Smartphones and social media are not exactly new, but for better or for worse, they continue growing and evolving, a plague for some, a boon for others. The hype from the technophiles is naturally intense, but still, not everyone is thrilled, nor does everyone know how to deal with the mushrooming websites in their lives and businesses.
Next year is expected to be the year when smartphones overtake regular cell phones in usage. And part of the smartphone phenomenon is having social media even closer – i.e., more intrusive – than ever. But the geeks never sleep, and that means that new platforms are probably in the pipeline, increasing the importance of social and national strata for those that own web-enabled devices.
Making predictions about technological evolutions is not always easy, nor accurate for that matter. Switzerland, the research says, currently has about 37 percent Facebook usage (that includes probably a large number of quasi inactive accounts of individuals who tried it and found it uninspiring, but don’t know how to delete the account), and that number is expected to grow, provided, of course, a certain Facebook-boredom doesn’t set in, or some clever techie doesn’t come up with a new idea to pool eyeballs for the benefit of the advertising crowd. Suffice to say, many Swiss companies have not jumped onto the social networking bandwagon, many claiming that the time and effort put into building up a page and then dealing with all the raised thumbs is simply not worth it.
Big brother’s prey
One of the top uses for a smartphone’s GPS is to find LBS or “Location based services”. There are a number of sites that establish these, notably Google Places, Yelp! and Foursquare. These sites allow anyone to make a page about a location, be it a business, landmark or whatever else. If you are not talking about your business on these sites, someone else might be, and what they have to say might not be as helpful or friendly as you would like.
The rule here is to just be present. The information should be useful. If someone finds a page with full information, they’re more likely to use that than one which looks incomplete or out of date. Remember to get your customers involved, too. If a customer is happy with your service, have them review. When people come to your business, have them check in. Foursquare in particular has a “trending in your area” feature which lets users know what’s popular at that very moment, and might draw even more people in.
Remember what the key to all of this is, though. The good reviews need to be there. But nothing takes the place of good service and quality products. All of the LBS sites work primarily by letting people share information. This can be a double-edged sword. If the people sharing information are happy, LBS will be a huge boon, if people are unhappy, your attempt to generate vocal fans could spawn a very public forum for complaints. This is an element of all social media platforms, they do not necessarily generate good attention, just attention. Service providers or businesses selling products have to make sure that the experience is positive and the attention is the kind they want.
The experience economy
Today, we exist in an experience economy, a term coined by Joe Pine, a marketing expert from the US, and author, businessman, exec coach and general wizard of the CEO circuit James H. Gilmore. In the experience economy we are no longer selling commodities, goods, or services, we are selling experiences. One of the best examples of using the Internet to create and sell an experience is the GoPro camera: www.GoPro.com
Simply put, these are just cameras, granted, very well made, lightweight cameras but just cameras. But when customers buy one, they acquire a camera that goes basejumping, scuba diving, and does a 360 heelflip – and films and photographs all sorts of other products being worn, hence advertised for free, by young members of the new tribes. That is the experience the website promotes. The experience economy is all about having a cohesive brand identity and an experience that they are selling to their customers. Posting text, art, music, video, photos, or even links to other web pages is what gets presence and therefore clicks and attention.
The key here is quality, what Pine calls “curation”. The mass of junk on the Internet is overwhelming… There are Facebook pages buried in pictures of cats and babies, orphaned pages with just a business name and a post from years ago, everyone’s paranoia and obsession is thrown up for public view. There are pages that post anything and everything and look like a mess. It’s important to take the time to craft a quality page that gets all the information across to a potential customer without swamping them with irrelevant links and uploads. Get a clear message and identity you want to sell to your customer and create that. If the experience you sell isn’t worth the hassle of your page, customers will move on.
Web-based fridge door
Lately, Pinterest and Instagram have been making waves as the new social media platforms. These two sites provide some interesting new tools for social media marketing, in particular in the direction of the experience economy. Pinterest is a fairly simple idea. It is digital bricolage. As you travel around online you pick up items you want to “pin” to your profile. It lets you put them into a number of albums reflecting different aspects of what you do online. As a company, this allows you to build a very clear image of the experience your brand is selling, drawing images from all over, linking to them and creating a collage for customers to browse and look at. VW, for instance, has created a page of photos celebrating their laid back and often artistic attitude: www.pinterest.com/volkswagen/pins/
Instagram is a photo-share service. People take pictures on their phone and upload them directly to Instagram. They can put up their own pictures or, like Pinterest, engage in some bricolage and repost photos from other pages. Again, this provides an opportunity to build up a brand experience. One of the features of Instagram is the hashtag feature, which lets users post photos to pages or facilitate searches. It’s ideal for companies like Red Bull that promote their soda pop as being integrally tied to extreme sports and night life: www.instagram.heroku.com/users/redbull
For the advertiser, the best part about these sites is simple management of a brand identity. Crowdsourcing advertising campaigns is easy to do, looking for pictures and videos that create the right experience made by customers and fans.
Foursquare has been around for a while, but it has not been used evenly throughout the planet. The experience economy is often about being part of something, and game sites do just that. Web-guru Seth Priebatsch, founder of Scvngr, calls this the “game layer” on top of regular life. This is nothing more than a reinvention of the “tribe” idea from before the dot.com bubble and bomb of pre-2000. It allows individuals to put aside their individualism and feel more connected to a brand, by being one of the group. They become insiders of a virtual group. And once groups are created, the selling process begins, a subtle – some might say pernicious – use of the feeling of belonging and word-of-mouth. An individual visiting a business can check in on Foursquare, and for certain patterns of checkins, he or she can earn badges, like these: www.4squarebadges.com/foursquare-badge-list/
Just by having a page and encouraging visitors to check in, you can join in on the fun, but you can go further. Special deals can reward players and make them feel like a regular, even on the first visit. It is, in some ways, what the governments of the East Bloc did to reward outstanding workers or soldiers: give them medals … of plastic. Social games and apps are another part of the game layer. Whether by building a specialised application or by using real world elements around your business, you can make the simple act of being a customer into a game. These games can connect customers to one another, or turn your store into a potential playground for people who know about the game. Macy’s won a marketing award for this kind of service and is worth checking out:
All of these elements, the LBS and social media experiences and game layers and even the traditional advertising should not be taken as individual pieces operating in parallel. If a company’s intent is to create a rich experience, all of these things must be connected. A game layer can be built into social media and LBS by giving rewards and notice of special events for people who have visited. The link can go on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram and on entries on Yelp or Foursquare so that people can find the site and “like” it. In the past, to connect real world advertising to online content, businesses had simply asked customers to do a review on LBS or visit their social media. By using the QR codes you have seen throughout this article, you can let people go directly to those sites on their phone, making it all much simpler and more efficient. QR codes can be created at www.goqr.me by inputting the URL you want it to connect to and copy it as an image into whatever file you wish. They can link to a Facebook page or add another game layer, like Macy’s did, by offering special features to people who use the QR code. QR codes, as seen here, let businesses pack far more content into much less space than would be otherwise possible. The following is an extreme example, but it shows the phenomenal potential they have: www.imgur.com/EjUku
All of those QR codes work, and link to PDFs of the books in question. Here we have an entire library posted on a single sticker.
With all the electronic proliferation, it is good to remember that more people are not interested in Facebook and all the other fun and games one can have with the gadgets being sold these days. Some find it dull, others intrusive, others are worried about how the sites handle private data. The tech-crowd likes to treat these refusniks as savages – from Huxley’s Brave New World. But the reality is that for many people, the Internet itself is a working tool, and not a game, and the moment they most look forward to every day is when they can finally shut down their computers and spend time with real people doing real things.
As for Facebook and the other social media or gaming media, their most glaring weakness might be the fact that they don’t “make” anything, and don’t genuinely live up to their promise of bringing people together. Communication is more than just words on a screen and thousands of poor photos. The social media just pool eyeballs and allow other companies to try and sell the owners of the eyes things that some software decided they would like. In a recessionary period, however, with wizened economists and politicians raving about austerity, selling is always a tough proposal. But games, by contrast, are much appreciated – movie-going was popular during the Great Depression, the unemployed or underpaid workers could kick back in the dark and escape their dreary reality for a few hours at a double feature.
So in spite of the hype, having a presence in the social media may be a bit of a waste of time. But there could also be a down side: Not everyone clicks on the “like” button. In the wilderness of the Internet, public expression can be quite harsh and undiluted. And a company would be ill-advised to start censoring those who find their products and services lacking. Transparency is the name of the game, and the way the PR majordomos protect their businesses – going as far as requesting that journalists send them proofs of articles – they may want to think twice about exposing their company to the opprobrium dispensed by unhappy but web-based customers.
Finally, there is the crowd problem. Sites of the social media like Facebook are becoming repositories for businesses – much like the former Yellow Pages – rather than billboards, and the advertising is becoming frankly intrusive. At some point even the most hardened Facebooker, gamer or Internet addict may get tired of being fawned over as a consumer and start switching off. Getting them back into the fold is virtually impossible.
So much more than 140 characters and poking… There are new social networks and games coming up all the time. While they are mostly geared towards keeping people online and clicking, they do offer businesses of all sizes some opportunities to spread their own message.
Foursquare is a social game where friends check in and share their location. Players earn badges for check-ins, and some businesses offer deals for checking in. www.foursquare.com
Yelp is the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses.” New locations can be added by users and the site includes community pages for major cities. www.yelp.com
Pinterest is an up and coming invitationonly community that lets users build collages and blogs of different elements they find around the web “pinning” them into their albums. www.pinterest.com
Instagram is a photo share service, originally for iPhone. It lets users upload photos directly from their phones, add hashtags, filters, then share and re-blog photos on their profiles. www.instagram.com
Scvngr is a site that’s still staking its claim. It is a gaming site essentially, so it is for people with time on their hands and few other interests. It’s a giant online scavenger hunt. Players take on challenges online and over their phones and do them to earn rewards. www.scvngr.com
Article by Joseph Gaylord