Retail

Celebrities Are Not Taking Over Twitter

crowdsCelebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and Britney Spears are not taking over Twitter.  A well publicized event like Oprah tweeting on her show won’t help.  Ashton vs. Larry King, in a contest to see which account, @aplusk (“a plus k”) or @cnnbrk can reach a million followers first is a publicity event that had lots of benefits for both in terms of building large networks, but they are not taking over.  Any way you slice it, their efforts are futile. They can’t take over Twitter because of one simple fact: people choose who they follow.

Twitter is a social network that allows a member to choose who to follow, and followers choose whether they follow back.  Follow who you are interested in.  Ignore spammers or folks who don’t interest you. It’s that simple.

The major benefit of all the celebrity activity around Twitter is that more people will be drawn to use the service.  For a concept that is so simple, Twitter is not the most intuitive network to navigate.  Understanding how to start and join in a conversation online is a little outside of the comfort zone of many people.  I’ve seen many people join Twitter and 6 months later they are following 10 people, no one is following back and the only post on their account is “Joined twitter, trying to figure this out.”  Take a look for yourself.

I will still contend that Twitter is not for everybody, but as more people figure out how to build their own communities on the platform, the more valuable content and discussion will be aggregated.  I like to think of the volume of content on Twitter as an unstructured Wikipedia – it’s not precisely accurate but directionally correct, and the more sources that contribute the better it gets.

Here’s an example.  I had a conversation last night with someone who had just joined twitter and had trouble convincing a friend why it is valuable.  I asked what that friend did for a living – the friend was a user experience designer, and very skeptical about Twitter.  I pulled up search.twitter.com and searched for “UX” – and immediately found UX job listings, informative blogs of well known people in the industry and a lot of people talking about user experience design.  I clicked through to a couple of twitter profiles and quickly identified the lead of user experience of AutoTrader.com.  Within a few minutes I could identify a dozen valuable resources that would help that friend in his career.

I’ve been using Twitter for nearly two years, and the community has changed and evolved.  I still keep to the core of interacting with folks who share common interests, whether it’s the Red Sox, social media or the fun of a lazy Saturday morning with the kids at home.  I’ve come to heavily rely on Tweetdeck to manage groups of friends and contacts that I don’t want to lose in the sea of “tweets,” but I am also continuing to find value by identifying interesting people who have something valuable to share.  With valuable contributors, searching Twitter has become an increasingly relevant way to get to content.  Celebrities joining twitter can only bring more interesting people to follow right along with them.

Are you using Twitter? Do you think celebrities joining is positive or negative, and has it changed how you use Twitter?  Feel free to reach out to me @adamcohen on Twitter to discuss, I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Neon23 via flickr

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Do Alternate Payment Methods Help Retailers?

moneyAlternate payment methods (APM), in eCommerce terms, are ways to complete a transaction without using the normal credit card authorization process.  For the past couple of years Rosetta has completed a quick study of a hundred leading online retailers using the big players in this space.  Paypal, BillMeLater, and Google Checkout are the ones we have measured mostly due to marketshare in the large online retailer category.  New services and startups continue to crop up, as evidenced by the buzz related to Chris Brogan’s sponsored post around the new service eBillMe.

The major play for each of these payment methods is the additional uptick in conversion – the premise that providing alternate ways to pay will reduce people from abandoning their shopping carts and more broadly appeal to those worried about giving their credit card to a website.  Our study shows that both Paypal and BillMeLater have gained retailer adoption in the last 18 months.  Google Checkout appears to have maintained ground at the same relative group.apm

The list of retailers surveyed is the same list from our recent study on Facebook.  While not scientific, it shows us some trends in the marketplace.  The major points of the APM study this round are that the growth rate is continuing among retailers, and Google Checkout is stagnating.  Two major questions have come up:

  • Why is Google Checkout not keeping pace?
  • Why are other big name retailers still sitting on the sidelines?

Google Checkout recently dropped their incentive program for AdWords customers, but retailers aren’t typically quick to respond.  BillMeLater was recently acquired by eBay from Amazon, who also owns Paypal.   I wonder if the ROI is really there, despite low cost to implement these programs.

What I am more interested in is hearing from you.  Do any of the online sites you shop at regularly offer these methods?  Do you use them, or would they influence your buying decision?  Why or why not?  Our study was picked by DM News and Storefrontbacktalk.com (thanks!) but I’d love to hear what people use and why.

Photo credit:  nicmcphee via Flickr

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A Quick Snapshot of Old vs. New Media

In late October, I got a first hand glimpse into how the web is taking on traditional newspapers.  While in Dallas for Forrester’s Consumer Forum, I was grateful to be invited to drop in at the offices of the Dallas Morning News to talk about how retailers are using Facebook.

A Somber Scene

At first glance, the floor where most of the reporters sit is very much like the stereotypical movie sets.  I expected Perry White (Jackie Cooper, in my head, anyways) to come screaming out of his office at any moment.  The major differences:  PCs everywhere instead of typewriters, and most of the desks were empty.  I visited them on a Monday – the prior Friday they had been through a series of layoffs, and the mood was somber.  As the paper takes on challenges brought on by Web 2.0 and the shift of advertising online, ironically a blog solely for former employeers of the paper cropped up and has some very passionate people engaged. 

Challenges for Traditional Newspapers

Three major challenges for the paper are apparent.  First, the cost of advertising.  Simply put, ads cost a lot less and are far more measurable online.  This directly competes with ad revenue for the paper, and was a deciding factor in the recent Chapter 11 filing at the holding company that owns the Chicago Tribune and LA Times.

The second challenge is the proliferation of other media sources.  I heard the phrases “reading blogs” and “did you see the blog post” several times.  The lines between traditional media and new media are blurring and anyone who can publish a story could conceivably trump a reporter at a paper.  Clearly reporters are paying attention.  The lines are blurring between official reporters and passionate folks who like to write.

A third challenge for newspapers is really understanding the digital channel.  I’ve seen recent discussion on Twitter with Bryan Person and Aaron Strout around how newspapers don’t understand search engine optimization (SEO).  Both have pointed out examples of articles in Boston papers where the authors failed to include links in the online version of the story to either personal blogs or corporate web sites.  “Sharing the link love” is a key piece of making the digital channel successful and accessible through search. 

Understanding a Slice of New Media

The main purpose of my visit was to discuss my agency’s recent study on retailers using Facebook.  Several big name retailers, including J.C. Penney, are in the Dallas area, and the retail reporter for DMN was trying to get a better understanding of Facebook and other tools.  I spent a couple of hours with her explaining how Facebook works and gave her a demo of Twitter (thanks to many connections there for helping out).  It was clearly an eye opening experience for her, and we reviewed what several local-based retailers were doing with Facebook fan pages.  The net result, including much of her hard work looking at viral marketing, interviewing a variety of sources and adding insight to what the companies are doing, is this well-written piece published Tuesday called, “Retailers find Facebook friends in hopes of finding sales.”  No doubt the folks who are reporters are talented in their research and writing – she did an excellent job tying in the recent viral successes of J.C. Penney and Victoria Secret’s Pink brand to our discussion on retailers using Facebook pages.

Clearly the Dallas Morning News is getting the digital channel – the page where my article lives had (as of my last view) advertisements for Ford, Cars.com and Netflix.  The article also had the ability to share via social bookmarking sites and allowed comments.  Unfortunately the article had no link here or to our agency’s site, Rosetta.com.  But 2 out of 3 ain’t bad right?

In the end this was a real world microcosm example of how the old media industry needs to adapt in order to thrive.  Thanks again DMN for including me in the article and I hope we both continue to learn from the experience.

Photo via IMDB.com

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10 Quick Tips for Retailers to Engage in Social Media Right Now

In the last year I’ve immersed myself in social media, Chris Brogan has been a continual source of inspiration and guidance. His blog, chrisbrogan.com, is a virtual treasure trove of nuggets for social media junkies and new folks alike. Chris recently published an eBook called: Fishing Where The Fish Are: Mapping Social Media to the Buying Cycle. Today I was in a discussion with some colleagues about a client who is interested in “getting into social media.” While reading Chris’s eBook, I was inspired to jot down some very quick tactical tips and suggestions. I spun this toward retailers since it’s the space I work in but it really could apply to any company or industry. Thanks to Chris for the inspiration, who likely has written a similar list already for getting folks “plugged in.”  

10 Quick Tips for Retailers to Start Engaging in Social Media Right Now

1. Do a Google Blog search on your company’s brand, category and industry. Start doing this on a regular basis and read through the content. Start to get a pulse, subscribe to some Google Alerts on the topics.

2. Do the same search using search.twitter.com. There are lots of resources and guides on using Twitter and other microblogging platforms – but creating an account and getting acclimated is a longer term investment of time. I would start with looking for mentions and understanding what is being talked about. For that matter, Marc Meyer has a great post on many ways to listen to many sources in social media.

3. Join Facebook. Connect with friends, colleagues, get to know and understand how it works. Look for colleagues from your company and see how they are representing themselves. Are there Facebook groups mentioning your company? Does your company have a page? What about your competitors?

4. Join LinkedIn and set up your profile. Also connect with friends and colleagues. Get to know how the social network works. Understanding social networking will be important – as will the ability for customers and business partners to know you exist.  Learn about who you should connect to and who you should avoid on each network.  Here’s my view of how I scrutinize connections, but many people use social networks differently.

5. Ask around your company and find out who blogs, who is on Facebook, who is on Twitter or who is using other social media tools. You can learn a lot about social media by observing what they see and do in this space. I think you’d be surprised at how many folks in the organization already have a blog, even if it’s a personal one.

6. Start using a RSS reader like Google Reader. Search for reviews of your products or services. Find 5 sites where people are talking about them, in forums/discussions, blogs, or other sites. Subscribe to feeds from those sites to start listening.

7. Start using a bookmarking site like Delicious or StumbleUpon. Create a category or tag for blog and press mentions, and start to save/accumulate links about your company and industry.  Connect to colleagues with similar interests and see what they find.

8. Find 5 blogs in a related industry by searching in Technorati, Delicious or another bookmarking service. Read through posts, and comment on them. Be sure to disclose which company you are with if you are promoting or voicing an opinion on a product or service, including a competitor’s.

9. Go talk to Legal. Is there a corporate policy on social media? Does your industry have specific concerns about participating representing the company? Understand the guidelines and policies if they exist.  Scott Monty has talked about how this step was crucial when he joined the team at Ford as to lead their social media effort.

10. Go talk to PR. Chances are they are wrestling with understanding blogs and the importance of reacting timely to concerns. Let them know you are interested to and willing to share a voice.

a bonus tip:

11. Understand this is a journey, not a flash in the pan. Social media requires commitment and a lot of listening well before you will be in a position to come up with a case study in the space.  Just executing against this list will require some time investment.

What did I miss?  Was this helpful?  What has helped you ramp up in social media?

Photo credit: StephanGeyer via Flickr

Study: 59% of Top Retailers Now on Facebook

Opportunity Knocks

In May of this year, Rosetta, the agency I am working for, published a study showing that 30% of 100 of the top online retailers had a Facebook page set up.  In the last five months since the original survey, there has been a substantial uptick to 59% – including pages added by Best Buy, Kohl’s and Toys ‘R Us.  This should not be a surprise and should continue to serve as a wake-up call.  Facebook has reached over 150 million users world wide, and Facebook fan pages are quite frankly, an easy way to set up a presence on the platform.

Use Caution, Plan Carefully

I have to caution retailers who just jump in by setting up a page.  Facebook is only one sliver of the overall social media space, and it’s very important to have an online strategy that embraces social media as another marketing channel. Here’s a quote from yours truly in our release on the study:

“It’s important that retailers don’t just slap up a page because everyone is talking about Facebook. An effective presence requires that you carefully consider what your customers are looking for, what you would like to communicate, and what role a fan page should play in your overall online strategy.”

I had an opportunity to talk further about this with Albert Maruggi on his Marketing Edge podcast yesterday going into further examples on how retailers can be using the Facebook page as a way to “start small” in social media and adjust to grow.  Here is the podcast – take a listen and let us know what you think.  Thanks Albert – you make this type of work a lot of fun.

Hot Topic

Facebook is a hot topic to cover right now.  Here are some other examples of where our study has been picked up – I’ll try to keep this post up to date with helpful links.  If you are interested in a direct copy of the study please don’t hesitate to contact me via the channels on my blog or comment.

Press and blog coverage for the Rosetta October 2008 Facebook Study – thanks to all for including our study:

Facebook pages are just one indicator of retailers looking to embrace social media to engage customers.  Do you think they will be successful?  Have a favorite fan page to highlight?  If your company has a page on Facebook I’d love to hear your story – I’d also love suggestions on how to improve the study for the next round.

The Influence Economy

Universal McCann has done it again and assembled a very informative presentation on how strangers are influencing brand buying decisions.  This presentation is definitely worth the read.  Some key takeaways, looking through the eyes of retailers trying to figure out how to leverage social media for connecting with broader communities:

  • Overall participation rates for sharing product opinions is very high.  All brands need to react by becoming more transparent and active in social and conversational media.
  • Even low interest categories (insurance, finance, real estate) have high participation rates, although music, movies and technology lead the pack in discussion.  Travel is one of the most sought after categories for information.
  • “Super influencers” – bloggers, video sharers, photo uploaders – are very real and have a definitive impact.
  • Don’t be afraid to advertise in new social media platforms – it’s where consumers and influencers “live.”  But in concert with that, brands need to have a presence and “exist” in the social media services that consumers contribute to.

There are some great examples as well.  What do you think?  Coming soon in a future post: some “quick hits” ideas on how retailers can get quickly engaged in social media.


Good Morning, Retailers, This is Your Wake Up Call

Snooze Roll over, hit the snooze button if you like, but opportunities are there, waiting.  It's inevitable – someone in your marketing department is going to ask you how you are including social networks in your plans for the next year, maybe even for the holidays. 

Alarm Goes Off

Recently, Gartner says that social networks have too much traffic to ignore.  (Thanks to Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester for highlighting the release – gotta love analyst firms giving each other props).

Some highlights from the Gartner article:

  • "Social networks are rich in Word-of-Mouth discussions about Retailers and Products." 
    Over 100 million people are on Facebook, so chances are retailer brands are being talked about there.  There are many networks and platforms for consumers to interact.  Brands are definitely being discussed, now it's up to retailers to choose (and very importantly, to choose how) to engage in those conversations.
  • "Gartner says that retailers must first understand how each of the major social networks will allow them to leverage their [social] graphs. then decide what to do with that access."
    Deciding what to do can be challenging – it takes a deep understanding of social networks and a creative digital approach.  It also takes a clear understanding of objectives before starting.
  • "Social Networks Are Merging Into the Real-Time World — Coming to Your Mobile Phone."
    The emerging practice of leveraging the combination of social networks and location based targeting is new but growing rapidly, especially with the adoption of the iPhone and its capabilities.

The article is worth the read for anyone exploring how to leverage social networks in a business context.

Another Wake Up Call

This September, STORES magazine – the official publication of the National Retail Federation (NRF) – decided the growing trend of retailers leveraging and exploring Facebook was worth a cover story.  I was honored and delighted to be interviewed by Executive Editor Susan Reda, based upon our study from May of 100 of the top online retailers and their use of fan pages.  Susan did a great job outlining the different points of view about Facebook – with over 100 million users now (the article mentions 90 million but was authored a month or so ago), it's hard to ignore the level of reach and access.  In the article, I recommend exploring Facebook and learning about it – but in the context of a broader list of objectives for engaging in social media and not for the sake of jumping in.  I also caution about interaction with customers – social networks are about connecting and sharing content with friends, not about selling and users can be resistant to "forced messaging." 

What Do You Think?

Is Facebook the right forum for retailers?  What retailers do you think are leveraging Facebook well?  Are you concerned about the invasiveness of advertising?  I'd love to hear what you think and your reactions to the two articles above.

photo credit: mcgraths via flickr