new players in the social media universe – not to take down Facebook entirely, but to outdo certain features.

I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of Zuckerberg. But he’s got quite the challenge at the opening bell.

Don’t Be A Channel Changer Over Facebook Timeline.

I’m hearing some reaction to the Facebook changes that have to do with its Timeline feature and frankly, I think the hysteria is quite overblown.

Whoa. Let’s slow down and remember a couple things.

1) You don’t own Facebook.
They can do whatever they want and it’s your choice to participate in it for free. I didn’t say they always make moves that are right (even Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t say that). But you and I both know they’re in control of the site at the end of the day.

2)  Switching to another channel over what is essentially a layout change is frivolous.
You can flee to another social media channel in protest…that will eventually make changes to its layout/visibility settings that you’ll protest, causing you to either go back to Facebook or another channel entirely. The Timeline change may annoy you but it’s not worth picking up and moving over. I saw a comment from someone who said “I’m going to Google Plus and I hope they won’t mess with anything the way Facebook is!”

Let me save you some time. They will.

You may like the changes, you may not, but they will change in appearance and functionality from what they have now. Regardless…why place the importance on that rather than the importance of conveying and sharing great content with the audience you care about? Does it prevent you from doing that? No. When a social media channel prevents you from easily creating and sharing the content that matters, that’s when I have issues with it. If another channel can do that for me in a more advanced way, you bet I’ll take a closer look at that option – not necessarily to replace the former, but to add to the overall mix.

If you want greater control over the content you create and share, take a look at your website and blog. These aren’t the only places your content should be living, but they are the places where a lot of your content can originate from.

Facebook is often a great distribution channel, but not necessarily the greatest place for certain types of content to originate from. This is why putting the whole of your brand into outside social media channels while ignoring your own “house” is a mistake that’s really worth getting upset about – a lot more upsetting than anything Facebook is going to change.

Sometimes it’s not worth fighting a gorilla.

This photo from someecards.com (yes, proofers, there’s a misspelling in it, but you get the idea) pretty much sums up the “uproar” every time Facebook makes a change to their structure, layout and functionality.

We don’t have to like every change Facebook makes but this is part of the deal we’ve made with ourselves by using a service that literally costs nothing and is larger than most countries in the world. Would you rather pay for the right to use Facebook? Probably not. Even if you did, I doubt this would mean you’d have the opportunity to have your voice heard above the hundreds of millions using it. You may pay someone to help you facilitate a presence on a social networking site like yours truly, but there’s still only so much that can be done – when the sites want to make a change, they’re going to make a change. And they’re probably not going to ask you for your opinion – even though they should more often in advance.

When you do pay for services like project management tools or web hosting, you should, of course, expect more. You should expect better customization to your needs and better customer service. But wasting your time getting angry over a free social network making minor changes? Just roll with it and look at the other side of the coin – be glad that a service like Facebook is making an attempt to evolve and make things better. If not, you can employ the same practice you would in watching television – change the channel by using something else. Not that I’d recommend that if that’s where your audience is primarily living, but just saying there are options if it upsets you that much.

But in the scope of the world’s true problems, Facebook making some minor tweeks is really not a big deal.

I’d just take a deep breath and be glad it’s Friday.

Cubs, Sox Looking Up at Teams in Social Media Standings Too

The San Francisco Giants are the world champions of social media. Oh, and I suppose they deserve that World Series trophy too.

Let me explain. I began to write this as a Cubs vs. Sox comparison of social media usage – and I do speak to this. But I also wanted to show the whole picture of how both the North Siders and South Siders compare against other teams in baseball. Plus, I didn’t want Sox fans to think I was trying to intentionally be biased against their team as I fully disclose my passion for Cubdom.

There may be Cubs Nation, Yankees Nation and Red Sox Nation, but in my view, the Giants are the best all-around baseball team in terms of being truly “social.”

And what’s crazy is that it primarily comes down to effort, not technology.

Some will say, “that figures because they’re in Silicon Valley and there’s a lot of tech people out there.” No, no, no. You and I both know that we’re talking about interaction, not building microchips. It involves maintenance and consistency but being a social media marketer doesn’t require hardcore engineering. So take that thought and smack it out of the stadium of your mind.

To arrive at this finding, I took a look at Sports Fan Graph from Coyle Media, Klout, Social Media Today and my own analysis of teams’ social media channels.

Now, let’s discuss some of those categories in greater detail:

Twitter Interactivity

I don’t judge too much by number of followers because obviously that favors the big cities vs. the smaller ones. Plus, I don’t believe that should be the most heavily weighted piece of criteria when measuring social media influence anyway. Instead, I looked at whether teams were actually conversing with followers or they were just using Twitter as an outlet for broadcasting.

Using this measurement, the Giants top off around 33 follower responses in a 24-hour span alone. That may or may not sound like a lot, until you consider what both of our teams did combined.

Cubs: Within a 72-hour span @Cubs acknowledged and responded to zero followers. The front office Tweeter at @CubsInsider was a little better – one follower in 72 hours. All the rest of their tweets were broadcasts.

White Sox: In the same 72-hour timeframe, @whitesox had the same result – zero responses to any followers.

 

Frequency of Tweets

Even with sharing play-by-play, scores and interviews, you can only tweet so much when it’s one-sided. The Giants are masters of pumping out tweets that are frequent and varied. As noted, they know how to give and receive feedback. At this point, they tally nearly 15,000 tweets.

By comparison, the Cubs and White Sox combined total a little less than half that many tweets. That’s a little embarrassing when you consider these teams have a fan base that’s much larger than, say, the Blue Jays or Rangers – just a couple of the teams out-Tweeting the Cubs and Sox.

 

Facebook Pages           

It’s almost a given that size of city will play an influence on size of Facebook Page, so it’s not terribly surprising that the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs have the largest amount of Fans on their Facebook Pages. Yet this is what makes the Giants’ showing of the 4th overall Facebook Page all the more respectable, considering San Francisco is in a market behind New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, Philly and several others.

The White Sox aren’t terrible overall in terms of Facebook Page volume (11th), but they certainly shouldn’t be losing out to anyone within their division – and Detroit’s Facebook Page is nudging it out by 20,000 Fans.


Check-Ins

More check-ins occur at AT&T Park, home of the Giants, than any other baseball stadium, according to Social Media Today. As of right now, their fans have checked in on Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places 284,854 times.

The Dodgers are second (233,008) and the Cubs are third (233,008). Not terribly surprising considering the beauty of the Friendly Confines but this is nonetheless a bright spot for the Cubs as they’ve nudged past those checking in at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t mean to pick on the White Sox here, but the number of check-ins at US Cellular Field are dead last in baseball (24,285). That’s pathetic. And you can’t put that all on the fans either. If they had enough incentive to check-in through certain promotions, they’d do it. So let’s see the front office do something in this area so the Sox can at least pass up the check-ins by Houston fans at Minute Maid Park, which deserves to relegated to last for its stupid hill in center field.


Conclusion

Some teams can rest on their laurels and get a sizeable fan base, but you’ve got to admire when a team becomes Avis-like and tries harder because it knows it has to. The Giants are in a smaller city and even have to compete with a team across the Bay to a degree. Yet there’s nothing preventing many other teams from doing the things the Giants are doing – they’re just hustling a lot more when it comes to posting, tweeting and interacting. Who knows? Maybe that’s a mandate from the front office there – hustle on the field and off of it.

As far as the Cubs and White Sox, there’s room for improvement overall. From a social media perspective with all factors considered, both teams are looking up at the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. And when it comes to Twitter, they’re behind the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Braves, Dodgers and Blue Jays. If you believe in Klout scores, add the Mets and Rangers above them.

I can understand being behind the Yankees. But the Braves, Rangers and Blue Jays?

Wait until next year, I guess.

How about your thoughts on how your team can be a little more social? To spur ideas, check out this article in Fast Company that talks about the “6 Things Sports Teams Can Do With Social Media To Engage Fans.”

SEO trumps social on driving traffic? Not so fast.

A post today in Crain’s comes from an SEOer who claims that SEO is what drives traffic above all else, not social media.

I certainly don’t disagree with him on the power of search engine optimization to be a big traffic driver, but I’ve got at least one case study that says social media can be a primary traffic driver, even over SEO: My own.

First and foremost, let me add one gigantic disclaimer: Everybody’s website and blog is different, with different audiences that behave in various ways. Some people are more searchers and have a great idea of what they’re looking for. Some don’t and stumble upon something they like, then share it with others.

My audience is a little more of the second variety. They find a post of mine, hopefully like it and share it. This isn’t to say my SEO isn’t good because it is. It’s to say that my results from social media have been even better. How so? I’ll list my top traffic drivers over the last 90 days, as thankfully with your help, this blog has continued to go up and up in readership. So for that, I sincerely thank you. Now to the list:

#1 Traffic Driver: Facebook
For me, Facebook is by far the best referrer of traffic to this blog. It’s not even close. It’s like Mark Zuckerberg called up a bunch of fans of mine, put them in a semi-trailer and drove them to my site. Then he turned around and did it again the next day.

Facebook isn’t just tops in referring people to my site but in share-ability of posts.

#2 Traffic Driver: LinkedIn
Again, this is where you need to pay attention to where your audience “hangs out” online. While it seems obvious, I really have to wonder if people factor this into their equation. It’s why I cringe whenever someone says, “You need to be on _____(insert site here)” without ever sitting down with the customer and getting a feel for who their primary target is. Not just demographic stuff but real behavioral targeting. Would you give a potential bride any old wedding dress off the rack without talking to her, getting to know what she likes, understanding what her budget is and taking her measurements before you know what you can recommend? Since many in my audience are businesspeople, it’s no surprise that LinkedIn is a popular place for referring traffic and sharing posts.

It’s right around here that my search engine optimization traffic comes in as a #3 referrer for various terms used. It’s very close with LinkedIn, but L.I. does edge out my traffic from Google slightly. Even so, Facebook crushes it – almost triple the amount of referring for all search engine terms.

Again, before you run into your boss’ office saying, “we need to be on Facebook and LinkedIn” remember that this is the way MY audience is behaving. Yours may be completely different and very search engine oriented.

Other strong Traffic Drivers: E-mail and Inbound links

Behind these three but still very valuable to me in terms of traffic are e-mail and inbound links. You know e-mail, that supposedly ancient method that continues to keep on giving. When a company has interest in a post and wants to share it, they may or may not be a company where social media is widely used. So the next best path is, naturally, e-mail. I’ve had many posts shared this way with traffic coming back to the blog. After Facebook, e-mail is the second highest way my posts are shared among others.

Inbound links have been kind to me as well. I’m referring to sites that picked up my posts and linked back to my site in their own posts. If those sites have high traffic themselves, I get high traffic. This is practically tied with e-mail for refer-ability.

Of course, as the tools of social media are always evolving, I’ll be interested to see how Google Plus plays into the mix as I revisit this list over the next month and quarter. I only expect it to gain more traction over time.

The point of sharing all this is simply that in the case I’ve just outlined to you, both social and SEO are working together to play a fundamental role in increasing traffic and sharing for me. The audience data tells me so. To suggest one or the other is always the go-to method for people is a blanket statement that doesn’t often apply. For some, SEO may be #1 and for others, social may be #1. But rare is the case where both shouldn’t be high on your list. They certainly are on mine.

Memo to a Mayor: Make Chicago the most socially connected city government

A couple months ago, I heard Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper tell a story of how Mayor Richard J. Daley (that would be Chicago’s first Mayor Daley for history buffs) used to instruct staff members closest to him to always carry a pad of paper with them. That way, when they saw something in their daily lives such as a pothole in need of fixing, they would jot that down and give it to the Mayor. I’d like to think the pothole in question then got promptly fixed.

I can also remember Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaking on Piers Morgan’s program on CNN about how he successfully used Twitter this past Winter to quicken emergency response times toward those residents trapped by a snowstorm.

Some say these examples are from long ago or apply to a smaller city than our own. But really – is the notion that Chicago be the most socially connected city be a pipe dream? No. I don’t think so. In fact, I believe we have the tools and resources to make this possible. And I think a relatively new Mayor in Rahm Emanuel is the perfect opportunity for renewed advocacy and accessibility with governmental leaders.

Let’s start with the ground level.
If someone sees a pothole, we may complain about it and say, “somebody should fix that.” Or we could snap a picture of it and tweet it to an alderman or City Hall with the location of where it is. At the end of this post, I’ll give you their Twitter handle if they have one. Easy enough? You know it is. You have time to use your phone for good in between games of Angry Birds.

Getting City Council More Social
Every Chicago Alderman should set up with a Twitter handle so they can be sent questions in the form of tweets from their constituents and respond in kind. Or use it to listen to relevant conversations going on among Chicago’s most passionate citizens. Currently, only about 1/2 of the 50 Wards have Twitter accounts and several of those are poorly updated (but glad to see my neighborhood’s Alderman, Tom Tunney, doing a good job with the tweets – @AldTomTunney). For more in-depth postings that incorporate pictures and video, having a Facebook page is not the worst idea, particularly since most constituents are likely on Facebook if they are not on Twitter. All you need once you’re set up with an account is to be responsive to the people who most likely live in your designated area – which is, after all, what you were elected to do, right?

Town Hall meetings
What works for President Obama can work at the very localized level too – broadcast Town Hall meetings or other types of monthly discussion meetings on YouTube to bring together roundtables of citizens with their Alderman to discuss topics that need to be raised. Now, I understand that the content at times may be no more thrilling than C-Span, but I didn’t say this has to be recorded in its entirety either. Taking the most useful snippets that are then posted on the Alderman’s site can help convey quick answers to questions that are very top-of-mind for the neighborhood.

Civic Investment
As funding from the private sector is important to help grow our city, each of our Aldermen should also be set up with a page from the leading B2B website, LinkedIn. I’m not merely talking about creating a page, however. I’m talking about creating an outlet for connections between the politician and corresponding C-level executives as well as associations can occur. It takes no time to create this and establish connections. Besides, LinkedIn also has a Polls application and no matter how much they say they don’t look at them, politicians can gain some significant insight and goodwill from polling their constituents on a variety of local issues.

“How do I do this?”
For the politicians: It’s incredibly simple to be set up with the right tools to engage your electorate on a daily basis, including all the ones I’ve outlined above and then some. It’s smart for your visibility, accessibility and yes, your election or re-election efforts. The main point is that what I’m suggesting is a small but important opportunity to improve communication between City Hall and its citizens just a little bit better. The upside is worth the investment of time.

For the people: Courtesy of the people at Progress Illinois, here’s a Chicago Aldermanic Twitter Directory. If your Alderman is on this list, connect to him or her and make the link to government in Chicago just a little bit closer. Don’t forget to follow our Mayor while you’re at it – @RahmEmanuel.

For those who may question the effectiveness of being the most socially connected city…do you really find the traditional way of getting things done in politics marvelously efficient?

That’s what I thought. Let’s give this way a try now.