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Archive for the 'Online Strategy' Category

Facebook’s EdgeRank – What You Need To Know

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

FacebookBy now, almost every marketer has read statistics similar to the following about the ubiquity of Facebook:

  • Over 500 million users
  • The average user has 130 friends on the site
  • 50% of active users login every day
  • The typical user sends 8 friend requests per month
  • The average user spends 15 hours and 33 minutes on Facebook per month
  • The typical user visits the site 40 times per month
  • The average user spends 23 minutes during each visit
  • More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared each day

As such, marketers are starting to awaken to the promise of Facebook – not only as a social media platform but also as a social marketing tool.  Companies increasingly are setting up Facebook Fan Pages and focusing on getting users to ‘like them’.  However, in order to leverage the power of Facebook as a marketing tool, you need to understand the process that determines whether posts from your Facebook Page will even reach your fans.

For most Facebook users, the news feed is the lifeline to their network – it contains all of the activities of their friends and pages they have liked.  A user has two choices for her news feed:  ‘Top News’ and ‘Most Recent’.  Most Recent is a chronological order of all activity and Top News (the default) shows the content Facebook believes would be most interesting to the user.

One of Facebook’s challenges is continuing to provide a useful and relevant experience for its users as the total number of users increases, each person’s individual network expands, and the number of activities grows.  For the average Facebook user, a news feed with all activities listed can become overwhelming and crowded with uninteresting content.

One way that Facebook is attempting to meet this challenge is by providing the Top News news feed.  The content displayed in Top News is determined by Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.  While Facebook doesn’t provide specifics, it has shared the components of the formula:

Facebook's Edge Rank

Don’t worry, you don’t need to dust off your old high school or college math text books.  No complex computations are necessary.  A brief overview of each component is all you need to get started on the right path.

Affinity score attempts to show the strength of interaction between the user and another Facebook entity (user, brand, etc.).  If you click on posts from your Mom every day, comment on her wall, like her updates but never interact with the 1st grade teacher you friended, the affinity with your Mom will be much greater than with your 1st grade teacher.  Affinity is a one-way score:  I may have a different affinity score with you than you do with me.

Weight pertains to the type of activity and it is believed that certain activities are assigned more weights than others (e.g. a comment may be worth more than a like).  The more engaged someone has to be to interact, the higher the weight is likely to be.

Time decay depicts that new content is going to be given preferential treatment over older content.  Typically, as a post ages, it becomes less relevant and so it will lose EdgeRank.  As with most social media, people want new and fresh content.

From a marketing perspective, the key takeaway is a simple ‘post it and hope they will read it’ approach won’t work. You have be more planned than that.  As with any other marketing tool, it’s all about engagement.  It’s thinking about what type of content will most likely generate a positive reaction – which content will your audience find interesting.  Which content will generate the type of response that keeps you in someone’s Top News news feed?

Understanding how EdgeRank impacts your ability to stay connected with your fans is the first step to effectively using Facebook as a critical marketing tool for your organization.

Source of Facebook data referenced: facebook.com & pingdom.com

To Do: Go to 30,000 Feet

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Today’s To Do List:

  1. Design landing pages for email campaign
  2. Implement paid search ads
  3. Deploy transactional emails
  4. Publish blog posts
  5. Start drip campaigns
  6. Optimize key pages
  7. Plan sales promotions
  8. Develop creative for display advertising
  9. Post on Facebook fan page
  10. Design merchandise up-sells

The to-do list of what you need to do to manage your online presence is virtually never-ending. You have so many tools in your toolbox, and you never feel like you have the adequate time and resources to be doing everything you really want to do. It is so easy to get buried in the day-to-day activities of managing your Internet operations.

However, as important as those tactics are to your success, you can’t forget to dedicate time to step back and take a 30,000 foot view of your business and consider your opportunities.

Real game changing ideas come by thinking big. That type of thinking can’t be crammed in between analyzing your conversion funnel and adding new products to your online store. You need to find the time to really allow your mind to clear itself of the day-to-day minutia so that you can think strategically.

This is not the once-a-year strategic planning that other groups in your organization may be able to do. Given the rapid pace of innovation in our space, you need to be doing this much more frequently – for example, monthly. You need to get out of your office, turn off your phone, leave your laptop in your bag and let your mind explore the possibilities.

What implications do Foursquare, Quora, QR codes, NFC, a double-dip recession, tablets, electronic wallets, cloud computing, smarthphones, federal spending cuts, Groupon, unrest in the Middle East, etc. have on your business? What’s the next big thing? What are your competitors doing? Where is the venture capital money going? What are the real visionaries talking about? Is there innovation in seemingly unrelated industries that you may be able to leverage? What do your customers really need, and is there a way to provide them with a better experience? What assumptions are you making that you need to challenge? What does all of this mean in terms of risks and opportunities?

Are you ready for your trip to 30,000 feet? Are you ready to see the forest through the trees?

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Monday, January 24th, 2011

‘Sorry’.  It’s such a simple word, but it can have such a tremendous  impact.  It can diffuse even the most tense of situations.  It can be a game changer.

By telling a customer that you are sorry when she has a negative experience with your product or service, you are showing her that you care, you sympathize with their situation, you aren’t blaming her, and you are willing to take responsibility.  Maybe most importantly, you can significantly change the tone of the conversation so that you can have a meaningful discussion in trying to find a resolution to her problem.  Saying You are Sorry

However, ‘sorry’ is more than a word – it’s an attitude.  It’s a mindset.  It’s introspective.  It’s thinking first about what your company could have done to prevent the problem or what it can do now to resolve issue.

Elton John sang, ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word.’ Is that the situation for your organization?

Think Big

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I recently saw The Social Network, a movie about the founding of Facebook, and there is a line that has really resonated. Toward the end of a meeting between Sean Parker, Napster co-founder, and Mark Zuckerberg, Parker says something to the effect of:

You know what’s cooler than a million dollars? A billion dollars.

His point was to think big.  Redefine what success is.

apollo

Photo By Suzan Marie

That’s one of the common traits of successful entrepreneurs – they think big. They think in terms of ‘game-changers’, revolutionary ideas. They think outside of the box.

Not everyone can come-up with the next idea for Facebook, YouTube, or iPhone or how to send a human into outer space (and get him back), but we all can force ourselves to take a step back and think about how we can innovate in our jobs. Challenge ourselves to look at our opportunities and challenges in new ways. Question assumptions. Ensure that we aren’t just doing something because that is the way it has always been done. Learn from industries and businesses that don’t seem to have a direct relationship to ours. Always strive to improve.

Very few are going to have the success of a Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or even Henry Ford, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from those types of successes to help us generate evolutionary, if not revolutionary, ideas.

The Danger of the Status Quo

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

We tend to love the status quo. The status quo can be as comforting and reassuring as a child’s blanket or favorite stuffed animal. Alternatively, change can be intimidating, nerve-racking, and uncertain. The danger, however, is that love for the status quo can lull us into a false sense of security and blind us to both risks and opportunities.

The pace of technology, business, and even life means that everything is changing at a more rapid pace. Entire business segments are both created and made obsolete more quickly than any other time in history. Competitors come from seemingly nowhere and opportunities can be taken advantage of in a way not experienced before.

cocoon

Image: Tambako the Jaguar

As such, we can’t be hypnotized by the status quo. It’s so easy to continue to do the same thing and too often organizations create or permit cultures where people become more concerned with protecting their turf than growing the business.

You don’t have to look any farther than Blockbuster to find a company where the status quo was doing quite well but they neglected to recognize the winds of change. As a result (and the excellent execution of Netflix), the company is in serious trouble.

The best way to avoid the danger of the status quo is to create a culture were the norms are challenged, creative thinking is encouraged and risks and opportunities are continually being evaluated. Departments needs to coordinate and collaborate, and leaders need to be required to look not just at what’s right in front of them but also what could be coming further down the road.

You can’t be certain what change is coming, but you can be assured that some type of change will arrive.

Ten Tips for Addressing Customer Service Issues Via Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

How would you respond if you called a company’s customer service department and the agent told you to send an email to another customer service group and someone should be able to help you out?  Pretty frustrated, right?  Well, you see that type of response frequently by companies on their social networking sites.

It happens because sites like Facebook and Twitter are often under the domain of an organization’s marketing or public relations department and there isn’t sufficient coordination with the customer support group.  The problem is that your customers have and will increasingly turn to websites like Twitter or Facebook to air grievances and seek resolution.customer-support

Your customers don’t care which department is responsible for “social media oversight” or your organizational structure.  When they tweet you or post a comment on your Facebook page, they expect the same type of results (if not better and faster) as if they picked-up the phone and dialed your phone center (or emailed or contacted you via online chat).

Given the public nature of social websites, prompt and effective customer service on Facebook, Twitter and the like is extremely important.  Not only should you want to take care of your customer, but because your response is seen by prospects, other customers, vendors, and partners, it also impacts your brand.

Here are a few tips to help provide excellent customer support on social websites like Twitter and Facebook:

  1. Understand that even if you don’t have a Twitter profile or Facebook fan page for your company, your customers will still voice complaints about your organization on those sites and you need to be prepared to react.
  2. Develop a process to handle customer service issues that are communicated via sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Include all relevant groups within your organization and make sure that you treat the posted complaint like an email, phone call, or chat – in others words, be proactive in contacting the person who originated the issue and be ready to help them.
  3. Have social monitoring in place so that you can respond quickly to issues.  If you are still developing your process, you can use social monitoring to get a sense of how many issues you might encounter on a daily or weekly basis.
  4. Don’t forget that social media time (especially Twitter time) elapses at a much quicker pace.  Just like 1 human year equals 7 dog years, 1 real world hour equals something more like 7 twitter hours.  Responding in 48 hours isn’t seen as being prompt in the social media realm.
  5. Be strategic about when you communicate publicly and privately.  Not all communication with the customer needs to happen via public comments.  The initial contact should be public so that others are seeing you are being responsive but often the follow-up (getting specifics, etc.) is better done via email, phone calls, or direct messaging.
  6. Even though we live in a digital world, sometimes the best way to diffuse a situation is by talking the disgruntled customer over the phone.  The extra effort can go a long way and is usually appreciated by the customer.
  7. Make sure there is some process to provide a summary report of complaints and issues back through the organization. The best way to handle customer problems is to prevent them in the first place and complaints and reported issues should be valuable feedback to sales, marketing, engineering, research and development and product development.
  8. Be transparent!  Don’t, and I mean never, try to diffuse a situation or defend your company through a response where you pretend or give the allusion that you are just another customer or unbiased community member.
  9. Don’t think that only ‘big’ companies need to worry about customer support on the social media sites.  People use the web do research on all types of companies (big and small, national and local).
  10. Obviously, don’t forget that anything you post publicly can be viewed by everyone.  Think about how your response will be perceived by others – don’t be dismissive or defensive.

Is there anything that I missed?  What suggestions do you have for companies to be successful in addressing customer service issues via websites Twitter and Facebook?

Focusing on the Right Numbers

Friday, April 16th, 2010

numbersYou’ll hear companies tout the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers or email subscribers they have, but those numbers don’t mean much.  Sure, everything else being equal, you would rather have more fans than fewer.  What is really important, however, is how engaged those fans, followers, and subscribers are.

My wife has an address book that she has kept for as long as I can remember.  She has hundreds of names, but many of the people listed are ones whom we have lost touch with.  We don’t know what is going on in their lives and we wouldn’t be invited to a birthday party, wedding, or graduation party they hosted.  In fact, a large percentage of addresses and phone numbers probably aren’t valid anymore.  We certainly can’t count everyone listed in that book as a friend, even if their information is still current.

The same holds true with your online marketing lists.  People may have signed-up because of a contest, by mistake, or were once interested in your product.  The reality is a significant portion of many companies’ customer lists are disengaged.  It happens – people lose interest, move on.

So instead of focusing on how big your list is, focus on how many people you can really get engaged with your company, brand, service, or product.  That is the number that really matters.

Is Enhanced Internal Site Search Your Low Hanging Fruit?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Online marketers often focus so much energy on driving new visitors to their website that they often overlook the What is your low hanging fruit?activities on their website that are most critical to converting and growing loyal visitors and customers.  Consider internal site search – According to a Google report on internal site search, 90 percent of companies report that search is the No. 1 means of navigation on their site and 82 percent of visitors use site search to find the information they need.  Given that 80 percent of visitors will reportedly abandon a site if search functionality is poor, enhanced internal site search functionality may be your highest return investment opportunity.

The ROI Can Be Compelling

As we noted in a previous entry, Website Redesigns Gone Good, we helped a client to implement enhanced search capability that resulted in a 35% decline in the volume of search abandonment.  For our client that represented over 100,000 consumers each year who were far more likely to make a purchase and who left the website experience more satisfied and more likely to return – also helping to drive a 20 percent increase in web site driven revenues.  eFollett.com, who provides access to over 1,400 online bookstores across the United States and Canada, installed a new site search engine and grew web sales by 23%.

So where to start?

STEP 1: Analyze how visitors to your site use your current site search

No surprise here – given our emphasis on analytics and understanding site behavior.  If configured properly, any reputable analytics solution should provide extremely valuable information.

  • Pay particular attention to bounce rates, exit rates, and conversion rates by keyword.
  • On the highest volume keywords, what results are presented, in which order, and to which pages did visitors navigate.
  • A high volume of search activity on particular categories of keywords can reflect important deficiencies in the navigation of your site.
  • Segment your audience and develop an understanding of how different types of users use site search.
  • It’s important to remember that in most cases the majority of traffic to your site does not start on the home page.  This can change the context for why someone may do a search.
  • This step is often necessary to build the business case for any investment in enhanced internal site search capabilities.

In addition to helping you to identify where your current search and site navigation is falling short, analyzing your search traffic can also help you develop a better understanding of your website visitors.

STEP 2: Research best practice internal site search features

Competitor websites or the websites for market leaders in related industries can often be very helpful in this regard.  Some of the most common enhanced features include:

  • Search filtering (e.g. price, product/content type, brand, color, etc) – Over 88% of the top 500 online retailers offer search filtering – those that don’t are primarily due to narrow product offering.
  • Search Relevancy/Prioritization – Advanced search tools provide powerful methods for altering the order in which search results are returned.  For example, you may want to give higher priority to high conversion or high margin products.
  • Redirects – When you have created a page that has been optimized to address a particular topic or product category, you can have a visitor automatically redirected to that page when they search on a related keyword.
  • Keyword Specific Promotions – Much like redirects, specific promotions can be displayed for specific keyword searches.  If, for example, someone did a search on “green golf bag”, the search results page might contain a promotion related to golf items.
  • Spelling Correction and Synonyms – Nothing will deter a visitor more than getting a “No items found” search result (and this feature is particularly helpful for a poor speller like me).  A search at Officemax.com on “Digital Overhead Projecter” returns “Presentation Equipment & Supplies” and “Projectors & Accessories” as category options.
  • Sorting Options (e.g. price, product rating) – Just providing useful sorting options on search results can increase search effectiveness considerably.

STEP 3:  Identify Opportunities for Specialized Searches

Look for opportunities to develop specialized search capabilities for important product lines or content types.  This necessitates really understanding how visitors search for specific types of products or content.  For example, one of our clients who offers artificial Christmas trees, dramatically increased conversion by providing a more structured search that allows visitors to easily select attributes like the size, color, and lighting of the different trees offered.  OfficeMax offers an entirely different method for searching for printer ink that allows the visitor to select the brand and model of your printer.  You can also significantly reduce customer support costs by providing customer support content via search.

STEP 4: Evaluate SaaS (“Software as a Service”) Internal Site Search Offerings

The SaaS model allows websites to provide powerful search capabilities to your visitors without visitors ever knowing that a 3rd party is providing the functionality.  The SaaS model can provide several benefits, including:

  • Reliable and scalable infrastructure
  • Lower cost of ownership
  • Easier upgrades
  • Faster time to market
  • Experienced support staff
  • Derive benefits of collective development on an ongoing basis

There are dozens vendors in this space, but the following are some of the leaders in the space:
•    Endeca
•    Omniture SiteSearch (Mercado)
•    SLI
•    Celebros
•    EasyAsk

Not surprisingly, each of these vendors (and the others not listed here) has strengths and weaknesses and should be evaluated in the context of the information you gather in Steps 1 through 3.

Follow the steps outlined above and you may see returns beyond your expectations.  Good luck and please contact us if you have any questions.  Also, we would be interested in any examples of high profile websites that you think have especially strong or weak internal search capabilities (let us know in a comment below)?

The Importance of the ‘Why’ vs. the ‘What’ in Online Marketing

Friday, January 8th, 2010
Image: Danilo Rizzuti

Image: Danilo Rizzuti

Math was one of my favorite subjects in school and my undergraduate degree was in Finance with a minor in Accounting, so needless to say, I like numbers and data. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy immersing myself in tools like Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics, which are great at capturing the ‘what’ – what happened on your website, what content was clicked-on in your email campaign, etc. As a marketer, however, the ‘why’ interests me a whole lot more than the ‘what’.

Most web analytics, email, search and social marketing reporting tools provide vast amounts of data, but those applications are really more of a means to an end. Knowing that my traffic increased, my email click-thru rate improved, or a Facebook fan page generated significant engagement is useful, but what is immensely more valuable to me is understanding why those things happened. Obviously, if you know the cause of your success, you are much more likely to be able to repeat it. The better you can understand your target audience, the better you can market to them.

Most reporting tools can’t tell you the ‘why’. Humans are still best at that task – turning lots of data into meaningful and actionable insights. The problem is that many companies either don’t have staff with the right type of experience to do it or the staff doesn’t have enough time.  Often, organizations don’t know the right questions to ask.  As a result, decisions aren’t fully informed and opportunity is lost.

If you haven’t yet, make 2010 the year that you dedicate the necessary resources to being able to answer the ‘why’.

Looking Backward and Forward

Saturday, December 12th, 2009
Image: Francesco Marino

Image: Francesco Marino

As we approach the end of the year and the close the of decade, a number of people and organizations are rolling-out retrospectives on 2009 and the last ten years. If you didn’t do it as part of your budget process (you definitely should have), now is a great time to conduct your own online marketing program ‘year in review’ by looking at what worked and what didn’t.  Remember, you ‘pull yourself out of trees’ so you can see the forest.  In other words, don’t just look at numbers but really give some thought about why some activities worked and why some didn’t.

In looking forward to 2010, consider questions such as the following:

  • Have your business objectives changed?
  • Have your customers changed – what they want, how they shop, who influences them, what they prioritize, etc.?
  • What critical factors are influencing your business?  For example, the economy, social media, mobile, changing values, etc.

In answering those questions, make sure you talk to other departments – sales, customer service, product development, etc, looking at what your competitors are doing and looking at innovators outside of your industry.  Also, don’t forget to challenge current assumptions and policies.  It never fails to amaze me when I ask why something is done, how many people answer, ‘I don’t know.  We have always done it that way’.

Ultimately, every initiative you undertake and ever dollar you spend should be justifiable and correlate directly to a business and marketing objective.  You should be able to explain why you are focusing on one tactic versus another (i.e. alignment with business goals and expected return compared to alternatives).   If you can do that, your chances of having a successful 2010 are greatly improved.  If you can’t, don’t worry –  it’s not too late.