Tagged: social media

Will Social Media Kill the Marketing Industry? Spoiler Alert: No

ArmedTwitterI recently read an article on PolicyMic titled “Can Social Media Totally Kill the Marketing Industry?” and it got me thinking about the future of advertising. Apparently, PolicyMic is a “democratic online news platform,” which I have rather pessimistically interpreted to mean PolicyMic is a site where articles are written by people who want to share their opinions, as opposed to by people who actually have authority on the subject matter. This particular post was written by Cole Johnson, who raises an interesting question, but doesn’t really go on to answer it. He seems to imply that social media will undermine traditional marketing efforts and institutions, but never makes an argument as to why. In fact, Cole’s article actually ends up focusing more on the role technology plays in our world and how its use is influenced by age and other factors, but I’d like to discuss the question raised in the title.

Cole seems to suggest that because social media has been used by many companies – both large and small – to effectively market products and services, we’re on the road to the eradication of today’s marketing industry. And while I agree that we’ve seen a tremendous shift in the advertising industry over the last 5 years, I’m quite sure that the industry itself isn’t going anywhere. While the method of delivering advertisements and product information to consumers has changed considerably, there will always be a need for very creative and well-trained individuals who can create the images and copy to convey that information. Unfortunately, many companies have found out the hard way that putting a random employee in charge of the company Twitter account because they’re “good with computers” can be a pretty terrible idea. It’s not enough to sign up for a bunch of social accounts and start Tweeting about your products and services. There’s an art to crafting compelling messages and balancing self-promotion with providing value to your followers through the content you publish. This is the art of marketing.

In my opinion, social media has actually made the role of the marketer even more important. It’s like auto racing. The car is a piece of technology that the vast majority of Americans feel comfortable operating. Cars are part of our culture and driving one is something we often take for granted because we’ve been doing it for so long. So how come we’re not all trying our hand at the NASCAR circuit? We can all drive a car, right? If feeling comfortable with something and knowing how to operate it was the only requirement, then I should be the next Jeff Gordon. Much to my dismay, this will never be the case because a basic understanding and level of comfort with a piece of technology does not mean you are going to be good at using it. The use of social media at the highest level follows suit. Just because some employee signed up for Facebook in 2007, it doesn’t mean he or she is qualified to operate a Fortune 500 company’s Facebook Page. Just like with NASCAR, the creme of digital marketing rises to the top and they are the ones steering multi-million dollar social campaigns.

The stakes are so much higher now that social media has changed the game. If you released an offensive TV commercial in the 80s, you could pull the plug as soon as the calls started coming in and that would pretty much be the end of it. There might be some word-of-mouth damage done, but it would be relatively containable. These days, one errant Facebook post or rash Tweet in the heat of the moment can spell disaster for a brand’s reputation. Screenshots will be taken and the damage will spread like wildfire. Brands have spent months cleaning up 140 character messes made in a matter of seconds. The burden of creating a measurable ROI and not screwing things up in the process falls squarely on the shoulders of the marketing team or agency. And just because social media is at the fingertips of anyone who wants it, that doesn’t mean just anyone can use it to effectively sell goods or market a brand.

So is social media going to kill the marketing industry? In my mind, the definitive answer is “no.” If anything, social media is actually creating more opportunities for boutique firms like ours. As long as there are products and services to be sold, there will be a profession for people who excel at marketing these goods. The medium used to relate the information will definitely change over time, as we’ve seen with the introduction of social media, but the marketing industry is here to stay.

How has social media affected the way you market your business or are marketed to? Let me know in the comments!

Facebook Rule Change: Text is Coming to More Photos Near You

facebook-word-cloudFor those of you who manage a Facebook page for a business or organization, you may be interested in a recent change Facebook made to its promotional photo policy. The rule change involves the use of text in certain promoted content, including:

  • Promoted Page posts
  • Offers
  • App install ads
  • Cover photo of your page
  • Other ad or sponsored story with placement in News Feed

The change will be a welcome one for many businesses wanting to include a call to action in their cover photos or sponsored ads. The loosening of the overlaid text restriction is a step towards a freer and more creative Facebook for businesses and organizations, but before you run off and turn your cover photo into an alphabet soup of offers and marketing messages, let’s talk about a major stipulation to the new rule. While you can now include text in promoted content, the photos cannot include more than 20% text. Let me explain.

Facebook calculates its percentage-of-photo value by splitting photos – regardless of their size – into a 5×5 grid. Some quick mental math should reveal that this gives you 25 rectangles to work with. Some of you probably further calculated that the 20% text rule leaves you with no more than 5 rectangles in which you can include text. Below are two examples from Facebook’s blog post on the subject.

4percentExample

 

12percentExample

In the first example, you can plainly see that only 1 out of the 25 squares includes text. This means that 4% of that photo includes text – far under the 20% cap. Facebook suggests that the second photo includes text in only 3 out of 25 squares. The text percentage is therefore 12%. The far more interesting thing to note in this example is that they did not count the bottom-left rectangle as including text, despite the fact that this segment clearly includes text. There is no explanation as to why this section was not counted in the calculation, but one might infer it’s due to the amount of text in that box. However, this supposition could be easily challenged by citing the bottom-right segment’s inclusion of a very similar amount of text. Regardless of the reason, the fact that the bottom-left cell was not included in the calculation shows us that there is some flexibility in the new rule.

Below is an example of an unacceptable text-to-photo ratio.

32percentExample

Again, there’s some uncertainty in the guidelines based on the fact that cells B2, D2, B5, and D5 weren’t included in the text percentage calculation, but the photo fails the test either way.

There are some caveats to the new rule that Facebook outlines at the end of its blog post. The 20% text policy does not apply to portions of photos where products are depicted and happen to include text as a part of the physical product (e.g. packaging or label text). So if Coke has a giant can on its Cover Photo, any text on the physical can doesn’t count towards the 20%. This is great news for businesses that sell physical goods. However, Facebook stipulates that photoshopping text onto pictures of physical products to take advantage of the aforementioned caveat will not be allowed. They also remind businesses that this 20% limit only applies to ads and sponsored stories that appear in people’s News Feeds. Unpromoted photos you post can include any amount of text, as always.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, many new opportunities for businesses and organizations come with this rule change. And the change itself points to Facebook’s continued mission to create value for businesses. After all, they’re the ones keeping the lights on.

Are you excited about the prospect of including text in promoted content, or do you fear a continued cluttering of your News Feed? Let me know!

Helpful Hint of the Day? Sign Up for HootSuite

hootsuite-logo-200x200Just a quick post today about a social media management tool that we’ve found to be extremely helpful for managing the myriad of social media accounts on behalf of clients. The tool is called HootSuite and as far as social media management tools go, we think it’s top dog.

If you’re a small business or even a social media maven that manages multiple personal accounts, this web tool will make your life about a million times easier. With an intuitive dashboard and features like link shortening and post scheduling, it’s the perfect blend of simplicity and power. They also have a GREAT iPhone app that makes managing your social presence on the go even easier.

After you’ve signed up, you’ll be able to link social media accounts that you manage to HootSuite. The simplistic design makes for a very seamless linking process. Just click “Add a Social Network” to get started.

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After you’ve connected a few accounts, use the navigation toolbar on the left to move from feature to feature.

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Clicking on “Streams” will bring up the page that you will see every time you launch HootSuite. This is your main dashboard and where you will manage your accounts.

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The social media accounts that you manage are represented towards the top as tabs. The vertical columns that comprise a majority of the screen are called “Streams”. Essentially, Streams are just dynamic feeds of information from the social media accounts you’re managing, like @mentions, direct messages, news feeds, and more. Selecting “Add Stream” on a particular tab will bring up a small window that lists the types of streams you can add, depending on the type of social media account contained in that tab (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.).

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Once you get a few Streams added for each account, you can begin exploring all of the features HootSuite has to offer. Compose a status update or Tweet for any of your accounts, right from the ever-present “Compose Message…” field towards the top of the dashboard.

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The icons to the right of the input field allow you to attach an image, add your location, or even schedule the message to post at a later time or date. For you Twitter users, you can shorten links from here as well. Using this feature will allow you to track the number of people who have clicked on a particular link in the analytics page of HootSuite – a very useful feature, especially if you’re using HootSuite for business.

I can’t tell you how much easier life has gotten since signing up for this service. Being able to see all of our clients’ social interactions from one dashboard has been invaluable and has cut down our management time significantly. And even though this was just a quick run-through of the basic features HootSuite has to offer, I hope it has enticed you to sign up and start exploring what this powerful tool can do. The basic version is free and will allow you to do everything I mentioned above and more. HootSuite Pro is only $9.99/month and gives you access to pretty much every feature you’d want in a social management tool.

So whether you’re a growing business that’s looking for a way to simply manage your various social media accounts, or just a social media enthusiast that’s tired of logging into 5 different accounts throughout the day to manage your social life, HootSuite’s probably the solution for you. Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

5 Tips When Using Twitter for Business

TwitterforBizAs we have seen many times, using Twitter for your business can be a very useful tool or a headache waiting to happen. But rather than focusing on all the ways Twitter can sink your ship, I’d like to discuss 5 Twitter strategies you can begin using right now to increase your ROIoT (Return On Investment of Time).

1. Recalibrate your expectations

If you run a B2B company and you’re launching a new social media initiative in hopes of attracting 10,000 new followers during your two-week campaign, you’re most likely in for a world of disappointment. Simply put…it jus’ don’t work that way. Sure, Cinderella stories of a company’s Tweets going viral and skyrocketing their business do exist, but they are extremely rare and almost impossible to contrive. I once heard Twitter described as farming, rather than hunting. I thought this analogy was simple and perfect. Building a following is a slow process that takes time and effort. So whether you’re thinking about signing up or have been Tweeting for a while, make sure your expectations are reasonable.

2. Loosen up

Are you a stuffy person? Does your business have personality? If you had no bias regarding your own products or services, would you find them intriguing or interesting? These are all questions you should think about when developing your Twitter strategy. Successful businesses on Twitter provide value to their users. This can be in the form of sharing compelling news or information, contributing humor, or providing insights into products customers care about. If your business doesn’t have broad consumer appeal and you get too wrapped up in coming across as unprofessional, you might not find a lot of success on Twitter. It’s important to give your business personality or if you’re the CEO, you can even Tweet as yourself on behalf of your business. And when developing your voice, make sure you don’t come across as stuffy. If LinkedIn is your white, starched shirt, Twitter should be your Hawaiian party shirt.

3. Be a giver, not a taker

If the main objective of your Twitter strategy is to generate sales, chances are you won’t be successful. Twitter works best when your main objective is to provide interesting content or perspective, rather than market to a wide audience of potential customers. Generally, we follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of your Tweets should be adding to the general “conversation” and 20% can be about your own products or services. But be careful to never get too salesy. Twitter users will spot rampant self-promotion from a mile away and will unfollow you so fast, it’ll make your head spin. And the truly egregious offenders stand to suffer a fate much worse: being torn to shreds in the Twittersphere by a mob of unimpressed and annoyed users. My condolences, your Twitter presence was just destroyed by a pack of angry micro-bloggers.

4. Use hashtags and create conversations

What’s more accurate, a sniper rifle or a shotgun? Now, without getting into semantics or a gun control debate, let me make my point: spraying scattered bits of information into an extremely large area is not a very effective way to hit your target. When using Twitter, your goal should be to create meaningful interactions with other users. Even if you have good information to share, it’s not enough to type out a 140-character factoid and hit “Tweet.” Use hashtags to help collate your input into relevant conversations and use @replies and mentions to begin a dialogue with specific users. This is a much more precise way to use Twitter and will greatly increase your chances of being retweeted or getting a response from someone and, ultimately, starting a meaningful interaction.

5. Have fun

At the end of the day, Twitter is a pretty fascinating place where a lot of very interesting/funny/exciting/uncomfortable/memorable conversations take place. Have a secret obsession with Kim Kardashian? Follow her. Geek out over anything “NASA?” Follow them and let your nerd flag fly. Make your Twitter presence sustainable by not only following people affiliated with your business or industry, but by keeping tabs on the things that you find fun and that help give your business personality. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal (but not this personal) and to show your followers insights into your business that they can’t get anywhere else. Be yourself (Unless you’re stuffy. In that case, see tip #2) and have fun with this component of your business outreach. There’s definitely a lot to be had.

Have any Twitter tips that have proven useful for you or your business? Share them with me! And if you are interested in a more personal assessment of your Twitter strategy, please contact me at tyler@sumseattle.com.

 

Is Your Website Suffering from COD?

When designing a website, striking a balance between beauty and content can be difficult. As a result, many of the world’s websites currently suffer from Content Overload Disorder. On the one hand, you have SO MUCH TO SAY, but on the other hand, you want your website to be visually pleasing. Turns out, tipping the scales in favor of the latter is most likely to please your viewers.

A new study from the University of Missouri School of Journalism claims that simplicity and photographs are what please our brains most and what, ultimately, increase user engagement. The study focused specifically on online news publications, but has direct implications for all forms of web design.

Being our firm’s copywriter, I tend to be longwinded. Well, it turns out that my loquacity has been working against us. Photos and simplistic design are more likely to hold a user’s attention and drive interaction, not beautifully crafted pros. ;) Our brains are only capable of efficiently processing so much information per second. Overloading the viewer with too much text, color, or design makes it difficult for a brain to process and categorize the information it is receiving. Some web designers realized this before the MU study was published and have been incorporating minimalist design into their portfolios for some time. However, quickly browsing the web will give you enough empirical evidence to conclude that many companies – even extremely popular Fortune 500 companies – have not grasped the concept of “less is more”. Take a look at Amazon’s website.

Amazon

Amazon’s entire sales cycle takes place online. Their web presence is literally the single most important facet of their business and, to me, it always looks like a jumbled mess when I sign on. Granted, I’m willing to put up with the busyness because the convenience of free 2-day shipping is too wonderful to pass up, but I’m always struck with how frenetic everything looks.

On the flip-side, take a look at Apple’s website.

Apple

Apple might be the best example of minimalist design and they’ve been doing it well for a while now. The above screenshot is of their current homepage and it very effectively calls attention to exactly what they want users to notice right now, the iPad mini. You may not be a big Apple fan, but you can’t really argue design with them. It helped build them into the world’s most valuable company in 2012.

Now, what you can argue is that very few companies can afford to be as simplistic in their web design as Apple. Apple has the luxury of owning a household brand name and the knowledge that very few people visiting their website are unaware of what the company does. Many of us are forced to grab someone’s attention and then keep it while explaining or product or service. This can be challenging in a world where the current attention span stands at a paltry 8 seconds. But even so, the MU study and your own experiences as a consumer should tell you that effective messaging is often elegant and simple.

Many large companies are catching on. It seems that Facebook is taking a page out the minimalist’s playbook with the launch of their redesigned Newsfeed. For those of you who haven’t seen the new look, you can take a peek here. What you notice immediately is the use of negative space and the emphasis placed on photos. Facebook realized that most interactions take place around photos and videos and are, therefore, highlighting visual content to drive more engagement. Even their logo has been replaced by the simple “f” icon that often represents them on third party websites. Everything is streamlined.

This shows that even companies with lots of information to share are realizing that less is more when it comes to web design. And if major companies with lots to lose are making the change, shouldn’t small companies with lots to gain make the switch as well?

So ask yourself, “Is my website too cluttered?” When you visit your page, are your eyes drawn to the content you want your viewers to see first? Is there a sufficient use of pictures and negative space? If the answer to these questions is “no”, then a website makeover might be in order. Can you get by with only a few lines of text on your homepage? Experiment with distilling your message down to its most essential points. This exercise may prove fruitful in other areas of your business as well. Streamlining your pitch could mean the difference between piquing someone’s interest or being tuned out.

What are your thoughts on simple web design? Inherently better or just a fad? Let me know in the comments section!

 

Download Vine and Enter the Jungle

urlYet another social media site has taken the web by storm. Vine, Twitter’s newest micro-video sharing platform, allows users to share 6 second looping videos, comprised of smaller video clips. Videos can then be shared via Twitter, Facebook, or your Vine account (where users are encouraged to follow others, much like Twitter). While there are other mini-movie platforms out there, Vine has been able to generate a lot of buzz in the two short weeks it’s been available. As of right now, Vine is only available on Apple devices, but rumors of an Android version coming to market soon are swirling.

We downloaded Vine and started exploring. To be honest, we didn’t really know how much one could do with only 6 seconds to work with. Turns out, you can do a lot.

The interface is actually quite slick. It’s easy enough to connect your Twitter account or sign up via email. As of right now, Vine doesn’t support switching between multiple Twitter accounts. This could be a bummer for users that manage a personal account and a business account.

Once your Vine account is set up, you are led through the process of creating and posting your first Vine. Creating a looping video made out of multiple smaller clips (if desired, you can just record 6 straight seconds of video without taking advantage of the ability to splice together smaller clips) and have the result look half-way decent might be difficult to get the hang of at first. It was for us. But after a little practice, we felt like a couple of Spielbergs and shared our first Vine on Twitter and Facebook.

Here’s some shots of the process involved in creating a Vine:

Photo Feb 08, 11 42 05 AM

One of the features I like most about Vine is how easy they made the process of capturing video. Rather than requiring users to press a small button to start recording (like the native iPhone camera), you can press any part of the screen between the two gray bars. This makes capturing video on the move a lot easier. The rounded rectangular bar at the top lets you know how much time you have left out of your allotted 6 seconds. You start recording by pressing and holding your finger on the screen and stop recording by lifting your finger.

Photo Feb 08, 11 42 14 AM

I held down my finger for a couple seconds and then lifted. The result was a short video clip of my bonsai tree…which is looking a bit sad at the moment. He’s got the winter blues. The partially filled-in bar at the top shows my progress.

Photo Feb 08, 11 42 21 AM

Press your finger a bit longer and it takes another clip. The clips can be as short as it takes you to press down your finger and remove it. I tried to see how many clips I could create (by pressing down and releasing as quickly as possible) and I managed to make a video comprised of 76 smaller clips. With capability like this, people could get very creative and use Vine for stop animation or to create miniature flip books. Very cool.

The green checkmark at the bottom-right signifies that you have taken enough video to allow for an upload. It seems to pop up after you have about 2 seconds-worth of footage. I like that they allow you to upload clips shorter than the full 6 seconds. The flexibility is nice.

Photo Feb 08, 11 42 28 AM

When you are happy with your Vine, you click the checkmark and the “Next” button pops up. At this point, the screen above the button shows the looping video you have created. This allows you to decide whether or not you are happy with your Vine. If not, you can press the “X” in the top-right corner and start over.

Photo Feb 08, 11 42 32 AM

Clicking “Next” adds the Vine to your camera roll and takes you to the page, shown above. This is where you can add your caption, which supports hashtags and @-sign mentions. There doesn’t seem to be a character limit (at least it’s not 140 characters), but keeping the description of your masterpiece short and sweet is advisable if you plan on sharing your Vine on Twitter. You can also choose to share it on Vine’s native social site or Facebook.

As bonsai trees are not particularly interesting to many people other than myself, below you can check out the first Vine SUM shared with the world.

https://twitter.com/sumseattle/status/299958426950320128

So far, we’ve had a lot of fun playing with Vine and we definitely see the opportunity for businesses. Much like the business world’s adoption of Instagram, an app like this allows companies to show a little more of their personalities. The applications of Vine are endless and users are only bound by 6 seconds and their own creativity. All of that being said, there are a few bugs and missing features that should be addressed in version 2.0. Mashable put together a great list of desirable features and we couldn’t agree more.

Because Vine is so new, it’s a bit of a jungle out there. Besides people using the site for lascivious activities, it doesn’t have a firm identity, nor is there a clear understanding of what or how you should post. But where there’s uncertainty, there’s almost always opportunity. So download the app and give it a shot. Let your creativity run wild and I bet you’ll have more fun than you think.

Facebook Graph Search – People Who Like Cantaloupe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Facebook has always been a controversial company. Love it or hate it, chances are you have a profile of your own. The social giant has allowed us to reconnect with old friends, communicate more freely than ever before, and even keep tabs on our exes…if you are so inclined. The point is, Facebook means many different things to many different people – which is why no matter how many times Zuckerberg dangles his toe over the privacy line, his site still manages to add users faster than Honey Boo Boo goes through butter (my apologies in advance).

Joking aside, the Facebook privacy concerns have led users to wonder if Facebook is “out to get them”. The answer is: Maybe…but there’s no consensus. And Facebook’s latest site feature, Graph Search, follows that same pattern. Some consider it to be a boon for users and companies, while others think Graph Search represents the biggest privacy breech yet. I do not have an opinion either way and I’m going to reserve my judgement until I see how it affects both my personal and professional use of the site. Until then, I thought I’d break down some of the things we do know about the new feature and lend some perspective on how I believe it will affect businesses operating on Facebook.

So what is Graph Search? Simply put, it’s a more robust way to search and use Facebook. You can type full phrases into the search bar with multiple search parameters and Facebook pulls out the relevant information and returns more accurate and salient results. This marks a significant departure from the Facebook search functionality we’re used to. Instead of segmenting searches by People, Pages, Groups, Apps, etc., Graph Search allows you to combine search criteria to very specifically target the information you’re looking for.

Below are some screenshots from the Graph Search introduction page on Facebook. They lay out a few examples of possible searches.

Say you’re into cycling and want to connect with others that share that interest…

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You can further refine your search by location…

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You can also search for more obscure things, like photos that were taken in a specific year…

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Or look for TV shows, movies, or music that your friends like…

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And you can also look for restaurants or other businesses that your friends have been to, even in a specific location…

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The demonstration is impressive. Graph Search combines the customization of Google with the personal element of Facebook. And the flexibility allowed by the search parameters is exciting. The experience reminds me of Apple’s Siri feature. You speak to Siri as you would to a personal assistant (perhaps a little less politely) and she picks out the important information and commands. It is a more human way of interfacing with technology and it somehow makes the whole experience more comfortable. If Graph Search works as well as advertised, the result could be a revolutionary way to search the web and could have Google, Yelp, and others shaking in their boots.

But what does all of this mean for businesses? My guess is, businesses are salivating at the thought of Graph Search going live. With more users turning to Facebook to meet their web-search needs, the opportunity for your business page to be seen increases significantly. While demoing Graph Search, Zuckerberg encouraged businesses to continue adding interesting and updated content to their business pages. The richer and more accurate the content, the better his new search feature will perform. And if Graph Search is successful, Facebook will be able to command a higher price for ad space and, eventually, sponsored Graph Search results – a business model very similar to Google, the largest online advertiser in the world.

So who is the winner in all of this? Well, Facebook seems to think it’s everyone. Users get a better, more personalized way to search for information, businesses will have more people driven to their fan pages (based on searches by friends of fans that “like” the business’ page), and Facebook stands to make a ton of money in ad revenue. Believe it or not, if everything goes according to plan, I can see how all parties could benefit. The trick – as it usually is with Facebook – is to make sure that Graph Search minds its manners when it comes to privacy and doesn’t do anything to land on the scrapheap, next to Beacon.

Graph Search is still in Beta, but you can join the waiting list here. What do you think about Facebook’s new search feature? Is the idea tantalizing or alarming? As always, let me know in the comments section below!

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.