Blog : Analytics

Exposure will kill you

exposure will kill you

Serendipity just brought together two great points that will make any social media marketer think.

Electronista wrote about a report signifying a new trend among record labels: opting out of new subscription based services such as Rdio and Spotify. Long story short, a lot of plays is not being correlated with a lot of revenue. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

My friend Paul from Black Lab (a great Indie rock band) recently wrote a post that sums up his arguments as to why the band’s music wouldn’t be available on Spotify. Once again – getting paid is important. Money lets you feed a family and have a roof over your head.

Then I saw a retweet from @FauxMusicSupe (a parody music supervisor account) that summed it all up. In this brave new world, where marketing metrics are indeed shifting, sometimes exposure is getting too much credit. Too much exposure, without actual business goals being achieved might fool you for awhile, but eventually it will kill you. You can’t eat air.

How are you capitalizing on exposure to actually make money?

Keep it simple, but not stupid

People hate complexity. When things get complicated its harder to make decisions, and easier to get frustrated. As an interface designer, your mantra should always be: simplify.

But don’t make it too simple

Have a look at the screenshot above. This is the new Facebook interface for creating events, which has been streamlined from previous versions. They’ve turned the date selection tool into a neat little jquery calendar pop-up, which is a huge improvement.

They’ve also changed the way that users select the time for their event. Simpler to look at than it used to be? Definitely.

Does it help me create and event that starts at 12:15pm? Definitely not.

How to be simple and smart at the same time

Obviously, Facebook has created a problem for me as a user. This is a particularly sticky problem, since events are often created to be used as part of advertising campaigns (using the Event Ad Unit), meaning they have potentially put a barrier between themselves and people willing to give them money… always a bad thing.

Some considerations to keep in mind, to ensure that your interface is simple, but not dumb:

  • Test in advance – As Facebook often does, roll out your new interface to a sample audience in order to get a sense for how it will work in the real world with real data. Segment out 10% of your traffic, show them the new toys. Watch and learn. Consider differences between new users and returning longtime users of social sites.
  • Get Feedback – When you launch a new feature, make a clear “feedback” element on the page – allowing people to let you know where they find spots that might need a bit of tweaking. You’ll often catch the little bugs this way.
  • Use previous data – Maybe this was taken into account, its hard to say. But if you have past records of how the element was used (databases of registrations etc), have a look to see what types of information people are putting in. I’ve created hundreds of events beginning on the quarter hour – and I’m willing to bet others have too.
  • Consider context – Think about events and what goes into creating them. People need to be invited, schedules need to be coordinated, venues need to be booked. The more branches there are in the problem, the more flexible the interface should be for fine tuning. Think you can convince a venue to adopt “Facebook time zones”? Think again.
  • Provide a work-around – Make the most obvious navigation as simple as possible, but if there is potential for wiggle room around it, give more options. A simple option to “customize time” within or next to the select menu would give us the best of both worlds.

Deadlines don’t mean death

We live surrounded by deadlines. Everything has to be done by a certain date and time; packaged up and shipped out the door.

What’s your next action? Cross it off the list and move onto the next thing?

Shipping is important

Seth Godin has hammered the point home in Linchpin. Great artists ship. No matter what your product is, if you don’t get it out the door – no one can use it. It might as well not exist.

Some people get hung up here. Procrastination visits early, indecision settles in midway through, and doubt creeps in towards the end. Deadlines can slide as new features are added and the hopeless quest for perfection turns a great idea into a rusty anchor around your neck.

Perfection is important

If you’re building rocket ships or nuclear power plants. If your job involves crash test dummies, by all means, take your time. We’ll all wait.

If you’re in marketing… lives are not at risk. Give yourself the license to play and be creative. Challenge yourself to always do better.

Deadline doesn’t equal death

Software companies get this. Version one is never the final release. In fact, we’ve become accustomed to a nomenclature that infers progressive improvement. Version 1.0 -> 1.1 -> 1.2 … The dot means “to be continued”.

Think about how many of your deadlines are dictated by antiquated technologies, processes or ideas. How can you think more like a software company… how can your ideas “be continued”.

Your website is in beta

This is the most obvious example. That shiny new website you just rolled out? Slap an imaginary construction-worker graphic (circa 1997) on your pages, because you should always be under construction. Pay attention to analytics, pay attention to user feedback, pay attention to new ideas and test them. Websites are made to iterate.

Avoid last pages and final scenes

In the world of traditional media, there was little opportunity to make changes. Your brochures went to print. Your spot ran during the Super Bowl. Shipped. Over.

Why should a brochure ever end? Are you letting a printing schedule hold you back from telling great stories? Can you really say it all in one 30 second spot?

Think of ways to complement “traditional” media – the kind with hard deadlines and difficult revisions – with your new “to be continued” mentality.

  • Revise digital brochure PDFs even after version 1.0 has gone to print. As long as specs and details are accurate, people are most likely not going to compare and complain about content differences.
  • Add regular email campaigns to continue the storylines you created in your product brochures.
  • Create a channel of videos to either replace or support major video marketing initiatives (think Old Spice)
  • Use applications (iPhone/iPad/Android/Kindle etc) to push the most relevant, new, important, interesting content directly to your consumer, avoiding the deadline death of printing processes altogether

When you infuse iterative culture into the process, deadlines stop signifying the death of a project – they simply become markers from which you can benchmark and measure your evolution.

A nice byproduct of the process is that deadlines might stop threatening to be the death of you as well; unrealistic expectations of perfection are lifted, replaced with the liberating feeling of creativity and endless possibility.

The gold rush of location data

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the utility of mobile location-based social networks. Their growth curves are starting to resemble the early days of Twitter, as early adopters flock to check-in at their favourite spots. Certainly, if SXSW is any indication, and hype is to be believed, 2010 will be a big year for location-based social networking and recommendation.

Much of the focus has centered around why users would participate in location-sharing applications. Foursquare is taking a rankings-based game play strategy. Gowalla is digging into the world of objects, both virtual and physical and how they can interact using location. Yelp is playing with reviews.

Who is going to emerge as the major player in the space? Who knows.

What is very clear though, is that the stakes are high, and the value of this data is immeasurable.

It starts with Analytics

The analytics of tying real world location into a social cloud of data is certainly intriguing. Imagine being a small business owner, interested in who’s coming into your store. You could ask your customers to fill out a card or participate in a loyalty program, or you could simply askFoursquare, who have just announced “real world analytics” to their application, exposing data in a format that businesses care about.

Because these tools all plug into other social APIs (Twitter, Facebook etc), a natural extension of this (privacy issues aside) what if they could show you not only who your most influential customers are, but also where else they hang out, and when they are most likely to be in your neck of the woods.

It ties to in-store conversion

Now this is getting a bit out there, but think of the possibilities. Again, ignore privacy… definitely an issue, but sometimes it gets in the way of creative brainstorming.

Imagine a visitor who stumbles upon your presence online (could be a website, could be facebook…) and interacts with your content from their mobile phone. They decide they want to come to your restaurant. As they walk in, for the first time since paper coupons, visitors are entering your establishment carrying the device with which they interacted with your marketing. What if (big what if), as they checked in on foursquare, APIs connected and your web analytics tool was able to register a physical conversion based on the marketing that they had interacted with.

30% of your foot traffic last week were fans of your facebook page

It goes beyond small businesses

What is one of the first criteria that is discussed when setting up a marketing campaign?

… And an important criteria of targeting is… location.

The advertising networks that we are used to using (Google, Facebook, et al), all use several factors in order to pinpoint your location when targeting ads. Predominantly though, this is done using your IP Address. As I sit here in Kingston, Google knows where I am based on tracing my physical location back to my service provider. Its easy.

Experiment: Try tethering your iPhone to your laptop. Do a few searches on Google. Look at the ads. It all falls apart.

In my case, Google suddenly thinks I’m sitting in Montreal.

Because of the way that mobile carriers distribute IP addresses, location is much more difficult to determine. As 3G proliferates and more people turn to mobile browsing (iPads, netbooks etc are all in play), our location is more difficult to determine; unless we actively tell the system where we are.

Google Buzz, Facebook Location

It makes perfect sense that Google wants you to Buzz your location. It completely adds up that Facebook is getting ready to flip the switch on location. Whatever gaming spin they have to put on it to make it work, is actually sort of irrelevant at this level. Its not about your friends or collecting objects; they are in the business of wanting to know where you are.

Is this a bad thing? Probably not. Privacy will be an issue, but thats what policies are for. Ultimately, this is going to help maintain ads that are more contextually relevant as we’re on the go.

Just don’t be fooled. While you’re busy worrying about who’s going to be the mayor, the major players, startups and venture capitalists are worried about their advertising business – and they’re all competing to be the king.

Letting ideas live and die

Many of us are lucky enough to work in a field where we don’t have to pick up heavy boxes and load them onto trucks for a living. We aren’t plowing fields, we aren’t forging tools out of steel, we aren’t digging ditches. Instead we use our minds and emotions to bring new ideas into the world and build relationships between people.

In many respects, this is a good thing. We don’t end our days with painful shoulders, knees and lower backs. Our hands aren’t cursed with callouses, and for the most part, we rarely break a sweat.

However, working with the mind can introduce its own set of problems. Add in emotions and you’ve got a twist that physical labour rarely needs to contend with.

The farmer has no emotional attachment to a crop that doesn’t grow; that would be a waste of precious space. The swordsmith doesn’t hang onto flawed metal for the sake of preserving art; that would be dangerous. Yet those of us who work with our minds routinely behave recklessly and take great risks because of it. We fall in love with our ideas.

The dangerous allure of ideas

Don’t get me wrong – ideas are wonderful and necessary. The good ones are great and can truly change the world. But not every idea is great.

It’s the ideas that rank as mediocre, average or just plain awful that can break you.

Chasing kites in trees

In a lot of ways, ideas are like kites. You take a bit of time to get them set up, and then you have to set them free. The great ones fly perfectly. They soar and dance in perfect technicolor.

The mediocre ones take some time to get altitude, tending to fly into the ground a few times before you can get a handle on them. Their colours are okay, and you can imagine that if you could just get them a bit higher, they’d spread their wings and take off.

The awful ideas start off in a knot and get worse from there. Once untangled, they are attracted to trees and power lines. They are more work than they are worth, and yet somehow hanging on to the string and trying to make them play nice is irresistible.

The idea fix

We all want our ideas to succeed. That’s why we picked this game: It feels good to conceive a concept and watch it take flight… to point to the sky and say I did that. When the paycheque comes at the end of the month, we measure ourself against our successes.

But recognizing that not every idea is good, how can we capitalize on the good ones while avoiding wasting time on the ones that aren’t worth pursuing?

Be a farmer: Imagine if a farmer planted one seed every season. Think of the pressure of making that one plant grow to be healthy enough to support the family for that season. Farmers don’t do this of course. They plant fields of seeds and they see what works. If a certain crop isn’t working, they move on. Create an environment where you seed your mind with a lot of ideas. The pressure of any single idea being enough to retire on is now gone. Now that the idea drought is over, you’re less likely to fall in love with the first one to come along.

Be a scribe: Get the ideas out of your head as soon as you can. Learn to daydream on paper. I carry a Moleskine Notebook with me everywhere I go. Writing down ideas like this serves several purposes. Not only can you remember it later, but it also forces you to consider it in a more concrete form. If it doesn’t feel as good on paper as it did in your head, then maybe its not the amazing kite you thought it was. Conversely, if one small paragraph or sketch quickly turns into several pages, you might be onto something worth pursuing.

Be a swordsmith: Once you have an idea that has some form to it, like a swordsmith, test it for impurities. What might look incredible in a prototype stage, could have a flaw that contributes to its ultimate weakness. Run your idea past a friend or, better yet, a stranger. They can often contribute the Yeah, but what if… factor that you had never considered. Online, test your ideas using analytics and benchmark against clearly defined goals. Be honest with yourself – is it working or not?

Be a painter, not an artist: An important distinction between those who sling paint. While artists are often the more admired of the two; they invest so much of themselves into their work that they fail to see opportunities to change. A painter, on the other hand, is willing to paint over a wall several times to get a room looking just right. Be objective and avoid investing too much of your self-worth into your creation. You create ideas, you have ideas, but you, yourself, are not your idea..

Be an undertaker: Kill ideas. If something isn’t working, and you’ve given it a chance… kill it. Every day that you avoid this step, you’re wasting time that could be spent on something better. Take pride in your ability to be objective, strategic and productive. Bad ideas are not an endurance sport; no one is waiting for you with a medal at the finish line. With bad ideas, the finish line is failure – so its better to drop out.

Be a scientist: Look at your winning ideas and pick out the traits that made it successful. Dissect the elements that made it stand out from the rest and try to replicate those with your next attempts.

Be a DJ: Keep a collection of old ideas that may not have worked as well as you would have liked. Periodically, dig through your collection and try to remix them. Are there concepts that could play better in other contexts? Has the market changed? Has your product changed?

Do you have strategies that go into separating good ideas from bad ideas? How do you test? When do you know when to quit? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Are you speaking my language?

Think about the last time you met a great sales person.  How about the last great public speaker you saw… or a memorable conversation that left you engaged for hours later.  Everyone can pinpoint a few of these individuals; people who can get their message across in a way that conveys meaning and imagery extending infinitely deeper than the individual words they chose to use.  


Case in point I had the pleasure of seeing some excellent speakers yesterday (Seth Godin, Mitch Joel and Dan Heath). Their messages stay with me, and yet I can’t remember a single individual word they said. I’m left inspired and thinking about big ideas; not because they flashed a sophisticated vocabulary, or read from a perfectly crafted script (or overly produced powerpoint slides) – but rather they conveyed trust, authenticity and incredible value based on their ability to communicate.

It’s not just speaking

Certainly, public speaking is a venue where establishing trust and hooking into an audience through authentic communication is necessary for a message to be properly delivered. The same is true of delivering any sort of presentation or inspiring a team of co-workers or employees in a meeting. Having a message that makes sense and resonates at a human level is infinitely more important than using insider jargon and fluffy business metaphors.

But this concept extends well beyond speaking, and weaves its way through any marketing material that uses language to convey meaning.

It’s always tempting to craft artful prose in a style that convincingly and unequivocally establishes the justification, not simply for the mere existence of the incredible product or undeniable service that your firm delivers, but, as well, for the sheer brilliance of your offering that renders it a life changing and truly universe altering experience.


Or you can write things that make sense.

Take your audience into account

You may have all afternoon to slave over your web or brochure copy, and weeks to tweak, modify, proofread and publish. You might have the budget to trademark your fancy acronyms and establish funny names for your service to differentiate it from your competitors.

Your audience has a few seconds to find you… while cradling a phone to their ear, listening to regrettable hold music, organizing how to get their kid to soccer practice, and figuring out what they’re going to eat for lunch.

As your potential audience punches their question into a search engine, ask yourself – will they be searching for aspirational, life-changing copy – or are they searching for what they need… your stuff, in common language. Do they want your product to be differentiated using your fancy, made up names… or are they comparison shopping between several vendors, looking for similar specs to make an informed purchasing decision?

If they find your information, will they be able to quickly understand it. Can your flowery prose be broken down into quickly digestible chunks of information? What is the average reading level of your customer base? Not sure? The American average level has been reported as being as low as 7th-8th grade.

Remember, what you think sounds amazing and undeniable, might simply be confusing and unintelligible to the world that lives outside of your marketing fishbowl. The video below says it all – are you communicating, or simply making stuff that sounds good?

Facebook Events: A Double-Edged Sword

The promise of Facebook is simple – find the people you know. For marketers, its equally simple – find the people you want to know. With now more than 200 million members, each one offering multiple demographic data points, capable of being segmented and targeted with laser precision; Facebook would appear to have all of the pieces in place to live up to that promise.

Facebook is a billboard, not a cash register

At the risk of being blasphemous, there is more to the world than Facebook. For the majority of businesses, the ultimate conversion event rarely takes place on Facebook. Like all social media platforms, it is best used as a touch point along the way to the sale.

However, the marketing ecosystem that has been established (probably equally as a result of corporate intention and user behaviour), is designed to function best when completed within Facebook, with less opportunity to convert in the real world.

An example: Facebook Events

In many industries, especially higher education where I spend a lot of my focus, informational meetings are a major part of the marketing funnel. These could be in-person sessions, webinars, or conference calls; any event that requires a collection of people together in the same place at the same time.

Finding relevant and interested individuals to attend your meeting is always a challenge. The demographic targeting inherent in the Facebook architecture is very well suited for this purpose. Users that match your demographic targeting will be presented with an ad unit, allowing your prospects to easily confirm their interest in your event.

As Facebook will tell you, these event ads have a much higher engagement rate than a standard ad that simply clicks out to your standard web site or landing page.

Beyond engagement… what about conversion?

Users have indicated their interest in your event by clicking “RSVP” or “Maybe”. What happens next? Your job as a marketer isn’t to get Facebook RSVPs… you are paid to get butts in seats. Whether its online or in person, how do you ensure that your newfound engaged prospects actually show up?

If you’re accustomed to working within a sales function. your mind at this point shifts to taking these individuals who have expressed an interest and getting them further into your sales funnel; transforming their initial interest into a relationship with your company. Unfortunately, it is at this place where the experience for marketers begins to fall apart.

Understanding the limitations

At first glance, you might think that your next step is easy. Deliver a reminder to each of these people; send them a message, introduce yourself, offer to answer any further questions they might have. That would be great… with one problem. You can’t.

Notice what’s missing in this image? “Send a message to all attendees”. Because your event page was created by a “page” (aka: a corporate account creating a marketing event), rather than a “profile” (a person creating their birthday party), the ability to bulk message all individuals is not available.

Time to get more creative.

Understanding the user experience

When you presented your ad to your interested users, the fancy “event ad unit” gave them the ability to RSVP directly on the ad without interrupting their Facebook experience. They saw, they clicked, they kept on going. The reality is that the majority of these individuals did so without ever reading your event page. Your event was added to their Facebook calendar, and they didn’t give you a second thought.

Time to get more strategic.

The alchemy of turning RSVPs into conversions

Combining the knowledge of how Facebook limits your ability to communicate with users and the behaviour of the users interacting with your ads, the strategy behind creating and marketing events pages is different than you may have once thought.

Here are some steps to achieving more success:

  • Make sure your ad sells: With the event ad unit, a large percentage of your targeted users will make their choice about whether or not to attend without clicking through to read your event page. Make good use of your headline, ad copy and image in order to entice the click of RSVP or Maybe.
  • Consider your timing: Understanding that many users are interacting with your ad, adding your even to a calendar and then forgetting about it, experiment with the timing of your ad campaigns to find the optimal time to find enough interested individuals but also ensure that your event is still on top of mind when the reminder message appears in their Facebook calendar.
  • Instructions rather than Description: On your event page, Facebook provides you with an area in which you can describe your event. Understanding that many users may be seeing this page for the first time on the day before the event, after having RSVP’d through the ad unit, consider using the description field to be more implicit with event day instructions. Minimize marketing copy here and make your desires clear. Want me to pre-register online? Need me to call a number? Make that very clear using this space.
  • Hack the image: In the top right corner of your event page, you are given an area to upload a photo. Rather than simply using your company’s logo or a stock image, leverage this real prime real estate to communicate what you want the users to do. Yes, it sounds like editing your Myspace profile, but by adding text instructions on your usual corporate image can present the users with a clear call to action that will encourage them to take the next action that you want.
  • Get a fan club: Remember how you weren’t able to send a message to all event attendees? Facebook does allow you to send a message to all fans of your page. Leverage this power by encouraging your attendees to become fans of your page. Add a Facebook fan box to your site, and use your other marketing channels (web, email, PPC) to build your fan base.
  • Fans first, events second Consider using the “Become a Fan” ad unit as a preliminary ad campaign, and follow up by posting an event. You now have the added benefit of an open channel to message your fans, encourage them to attend, and most importantly move them through the sales funnel.
  • Measure and find your ROI: What is the value of an individual attending your event? You can calculate this by determining your average lifetime customer value and dividing that by the number of attendees at your event. Use web analytics where possible and ask your attendees in person where they heard about the event. How does Facebook compare to your other marketing channels?
  • Modify your process: How can you change the way you do business to accommodate the realities of social networks? Does your attendance increase by using an online event rather than an in-person event? Can you modify your registration process so that a Facebook RSVP is all that is required? Can you mobilize your sales team to answer questions on social networks rather than relying on phone or email?

Hopefully, as marketers get more experience utilizing these new technologies, the conversations between vendor and client will result in a more robust set of communication tools and marketing options. The perfect solution would allow for a balance between more open and flexible communication from the corporate side and protection of user privacy and peace of mind.

Do you do marketing using events on social networks? What tips and tricks have you developed in order to overcome limitations in the tools that we use?

Blame is not a metric

Over the last several years, I have done my fair share of reading about online marketing optimization. My shelf is full of books on the topic, my RSS reader overflows with blog posts from the gurus and I have an entire gmail inbox devoted to analytics users groups. After absorbing these endless streams of data, and acquiring a handful of best practices along the way, I feel somewhat confident that I have a solid foundation of useful metrics with which to handle situations as they arise.

Trying to explain optimization often leads to questions about the optimal. How many page views is good? What should we measure? What should we change? The answer of course, as is often the case, is: it depends. Everyone’s goals and demographics are different, and we all start from a different baseline. Yet, despite the disparity that exists, there is one metric that should be eliminated from organizations if optimization efforts are ever going to remotely approach optimal: blame.

Blame is not a metric

Pulling numbers and calculating ratios in a spreadsheet is not difficult. The difficulties lie in the communications of these results and developing actionable plans going forward. Practitioners often lament the arduous task of explaining the impact of cookie deletion and the intricacies involved in determining the uniqueness of a visitor when consulting with stakeholders. After all, these abstract concepts involve servers and javascript, and, well, that’s complicated!

As soon as the report is delivered and recommendations are read, a pseudometric, more hideous and erroneous than any assumption made in the data collection process slips through the door and plants itself firmly in the path of progress. Blame.

Some of these numbers are red!
That campaign isn’t working
Who’s fault is that? Surely, not mine.. is it?

For all the fuss that is made about communicating meaning, blame is a more complicated issue. Bounce rate lives in a server; blame resides in the ego. Servers are technical, this is personal.

The danger that the fear of blame poses to an organization goes beyond the possibility of feelings being hurt; creativity is also stopped dead in its tracks. Fear of accountability for the negative results of trying something new is literally paralyzing. The more we blame, the more things stay the same.

Learn to love being wrong

Ever the optimist, I love being wrong about something. There are an infinite number of ways to get from Point A to Point B. Your chances of doing anything 100% correctly on the first try are hovering somewhere around zero. Check your ego at the door. Every scientist worth his bunsen burner has had something blow up in his/her face at one point. The good ones blow things up all the time. The sooner you discover that something isn’t working, you’re one step closer to getting it right! Celebrate every experiment that shows you something doesn’t work – because its a sign of progress.

The road to perfection is lined with failure. If you’re afraid to fail, you are destined to live with mediocrity.