May 01

Building Online Communities with Social Applications

Yesterday I caught a tweet by Rohit Bhargava that caught my eye. It referenced a post by Jay Baer that mentions the lack of personnel often assigned to social media accounts. According to Baer,
“This is why one of the most common questions I hear at speaking engagements and in corporate conference rooms is ‘How can we do this well with limited resources?’ I’ve even heard on more than a handful of occasions the conversational shoulder shrug of ‘We can get software approved, but we can’t add headcount.’”

Scaling doesn’t have to be something you do with bigger headcount. In the same respect that advertisements scale the reach of sales, social web applications scale the reach of Community Managers. A web application built on the Facebook Platform can increase Fan counts significantly, simplify customer service or HR, or anything we program them to, really.

So at the risk of sounding preachy, I’ll just present three case studies of social apps I’ve seen built on Heroku that get what I’m talking about here:

1. ASICS “Support Your Marathoner” Campaign
ASICS sought to scatter supportive messages of hope across big screens throughout the NYC and LA Marathons. Instead of hiring a Community Manager to handle individual outreach, they plugged the application “Support your Marathoner” on their site and let runners solicit messages for them via their Facebook and Twitter friends. Thousands participated and the campaign was covered in magazines, blogs and TV shows. Give people a cool app, and they’ll do the marketing for you.

2. TF3 Battlezone: a Promotion for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” DVD/Blu-Ray™”
There are 5.9 billion mobile subscribers in the world, and almost 1 billion users on Facebook. Instead of merely putting out ads that may or may not be seen by TV viewers, Paramount Home Pictures commissioned Project Zebra to create a mobile/Facebook app where Fans could choose to compete as a Battlebot or Decepticon and claim actual places around them for their team. The app was an instant hit with Transformers Fans, prompting Paramount Home Pictures to take it global.

3. Warner Bros. “Social Cinema”
We all like watching movies with our friends. However, the concept of a “friend” is changing as social networks expand our ability to connect with people around the world. So Warner Bros. commissioned Milyoni to build a “social cinema”, allowing Facebook Fans to watch Warner Bros. movies with their friends.

Customers will always want to engage via social media. They might not always want to connect with us specifically. Social applications allow our customers to engage with each other around our brand. Isn’t that what we all intend to accomplish in the first place?

Jan 26

How America Can Meet Obama’s Educational Challenges on…Facebook???

Barack Obama finally made some mention in his State of the Union that hey, perhaps investing in math and sciences could be good for this country. I’ve been waiting for a speech challenging us to conquer both the energy problem and pushing innovation in computer sciences and biotechnology since Obama started office. When Kennedy declared that we wanted to put a man on the moon, my mother’s homework doubled almost overnight. That generation saw more engineers than all others before or since. America is great, and it needs a challenge. I have a solution.

When we think of Facebook, we often think of poking and FarmVille. We think of Family Tree and privacy issues. But why aren’t we thinking of trivia games about subjects like math and science? Can we use Facebook Groups to assign beginner Ruby on Rails assignments or organizations to discuss alternate sources of fuel?

Facebook isn’t just a social network. It is a platform that makes it easy to organize groups and games. That platform has over half a billion people, many of whom can teach people useful skills to give them jobs and trades. Why must I learn Ruby on Rails in a book? Why can’t someone create a Facebook game that asks me to program certain tasks and rewards me for achieving certain levels? Why can’t I play a game that gives me a Spanish flashcard every time I tag a picture in English, and does the same for a Spanish speaker wanting to learn English? Facebook is still very much an untapped resource because we see it as a social network versus a robust platform ripe with users already. As it becomes as common to our lives as Google, I expect and hope to see these types of learning mechanisms in the future.

Dec 06

A Look into Facebook’s Facelift

Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed the new Facebook format in a 60 Minutes interview. The new profile puts front and center 1.) a basic overview of who that person is 2.) pictures of them and 3.) the Likes that you, the viewer, have in common with that person:

Screen shot 2010-12-06 at 12.15.37 AM

Apparently, Marshall Kirkpatrick and I both like “The Daily Show”. Hooray.

The interviewer Leslie Stahl pointed out that this move will increase people’s tendency to “Like” everything on Facebook so as to increase their chances of commonality with others. Sounds a bit right and a bit silly of users all at the same time. But it does make sense.

Do you think this move will make people share more or share less on Facebook? Will this promote transparency or will people clamp down on who sees their profile? See the whole interview on The Next Web.

Nov 08

How Ignoring Social Media is Like Ignoring Google Ten Years Ago

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how SEO and social media converge and contrast. It’s almost impossible to convince an SEO master that social media is worth a hill of beans, simply because they’ve vested too much in gaming a search engine for much of their internet careers and well, SEO does convert to business.

The difference between man-powered social media tools like Facebook and Twitter and algorithm-based search engines like Google is similar to this field goal kicking contest between 49ers Kicker Joe Nedney and a robot named Ziggy. People can be perform brilliantly, but they can also be temperamental, uninformed, or easily misled. Machines easily automate the work that people can do. Machines can break down though. They can be gamed by someone who understands their flaws. One slight calibration error can cause a world of havoc for all of the other parts, as well as for the user. Long story short, there is not one system that is perfect, and both systems have their place in the ecosystem that is the web.

social media man vs machineIn the case of Nedney and Ziggy the field goal kicking machine, man overcame machine because Nedney could adjust to the wind better. Look out, Google! Anyway.

I cannot tell you how many times I get told that people put up a Facebook page and a Twitter account, spend little time or money, and quickly determine there is no ROI to be seen in social media. I see this as a very dangerous attitude given the fact that Facebook grew to over 500 million users several months ago and their motto is “99 percent”, meaning they have only reached one percent of their potential. Twitter has 175 million users and gained 30 million users in just the past few months. Facebook and Twitter users also pack more bang for the buck since they spend 150 percent more than the average internet user.

Just like SEO was ten years ago, this is not a fad or trend. While Google usage will not stop growing as more and more users access the web more frequently, Facebook and Twitter aren’t going away either, apparently.

What’s the pain of not capitalizing on social media when it’s young, versus relatively matured like search engines are? Ask the countless businesses how much they have to spend on SEO to compete with sites that have been optimized for Google for ten years. Building backlinks isn’t easy, especially the number you have to build in a saturated market.

Building a presence in the “people powered search engines” that are Twitter and Facebook isn’t going to get easier. It’s only going to get harder and more expensive as more players enter the space and garner wins under their belt. Your competitors are fine tuning and beefing up their presence, utilizing the best tools, and getting valuable experience internally. What are you doing?

Oct 29

Is a Social Media Budget More Important than Actually Taking Care of People?

I recently ordered a desk from CB2. I was beyond amazed at how up to date I was kept in the process and how quickly everything arrived. After the desk was delivered, I didn’t get an email asking me to fan them on Facebook. I received an email asking how my experience was, so I gladly responded with a glowing review.

And of course, I fanned them on Facebook, because I’m happy to recommend them.

Social media is the darling of marketing blogs these days. The simple truth is this: if you take care of people and truly care about their experience with your product or service, the simple act of advertising your Facebook page to them will get you fans. People like promoting good services to their friends and it often costs just as much to improve your service as it takes to market it.

Think about it. Which would be more effective to you? “Would you fan us on Facebook?” or a positive brand experience with a Facebook fan button subconsciously tucked where you will see it at the end of the transaction?

Oct 18

Was the Facebook Security Breach Actually Malicious?

For years, people wondered how Facebook was going to make money. Sarah Lacy grilled Zuckerberg about it at SxSWi. Now no one can decide if they deserve a $12 billion valuation or $100 billion. Some suspect that with today’s data breach, the business model is opening up our private data.

Think about it this way: imagine you have an ever expanding nightclub. Right now, over 500 million people come to your club, and 250 million of them come to your club every single day. One of the hottest startups, Groupon, has spread the word about their service almost exclusively by advertising in your club.

Not only do 250 million people come to your club everyday, 70 percent of them engage in some sort of game or act of commerce with others. If they pay money to do so, you get 1/3 of all of it. One of these game makers is Zynga, and they just so happen to make 50 freaking million dollars at your club. Each. Month.

I bring up these points not to say that Facebook’s privacy settings aren’t a bit creepy and worth noting, but to suggest that perhaps they have other means for making money and that it is very much in their own self interest to protect private data to keep users happy and dumping money into FarmVille. I’ll even go so far to say that today’s breach of data pulled from third party apps was an accident.

What do you think? Is Facebook opening up third party apps to sell our data to the highest bidder?

Sep 21

It Takes Money to Get Facebook Fans

What?!?! You have to BUY Facebook Fans? That’s preposterous.

No it’s not. Consumers are lazy and often don’t care about you. You give them service, they give you money. The transaction has ended. They are under no obligation to fan you, friend you, or do anything beyond this.

In some way, you will have to spend money to get a huge fan base on Facebook. What am I talking about spending money on here?

starbucks-logo31.) Special promotions or deals. Starbucks offers deals for free or discounted coffee for participating on their fan page. I know that if I fan Starbucks, I will get news on the company, but there is an added benefit which just so happens to bring me back in the store. This is margin taken right off the top of their sales, but it’s a sacrifice they make to get more people in the stores and to continually be the #1 provider of fancy pants coffee.

Red_Bull_logo2.) Content that compels people to view and share. Red Bull has EXTREME content targeted towards their audience. They spent money and hours to find it and make it. News about the company hacky sack competition would not cut it, unless told in a super compelling way (which costs you money, because good story tellers don’t go cheap).

Note: if your business is content, you can suggest people fan you as a means for RSS or connecting with a similar community.

zappos-logo3.) Over the top service. Zappos is known for amazing customer service and over 65,000 people like them on Facebook. Customer service oriented companies often have to make seemingly irrational decisions to make customers happy. They have to have a lot of people manning the phones. They have to offer returns when others won’t. Customer service is not “efficient” in the bean counter sense, but having 65,000 fans on Facebook helps you make up the difference by connecting you with user evangelists who can spread the word.

Many companies promote their fan pages with Facebook ads. That costs money too.

Don’t think Fans are worth it? According to this study on GigaOm, the average Facebook fan is worth $136.38, as fans spend an extra $71.84 more than non-fans, are 28 percent more likely to be repeat customers, and 41 percent more likely to recommend a brand to friends than non-fans.