How to Determine if Pages Have Purchased Followers or Likes

FakersOnline

Do you ever come across a business profile or page and think ‘what the…? How did they get 3,000 followers?’ As with most things in life, if something seems fishy, there’s a good likelihood that it probably is, and with the fake social media profile industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars per annum, it’s not hugely surprising to find out many individuals and brands have taken this route. Like, a heap of them have – just take a look at the results from the recent Instagram fake profile purge, where a whole range of celebrities took big hits in their follower counts.

And it makes sense, having more followers and likes can definitely improve your brand position – if you’re looking for a service online and find two similar providers, one with 38 likes and another with 3,000, the latter one’s gonna’ stand out – but with the practice of buying followers and likes so widespread, it’d be great to also have a way to work out who’s telling the truth, right? Here’s a couple of ways to work out if they’re telling you the fibs.

How to work out is someone’s Twitter followers are fake

Twitter is the open network, the one where people go to broadcast their thoughts and voice their opinions on the happenings of the world. As such, the biggest advantage of Twitter is that most of their data is publicly accessible, which makes it easier to work out what brands are doing, what strategies their employing – and also, whether they’re faking. It’s actually pretty easy to spot on Twitter, even without any significant investigation.

When looking through Twitter, it’s not uncommon for a celebrity to have a follower to following ratio that looks something like this:

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Gotye’s not a prolific tweeter, and as such, he’s not following a heap of people. But he’s Gotye, he’s a world-renowned musician, and his fans are keen to hear whatever it is he has to say – hence, despite him not following back many folk, he still has 414,000 followers. That makes sense for a public figure with a large fan base, but when you come across a non-public figure, someone you’ve never heard of, with a similar follower/following ratio, that’s a pretty clear indicator that something’s amiss.

There are a couple of options for testing this on Twitter – Status People’s ‘Fake Follower Check’ is one, Social Bakers, too, has a free fake followers test you can use – but my favourite is Twitter Audit, also free, very quick and very easy to use. The difference between each of these, and why I prefer TwitterAudit, is the number of records they check to get an indication of how many fake followers each profile has.

twitter auditors

Of course, the accuracy of each is relative to the amount of followers the subject has – the percentage of followers you’re testing decreases in-line with increases in follower count – but generally this data has been found to be indicative, when compared with tests on a more comprehensive scale.

To conduct a Twitter Audit, you just enter the handle you wanna’ check, sign-in with your Twitter credentials, and away you go. How the test works is, it takes a look at that random sample of up to 5,000 of the person’s followers and it looks at a range of factors for each – number of tweets sent, date of last tweet, follower/following ratio, etc. From this, the system determines which of those tested profiles are likely fake, then gives you a percentage and pie chart based on those findings:

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There is, of course, a margin of error in this data, but it’s normally a fairly accurate indicator, particularly when analysing profiles with less than 5k followers.

To clarify and confirm the data further, you can conduct a manual check – paid tools like Followerwonk or Socialbro provide in-depth reports on follower growth over time. If you look up a profile and find a big drops or jumps in their follower numbers, like this:

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Pretty safe to assume those followers didn’t all randomly switch off in the same week (unless, of course, there was an offending tweet or similar logical connection).

Using the available apps, it’s pretty easy to work out Twitter fakes. Twitter’s always working to eliminate illegitimate profiles, so we might one day see an Instagram style purge with a heap of celebrities taking hits. But till then, if you ever need confirmation, just run ‘em through a Twitter Audit, then sit back and scoff at their vanity.

How to work out is someone’s Facebook likes are fake

Facebook fakers are a little harder to pin down. Unlike Twitter, most of Facebook’s data is locked up or hidden behind privacy settings, making it a bit more difficult to determine, definitively, if someone’s cheating. There’s a few ways to go about it and while none of them will provide as clear a result as the Twitter audit options, they will give you some idea as to what’s going on with any given page.

Find out where their fans are from

So, let’s say that the Facebook page you’re looking at is a local business – they work within your local region, they not a subsidiary of a larger international corporation – the people they work with are, logically, going to be based in the local area. The people who sell Facebook likes tend to be from third world nations – as noted in this piece from Copyblogger. Most of the fake likes you’ll come across originate from Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Indonesia. Now, that’s not to point the finger and say all of the ‘click farms’ in the world are based in these regions, but if our local business has a heap of likers from these nations, that’s a likely indication that their faking it. So how do work this out?

Facebook’s graph search enables you to search for a heap of different parameters. The one we can use in this case is:

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You insert the name of the business page at the end and it’ll give you a display of all the hometowns of people who like that page. The problem with this is that Graph Search results are sorted based on affinity – how they’re connected to you – not by total number, so you can’t necessarily determine where the majority of this page’s likes come from, but if it’s a local business and they have a range of the above mentioned nations among the hometowns of their followers, you may have reason to question why they’re showing up there.

Extra note: In this piece by Miguel Bravo, Bravo also suggests that the results of Graph Search queries like:

‘Pages likes by people who like [insert page name]’

‘Countries of people who like [insert page name]’

‘Languages of people who like [insert page name]’

Can also produce telling results (and they definitely do in the example he’s provided).

Check their interaction versus their Likes

This is a more tenuous linkage, but it can provide some insight. So, if the page you’re looking at has 3,000 likes, you’d expect them to have a reasonable level of interaction on their posts, some discussion about their brand, right? You can do a quick assessment of their posts to see what sort of engagement they’re getting on each – fake profiles are not going to interact with posts, so if they’ve got a crazy amount of page likes but are getting no action on their updates, they may have bought likes. Or they’re not very good at understanding their audience.

By clicking on the actual ‘Like’ number on the page, you get a graph like this:

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Now, dependent on other factors, this could be telling – a huge jump in likes on any given day indicates either a really popular post or promotion, or that the page has bought likes, you’ll only be able to determine this by cross-checking the data against the posts. The other metric to consider is ‘People Talking About This’ – so, in this case, I’d be a little suspect, given they have 3.7k total page likes, a big boost in likes in the last week, yet only one person ‘talking about this’. Again, these are not definitive measures – they can often end up being fuel for your own conspiracy theories, where you’re really seeing what you want to see. But having a look at the numbers can be revealing on a page that’s clearly purchased fake likes.

Extra tip: Fake profiles tend to have no profile image, or odd-looking, copied images – this is another element to check to further your investigation.

Really find out where their fans are from

If you’re really serious about finding Facebook fakers, paid app Fanpage Karma will give you a breakdown of the location of any page’s likers.

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This is one of the clearest indicators you can use to determine if the page has purchased likes – if the top countries are nations where the brand doesn’t even operate, that’s a fairly large red flag waving in your face.

On one hand, it’s frustrating that there’s not an easier way to determine Facebook fakers, as there is with Twitter, but on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter either way – if they’ve purchased fake likes, there’s not a heap you can do. I mean, you could, theoretically, go through their list of fans and report each fake profile one-by-one (which you can also do on Twitter) but obviously, that’s pretty time consuming and with Facebook already dealing with thousands of reports per hour, it’s hard to know if those efforts will actually cause any effect – that, and the fact that some like sellers offer a ‘guarantee’, where they’ll replace removed spam accounts, lessens the potential impact of conducting your own faker crackdown. The ongoing updates to Facebook’s news feed algorithm mean that purchasing likes will hurt pages more than help in the end, and Facebook’s always working to eliminate fakes where they can. While a higher number of likes is better looking, as with most measurements in social, it’s only one part of the larger picture, one indicator of potential success. You might have ten total likes and that could be more effective than a thousand, if those ten fans are engaged, paying clients, responsive to your messaging.

Quality Vs Quantity

And this is the key element in the popularity contest – the metrics only tell a part of the story. While I can understand why businesses might consider boosting their numbers, metrics are only one element of the social marketing puzzle. What’s more, fake likes and followers hurt the core product of social platforms – there’s already been questions about Twitter’s actual user numbers with reports suggesting that 9% of profiles are fake. That sort of speculation hurts their brand sentiment and turns off potential investors – the fake profile industry is bad for social media business, and you best believe the platforms are doing all they can to identify and eradicate imposter accounts. As with Instagram, at any time you could see a similar cull on any platform – buying popularity could end up very embarrassing if you get caught out.

Any measurement is an indicator – Likes, followers, Klout, Kred – each, in itself, is something to consider, but the only way to confirm the true social credentials of a person or brand is to investigate them yourself. Look at their posts, their content, assess what they’re doing. There may be a logical reason why their numbers are the way they are. Or there may not. ‘Influence’ is relative – conducting your own analysis will show you whose earned it and whose bought something resembling what influence should be.

Advanced Statistics, “Moneyball” and Ambitious Marketing Through Social Media

Social_Network_Analysis_Visualization

Ever since my early teens I’ve been a big basketball fan. I played football when I was young, but a playground accident (in which I broke both my arms at the same time) meant the full-contact nature of football was off the cards for an extended period of time. During my recovery time, I found basketball and I never looked back.

This was also right in the midst of the Michael Jordan-era, Charlotte Hornets jerseys were everywhere, Shaquille O’Neal was smashing backboards on TV. Basketball was blowing up in the early nineties, and like many passions of our formative years, it took hold and has stayed with me ever since.

One aspect that really captured my imagination was statistics. I collected NBA cards, poured over the numbers and info on each one. I developed an encyclopedic knowledge of useless facts about players and their outputs – you wanna’ know who had the best three-point field goal percentage in the 1992-93 season – I got you. Need to know the career averages of Canadian giant Bill Wennington? Right here. I wasn’t alone in this, there were a heap of more informed and more detail-oriented fans than I, but what I didn’t know was that that very passion, that interest in obscure details and numbers, would one day change the way the game was played.

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In 2012 at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, cartographer Kirk Goldsberry gave a presentation on what he called CourtVision, an advanced basketball analytics system he’d put together in his spare time. Goldsberry had worked out how to extract data from ESPN’s shot charts – which showed where each player had made and missed shots from during each game – and he’d put all that data into a comprehensive set for each individual. He’d mapped every shot taken in every NBA game from 2006 to 2011, providing him with a massive dataset which, when filtered down to specific players, showed clear tendencies, weaknesses and strengths.

Ray Allen shot chart

Basic field goal percentage data was nothing new – as noted earlier, any kid with a love for the smell of a freshly opened pack of basketball cards had some level of similar insight, but Goldsberry had taken it to the next level. He’d sought to show why this data was important, how it could be actioned. And as he presented, a room of NBA owners all sat forward in their seats.

Data analytics in sports has become the “in” thing in recent times. Growing from the success of Billy Beane’s “Moneyball”, analytics is now big business – virtually every major sports team now employs some level of data analysis in their preparation and evaluation process. And it makes sense – winning is everything in professional sports. More than pride or showmanship, it’s winning that makes money for pro athletes. Careers depend on it, livelihoods rely on the ability to perform. Winning teams get better attendances, more coverage on TV, more success as a business overall. And it is just that, business – while it’s sports and it may not seem so different from your local leagues, where participation in itself is seen as a success, professional sport is big business, and winning is a fundamental requirement. You’re either winning now or you’re planning for future success. Or you’re done. With so much riding on the result, every little bit matters, every advantage you can get helps – if deflating the ball by 1 p.s.i can provide some advantage, no matter how small, you best believe someone will try it.

With every detail under so much scrutiny, professional sports teams need to get things right. You could fly blind, stick with the way things have always been done – rely on your gut instinct, as many traditionalists still uphold. But the fact of the matter is data has become a critical part of modern pro sports. Numbers don’t lie, statistics are fact, and while it takes more than mere numbers to build any actionable insight from the info, used well, data can unlock the secrets that lead to that one goal – winning.

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Goldsberry’s formulas, or variations of them, were adopted by players and coaches all across the NBA. The results were largely non-definitive, fuelling critics of advanced statistics. Some, like TNT commentator and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, have come out strong with their opposition:

All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common — they’re a bunch of guys who have never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”

Barkley’s view is simple – all the numbers and all the data have not yet lead to a team winning a championship. And he’s right, but still, many clear winners have emerged.

Shane Battier had defined his career by being a defensive specialist, someone who’s sole aim was to take on the unglamorous task of shutting down opposition scoring threats. Battier was also an analytics advocate, someone who’d seen the power in the numbers and had been using similar statistical correlations for some time. Battier became renowned for his success against the NBA’s biggest stars, most notably Kobe Bryant. What Battier had determined with Bryant was that he was no where near as efficient when he shot from a particular section of the floor – so rather than work to stop Bryant, as such, Battier worked to keep Bryant out of his hot spots and shepherd him into taking bad shots. The tactic was a success, but one which isn’t quantified in the box score. This sort of basic extrapolation of the data highlights the subtleties of utilising performance statistics as a predictor of successful behaviour. It wasn’t that data was going to alter the very nature of the game, but the accumulation of those subtle complexities, when used and applied in the right way, could sway the outcome and deliver results. The problem is that you a) need to know the right data to analyse and action, and b) need the right personnel to action it. Those two variables are what lead to data being seen as an inexact science – generally, it’s not a case of 1 + 1 = 2 – it’s 1 (in the right scenario with the right preparation) + 1 (with the correct understanding of the specifics of the moment) = 2. This is where there’s some truth to the old ‘go with your gut’ way of thinking – you need people who can ‘go with their gut’, but that gut needs to be informed and to understand the variables of overall success.

For instance, let’s say you’re a point guard and your team’s down by one with only seconds remaining and you’re rushing up court with the ball for the last play and you spot your teammate open for a shot on the wing. An informed, analytical, mind will know how good that shot is, how good a shooter that player is at this stage of the game. Through understanding the shot charts, like Goldsberry’s CourtVision stats, the point guard can make an informed decision and either execute or switch the play, and that quick thinking can win or lose the game. Such interpretation is both gut and analytics, and that’s more likely where you’ll see success in the world of data – human interpretation layered over informed insights. One without the other is an inferior approach.

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This is an important distinction in the intersection of big data and human analysis. Right now, the world is trying to understand the implications of all this new data we’ve been given access to – the proliferation of social media has fed an explosion of online tracking and data systems and most business haven’t yet been able to get a grasp on what all this new information means, where it might lead. We all know it’s important – if professional sports teams are effectively entrusting their success to the numbers, then it’s surely valuable – but because there are so many variables, because it isn’t so black and white, many are taking the ‘go with your gut’ approach, the ‘we’ve done it this way for years’ ethos.

So a heap of people on Facebook click ‘Like’ – so what?”

Established mindsets pose the biggest challenge to the possibilities of data, because it’s hard to see the logic when we’ve never been asked to look at things from a wider view. As in this example, a ‘Like’ on Facebook, that one action is virtually meaningless in the scheme of things. But we’re not talking about one thing. Often we go looking for simplicity because it’s what makes us comfortable, it’s logic we’re familiar with. But new ways of working require new ways of thinking, and we need to break out of what we know in order to break through.

Here’s an example in practise:

  • Person A vs Person BPerson A has 500,000 followers on Twitter. Person B has only 5,000.
  • Person A has followed a heap of people and gained these followers over time by collecting as many people as possible, following whoever will follow back, actively seeking to up their follower count at any opportunity. Person B has never focussed on followers, but has instead focussed on community and having genuine interactions with the people to whom she’s connected.
  • Person A has a Klout score of 55. Klout score, whether you agree with it or not, is an indicative measure of how many interactions a person has within their community, how many times they’re mentioned, the impact of their actually conversations. Person B has a Klout score of 75. This would suggest that despite Person B only having 1% of Person A’s following, Person B is actually more influential and more likely to have her message reach a wider audience.

Knowing the above details, I’d be willing to be large sums of money that most people would still pick Person A – and his 500,000 followers – to be their brand ambassador over Person B. Because Person A has the biggest reach, he has 500,000 followers. The fact that they’re not listening to him is largely irrelevant – because we’re used to seeing things as we know them. What we know is that reaching more people is better, years of marketing and advertising theory has taught us this. We know that the chance of reaching 500,000 is better than reaching 5,000, because the audience is so much bigger. So what if not all of them are listening to Person A – Even if you can reach 1% you’re still beating Person B, right? Even though, through the logic detailed above, we can see that partnering with Person B is probably more likely to generate a better result, the majority of people will still go with what they know. The unknown is exactly that, and despite our data getting more informed, our approach isn’t there yet.

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So going back to Goldsberry’s CourtVision stats – what if there was a way to correlate that same info, but for people who are buying or are interested in your products and services? What if, rather than shots made and attempted, you were looking at actions taken online – pages liked, interests listed, relationship status. One of those things in isolation is nothing – someone who likes Nirvana buys your stuff – so what? But what if, like Goldsberry, you could collect a wide set of data, a range of actions and preferences and map those on a chart which suggested that a person who undertakes certain, specific actions is highly likely to be interested in your stuff? You can do this. You can do this right now with Facebook data and Twitter info, you can correlate all the info from your pages and fans and you can build your own data sets that will map out the people most likely to be interested in buying from you. The trick is in finding the right data, the data you need.

For instance, correlating all the data from all the people who’ve liked your page might not be beneficial, because many people like pages for different reasons – they might be friends or family, they might have done so to enter a competition. Those people are going to skew your data, because they’re not the people who are most likely to buy. But you can narrow it down, specifically, to people who’ve made a purchase, to people who’ve interacted with your content. You can choose the specific info, most indicative of your typical customers, then build your datasets based on that. As noted recently, Facebook likes can very accurately indicate a person’s personality or leanings, when applied on a wide enough scale – those findings are the perfect business-case for conducting your own analysis and working out your own most relevant audience. Once you know this, you can target your marketing accordingly, you can focus your questions based on the queries amongst this sub-set, you can calibrate your focus around expanding your reach to people like this, people with the highest probability of being actual paying customers.

But that’s not broadcast reach, right? That’s not hitting the widest audience possible, which, as we know – as we’ve learned – is how to succeed and sell more stuff. And of course, that may well be the case – focus your dataset wrong or too narrow and you could miss out on an entire market of other buyer personas you’re not catering for by honing in on one group. Narrowing focus is a risk, and that risk is going to enflame oppositional forces, the old-school chiefs who know how things are done. This is the challenge of being an innovator, has always been the challenge. You’re presenting a new way of thinking, and people aren’t necessarily going to like it. When you’ve achieved success by doing things the way you know, do you appreciate it when someone new comes in and suggests something different? No. Because you’ve done it, you’ve got the runs on the board – you have experience – which is concrete – you know what works. Social media and big data are new, they’re different, and they’ve got a lot to prove – this means you, by extension, have a lot to prove also.

But it can be done. The stats and figures can be located and correlated, you can work out the most minute and specific details about your target customers, and those details will inform the future of your audience approach. As communications become more individual, as more and more people grow-up online and develop communication skills via social media platforms, people are also growing to expect their voices will be heard, especially by brands. Targeted advertising, for example, is becoming so specific that it’s scary, but to the next generation it won’t be scary, it’ll be how it’s always been. Brands responding in real-time will be standard, individual preferences will orchestrate the detail of each person’s media experience. What we know and have always known is evolving, whether we accept it or not.

The possibilities of big data are amazing, the breadth of social media is hard to get your head around. But what we can say for sure is that people’s experiences and expectations are moving away from what we’ve always known. The businesses that can move with it, will.

Exploding Books, Technology and the Future of Literature

Exploding book

Thriller writer James Patterson recently released the world’s first self-destructing book. It was a gimmick – you could buy the ‘self-destructing’ version of his latest novel, which erased itself after 24 hours, or you could wait another few days and buy it in traditional book form. Patterson’s a former ad guy, so it’s not surprising that he’d come up with something like this, a stunt closely aligned to the next generation’s affections with self-destructing and disappearing content. And while we won’t have a true gauge on how effective this promotion was for some time, it’s definitely gained Patterson a lot of attention which he’d otherwise not have received – so should other writers be considering new publishing options like this?

A Changing Conversation

We’re living in extremely interesting times, from a communications perspective. The advent of social media has changed the way we interact – people are more connected, in terms of both reach and access, than ever before. This connectivity is unprecedented – we don’t know the full effects and implications of this new world, because we’re all in the midst of living in and exploring it. But what we do know is it’s different. People’s habits are changing, audience expectations and evolving, and in this, the whole structure of arts and entertainment is shifting. What we’ve long known to be the way of things is mutating before us.

This is most obvious in publishing, newspapers being the easiest example, with print publications declining as more and more people get their daily news and information online. Books, too, are changing, with Kindles and eReaders becoming more commonplace. The flow-on effect of this is that the traditional publishing model is no longer as profitable – getting a book accepted by a major publisher has always been hard, but with an increasing amount of pressure on the bottom line, the money available for new writers is rapidly drying up. Some of those publishing losses are balanced out by lower costs – an eBook costs nowhere near as much to produce as a physical book, but the return is also diminished, because they can’t charge the same amount for a digital copy. Mostly, the result is flat, there’s really not a heap for publishers to gain from the shift to more electronic readers, but as with newspapers, where traditional outlets are getting beaten is by smaller, more agile competitors who don’t have the overheads and revenue requirements that are strangling the giants. The opportunities for new players – like self-publishers – are greater than ever – though it’s a hard path to reach any sort of significant audience.

The film industry’s facing similar challenges – with more and more films available via illegitimate means so quickly online, we’re seeing fewer arthouse films get picked up by big cinema chains. This is why you’re seeing so many big-budget Hollywood films – remakes of sequels of remakes – over and over, at the movies. Because people can’t replicate the experience of seeing those epic movies at home – advances in home cinema and larger TV screens mean we can get pretty much replicate an arthouse cinema experience in our lounge room. But we can’t do massive sound, we can’t do 3D. As such, Hollywood is taking fewer risks on smaller projects, which means less opportunity for young filmmakers coming through – in the late nineties we had low-budget debuts from Darren Aronofsky (‘Pi’) and Chris Nolan (‘Memento’) that may not have even been released in the modern cinema marketplace. Yet, those are the films that got those guys to where they are now – Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ was a cinematic masterpiece, and Nolan’s now one of the biggest names in movies, fuelled by the success of his Batman trilogy. With Hollywood taking fewer risks in smaller films, we may be missing out on the next generation of great film directors, and with fewer opportunities for up and coming artists, we could, effectively, see a decline in the quality of cinema for years to come. Unless we start looking elsewhere.

The Diversification of Creation

What we have seen in the film industry is that more young artists are branching into new mediums. Where they may not have opportunities in film, more innovative and creative work is coming from platforms like YouTube, Vine and Instagram. Some of these artists have progressed from their online work to cinematic opportunities – Neill Blomkamp, the director of ‘District 9’, got his first big Hollywood break because Peter Jackson saw some of the short films he’d made in his spare time on YouTube. Josh Trank, who directed the excellent ‘Chronicle’ gained recognition through his short films posted online (including this Star Wars ‘found footage’ short). Trank is now slated to direct a new, standalone, Star Wars film, as well as the Fantastic Four reboot. The next wave of film-making talent is more diversified, spread across various mediums, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in new forms – and as these two examples highlight, there can be significant benefits to just being present and proactive, posting content to build your profile and build recognition. While what we know as the traditional progression of film creative is changing, we’re seeing greater opportunities through access to cameras and editing/creation apps – if you’re looking for the directors of tomorrow, you might be better off checking out ‘Best of Vine’ than Sundance (note: one of the films that generated the most buzz at the most recent Sundance was ‘Tangerine’, which was shot almost entirely on an iPhone).

Opportunities in Innovation

So what does this mean for publishing? Really, it means that we need to consider ways to be more innovative with what we do. Patterson’s exploding novel may seem like a pretty gimmicky gimmick, but this is where we need to be looking as the next iteration of book publishing and connecting with our audiences. People these days are seeking more immersive experiences, with websites tied into content and apps tied into social media discussions. As more movie studios tap into this and get better at a 360 degree approach to their content, that immersion will become the expectation, and that expectation will extend to other forms of entertainment media. Exploding books are one thing, as a concept that might get you a bit more attention for your next book launch, but it’s not so much the idea itself that’s interesting about Patterson’s promotion. It’s the fact that an author like Patterson is innovating that’s interesting, and it highlights the need for all authors to consider new platforms, new processes, new ways to engage readers. The opportunities are there, the mediums are available – it may be worth taking the time to consider how to best use them to communicate and connect with your audience.

Google Re-Connects to Twitter’s Firehose – What it Means for Digital Marketing

Twitter Firehose

The announcement of Twitter’s new deal with Google, giving the search giant access to Twitter’s firehose of real-time tweets, once again highlights the micro-blog giant’s determination to advance and evolve into new avenues of profitability. While the latest Twitter numbers showed user growth is still slowing, revenue numbers have continued to increase, indicating that Twitter is on track to produce significant profit in the near future. Through increased advertising options and steps taken towards monetizing every aspect of Twitter’s audience, there’s a lot to like about the company’s future, and those innovations, many of which have come in quick succession, underline its place as the real-time social network of choice – but what will the Google deal actually mean?

The Rise of Social Search

This isn’t the first time Twitter and Google have combined their powers. Between 2009 and 2011, Google indexed tweets, till there was a disagreement between the parties and the relationship ended. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s Q4 earnings call, made it clear that the new deal with Google was not the same as the previous one, meaning it will likely be more sophisticated and complex, which makes sense, given Twitter’s growth since the cessation of the previous pact. For Twitter, it gives them exposure and access to a whole new audience of ‘logged-out’ users, which the company estimates increase its reach by some 600 million people in addition to its ‘logged-in’ user base. For Google, it helps them maintain the battle for search eyeballs, with an increasing number of people turning to social for search purposes. This was underlined in by Facebook’s search upgrade in December 2014, enabling users to search for content posted by friends and people within their extended networks. The evolution of social search no doubt has Google slightly spooked, as the pervasiveness of word-of-mouth is significantly more compelling that product reviews and hand-picked testimonials. The deal makes perfect sense, but the make-up of the actual functions will be of significant interest, particularly to those in the SEO and digital marketing arenas.

The Possibilities of Innovation

While the enhanced indexing of tweets is, in itself, significant, it’s likely, also, that tweets will be given a different prominence in search results. Google’s indicated that a new version of ‘Google Real Time Search’ would be unlikely, but what we may see is more innovative integration of tweets into search streams. A break out option, for example, where you may see a clickable indicator in your Google search results saying ‘there have been X tweets about this subject in the last 24 hours’ to provide additional context around a search term’s popularity and link users directly to that conversation. Options like this would give Google users a more expansive view of the topic they’re investigating, providing additional context and giving them access to that important word-of-mouth insight. Google Trends too will benefit from having access to tweets – rather than tweets having their own separate search function, a new option in Trends could better enable specific Twitter data searches. Such functionality is essentially already available through apps like Topsy, but Trends might be able to do this with more oomph, more expansive data mapping functionality, powered by Google.

It’ll also be interesting to see if there’s specific integration of Twitter data into other Google properties, like Google Maps. We’ve already seen the power of Twitter data in highlighting sentiment across different regions – visualisations like those available on Twitter’s #Interactive showcase, mapping the popularity of sports teams or the details of election results, are extremely popular and effective in communicating the expanses of Twitter’s data insight. While the more complex elements of such analysis will always require expert input (likely through Twitter’s own Gnip), there may be ways to integrate Google and Twitter data to give users to ability to map their own correlations, specific to their region. Of course, these are just possibilities and speculations, but the opportunities of an improved, enhanced, Twitter/Google partnership are exciting, and may help strengthen both companies in the battle against Zuckerberg’s towering behemoth.

The SEO Factor

And then there’s SEO. The integration of Twitter data into search results, likely in ways we’ve not seen before, could make Twitter a key element of the SEO process. Giving tweets more prominence already points to this, but a new Twitter indexing process could put more emphasis on the importance of brands being active on Twitter generally. What if someone goes searching for your products or services and a tweet from your competitor appears, high in the search results, with a message that resonates with that customer? You may have just lost that sale by virtue of not being present or not engaging via tweets.

At present, the main motivator for Twitter in this new deal appears to be the ability to show more ads to casual users and provide more incentive to get new people active on the platform, but as noted by Danny Sullivan in Marketing Land’s FAQ on the new deal:

Partnering fully with Google will make it likely much more of Twitter’s relevant content will appear before Google visitors, sending Twitter lots of traffic that it can use to convert into new Twitter users or to show ads.”

If relevant tweets are more likely to appear to searchers – customers seeking to inform their purchase decisions via Google research – the need to have your content appear high in those results will also be more pressing. If your brand isn’t active on Twitter, this may be a new element to consider in your SEO process.

Twitter’s noted that it’ll take several months for any changes to appear, and we’ll obviously hear more when the time comes, but it’s interesting to consider the possibilities and motivations behind this move. Either way, Twitter’s latest changes, and the speed at which they’re implementing new processes and innovations, bode well for the future relevance of the platform. Maybe nothing major comes of the Google/Twitter deal, but all indications are that this will be significant. How significant, exactly, only time will tell.

Twitter Video is Going to be Huge – Here’s Why…

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After months of speculation, Twitter video has arrived. Users of Twitter’s mobile app can now quickly and easily shoot-and-share video clips to be sent along with their tweets. And it’s pretty great – the functionality’s very similar to that of Vine (also owned by Twitter), though the maximum clip length has been extended to 30 seconds. You just compose your tweet, click on the camera option and switch it to video, hold down the video icon to film, then you’re done. It’s easy, seamless and will be a massive boost for brands and regular users alike. But, of course, that functionality isn’t startlingly new – you’ve always been able to record video in another app, like Vine, and share that video via tweet, right? While that is true, the immediacy and ease of use of having video functionality in-built takes video on Twitter to another level – here are three reasons why Twitter video will go big time.

1. Video infinitely enhances personal connection. Gary Vaynerchuck touched upon this in a recent post – as we’ve all seen from the massive growth of video on Facebook, video content is powerful. We also know that people are on social media to be social – social platforms are personal platforms, places from which people can voice their opinions and share their thoughts on everything from global issues to their favourite biscuits. Sharing your voice enables you to be heard, and that capability is extremely powerful, particularly when it comes to how that voice is acknowledged. Listening and responding to those voices is a key element in building brand loyalty and advocates – if people are using social to be heard, the brands that win are those that are hearing them and responding to those signals.

While it’s best practice, and common courtesy, to acknowledge users who’ve shared your content or commented on your tweets, sometimes those acknowledgements can come across as robotic or non-genuine. Sometimes, even if they’re totally genuine, it’s unavoidable that your message will seem cut-and-pasted – I’ll often respond to people who’ve shared my posts with ‘Thanks for sharing my post, Ben, much appreciated’ – and that’s a genuine sentiment, and I always try to include the users’ actual name to show that this isn’t just a repeated tweet, but there’s only so many variations you can do on that message. But now I have Twitter video – what if I made an individual video personally acknowledging that person for sharing my content. And maybe my doing it is no big deal, I’m not a big name celebrity, but what if Jay Baer did it? Your CEO, maybe? What about Beyonce?

The power of an individual video message is significant – that sort of interaction can turn a person into a fan for life. And now, with that video capability in-built and readily accessible, it takes literally only a few more seconds of effort to make a stronger connection through video recognition. Click reply, press the video camera, create a message, send. Simple, fast, powerful.

2. Immediate and fast access to video will make it easier to contextualize with ‘how-to’ and ‘walk-through’s. Have you ever seen the Lowe’s ‘Fix in Six’ videos posted to Vine? In short, quick clips, people were able to produce amazingly helpful – and popular – ‘how-to’ content – and now you can do the same, but with longer clip duration. This aspect will reinforce Twitter’s capacity as THE customer service platform. Brands and helpdesk assistants no longer need to restrict their advice to 140 characters – a challenge at the best of times. Now you can take a quick clip, right there, in-app, and show the person on the other end of the line how to do something.

Even better, it’s often equally, if not more, difficult for users to explain their issues within Twitter’s character limit. Now you can just get them to film the issue and tweet the video through. This will avoid confusion over what’s being discussed, where the actual issue lies. Again, the immediacy of being able to press one button and create a video of the problem is significantly different to taking a video in another app and sharing that way. Having the functionality right there, within the platform that people are already using, will change how video is used in this application. Problems will be resolved faster, responses will be more in-depth and helpful. The change will be significant for the brands that utilise this functionality to best effect.

3. Twitter video will bring more users to Twitter and keep them there longer. Tech investor Jason Calacanis wrote a piece about Twitter video in early January which looked at the platform’s capacity to capitalise on the rising popularity of video content. In Calacanis’ post, he made a very relevant point about how celebrities use Twitter – he noted that many celebrities and influencers are highly active on Twitter, but not many have their own YouTube or Vine channels, so they’re not actively posting a high amount of video content. He also noted that Facebook has been trying for years to get celebrities and influencers more active on their platform, as evidenced by the creation of Facebook Mentions, an app targeted specifically at celebrities (which, co-incidentally, just got an upgrade). Twitter already has those big names on-board – providing them with the ability to easily share videos with their huge follower bases (and once they see how their fans respond to that video content) will lead to more of them posting more video content, which, in-turn, will lead to more people coming to Twitter to view it.

What’s more, Twitter video’s can only be shared through embedding or posting links back to the original tweet, there’s no easy way to extract the video and re-post it on YouTube or direct to Facebook. When those celebrities do post clips, that content will, of course, be shared across other platforms, and the way that content is accessed through other channels is by providing, or linking back to, the original tweet, which, again, generates greater exposure for Twitter. This is in-line with Twitter’s view that it reaches a significantly larger audience than it’s actual user-base through ‘logged-out’ users, people who are exposed to Twitter content but are not on the platform. As it moves to better monetize this element, growing that exposure can only be a good thing. It may also prove to be a huge thing in the long run.

Overall, Twitter video is not a massive shift – the ability to post and share video via tweet is, essentially, nothing new. But the integration of video into your Twitter stream, having the option right there, a click away as you compose your message, changes the equation significantly. There are so many opportunities, so many simple and effective ways to use this new process. If you’re not thinking about using Twitter videos, you should be. Because have no doubt, other brands are thinking on it. Even minor innovations can be the difference between a 7/10 and a 10/10 customer experience.

On Merit, Attention and Audience Action

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Here’s a question: are plaudits for advertising and marketing campaigns awarded under a similar scale of merit as we apply to film and literature? Should they be?

Miranda Ward posted an interesting piece on mUmBRELLA recently which looked at the effectiveness of Metro Trains’ much awarded ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign. While no one can debate the virality of the campaign and its success, in terms of gaining attention, Ward’s piece puts a spotlight on the actual effectiveness of the campaign, as matched against its core objectives, and putting those results into hard numbers is slightly more elusive. That’s not to say it wasn’t successful, but there’s no clear argument to suggest it was either, despite it being the “most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes (with 28 Lions, including five Grands Prix)” (source).

This reminded me of the Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet from the 2013 Super Bowl, which was a topic of discussion recently in the lead-up to its 2015 equivalent. It’s a similar situation – ‘Dunk in the Dark’ was also very creative and garnered a heap of attention and awards, but in terms of actual effectiveness, in getting more people to buy more biscuits, the correlation isn’t clear. That gap, between awarding great work, as opposed to awarding effectiveness, reminded me a little of the way we praise movies and film – the films that earn the most money tend to also be among those most hated by critics (i.e. Transformers 3). Film awards, meanwhile, go to more creative and innovative works that, for the most part, don’t produce the same financial results. But then again, that’s not really the point of making a film – an advertisement does have a definitive objective.

What this debate highlights is that there may not be a perfect way to judge such pursuits. It’s art vs. science – we all want to support creativity and innovation, but in doing so, we may, at times, lose some balance with overall effectiveness. Really, the awards for advertising and marketing should go to the campaign that gained the most attention whilst also producing the best results, in alignment with the campaign objectives – the more concrete those results, the better. But ad reach has always been somewhat subjective – tying exact results to metrics like ‘reach’ isn’t an exact science. So what do we do? I want to see better ads, I can see from the numbers that ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ has successfully gained attention – that type of creative work should be encouraged. But if I can’t link it back to definitive figures…

This is a debate that’ll always exist – awareness is something that’s tough to quantify, but the onus is on brands to produce work that’s both engaging and in-line with overall mission. In that sense, Dumb Ways to Die has succeeded, but would it have been more effective if they went for a TAC-style, hard-hitting campaign? It likely wouldn’t have got the reach, and it wouldn’t have got the awards, but it might have been better at delivering the actual message and raising awareness. Maybe. But the question, really, is around how we award advertising and marketing effectiveness, how we align the metrics we can account for back to the overall goals. This is getting easier, or at least, we’re getting access to more comprehensive data based on conversion tracking and data analytics, but it’s still some way off.

And the real question that stems from this is ‘are we establishing the right expectations for marketers and advertisers by awarding works not anchored to objective results?’ The important thing is for marketers to analyse their own campaigns and build an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve. Getting attention is one thing, but keeping it is another – you might be able to get more click-throughs by posting a video of your cat, but is that then leading to more people buying your handmade soaps? If it is, that’s what you should be doing, but amidst the emphasis on Followers and Likes and Pins and re-grams, it’s important to understand how that behaviour relates to the actual results you’re seeking to achieve. This is made more difficult when Facebook strangles organic reach and puts increased emphasis on brands getting more likes. More likes means more reach, and more people looking at your content – and those likes also increase the chance of your content appearing in more news feeds next time you post. The trick is in balancing the imperative need for attention with the fundamental requirement for audience action. There’s no perfect way to measure this, but it’s worth considering the balance when thinking on how you can ‘go viral’.

The Fragmentational Shift from Traditional to Social Media

Occasionally people ask how I got involved in social media. I worked in media monitoring for many years and one of the biggest benefits of working in that industry is oversight, being able to see media trends and changes as they evolve. You could see how a single news report could build into a political firestorm, how one interview could make or break a career. You could track issues from inception to culmination, detailing how they were adapted and built across the various media platforms, and how each iteration swayed public sentiment one way or another. And from this position of oversight, it was also easy to see the disruption caused by social media and online content. We could see media habits changing, conversations migrating to new mediums, the fundamental shift this was causing in the media cycle as we knew it. As such, the question for me is never about why anyone would get into social media, it’s ‘why wouldn’t you?’ But don’t take my word for it, I can show you what I mean.

The Digital Shift

The disruption of new content sources is obvious when you look at the data. For example, here are the national daily newspaper circulation figures from the UK over the last six years:

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Source: The Guardian

Those figures are similar in Australia:

AUSnewspapers

Nothing ground-breaking there, right? As has been well documented, the newspaper industry has copped the biggest kicking in the rise of online content. Early on, many traditional publishers didn’t see digital content as a significant threat, an attitude partly based on protectionism and partly dictated by previous experience – challengers had come and gone before, there was no reason that this would be different. But then, of course, what could they do about it either way? They’d established revenue models based around traditional publishing – other than integrating their own online content and advertising models faster than they did, the change was inevitable, there was little they could do to stop the shift.

As the above graphs show, circulation numbers have fallen significantly, and continue to decline year-on-year. Many smaller publications have already collapsed, those that haven’t likely will in the near future. While there is still life in print, its heartbeat is fading. The once unfathomable prediction of a time when physical newspapers would no longer exist is becoming more plausible every day.

In order to stem that revenue flow, newspapers turned to paywalls, a move that has succeeded in slowing the process, but even they are now reaching a plateau.

paywalls

Source: Statista

The problem with paywalls is they rely on the consumers need to access the content behind them – do people need to pay for news and information on your site if they can get the same for free someplace else? The challengers coming into the market don’t have the same overheads and are structured on more agile, adaptive business models and unless traditional publishers are able to provide consistently compelling content behind their paywalls, that audience will continue to decline over time.

High revenue targets, mixed with the challenge of integrating changes in media consumption, have left the press industry reeling, working to maintain relevance as expectations change all around them. And the medium itself is only part of the challenge in holding audience attention.

The Changing Definition of News Content

The biggest fundamental shift facing the media industry is this: traditional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers of information. Online platforms are faster, more accessible and more interactive. Access to free news sources – reliant on advertising dollars, not cover price – struck the first blow to traditional publishing, but social media has cranked the pressure up even further, and has quickly become the key vehicle driving traditional outlets towards obsolescence.

Again, we saw this first-hand in media monitoring – over time, the disruption of digital media was eating away at traditional sources. In press, there were fewer pages coming into our systems to be processed – regional publications shutting down, metros getting thinner. In broadcast, the effect was slightly different – there wasn’t a drop in content, as such, but there was a noticeable change in news ‘quality’, driven by user demand.

In days past, the crucial periods of the daily broadcast media cycle were:

6am to 9am: Breakfast TV and radio programs

4pm to 6pm: Drive time radio

5pm to 7:30pm: TV news block

These were the times that brands both wanted and didn’t want to be mentioned, contextually relative. Audiences needed to be tuned-in at these times because if they weren’t, they weren’t informed, simple as that – they missed out on the latest discussions and updates. But with the advent of online, that cycle changed, and changed even more as mobile internet access became more prevalent. The news cycle was now 24/7 – if the story you were most interested in wasn’t being covered by the major outlets, it was being covered online, forcing publishers into a new battle for audience attention. The spread of wi-fi, and thus, constant connectivity, helped fuel the rise of social platforms and suddenly the traditional sources were no longer the only places to get information. Up against a faster, more customizable, more adaptive foe, broadcasters were forced to concede ground.

How this ground was conceded was in news quality – and I use the term ‘quality’ from a subjective standpoint, not as a means of critique. What we saw was more entertainment and light news pieces coming into the news stream. On the evening news you were getting more cute animal stories, celebrity romance updates – content that seemed out of place in our historical ‘news’ sense. Afternoon bulletins incorporated light talk-style segments – basically, the content that was generating clicks online had started to seep into the news feed. Because that’s what people wanted, that’s what people were voting for, via clicks, what they wanted more of. Control over the news agenda was shifting into the hands of the online audience and as content got lighter, political and business stories decreased, thus, a decline in quality, from a media monitoring perspective.

The change was clearly evident in our broadcast results – summaries of radio and TV programs are created by the broadcast monitoring team and alerts are subsequently sent to clients based on keyword mentions within those summaries – company names, issues they’re tracking, etc. Over time, we’d always seen a direct correlation between input (the number of summaries created by the team) and output (the number of alerts sent to clients) – which makes sense, more content going in increases the likelihood of relevant mentions coming out. But from late 2010 we saw that pattern change. For the first time, the correlations were not clearly evident.

Thedecline

There’d been no alteration in policy or process, no large scale change in client base, yet the news cycle had become less predictable – we could no longer confidently forecast the company outcomes based on the work we put in.

The only variant we couldn’t account for was the content itself. The news feed had changed. What was once stable was now in constant flux, because the very nature of what news was had been re-defined. For our purposes, news quality had declined – the same amount of content was being covered but fewer alerts were being sent – and that change in focus forced a re-assessment of our processes in order to maximise what had become the new news stream.

And the main driver behind that content shift?

audiences turn to web

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Media Fragmentation

What happened is, the audience took control. People now had the ability to decide what they watched and when they watched it, and an abundance of new providers were rising online to compete for their attention. Whereas in the past you could reliably know where the majority of eyeballs would be at any given time of day, we were now seeing a shift in audience engagement – compare the above press and broadcast graphs to these figures from social media:

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Source: Useful Social Media

As you can see, between 2011 and 2012, Facebook closes in on 1 billion users, Twitter blows up, Google+ begins. The media landscape was fragmenting, separated not by age or by gender, but by relevance. People started building their own media centres based on personal preferences and interests, finding groups and blogs, following sources that catered to their specific needs. On one hand, this made things more complex, as options for reaching and connecting with your audience became far more widespread. But user actions also became more traceable – every click a digital breadcrumb to follow. Either way, it was clear that the dynamic had shifted. The audience had taken control – if you wanted to reach them, you’d have to start going where they were. You’d have to go find them.

The Changing of the Guard

And this is the fundamental shift that people are adapting to in modern communications and marketing – whereas in time past, people were broadcast to by various sources, told what was happening and what was important, that dynamic has changed. Now every person is a potential broadcaster in their own right, beaming their thoughts to billions of people around the world. This has shifted the spread of media – whereas once word-of-mouth was limited by proximity, that barrier has been blown away, with each voice demanding to be heard. You’re no longer looking to reach an audience based on demographics aligned to age brackets, you’re looking to utilise hundreds of communications channels – and those channels are not just platforms, but people, social media users, influencers within their own groups. Through the data left online, brands need to establish who, specifically, their audience is, by preference, by interest, by name. There aren’t any more hours in the day, people are still engaged in media at the same rate they’ve always been – if not more – but as the numbers suggest, traditional sources are less and less likely to be the ones they’re engaging with.

avg time spent per day on FB

And as more interactions are facilitated via social networks, consumer habits and expectations are evolving in-line:

“72% of People Who Complain on Twitter Expect a Response Within an Hour”

– Source: HubSpot

And here’s the thing: Expectations like that don’t just come out of no where. Expectation is built on learned experience – people expect brands to respond within an hour because brands are responding within an hour. As social channels grow in importance, more and more organisations are meeting this real-time demand. More brands meeting it means increased expectation across the board, underlining the need for all businesses to be listening to social channels. If you’re not responding, maybe someone else is, and as consumer behaviour evolves and further incorporates online interaction – based on their ongoing experiences with other brands – being absent could leave you sitting alone at your party. Singing your favourite tunes on the karaoke machine, your own echo the only response.

This is shift I’ve seen in the media landscape, the migration towards social media as a core, if not the core, communications medium.

Logic vs Reason

Of course, that’s the logical argument, the reason why, as a media and communications professional, I want to be involved and understand the medium. But that’s not the reason, the motivation behind why it excites me. Those motivations are more interest-based, preferential. I’m involved in social media because I enjoy it, it’s exciting to see it grow and develop. It’s an evolution of traditional media process, and there’s three big reasons why I absolutely believe this to be the case:

  • It’s interactive. It gives people the opportunity to play a part in the news of the day, rather than being passive receivers of information. Talkback callers and letter writers have always been a critical piece of the media puzzle – social enables that interaction on an infinitely wider scale. Social also allows people to choose the media inputs of their preference, platforms and creators of your choice can be allowed into your personal information hub, which you can tailor and refine to your own specific needs and wants.
  • It’s available. Social media only works when it’s social, and as such, it’s also highly user friendly and accessible. Anyone and everyone can get online and post, share and comment on anything they wish. This enables people to be more open about their likes and dislikes, and to find likeminded people based on those interests. Even selfies, much derided as a narcissistic tool of the younger generation, they can serve a significant purpose in building self-esteem and connecting with people you’d otherwise never have reached. Sure, there can be a dark side to that same notion, but the greater alignment of common goals and interests is an amazing opportunity, and one we won’t fully understand the impact of for years to come.
  • It’s a new world. Unlike traditional media where everything’s been tried, everyone’s been in the industry for years and knows better than to try out some crazy new thing, in the social media world, everything is new. No one can definitively say ‘this is wrong’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that’. There are best practices, for sure, but even then, you might do the opposite and find success. And given the reach potential, the availability of tools and platforms and the opportunity sitting there waiting to be tested, you can try out new things. And you have the numbers right there to see what works and doesn’t. It’s exciting to be able to think of different approaches, new ways to use these systems and platforms, alternate angles with which to view the data. No one knows everything. We’re all testing, we’re all trying new things, developing understanding as we go. It’s an amazing opportunity.

It’s these reasons, along with the communications shift, that have brought me to social media. This is why I’m actively involved in the social landscape. Ignore it at your peril.

Was Oreos ‘Dunk in the Dark’ Tweet Really a Runaway Success?

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We were discussing the upcoming Super Bowl and newsjacking in a Twitter chat recently when Diana Wolff said this:

And she’s right, that tweet’s been discussed and lauded and referred to ad-nauseum in the two years since it was sent. And while there’s much to appreciate about the ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet, the real question is ‘was it effective?’ Did more people buy Oreos as a result of that tweet? Is that the true measure of success for real-time marketing? The question is, does getting sixteen thousand re-tweets correlate to positive ROI?

Did People Buy More Oreos as a Result of ‘Dunk in the Dark’?

This is hard to say, and really, only Oreo and their parent company Mondelez International are able to judge the return on their Super Bowl 2013 efforts. In terms of financial results, the actual attribution of that tweet is cloudy, as noted in by Danielle Sacks in her piece “Oreos Tags Pop Culture”:

Since Oreo embraced culture, the brand’s annual sales growth is up from the low double digits to more than 20%. But analysts attribute that to its expansion into emerging markets in Asia. It’s very hard to prove that new-media campaigns increase sales. During the Grammys this year, viewers who tweeted #SendMeOreo received a box of limited-edition cookies in new flavors that landed in stores a week later. “In terms of revenue, it was the biggest limited-edition launch that we ever had,” says [Janda] Lukin, Oreo’s North American chief. But no one at the company can tell me how—or if—”Daily Twist,” the Super Bowl tweet, and the Twist, Lick, Dunk app affected cookie sales. Asked specifically about the Super Bowl, Lukin admits, “There isn’t a great way for us to directly link it.”

Given there were so many campaigns and changes occurring around the same time, it’s difficult to directly attribute that tweet to an increase in revenue. But it definitely generated coverage, every media outlet from Forbes to CNet to The Huffington Post praised the genius of the Oreos tweet, which was universally considered to have won the Super Bowl ad blitz – some even questioned whether that one tweet did more for the Oreos brand than the $4 million Oreos ad that aired during the game.

Definitely the cumulative presence of these campaigns has had a significant and lasting impact, and has helped keep the brand within the awareness of many consumers, so in that sense, ‘Dunk in the Dark’ was obviously a huge win. Though the correlation is not as straight forward as many might suspect.

Did ‘Dunk in the Dark’ Improve Brand Perception?

Of course, sales alone may not be the true measure of the success of such coverage, it’s possible that Oreos saw increased brand perception, became better placed in the market or within certain demographic brackets as a result. This, too, is very difficult to measure, and no doubt the flood of coverage Oreos has received as a result of that tweet (including this piece you’re reading) has increased their brand awareness – but how beneficial has that one tweet been for overall brand sentiment?

Brand perception can be significantly influenced by a well-placed, real-time message. Arby’s, for example, would likely have seen a major boost in brand perception amongst a younger, hip audience when they sent this tweet in response to Pharrell Williams wearing a that now famous hat at the Grammys:

That single tweet brought them significant recognition, and helped them reach an audience they may not have been able to otherwise – their brand perception definitely got a ‘cool’ boost in the reflection of that tweet. There are regular examples of brands utilising real-time response to benefit positive brand perception – just recently, Australian telecommunications giant Optus posted this to their Facebook account in response to a iPhone error which had caused the alarms of many of their customers phones to go off an hour earlier than set, due to a time zone glitch:

Optus

Of course, giving people a free coffee doesn’t get them that hour of sleep back, but that extra effort to connect with their customers would have some impact on overall brand perception – no doubt better than just ignoring it and doing nothing at all.

So what about ‘Dunk in the Dark’? Would that message have improved the perception of Oreos, made customers more aligned the brand? Outside of maybe making a few more people feel like eating some chocolate biscuits, there probably wasn’t a significant increase in brand sentiment as a result of that message. It’s possible, like Arby’s, that they were able to reach a specific audience, through retweets and shares, that they’d otherwise not have hit, but again, how much would that perception reflect in the bottom line, at the end of the day?

Cause an Effect

The question of effectiveness really comes down to the specific people reached and the actions they subsequently took as a result of exposure to that brand message. The numbers themselves, in relation to the re-tweet, followers and favourites, are not, in themselves, a true measure of success. As noted recently by Gary Vaynerchuck, metrics like follower counts don’t necessarily correlate to success – reaching more people definitely increases your opportunities to convert, but getting through to just one person with the right message at the right time can be more successful than reaching 1000.

The discussion of ‘Dunk in the Dark’ and it’s relative success, based on impressions and interactions alone, is the perfect illustration of were traditional broadcast focus collides with new-school targeting and analytics. In the past, the way to win at marketing was to hit as many people as you could, get as many eyeballs as possible looking at your stuff in order to increase the chances of reaching the right few. This is why blast radius is still seen as such a significant measure to many marketers – but are impressions and reach really reflective of your success? As big data becomes more embedded and we learn more about analytics, and how to link specific data points to profitable results, it’s likely that bigger won’t necessarily be seen as better when we reflect on marketing effectiveness.

Of course, exposure is, and always will be of significant value, and research has shown that there is a link between social interactions and website visits. And far be it for me to make a call on the success of ‘Dunk in the Dark’ – the only people who can do that are Oreos themselves – although it as interesting that for such a huge, massive, win, they didn’t even try to replicate it, noting before the 2014 Super Bowl that they were ‘going dark’ this time round. No, the purpose of this post is to widen discussion of the metrics and what constitutes your own success, particularly as brands gear up to wade into the trending currents of Superbowl 2015.

Effectiveness is relative, it’s up to us to correlate the data and show what it means in the wider scheme.

Is Handwriting Still Important?

Handwriting

I was talking to a young writer a while back and he asked about how to get a better flow in his writing, how to get a feel for writing in a more literary style. I told him to try writing out Ernest Hemingway’s shortest story 30 times. That story is six words long:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

The story highlights some of the key elements of great writing – it’s concise, it’s powerful and it awakens the reader’s imagination, makes them think about the subtext that exists between the words. The idea of repetition came from a story about Hunter S. Thompson re-writing ‘The Great Gatsby’ word-for-word to get a better feel for how F. Scott Fitzgerald constructed his work. Asking someone to transcribe a novel is probably a bit of an ask, but if you write down this short story over and over again, you’re inevitably going to absorb some of the method, the detail of how Hemingway constructed it, get a feel for the impact of the words.

But then the guy asked me something that made me think the problem may be something else entirely, something which may or may not be a larger issue in finding your literary voice in the modern world. The guy turned to me, obviously not impressed by my idea and he said:

‘By hand?’

Yes, by hand. Why would you write it any other way? Anyone can put a sentence onto a computer screen and cut-and-paste that shit on repeat – the experience is wholly different if you write each letter, scrawl it down, sentence by sentence. While handwriting may be out-dated to some degree, there’s something to be said for feeling the words as you write, something that can’t be replicated with the touch of a keyboard. Part of that literary flow is reflected in the shaping of words on paper, getting a sense of structure and form – I write almost everything by hand, at least in some capacity, but then I thought I’m definitely writing a lot less by hand than I used to. Is handwriting becoming obsolete?

There’s been a heap of studies and reports on the decline in handwriting, with different regions of the world taking varying approaches in their school curriculum – some are seeking to address the decline, while others are moving away from handwriting altogether. And obviously, we’re at a point in time where almost nothing needs to be written by hand – we’re connected to the internet at all times, students have access to iPads and laptops and any other array of mobile devices that enable them to communicate effectively without ever lifting a pen. The thing is, none of those studies can conclusively say that we’re better or worse off without handwriting. The findings usually come down to a matter of personal preference, people think kids should learn to write, because everyone still writes, whilst also conceding that it’s less and less of a necessity in the digital age. The closest thing I could find to a compelling reason for handwriting was that people who aren’t taught how to write by hand also have more trouble reading handwritten notes – this could be problematic when people conduct research or go to museums. As noted in this piece, the inability to decipher what’s come before may, in essence, sever a connection to our collective past.

It does seem that just as we hold dear to physical books – to the smell of the pages of a new text – their time of relevance and purpose is passing. Really, people don’t even need to sign their signature these days.

So what does this mean for the written word? I guess, the way I see it is that I, personally, have an affiliation with the physicality of writing. With waking up in the middle of the night and feeling an absolute compulsion to get words down, to become conscious of the sound of pen scratching against paper. I love writing, and I still feel it’s the easiest and most natural way for me to get the ideas out of my head. But really, that’s just my view. Younger generations of writers are no doubt just as aligned to the clicking of their keyboard, the pitch of the touch screen letters on their iPad or their phone. Maybe they wake up and feel compelled to open a new note on their iPhone and get their ideas down there – and that’s definitely something I’ve done a lot more in recent years too – but it feels like we’re losing something if we let handwriting fade out. But by pushing it, by forcing young kids to write, are we just wasting our time?

To me, your handwriting is a form of art within itself, a mark of individuality that’s connected to your thoughts and feelings. But then again, what you communicate is undoubtedly more important than how you do it. So in as much as I see it as a decline, a loss of something dear, really, how people communicate their ideas is down to what they’re linked to. Should schools stop teaching handwriting? Right now, I’d say no. But maybe, one day – as much as it saddens me to say it.

Everything progresses. Everything advances and changes and grows into things you never even knew could be. While handwriting may be in decline, I’d prefer to focus on the fact that my kids will find creativity in their own way, will communicate in ways they find natural. The fundamental goal is for people feel free to explore their ideas and express their views. Whether they do that with pens is largely irrelevant, it’s what feels most natural that will work best.