Customer Engagement Took Flight This Christmas for WestJet and JetBlue

You’ve seen the videos on YouTube and BuzzFeed, you’ve shared them with your network of family and friends on Facebook, and you’ve discussed them with your coworkers in relation to your own social media campaigns and client touchpoints. And if for some reason you haven’t, by all means skip to the end of this post and watch (or rewatch) them now for a little bonus holiday cheer! Even if you’ve never flown WestJet or JetBlue, it’s difficult not to be affected by the reactions of the mothers, fathers, children, and friends who were surprised with these customer outreach campaigns.

This holiday season, WestJet and JetBlue effectively engaged customers in unique and heartfelt ways, and garnered quite a bit of attention from non-customers and marketers alike. True, the success of their efforts depended upon the legwork and dedication of many behind the scenes employees working diligently to carry it all off down to the very last detail and ribbon. But just as important to their success was each brand’s ability to be relatable…to connect with customers on a personal level rather than as a logo, or tagline, or even a seemingly impersonal hashtag (although I do think #flyitforward is in fact witty and perfunctory).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about how these brands connected with customers is the manner in which they crafted surprising and meaningful connections that were both authentic and memorable. Their efforts and the messages conveyed demonstrated a consideration and appreciation for the thoughts, needs, and wishes of their customers at a time when it was perhaps least expected.

A lot of times as marketers we’re forced to contend with the question of ROI and the significance of our efforts. It remains to be seen whether the efforts of WestJet or Jet Blue will actually translate into greater revenue or an expanded customer base. But, that isn’t really the point now, is it?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIEIvi2MuEk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf–r8TsCWo

“Instead of Toys, How About a Twining’s Tea Bag?” The Best of 2013 Agency Holiday Cards

The holidays have always given both B2B and B2C marketers an opportunity to get creative with their traditional messages of holiday cheer and best wishes for the New Year. Here are three particularly well-done examples that had me nerding out over their relatability and humor. Because if you can’t be personable and creative and uniquely YOU at the holidays, well, when can you?

Slingshot’s Interactive Holiday Card

From Owen Hannay, CEO of the Texas-based advertising agency: “At Slingshot, it’s always been tradition that the Creative Department design the annual Slingshot Holiday Card. In the spirit of giving, I decided to open things up this year and let the Media Department shine. Truth be told, the Creatives were swamped and I couldn’t take another second of the Account Team whining about how swamped the Creatives were. That left Accounting, the Media Department or me. Fortunately, Media stepped up– although I’m convinced it was to get back at Creative for always running long and eating up their presentation time.”

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Y&R’s “Sellout Santa”

All I can say is: 1) Jazzy music, 2) Kids, and 3) “Why don’t you gargle with some of that and then you can say it more clearly?” A brilliant way to pimp the agency’s brands this Christmas.

Traction’s “Crap-O-Matic” Gift Generator

While the claims of aiding those who “don’t care enough to send the very best” are commendable, I’d take it a step further and market this baby as the most craptacular White Elephant present list ever (for when the Walgreen’s “As Seen on TV” aisle is picked over). By the way, make sure you have the sound on when generating your “gift!”

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What creative holiday cards resonated with you this year? 

Employed or Unemployed; Prioritize Brand “YOU”

It’s been over a year since I last posted here. Where have I been? What have I been doing? Hustling. Work-life balance…yada, yada, yada.

I’ve learned something in my time away from Social Outlier. No matter how hard or long you work to build a brand for your clients or company, the importance of building YOUR personal brand in the meantime cannot be under valued–whether that’s through networking with like-minded professionals, authoring an e-book, speaking or attending trainings and industry events, or simply putting your opinions and personality out there on social media or a blog. Not only does prioritizing your personal brand make you a greater asset to your employer and (your and/or their) clients, it also positions you as an engaged contributor to conversations you may otherwise miss the opportunity to join.

Let’s keep the discussion going, shall we?

Poster available via Startup Vitamins. "In the long run, you have to finish what you started in order to have anything to show for what you've done. So suck it up and finish it."

Poster available via Startup Vitamins. “In the long run, you have to finish what you started in order to have anything to show for what you’ve done. So suck it up and finish it.”

Social Media Addiction: A Love-Hate Relationship

Over the past several months, I’ve developed a truly love-hate relationship with social media. I’ve allowed it to creep into every facet of my life. Case in point, my iPhone, with its ubiquitous social apps, is the first thing I reach for upon waking and the last thing I put aside before sleep.

Social media, once such a novelty, such an amazingly direct link to anyone anywhere, has become a vice. It has become a habit, an impulse, an addiction; and for that I’ve tried to shun social networks each in their turn. But, like a true addict, I couldn’t stay away for long.

What is happening in the world, I’ve wondered to myself while slinking back to HootSuite. Where should I start first, I’ve asked while creating a new board dedicated to Christmas shopping in Pinterest. How can I make my photos look like that, I’ve envied while catching up on my Instagram feed.

Just when I think I’m out, social media pulls me back in. Or, something like that…

It’s difficult to avoid social media these days. Even someone who isn’t on a single social media network (who are you?) is indirectly exposed through social sharing toolbars, hashtags on TV screens, and the lexicon of “Facebook terminology” (think “pokes,” “likes,” and “Facebook official”).

As social media has grown in my own life from personal to professional usage, the novelty of the thing has grown thin and I’ve begun to tire of its demands- even on a personal level. This feeling of social media overload is something I struggle with almost weekly. And yet, I can’t help wondering what is happening on Twitter when I’m not there. I can’t help feeling as though I’m “missing out” on timely content or networking opportunities by neglecting LinkedIn and Facebook. Whether it’s been a week, a day, or a mere hour away; I can’t seem to help crawling back each time.

The thing is, when it comes to social media; the tree that falls in the forest when I’m not there to “hear” it does make a sound. And heaven forbid I miss a single tweet, like, share, pin, or comment about it!

Beyond The Tweet: What’s The “Best Practice” for Tweet Frequency and Timing?

As a prolific tweeter, one of the questions I’m often asking myself is, “How often should I be tweeting?” And although I continue to tweet from multiple accounts both professionally and personally, I haven’t come to a perfect conclusion as yet. Is the right answer once a day? Once an hour, on the hour? Multiple times an hour? And what about retweets and modified retweets- how do they fit into that mix? And replies? Is there a standard best practice for tweet frequency, a “sweet spot” for Twitter success?

According to KISSmetrics‘ data below (a handy little infographic I found on Pinterest that covers Twitter and Facebook frequency and timing), Twitter users who tweet between 1 and 4 times per hour are more likely to get click throughs to their tweeted content. While that guideline may be sound, I’d caution against taking it as an absolute “best practice” (not ever tweet is effective even if you’re abiding by the recommended frequency). In looking at when to tweet, KISSmetrics recommends mid-week and weekends either at noon or 6 p.m. as the best days and times (again based on click through rates). For amplification, Kissmetric recommends tweeting around 5 pm when the likelihood of retweets is highest.

Ultimately, whether tweeting for personal or professional use, your tweets will arguably be their most effective not based upon frequency but upon value to your followers. Rather than ask how frequently you should be tweeting at your followers, ask what kinds of information you’re sharing with and engaging with them around- either by tweeting, replying, or retweeting others’ content.

With any form of writing, the best and most effective pieces of communication are crafted with a clear and true understanding of the intended audience. Why should Twitter be treated any different? While a single tweet may only be 140 characters, it is still a form of writing and the maxim for “knowing your audience” is just as applicable. Knowing what kind of content is valuable to your audience is not only necessary for your desired impact, but I would argue is also the key to understanding how frequently your audience wants to hear from you. Moreover, it’s understanding when they want to hear from you.

If your social media strategy is to send out tweets that could have been written by a robot and link to a press release, you might want to rethink your strategy. If you’re tweeting at your followers far more than you are replying or even retweeting, then you might want to review your engagement priorities. And if you view the number of Twitter followers as indicative of your success on the platform, you might want to revisit your key performance indicators. In fact, you might even want to ask if Twitter is for you.

Agree? Disagree? Tweet with me: @NicKnowsMKTG.

QR You Kidding?

QR codes have become ubiquitous, invading all forms of media over the last year. If you keep an eye out for them, you’re apt to notice they’re popping up in some pretty unexpected and entirely questionable places too! As someone who has never really responded to QR codes (except that time I used one as my boarding pass for an American Airlines flight), I figured it was about time I learned what all the fuss is about.

In practice, a QR code allows a complex amount of data to be scanned very quickly. In theory, it enables a greater conversion rate whether that is generating new leads or new sales. (Incidentally, did you know that they were originally created by Toyota subsidiary, Denso Wave, to track vehicles in the manufacturing process?)

With this “newish” capability in hand, advertisers and marketers have slapped QR codes on pretty much anything…anything at all, really…in hopes of generating interest and a qualified response. It reminds me a bit of that old cliché involving the spaghetti thrown at the wall. You know the one (there’s probably even a QR code for it).

That said, there have been some QR code “successes.” Utilizing a QR code at a conference or expo booth, placing one on your business card, and of course including one on a print ad, brochure, or direct mail piece. Not incredibly innovative, but inherently useful. Bear in mind that the content you’re directing someone to could display a web site, but it could also display product reviews, play a video, provide map directions, even perform a Facebook “Like” or Foursquare “Check in.” In other words, think outside of your home page.

But, more often than not, a QR code appears in a place one would be least likely to- and in some cases physically and/or technologically incapable of- scanning it as intended. In fact, there’s the web site WTF QR Codes dedicated to such debacles, including this particular gem:

QR code fail, courtesy of WTF QR Codes

In this case, the QR code is unscannable and life-threatening. Often, beyond the unscanability of a QR code, there’s also a disconnect between the company’s “message” and the code itself. Why should I scan?  Moreover, WHAT am I scanning? What am I certain to find when I get there?

QR code fail, courtesy of WTF QR Codes

The problem with QR codes is less that they are unable to live up to expectations, but that they’re often utilized inappropriately and aren’t “valuable” to those for whom they’re targeted. While it may be easier to scan a QR code rather than physically type in a URL, if the result is unclear or of little merit to the scanner, what’s the point?

Beyond ease of use, what is the incentive for someone to scan your code? And importantly, how are you identifying the value locked behind a jumbled matrix of seemingly meaningless symbols to incentivize the scan of your QR code by your target audience?

In all, QR codes are quickly becoming the modern day “micro-site” of marketing. A flash in the pan. Intended for lead generation and sales. But, utterly disappointing in both their inherent value to consumers and their ROI to the marketers who thoughtlessly employ them.

4 Strategies for “Unfriending” Social Media Fatigue

It’s inevitable. Between tweeting and liking, pining and sharing, checking-in and Google “plusing” …there are a lot of places to be, be seen and be heard across social media. And, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Foursquare, Google+, Pinterest and blogging to boot; keeping up “appearances” can become quite a challenge! It’s the modern-day version of an oft heard complaint: Doesn’t anybody stay home anymore?

When it comes to social media, nobody is “staying home” these days. Instead, we’re busy trying to be everywhere all at once. From my own experiences* in managing personal and professional social media pages and profiles, it’s an uphill climb from which fatigue can quickly set in. So, when social media fatigue comes calling, what does a social media manager do?

1) Retrench

Think about your social media strategy and reevaluate its “successes.” Gain a better understanding of how a social media platform can work for you or for your company. Just because Pinterest is now the third largest social network, it’s important to ask if it’s the right forum for you, your brand or your content. Is your strategy to canvass every platform? Does it make sense to do so? Do you have the manpower and resources to properly manage and maintain a presence on multiple platforms? Or are you spreading yourself or your company too thin- thereby losing the opportunities for success that social media would otherwise present to you? Knowing what “success” in social media means to you or your company will help you evaluate where you ought to be…not every social network does the same thing for the same audiences.

2) Revisit Content Development

A great resource for building content is often right under your nose. Participating in discussions on other blogs and forums can be an invaluable way to better understand what is top of mind for your target audience. Whether you’re gauging interest for a Twitter campaign or checking out what content people are recommending on Google+, it’s essential not to work in a vacuum. Spend more time listening and responding online rather than sitting in front of a solitary keyboard or in a conference room trying to generate compelling content.

3) Take a Social Media Sabbatical

The prospect of stepping away from your social media accounts for a week or even simply a day can be a truly frightening one. You worry about what you’ll miss or that you’ll promptly be forgotten and left behind. But sometimes, a sabbatical from social media is just the vacation you need to return refreshed and excited to pounce on new ideas with the enthusiasm and levelheadedness that successful management of social media engagement requires. Of course, not everyone or every social media team has the ability or capacity to completely “unplug,” and I’d be remiss if I didn’t caution against taking a sabbatical without first ensuring someone else is “minding the store.” If you’re worrying about what is happening in your absence, then the sabbatical and its merits will evade you.

4) Put Your Communities to Work For You

You’ve taken the time to build multiple social media communities, so why not- when appropriate- reach out to them and ask for assistance? The fact is, every one of us has been there and dealt with social media fatigue in our own way. So, while you can read what others have done just as you’re reading this post from me now, sometimes it’s better and far more valuable to engage with your own community and benefit from the interactions that can result. In short, while there are resources available, the best resource is in your own social network.

What resources or strategies for combating social media fatigue have you found and applied with success?

*The irony of this blog post, of course, cannot be lost upon me…I launched Social Outlier amidst a bout of my own social media fatigue and neglected to write for nearly two weeks. During that span of time, however, I was personally able to identify these strategies for combating social media fatigue and recommend them to you!

A Facebook Cover Photo Is Worth A 1000 “Likes”

I’ll be honest. When I first encountered the new Facebook Timeline layout, I hated it. I was never a MySpace user, so I wasn’t one of those who decried their apparent similarities. I simply didn’t see much improvement with the new design beyond bigger graphics and a more scrolling layout. One of which, the cover photo, is the focus of this post.

With Facebook’s rules and regulations regarding a page’s cover photo usage, it begs the question: how is the cover photo different from your standard run-of-the-mill web banner? In fact, how is it better? Answer: it isn’t, unless you know how to use the opportunity given.

The beauty of brands on Facebook is that you have a unique opportunity to interact directly with an audience and get real-time interaction and feedback. You can engage with them. Build brand awareness. Deliver customer service. Generate new business opportunities. Foster thought leadership. These and several other iterations of the same well-worn concepts on using Facebook for business. So what does the cover photo have to do with any of that?

Facebook and Facebook marketers would have you believe that your cover photo is now the “end-all-be-all” of your Facebook Timeline. Read through any number of articles regarding the change to Timeline or attend a webinar on Timeline best practices and you’re bound to be smacked over the head with a top-of-the-list reminder that your cover photo is IMPORTANT. And it is. But, it’s still a photo and the real best practice is to think about how the cover photo can be used to differentiate your brand in an innovative way on a social platform.

Slapping a photo of your company headquarters or some variation of your logo sized for the space allotment is one fill-in-the-blank approach, but it isn’t a very interesting one. And importantly, nothing about that photo selection references that this is your Facebook page and not just another corporate website. What about it is social after all?

Since all company pages just converted to Facebook Timeline last Friday, we’re still seeing how they’re adapting. We’re still looking for innovative uses. I’d recommend looking at VH1′s Facebook page where they’ve played on the “milestone” and “Timeline” piece of the new layout in their cover photo by displaying musical highlights throughout the years. I’d also recommend checking out the Verizon Wireless Facebook page where they’ve integrated fans’ photos taken with Verizon phones. Or, if you’re working in the B2B space like me, take a closer look at what SAP implied in their wordless and otherwise very simple cover photo. And finally, I had to include one particularly spot-on example from Brunner Ad Agency. Nicely done all.

Taking these examples into account, the one piece of advice I’d impart on those thinking about their own Facebook cover photos is to remember that Facebook is first and foremost about people. And people, it’s been said countless times, engage with other people, not faceless companies or brands.

Don’t be afraid to break away from your stock photography and do something creative and personable! Make your cover photo about your company or brand delivering on its promise to your target audience. Remind them why they care. Remind them- in that three-second span of time that it takes them to visit your Facebook page and see your new cover photo- why they should “like” you.

It’s ALIVE!!!

With any blog launch, there’s always the nagging question: “What now?

You’ve picked the blog name, the URL, even the design, but what will the content be? How will it be different? What voice will the blog take on? And…and…and…what now?

So too are the questions circling in my mind as I type this post. As I launch this blog. As I attach my name to its pages.

I’ve been an active personal blogger for six years, but have always done so anonymously. Pseudo-anonymously. As my readership has grown, so too have the number of people I’ve met in person through blogging. I’ve enjoyed and learned from the experiences I’ve had, but I need a professional outlet devoted purely to social media topics.

So, while this initial post is a placeholder of sorts, it sets the stage for what will come. The discussions, learning opportunities, resources, examples, and experiences I encounter along the way as a B2B content and social media marketing manager. Won’t you join me?

If anything, a blog is a living, breathing thing, so…let’s give this blog some life!

What topics are you interested in learning more about in social media? What challenges are you facing? Any tips or recommendations you’d share?

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