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When I first saw this headline on a blog post, I was intrigued. The author was quoting Don Schultz, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern’s Medill School and the “father of integrated marketing” at the recent Content Marketing World conference. Mr. Schultz was referencing a ten-year study on brand preference in a number of categories which shows a decline in brand preference and corresponding increase in acceptance and use of generic brands.

In a recent Forbes magazine article, Mr. Schultz gave this explanation of the study and conclusions he and his co-author, Martin Block, have reached:

Based on preliminary results of a new ten year, longitudinal study of social media and social media users, (1,100,000+ online questionnaire responses , covering 73 fmcg categories and 1,500+ individual brands) a new research study conducted by professors in the Integrated Marketing Communication Department at Northwestern University’s Medill School, found that heavy users of social media (primarily Facebook) when asked for brand preferences in various product categories, showed higher levels of specific “No Brand Preference” as a brand category choice, than those who used less social media. Also, as social media usage increased (primarily Facebook) over time by respondents, there was a measurable decline in specific product brand preferences in a majority of the product brand categories covered in the study.

The study also found that only 11% of the respondents “regularly asked for or sought advice” from others, indicating that social media is used primarily for “social conversations” among users, not to provide product recommendations to others. At the other end of the spectrum, nearly 19% of social media users said they “never seek or give advice” about products or services through social media or other forms of word-of-mouth.

Findings from this study seem to confirm that social media usage is primarily for “social purposes” and the potential for marketers invading social media vehicles or encouraging social media users to become product advocates is not only limited, but, may actually be counterproductive in terms of building brand value and brand relationships. (my emphasis).

After viewing other presentations of this study made by Messrs. Schultz and Block, I have only one conclusion to make.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

This finding is based on a large sample from a very limited source. – primarily Facebook users. Putting aside my own personal feelings (mostly negative) about Facebook, I am very surprised that The Medill School at Northwestern University (a highly respected institution) would allow this study to be presented under their auspices. The fact that Drs. Schultz and Block found that only 11% of users want to hear about brands on social networks when the study was primarily from that medium seems rather naïve. I suspect that if you asked anyone if they want to hear about brands on a mass medium, the results would be similar.

But the real naiveté is concluding that this means that marketers and brands using social media are “killing their brands”.

Correlation doesn’t automatically mean causation.
I’m not surprised that heavy Facebook users have increased their statement of “no brand preference” in favor of more acceptance and usage of generic brands. Nielsen sales results shows that many people, not just heavy Facebook users, feel the same way. Just because the number correlate, doesn’t mean there is a cause and effect relationship.

This statement flies in the face of many other positive studies on the value of social media, as many marketers report that they get good results from social media. An IAB study released in July reported that 90% of consumers back brands after interacting via social media.

The 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner reported that 89% of the 3,000+ marketers they surveyed indicated that their social media efforts have generated more exposure and 75% reported positive increases in brand traffic.

Can social media kill brands?
Yes. There are plenty of bad uses of social media vehicles by marketers.

Does social media kill brands?
No. When brands use social media as a legitimate tool for disseminating relevant information and value to a community, social media works.

Even when heavy Facebook users are turning to store brands!

– Don Morgan

Don Morgan is 2013/14 President of PSAMA, and Head Rainmaker at Raindance Consulting, a branding, social media, and business development consulting company in Seattle. He can be reached at dmorgan@raindanceconsulting.com.

When you think of social media, who comes to mind? For me, I think of a young audience. Teens and Twenty somethings galore. And while that is correct (83% of people age 18-29 use social media) teens and twenty-somethings aren’t the only ones Facebooking. I found this interesting info-graphic on Mashable. Take a look:

Which-demographics-use-what-social-media

Like many of us, when I open up Facebook each morning I’ve made it a habit to check my friends’ birthdays and give them a standard shoutout. But last week when I went to wish one of my friends a splendid birthday, I saw something new:

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Send her a Starbucks birthday present? Hm.

So I clicked.

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What a brilliant idea. Gone are the days of paying $1 to gift your friend a worthless Facebook image of a cupcake. Now you can easily buy them a real gift that’s delivered real time. Because let’s face it – we don’t know it’s anyone’s birthday until we see it on Facebook anyway.

Facebook didn’t stop there. What was yesterday? Valentine’s Day. What was at the top of my news feed? The option to buy a gift.

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The gifts were sweet, fun, and funny. And incredibly affordable.

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While I do think Facebook missed an opportunity for waiting until the day-of the holiday to place the “Choose a Gift” option on the site, it’s quite fun. Have any of you received a Facebook Gift yet? How’d it go?

I’m always on the look-out for smart brands. Brands that bring something new to the table or brands that do an amazing job engaging their Zealots. When I first stumbled upon Warby Parker I knew they were someone to take note of.

What’s Warby Parker?
HTOWP is a vintage-inspired eyeglass company based in New York City, known for their online sales program. While selling eyeglasses online doesn’t seem like the smartest business model, WP has thought it through. As a potential costumer, you simply pick out 5 of your favorite frames and WP ships them to your home for free. Your instructions? Wear one pair each day so the people who see you the most can give you feedback. Then, pack all 5 frames in the box and mail them back – shipping covered by WP. If you found a pair you like, simply order that frame with your prescription and the glasses will be custom-made for you. Sounds like a pretty pricey product, right? Not at all. Each complete pair of glasses costs $95. Plus, for each pair purchased, one is donated to someone in-need. Talk about making your customers feel good!

Get Social
Warby Parker has a strong social presence – both on and offline. When WP sends your Home Try-On kit, you’re encouraged to share pictures on the Warby Parker Eyewear Facebook Page. So not only can you to get feedback from your friends, but you can get feedback from the WP community as well.

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For those of you addicted to 140 characters, give WP a Tweet. Even with an average of 3592 Tweets to @WarbyParker each week, they do an amazing job of interacting with their followers. Here’s my friend’s interaction with WP. In fact, it was her posting on Twitter/Facebook that first introduced me to the company. See? Engaging your Zealots truly pays off.

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WP has also thought about their more traditional customers, making their frames available in 12 showrooms across the US as well as on the traveling Warby Parker Class Trip. Visiting 9 cities over six months, this school bus full of frames is touring the US, with members of the WP team posting pictures of their journey along the way. Simply put, this campaign it’s buzz-worthy and fun.

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After all this research about Warby Parker, I think it’s about time to get a new pair of glasses. Stay tuned.

Let’s be honest with one another – Facebook has never been known for its search capabilities. With such poor results, it’s inevitable that marketers have questioned if social media advertising is truly the best option, especially when it comes to ROI.

On average, Google reaches 90 percent of Internet users, while Facebook only reaches 51 percent. On top of that, Google has an average of 0.4 percent click through rate, Facebook only .051 percent.

However, advertisers need to fret no more!

Facebook has announced Graph Search, which Mark Zuckerberg has claimed will be “a great leap forward for search.” Hoping to overtake Google, LinkedIn and Match.com, users will soon be able to ask Facebook for their friends’ preferences before making decisions on restaurants, vacations, career choices, and maybe even life partners.

Some analysts are saying that Graph Search has the potential to close the gap between Google and Facebook by creating a feedback loop between advertisers and Facebook users. For example, if a business has the most “likes” it could ultimately be at the top of search results. With this being a criteria for higher search rankings, Facebook is hoping that advertisers seeking greater Graph Search results will purchase more ads.

Facebook has yet to release any advertising products that Graph Search will provide down the road, but what they are promising to its users is in-depth personalization and an ability to solve questions to answers that you would not expect the internet to solve for you.

So if you asked me, I would simply tell you that the ability to accurately microtarget in an advertising campaign could possibly result in some of the greatest opportunities companies have ever seen. Good move, Facebook. Let’s see what you do with this brilliant platform.

Since the many changes to Facebook since the Timeline update to Pages, we’ve found great successes in utilizing Facebook Advertising.

A recent campaign we ran for specialty-retail client Swoozie’s produced a .35 cost-per-acquisition (CPA) of new Fans to their Facebook Page, helping us to reach the 15,000 Fan level in a very cost-effective way.

A few best practices we’ve found to be helpful in driving success for your campaigns.

Be Goal-Oriented

Set a single, very specific goal for each Ad you run. The more focused you are on your goal,the easier it is to accomplish. Facebook Ads are shown to produce better results if what you’re trying to accomplish lives on the same platform, for example, driving Facebook Event RSVPs or new Likes to your Fan Page, as opposed to driving a contest on your brand website.

Dive Into Your Target

Go deeper than the standard demographic targeting you’d normally use. One of the best things about Facebook Advertising is the specificity in which you can target by lifestyle, behavior, interest and so much more. And, remember you can use the visual component of the ad to mimic the segment you’re targeting.

Be Organic

If you’re campaign goal is to add new Fans, always run a “Sponsored Stories” ad type as part of your campaign to help drive Likes. To the average consumer, this Ad type feels less like an ad and more like a functional feature of Facebook so they’re more likely to take action. And, remember to target only those people who are not already connected to your Fan Page.

Tap into the Power of Referral

Add a deeper level of referral to the “Sponsored Stories” Ad type by also targeting “friends of Fans” of your Fan Page. The old saying is true – birds of a feather flock together. Friends are more likely to trust and join in the fun because they see others in their peer group are taking action. I bet you’ll find this to be one of your top producers campaign after campaign.

Recent report from Admap: an average of 0.5% Facebook fans interact with brands in a given week. Pretty low response, eh? Which is why direct marketing with average response rates of 1 – 2% is still a viable media option.

Every time a new touchpoint is invented, people and especially marketers rush to put it into an existing bucket.

We love what social media offers marketers. There is clearly a place for Facebook and other social media. But to consider it a replacement for other aspects of a marketing mix is a major mistake. Every media has its strengths and shortcomings.

Word of mouth marketing has existed since the day of the first business. Sharing opinions and experiences has always been a means of success or failure for many companies. If you have an excellent product, people will find out and, as you can imagine, this same principle applies to those products of lesser quality.

In today’s age of social media and instant sharing, companies must utilize these tools to their advantage. Not only can social media allow you to monitor what is being said or share information, it can also be used to activate those that you want to share your message.

Marketing programs should be built from a referral perspective based on those most passionate about your brand. These passionate followers, or Zealots, live the philosophy of word of mouth marketing without even knowing the true power they possess. While tapping into this resource may seem obvious to many, it also shouldn’t be the end of the road for your marketing strategy.

Case and point: a recent promotion that our client CURE Childhood Cancer was involved in: Club Diamond Nation (CDN). Launched as the first virtual baseball and softball academy, CDN provided an opportunity for fans to vote for their favorite player for a chance to win a one-on-one training session. Additionally, CDN would donate $15,000 to the charity selected by the player who received the most votes.

CURE Childhood Cancer was the selected charity of CDN athlete and former Atlanta Braves pitcher, Tom Glavine.  Immediately, we began to promote the contest to followers of CURE Childhood Cancer, via e-blasts, blogs, Twitter and Facebook. With more than 31,000 fans on Facebook and even more on our email and blog lists, we were sure that this would be enough to win. However, after a month of voting we realized that this would not suffice if we really wanted to win the $15,000.

Softball player Jennie Finch was blowing Tom Glavine out of the water when it came to votes and, with a week left, Tom trailed Jennie by more than 1,200 votes.

The major issue? Those who are Zealots for CURE Childhood Cancer are passionate about finding a cure for the disease and as a result did not feel directly passionate about this promotion, as it was very baseball-oriented. This is when we decided to take another approach and activate indirect Zealots of CURE by targeting those who are Zealots of Tom Glavine and the Atlanta Braves.

Through Twitter, CURE Childhood Cancer and Tom Glavine promoted the contest to Braves fans and asked them to vote. Tom began to interact directly with fans and reward those who were spreading the word by retweeting and replying to them directly. As a result, the dialogue exploded in frequency.

In a matter of six days Tom Glavine received more 6,000 votes, 4,500 more than Jennie Finch during that time. Additionally, direct mentions of CURE on Twitter increased 810%, resulting in an increased reach of 1,490%.

By simply asking Braves fans to support their old pitcher, Tom Glavine, CURE Childhood Cancer won the CDN contest and the $15,000.

Yes, word of mouth marketing can serve as a wondrous opportunity for organizations.  Now through social media platforms, companies can not only listen to what people are saying about their brand, but also have an simple and direct way to start the conversation.

Instagram has turned everyone into professional photographers. Click, focus, select one of the 18 pre-set photo filters, and share with your masterpiece with your friends. It’s Twitter in visual format, allowing users to share snippets of their everyday lives. Simple. Beautiful. Fun.

Not only is Instagram popular with the general public – and the GRM office – but many businesses are jumping on-board as well. From behind-the-scenes shots to glamorous product sneek-peeks, Instagram is perfect for sharing beautiful images from the retail world.

The fact that Facebook recently spent $1 billion to acquire Instagram is beyond intriguing. For an app that currently creates zero revenue, (the app is free and there are no ads) change is most certainly in-store. And with the Facebook connection and its introduction into the Android Marketplace, Instagram’s average 1.6 million new monthly users is sure to increase.

Have you downloaded Instagram yet? Get snapping.

As you know, Facebook announced last week the rollout of Timeline for Brands. We have scoured the internet and really feel that Mashable has some of the best tips and know-how, so we wanted to share them with you. We’d love to know what you think about this new change for Facebook.

From Mashable

1. Updated Look and Feel


What’s new: The format of Timeline for brands is quite similar to Timeline for personal profiles. It employs a cover photo at the top of the Page, and the Page is separated into two main columns by a dividing line, which represents the passage of time. This format provides brands with new options for self-expression: They can outline their corporate history with milestones (such as product launches, store openings, etc.) to construct a narrative for their audience.

Recommendation: Milestones present an important and dramatic opportunity to educate the public, humanize the brand and remove a perception of corporate anonymity. Our analyses of Page engagement have continually shown that brands posting content that depicts behind-the-scenes activities, exclusive updates or promotions encourages user interactions and promotes higher engagement rates. Using interesting milestones to craft the story of the brand over time (and updating the Timeline with new milestones as they happen) can help to stimulate conversations around major achievements.


2. Reduced Tab Visibility


What’s new: The new Timeline format does not have the left-side panel of links, which could include hundreds of different tabs. While applications still exist, they’ll display differently, in rectangular panels underneath the cover photo. The width of the Timeline and the space allocated for native apps like Photos means that only three tab panels are viewable at any given time. To see more, users must expand the tab panel by clicking a drop-down box.

Recommendation: For marketers, this major change means that the three above-fold tab apps need to be considered carefully — this will be one of the first things users see when interacting with your brand on Facebook. Brands will want to switch up which tabs are visible “above the fold,” according to current company objectives or project popularity. A good Page analytics tool will be useful for determining which tab to promote on a day-to-day basis.


3. No Default Landing Page


What’s new: With the new Timeline Page format, you will no longer be able to set a default landing Page, a favored feature for many savvy brands. The option was one of the primary ways to control the first (branded) impression a user encountered. Since there are no more tab Pages, there is no way to set one as a default. This will drastically change user impressions when they first visit a brand’s Timeline Page.

Recommendation: You will need to apply new and careful attention to all the top messages in the Timeline, as they will be the first objects seen by visiting users. Likewise, Facebook ads for brands will become ever important, as ads will be one of the major ways brands on Facebook can control a user’s experience. Setting up an advertising campaign for a Facebook promotion or new application will be the only way to guide new and clicking users directly to that application (as landing on this Page cannot be achieved by default).


4. New Way to Feature Content


What’s new: One major new feature that marketers will love is the ability to “pin” certain posts to the top of the Timeline. Similar to marking a blog post “sticky,” so that it remains at the top of a blog for a specified period of time, pinning a post to the top of Timeline allows it to precede any other content. A pinned post is distinguished by a small, orange flag. Brands can pin only one item at a time, and the pinned item then exists in two locations — as the top item on the Timeline itself, as well as within its chronological place. Once unpinned (which happens automatically when a new item gets pinned, or the item has been pinned for more than seven days), the post remains in the chronology of Timeline posts, but there is no visual history that it was pinned in the past.

Recommendation: Since you can no longer create a default landing Page, pinning items to the top of the Timeline will become every marketer’s go-to strategy for highlighting new and interesting content. We will begin to see savvy brands design posts specifically to be pinned, whether images, a well-designed call-to-action, a statement about brand value, or a message calling for the user to click one of the tab panels under the cover photo.


5. Current Tab Content and Applications Become Outdated


What’s new: The new Timeline layout displaces Facebook’s existing Page tab configuration (including a tab’s 520-pixel width), and replaces it with a new 810-pixel layout. As a result, existing Page tab content will look centered in the middle of the 810-pixel layout without any adjustments. All applications that remain on a brand’s Page will need new application icons (the new dimensions are 111×74).

Recommendation: The most pressing updates for brands will be to update the images and tab functionality of the above-fold two apps. As these are the first tabs users will see, they will likely be the first to be interacted with, or entirely ignored if not optimized for the new experience.


6. Private Messages Between Brands and Users


What’s new: Finally, brands will be able to send and receive private messages with users. This allows for much deeper consumer interaction, and will also enable Page managers to take extended customer inquiries off the Timeline and into a private message.

Recommendation: Be mindful of noise in the Timeline. Since the real estate allocated to each post depends on how engaging it is or how much interaction it has received, it can be easy to clutter your Timeline with customer inquiries. When these inquiries can be better serviced in a more one-on-one manner, reach out to the consumer with a private message and resolve her question. It’s a good opportunity to yield both a happy user and a clean Timeline.

Timeline for brands will certainly shake things up for social media marketers who seek to make an impact on Facebook. One thing is for sure though: The way content is shared and viewed within a Timeline Page is incredibly important. Brands that constantly create engaging updates and share important milestones will stay at the forefront of users’ attention. Create and rotate new apps for engagement, pin relevant and timely content, and update the feed with user-friendly dialogues to stay relevant in this new space.

Will you or your company do anything differently, right off the bat? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

3. Timeline leveraging history

Dating back to 1878, Manchester United can use Timeline to honor its rich history. This photo shows the club’s league championship from 1908.

Here are some great examples:

1. Cover photo potential

Here, Coca Cola uses snazzy design to make a strong visual impression on visitors.


2. Cover photos for teams

Manchester United uses its cover photo to reflect the inherent passion, camaraderie and joy of sports.


3. Timeline leveraging history

Dating back to 1878, Manchester United can use Timeline to honor its rich history. This photo shows the club’s league championship from 1908.


4. Timeline for callouts

Here, Manchester United leverages Timeline’s strong visual elements by starring a specific current post, making it appear twice as wide.


5. Coldplay cover photo

Coldplay’s Timeline cover photo hints at the wealth of potential the new format holds for bands and other performers.


6. Ben & Jerry’s cover photo

Ben & Jerry’s cover photo further illustrates Timeline’s potential to make a strong first impression on Page visitors.


7. Ben & Jerry’s Timeline

Ben & Jerry’s timeline itself showcases the new brand platform’s strong visual elements.


8. Ben & Jerry’s milestone

Here, Ben & Jerry’s uses the new format to call out an important company milestone — its introduction of several new flavors in 1999.


9. Timeline makes Pages more social

When you visit a Page, you see how many of your friends have liked the company, as well as friends’ relevant public posts. Here, Ben & Jerry’s serves as an example.


10. Different cover photos for different Pages

Restaurants can leverage the new design by showing off what they serve. Here, Starbucks flaunts its coffee beans.


11. How many of your friends like Starbucks?

Further evidence of how Pages are more social with Timeline.


12. A local twist

Here, the Page of Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery shows how, for local businesses only, a map appears

in the row of apps below the cover photo.


13. ESPN’s cover photo

ESPN’s cover photo is an intriguing shot from the set of its iconic Sportscenter show.


14. Baby’s first show

Here, ESPN highlights its first Sportscenter broadcast with a doublewide photo in its timeline.


15. Livestrong’s cover photo

Livestrong chooses to make its logo the central theme of its Page cover photo.


16. Starring an important message

Livestrong starred this post that provides resources for people under emotional duress as a result of cancer.

Starring it calls extra attention to the post by making it twice as wide as others.


17. A Livestrong milestone

Organizations similar to Livestrong can highlight specific milestones, such as the opening of new services.

This post celebrates the debut of Livestrong’s Cancer Navigation Center.


18. Meet the admin panel

Timeline introduces a new format for administrators of brand Pages, and one that should be simpler to use.


19. Getting to know you

The admin panel features notifications, analytics, messages and, yes, a help menu to ease your transition to the new set-up.


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