Articles in Review

Reviews and analysis of articles from the American Marketing Association and other relevant sites on topics relating to online marketing.

Social Media and Online Marketing in China

What of international business or those looking to expand into China?  How can a corporation access that massive population in a world where Facebook isn’t even legal and Twitter is hardly used?  Simply put things are different in China.  Yet the opportunities in Social Media and online marketing inside the great firewall remain just as great, if not greater than in the US.  Properly managed a brand can gain access to almost 600 million active social media users in China, compared to the nearly 140 million unique monthly users on Facebook.  That being said, a brand has to play by new rules and engage with new mediums to succeed.But first, to get a scope of how massive social media is and what the comparable sites are.

There are an estimated 91% of Chinese citizens who use the Internet (or netizens) have social media accounts, compared to only 67% in the US.  And on the top 10 sites, there are over 3 billion individual accounts (obviously some individuals have multiple accounts).  And its growing.  In 2012 there was a 60% increase in the volume of social sharing in China alone.  The majority, 57%, of users are male, and the largest age group of users is the 26-30 age group, followed by the 31-35 year old group.

There are several Facebook-esque sites.  The most popular being Renren (translated to people people), Pengyou (friend), and Kaixin (Happy).  Next are the Chinese Twitter sites Tencent Weibo (Tencent Micro Blog) and Sina Weibo (New-Wave Micro Blog).  Equivalent to YouTube is China’ Important to know, Micro Blogging, the largest form of social activity in China, falls into a variety of definitions.  Mostly it can be seen as small and random as a Twitter post, or become what you might be familiar with as a long Facebook post, that may or may not have a recurring theme or purpose.

And while these sites are censored and followed by the government, it is relatively free compared to what many might expect.  Much of the usage on the site is apolitical in nature and unrestricted, nothing like what one might imagine when they think of the great firewall of China.  The homegrown sites have worked with the government and have produced a state-approved environment that is thriving, though the use of pseudo names is still quite common for privacy reasons.

For corporations this means leveraging local and learning how these sites are used and how to get their consumer’s attention.  Some of the primary reasons for the large use of social media include the strains of rural to urban migration on families that have been separated.  The sites serve as a way to keep up and stay connected while families are apart in some cases for almost a year at a time.  The desire for connectedness of the one child generation is another factor as well as the desire for non-state run media and information.  Playing on these motivators can make opportunities for business to engage with the users’ experience and attract attention.

But how the platforms are used also needs to be considered.  Youku (Chinese YouTube), is used more for professional length or pirated videos than it is for short comic moments as seen in the US.  It is more broadly seen as a form of online television that for some age groups may have entirely replaced the government controlled CCTV.  This means the concept of “going viral” in China needs to be reevaluated and content needs to be restructured to suit the audience it is reaching.

Also, Weibo (Chinese Twitter), allows for the posting of images and videos in addition to text.  And its use is largely through mobile devices (50% of use, as compared to only 20% of use in the US on Twitter).  Also of worthy consideration is that the measly 140 character limit that also occurs in Weibo is much more powerful in the Chinese language where a character can stand for a word.  Seeing these opportunities in the same way one sees Twitter would be a grave mistake.  This is what gives Weibo reputation of being a Micro Blog as opposed to quick updates and snippets of information.  Further, Chinese social media sites are more demographic specific with certain sites attracting certain kinds of users.  For instance the users of Renren tend to be more college aged students and Kaixin is geared more towards young professionals.   Using each of these sites to target specific individuals can prove extremely profitable as a corporation can avoid blanket statements geared towards attracting all their users and localize their posts.  Giving certain incentives to poorer students, and portraying a certain image to young professionals

Perhaps most powerful is many Chinese users experience the internet as social media.  When they go online it is simply to engage with their internet communities and they are unlikely to go outside of those networks and sites.  For a brand to miss out on that conversation, and learn about what they can improve about their products or services is a failure to adapt to the changing business climate.  Roughly 40% of Chinese internet users identify instant message as their number one priority in internet usage.  This also correlates with the trend that Chinese social media users are far more likely to rely on advice from friends and family online as for which products to buy and services to use.

One of the greatest struggles with social media in China is the fact that the metrics for engagement are essentially non-existent.  There is no Google ad-sense, or other website tracking service in China.  That means engagement must be tracked using what is seen on the page and following conversations about the brand.  It requires more man power but allows for a more intense and localized campaign.

But promotion, clarification of misinformation, answering questions, and deterring crisis is what social media in China is all about.  It take much more man power and attention than campaigns run in the US. And with only 23% of businesses currently using it, there is still a ton of space to be claimed and attention to be had.

China’s Top 10 Social Media Sites
Social Media in China: The Same, but Different
China: Ten Things You Should Know About an Online Superpower
Why you need social media marketing … in China
China Daily: Talking it up online
McKinsey Quarterly: Understanding social media in China


Social Media and Return on Investment (ROI)

ROI for Social MediaThe common question and concern for many who consider the investment in social media and online marketing is how success is determined, and what the return on investment will be?  How does one know the investment was worthwhile?  ROI in social media is difficult to calculate, but there is a lot to support how effective online marketing, especially Search Engine Optimization can be in attracting more business. 

A key to determining ROI is setting appropriate and realistic goals.  A single social media campaign or online contest will not necessarily be designed to cause a skyrocket of sales, but it should generate conversations, be shared, and generate brand awareness.  Some goals such as receiving 50 additional likes on the Facebook page, or have 30 more followers on Twitter can be more tangible results of a campaign.  The goals could also be to generate 15 external links which would not only boost awareness of the brand, but also improve results on SEO.  However, these non-monetary goals are not the only ROI that a brand should expect from their investment in online marketing.

These goals can also be business specific and designed to fit the campaign.  By providing incentives that require the consumer to use the brand if they win (or as a step to enter into the contest), a company can see direct results with the success of the campaign.  For instance, should a contest require a consumer to sign up for the company’s newsletter, or create an account with the company, the new number of addresses or accounts gathered by the campaign can be seen as the ROI for that investment.  If an email address is gained from the campaign, this can be then evaluated as likely future sales using the ROI the business gets on its email campaigns.  So if one were to garner 1000 new email addresses, and the percentage of people who respond to email campaigns is 5%, who on average spend $25 when they respond.  The ROI for the original social media campaign was then $1250 plus the free advertising and engagement that was received as a result of the brand being posted on thousands more individuals’ news and Twitter feeds.

ROI from Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube Pintrest and LinkedInAdditionally, campaigns can be constructed to force individuals to use their services.  For instance, anyone who purchases something on the site will be eligible to win one of 10 Ipads, requiring the user to enter a code in at checkout.  This campaign will not only draw more people to make purchases then and there, but also draw more people to like the page and share the contest with their friends.  The ROI is again easily accessible by noting how many people used that specific code when checking out.  Though a portion of those sales would likely have been collected regardless of the promotion, the increase in sales during the time period of the promotion should be measurable.  This success can be compounded by announcing the winners weekly, generating continued interest and getting people to check back on the page to see who won.  The possibilities are endless, but require creativity and ingenuity to maximize returns.

These ideas of course can be scaled up or down depending on the scale of the companies operations, their budget, and organic engagement with the page’s social media.  This tells us that social media falls into the category of “winners win”.  Those who are successfully using their social media already will see more results than those offering the same promotion who don’t regularly update their page or provide creative content.  When a page develops useful and interesting content that the consumer engages with, it is far more likely to appear on their news feeds.  As the fight for space on that page is a zero sum game, that means an equally compelling campaign by an organization that doesn’t keep up its social media will not have an equivalent ROI.  The bottom line?  Maintaining high quality material online is a prerequisite to any campaign, and as the quality of the page improves, so will ROI.

Business’s Online Community on Social Media

In Mackenzie Fogelson’s blog post at SEOmoz, she explores how to identify an appropriate online community for a business. Many of my posts have emphasized how important it is to leverage local, or to understand those following a page on Facebook or Twitter, as doing so enables you to develop more relevant, and hence valuable content.

Most important in understanding one’s community is understanding one’s own business, or look into the mirror. Knowing the details of what you’re trying to sell, why your business exists, what your values are, and what makes you unique will be crucial in who you reach out to and how you do so. Once you’ve identified how your business creates value, and crucially, who it creates value for you’ll be able to proceed. Any community that one is reaching out to needs to be one that the business does not just talk at, but a community that talks back, engages, and responds to the businesses ideas and services. Though no one expects everyone in a community to constantly engage, there needs to be some level of excitement and participation from those involved with the brand.  Otherwise it would seem that either there is no value added, or there is a failure to reach the appropriate audience.

The battle between quality and quantity is another key component of the community. Just because a page or someone on twitter has a lot of followers, doesn’t mean they are producing value for those individuals. I’m sure many can relate to this if they are to look through the pages, bands, and idiotic groups they “liked” on Facebook when they were in high school. You are no longer in those pages communities, despite your being a number on that pages statistics. Building relevant contributors is always the goal and is time and time again shown to correlate with long-term growth. “Your goal in identifying community is to come out of this with a list of people, companies, and knowledge sources that will serve as your road map for growing your online community”.

Key to this conversation is that those who are desirable in one’s online community are similar to those who one wants as friends in the real world. Those who listen, communicate, and are honest in their feedback, both positive and negative.  Developing an online community is all about rallying people who want to spend their time on your pages.

Answering these questions gives you a great starting place for people and places to promote your online presence to.  Sharing your content, products, and opinion on these locations will create reciprocal engagement and awareness on your pages.  Key here is to not come off as spam.  Whatever you post on other sites must bring value or others will quickly see through unwarranted promotion and dismiss or block your content from appearing on that site again.

A good place to start is by answering the following questions:

1. Who is your target demographic?
2. What specific industries or individuals do you cater to?
3. Who are your partners and colleagues?
4. Who are your competitors and allies?
5. Who do you respect in the industry (people and companies)?
6. What organizations are you a part of?
7. What industry blogs do you currently read?
8. Who do you follow on social media (people, companies)?
9. What events do you attend?

The post then goes on to suggest the following tools to boost your community and earn awareness from others, tracking where relevant material comes from and who that material is produced for.

1. Create a spreadsheet to track other leaders in your community, the size of their influence and target audience.  Input all relevant information from the following ideas into that spreadsheet.

2. For Twitter use the following site to search for and track leaders in relevant areas:

3. Find community blogs and the blogs they follow that contribute to the conversation in your industry.

4. Follow a similar process on Facebook and Google+, following the pages that the industry leaders follow and determining ways that you can be relevant to those sites.

5. Repeat continually as your content becomes relevant to a broader audience, or as your community’s demographics change and expand.

In turn this WILL return more links for your site, generate more page views, likes, comments, shares, and returns in SEO.  It takes time and determination, but the results will follow.

This article can be found here.

Organizing a Social and Online Marketing Team

Social Media Whiteboard

In the white paper, The 7 Whiteboard Sessions Every Social Strategist Needs to Have, the ideas of what it actually takes to run a social media campaign and the areas of largest opportunity are explored.  The article outlines, in detail, seven areas that require key attention and ways to execute effectively in those areas.  This will be the first of a series of posts from the white paper.

The first area of concern is to learn more about the consumers of your social media.  Following organic conversations about your content or brand, and supporting those who support you is obviously important.  But then having ways to asses these conversations, either through use of text analysis (discussed here) or just by keeping tabs on quantity and quality of conversations.  Further, keeping tabs on hot topics around your brand and tracking users who advocate on your behalf is crucial.  Having ways to support these individuals and understand more about them could be crucial to a social media campaign.

Understanding the consumer's mindNoting what content is inspiring conversation or activity is a must.  Understanding what incentives your consumers will respond to should encourage more similar posts to create more creativity and inspire more activity and awareness the media and brand.  This should include content and activity not limited to your own content.  If your followers share other characteristics, supporting those can build a better relationship with these consumers.  For instance a brand like Nike can gain by posting material about kids doing incredible things outdoors, or from athletic feats, regardless of their relationship to Nike.  Additionally, keeping records and notes of conversations between the brand and specific individuals can help provide context for future interactions and set a standard for response that can be used when dealing with future consumers.

From the process of gathering information on the consumers of a brand, one will also find a handful of individuals who advocate on the part of the brand.  Sharing its content, responding to antagonistic comments, and retweeting tweets.  For larger scale operations this could individuals making videos about the brand and its products, or even dedicating entire blogs to the brand.  When considering who to support for their loyalty to the brand keeping in mind those individual’s characteristics is also important.  Seeing how many people their videos or blog posts are reaching, or how many friends they have and how much activity their posts see, ect. all are valid concerns in exposing those individuals over others.  Promoting these individuals and others like them will help promote positive social activity and enhance the effects of the media posted.

Once these questions are understood and objectives made to solidify a base relationship with the followers, other objectives can be achieved.  However, failure to gain information about those who follow a brand will undermine any other projects that will be pursued.  Localized posts will reach the wrong people, company wide policy will be structured around the wrong mentalities, and exceptional content, designed for one audience, will be lost on the other.  But done right, other tactics successes will compound upon a well established relationship with the consumer based on respect, professionalism, and understanding.

The article is accessible here.

Further Marketing with Search Engine Optimization

In the last post we looked at the basic mechanics of how search engines work, why its important and how content can be made readable to crawlers and enhance search rankings.  In this post we’ll look at creating friendly web page design for crawlers, how to maximize on keyword search.  This content comes from the same article.

Spiders SEOWhile plain text remains the best way for crawlers to index content, there are alternatives while using more complicated mediums such as flash or interactive images to insure that crawlers can follow your content.  Using “alt” text on images, or descriptive text below the image ensure that content is read by the search engine.  Providing transcripts is another way to make audio or video content readable to crawlers.  Further, using the “Cache” feature in google searches you can see exactly what the crawlers see!

Another way to ensure crawlers find all the content on a page is to have all of your pages properly linked through the homepage.  Pages that are important to a sites content, but that remain hidden behind other pages and content may be left abandoned by the crawlers.  Additionally, including anchor text when coding link creation means that the link can be read as content by the crawlers as well.  Pages are also blocked from crawlers due to a variety of circumstances.  This includes content blocked by any type of form submissions, including search forms or boxes, links in JavaScript, Java, Flash, plugins, frames, or I-frames, and lastly, pages with hundreds of other links on them.  Keeping these concerns in mind when doing page design will help index your page and boost your rankings.

Using keywords throughout a page is also important in achieving a higher ranking with search engines.  By displaying commonly searched words in titles and in multiple places throughout the page the better the chance of getting onto that first page.  Though at one point keyword abuse was a successful way to receive a high page rank, by stuffing key words into link tags, content, alt text, ect. modern spiders have become intelligent enough to avoid those traps, and now those tactics end up doing more harm than good.

Key Word SEOOptimizing key words on a page further helps with its rankings.  By publishing keywords at the beginning of a title, near the top of the page, and 2-3 times on the page in various forms helps cover variations that might be searched later on; however, reposting the same keyword throughout a page does not correlate with higher rankings.  And though meta tags do not boost SEO rankings, their use is recommended to draw traffic to your site, code is easily accessible by searching online.

Understanding which keywords are important to emphasize requires a lot of tracking and research on the traffic a page is getting.  By knowing what keywords are leading to people clicking on a page and then getting further engagement or profit can lead to further refinement of keyword structuring or importance.  This process requires much hypothesizing and repeating before optimization of keywords can be determined for a particular page.

This article can be accessed here.