Google May Finally Have Social Legs with Google+

30 06 2011

google plus

Tuesday was a big day for Google.  The long anticipated social network from Google, speculated and leaked for the past year on all the major tech blogs, finally made its debut.  Google+ is the latest effort by the search giant to gain a foothold in the space currently dominated by Facebook.  Google’s previous attempts with Wave (lots of potential but too buggy and slow) and Buzz (failed from the start with privacy concerns) were utter failures.  This time, there is an entire set of products within the service, each designed to bring social connections to Google in different ways:

  • Google+ Circles: At the heart of Google+ is Circles.  To counter the Facebook and Twitter philosophy of openness, Google+ users have to group their contacts into specific circles right from start.  Twitter does have Lists, but they’re optional, and Facebook makes grouping friends too complicated. Plus, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks Facebook users just don’t want to do that.  From initial accounts, Circles are easy to set up with drag-and-drop and attractive animations.
  • Google+ Stream: Your home base will be the Stream.  But it’s not much different from the Twitter feed or Facebook Newsfeed.
  • Google+ Sparks: Sparks is a topical search engine, where users can find content (blogs, videos, etc) on theirinterests in one central location.  Users can bookmark their favorite items, share with friends, and comment as well.
  • Google+ Hangouts: The first truly unique feature to Google+ that could really give it a leg up on competition is Hangouts.  It’s essentially an open-ended group video chat that friends in your Circle can join at anytime they see a Hangout happening.  Whoever is talking, Hangouts will automatically make their window the biggest.  Friends can also share content with each other during the chat.
  • Google+ Huddle: The other big feature that could help grow Google+ is Huddle, a group-messaging feature that spans Android, iOS, and SMS.  Blackberry’s BBM users are very familiar with group messaging and the latest version of iOS (5) will also have a similar messaging feature.
  • Instant Upload: Using the Google+ Android app, users can upload photos or videos quickly to their Google+ Stream.  But oddly enough, photos uploaded here are not uploaded to Picasa, the major Google photo service.
  • Location: Users can check-in to Places and geo-tag their updates.

Pretty much all the tech blogs got an early invite.  These first looks have included positive reactions, talk about ease of use, and eye-catching aesthetics.  People like this latest social effort and want to keep coming back.  However, Google is being very cautious right now, insisting on calling it a “project” and not a finished “product”.  It’s in a very limited test run, and invites are slowly rolling out.  Whether Google+ outlives Wave or Buzz is yet to be determined, but it looks like for now Google finally has a social product to build and nurture.  We’re certainly excited to test it out, but if you’ve have been lucky enough to get one, give us your take.  What do you think of Google+ ?

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Advantages of Facebook Advertising

6 04 2011

In February this year, comScore reported that Facebook ads accounted for more than one-third of all US display ad impressions.  eMarketer also reported last month that Facebook would surpass Yahoo! in display ad revenue this year; which means that more than one in five US display dollars will go to Facebook, a staggering YOY increase.  Facebook advertising is no longer just a fun trend to watch, it is becoming an online advertising requisite.

Getting started with Facebook advertising is simple; albeit a manual process that requires basic planning, targeting and creativity.  With Facebook’s 500 million+ active user base, there is a compelling reason to test Facebook advertising for your brand, products or services – your customers are online and on Facebook.

Getting started

  1. Understand goals and objectives for the campaign: In our experience, we’ve seen a higher success rate in driving “likes” and increasing fan engagement vs. taking people to a landing page or website.  The culprit?  Facebook-ers typically don’t like to be taken off of Facebook while they’re in Facebook mode, and thus, taking people off of Facebook results in a high bounce rate and low qualified, less engaged traffic.
  2. Check out Facebook’s guidelines: Provided on their Help Center page, advertisers can learn about creating, targeting, and launching a Facebook ad campaign.
  3. Complete the set-up process: With goals and objectives in mind, choose and upload ad creative or logo, choose your targeting and demographic specifications and set a budget   using Facebook’s manual campaign builder tool.  Creating a single ad will take most newbie advertisers under 10 minutes to build.
  4. Test & Tweak: Because users on Facebook are viewing connections’ photos, perusing status updates and the like, the ad needs to capture the user with a bold image and call-to-action.   Likewise, ads can quickly become less and less effective as users become “fatigued” with seeing the same image or message over and over again.  This will decrease CTR as well as impressions if your ad’s performance drops.  Creating and testing fresh ads continually, will have the biggest impact on maintaining and improving the performance of ad campaigns over time.
  5. Use Facebook Insights & Ad Stats: Utilize the Facebook ad stats dashboard to monitor performance of impressions, clicks and actions, as well as Facebook Insights (for Page driven campaigns) to monitor interaction and engagement.

The Benefits

One of the main advantages of using Facebook ads is the ability to target customers more granularly by their interests, as well as other demographic factors such as age, education, connections, location, etc.  Instead of targeting users based on search intent and bidding on keywords (think Google AdWords), Facebook allows advertisers the ability to hone in on a very qualified, niche audience at a reasonable cost.

Selecting the option to target Facebook users whose friends already “like” that particular page can dramatically help to reinforce the advertising message by utilizing the power and influence of a Facebook user’s connections. With this option selected, the ad will include that users’ friends name next to a thumbs up “Like” icon (see below example), which can boost click through rate and improve the potential for that user to like that particular page; because their decision is being influenced by their friends’ interests and “likes”.  Showing these connection preferences can have a strong influence over the success of an ad and the action the user takes once on the Page in question.

Results

Formic recently ran a Facebook ad campaign for Rasmussen BMW with a minimal daily spend ($5 day) based on a limited test budget. As a result, Facebook “likes” increased by 438%, interactions & engagement increased by 238%, and Facebook referral traffic to the website increased by 2,216.67%.

Facebook Ad

Facebook Ad

Next Steps

Allocate resources to test the Facebook advertising waters.  For small businesses, the self-serve campaign creation model may work well and keep costs down.  However, for larger corporations who need to scale their  campaigns, looking towards specialized agencies may be the key.  As the popularity of display advertising and spend on Facebook increases, it’s unclear whether or not this will have an adverse affect on ad rates.  Regardless, it’s best to strike while the iron is hot, before an influx in advertisers increases advertising fatigue on users and dulls performance or significantly increases ad costs.  Launching, testing and refining your first Facebook campaign may open up a new and effective online advertising medium for your business.





Social Media Website Icon Integration

25 02 2011

Whether you’re a large e-commerce business or a small brick and mortar company, Social Media is a fantastic route to create exposure and grow a community around your brand.  Adding Social Media icons to your website shouldn’t even be an option, it should be mandatory for all businesses.  Here are a few tips for adding them to your site:

  • Generally putting SM icons in the upper right is the most widely accepted practice.  The fallback should be in the footer if your design can’t handle the header.  Always aim for header or footer as it’s become the “natural” place for people to look for them.  It also depends on how highly you value a “follower” or a “like”.  If gaining these are your main focus, you would not want to put your social media icons at the bottom of a 10 page scrolling blog.  The flip side of this is that you risk the chance of taking someone off your site to your social media profile before passing through your content and being a potential customer/conversion.
  • Branding them (changing the colors/textures) to your site can be beneficial, overdoing it can also be detrimental and hide/blend them into your site too much.
  • Tagging articles, services or products with the ability to share through social media(facebook, twitter and linkedin) is a good way to gain followers and more exposure.
  • Adding Facebook’s “like” button to your website eliminates the middle man of having to actually visit Facebook to gain a follower, which is valuable if you’re goals are on your website. (Same for Twitter and LinkedIn)
  • When using Social Media Icon’s as links to your Social Media profiles make sure they open as a new window.
  • There’s a few ways you can add them:
  • It can be worth utm tracking clicks on your sites Social Media Icons to see where visitors are falling off.  Ie: are you getting 500 people clicking through to your Facebook pages, and only 20 people “liking” it.  In this case this could be worth looking into your FB page itself.  The flip side of that could be you are getting more “likes” then clicks, in which you most likely have bad placement of your SM icons on your website and they are finding your SM profiles through other means.
  • Some different examples of SM icon inclusion:
    • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ has incorporated their social media icons and a “like” button into their main navigation, which basically tells us that they value those activities highly.
    • http://www.smashingmagazine.com/ makes their SM very prominent in the upper right, but separate it from their content, almost as though it’s on an island.
    • http://www.foxnews.com/ puts their SM icons in the right side of their footer with very little prominence.  This placement is very common as it is a widget area for a lot of CMS’.  It seems a trend for News organizations to bury their SM icons.  CNN does put a Facebook feed on the right side of all their pages so you can repost articles quickly.




Google Social Search Evolves Again

17 02 2011

The days where everyone using Google sees the same 10 search results for a particular keyword have slowly passed us by.  Google has managed to integrate video, image, and product information in the search engine results page (SERP) over the past few years. Local search results through Google Places and products like Google Boost have had a huge influence for our clients.  And in 2009, Google introduced Social Search to the world.  If you were logged in to your Google account and scrolled down to the bottom of the SERP, you would see how your social connections related to that search query, whether it be a shared link or blog post of theirs.

Well just this morning Google announced they are pushing the search results envelope even further.  Now, social search results will be mixed in the main organic section based on relevance.  These social results don’t just appear when you friend on Twitter coincidentally shared the same article that’s in the #1 spot.  According to Google’s Product Management Director of Search Mike Cassidy, these social connections may actually influence the rankings you see in Google.

Google Social Search

The other major difference was that with the old version of Social Search, you only saw results from your social network only when they created or shared something through their Google profile.  Now Google can match up information from your friends on Twitter, Flickr, Quora and potentially even more in the future.  This creates an even greater potentially for each and every Google user to have their own unique SERP.  Facebook is the one major platform that is not included in this announcement and Cassidy was a little more vague on. However, Facebook is Bing’s territory and search results there can be influenced by your Facebook friends.

So where does this leave small business and site owners?  We’ve always believed that social networks like Twitter and Facebook can be valuable tools when you listen to your audience and create genuine relationships, not spammy sales pitches every hour. Providing valuable content and interactions with your audience now have the greater potential to affect their search results.  Plus, it sounds like Google has algorithms for these search results to weed out overtly spam content too.  The news today reminds us that you shouldn’t obsess over being #1 for all your relevant keywords, as we all now know everyone’s search results can be drastically different.  Instead, try to focus on your bottom line – driving qualified traffic that will interact with your site and convert well.

Do you like what Google is doing with Social Search?  Tell us your thoughts below.





Facebook Launches Email That’s Not Email

15 11 2010

This morning, Facebook held a press conference to announce their anticipated new messaging platform. Mr. Zuckerberg himself continually insisted during the announcement that this new product is in fact not “email” but a more robust, modern messaging system. However, users will get a Facebook email address to use (Sorry Mark, that technically makes it email). Within this new platform, people can send and receive messages any way they like – through Facebook, SMS, or email. All of your messages with one person will be in one location, for all time. Your inbox will now include multiple folders for those you know on Facebook, those outside Facebook, and naturally all other junk.

Not announced at the press conference however was the fact that the new Facebook Messages system will also integrate with Microsoft’s web apps that are a part of the new Office 2010 suite. Users will be able to attach and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents easily with one click at Office.com or download them to edit in Office. This success of this new platform will definitely receive a boost from Facebook’s 400 million plus users, but that all depends on user trust.  And this also doesn’t appear to threaten business communication either.  Many companies ban Facebook because of productivity issues, so the addition of email and document attachments won’t really make managers think otherwise (there’s also no subject lines, cc, or bcc as with traditional email).  But as a powerful yet simple way to communicate with friends, Facebook made huge strides today.





Facebook Places gets Deals

3 11 2010

Have you been disappointed with Foursquare, Facebook Places and Gowalla’s incentives for check-ins?

Worry not, Facebook has stepped up to the plate to combat this by releasing a new service called Facebook Deals, which will integrate with Facebook Places. Facebook Deals will allow business owners to serve a deal to Facebook users who check in. Business owners can also set certain thresholds defined by them that customers must meet in order to receive the deal.  They’ve recently added a button and a banner to your Facebook Places page to get you started.

Facebook just released an official post introducing the service while including some examples of merchant deals already live:

American Eagle Outfitters: Offering 20 percent off.
Gap: Giving blue jeans to the first 10,000 customers to claim their deal.
Macy’s: Offering 20 percent off select merchandise.
McDonald’s: Giving $1 per customer to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.





Facebook Places, the Growing Check-In Culture, and Small Business

23 08 2010

Last week, Facebook debuted its newest and highly anticipated location-based product – Facebook Places.  Much like Foursquare, Yelp and others, Facebook Places allows users to “check-in” to various businesses and locations, and share with everyone in their network where they are or what they’re doing.  They have even produced a fancy video to explain all about it.  However, a recent study has shown that still only 4% of the Internet population uses any of these location-based programs, and even less use it more than once per week.  If that’s the case, it might not matter if Facebook joined the check-in party late because it could be the service that finally makes location-based social networks main-stream.  Here’s why:

  1. User base – Over 500 million people use Facebook worldwide.  This is a staggering number of potential users, and coupled with the growing use of smartphones we’ll definitely see the rise in check-ins across the globe.
  2. Simplicity – Facebook has kept Places simple and easy to use from the start, focusing on three essential ideas: sharing with your friends where you are, connecting with your friends nearby, and discovering new places.  And they included what makes personal connections happen on the site – tagging.  Much like the photos you upload to your profile, Places allows you to tag your friends as you are checking in.
  3. Partners – Facebook didn’t throw everything into this new product hoping to compete with all the various services already out there.  Instead, they partnered with them.  Foursquare, Yelp and a couple of others were included in the press conference and revealed how they would be integrating with Places.  At least for now, you won’t earn badges using Places.  You will still have to use Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, etc. to get those.  Facebook wants to concentrate on personal connections and memories people form, and their partners will hope to grow their user bases from the increased exposure being on all those Newsfeeds.
  4. Privacy –  Facebook wanted to make sure they didn’t receive the backlash they’ve gotten for past changes.  Users can opt-out of friends tagging them, set exactly who will see their check-ins and much more.  If these setting are good enough for users, adoption could be high.

So with all this potential, what’s a small business to do?  First, join the coming land-grab and claim the Places Page for your business.  Search for your business in the search box at the top.  If it exists, look for the simple question “Is this your business?”.  Click the link and follow the instructions which include phone verification and uploading a certificate or licence.  If your business is not listed yet, add it yourself on either the iPhone app or touch.facebook.com.  While it might seem confusing now to have both Fan Pages and Places Pages, the two pages will eventually merge once the Places Page has been claimed.  And Facebook also hints that business with multiple locations and Pages might be merged together as well in the future.








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