Social networks experimentation

Quite a few interesting stories coming up today on social media experimentation.  The Wall Street Journal has an article investigating why so many experiments in social media fail, noting specifically that:

Businesses say that their primary objectives are generating
word-of-mouth marketing and increasing customer loyalty. Yet the metric
that businesses use most often to measure success is the number of
visits to the site.

This is actually a fairly important point, and it takes us back to an old nut I’ve been trying to crack for some time on measuring social media.  Of course, the primary reason why visits are important, is that revenue generation from social networking sites that involve advertising is based on CPM or ‘cost per mille’ (cost per thousand users accessing the site).  And of course, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the number of visitors to a site are indicators of either increased customer loyalty or heightened brand awareness.  Indeed with sophisticated search engine optimisation or viral marketing campaigns, brand awareness may be entirely unaffected by social networking site strategies.  But the trouble with measuring the success of word-of-mouth marketing and customer loyalty is that it is actually rather an expensive and inexact science.  While focus groups and surveys can reveal increased brand awareness, there is not necessarily a high intention-to-purchase correlation.  Lamborghini is a well-known and identified brand.  Not many of us are in the market to buy one.  And while increased traffic to a website can be an indication of the success of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign it is often difficult to distinguish between traffic sourced from an internal social networking site and that which develops organically as people cross-link in blog posts.

Although to be honest, advertising has, for generations, been just as inexact.  It’s just the margins mean so much more these days.

Also of interest is the new Facebook page layout experiment, which is supposed to be going live imminently.  It’s gone from 3 columns to two columns, folks.  Excited?  I know I’m not.  It looks like pretty much every blog that ever existed in the late 1990s.  But … *shrug* … as an experiment in simplified design I’ll be interested to see the consumer response.  Good design doesn’t always look very pretty

Finally I’m fascinated by the research conducted over at the London School of Economics on the use of mobile and portable devices for web-browsing and email access.  It seems that the mainstream are increasingly interested in a mixed media consumption model, and that mobile is now a legitimate channel for something other than plain old voice and SMS.  Time to ensure our sites are all mobile accessible.  When more than half the population are using a mobile to access email it’s almost necessary to have a Blackberry-oriented enterprise server push solution in place.  It’s not just about waiting for the user to pull the data; it’s about selectively pushing data to us.  And with twitter just about everywhere these days, then selective push media isn’t just about email, but about a range of feeds, locationally specific and influenced by recommendation systems. 

It’s funny actually; I was thinking over the weekend about the changes to the landscape of the technology sector since the 1980s, and about how Microsoft made its name through software (where predecessors had focused predominantly on hardware), and the next challenge that came up was in terms of browsers accessing content online, and after that there was the search engine wars, and probably most recently the wars over portable media and communications devices.  I think the next ‘wave’ of high competition will be in terms of filtration and adequate location aware experiences.  It’s not enough to have social networks just online.  Mixed media approaches and bridges exist and organisations that can adequately partner with one another to offer content and services to people based on their location-specific and time-limited needs have an immense opportunity to gain market domination over the next decade.

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