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Google Chrome’s Facebook Disconnect

Has Google taken a swing at Facebook? I stumbled across the Chrome Extension Facebook Disconnect earlier today (actually about 4 months ago, although am only just getting round to finishing off this post) and whilst I absolutely applaud the move, I highly doubt Facebook are cheering with me.

I despise the fact that Facebook tracks and monitors my movements off their site, it is no business of theirs how I consume web-wide content. Everything I do on, or contribute to Facebook is theirs to use as they wish. I use their site without parting with any £’s, therefore allowing them to gather my information on their platform, is the currency I pay with. Fair is fair.

Google is the king of tracking user patterns through the web. So if they can stop another muscling in on their territory – particularly one that is arguably better positioned to produce richer data – you can bet they will.

So Google, another good move. Thank you. Your browser – Chrome and its support is another product you can add to your list of industry bests. To sit alongside email, search, maps and well, your general business model.

To note; I don’t work for Google – well aside from the AdSense on this site – I just think they are the best at what they do, and what they do just happens to be the web.


Amazon to Roll Out Their Own Like Button

Amazon Like Button - mattrhysdavies.com

Yet another internet behometh has rolled out a verb button to show your appreciation for a post, product or service; and this time it’s Amazon – the retailing giant for more or less any product you can think of.

Evidently not being overly-taken with the idea of sharing their data with the mammoth social network Facebook, Amazon have opted to introduce their own like button.

One obvious reason for this push is to help drive the already impressive Amazon recommendation engine. As a regular user of Amazon, I will quite happily swear by it as one of the greatest discovery tools for films, music, books et al, and believe that anything to push it and take to the next level is a positive move.

Although really the query should be : is another ‘like’ tool required? From a personal point of view – already possessing Amazon, Facebook, OpenID and Twitter accounts, it doesn’t really phase me. How about yourself? If you didn’t have an Amazon account, but were logged into Facebook, would you log of it, create an Amazon account and login to cast your ‘like’? Or would you not interact with it due to the hassle?


I Propose Death to Excessive Use of Social Media Icons

Social Media Icons - mattrhysdavies.com

Well, I’ve decided to finally return and show some love to my blog once again, to be honest it’s more of a need for a ‘happy place’ for me to air some of my thoughts on our digital landscape, and whatever else may slip into my mind. It could be on advertising, technology or any other number of topics that grips me…

Today will be a short – and not so sweet – look at the prevalence of social media icons and how they frustrate me no end when over-used and spattered all over a page from top to bottom. I’ve already had quite a rant on social media charlatans, and whilst social media certainly does have its place in the ever-expanding yet seemingly smaller world of the web; having the Facebook and Twitter icons relentlessly pushed into your retinas, being begged to share this, tweet that, like this gets old very quickly.

Now I think the advent of social media is an awesomely powerful development for sharing thoughts, mobilising political protests, finding and sharing deals, and virtually every other aspect of your life that the web plays a part in. Though does that mean that I wish to digg, like or tweet everything? No, no it most definitely does not, whilst on this point, why exactly would someone choose to ‘like’ something before having read / watched / viewed it – think about your placement people.

Particularly rile-some are the set of icons that follow your scroll down the page; always there, drawn to the centre of the screen like some sort of moth to a flame. Please for the love of god, just stop it.

Will I now be hypocritical and add in all these so-called banes of my web-experience to my blog? Hmmm perhaps, in fact no doubt that once I have forgotten about writing this, I will add them in to the theme and come across as a highly hypocritical annoyance. So be it.

Anyway, this has not a particularly in-depth, or well researched post – as all others (mostly) are – but just to let the world know that I’m back…kind of.


Gaining Visibility Through Social Media

The web has always been and will always be an industry steeped in numbers. Search engine ranking is a number, traffic flow is a number, bounce rate and conversion are numbers – albeit percentages – but numbers nonetheless. Take virtually any other metric to measure web visibility and chances are it’ll be a number. However, the onset of social media and social media campaigns are changing and moulding this, to an extent; moving towards qualitative metrics, rather than quantitative.

Social media is still being explored, developed and unfortunately – yet predictably – exploited. The key to a successful campaign is to define a strategy that aligns with your business goals, to be followed from the outset. Ask yourself the core question: what do you intend to achieve?

  • An extension of your customer service platform?
  • Direct traffic flow?
  • Data capture?
  • Bump added value to your SEO campaign?

Plan this campaign as you would any other campaign, whether it’s PPC, SEO or display; define your goals, ensure they’re measurable and track them. Report on them weekly, fortnightly, monthly, whatever time frame you deem necessary, the key is treat it like any other campaign, it has a start date, a budget and desired outcomes, just make sure you track them.

Be wary of any social media agency, guru, life-coach or self-proclaimed god that talks solely in figures. Social media success should not be measured in follower numbers, at least not as a stand-alone metric. A Facebook page boasting thousands of followers or a Twitter stream in the tens of thousands is absolutely meaningless unless they’re engaged with the page and prove themselves to be responsive. Anyone with £8 spare, a PayPal account and the inclination, can boost a page or stream’s ‘popularity’ by 1000, but what’s the intention? To flood your social presence with hundreds of fake zombie accounts?

This article was introduced with the claim that social media success should not be measured purely by figures, which may have been a bit of an ambiguous term given how in the ends everything comes back to numbers. Perhaps it would’ve been more apt to say that not everything should be measured in followers and ‘likers’, one needs to look in more depth and do some number splicing and data-marriage.

Social media has the ability to impact on numerous metrics with your web property: greater organic search visibility (to what extent, no-one really knows), stronger brand awareness and to be a conversion contributor. Similar to above the line advertising and broadcast campaigns – it’s difficult to measure and almost certainly you’ll fall flat in your assessment if working to a last-click metric.

If you’ve advanced to the level of attribution modelling then congratulations, chances are that 1) you’re (probably) at least 3 steps ahead of your rivals; and 2) you’re stepping into the glorious realms where a marketer / Webmaster can account for every penny of their budget, where a conversion first entered the site, how many times they returned prior to purchase, and generally make greater sense of the channels, particularly so where social media is concerned.

Perhaps I’ve now thoughtlessly rambled off point with gaining visibility (please forgive – I moved house after writing a few paragraphs and fear I lost my direction somewhat), essentially what I started out with trying to say, and still holds true at the end, is that if you’re measuring the effectiveness of your social media platform purely on volume of followers or ‘likers’ you’re doing it wrong. To do it right you need to define your goals set targets, and most crucially ensure that you have some sophisticated tracking installed so as too accurately determine how effective your campaign is working.

Any questions, you can always drop a comment below, or fire me over an email. Thanks for reading – hope it helped.


Advertising on Facebook

Why?

Having recently run a number of advertising campaigns across Facebook, I thought others may benefit from the experience of the process. If you’re considering utilising the site as a direct (as opposed to social media) marketing channel, then this could be worth a read.

To begin on a personal point, I am not a great fan of Facebook. I find their cavalier approach to personal data harvesting a little disconcerting at best. Also I find their attempt of (and progress towards) web-domination somewhat intrusive; and then to be confronted with their logo on every-other site fills me with vast over-exposure to their ways. However I also see it as an extremely valuable tool to connect and interact, to share and promote. I appreciate it’s simple yet elegant design and the non-intrusive advertising. In addition I enjoy the fact that for all intents and purposes it is free. The geek in me also marvels at the information architecture and the marriage of JavaScript to PHP, as well as its impressive (considering its traffic levels) uptime.

Now with my gripes cast and my respects paid, I will embark on an impartial review of my experience with advertising on Facebook. I will not disclose the exact details of the campaign such as client, budget and return as I don’t wish to disclose any metrics, at least not until they have been finalised. Also this is more an account of using the platform and targeting than it is a tale of success.

Demographics & Creatives

The ability to select and pinpoint your exact demographic down to – for example – engaged men in London, aged 18-35 with interests in film, music and computers is astounding. It immediately ensures that you have subtracted the often worthless clicks from outside your targeted audience, that chiefly results in your high spend and very small chance of conversion. Now you are able to accurately reach your market and spend more time dedicated to perfecting your creatives.

Whilst on the point of creatives, the platform is quite constrained when it comes to malleability. Assigned 135 characters for the body copy, 25 for the title and space for a 90×70 pixel creative – you had better be adept at making every letter and pixel count.

Polls & Costs

In my brief flirt with Facebook I have found running a related poll to be particularly productive at provoking engagement, and should you currently have a ‘fan page’ they have the potential to be surprisingly effective. Though all results (as one would expect) rest heavily upon the angle taken and the copy / image used. Across my campaign I’ve observed interaction rates from as high as 25% to as low as 0.1%, though a lot of this is highly likely to be the result of an incentive used. One of the tips I detail in my article on social media charlatans.

Whilst Facebook’s CPCs are lower than that of Google, you get what you pay for and unfortunately speaking in the case of my campaigns, what was received was poorer converting traffic. There are so many variables involved in the conversion rates of traffic – whether direct sale or affiliate – that what one finds, can vary greatly to what another finds.

Conclusion

Overall I have found the performance data to be comprehensive, though rather poorly presented. Having said that, the option exists to export as a CSV file to parse and present as you desire. Would I use Facebook adverts again? Display adverts (although we’re still collating the data) appears to have run at a loss, did not present particularly attractive CPC rates and resulted in rather poor converting traffic, so perhaps I would have to be heavily persuaded. On the other hand – if you’re able to construct polls that relate to your site then these could attract high levels of interaction.

I’m unaware as to how well structured and informative this article is, should I have missed vital chunks then I would appreciate feedback so as to ensure it’s optimised for all, as I feel I have some useful information to impart.


Social Media Charlatans

Having recently embarked on what proved to be a successful social media campaign, I am now finding myself increasingly exposed to what appear to be ‘social media charlatans’ that seem to not only have an incredibly high opinion of themselves for unbeknown reasons, but also seem to believe that their worth as a professional is solidified simply by dropping buzz-words in to every other sentence.

Facebook LogoWhilst it is without doubt that social media is the “new kid on the block” in terms of web marketing; it is with almost the same level of confidence that it can be stated that social media cannot be measured in the traditional metrics that we are familiar with, such as: ROI, increased traffic and sales. It is a completely new, but incredibly fertile ground to explore.

So where exactly does my gripe lie? Well, almost as soon as an industry or industry sector springs up, there immediately appear a vast number of silver-tongued operators proclaiming themselves to be experts, and social media proves to be of little difference. Through weeks of research and meetings I’ve encountered hundreds of people who believe that their reputation in the social media sphere is validated by the use of key-phrases like “brand-engagement”, “comprehensive social media strategy”, “user generated content”, “widget”….to be honest the list is almost endless so I’ll stop here. Yet what they lack is substance.

Buzz words – whilst alluring to the untrained – do nothing to put forward a case for suitability of hiring. In one particular meeting that went on for approximately two hours, not one single case-study was shown. Buzz-words flowed freely amongst sales pitches, yet not one example of what they did or how it was done was shown. No link to a Twitter feed nor a Facebook page in sight.

Twitter LogoThe most recent campaign that I’ve launched to date (27th Sept2010) has been for my employer on Facebook. I’ve managed to grow the page from 0 to 10,000+ in a few months whilst staying deeply under-budget. Without giving too much away, the advice I’d like to impart is to offer up some form of prize that relates to what the company sells – everyone likes competitions. Do not spam people’s feeds with every offer under the sun; if you find a really worthwhile offer then post it and see how well it is received by monitoring interactions with it. Fully utilise relevant forums to achieve as much exposure as possible, but again, don’t spam them. The key element I’ve discovered is to give your brand a voice – distinguish it from the noise of your competitors, and above all don’t spam!

I appreciate that this entry is somewhat short and far from being comprehensive, but hopefully I’ve given a small insight into how I think social media should evolve as more of a brand-building exercise. The best way that this can be achieved is through giving a brand a personality and enabling your customers / users to interact with the company through its personality. I also appreciate that I’ve (like discussed above) failed to provide any examples. The difference here is that I’m not touting for business – though I can of course be hired – but simply sharing my experiences.

To be honest, I do not see myself as a “social media expert”, and nor do I wish to be viewed as one. Whilst I am able to design, build and execute successful strategies I see it as another string to add to my bow; one that needs to be in used in conjunction with an existing and broad skillset (usability, traditional web marketing, content production etc) in order to achieve success.


The Failure of News Sites to Embrace User Generated Content

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a media-junkie, so much so that I studied media and New Media at college and university respectively. I love consuming content and now am slowly turning my hand to producing content for the world. Yet with the technology available, and with such eye-watering budgets at their disposal, I’m at a loss as to why the enormous media conglomerates fail to harness and utilise user generated content, and generally fail to move effectively with the times.

The BBC and Sky News are two prime examples of broadcasting powerhouses that are still doing just that – broadcasting. Just now they broadcast their content through the web rather than solely through TV, Radio or Print. Previous methods of communications have been unable to harness user generated content by the restrictions of their medium, yet the very foundation of the web is sharing information, so why not utilise it to the full?

BBC LogoEnabling threaded commenting for each article immediately opens up the page for engaging discussion, as opposed to the dated concept of “flat” forums whereby a direct reply is next to impossible; the method is to write into your post “@parent-poster…” which is the web equivalent of shouting out someone’s name in a crowd, then before awaiting a response you launch into what you were going to say. It’s not particularly, effective and you are far from guaranteed that they get your point.

The growth of social news sites such as Reddit thrive on optimising commenting systems, and improving the platform for engagement so as to promote discourse. Now a common situation exists where a major news site will produce an article, users will consume the article on site and then immediately leave to engage in their discussion elsewhere; whereas they could be retained to produce user generated content alongside the original article.

Sky News LogoIt is interesting that the media-giants of years past still hang on to old practices and business models – namely that of broadcast – whilst the media-world is turned on its’ head around them; they plod along slowly watching their revenues shrink, whilst clinging to the hope that somehow their previous supremacy returns to them.

The Times website for example – when staring directly into the face of perpetually shrinking CPM revenues, turned to the only method of monetisation they know: charging directly for access. By setting up a paywall round their content in July 2010 their online readership is estimated to have dropped off as much as 90%, an enormous and crushing drop. When immersed in a world of free and effortlessly flowing information, the step taken to restrict access indeed seems archaic. Decades ago when Fleet Street was unchallenged ruler for distributing information, their vast networks gave them their power – the budding journalist working out of their bedroom could not even contemplate competing with papers on a local level, lest still a national level. The internet has changed that. Permanently.

Now when the budding journalist publishes their articles, they have the opportunity to reach quite literally billions of people, with traditional geographic boundaries not applying. Possibly excluding any interference form oppressive governments. The journalist now has all the tools to hand to research and produce articles on all manner of topics; providing access for free. Thousands upon thousands of articles available at literally no cost to the user. Whereas The Times will charge £1 a day for access. Admittedly I, and many others cannot envisage – nor would we like to imagine – the death of the professional journalist, but a happy and prosperous medium can surely be discovered.

I appreciate that I began this article as a focus on how I believe news sites should provide more sophisticated platforms for discourse, but I seem to have wandered off course slightly, perhaps because I see so much wrong with established publisher’s approach to providing web content.

There is absolutely no doubt that the media powerhouses drastically need to change their tack when it comes to performing on the web. Display advertising – whilst not a dead income source by any means, has severely reduced it’s pay-off’s in recent years as more profitable, refined sales techniques are introduced. For publisher’s this has produced a serious issue: how to remain profitable and competitive? You may have deduced by now that my answer is to promote greater user interaction, and reap the benefits from the generated content.

The greater that a site knows its audience, then the more responsive they are able to be to users’ requirements and their needs; whether they be technical requirements or feature-requests. In addition to increased reader-loyalty, the company is able to analyse the data real-time in order to produce details of trending topics. Such data can then be used to build and direct specific advertising materials – based upon prevalent keywords – to be displayed on pages where they will attract the highest click-through rate.

Now I am not an advocate of intrusive advertising – expanding banners, pop-ups and auto-playing audio can all take a back-seat as far as I’m concerned. Nor do I view web-users as cattle to direct and manipulate as you please, providing it’s profitable. But highly targeted adverts of relevance to the page, has the potential to be both beneficial to the user and to the advertiser, indeed also to the publisher. Particularly so with the emergence of behavioural retargeting.

The user will be provided with unique and breaking content, and with all the ills of the media industry, it’s hard to take away from the fact that they are still in the position they are in because they produce quality content in one sector or another. If in addition to the content, the users are presented with the foundations on which to build a community and interact over the article, then it has the potential to stop some of the user spill over to social news sites.