Analytics crunch time: Ton of tools to measure social media success

Look at all these colors and then tell me analytics aren't fun.
Look at all these colors and then tell me analytics aren’t fun.

Social media is fun, and you should be using it. As an individual, you get to connect with your friends as well as complete strangers who interest you; you also get to learn about new topics, people, places and products. As a business, you can utilize social media to reach your existing and potential customers, which ultimately leads to a better bottom line. But how do you really know that all your social media work is paying off?

According to this infographic, 50 percent of businesses are unsure of their ROI through Twitter. There are so many numbers you could point to — followers, mentions, retweets — to try to prove whether your business’ Twitter account is successful. But those numbers are only part of measuring social media success. You can’t just collect followers; you have to understand their behavior. If people aren’t clicking on the links you share on your social accounts, you need to revise how you’re communicating with your audience. But first, you need to figure out whether people are clicking. Luckily, lots of smart people live on the internet, and businesses (and individuals looking to up their social media game) have a plethora of social media analytics tools to choose from.

Link tracking allows you to figure out not just a total number of referrals from a certain domain like facebook.com or t.co (Twitter), but how many people clicked on a specific link sent from your account(s). This helps you determine both what topics are popular with your audience and which platforms are giving you the biggest return on your time spent. Tools for link tracking include bit.ly, ow.ly (within Hootsuite), Tweeterspy and Clickmeter. [See more link tracking options in this list from Razor Social.]

Tracking links is only the beginning of better understanding your audience. There are also tools like Sprout, which helps you break down your follower base by demographic, and Tweriod, which analyzes your followers to show you (in graph form) what times they are online. [See the full list of cool analytics tools from Tech Radar.] Pieces of information like these help you create a formula for what works well (and what doesn’t) in engaging your followers and enticing them to click through from social media to you.

Once you’ve properly acquainted yourself with the audience you’re trying to reach, get busy! Some businesses may stick to using each network directly to post updates and talk to followers. But there are some great social media management suites out there to make wrangling multiple accounts easier. Mashable dives into the pros, cons and costs of several CRMs — including Hootsuite (my personal favorite), Sprout Social, Wildfire, Spredfast and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Do you use a CRM for your business social media needs? Which one, and what do you like or not like about it?

Have you ever used any additional analytics tools, such as WolframAlpha, SimplyMeasured or the others mentioned in my post? How did you apply the results?

Why things go viral: The not-100-percent-but-really-close formula

It's not hard, but it's not *that* easy.
It’s not hard, but it’s not *that* easy.

There’s not a content producer out there who thinks, “I hope this won’t go viral,” when they hit the publish button. But if everyone wants their content to go viral, why don’t we see more viral stuff? That’s because not everyone has it figured out yet. Wharton professor Jonah Berger said it best to Forbes:

“There’s not 100% certainty” that a given product or concept will go viral. “It’s like a batting average in baseball; no one hits a home run every time. But it’s also not luck. By understanding the science of word of mouth, you improve your average.”

Berger identifies six factors that contribute to virality:

  • Does it make you look good?
  • Are you reminded of it?
  • Does it make you feel something?
  • Are others seeing it?
  • Is it useful?
  • Is it memorable?

Oreo Rainbow CookieLet’s think about which reasons are behind a few viral campaigns. Oreo gained a lot of attention with their pro-LGBT rights campaign. That photo got more than 90,000 shares — and that’s not counting the people who uploaded the photo on their own instead of clicking the share button. Why? Because people want to weigh in and show their peers that they stand (or don’t stand) behind the cause that Oreo very powerfully illustrated with their rainbow cookie. The content of the photo affirms something about the sharer. And the photo also evokes some strong emotions in those who would share it.

Speaking of powerful illustrations, a recent Chipotle commerical also played into people’s values to get shares and hit viral status. The beautiful and longer-than-TV-commercial ad definitely makes viewers feel something, even if you’re not a fan of Chipotle’s food (but who isn’t?).

In general, content that elicits positive reaction is more viral that ones than ones that produce negative reaction. As Social Triggers points out, there are lots of unhappy people in the world, so positive content that lifts the spirits is always going to be popular.

The Wordstream team produced a study comparing Facebook’s and Google’s advertising options that went viral thanks to good timing (just a few days before the Facebook IPO) and general usefulness. As news outlets looked for reasons to explain why GM dropped its Facebook ads, they found the study. Before long, all major media outlets were citing the research, and the study was officially viral. This one doesn’t really make you feel strong emotions, but it is very informative and hit on a timely topic.

What was the last piece of viral content you shared? Keeping these reasons in mind, what made you share it?

Have you ever produced content that went viral? Which of these reasons describe why your content was so popular?

Visual social media networks give you the most engagement for your buck

visual social mediaSocial media is so much more than just Facebook and Twitter. Both are important places for businesses to be — to share, listen and interact with your customers. But that shouldn’t be the end of your social media plan. Visuals generate more engagement than just text or links on social media, so take advantage of the more visually-focused networks — such as Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and Vine.

According to this infographic, 43 percent of Pinterest users say they use the network to identify with brands versus 24 percent of users who say the same about Facebook. It makes sense — Facebook started out as a way to connect with your friends, not businesses. Pinterest, on the other hand, started out as a way to collect your favorite products and to-do ideas. So while many Facebook users continue to primarily use the network to keep up with old and new friends, Pinterest is primarily used with the eventual goal of buying the things you’ve pinned. Pinterest users also spend more money than Facebook users — $180 versus $85 on average.

Is your brand or business on Pinterest? What types of content do you pin?

If a photo is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. Technorati reports that customers are more than ever willing to watch videos about products they are considering buying. Technorati Media CEO Shani Higgins says this allows potential customers to actually watch how the product is used or what it looks like in action. If you’re concerned or curious about how something works, what’s better than being able to watch a video of the product being used? YouTube makes it easy for customers to find videos from businesses and individuals advertising, reviewing or testing products. For example, if you were considering trying out Bare Minerals makeup, but you didn’t know how to apply it or what kind of coverage to expect, you could check out this video on YouTube:

Whether you’re selling a product or a service, your business can benefit from creating and maintaining a YouTube channel. Julie Perry, social media director at BLASTmedia, says putting content on YouTube allows you to be discovered by people who are searching for information. That’s even better than ads (and it’s free). Ads are often seen as interruptions, but if you can put your product’s information in front of someone who is actually looking for it, that creates a positive experience for your potential customer.

What kinds of products have you turned to YouTube to check out? Did it influence your decision to buy?

LinkedIn to-do list: Why I’m not doing it right and how you can learn from my mistakes

Keep Calm and Spell CheckConfession time: I don’t really like spending time on LinkedIn. I’ve had my profile for a while, but the network just seems to me like a boring, stuffy place to be. However, especially after this week’s readings, I’m convinced that I need to beef up my LinkedIn profile and perhaps give spending time on the network another try.

I have managed to avoid a few of the most common LinkedIn mistakes. I have a profile photo that looks like me and does not include any family members or pets — just me. And I list my jobs all the way back to the first job I had at age 16. But I do need to start sharing status updates that are targeted to the professional audience on LinkedIn.

“You could be updating about a colleague getting a promotion or sharing a great article you wrote,”  LinkedIn Career Expert Nicole Williams told Forbes. “Every few days, put something in your status to keep it fresh, and show you’re active and engaged—no one will know what you’ve done if you’re not showing it off.”

At the very least, I could start sharing links on LinkedIn to the blog posts I write for this class, Intro to Social Media, as well as links to my blog for my other class this semester, Intro to Multimedia Communications.

How often do you update your LinkedIn status? What kinds of things do you share?

I also need to update my professional headline. After all, I’m a journalist (although, apparently, many journalists make mistakes on LinkedIn). My headline should be awesome. I’m literally a trained headline writer. Instead, my headline is the default current job title and company name. I also need to go down this list from Social Media Examiner and make sure I’m taking advantage of things like listing my current work projects, pumping up the key words in my summary and making sure all my skills are listed.

I’m not in the market for a job — I’m quite happy in my role as community engagement specialist for AL.com — but if I ever need to do some job hunting, LinkedIn will certainly be the place to do it. The Wall Street Journal reports that companies are increasingly turning to the network for job candidates. Companies can pay for LinkedIn services like job ads, career pages and recruiter talent finder to locate the best person for the job. According to this infographic, social media has helped one in six people find their current job. That’s good reason, by the way, to avoid references to illegal or inappropriate behavior on social media (not just LinkedIn) and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD USE SPELL CHECK.

Have you ever found a job thanks to social media? If so, what network and how did it happen?

Be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn. I promise improvements are coming soon.

Likes, comments and clicks: How to give your content a full life on Facebook and Google+

Facebook Newsfeed
WHAT.

I work for a news organization. So I like to think that people spend a lot of their time online staying on top of local, national and international news. Certainly, they do. But according to this infographic, people spend more time on Facebook Newsfeed than six major news sites — ABC, MSNBC, Yahoo News, CNN, New York Times and Huffington Post — combined.

Yes, I said combined. I also said Newsfeed, as in only what you see when you’re signed in at facebook.com, not including facebook.com-slash-anything because that would mean straying from your Newsfeed. That’s why it’s important to know what Edgerank is and how it works. Basically, Facebook measures what kind of content you’ve shared (photo vs. link vs. text), how long it’s been up and your relationship with other users and brands based on engagement. And then the result of that formula determines whose Newsfeeds your content graces and for how long.

Ideally, you want to hit every piece of the Edgerank algorithm. On AL.com’s Facebook page, our social team shares photos when we have really good ones and always shares at least a link. We ask questions or post extra information with the links that we hope will generate conversation, both because we want to hear from our fans and because we know comments equal better Edgerank. We update our Facebook page several times a day. We aim to always have fresh content to rank, while not posting so much that we stack up in our fans’ Newsfeeds. We want to be a part of that 20 percent of content that makes it into our fans’ “customized newspaper,” as Facebook has stated is its goal for the user experience.

How many minutes (or hours) a day would you estimate your spend on your Newsfeed? How does that compare to your times spent on other Facebook pages or profiles?

AL.com is also active on Google+, although after this week’s readings, I am thinking we’re not active enough. Google+ is actually just Google. It’s the search giant’s way of integrating all of its products, Google Docs and Gmail for example, into one big product; Everything else is just a feature of Google+ now. Even when you’re using plain, old Google to search for something, you’ll see what those in your circles have +1’d or shared. Social search and personalized search have been merged. That’s why it’s so critical for brands to have a good Google+ presence. As people circle you and as you share content on Google+, you’re increasing the likelihood that those people will see your content, either on Google+ or in their integrated Google search results.

AL.com also takes advantage of Google+ Authorship, which basically verifies content creators. Verified authors have their photo plopped beside the content they created when listed in search results, which attracts the eye and introduces an element of trust. There are so many bogus things on the internet that it can be hard sometimes to discern the real stuff from the fake. But if you see content from a Google-verified writer, whose photo you could even click on to get background information from their Google+ profile, you know you can probably trust that content.

Do you or your brand maintain a Google+ profile? How active are you on the network? If you’re a content creator, have you completed the Authorship steps?

Twitter users to all businesses ever: Stop selling and just talk to me

Image
Twitter is all about community engagement. (Get it?)

I hate “being sold.” If I feel like someone is trying to sell me something, I get irrationally angry and start making vows to never buy their product again. I dislike all but only the extra clever television commercials (always ones that aren’t directly trying to sell me something), and pop-up and peel-back online ads make me want to pull my hair out.

So I was not at all surprised this week to read multiple articles saying if you want to sell something using Twitter, don’t make it so freaking obvious. Twitter is not about the sale; Twitter is about the people. So you’ve got to take your time building your community on the network and engage each follower, as Aaron Lee says he would do early on if he could start over with his account. If every company utilized “pull” marketing — attracting potential customers through interaction and excitement — rather than trying to push their products into people’s arms, I would probably be making a lot fewer of those never-buy-that-again vows.

Has a brand’s performance on Twitter ever convinced you to buy — or not buy — a product?

An easy way to get your brand away from that pushy approach on Twitter is to take the conversation from one-way to two-way. Instead of using Twitter as a tool for broadcasting your brand’s message, use it to talk to your community. Ask questions, answer questions, solve problems and even request retweets. (Interesting tidbit: Spelling out the word retweet instead of using abbreviation RT gets you 23 times more retweets, according to Ask Aaron Lee.) Look for people who are talking about you, even if they don’t directly mention you. At AL.com, we set up search streams in Hootsuite to find conversations taking place about our brand or topics that we cover so we can get involved in the conversation.

Do you or your company search for any hashtags or key words as entry points into Twitter conversations? If so, what are they?

The most engaged brand on Twitter, @Notebook, told Forbes that they answer every single tweet that comes their way. Their content might not be for everyone (ahem, me); but never having spent a dollar on advertising, Notebook of Love is certainly a brand to examine for best practices. @Notebook creator Branden Hampton says brands should focus on the message of their companies, not the product they’re trying to sell. When instead of cramming a car down your followers’ throats, you tweet about your car’s safety features, fuel economy and even a story about someone who did something cool with the car (all the while, of course, answering customers tweeting at you), you’ll attract more customers. Because having a car crammed down your throat would probably hurt.

Social overload: Finding and joining the right social networks for you — like, yesterday

Image
The conversation prism. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff out there. (Brian Solis & JESS3)

The number of social networks in existence can be overwhelming. The conversation prism gives us a pretty significant taste of what’s out there. But the good news is, you don’t have to have an account on every single network. The best use of your time and energy depends on your expertise and passion and your audience. You want to be able to devote enough to the networks you do join to build a strong community.

The conversation prism breaks down the various platforms by how they’re used. For example, look at the “nicheworking” section. Goodreads is a place bookworms can share what they’re reading, what they want to read and what they thought of the books they’ve finished. If books are not your thing, then you can check that off the list of networks worth your time joining. However, if you’re the owner of a bookshop, you can use the network to share your expertise and connect with book lovers. The prism can help you both discover networks and decide what accounts you should pursue.

Do you see a new (to you) network on the conversation prism that you or your business should join? What makes it well suited to you or your business?

If you see a network that’s missing you, as Guy Kawasaki says, “Start yesterday.” It’s important to establish your reputation, even before your company’s launch. Kawasaki also encourages sharing others’ content that you find interesting, especially if it’s trending. It’s OK to piggy back off a popular topic. Confession: I don’t love Miley Cyrus, but I’ve seen a million blog posts about her, ahem, performance at the VMAs shared by my friends on Facebook and Twitter — and I clicked through and at least skimmed most of them. If the topic is hot, even the mildly interested will take a look. In my case, I wanted to be knowledgeable about the thing everyone was talking about at that moment, even though I don’t really care what happens to Miley’s career. And I am not the only person clicking posts for that reason.

Think about the things you click on from social media. How much of it reflects your passions and interests vs. your desire to know about current topics and trends?

To build a loyal and engaged social community, it’s also important to produce your own quality content. Content that people want to read will keep them coming back to your site and your social accounts for more of the good stuff. I share a lot of links to others’ content from my personal social media accounts. Depending on the topic, those links (along with my commentary of some sort) engage my friends and followers. But since I’ve created this WordPress blog for my social media class, I’ve noticed an uptick in engagement when I share one of my links on Facebook or Twitter. I hope that means I’m producing quality content, and I hope the great conversations continue!

Beyond analytics: Making social media work for you through the not-easily-measurable

One of the most important bits of social media management advice: Listen to your audience. (michaelaw/stock.xchng)

It can be tempting to measure your personal or brand’s social media success based on your number of followers or clicks. Numbers are tangible and easy to digest. But if you’re only looking at the numbers, your numbers are doomed.

Some of the best things you can do for your social media presence are not easily measurable. Branding, community building, developing influence and showing authority on your topics (Forbes) are more of a feeling than a specific number, but they’re incredibly important to social media success. With our AL.com social accounts, we want followers and clicks, but we also work to brand ourselves and show our authority as the go-to source for Alabama news. Entrepreneur might call that our specialization. AL.com also covers national topics and trends, but the thing we can offer to our audience that national outlets can’t is our local coverage, and we try to emphasize our highest quality pieces of local storytelling on social (Hootsuite).

Successful brands make their followers feel valued. People want to communicate with real people, not robots. To reach those who want to talk to you, Inc. suggests joining the social networks your target audience is already using. Entrepreneur, Search Engine Watch and Mashable all stress the importance of listening. When something goes wrong with your brand, people will talk about it on social. You need to be a part of that conversation. After we share an AL.com story, we monitor the conversations that follow. People may point out a mistake or a technical problem. If we communicate honestly and quickly, we can turn the conversation around.

Listening and responding to AL.com’s followers has been a top priority for us. It’s hard to write a rule book for every possible situation, but we’re developing a more unified voice for communicating with our audience. I respect brands that engage me on social media — whether it’s solving a problem or just saying thanks for being a customer — and I want our AL.com brand to elicit that same feeling.

I want our reporters to feel comfortable engaging their followers in a similar way. Our company encourages social media activity on a personal level, and I’m so glad that AL.com doesn’t try to restrict our voices (within reason). In a world where a Taco Bell employee thinks it’s funny to post a photo of himself licking taco shells online, it can be scary for employers to encourage social media use. But as Gary Vaynerchuk says, there are more benefits to employees having a social presence than restricting it. Companies should deal with taco-licking situations individually.

Especially since employers are looking at potential hires’ social media (Time), employees should be careful. I encourage our reporters to let their personalities shine but to use common sense. Don’t make a negative post about the company or overshare about objectionable activities. Your social media accounts have become a digital resume (Forbes), and “think before you speak” has become “think before you post.”

Tell me about your experiences in the comments: How did your favorite brand on social media win you over? Does your company have a social media policy for its employees; what does it say?

Greetings from Birmingham: What I do here and why I’m back in school

My beloved Birmingham, Alabama.
My beloved Birmingham, Alabama, where I live with my sweet husband of one year.

I got my first job at a newspaper when I was 16. That was almost 10 years ago now, and I’ve witnessed many changes and learned lots of lessons.

I’ve filled the roles of reporter, designer, copy editor, sports producer and now, community engagement specialist. In my current role as statewide community engagement specialist for AL.com (an Alabama news website that includes content from The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, Mobile’s Press-Register, as well as our other hubs in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and the Anniston/Gadsden area), I work to connect our staff with our communities. That includes getting our folks involved in AL.com’s comments and comfortably using social media to share their content with the audiences who will want to read it.

I also lead the management of our branded social media accounts. We are active as a company on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram. We also routinely submit content to other networks such as Reddit, Fark and StumbleUpon. We study our analytics to determine successes (and failures), and we share those conclusions with the staff along with general best practices. In addition, I’ve trained our staff in large groups on using social media and engaging with readers and worked one-on-one with those who wanted more information or help with a special effort.

Today, classes officially started to train me further on social media and multimedia communications. I’ve had some great successes finding my way around using trial and error and general experience. But I am looking forward to soaking up every bit of information I can from the University of Florida’s masters program in communication and social media. This semester I am enrolled in Intro to Social Media and Intro to Multimedia Communications. I hope to take the lessons learned in class and apply them to both my work and personal social media accounts, as well as share new tips, practices and theories with the AL.com staff. As I work on school projects, I will also be managing work projects, and it is my hope that each will help with the other. I’m lucky to already be in the field that interests me most, so taking these classes and earning this degree is not about getting a job; it’s about making sure that I’m the best at what I currently do.

In 10 more years, the media industry won’t look the same as it does now, and I know I’ll have to consciously try to stay on top of the latest and greatest in digital tools. Some of the sites that we talk about in classes this semester may give us a 404 error one day, but the ideas behind them — the why and how and,  in some cases, who — that I will learn in this program will serve me for the rest of my career.

Side note: Here are all the places you can find me. I’m looking forward to connecting with all of you!

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Google+
Instagram
Foursquare
LinkedIn

Adventures in digital communications

%d bloggers like this: