Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rogue Traders

A quick search for social media consultant (or something similar) will bring back page after page of self proclaimed digital media experts on Twitter, Facebook and blogging platforms. Since the beginning of the year, I have noticed that there has been a surge of people describing themselves as experts or gurus in this space. This is no surprise given the proliferation of social media as a legitimate communication channel for brands.

There are numerous online guides and presentations detailing how to ‘brand yourself on Facebook’ or ‘Get real RoI from Twitter’. Most of which are very slick and would have me reaching for my wallet!

What concerns me is that a handful of these ‘experts’ have more resemblance to the dodgy plumber who will do the job at half the price than a seasoned professional. Yes, they have a Facebook profile. Yes, they have a Twitter account. Yes, they have a blog. Yes, they may even dabble on a few discussion forums from time to time. But is this all that is required to counsel brands on building their online brand reputation or manage an online crisis situation?

Some of these rogue traders are selling digital PR campaigns to clients via a slick presentation that demonstrates their agency is on the pulse with the latest platform or application, but when it comes to the execution of the work, they don’t know where to start. This ultimately leads to clients and industries becoming even more skeptical about digital PR and whether it is really worth investing in.

I regularly talk to real social media / peer media / digital communication experts and they very rarely call themselves experts. Yet, they have worked with household brands, executed creative and effective campaigns and learnt their trade. They have gotten their feet wet by actually executing campaigns and, sometimes, learning from their mistakes. More action less talk!

The industry (and clients) needs to be aware of these rogue traders. They are giving the real professionals a bad name. They are slowing down the adoption of a legitimate communication channel. They are holding back the potential of digital communications!

Rant over!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Social media in Asia

It's been a long time since my last post. The reason is that the sheer number of social media related enquiries I have been received over the last few months has increased dramatically. This is good, not only from a business stand point, but also from the fact that social media is being seriously considered by organisations in various sectors.

However, see below for a Q&A interview about social media in Asia that I conducted with Media Magazine that may be of interest.

(1) Which are the key social media tracking tools (paid and unpaid) that you use, and why? How do they compare in terms of (a) price, (b) functionality and (c) ease of use.
We have always advocated the combined use of paid and free tools. Radian6 is one paid tool that is used globally by our agency, in conjunction with free online tools such as Technorati, BlogPulse, Twitscoop amd Twitter Grader amongst others, depending on the objectives and country. Each of the mentioned tools have their strengths and weaknesses and play a part in our monitoring process, however there is no one single tool that is able to meet all our requirements. For instance, many free online tools do not have double-byte functionality that allows us to track Chinese language.

Radian6 is one of the most sophisticated tools available, and Weber Shandwick has a special partnership in which we’re working very closely to make it even better. For example, we recently added Asian language capabilities.

(2) What are the challenges and pitfalls involved in using the tools described in (1) to track social media?
Each country in Asia has its own set of unique user characteristics, which can vary as much as the countries themselves. For instance BBS sites are very popular in China, discussion forums dominate Hong Kong while blogging leads the way in Korea. So, clients interested in their online presence or reputation across Asia will need to understand local nuances before embarking on a project.

I am not aware of any single tool on the market that allows us to automate the dissection of data to meet client needs. Most tools are able to track conversation trends, capture conversations from different sources and measure share of voice but clients often need more than this rudimentary information. They often require sentiments specific to products, and insights into key influencers, their sentiment and who they are able to influence.

That said, social media tracking tools are in their infancy and monitoring companies continue to invest heavily in the development of advanced systems that meet increasingly complex business needs. Weber Shandwick remains close to these developments and we continue to look for the best possible solution to meet our own clients’ diverse and very specific needs.

(3) To what extent can you really automate tools? How important is the human element and can you provide any examples of this?
Human intervention is crucial to any accurate and in-depth analysis. Whilst automated tools provide content, it is the human element that provides context. It is precisely for that reason that firms like Weber Shandwick are engaged to both source and interpret data in a way that allows us to define a strategic approach to stakeholder interaction. For example:

Data searches will often contain inaccuracies due to strength of key words, industry terminology and variations in vocabulary. Without it you simply won’t garner insights and understanding of the data;

Automated tools can only present raw data. It requires industry expertise to provide in-depth analyses and insight when interpreting the conversations. Clients require content rich analyses and strategic counsel on how the online conversations are affecting their brand, which only comes from consultants with an understanding of the client or industry. Clients in healthcare, technology and even financial services all have their own terminology that may seem alien to an outsider.

For example, our Hong Kong office recently conducted an online landscape audit for a healthcare client in the dialysis industry. We simply would not have been able to provide the in-depth analyses and counsel without consulting colleagues in that industry. This makes agencies with a deep bench across industries very important.

(4) Recent research (from Weber Shandwick) reveals that Asian CEOs are considerably less concerned about their online reputations. Why is this finding of concern - and why is social media monitoring important in this context? Do you have any specific examples?
This issue needs to be looked at in the wider context. I understand from the research that Asian CEOs are not ‘unconcerned’ with their online reputation, it’s that there is a lower level of ‘realisation’ compared to some Western countries. According to commScore, 35% of the social networking population is based in Asia, and CEOs here are quickly realising that this entire area will play a large role in their future success.

So you could say that Asian CEOs are quickly coming around to realising the potential of the online medium and they are amongst the most prolific users in terms of using the internet to measure reputations of competitors and business partners. There is a slight disconnect between what they think is happening and what actually is happening. But, it would also be fair to say that globally, all communications specialists are on a steep learning curve regarding the significance and potential impact of digital communications on brand perception. Which is why business intelligence has, and will continue to, become so profoundly important to clients.

(5) What are the key things for a client to remember when:(a) selecting social media monitoring tools?(b) determining how best to put a monitoring plan into action?
When selecting tools, do not underestimate the resource required to achieve quality and accurate analysis. To my knowledge, there is not one tool capable of delivering quality, in-depth and accurate analyses on its own. Like traditional media monitoring, the larger your target pool, the more resources it will take to get the job done well. There are companies out there who offer good services that can help companies shape their online strategy.

When embarking on a monitoring programme, companies should be realistic of what is achievable with the available resources and determine the objectives from the offset. This will help them deliver on set criteria and allow measurement of the programme.

(7) How can social media help a brand's reputation - do you have any specific examples?
Social media is as important to a brand’s reputation as traditional media. We know that some online personalities have as much influence as the most respected newspapers, magazines and broadcast programmes. To ignore the communities that are advocates—or badvocates—of your brand, product or service would be a huge mistake.

In an era of transparency and authenticity, companies can use social media to build relationships and engage with brand advocates. Some brands have even turned potential crisis issues into a positive interaction with the end user via social media. No longer can brands hide behind a fa├žade, like any great relationship, listening and communication is key.

Examples of brands using social media to preserve, manage or build animage vary from the likes of Barack Obama (one of the most recognized global brands today) using Facebook, Myspace, YouTube and Twitter to win the presidential election, to Dell selling millions of dollars worth of products via Twitter.

(8) Do you have any other comments you'd like to add?
The entire social media and digital communications space is evolving at an incredible pace. Trends change and it is difficult to predict what the next big thing will be because it will be the people’s choice. We are in the business of monitoring human behaviour and aligning this with how our clients communicate to their audiences, while choosing the right communication vehicles to deliver these messages.

Also, remember that each country has its nuances. Cultural differences, languages, and preferences vary from country to country, so it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

PR in 140 characters (or less)

Below is a short article I recently wrote for the Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific newsletter:

No longer can brands bask in page-long text rich press releases, now, thanks to Twitter, brands need to communicate their messages succinctly in 140 characters or less. Although there are no official user numbers, it is rumoured that Twitter, the micro-blogging social media tool, has amassed around nine million users in its short existence.

The broadcasting of short messages to global followers is the latest explosion on the social media scene, attracting everyone from the tech savvy digerati to celebrities and government officials. It has pushed the boundaries of internet conversation, allowing you to interact with celebrities as if they were your best friend (I recently engaged with Will Carling and Stephen Fry!).

But beware, the darker side of Twitter enables viral word of mouth to spread faster than ever before – a crisis can now be communicated to a global audience in the time it takes to type 140 characters.

As a result, the communications industry has quickly pounced on the potential of Twitter as a tool for broadcasting company messages, creating communities of advocates, engaging with consumers and even an avenue for crisis communications. To bring this to life, here is one recent example of crisis communications involving PepsiCo and an ill-thought-out advertising campaign.

Huw Gilbert, communications manager for PepsiCo International, approved a Pepsi Max advertisement, which depicted a cartoon calorie committing suicide. Twitter users condemned the advertisement as insensitive to those affected by suicide and a raft of criticisms were posted. Gilbert soon caught on that Pepsi’s online reputation was taking a beating and “tweeted” the following public apology:

“We agree this creative is totally inappropriate; we apologise and please know it won’t run again.”

Several critics saw Gilbert’s tweet and one user responded:

“Thank you...for having the guts to get on Twitter on behalf of Pepsi and give us an update on the suicide ad.”

This example highlights how companies that have a Twitter account are better prepared to respond when something goes wrong. In an era where authenticity and transparency are vital to combat skepticism, this type of direct engagement can preserve online corporate reputation.

Other well known brands on Twitter include Starbucks, Amazon, Gartner and Dell. There are a growing number of brands using Twitter to communicate messages, promote products and provide customer service.

Another example is Bob Pearson, head of communities and conversations for Dell, who recently stated that his company had generated US$1 million in computer-related sales through alerts posted to Twitter alone.

The wonders of Twitter do not stop there. We, as communications professionals, can leverage Twitter as a news monitoring tool, a crisis early warning system, a sales channel, a broadcast channel and an audience engagement tool. I consider Twitter as a vital tool in my job and make it my first port of call on my journey to work. We should be ready to identify potential problems and opportunities to effectively counsel our clients in a way that may be outside of our comfort zone.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Social Networks More Popular Than Email

The latest data from Nielsen Online shows that two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10% of all internet time. While search and destination sites remain the most popular online activities, social network and blog use exceeded that of e-mail, increasing their reach by 5.4% in the last twelve months.

So, for companies looking to target consumers and end users, digital communications should be considered an important element of the communications mix.

Other key findings include:

  1. Time spent on social network sites is also expanding: In 2008, social network activity accounted for one in every 15 online minutes. Today it accounts for one in every 11 (In Brazil the average is one of every four minutes and in UK it’s one in every six minutes.)
  2. The social network and blogging audience is becoming more diverse in terms of age: The biggest increase in visitors during 2008 to social networks came from the 35-49 year old age group (+11.3 million).
  3. Mobile is playing an increasingly important role in social networking
    Nielsen found UK mobile Web users have the greatest propensity to visit a social network through their handset, with 23 percent (2 million people) doing so, compared to 19 percent in the US (10.6 million people). These numbers are a big increase over last year – up 249 percent in the UK and 156 percent in the US.

Social Networking is Hot in Hong Kong

The latest figures released by Hitwise (an internet traffic monitoring company) shows that social networking is hot in Hong Kong.

Social network Xanga (www.xanga.com)is currently ranked at #3 out of all sites monitored by Hitwise in Hong Kong, just behind Yahoo! Hong Kong (hk.yahoo.com) and Yahoo! Hong Kong Search (search.hk.yahoo.com). Xanga, is the highest-trafficked social networking site in Hong Kong, outperforming its competitors MySpace (www.myspace.com) and Bebo (www.bebo.com).

Over the past 12 months, Xanga's market share has rocketed from 2.49% to 3.22%, while traffic levels of its nearest competitor, Yahoo! Hong Kong Search, have stayed relatively stable. In addition, the Blogs sector has also experienced a phenomenal rise over the past year. Traffic to sites in the Hitwise Blogs & Personal Websites category in Hong Kong has increased by 52%. Xanga is the highest-ranked website in the Blogs category, consuming a massive 72.22% of market share.

Digital communications is surely a cost effective way of reaching an audience that is far larger than the most popular newspapers and magazines - but why aren't more companies doing it?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Twitter making you stand out?

I’ve been avidly watching Mad Men of late and been transfixed more by the business related scenes than the other storylines (I’m really not bothered by who is sleeping with who, who had a baby or the incompetence of Betty Draper as a mother!).

This weekend Don Draper said something that really hit home with me, and I quote:

“The success of our clients is based on how we make them stand out from the crowd, not conforming to what everyone else is doing.”

When I heard this, I immediately thought of social media and how ‘experts’ are all advising their clients to get on Twitter, develop an online game, use social media press releases etc etc. Twitter is the current the fad, much like MySpace and Facebook before it. But what is the next great application we should be looking at to make our clients stand out?

Digital/Social media is moving so quickly and in such unexpected directions that once you become familiar and jump on the current bandwagon, you worry that the next one is going to jump out and change the landscape again. How do we continuously make clients (or ourselves) stand out from the crowd?

Monday, March 2, 2009

TwestivalHK a great success...see the video here

A great night was had by all at TwestivalHK on February 12. I, for one, was impressed to see the number of Twitterati come along to support Charity: Water.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

HK Twestival - join the unique event

I am proud to be helping out in the Hong Kong Twestival on February 12. It feels great to be part of a unique event that raises money for a great cause.

Hong Kong has proudly joined the ranks of more than 175+ cities worldwide to participate in the world’s largest Tweetup for Charity: Water. You can see great promo videos and find out more information about the cause here.

Hong Kong’s Twestival will be held at the Yumla Bar (just off the top of Pottinger Street) on Thursday February 12. It kicks off at 8pm and will feature live music from N™ and a DJ. There is information on the Hong Kong event here.

Tickets are just HK$100 and include a free drink. All proceeds go to Charity: Water. To ensure that none of the money gets “lost”, tickets must be purchased from the Twestival charity website in advance. Space is limited, so get your tickets early online. (You need to have a Twitter account, so sign up and experience the joys of Twitter too!)

I hope readers in Hong Kong can make it along on the night and join in the fun.

See you there

Friday, January 30, 2009

Internet Yellow Pages

The variety of social and digital media platforms is growing at a phenomenal rate. Almost every day I hear about a new tool or application that is the ‘next big thing’. It is hard to keep track of everything that is happening and to keep up to date.

A quick tip is to refer to ‘Go2Web20’ to update yourself with the latest buzz tools: http://www.go2web20.net/

This tool provides a comprehensive directory of Web 2.0 platforms and gives you a synopsis of functionality. It's a great reference tool.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wikipedia becomes elite-ist

I’ve just come across this article in the New York Times about how Wikipedia is considering changing the rules to editing and posting of information.

In essence, the online encyclopedia is considering permitting only registered users to edit and post content. According to the article, because of ‘vandals’ changing facts on certain entries ‘"Wikipedia appears ready to introduce a system that prevents new and anonymous users from instantly publishing changes to the online encyclopedia."

This will mean a much smaller group of people responsible for published content. This raises a few concerns for me.

Firstly, it means the wide range of content will be reduced as the collective input will be smaller. Even if the content continues to be as wide ranging, it will surely take longer for the smaller group of people to come across new or interesting content. Secondly, we are relying on a smaller group of gatekeepers to decide what should / shouldn’t be published, what is fact or isn’t accurate and eventually what we actually see. Finally, part of the success of Wikipedia is based on user generated content from anyone who feels they have something interesting to share with the world or have a particular passion for a subject/issue. By introducing this type of ‘censorship’, is Wikipedia being elite-ist?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Social networking sites on the rise...

ComScore has just released its worldwide traffic stats for social networking sites for November (this does not include December). The top 20 sites and their unique visitor numbers are below:

Interesting points to note:

- The presence of regional sites like Baidu Space, hi5 and 56.com (China) and Orkut (India)
- Blogs are still very popular. Blogger tops the chart with an estimated 222 million unique worldwide visitors in November (up 44 percent from November, 2007). - Facebook is expected to dominate soon with 200 million unique visitors (up 116 percent).
- Facebook stands out as the social gorilla taking share from not only other social networks but blogs and other social media as well.
- Yahoo’s Flickr rises to No. 7, enforcing the popularity of photo sharing

Top Social Media Sites (ranked by unique worldwide visitors November, 2008; comScore)

1. Blogger (222 million)
2. Facebook (200 million)
3. MySpace (126 million)
4. Wordpress (114 million)
5. Windows Live Spaces (87 million)
6. Yahoo Geocities (69 million)
7. Flickr (64 million)
8. hi5 (58 million)
9. Orkut (46 million)
10. Six Apart (46 million)
11. Baidu Space (40 million)
12. Friendster (31 million)
13. 56.com (29 million)
14. Webs.com (24 million)
15. Bebo (24 million)
16. Scribd (23 million)
17. Lycos Tripod (23 million)
18. Tagged (22 million)
19. imeem (22 million)
20. Netlog (21 million)