Archive for April 2012

What’s Hot in Social Media: April 2012

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It’s the end of April which can mean only one thing…our monthly round-up of what’s been causing a stir in the world of social media.

Movers and shakers

A couple of the giants of digital made some interesting moves in April, with Facebook buying Instagram for a sweet $1 billion and Google turning up the heat in the cloud wars with the launch of Google Drive.

April also saw blogging platform Tumblr release access to a real-time fire hose in collaboration with Gnip. Founded in 2007, Tumblr is particularly popular in the fashion and arts industries and now has about 46.2 million blogs. Access to the firehose – which is still currently exclusive to Gnip – will include all of Tumblr’s public data, which will mean access to analytics and brand monitoring opportunities.

Retail - trying on clothes virtually

Meanwhile, whilst we’re on the topic of fashion - John Lewis has been experimenting with virtual mirrors at its flagship store on Oxford street. Users can ‘try on’ outfits from a range of more than 500 garments without having to get changed. These can then be added to a virtual collection and shared via Twitter or Facebook.

Innovative Facebook marketing

Elsewhere on the internet, Volkswagen created a flipbook effect in a Facebook gallery for their Amarok. With over 200 photos to click through, this was a really innovative use of Facebook functionality - which only costs as much as the photos.

What have I missed? If you’ve seen anything hot this month, please do share it below!

To really understand social media, you must also understand online communities

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Audience at a Dan Deacon concert

It is very easy to get excited by social media. By “Likes” and “Follows”. To think about the tools you can use. To worry about creating content. To feel you must rush to be on the latest platform or site. But in all this excitement it can be easy to forget something that is more important than the tools, platforms and sites that you can make use of - the skills and expertise you need to identify, manage and grow a true online community.

When we talk about social media we are really only talking about tools that we can use to help us and the people we engage to achieve a task. To make a success in social media we need to understand online communities. For those of us who have been working in this space for many years this has long been the basis of all our work.

What is an online community?

There is a temptation to assume that all use of social media is the same - that we are ‘doing social media’. But this is just not true. There is a fundamental difference in how people behave when they are primarily in a group of actual friends (such as on Facebook) and how you interact with people not because you know them and are friends with them, but because you share a common interest (such as in a forum for fans of Arsenal football club, a site for mum chatting about nutrition in early years or a group of runners helping each other with training advice and tips as they prepare to run a marathon).

An online community is a group of people who exhibit this second behaviour. They do not necessarily know each other, and may not have any desire to become friends in that broader sense of the word. They do have a common passion, interest, concern or question. And they can find and engage with others online because of this.

Working with online communities

For most organisations looking at social media, it is only by identifying, building and engaging with online communities that they will start to get real benefit. Online communities are truly scalable because they do not rely on becoming ‘friends’ with people but mean that you (the organisation) and the rest of the community engage on topics that you all share in common. This is real engagement in a way that just amassing Likes or Follows is not.

Social media just provides the set of tools you can use to do this. But the real skill is threefold:

  1. Firstly to be able to identify the community you want to engage and understand why they would engage with you. What is the passion, problem, concern, issue or question that you can connect with your community about? And why would they connect with you at all about it?
  2. Then how do you find these people and help them to find you? Likes on Facebook or Followers on Twitter do not necessarily make an online community.
  3. Finally how do you manage them. There is a valuable and often heated debate elsewhere about the differences between a social media manager and a community manager, but any community does need the ‘party host’ role. A community manager who facilitates conversations and activities, helps to moderate the community so that it is a productive and friendly place for all, and who acts as the link between the organisation and the online community.

With all the excitement of social media it often feels like we have forgotten what we have known for many years about online communities and the way they work and interact. For anybody looking at or working in social media a solid grounding in how online communities work and how we should work with them is essential.

China: The Future of Social Commerce

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We recently highlighted the surge in ‘Chinese Pinterest clones’ on this blog and when asked by the BBC to comment on an article on the same topic, I mentioned “I am looking to these Chinese clones to provide the next key paradigms in social commerce.” Two days later, we excitedly read the McKinsey China report on  ‘China’s Social Media Boom’; the results were impressive.

Chinese netizens

China’s internet audience is huge – over 500 million – and growing rapidly. More importantly, this audience is active with over 50% spending more than 12 hours a week online. 95% of netizens living in cities with a population in excess of 2.5 million are registered on a social networking site and Chinese internet users spend an average 46 minutes per day on such sites.

Trust in Chinese e-commerce

This has great significance. This is already the largest internet population in the world and it looks like the most actively social. The Chinese internet population is also heading towards forming the largest e-commerce market in the world by 2015.

China predicted e-commerce boom

When I lived in China 2006/2007, it was nigh impossible to order physical goods online – trust in infrastructure was simply not yet there. The impressive growth in e-commerce sales indicates a greater trust in China’s postal network and e-commerce sites.

The issue of trust is important in marketing to Chinese consumers. Peer-to-peer recommendations have a more profound impact, as the McKinsey report says this is likely due to a distrust of formal institutions. Building networks of trusted influencers – not as a commodity but as groups of people who can and will trust your products and messages – will be crucial to online interaction with Chinese netizens.

Social Commerce

This leaves the issue of social commerce. One of the more interesting insights into the rise of Pinterest clones is that they tend to have closer links with e-commerce. While Pinterest has had trouble implementing its revenue model, Chinese sites like Faxian showcase what can be bought and funnel users to a purchase.  Per McKinsey:

‘As e-commerce rises, a compelling opportunity for brands will be to prompt immediate purchases online by consumers searching for product information using social media.’

The key to unlocking these immediate purchases will be through harnessing netizen recommendation.

How are the top hotel brands innovating in social media?

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A recent report has ranked the digital performance of 52 global hotel brands. The latest L2 Hotels Digital IQ Index rated brands according to the performance of their sites and use of digital marketing, mobile and social media.

The top 20 brands:

1. Four Seasons =10. St. Regis
2. Hilton Worldwide 12. Renaissance
3. Marriott International =13. JW Marriott
4. Hyatt =13. Omni
5. The Ritz Carlton 15. Le Méridien
6. Intercontinental =16. Mandarin Oriental
7. Westin =16. MGM Resorts
8. Sheraton =16. Radisson
9. W Hotels =16. Sofitel
=10. Fairmont 20. Jumeirah

How hotel brands are using social media

Keeping things local

Hotel social media strategies

The study notes that 95% of the brands have both global and property Facebook pages, increasing from 73% in 2011. Twitter saw an increase from 56% to 70%. Taking a property-centric approach allows for a higher degree of relevant content to be shared and thus keep an engaged audience. An additional benefit of property-level presence comes in terms of immediate customer service and local expertise.

One brand which has been innovative for adding value with local knowledge is the The Ritz-Carlton, who have taken advantage of Foursquare to share tips from the concierge staff at 75 properties.

User reviews

Only 17% of the indexed brands offer on-site ratings and reviews. The report suggests that these sites send 39% less traffic to online-travel-agents, indicating increased confidence from customers, and presumably a lower need to navigate away to other pages for research.

Two noteworthy example of sites that feature reviews are Starwood and Four Seasons. Starwood have opted to create their own, independent reviews site, which requires a reservation code to ensure authenticity. By taking reviews in-house, the brand is able to monitor and respond to customer comments in a controlled environment.

Four Seasons have taken a different approach. Nine of the indexed brand sites link to TripAdvisor, but the Four Seasons has gone beyond by integrating reviews directly on their property pages, allowing customers to see them at a glance and without having to navigate away from the Four Seasons site.

Emerging social platforms

How hotels use new social media platforms

As for new social platforms, Google+ and Foursquare are the most popular, and offer clear value for SEO and local representation.

The visually rich nature of travel content means that there is clear scope for further use of sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. The Four Seasons and Hotel Indigo are noted as pioneering Pinterest brands. I would expect to see further use of Instagram, yet again the Four Seasons are leading the way with property-specific accounts. I expect to see more brands joining Instagram, especially following its acquisition by Facebook which demonstrates the importance of images in social media.

Who are the most engaging world leaders on Twitter?

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With elections in Russia already happened, those in the UK, France and the US to come there is much debate about how social media is now being used in both the electoral process, and more broadly as part of engagement between our world leaders and others on social media. Barack Obama has traditionally been held up as an example of using social media for campaigning and for engaging with people through Twitter, Facebook and other channels. But he is not the only world leader to use social media.

Whilst rankings, numbers and leagues tables only tell part of the story, it is a useful way to begin exploring and understanding how these leaders are using Twitter and which are most engaging.

World Leaders on Twitter

This ranking looks at known (and where possible verified) accounts of world leaders on Twitter. It uses PeerIndex to measure their influence and to rank them. The result for top spot is not surprising (Barack Obama), second place goes to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and then comes the President of Colombia in third (Álvaro Uribe) and Queen Rania of Jordan on fourth. The list continues to include leaders from Venezuela, Russia, Turkey and others.

The more successful world leaders on Twitter are not necessarily those who are responding to most people, or answering most questions. In fact most of the top five are not doing this on a regular or ongoing basis (probably either because the volume the get is unrealistic, or because it is not appropriate for them to engage in most discussions). What they have got right, however, is knowing their audience and pitching their content right. There is nothing worse than following somebody on Twitter who is either boring (for example constantly pushing out press releases) or who talks about such a wide variety of things it is difficult to know if you are interested or not. These world leaders clearly have strategies for how they are using social media and a plan to engage people around content and discussions of interest to them.

This is something we can all learn from, either for our personal or business accounts. Know your audience, work out what they are interested in (and what they are not interested in) and then engage and share with them on this.