Sunday, April 26, 2015

Social Media Money Making is all in the Inception

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There is money to be made in social media. But it's not being made where you'd think -- or at least where I thought. The bulk of the money is being made by companies and individuals selling services to other companies and individuals with the hopes of making money in social media. Confused? Me too.

Thanks to social media, the days of the banner ads as revenue generators are behind us.  Pricing was based on traditional print advertising, but used visitors rather than subscribers as the benchmark. Then when tracking became available, advertisers charged by viewership or "eyeballs", And that morphed into click-throughs,  and later into conversions. To be honest, I don't think they were a good investment once the novelty wore off.

Today, I am never quicker with a click then to shut those pop in ads for newsletter subscriptions et al. You still see banner ads (mostly on mobile) but online ads were replaced with search engine ads and corresponding landing pages. Those work but require an offer: either giving something away, a contest to win something or at least a discount -- all at no cost.

Companies now use social media for primarily publicity reasons to drum up interest in their product or service. To extend offers or up sell opportunities. They use it to aid in customer service. Making sales off your Twitter and Facebook? Didn't think so. And if you are, I'm willing to bet it's less than last year despite the fact that 2015 seems to be better for everyone.

Simply put, the companies generating the most revenues through social media are the social media companies themselves. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. No surprise here. So are the companies aiding those companies. Social media posting, listening, monitoring software. The business of social media is selling social media. Still confused? You're supposed to be, as that's part of the plan.

Right now the place where people I know are making money in social media is Instagram. How are a collection of selfies with my BFF and what-I-had-for-lunch snaps generating revenue?  Uhm, well they're not but I have friends who are doing well on a variety of topics from yoga to interior design.  Early adopters to the medium, these friends have Instagram accounts that have amassed followers by the thousands (upwards of a million-plus in some cases). Their business plan? They'll charge you to post your photo (not an ad, but photo mind you) on their account. All in the hopes that some of their followers will see it, and like it enough and follow you. So they can do the same to others. It's the New World pyramid scheme - Ponzi minus the illegal part. There are companies that can tell you everything about the who what and where. What percentage of those million subscribers will actually check their Instagram doing the few hours you paid me to post your photo? Sssh! Don't ask such details. You're ruining the fun.

At times, social media reminds me of the plot to the movie Inception. You understand it (enough) to follow what's going on (sort of), and are happy with the ending that makes sense (some what).  Part of our confusion though is our own making. Social media hasn't changed us; we've changed it.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Half-Baked Rules are Killing B2B Email

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Over the years, I've conducted every online and traditional method of business to business (B2B) marketing available, from social media to broadcast media, from telemarketing to network marketing, from to print ads, trade shows and direct mail. But the most effective revenue generating method I have used by far has been email marketing. Nothing comes in a close second. Nothing. Unfortunately, bulk B2B email blasts are nearly impossible to do anymore.

You can thank the scammers and spammers for that. There are so many canned SPAM laws that exist restricting and banning bulk emails. The regulations are so stringent that email marketing companies require more clearance than hitching a ride onto Air Force One.  These laws were created primarily  to stop all those male dysfunction, mortgage refinance, Russian bride and the like emails that wanted to scam and or harass the consumer. But those SPAM laws to protect also hurt the B2B landscape irrevocably.

Take this typical business-helping-other-business scenario. Let's say you're a baker, and I sell baking supplies and ingredients. And I can sell you the same supplies at half the cost that you are paying now. Sounds interesting right? I can legally use the following methods to contact you:
  1. Have a team of telemarketers hound you mercilessly - I mean -  call you several times a day.
  2. Send you flyers, brochures, coupons, and whatever junk I can find that I can stuff in an envelope. 
  3. Subject you to annoying jingles that you (as well as every non-baker) has to listen to on the radio and/or television.
  4. Leave fliers in your door and on your car that will likely end up as litter.
  5. Corner you at a trade show.
There's even remarketing - your web browser tracks what websites you've visited and search terms you've used to serve you "targeted" ads. All legal. What I can't do is send you (and other bakers just like you) an email in bulk without your permission.  An email that could save you thousands and increase your profitability. An email if you didn't want could be removed from your inbox forever with one-click. Try doing that with those other methods I mentioned.

It's all about permission say the email companies. All the person need to do is opt in. And all you need to is provide precise opt-in, or preferably double opt-in information. How many small to medium businesses do you know that can provide that? Now remember we are not talking about business to consumers. Well how do I get your permission if you don't know that my discount sugar company exists? That's right, see Methods 1-5.

Imagine if solicitors needed your permission before playing a commercial on your TV. Or giving your postman a list of accepted senders. Or having callers opt-in to your calling list. (Yes, it sounds like Heaven to me as well but that's not the point.) It's that email has been singled out because it can be.

I know what you're thinking. If you were a baker and you did want to reduce your supply costs you'd just go Google baker suppliers.  But now we enter a new territory: search engine marketing (SEM). SEM can drain a modest advertising budget in weeks with little ROI. And I'll have to pay top dollar each time someone does click on my ad. And I'll pay whether or not they are baker. Or they were really looking for flower and not flour.   Now rather than selling you those supplies at 50% of what you are paying I can only afford to sell it at 90%.  The rules are half-baked and really should be changed.

Even if your email list is pristine there's no guarantee your message will make it to recipient's inbox. Gone are the days of buckshot approach to B2B business. The individual (or one-off) emails are certainly the best way to go now.  As crazy as it may sound, you'll achieve better results by hiring a temp to address and send them out one by one like Christmas cards. Manageable for a few hundred names. More than that, well...

The silver lining to the B2B email downfall, if there is one, is inbound marketing. It allows companies to "seed" the internet with tweets, facebook posts, and blogs, to get noticed. And coupons, free offers and eBooks on landing pages in exchange for a valid email.

I'm not faulting the email marketing companies. They have no choice but to comply or get blacklisted, and no recourse but to shut you down or its their neck. So they always have the same answer when asked for a solution:"newsletter subscription." Really? No business decision maker today reads them anymore in this fast paced digital age. You're lucky if they check Twitter and Facebook. The one thing they'll likely an email.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are You :-) or :-( with all those Emoticons at Work?

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Are emoticons making social media communicating easier or easier to avoid real emotions?

How do you feel about emoticons?
Well, maybe I should first ask, did you now that those punctuation marks that look like faces on their sides actually had a name? And that they have different names for the style type depending upon the expression orientation and where in the world they were developed or what software you're using? There's even documentation on the first known use of the original smiley-face emoticon and a kickstarter for an emoji keyboard. But like casual Fridays and Holiday parties, those collection of silly faces have become an accepted part of business communications despite their non-business like nature.

It seems that emotion icons, (better known by the portmanteau emoticon), and their pictograph close cousin emoji are part of every communication, built into email clients, Facebook, and many other platforms. Some applications will even turn your emoticons into emoji automatically like a picture auto-correct. And when dictating a message, my mobile phone will turn the words "smiley-face" first into an emoticon then into an emoji when I hit send. Like it or not.

Of course like many things in pop culture, the business world has embraced the practice and I see social media hieroglyphs on everything from elevators to smart phones. Emoticons are world-business friendly, right? -- or is it just cheaper to print a universal icon than in multiple languages? And in correspondence, emoticons humanize and add personality, right?  -- particularly when the sender doesn't possess much of any.

Some admonish the emoticon craze as another dumbing down of society: by lessening the need to read or write. I use emoticons because in this world of 140 characters or less, every space counts. "Thanks," "I agree," "I received your message and I understand" can all be replaced with a smiley face. I use them in my personal correspondence. I admit I've even found myself guilty of emoji envy: "Damn! Were did they find a wedding cake emoji?" What can I say? Let he who does not find those dog viral videos cute cast the first stone, I say.

What bothers me about pictographs replacing words is that it's often an emotional avoidance or even a passive-aggressive use that the emoticon replaces. Rather than convey feelings, people will express frustration, sadness, remorse and even anger through a small yellow or blue icon. Non-confrontational management types can now not only replace face-to-face employee meetings and phone calls with emails, they can avoid repercussions and consequence by sending reprimands and warnings by ending them with a wink! 
Uhm, no.
So to answer the question the headline poses, I haven't decided whether I'm happy or sad about the prevalence of emoticons, or in other words... :-/

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