2013…The Year of Change

Today we’re going to do something a little different. We will be covering a topic that is a slight departure from our normal content, but one that is very important to us as a company – the topic of social responsibility in business. Our own Buddy Waddington recently traveled abroad to participate in the world’s most socially-minded leadership conference and he prepared a post about his experience and how he feels this business movement will affect the marketing and startup worlds.

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Buddy&Yunus

Buddy with Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus

This fall I had the great honor of being selected as a Young Challenger at this year’s Global Social Business Summit. This is the leading forum for social business, worldwide, and brings together experts from corporations, civil society, governments, and academia. The day prior to the summit, selected Young Challengers – youth under 25 from around the world – meet to discuss the concept of social business. They then attend the main summit, armed with questions and perspectives aimed at challenging the political and corporate leaders in attendance, regarding their vision for the future. This year, the event was held in Vienna, Austria. And it was amazing.

One of the reasons it was so amazing was that it made me realize that things are changing for branding, marketing, and for startups. And I have spent a lot of time in the new year pondering this global change.

Social business is a growing concept, where basic for-profit business principles are used to solve social problems. You can imagine that the businesses and individuals present were not lacking in innovation or motivation. In talking with these socially-minded individuals from all over the world, I realized that things are changing for startups and branding because all attendees – entrepreneurs, government officials, corporate executives, and more – see the value and potential of making social impact and responsibility a core principle within business. And the emphasis on social purpose wasn’t to support a CSR initiative or to “shut the hippies up”, as the villain from the first Ironman movie would say, it was to fundamentally define the value of a business.

If you took ECON 101, you may recall that business SHOULD be fundamentally responsible and sustainable and based on a principle called a comparative advantage, wherein a successful business or partnership raises the value and, therefore, standard of life for all stakeholders involved. And these stakeholders include more than just the investor and the customer – additionally, the environment, all of the employees, and every community within the supply chain. When discussing business in its purest form, one should consider all of these entities when evaluating the true sustainability and overall value of a company.

In recent months, thinking about these fundamentals of business have helped reform my opinion of what business can and should be, especially in the startup space. Due to the recent recession and the post-internet bubble in which we live, startups are required to show true, fundamental value to their stakeholders. This has evolved from showing revenue potential to showing actual revenue flow and my recent experience makes me think that this trend will continue. In order to be successful, startups will require a real sustainable strategy and one that makes considerations for every stakeholder – customers, investors, employees, and the surrounding environment.

And I’m not the only one thinking about this. Edelman recently released their “2012 goodpurpose Study”, where they shed light upon this change. For 5 years, the PR giant has researched consumer attitudes around social purpose, including commitment to specific issues as well as their expectations of brands and corporations. This massive study confirms that “brands and companies today cannot just be responsive, they must be responsible.” They propose that purpose is a new paradigm – a possible fifth “P” of marketing.

Simply put, a company that is responsible will ultimately produce the best value. And consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs, alike, are starting to understand that. “Business as usual” is changing, which means so is branding, marketing, and the startup space.

Learn more about what my experience at GSBS 2012 was all about on my guest post for the Foster School of Business Blog.

Third-party Mobile Ads – Not Exactly a Christmas Miracle

People are in the buying mood. It’s the holiday season and everyone’s looking for the perfect gifts for friends and family members. This is the time of year that advertisers relish. People are just waiting to spend their money and if your product is decent enough, making sales can be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Unfortunately for Facebook, Mashable reports that rather than cashing in on the spending spirit, the social giant announced a halt on testing for their third-party mobile ad network. The ad network focuses on advertising within third-party mobile apps and could be compared to Google’s AdSense – the hope being that Facebook could significantly increase its ad volume without overwhelming its own mobile app users with advertisements.

Facebook – still searching for a way to leverage its more than 1 BILLION users to generate significant profits – is once again experiencing frustration and mild defeat. While still the largest social network in the world, their troubles are steadily becoming just as big.

Still embroiled in yet another privacy kerfuffle, it wouldn’t surprise me if this delay was the last straw and Zuckerberg swapped out his trademark grey hoodie for something even gloomier.

As for us Facebook and mobile app users, I’m not sure if this is a win or a loss. On the one hand, I’m not thrilled about Facebook cramming even more advertisements down my digital throat. But on the other hand, I’m beginning to detest the full-page, poor quality advertisements that keep popping up while I’m trying to get over 500,000 points on Subway Surfer.

“No, I do not want to buy ‘Dessert Maker’, thank you very much.”

So if Facebook develops a better way to display advertisements on mobile and can make them more targeted, I guess I would be open to that change, seeing as mobile advertising is an inevitability.

Either way, Facebook cannot be happy about the last week or so. Plagued by privacy issues and now forced to reallocate resources from their promising new ad platform to address their current Facebook-mobile ad woes, the holiday season seems to be a bit of a let-down for poor Facebook. And seeing as this is the season of giving, I think we should all help out everyone’s favorite social giant by clicking on a Facebook Timeline ad. Perhaps we can’t do anything about their mobile ad issues, but if we can find it in our hearts to spare a click, maybe we can help Scrooge McZuck have a merry Christmas, after-all.

p.s. Happy holidays from SUM :)

Has Technology Changed How We Communicate?

Tin Can

Ok, duh.

Of course technology has changed how we communicate. It does so on a daily basis. But I’m not really talking about the countless methods of communication – email, instant messaging, video chat, etc. – we actually use to communicate, I’m talking about the fundamental effect that technology is having on how we communicate and interact with one another.

Allow me illustrate…

I was at the office, sitting in my comfy swivel chair and working on something for a client. I was in the zone – I’m talking record levels of productivity here, people. And judging by the last hour of silence, the guys were in the zone as well. One minute I’m cranking away, and the next minute, eeeerrrrr, everything came to a screeching halt. Working rhythm? Gone. The zone? Far, far away.

And the cause? A simple question. I had reached a point in my work that required a little more information from my partners and I needed to ask them something before I could continue. Now here’s the interesting part of the story and the moment that prompted the writing of this post.

For some reason…for some inexplicable reason, instead of simply swiveling around and asking them out loud, I chose to open my mail program, compose an email, add both of their names, type out my question, and click send.

Now, depending on your work environment, this might not strike you as odd. I’m sure many of you work in large office buildings, full of busy people, so the idea of asking all of your questions in person seems exhausting or even impossible. So to clarify for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the SUM offices, it’s not like the three of us have fancy, separate offices. And there aren’t any doors, walls, stairs, or barriers of any kind to navigate. It’s basically just a room with three desks in it. And it’s no Boeing hanger, either. I could probably spit on both of my coworkers from my chair.

So having removed all of the plausible excuses for why I chose to send an email instead of simply piping up and asking them, I think we should focus on what the heck my problem is.

For some reason, I chose to waste time – one of the most precious commodities a small business has – by sending an email and waiting for a response from two guys that sit within 10 feet of me. The question was simple enough. It could have been answered in a couple of words, but I chose to put the ball in their court and wait it out.

Now, truth be told, I may have sensationalized this story a bit for my own selfish blogging purposes. The fact of the matter is, sending that email was neither epiphanous nor out of the ordinary. It’s actually a common occurrence around here and while many of the emails make sense in their written form, many others could have been more quickly discussed and addressed out loud. I think the reason behind this habit points to how I’ve grown up and how technology has helped shape how I interact with others.

I think the instantaneous and casual nature of email and instant messaging has allowed many people, including us, to consider sending a simple message to be less effort and less intrusive than simply talking to someone. The communication tools available today are extremely powerful and, to be honest, SUM would have a very difficult time conducting business without them. But I – and likely many others – have become so dependent on them that they have, in some instances, replaced my own voice.

So has technology affected how we communicate with each other, beyond the literal means of doing so? I believe it has. And while I don’t view this as inherently bad, I think that removing the verbal communication from a group of people is a dangerous road and could, over time, start to affect things like camaraderie and team work.

Needless to say, I can’t let this happen at SUM. Having noticed it first, it’s my job to step up and reverse the trend. So let’s start now…

Me: “Hey Kurtis”

Kurtis: “What’s up?”

Me: “How’s your day going?!”

Kurtis: “Pretty good.”

Me: “Cool.”

Well, I think I’ve set the wheels of change in motion at the SUM offices. Tyler Smith – saving the office from the black hole of non-verbal communication, one arbitrary conversation at a time.

Mustaches and the Lessons They Teach Us

Before getting to the main post, I’d like to add a quick author’s note. I’ve come to realize that a blog can be a fickle creature – especially when writing one for your business. Write too seldom and you won’t attract many followers or much interest. Write too often and you risk committing a cardinal sin for a budding entrepreneur: mismanaging your time.

Over the past month – I’m ashamed to say – I’ve fallen into the first category and have failed to post anything week after week. Things have been quite busy around the SUM offices and, as a result, our poor, defenseless blog slipped further and further down the list of priorities and has landed where it rests at this very moment: shamefully outdated and teetering on the brink of obscurity.

This won’t do. This won’t do, at all.

To get the lifeblood pumping again, I decided to write about a project we recently undertook that was full of humour and misadventure, but one that also taught us valuable lessons about planning, the dangers of overcommitting, and rolling with the punches.

The client was a gentleman that was organizing Seattle’s first Mustache-themed fun run, the Mustache Dache. He found us through Facebook and after he contacted us and explained the event and what he was looking for, we immediately knew we wanted to be part of the project. Marketing mustaches and merriment? How could we say no?!

We began brainstorming marketing concepts for the event and one particular idea kept rising to the top of the list. It’s a new and somewhat unorthodox guerrilla marketing tactic known as reverse graffiti. We first saw it done in Europe and while it has slowly trickled over to the States, it remains far from mainstream.

Reverse graffiti involves using a stencil and a pressure washer to “clean” a message into a sidewalk or other concrete surface. The pressure washer lifts the grime of long-ignored sidewalks away where the stencil is cut out, but leaves the obstructed portions of the sidewalk untouched. The result is a unique, environmentally friendly, non-permanent design left on the sidewalk.

Reverse Graffiti

If done correctly, reverse graffiti can be an extremely effective marketing tool because it’s quite uncommon and does a very good job of catching the eyes of passersby. We had seen it done before and wanted to try it ourselves, but were waiting for a project that would be a good fit. Something as fun, progressive, and irreverent as the Mustache Dache was perfect.

Confident in our ability to iron out any wrinkles that came our way, we pitched the idea to our client. He fell in love with the concept and we were off to the races. Seattle grime, here we come!

What followed was one of the most stressful and challenging projects we have ever undertaken. Had we all the money in the world, this campaign could have been a cake walk. But the logistics of executing this task on a budget ended up being far more difficult than we had anticipated. After countless hours of research and brainstorming, we had finally come up with a game plan that we felt had a shot of working. Following a set of less than detailed directions from a blog post about some reverse graffiti that was done up in Vancouver, BC, we set out to make it happen.

Our journey of preparation took us places no team of marketers and graphic designers feels comfortable…

Jig

And after many of the instructions in the aforementioned blog post led to failure, we had scrapped plan A…and plan B, and had arrived at the poorly thought-out and tragically underwhelming plan C. With almost no hope left for success as it was originally envisioned, we were preparing to attack the Seattle sidewalks with concrete cleaner and scrubby brushes. Needless to say, we were a little disheartened.

But then we remembered that a client’s expectations were on the line and that settling for anything less than our most valiant effort at carrying out this task as it was meant to be done, would be unacceptable. So with a renewed vigor and a rekindled sense of hope, we set out on a cold Friday morning with a gas-powered pressure washer, 100 feet of hose, and a particle board mustache stencil. We had no idea where our water was coming from or if the sidewalks would be dirty enough to leave a discernable design, but we were determined to make it work.

What followed was an aligning of the stars that defied logic and led to, believe it or not, a successful reverse graffiti campaign. After procuring a water cover access key (keep that on the down-low), we fanned out across Seattle and cleaned our Mustachioed message into the city sidewalks. The result was a beautiful thing. We ended the day cold and tired, but satisfied with the results and excited to share the news of our success with our client.

Application

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at Nov 30, 11.53.57 AM

RG Done

We had managed to squeak out a “win”, but our success was based more on good fortune than efficient preparation and experience. And despite things coming together, our journey had taught us a valuable lesson about committing to an untested service, at the risk of letting down a client. Had we been more prepared, we could have saved many hours of work and prevented a few headaches, both literal and proverbial. We had experienced success, but were dangerously close to failure, and when our reputation is on the line, this should not be the case. Luckily for us, lesson learned.

One Small Click for Man, One Giant Leap for…LinkedIn

Well, it took over 9,000 impressions, but SUM has finally received its first click on a LinkedIn ad! If you’re just joining us, I’m referring to the month-long saga that I wrote about here. Needless to say, we’re relieved that something has finally come from all of our efforts. 

So what made the difference? Well, we think it’s a couple of things. We were actually encouraged by one of our readers, Ellyce, to contact an account rep at LinkedIn to make sure there wasn’t anything technically wrong with our campaign. Thinking this to be an excellent suggestion, I reached out to the LinkedIn Customer Experience Team and led them through the experience we had been having with their ad service. I received a very prompt reply from an account representative named Julien, who was extremely friendly and helpful.

He began by offering up an apology for the experience we were having thus far (even though he knew LinkedIn hadn’t really done anything wrong) and continued by confirming that there wasn’t anything wrong with the campaign on the technical side. Obviously this was both relieving and disheartening.

He then offered up several suggestions for how we could improve our campaign. A lot of the ideas were slightly more detailed explanations of the LinkedIn advertising best practices that we had already found on their website, but he also provided some information that, in my opinion, proved to be the difference in the campaign, moving forward.

He let me know that, while our $2.13 bid per click was within LinkedIn’s suggested price range for the group we were targeting, it was at the lowest end of the spectrum and was affecting how many impressions we were receiving. He said that by increasing our bid by just a little, we would win more impressions on users’ profiles and should, therefore, receive more clicks. This suggestion seemed to once again confirm that online advertising is about playing the numbers and that more impressions will usually lead to more clicks.

So I took his advice and moved my bid up to $3.00 per click. Our impressions almost tripled within less than a week and we received our first click as a result. And the ad that did it? Believe it or not, it was the cat!

Cat Ad

Just goes to show that sometimes an out-of-the-box approach is required to grab attention on the internet.

And while a 0.019% Click Through Rate is still pretty atrocious, we are encouraged and content. After all, this is an experiment that we’re conducting for free with a $50 LinkedIn advertising credit, so the knowledge that we’re gaining more than makes up for a pitiful CTR.

Many thanks to Ellyce for suggesting we contact someone at LinkedIn and also to Julien for responding quickly and courteously, and for shedding a little light on the ins and outs of LinkedIn advertising.

Have any LinkedIn stories of your own? What do you like/dislike about this social giant? As always, let me know in the comments section!

LinkedIn is Playing Catch-up, But New Company Pages Might be the Answer

Linkedinblogpost-01

LinkedIn – referred to by some (us) as the boring little brother of Facebook and Twitter – has just gotten a little more interesting. They have rolled out a new set of features for their company pages and while they seemed to be a little behind the eight ball in the past, we think this launch just helped them make up a lot of ground.

The improvements are listed in the promotional email we received as follows:

  • Large brand image
  • Streamline design
  • Greater prominence for status updates
  • Featured posts

The email also mentions that the new and improved company pages now appear on LinkeIn’s mobile and iPad apps. Definitely a plus for enterprises using the site.

It seems like just yesterday I was writing a very similar blog post about Twitter. After Facebook and Google+ launched cover photo functionality for companies, the other two social giants weren’t far behind. But LinkedIn is hoping that the extra bells and whistles will attract even more companies to the site and increase traffic, which will hopefully increase their ad revenue.

Our first impression of the new company pages is a good one. They have a sleek look and the new cover photo, which they refer to as a “large branded image”, doesn’t overpower you when you arrive on the page. And as a company page administrator, you are easily able to share articles or post updates, right when you log in. Here’s what our company page now looks like after updating our page. 

SUM Page

Interested in which companies are on top of their social media presence, we started perusing LinkedIn, looking for companies that have already updated their pages. Here’s a screen shot of Dell’s new company page.

Dell Cover

Compare Dell’s page to Sony’s, who is obviously a little slower on the uptake. 

4

Most companies’ pages still look like Sony’s. Compared to the sparkly, new pages of some of the companies that have already made the switch, they look a little drab…nothing new on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn claims that their newer page design better highlights the products and careers sections of a company’s profile. The site allows you to either list out your products/services or add multiple customized product photos that can be scrolled through after clicking on the “Products” tab on a company’s page. Only a few companies received a sneak peak and were allowed to make these adjustments early. Dell was one of those companies and made use of the scrolling image option (see below).

Dell Products 1

Dell Products 2

And while Sony was not let into the club early, they haven’t even take the time to list their products under the old layout. Tisk, tisk.

Sony Products

The LinkedIn update is definitely a positive one and a step in the right direction. Companies have been using Facebook to interact with customers for a long time now, but some Business-to-Business companies are still wondering if setting up and maintaining a Facebook page is worth it. They see value in connecting with people, but the CFO’s niece isn’t going to buy a million dollar airplane part. These new LinkedIn pages offer the branding opportunity that Facebook offers, but in a much more professional setting. This could be exactly what the social network needs to take the next step towards even more daily use. Well done, LinkedIn. We approve.

To give you a head-start on your new LinkedIn company page image, the dimensions are 646 x 220 pixels. And if you have any thoughts on LinkedIn’s new strategy for business customers, let us know in the comments section!

LinkedIn Ads: Are They Worth Paying For?

SUM was recently offered a $50 advertising credit for LinkedIn and, eager to increase our presence on the most popular business networking site on the planet, we decided to give it a shot. We have managed multiple ad campaigns using both Google Adwords and Facebook, but we had yet to try LinkedIn and were very interested in how their performance would stack up. 

The Good

Seemingly, LinkedIn has a lot going for it in the way of advertising; especially if you are selling less traditional, business-to-business products or services. The advertising platform gives you complete control over which users and companies see your ads. You can show different ads to different demographics by adjusting the filters, shown below.

LinkedIn1

Each category can be broken down by multiple factors, giving you a huge number of target combinations.

LinkedIn2

Also, the pricing is customizable and fairly reasonable. LinkedIn offers both CPC (Cost Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Impression) ads, meaning you can choose to pay for only the ads that are clicked on or pay for every ad that appears on someone’s profile, in batches of 1,000. While there is always disagreement about which model is best, we have had good experiences with CPC using Google and Facebook, so we opted for that strategy. We are currently paying $2.13/click, definitely within the industry standard.

The Bad

The results of our campaign, I’m afraid, are quite grim. When using the CPC model, the metric of success discussed most often is the CTR or “Click Through Rate.” This rate is calculated by dividing the number of clicks your ad receives by the number of impressions your ad generated. For example, if your ad was viewed 1,000 times and was clicked on 10 times out of that 1000 views, your CTR would be 10/1000, or 1%. This seems low, but for some Google campaigns where ads are viewed thousands or millions of times per day, a 1% CTR can really add up. 

There is some variation when it comes to the average CTRs of Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but generally Google comes in first with a CTR of around 0.4%, Facebook is second with a CTR of 0.051%, and LinkedIn is last with a CTR of 0.025%. The internet average CTR is 0.1%, so Google is really the only player performing consistently better than the average internet ad. Now, there is a lot of variation based on the type of ad, the target market, and many other factors, so these are just high-level averages. 

Here’s the bad news: Currently, our LinkedIn campaign has a CTR of 0.00%. Yep, you read that right – ZERO percent. And of course, the argument could be made that we don’t have a compelling offer or our images aren’t interesting enough, but we did A/B testing with various images and copy to counter this. We also researched LinkedIn advertising best practices before launching our campaign. As the weeks went by and the clicks remained absent, we adjusted our copy and our images in hopes of grabbing someone’s attention, but to no avail. The evolution of our ads is included below. As you can see, towards the end, desperate times called for desperate measures.

We started with simple and informative ads to establish a baseline measurement.

LinkedIn3

LinkedIn4

After a few weeks, we didn’t have any clicks so we went to plan B. A few LinkedIn gurus suggested posing a question in the headline. So we tried that…didn’t work.

LinkedIn5

After about a month, it got downright silly.

LinkedIn6

So after one month, our ads had generated more than 5,600 ad impressions and not a single person had clicked on one. After letting those numbers sink in and giving it some thought, I have 3 possible conclusions:

  1. We are actually terrible at marketing.
  2. There is something wrong with the functionality of the campaign (i.e. links are broken, measurement isn’t working, etc.)
  3. LinkedIn is horribly underperforming and, fundamentally, not a good advertising platform.

For the sake of our business and our egos, I’m going to dismiss number 1 immediately. Not because we are God’s gift to marketing or anything, but because we have had very positive marketing results with both Google and Facebook ad campaigns in the past. Number 2 is definitely a possibility, but impressions seem to be reported accurately and reliably and we have checked the links again and again and they never fail to open. If it were a technical issue, it would be a bizarre fluke and I would hope their tech or advertisement departments would have caught the mistake by now. Which brings me to number 3 and my estimation of why LinkedIn is failing so miserably. 

The Diagnosis

One of the fundamentals in marketing is evaluating a target’s buying mood. If I sold health insurance policies, I wouldn’t stand outside a grocery store to promote my business. Do the people shopping need health insurance? Sure. But there’s no way that I’m going to convince someone to purchase a policy from me if they’re just dashing into the store for a gallon of milk. They are not in the right buying mood, even if they are my exact target customer.

This is what I think is happening with LinkedIn. People turn to Google for answers and information. If they are actively seeking a solution that your business provides, they type their keywords into the search box, which triggers your ad and…presto! They click on your ad and you’re in business. People are in the mood to be sold to, so they are more likely to click on ads that appear. And while Facebook cannot replicate this model, they are able to rely heavily on testimonial marketing, so their ads are relatively successful. 

Unfortunately for LinkedIn, their website does not fundamentally work with either of these marketing methodologies and I believe this is why they’re falling behind when it comes to CTR. When users are on LinkedIn, they are interested in checking up on colleagues or updating their professional information. Often times they have a purpose or directive when on the site and it rarely involves buying anything. If they are looking for solutions, chances are they’re scoping out potential people to hire, rather than paying attention to the ads that pop up on their page, even if they are relevant to their company’s needs. They are not in the right buying mood.

Prognosis

Luckily for us, we didn’t have to pay for any of this. If we had been paying, I would be getting in touch with an account manager at LinkedIn instead of blogging about it. But because we’re conducting this experiment for free, it has actually yielded a lot of value…just not the kind of value we were looking for when we set out. What this month of testing has done is help confirm our suspicions about online advertising:

  1. Online advertising is a total numbers game. In order to reach any significant number of people, you have to be making hundreds of thousands of impressions a month.
  2. If you are going to pursue an online campaign (which we are not in any way advising against), there are definitely some rules you should follow, but a lot of success involves trial and error. 
  3. The best in the game is still Google, but there’s definitely room for Facebook, depending on the product.
  4. LinkedIn is not a site that gets the buying juices flowing, so we think your time on the site will be better spent posting relevant articles and cultivating long-term relationships with colleagues and industry leaders.

So is LinkedIn worth paying for? Well, it depends. If you use the CPC method, you only pay when you actually receive clicks, so you don’t lose anything if your campaign fails, other than your time.

If you are still keen on trying LinkedIn advertising, start with a few ads and monitor how it goes. We would recommend never paying by impressions because LinkedIn just doesn’t seem to get users in the buying mood, so you’ll probably end up wasting money on impressions that don’t actually leave much of an impression at all. LinkedIn is a great tool for many things but this experience has shown us that directly advertising to customers may not be one of them.

We’ll keep trying different combinations of images and copy and if things turn around, I’ll be sure to let you know. If anyone has had more luck with LinkedIn advertising, we’d love to hear about it! Write about your story in the comments section below and let’s get the dialogue going!

 

 

 

 

 

Myspace: They’re Bringing Sexy Back (Yeah)

Myspace owners Chris and Tim Vanderhook, along with Justin Timberlake, have debuted a preview of the new and improved Myspace.com and, to be honest, I’m actually quite impressed. They’ve essentially taken components of what has made several other social media giants successful (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest), and combined them in a slick, new layout that stays true to its original purpose: uniting artists and fans around their love of music. 

Header

 

Style Revamp

The first thing that struck me is the overhaul to the basics: background, coloring, typography, etc. The new look is polished, modern, and makes great use of negative space and differences in font size. By letting users customize their original Myspace pages, the site became an amalgamation of obnoxious color combinations and graphics, and it lacked brand consistency. It seems as though they’re moving away from this overuse of customization and, instead, offering users an interface they can all be content with. My first impression left me wondering “Why didn’t they do this sooner?”.

Profile Setup2

 Profile

 

Back to Basics

Myspace has helped launch the careers of many musicians and while a lot of the original users jumped ship when Facebook became popular, the core set of diehard musicians and their fans have stuck with the original social network and are about to be rewarded handsomely with a beautiful, new website. As a nod to its heritage and loyal users, Myspace has improved many aspects of its music-centered features and, again, updated everything with their new look. The preview shows a feature called “Mixes” – much like Facebook’s “Albums” –  that allows users to share photos and event information, all centered around playlists they’ve built. On the flip side, musicians are able to track fan activity and information relevant to their music in a new overview section of their fan info page. Justin Timberlake, an investor in Myspace, is featured heavily throughout the walkthrough and appears to be the celebrity face of the new publicity push. 

Mixes

Fan Map

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The Stream

If Pinterest and Facebook’s Timeline had a baby, it would look like “The Stream”. It’s a collection of posts from your friends and artists you follow, but it’s presented in a very visual way, much like Pinterest. The Stream scrolls across the page horizontally, making for a unique user experience, but one that has yet to be tested en masse.

The Stream

 

Tweet That

And as if not to leave out Twitter, Myspace has incorporated trending topics and 140-character updates into their new site. The “Trending” feature is also presented in a Pinterest-like manner and it definitely captures your attention. And following the rest of their styling changes, their 140-character updates are bold and make use of interesting typography.

Trending140 Characters 

To SUM It Up

To say Myspace got a makeover is an understatement. You can tell they’ve been spending a lot of time collecting the best looks and features from their competition and are rolling it out in a new and exciting way, but one that stays true to their musical background. Who knows if they can be a contender once again…but they’re definitely on the right track.

New Myspace

To preview the new Myspace, click here

Twitter Adds Custom Header Images #CoverPhotosMuch?

In a move towards even more customization, Twitter has rolled out the ability to create and upload what they’re calling “header images” to your profile. Bigger than profile pictures, but smaller than Facebook’s cover photos, the new header image lets users and companies add a little extra flair to their profile page, on top of the already customizable Twitter background.

But in an interesting twist, Twitter has decided to layer your info and your profile picture on top of your header image, presumably in hopes that users will create customized header images that incorporate the profile picture into the image (see below).

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Now, this is not a new concept. Facebook users have been cleverly blending profile pictures and cover photos since they rolled out the new Timeline layout, but Twitter is the first social giant to plant a flag and design a feature around this idea. It seems as though Twitter’s less graphically inclined users might get a little frustrated with having to take the time to create this customized image combination if they want to have a header image, which could land Twitter in a perpetual state of limbo – where some users have embraced the new header image, and many others have not. As of right now, if you don’t choose to have a header image, your profile appears as you’re used to. This way, only users who see value in creating a custom image that works nicely with their profile picture will be the ones with the new feature.

At best, the new header images will offer a creative outlet for Twitter’s users and add another point of interest while checking out someone’s profile page. At worst, they have just created an aesthetic fissure on their site between those willing to take the time to play along and those that are not. While this might be a little overdramatic, it’s one step towards the mess that Myspace found themselves in, due to over-customization and a decentralized look (stay tuned, more on that tomorrow!).

If you’re interested in creating your own header image, here’s a link to a blog post that takes you through the steps. If you want SUM to whip you up something fancy, send us an email at info@sumseattle.com

Social Media – Let’s Cut to the Chase

WebLet’s face it – what started out as an exciting new platform for engaging potential customers, has become a sometimes shallow, polluted environment of over-sharing and “me, me, me” attitudes. I’m talking, of course, about social media.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think (when used properly) sites like Twitter and Facebook can have a profound effect on startups and small businesses and can allow you to develop relationships with people you would have had a difficult time connecting with several years ago. But the focus has shifted from using these tools in meaningful and effective ways, to merely signing up and running a half-hearted campaign with no real idea of what we’re doing and why. Enough is enough.

Below is a list of some of the most popular social media sites and a rundown of what they are designed to do and what impact they may have on your business.

 

Facebook: Perhaps the king of social sites, it’s hard to overlook Facebook. Having signed up for my profile when Facebook still required a college email address to do so, I’m quite familiar with this behemoth of a social site. In addition to being a good way to communicate with and receive feedback from customers and partners, Facebook has become a standard of legitimacy for most businesses. Are there exceptions? Sure. If you have absolutely no consumer-facing products or services and you work exclusively with one major company or client, then you can probably go without. But everyone else should have a profile for their business.

The cover photo provides an excellent opportunity to show off your branding and the enormous user-base makes it a great choice for large-scale messaging campaigns. But be careful; the sheer volume of users can also make it difficult for you to connect with the RIGHT people and you can end up putting in a lot of time and getting out little value.

Twitter: Twitter can be tricky. It is more about giving than receiving and building a large group of followers can take a lot of time. I try to use the 80/20 rule. 80% of things you tweet about should be adding value (sharing an article or interesting thought) and be related to your core competency. 20% can be slightly personal or humorous. By providing good info, rather than adding to the clutter, you will build loyal followers that are likely to retweet you and actually pay attention to the rare tweets that promote your business.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is made up of professionals from all over the world and is geared towards business networking and professional relationship building. This is not the place to constantly post about your latest product and doing so can irritate your peers and damage your reputation. LinkedIn is more of a “rainy day” social site. It is a virtual rolodex, of sorts, and it creates value by allowing you to stay in touch with and meet new contacts that could be key for your business some day. It’s not about the here and now, but rather about building a solid set of online contacts, facilitating industry discussions, and keeping apprised of relevant topics, as well as being an excellent tool when hiring for your business.

Google+: Google+ is relatively new to the scene, but it has grown quickly. With more than 100 million users, it’s definitely worth considering. Unfortunately, many consider its interface to be confusing and less than aesthetically pleasing. I tend to agree, but I have also discovered some inherent value there that may be worth tapping into. You can use the “Circles” feature to disseminate information to a targeted demographic, rather than blasting the information to all of your followers. Share things that may only be relevant to your local customers with your “Local Circle”. This gets your message to the right eyeballs, easier. Google is also starting to use their “G+” feature to help rank websites on their search pages. Websites with a lot of “plusses” (similar to “Likes” on Facebook) will start to show up higher on search results pages than their competitors. This feature should not be ignored.

Instagram: Instagram is a photo sharing app for Android and iPhone that was recently purchased by Facebook for a cool billion dollars. And with Facebook behind them now, it’s no longer a “hipster-only” affair and it’s worth paying attention to. If you have an exciting office space or do a lot of on-site work where photo opportunities are abundant, Instagram is a great way to show your followers a more personal side to your business.

Pinterest: Pinterest is a photo curating site that has been receiving a lot of press recently. Anyone can sign up and surf millions of pictures, looking for inspiration, a laugh, or just something interesting. Businesses have been signing up by the boat-loads and many are left wondering how to extract value from the site. If you have products that are visually appealing or very consumer-facing, Pinterest can be a good opportunity to get your work out there. But if you do B2B consulting or work mostly in the virtual realm, Pinterest might be a waste of time. Time is the most precious commodity in the startup world, so don’t feel the need to sign up, just because it’s the new, hip thing.

 

To sum it up, social media is a two-edged sword. These sites can be invaluable tools for connecting with customers and promoting your company, but they can also trap you in a time-sucking vortex of updating, posting, and sharing. The key is to choose the right websites for your business, outline specific goals for your social media presence, and post in a way that adds to the whole and elicits interactions.

So spend time thinking about what you want to get out of this experience and what you can offer others. When in doubt, default to a “less is more” mentality and be patient. The old idiom “It is better to give than to receive” should be your mantra every time you log into your accounts. So choose right, manage your time, and above all – have fun!

 

For more info on social media and how it can be customized to help your business, contact info@sumseattle.com and ask us about our social media offering.