I have some bad news to share.

At midnight on June 30, the publicly-available NeedTagger apps are going offline, permanently.  

This includes our web app and HootSuite app.

However, our Social Signals API will remain online. A special version of our web app will be made available to all API users for building and testing custom stream filters.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. I understand that you may rely on NeedTagger for business development. If there was another viable path to keep NeedTagger online, I would have chosen it.

Why We’re Doing This

You may have noticed that NeedTagger has experienced service failures and stream volume problems recently.

These events are related to our struggle behind the scenes to keep fresh Twitter data (tweets) flowing into the apps at full-firehose levels and to process them in real time for intent. Doing what we do requires a reliable, high speed and stable supply of tweets.

Unfortunately, our Twitter data supply has become unreliable over the past few months. This, in turn, has created an unacceptable user experience for many of our customers. We have now exhausted all affordable options to resolve the issue.

So, I’ve decided to shut the apps down rather than deliver an unreliable service. It’s just the right thing to do.

What to Expect

  • on June 30th, the NeedTagger HootSuite app and web app will no longer accept logins
  • on July 1, our HootSuite app will be removed from HootSuite’s app directory
  • paying customers will not be billed for June; if you have been billed for days in June, your credit card will be refunded for those days.
  • our website and blog will remain online for now

For Our API Users

The data supply issue does not impact our Social Signals API, because you supply your own data for processing.

However, you will no longer have access to live Twitter data in NeedTagger to build and test your custom filters.

Alternatives To NeedTagger

Here are a few Twitter prospecting/lead generation tools you may want to consider:

  • Leadsift – most similar to us, but they don’t cover as many industries, paid service
  • Socedo – automatically build an audience of leads, paid service
  • Hootsuite – use advanced search options, free service

Final Thoughts

We developed NeedTagger to help you find people who may need your help by tagging the conversations that matter.

To do that, we developed a proprietary form of real-time natural language processing that lets anyone create their own customer prospecting stream in minutes and see the results immediately.

After we released our apps, we quickly learned that the best business use of our tool was in assisting in customer prospecting, performance marketing and business development. Since launching in 2012, we’ve helped more than 7,000 marketing and sales professionals, consultants, agencies and business owners do just that.

So, while I am sad to see NeedTagger go dark, I’m also proud of what we’ve accomplished. Working with you, we’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that sales prospecting in social media works – as long as you focus on helping people solve problems and avoid the hard-sell.

Which, of course, is how great sales people do their job in the real world.

I want to especially thank my co-founders, Charles Armour, Andrew Wagner and Daryl Tucker. Without your creativity, hard work and dedication to our mission, NeedTagger would never have helped so many.

Thank you for your support,

Vernon Niven

CEO & founder

NeedTagger.com

‘Content Shock’ Isn’t Hiding Your Content – Your Customers Are
Did you know? A 260 lb. dolphin eats approximately 33 lbs. of fish daily.

(full disclosure: I am a minor investor in Flipboard, which is used as an example in this post)

I find it ironic that marketing pros are debating whether “content shock” is a threat to content marketing, while hundreds of millions of their target customers are solving that problem right now – using personal media apps like Flipboard and Facebook Paper.

‘Content Shock’ … ?

Mark Schaefer kinda rocked the content marketing world with his recent post, “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy”.

So far, Mark’s article has attracted almost 400 detailed, thoughtful comments and continues to see people pile-on.

You could say it hit a nerve.

I really like Mark’s term, “content shock”, though. It captures the fear that marketers have when they finally open their eyes to see the biggest problem facing digital marketing today, which is:

How will I ever attract my market’s attention… when they are overwhelmed with fresh, quality content every day?

 

Overwhelmed With Content

Americans are voracious consumers of media. According to Nielsen, we spend over half of our time awake consuming content. 

Despite our obvious love for digital content, we are overwhelmed with it.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in almost every industry the amount of marketing content published every day far exceeds our target audience’s ability to consume it.

Just keeping up with your market’s latest content can be exhausting...

Yet, we continue to publish more.

In 2012,  2 billion images were uploaded to Facebook and 48,000 hours of news-related video were uploaded to YouTube… every week.

In 2014, we’ll upload about twice as much. In two more years, the amount will probably double again.

Yet this really isn’t news. Social networks and search engines have been dealing with the content overload problem for years. 

Content shock is why Facebook’s Edgerank was put into place years ago. It’s why Twitter keeps testing new interfaces, and it’s why Google keeps updating their search algorithms to emphasize quality.

I think the discussion is hot right now because content shock is a relatively new issue for content marketers.

This is because content marketing is the newest, biggest trend to hit online marketing since SEO, and everyone’s publishing machines are just getting warmed up…

Perhaps the more important question to ask ourselves is:

How are our customers and prospects dealing with ‘content shock’?

 

The ‘Flipboard Effect’

Last year, I wrote two posts about the ‘content shock’ problem:

I used a different term to describe this problem, though. I called it, “The Flipboard Effect”.

I used that label to point out that your market isn’t just sitting there being overwhelmed with noise.

They’ve been aware of the problem for years, and they are taking control of the situation.

The Rise of Personal Media Apps

During the past four years, hundreds of millions have solved their personal ‘content shock’ problem with simple personal media apps that filter-out crappy content and irrelevant sources, leaving just the good stuff.

For more articles like this, check out our new Flipboard magazine, "Social Selling"The leading personal media apps, Flipboard (100 million users) and Facebook Paper (1B potential users), help people discover and consume content differently than they can using social networks, news aggregators and search engines.

Other personal media apps include Zite (recently acquired by Flipboard), Pulse (owned by LinkedIn), News360 and Google Newsstand. Personal media curation apps like Paper.li also fit into this class.

Personal media apps are different than anything we’ve seen before.

First and foremost, they are designed to be personal. They tailor media discovery and consumption for one person – me.

Personal media apps are also omni-media. By this, I mean they are:

  • omni-source: they cull media from a large number of publishers and sources; the best never restrict the sources I can pull from
  • omni-device: they provide me with access to my favorite content on all of my devices
  • omni-format: they help me discover and consume media in all its forms: video, text, SlideShare, images, gifs, music/audio… and whatever comes next.

Personal media apps are also independent of the publishers of the content that flows through them. They function more like a web browser or a search engine than a single site like Facebook.

flipboard social selling inside view

Did Your Content Make It?

Finally, personal media apps are socially aware. They let me grab media from my social networks and offer lots of ways to share content with others.

My personal media app of choice, Flipboard, makes daily content discovery and consumption a simple, fast and pleasant experience.

Flipboard saves me time by making all of the content that matters to me readily available, when and where I have time to consume it.

I use Flipboard on my iPhone and my iPad.  It’s available for almost every type of device, including the web.

So what does this new behavior mean to a content marketer?

Well, it’s simple: if you are a marketer trying to reach an audience with your content, then personal media apps represent a new filter that your content must find its way through.  

Or they may never see your stuff.

Personal Media Apps Trump Inbound Marketing

The extraordinary recent growth of Flipboard, Pinterest, Feedly and Google Newsstand show that personal media apps are becoming a preferred way for hundreds of millions of people to get their daily media fix.

I’ve been using personal media apps since 2010, and I can tell you that I spend a lot less time on publisher-built tablet apps, blog aggregators like Techcrunch, email newsletters – and even social networks like Twitter.

I believe personal media apps are the latest move in a fundamental shift taking place in media, in which control over media distribution is moving into the hands of consumers and away from publishers, aggregators and search engines.

If apps like Flipboard and Paper end up taking a sizable chunk of our media time, then inbound marketing practices will need to adapt. We really have no choice.

Replacing Search With Discovery

In content marketing today, most companies push reams of content onto the internet using a variety of paid and organic methods, hoping that people will find their content and be attracted to the company’s website.

The main assumption underlying all inbound marketing is that your buyers will search for and find your content. Mostly using Google, but also on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

Search. And Find.

Contrast this with Flipboard, which makes it easy for me to discover and consume all of the content that matters to me inside of a single app – so I don’t need to search for it.

Instead of requiring me to search on Google or leaving it to social serendipity, Flipboard presents the latest, best articles from hundreds of high quality sources and organizes them into sections that I designed myself – usually by topic.

To save time, I also subscribe to other people’s collections (Flipboard magazines) when I find someone who knows a topic better than me or who curates it more frequently. More time saved = less need to search.

Social Selling Magazine on Flipboard

My “Social Selling” Magazine on Flipboard – Over 10,000 Readers

Personal media apps are also impacting other forms of content discovery.

For example, my Flipboard setup is so complete that I rarely check other sources for news, media and events. I don’t check my RSS reader (Feedly) nearly as often, and I almost never read email newsletters or visit websites to see what’s been published lately. I find it really telling that most of the unread emails in my inbox consist of drip marketing emails and newsletters…

Bottom line: if you want your awesome content to reach me, then it needs to make it into my Flipboard setup – or I  probably won’t see it.

my flipboard setup

My Flipboard Setup

And I’m not alone. Personal media apps are free, and usage is growing like weeds.

Today, Flipboard has over 100 million users and is adding a few hundred thousand each day; Pinterest has 70 million affluent shoppers sharing products; and, Facebook Paper recently launched into a captive market of over 1 billion.

What’s A Marketer To Do?

When your audience takes control over media distribution, how do you get your content in front of them?

After all, marketers are paid to get reach and engagement with their content (which deliver leads & sales).

The good news is that some best practices are emerging that can help. And technology will play a major role.

Paid Promotion

The most obvious solution to being filtered by your audience is to market your content within the personal media apps themselves.

This may involve creating a popular Flipboard magazine or Pinterest board for your audience and then promoting those within those apps – assuming the platform offers paid advertising (and Flipboard & Pinterest do, see my disclosure below).

But for content marketers without big ad budgets, non-paid methods are needed.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer (or advocate) marketing is viewed by many as a powerful, inexpensive way to cut through the growing level of noise online.

Influencer marketing works like this: you find a powerful voice with a lot of followers in your market. Then you recruit them to speak for you, to share your content and to convince people to trust you. The influencer’s audience likes the message, trusts you more and eventually buys your stuff.

Hopefully you can recruit your influencers for free. Sometimes you need to compensate them.

talladega nights - ricky bobby sells wonder bread

Two of My Influencers: Shake, and Bake

But influencer marketing is really just a ‘social network’  solution to the ‘content shock’ problem. It assumes that aligning and leveraging person-to-person relationships is the most efficient way to get content to people who value it.

Problem is, influencer marketing may not work as well as people claim, and it may not scale for lots of practical reasons including: misaligned incentives, loss of trust in paid spokespeople, human error and biases. I think that influencer and advocate marketing are really just updated versions of affiliate marketing, so they will probably suffer from the same scalability challenges.

Besides, marketers don’t really want third party representation. What they really want is a direct, responsive relationship with their market!

We want to deliver the right content to the right person, when they need it and are most receptive to listening. We don’t really want third parties involved or changing our message in any way (if we can help it).

In other words, we want our content highlighted on the top of every potential buyer’s Flipboard, Paper and Pinterest feed.

So how do we accomplish this?

Master Emerging Discovery & Distribution Technologies

A lot of talk today is about how you need high quality content to win in inbound marketing today.

OK. Content quality is paramount.

But great quality cannot, by itself, overcome every obstacle. 

As a content marketer, your job also includes promoting and distributing your content to your target audience.

Today, distribution and promotion requires mastering new technologies including AdWords, marketing automation and new tech-based intermediaries including Google, Facebook – and now, Flipboard & Paper.

As we enter the age of personal media apps, there are a few emerging content distribution technologies that marketers will also need to master, including:

1. Personal media apps including Flipboard, Pinterest, Facebook Paper and Google Newsstand. Your list will vary depending on where your target audience spends most of their time.

The CMO’s Job: At a bare minimum, we need to design, format, tag and schedule our content publishing so it will look good in every media app that matters to our audience. Our content needs to be discoverable, beautiful, rich in visuals and meta-tagged correctly. We should also publish Flipboard Magazines, Pinterest boards and Newsstand channels chock-full of helpful quality content for our markets – whether we published that content or not.

2. New search engine algorithms, which are getting much better at identifying true user intent by entity, device and channel.

The CMO’s Job: We need a new model for SEO, one that understands how semantic search works and reflects how people engage with content differently across device types, apps, platforms and channels.  This mimics the way Google says it processes a search query today (or will soon). I’m not sure if anyone has a great comprehensive model on how to do this, yet.

3. Intelligent personal assistants. This includes technologies like Siri and Google Now and intelligent alerts and notifications used by mobile apps like Foursquare and Yelp. Given the rapid shift of attention to mobile devices, intelligent assistant services may soon be the #1 way that people learn that new content and offers are even available.

The CMO’s Job: We need to master the data formats and integrations for each app and each platform that our audience spends time on. We need to develop an agile technology and data services infrastructure to continuously feed these machines with accurate profiles, metadata and bite-sized content suitable for personal alerts.

Google Now

Google Now

4. Mobile apps. We’re not talking about your own branded apps. Rather,  we mean the 2-3% of apps that your customers actually use on their smart phone 😉

The CMO’s Job: We need to learn what types of ads and messaging work best inside of the apps our customers use (including personal media apps). We need to provide these apps with access to our offers and to other useful data via open APIs we build and maintain for that purpose.

5. Wearable computing devices and the apps that run on them.

The CMO’s Job: While it’s still early, wearable computing is worth keeping an eye on – mainly because it’s so personal and immediate. Anecdotally, I’ve used a Pebble smart watch for many months, and I don’t look at notifications on my smartphone much any more. Instead, I push the notifications that matter to my wrist. Something to think about.

Tiny Bird game for Pebble

Not what I meant ;-)

6. Emerging media networks. Especially Amazon, Apple, Netflix and YouTube. The age of forced advertising is in decline. Just ask Comcast and Time Warner about their TV subscriber growth if you don’t believe me.

The CMO’s Job: We need to continue to learn how to produce original, useful and entertaining video content that people choose not to skip. And tag it for discovery.

7. Conversational Marketing. Social media isn’t just about media and content marketing. It’s also a way to cut-through the noise by engaging in 1-to-1 conversations with your market.

The CMO’s Job: We need to help all of our front-line employees use social media to find the right prospects and influencers and to engage with them as people first – to solve problems, to answer questions and to offer assistance when needed.

Time To Upgrade Your Skills

If you’re with me so far, then it’s pretty obvious that your marketing team will need to be technically proficient to deal with your market’s adaptation to ‘content shock’

Leveraging technologies like the ones listed above will require making changes in staffing and training. You will need to buy software, hire consultants, hire experienced engineers and hire data systems experts to accomplish the work above.

I really mean nothing personal by this, but: most young liberal arts graduates just aren’t trained do this kind of work.

On the other hand, this post is about emerging trends. Most internet users do not use personal media apps today. You could rationally make the case to continue leaning on social networks and search engines to distribute your content for years.

Of course, if a decent share of your market starts using Flipboard and Paper, then your awesome investments into high-quality content may be for naught when it gets blocked, filtered, sifted and sorted out of your customers’ personal media network.

If you choose to ignore this trend, don’t be surprised if attention, amplification and engagement declines over the next few years.

Especially among influencers. Because guess who uses apps like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse the most? That’s right: leading publishers, bloggers, thought leaders and journalists.

Full disclosure: I am an angel investor in Flipboard, by way of my investment in The Ellerdale Project, a semantic content personalization platform that Flipboard acquired in July, 2010.

12 Awesome Social Selling Infographics You Shouldn’t Miss
Did you know? Killing a dolphin in ancient Greece was punishable by death.

On our Pinterest board we maintain a collection of more than 1,000 of the best social media infographics for our customers.

From what we can see, social selling seems to be alive and well on the ‘visual web’. Here is a collection of some of the best infographics of the past few months related to Social Selling (according to us).

Enjoy!

1. How B2B Sales Has Changed

Let’s start by grounding ourselves on why social selling matters. The team at Maximize Social Media put together the infographic below to summarize how B2B sales has changed vs. just a few years ago. In short, inbound marketing and social selling are replacing cold calling and in-person lead generation as the preferred method of opening B2B sales opportunities.

Social selling matters today because today’s B2B buyers prefer doing their own research (often online) before contacting a sales person, and they are spending more and more of their time learning about their options from other people in social media. If you aren’t actively engaging with them there, you can’t participate in the conversation.

How B2B Sales Has Changed

2. Account Executive Social Selling Study

So what is today’s “state of the market” with respect to social selling practices among account reps? This study of LinkedIn profiles from SalesforLife shows that we’re still in the early stages, with plenty of improvement left. That may lead a competitive advantage for early adopters.
Social Selling

3. Online vs. Offline Leads Compared

Generating your own leads is part-and-parcel to professional sales. As this Salesforce.com graphic shows, online leads offer many advantages over their offline counterparts. You’ll want to respond immediately to online leads – but don’t be too forward, or you’ll may lose the connection.


4.  17 Steps to a Perfect LinkedIn Profile

Do you think LinkedIn is mainly a place to post your resume? Then you’re missing out on one of the easiest ways to market yourself to customers in social media: your LI profile!

If you sell anything B2B, your very first step in your social selling journey should be to set your LinkedIn profile up properly to sell for you, 24/7.  This infographic from Maximize Social Business shows you how to do this.

5.  Build Your 12 Step Social Selling Routine.

It only takes 30-60 minutes a day to tap social media for new prospects, as this infographic from Ben Martin shows. Set a time budget, get organized and keep to your time limits – and you’ll be generating new leads in no time.

6.  Your Twitter Social Selling Gameplan

If LinkedIn is the king of social selling, then Twitter is the queen. Twitter is the best place online to find like-minded people you don’t already know, to share content and to establish yourself as a trusted expert.

Twitter’s also easy to learn. It only takes 4-5 weeks to learn how to use Twitter for social selling. Here’s a great outcome-focused gameplan to get your Twitter game up to speed.

7.  How To Get More Retweets

Once you learn how to use Twitter, you’ll quickly learn the importance of getting your messages re-tweeted so you can reach a much larger audience. In this infographic, QuickSprout (Neil Patel’s SEO shop) reveals the right and wrong ways to get others to share your awesome links – based upon a detailed analysis of user behavior on Twitter.

8.  How To Create Perfect Social Media Posts

As your social selling outreach takes you to new platforms, you’ll need to know how to create content that works for each particular audience. Use this handy SproutSocial infographic to save time and avoid mistakes.

9.  The Role of Content In Social Selling

Most of your time doing “social selling work” will probably be spent either creating, sharing or engaging with content. This graphic explains just how important your mastery over quality online content matters in attracting and closing new business online.

10. Social Selling: It’s All About Relationships

At the end of the day, social selling is just like any other kind of sales activity: your goal is to build strong, trust-based relationships with prospects and customers which eventually lead to sales.This infographic by Introhive shows us that the most successful social sellers prioritize relationships over everything else.

11. How To Connect With People

When sales prospecting in social media, one of the hardest things to do is to think of a way to connect with a prospect without turning them away. This graphic from FundersAndFinders reminds us there are many ways to connect with people we just met, in the real world. The good news? all of these can be used online, too! Feel free to be creative when approaching prospects on Twitter and LinkedIn – but above all, be yourself.

12. Touchpoints You May Be Missing on LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be a complex place to prospect. There are so many options for finding and connecting with people you can get lost. The graphic below from MarketingThink.com provides a handy list of the methods that work best.

We hope this collection helps you get onboard with social selling and make it your own.

Happy prospecting!

A Gaggle of Links for the Google+ Newbie
Did you know? A baby dolphin must learn to hold its breath while nursing.

In my opinion, Google+ beats other social networks for deep, engaging conversation and for boosting your search engine ranking.  We’ve seen  five +1’s on Google+  move a blog post from page 5 to page 1 in a couple of days.  The page lift wanes over time without repeated engagement, however.

If you are new to Google+, there’s really a lot you can do with it. It is incredibly rich in functionality. Which means there’s a lot to learn.

Listed below are some great resources that will get your feet planted in the fastest-growing social network. Most of these were provided by Denis Labelle, someone you should definitely follow on G+ (he is a fountain of knowledge).

1. The new Google+

2. How-To Google+ Videos

3. Learn More: www.google.com/+/learnmore/

4. Hangouts on Air:google.com/hangouts

5. The New Google+ Photo: plus.google.com/photos/whatsnew

6. Google+ Auto-Enhance: gplusproject.appspot.com/auto-enhance/index.html

7. Google+ Business: google.com/+/business/

8. Google+ At Work:  google.com/enterprise/apps/business/landing/plus/index.html

9. Google+ Help Center: support.google.com/plus

10. Google+… Plus:

Will Independent Apps Outrun Enterprise Suites?
Did you know? Dolphins don't drink water. All of their hydration comes from the food they eat.

A recent post by Rajiv Kapoor on Marketo’s blog prompted me to think about the current tech cycle we’re in and how it might play out.

Specifically, I wonder if the new crop of hyper-fast-growing independent software providers led by marketing kings, Marketo, Hubspot and HootSuite wrestle the enterprise market away from incumbent full-suite software giants such as SAP, Oracle, NetSuite and Salesforce.com?

Now, you might find Salesforce.com a funny pick for “incumbent full-suite software giant”, but as far as offering a large integrated suite of sales, marketing and customer service functionality – plus a complete cloud services offering – they certainly fit the bill.

Rajiv’s point of view is that the time for independent software vendors has arrived – primarily because application integration is so easy to do.

Hmmm, I’m not so sure about that. Some of what’s going on is eerily familiar to me.

You see, I’ve been in and out of the enterprise software business for more than 25 years. This means I’ve been through at least 4 major tech cycles like the cloud computing/SaaS cycle we are living through right now.

What’s Different This Time

There are many things different about enterprise software today, of course.

Most software today is sold on a service/subscription basis for example. A lot of it is also hosted in the cloud, so legacy license and hardware “hooks” into enterprise IT infrastructures aren’t as common as they used to be.

As Rajiv explained quite eloquently in his post, the most striking difference is that integrating applications is a lot easier to accomplish today than at any time in history.

APIs and open standards have greatly simplified the work it takes to tie two systems together – in real time if you want. What used to take your most experienced developers months to accomplish now takes a junior engineer a day or two.

This explains why leading independent application providers like Marketo, Hubspot, Salesforce.com and HootSuite have taken a “platform” approach to growing their feature footprint by partnering with complimentary app providers, rather than building every conceivable feature themselves. It’s just that easy.

A “knit together best of breed” strategy certainly seems like the right thing to do at this stage of the tech cycle. And for customers who don’t need every feature available (which is all of us), the platforms that surround each ISV lets them have the few bits of extra functionality we care about right now.

That said, it’s important to remember that the current tech cycle hasn’t played itself out yet. And these cycles have a certain rhythm to them.

So, while cheaper technical integration is great, is it really enough of a reason for independent application providers to win against full-suite vendors, long term?

You see, I remember the promise of J2EE, SOAP, XML and CORBA…

Signs Say…

432_win-pictures-magic-8ball

There are emerging signs in the market that maybe this time isn’t so different, after all.

For example, when big system integrators and analytics firms start ramping up staff fast – as they are right now – there exists a pretty clear opportunity for full-suite providers to step-in and ease the integration pain for enterprises.

Also, CFOs seem to be getting more engaged with marketing system purchases and asking more ROI questions. That means bigger-ticket, more strategic initiatives may be coming next.

Some Things Are More Important than Integration

The full-suite software providers – SAP, Salesforce.com, Netsuite and Oracle – also possess a few big advantages that in my opinion just haven’t played themselves out yet in this cycle.

For example,back in the “year 2000” software cycle (1998-2002), I worked as an associate partner at Accenture and a VP at an independent application vendor, Aspect Development (we sold to i2 for $9B, but that’s another story).

Although they were relatively late to the internet software game, the full-suite vendors at the time, SAP and Oracle, eventually sold the following benefits very effectively to take share from independents like us:

  • a single vendor to hold accountable for implementation across functional areas (huge, big, ginormous)
  • cross-functional enterprise reporting (sells well to the C-suite)
  • unique business-wide analytics (as a standard feature)
  • a few high-value capabilities that you can only get through deep integration of apps

These benefits trumped new technology in pretty much every deal in which they were a factor.

Today, the advantages above are also available to the full-suite providers in this cycle. Can’t see why they’re not, anyway.

Given the M&A to-date, it seems clear that Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com are squarely focused on pursuing these advantages, right now 😉

With Size Comes (Big Data) Advantages

Having a broader application footprint also gives you a strategic advantage when it comes to analytics.

For example, here are three important and trendy analytics-based capabilities that full-suite providers could press to win deals in today’s marketing-heavy purchase cycle:

  1. A “full pipeline view” of sales & marketing activities for each major market segment/geo… from advertising to engagement (HootSuite) to post-sale support (Zendesk). Including rational attribution of marketing and advertising expense, which is a really big problem in the fragmented world of digital marketing today.
  2. A 360 view of employee communications and engagement… from internal communications (Jive) to external-facing apps (Hootsuite) to traditional HR and finance apps (Workday). Employees are online 24/7, so job performance can be measured today like never before. Improves outsourcing relationships, too.
  3. Big Data / predictive analytics that leverage many different data stores to learn, automate and optimize micro-marketing and customer engagement tasks. Doing this requires data from one or more of the following systems: CRM, marketing automation, social media, digital advertising, inbound marketing and online direct response.

While it’s true that you CAN integrate multiple independent apps to accomplish the capabilities above, many large companies WON’T WANT to do this if they can help it – especially when it comes to stuff like analytics where skills are thin to non-existent.

When companies do try to integrate systems on their own, they often lose time and miss some benefits/features. It can be downright career-ending for some.

I guess some things in enterprise software – like addressing your customer’s Fears, Uncertainties and Doubts – never change.

No FUD

 

 

Room for Everyone?

Frankly, I think there’s probably room for every vendor to grow right now, especially in social media marketing, marketing automation and social CRM.  So perhaps the whole debate is moot.

Nevertheless, I find strategic shifts like this interesting to watch. Huge implications for investors and customers, as well.

How about you – where do you see the enterprise software market headed next?

How To Find Insurance Leads on Twitter
Did you know? Dolphins sleep by resting one half of their brain at a time so that one eye is always open.

Many agents and brokers use Twitter to identify new insurance leads to help build their book of business. We have dozens of clients doing that on NeedTagger, today.

However, we’ve learned by working with our agency clients that prospecting on Twitter for insurance leads is something that requires a more nuanced approach than simply searching for the keyword “insurance”. If you’ve tried that simplistic approach, you know what we’re talking about!

Monitor Twitter For Life Events

Seasoned insurance agents know that personally-important life events such as buying a new car, having a child, moving or changing jobs often cause people to purchase insurance or re-think their insurance needs.

Well, people are people, and the same principle applies to Twitter conversations.

While it is true that some people will discuss their insurance needs explicitly on Twitter (see our “Automotive / People discussing Car Insurance” pre-tested stream for an example), most agents will get more leads by searching for people who discuss their life events. Because people talk a LOT more frequently about these sorts of things – just like they do in the real world!

The instructions below explain how you can create intent-filtered streams on NeedTagger to surface more leads from Twitter for your agency.

NeedTagger Settings for Insurance Leads

NeedTagger can be used to identify people discussing their insurance needs and/or their major life events.

Listed below are the StreamBuilder settings for identifying several classic insurance buying signals, plus an explicit search setup for car insurance.

Changing jobs

When people change jobs, they often have to change insurance providers. It may be because their new employer requires it, because they moved to a new state or simply because their financial situation has changed. Moving to a new city is a big life event trigger for insurance!

Here are the NeedTagger settings to find people discussing changing jobs on Twitter:

  • Industry: “Other”
  • Pre-Tested Stream: leave blank
  • Conversation Type: “Planning to leave job” (note: there are more job-related filters you can try, as well)

classic insurance trigger event - changing job

Addition to the Family

Having a new baby? Congratulations! You’ll need to update your health insurance. And perhaps buy some whole life.

Here are the NeedTagger settings to find people discussing new additions to their family, on Twitter:

  • Industry: “Health”
  • Pre-Tested Stream: “Pregnancy: people expecting a baby soon”

classic insurance trigger event - pregnancy

Change in residence

Try the following setup. Note the keyword and negative keyword selections (in blue).

classic insurance trigger event - moving

Buying a car

People buy cars all the time, and they need insurance for every one. However, buying a new car can also be related to a larger life event such as getting a new job, heading off to college, getting married, having a child or graduating college. In all of these situations, insurance needs change.

Here are the NeedTagger settings to find people discussing the purchase of a new car on Twitter:

Try the following setup. Note our use of a pre-tested Keyword group for “Automobile Makes and Models”.

classic insurance trigger event - buying vehicle any type

Car Insurance

Now that you’ve mastered the more subtle approach, why not monitor Twitter for people simply talking about buying car insurance?

Here are the NeedTagger settings to find people discussing their car insurance needs on Twitter.

Try the following setup. Note the inclusion of brand names and alternative keywords in the “Keywords” field. Select many Conversation Types.
needtagger setup - car insurance
With a Free account, you’ll only be able to try one of these set ups at a time. See if one of these works for your agency, then upgrade to Pro to cover all of your bases.

Build Relationships Over Time

Once you identify an in-market prospect, you’ll want to monitor their conversations and look for natural opportunities to to connect & build a relationship, over time.

To do this, add each prospect you find in NeedTagger to a “Prospects” list you’ve set up your Twitter account.

Note: you may want to check the “Number of Tweets” statistic in their Twitter bio/profile before adding them as a Twitter prospect – to make sure they post on Twitter frequently enough to actually have a conversation.

When connecting with a prospect for the first time, try to react to something they just said that sincerely interests you. This can be anything they say that you might have in common, such as:

  • local sports
  • local events
  • volunteer opportunities
  • great places to shop or eat
  • professional associations and clubs
  • etc.

The key is to build relationships through natural conversations – just like you do offline!

Your Twitter Profile is Your Landing Page

You might be asking: OK, it’s nice to talk to people – but when do I ask for an in-person meeting? when do I bring up the subject of insurance?

Tip: let your Twitter bio/profile page do the heavy lifting. On Twitter, your bio is your business card and your landing page. But it’s better than a business card, because it’s interactive.

Prospects will click or call you when they like you and are ready for insurance. So make sure you put  your phone number and website link on your bio!

Here’s an example of an insurance agent’s Twitter profile done right (note the regulatory disclosure link):

Don Lilly Agency example

We hope this brief overview will help you use Twitter & NeedTagger to identify and connect with more insurance leads in your market.

Happy prospecting!

Mastering The Salmon Dance: Why High Quality Content Isn’t Enough To Get Noticed Online
Did you know? Dolphins don't drink water. All of their hydration comes from the food they eat.

I recently saw the following short interview with Jay Baer (posted on Convince and Convert) in which he talks about the recent changes to Google’s search engine algorithms (Panda and Hummingbird in particular).

In this interview, Jay explains why these changes to Google mean that producing high quality authoritative content is becoming a minimum requirement to winning customer attention online – if you care about ranking on a search engine, that is.

He’s right.

But this is just short term advice.

There’s a technology storm coming soon that will render even great content worthless if you’re not prepared for it.

Google Moves from Keywords to Context

Others have written extensively about where Google is headed with innovations in quality scoringconversational search and semantic search. I won’t bore you with the details here.

Suffice it to say, the future of getting your content “found” online is no longer about keyword stuffing, guest blogging and grey-hat link building.

Google’s recent and rapid migration away from keywords towards understanding user context carries big implications for today’s inbound marketing, content marketing and of course, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.

With Google’s latest releases (Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird), we are now being forced to focus intensely on the user’s needs with our content. High quality content is the only sure way to rank.

If you haven’t done so already, now is a good time to re-think what you’ve been doing with your websites, your SEO tactics, your marketing platforms and especially, your content.

Producing High Quality Content Isn’t Nearly Enough To Get Noticed

Watching Jay’s interview only crystallized my strongly-held belief that high quality content will soon lose its competitive advantage. 

“Say what? Content marketing is on fire!”, you may be thinking.

I’ve written about this issue before.  I call it “The Flipboard Effect”.

The story goes like this:

As marketers school together and publish ever-increasing amounts of high-quality, authoritative content online, a simple math problem arises that most content marketing pros haven’t addressed (much less acknowledged).

We end up publishing much more quality content than our target audience could ever consume.  

We overwhelm them with quality, in other words.

You might argue, as Barry Feldman recently did, that even better content quality is the way to win this game.

To which I would counter,

Drowning in Champagne is still drowning.

large-glass-of-champagne

In the real world, even super-premium-quality markets can get over-supplied with inventory. Just ask Ferrari about the early 1990s.

This is especially true when the cost of the product is so low, as it is with digital media.

The math behind this issue is easy to understand:

  • the amount of quality content being published & shared online is doubling about every 2 years
  • the growth in online users, human attention span and our ability to consume content are not growing as fast.

This is why publishing better, high-quality content will never be a complete long-term strategy for grabbing the attention of your audience.

I believe that we reached the saturation point on Facebook several years ago, when EdgeRank was released.

On Twitter, the “drowning in Champagne” problem is clear to anyone who follows more than 100 quality accounts. Have you read ALL of your Twitter stream lately?

In the future, high-quality content will of course be important – but it will be a minimum requirement. You’ll have to do much more than that to actually deliver that content to your target audience.

Mastering The Salmon Dance

So what else do we need to do to reach our market… you know, those nice people who won’t take our calls or read our emails today?

Well, in my opinion we will have to master three new dance steps to get our awesome content into the welcoming arms of our market.  

I call this 3-step ditty, “The Salmon Dance” … and not just because I like The Chemical Brothers (which I do! bonus music video, below). 

Here are the three new dance steps we’ll all need to learn:

Step 1:  make your content stand out in a really crowded stream.

No matter how good it is, you must acknowledge that your awesome content is entering a roaring, noisy and fast-growing stream overflowing with similar-looking beasts.

So how do we get noticed?

Well, understand that people are passionate first and rational second. So inject some emotion into your content to get it noticed.

Creativity, heart-tugging headlines, humor and drama have never been more important.

If your team is more business than fun (as most professional marketers tend to be), then hire a professional videographer, a comedian or a screen writer to produce and edit your next line of content. Or maybe even your agency (the horror!).

You know, maybe Miley Cyrus is on to something (ignoring “content quality” for a second).

twerking a scientific explanation

Step 2: learn how to navigate new, hidden (& fatal) obstacles.  

grizzly bear hunting salmon

Once published in a million channels, your content will have to make it through a variety of customer media filters that are being built right now between you and your customer.  

Hundreds of millions of people today are using new personal media curation platforms to uncover the most relevant content from their fast-moving streams – and to filter out the crapSome of the more popular ones used today include Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Feedly and Flipboard (90mm users).

The dance step you need to learn here is simple: learn how to optimize & publish your content so they shine in these platforms.

For example, Flipboard accepts optimized RSS feeds, so your articles can look and feel like they were published in a magazine.

Step 3:  turn new technology into a competitive advantage

In addition to dealing with changing audience behavior, you will also need to learn how to publish content that will naturally rank well in the new search models and algorithms that are coming online, right now.

If you don’t learn how to adapt to this sea change in search technology, then your content risks being ignored – even if it’s awesome.

salmon against the current

New Search Algorithms

Among the more important hidden forces you’ll need to turn to your advantage are new search algorithms that Google, Apple and Facebook are building right now.

For example, consider latent search.

Latent search is what happens when Google doesn’t wait for you to enter a search query, but instead relies on environmental data (mobile apps) and historical data (your cookie trail) to know what you’re doing right now and recommend an action or content that might be helpful… without requiring you to lift a finger or enter a query.

To crunch this data, Google uses machine learning, semantic markups and natural language processing – to name a few.

The most important thing you need to understand about latent search is that it prioritizes content based on user behavior, user context & entities – not keywords. Latent search also uses data collected on our mobile devices, a trend that is growing very quickly.

Latent search algorithms are more complex and harder to understand than Page Rank. And, if Google’s most recent change to keyword visibility is an indication, we may soon have to navigate these currents with even less information than we have now.

Clearly, old-style SEO tricks won’t cut it anymore.

According to Google, to rank well in their search platform, you will need to build content that:

  • addresses a specific problem or otherwise provides significant value for the user
  • is formatted to work on the user’s device (e.g., if for mobile then it should be short & to the point, load fast, responsive, etc.)
  • relates to entities (not keywords) that the user cares about

To learn more about this subject, check out Eric Engel’s great Copyblogger article that describes how Hummingbird, semantic search and context are changing the face of search – and why quality, helpful content is a prerequisite for ranking high.

Mobile and Wearable Computing

If you think your audience has attention deficit problems today, then you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The wide variety of mobile & wearable computing devices coming to market now will soon account for more than 1/2 of online impressions.

Each type of device – smartwatch, eyeglass, tablet and smartphone – fills a different role in our lives, which argues for a future in which different types of content may be required for each. 

And, clearly, blog posts aren’t the answer for mobile/wearable computing.

There are some common “content themes” emerging for mobile devices, however. Most mobile & wearable devices provide a lot less screen space to engage people, and they are used mainly when people are time-pressed, so they average less viewing time. This argues for a future full of bite-sized chunks of content delivered as-needed, in a highly personalized way. Long-form posts won’t work on a smart watch.

Google Now is a real product that provides a glimpse into the way online marketing might work on mobile/wearable devices in the future:

google now on phone

Think: bite-sized, actionable, alert-like and personalized.

Here are a few more mobile-related technologies that are coming soon that you should start learning about now – before they impact your journey upstream:

  • cookie-less ad targeting
  • mobile-ready content: useful, minimal and responsive (1,000 word blog posts might not cut it)
  • in-app publishing
  • click-to-call marketing (back to the future, with phone calls!)
  • wearable computing apps (smart watches & Google Glass)

So:

Is your content ready to master the “Salmon Dance”?

 

How To Use Promoted Tweets To Shorten Your Sales Cycle
Did you know? A 260 lb. dolphin eats approximately 33 lbs. of fish daily.

Twitter recently announced Keyword Targeting for their Promoted Tweets ad product.

Performance marketers rejoiced,

Now we can generate leads and sales from social networks using native, keyword-targeted ads!

Maybe…

As Forbes pointed out in a recent article, the jury is out as to whether keyword-targeted advertising in social media will deliver search-engine level of performance. There are good reasons to doubt it will. The biggest difference? on Twitter, you are often interrupting conversations with your content, not responding to personal inquiries for help.

While you can definitely sell stuff on Twitter, it’s clear that most of Twitter’s marketing value (impressions) lies in top-of-funnel branding, prospecting and lead nurturing activities, where Twitter’s real-time content-sharing and interest-based relationship-building competencies shine.

Can Twitter Be Used To Generate Leads At Scale?

Absolutely!

Twitter’s real-time content marketing advantages can be leveraged to capture warm leads, build email lists and shorten sales cycles. This is because Twitter is uniquely awesome at getting the right content in front of the right person at the right time – in real-time.

Now, with keyword targeted Promoted Tweets available to everyone, Twitter has made getting your content to people who need it a whole lot easier – because now you can automate your outreach marketing (the most frequent request from our users). Yes!

This post describes a simple process you can use to generate leads and to shorten your sales cycle using Twitter’s new keyword-targeted Promoted Tweets.

Here’s a deck we put together that explains the method in detail, along with a few lessons we learned along the way:

 

The cool thing about using intent-targeted Promoted Tweets is that it gets your best content in front of your prospects when THEY need it.

It’s like having a dedicated direct marketing team monitoring Twitter for leads, 24/7.

Even better: you don’t have to sit in front of the screen all day to monitor and respond!

Of course, you have to pay Twitter for the privilege of automating your content marketing. But for many marketers, it’s well worth the price.

The Strategy: Target Buyer Needs With Helpful Content

The strategy we recommend is to promote your most helpful content – FAQs, videos, blog posts, infographics, spec sheets, whatever – to carefully-targeted prospects during specific moments of need they discuss on Twitter.

If you don’t yet have high-quality, buyer-issue-focused content online, then go out and get some right now.

Presenting your most helpful content to prospects near their ‘moment of need’ can shorten your sales process in three important ways:

  • You will knock-down more sales obstacles, faster.
  • You will build your brand as a helpful provider of solutions and content – not a cold-calling machine.
  • You will respond to your buyer’s needs in real-time, in a non-threatening manner. Being timely can make a huge impact on engagement, CTR and lead conversion rates.

Tactically, you will be placing solution-focused Promoted Tweets in front of buyers discussing issues. Your Promoted Tweets will contain links to helpful content on your website.

To target your potential buyers, you will use conversational keywords that indicate purchase intent.  These keywords are what they actually say on Twitter during their moments of need.

OK, enough of the strategy – here is the process, starting with campaign planning.

Campaign Planning

Preparing for a sales-focused Promoted Tweets campaign is straightforward and consists of four steps:

  1. Compile a list of the questions and issues that your prospective customers and active leads commonly face.
  2. Gather links to helpful content you have already produced that address your prospects’ key issues.
  3. Create a landing page for each issue in 1.
  4. Post at least one tweet from your account with a link to each landing page in 3.

The first step is to compile a short-list of the most important questions and issues that commonly stand between an uninformed prospect and a sale. The best way to find these issues is to ask your sales force or your direct marketing team, if you have one. If you target multiple types of buyers or personas, then you will need a list of issues for each persona.

The second step is to gather together (or create) links to blog posts, videos and other forms of high-quality digital content that addresses each key buyer issue. It is best if the content is yours, but it’s not required: plenty of people will click on your bio and follow you if you share helpful content. The important thing is that the content you share addresses the issue and is helpful.

Next, you will create at least one landing page for each issue or group of similar issues. Place your content behind or on these landing pages and generate a unique web tracking code for each. Each landing page should provide a way to capture lead information like a social login, an email signup form or a full-blown lead capture form.

Finally, you will prepare one or more Promoted Tweets for each issue. This is because on Twitter, your tweet is your native ad.  In your posts, be natural, use a 1-to-1 conversation tone and keep it brief (like you normally do on Twitter).

For promoted tweets, we like to combine a short buyer question with a simple CTA, for example:

Trouble With Malware? Learn 3 ways to eliminate it from your life: http://ntag.it/5vbcxr

Now that you have your marketing assets in place, you are ready to launch your first intent-targeted Promoted Tweets Campaign.

Campaign Execution

Setting up a campaign on Twitter is easy.

You will want to create one Promoted Tweets Campaign per buyer issue addressed. This way, you can see how well you are addressing specific pain points and how good each type of issue is at delivering sales-qualified leads.

Setting up a keyword-targeted Promoted Tweets campaign to address a specific issue in your buyer’s journey is easy to do – if you know what keywords to use. More about that in a second.

You’ll enter your keywords into the campaign panel below. You can choose from Broad Match, Phrase Match or Negative Keyword match for each keyword entered.  There is a practical user interface limit of about 300 keywords, although the system can actually handle more.

twitter keyword targeting

twitter keyword targeting

So… how do you identify the right conversational keywords for an issue-focused campaign?

Selecting the Right Keywords: Not The Same As Search

To come up with the right keywords for your campaign, the first thing you should do is take a few minutes to listen to what your prospective buyers actually say on Twitter.

Use Twitter Advanced Search or a specialized tool like NeedTagger to filter Twitter for people discussing the issues on your list. Take note of the verb phrases (intent markers), topics and hashtags that are commonly mentioned.

For example, this guy has an issue with malware and might need some anti-virus software:

Malware example tweet Snapshot 9:25:13 7:54 AM

Verb (intent) markers include: “ruins your day” and “fml”.

Topics include “malware” and “browsers”.

As you can see from the example above, the words people use to express intent on Twitter (conversational keywords) are often different than the keywords they might enter into Google to find a solution (search keywords).

To illustrate just how different, what sort of solutions do you think Clinton might find on Google if he entered the keyword, “ruins your day malware fml”?

Just for giggles, we tried it – here’s what we got:

ruins your day Snapshot 9:25:13 8:02 AMWhere’s Norton AntiVirus when you need them?

Selecting the right conversational keywords to target is a potential stumbling block for anyone who wants to augment their Google AdWords PPC campaigns with keyword-targeted social media campaigns. Especially if they are performance-marketing oriented, which means they want to target purchase intent (mostly).

To help bridge this gap, we’ve been working on an automated way to identify the right conversational keywords to target, for NeedTagger customers.

Currently in private beta, NeedTagger can now automatically generate a list of the top-performing conversational keywords for your intent-filtered stream.  (ask us about the beta if you’re interested).

Here’s how that works:

needtagger converts keywords Snapshot 9:25:13 8:45 AM

 

 

An alternative way to generate conversational keywords is to use a keyword combination tool (Google AdWords has a free one) and combine verb phrases and topics together, as follows:

SEO keyword combination tool Snapshot 9:25:13 8:29 AM

Measuring Results

Twitter provides a great set of analytics that help you understand how effective your ad campaigns are and in how people are engaging with your Promoted Tweets.

Analytics compared Twitter vs NeedTagger Snapshot 9:25:13 12:39 PM

Twitter does not, however, provide a way for you to A/B test your landing pages and messages against a target audience prior to launching a paid campaign. Using a tool like NeedTagger is a great way to test your messaging in real-time with real prospects to see how well they work – before you start paying to promote them.

In our Insights tab, NeedTagger also provides the actual number of needs we find each day for your intent-filtered stream of conversations. We cannot guarantee 100% alignment with what Twitter targets for your keywords (we use different algorithms), but Insights can give you a pretty good indication of how much opportunity there is inside of Twitter for your campaign, before you start paying.

We also generate daily email alerts that will keep you on top of your market.

Optimizing Your Campaign

Twitter offers several cool features and media types that can help you maximize results. We won’t go into depth on them here.

One does deserve a mention for lead generators, however:

Twitter has been testing a new Lead Generation Card that simplifies content sharing and lead capture from prospects who like your helpful content. The way it works is really simple (see screenshot below).

Twitter Lead Generation Card

Twitter Lead Generation Card

Lead Gen Cards are great for building email lists!

Just understand that this is all you will get – an email address. To mine those leads, you will need a decent marketing automation platform.

In summary, Twitter’s new keyword-targeted Promoted Tweets product is a powerful new tool in a performance marketer’s kit. But you’ll need high quality helpful content and know how to identify the right conversational keywords to make it work for you.

To learn about more ways to leverage social media for lead generation, check out this excellent presentation prepared by Marketo:

 

Have you tried Twitter’s new keyword-targeted Promoted Tweets?

Tell us about your experience, by leaving a comment below.

Does Online Influencer Marketing Really Impact Sales?
Did you know? Killing a dolphin in ancient Greece was punishable by death.

This evening on Google+, I came across the following video of Sam Fiorella, courtesy of his business partner, Danny Brown.

Source: http://www.senseimarketing.com/customer-decision-making-processes-and-influence-marketing/

If you don’t know who they are, Sam and Danny are experts in the science of “influencer marketing”.

Their just-released book is a challenging view of how influence actually works in today’s age of multi-channel, socially-connected marketing.

I deeply respect Sam and Danny for the work they are doing to unravel this complex subject.

So far, however, I am unconvinced that online influencer marketing makes much of a meaningful impact on sales.

At least, not at an ROI that compares favorably with other marketing options available today.

To be clear, I’m not saying you can’t sell on Twitter – our customers have proven that you can, a thousand times over.

What I’m saying here is that it’s not clear you can recruit other people to sell for you. At least, not at any sort of affordable scale.

Offline Relationships Still Matter

A big open issue regarding the influencer marketing trend concerns the relative importance of offline and online relationships between the same two people.

The issue is best explained by asking this question:

If an offline relationship existed between a buyer and seller prior to an online interaction, should the online interaction be counted as the only driver of the sale?

Of course not!

Yet, this is exactly what metrics like Klout and PeerIndex are being used to claim. To be fair, the metrics companies themselves are quite clear their numbers shouldn’t be taken out of context. Nevertheless, this is exactly what a lot of marketing teams are doing – this morning!

Until someone does a decent job analyzing both types of influence in the same study, I think every marketing team should pause and ask the same question.

My personal hunch is that offline relationships are where most sales influence actually lies. If you ask any sales person about this – including social selling pros – they will tell you ALL about the importance of building offline relationships.

Online Purchase Intent: Search vs. Social

Even if we restrict our view to purely online channels, it appears to us that personal intent signals like Google search queries are at least one order of magnitude better predictors of purchase intent than social signals such as: Twitter & Facebook search queries; influencer scores like Klout & PeerIndex; and relationship vectors derived from social and interest graphs, et al.

For the record, please note that I am the CEO/founder of a social customer prospecting platform.  We don’t take this stuff lightly 😉

And, again, the world of marketing cannot be boiled into a single number. I’m sure there are exceptions. I just haven’t seen any that we well-documented, yet.

For both personal and professional reasons, I’d love to see a rigorous study (or three) that proves online influencer marketing drives incremental sales with a positive ROI (at scale) – this would be an incredibly important insight.

But as a trained engineer, I am forced to ask myself: where’s the proof?

Causation is Not Correlation (or something like that)

A lot of what I am saying here is based on our experience running a social customer prospecting platform and my own analysis of studies to date.

For example, we’ve run dozens of tests comparing Twitter organic and paid marketing campaigns vs. equivalent search engine organic and paid campaigns to understand how the two channels compare in their ability to drive sales.

Every influencer marketing study I’ve read so far has basically been a statistical correlation of online data – not a scientific analysis of human behavior.

Before I read yet another blog post about “the power of influencer marketing”… I’d love to read just one that lays out a little scientific method, so we can find out what’s really going on!

For example, I’d like to know:

  • how do online and offline communications actually influence purchases?
  • what is the hypothesis we just tested?
  • what is the design of our experiment?
  • how did we control our experiment for independent variables?
  • what were our expected results – before running the experiment?
  • how did our actual results differ from expected results – with a thoughtful analysis of the probable reasons why?
  • please provide a detailed description of the mechanisms, systems and processes involved in converting our dependent variables into independently verifiable results.
  • what are the possible sources of error and their magnitudes?
  • please provide a thoughtful comparison of prior study results vs. ours?

I don’t think I am asking too much.

For years, the best search marketers have been using this type of scientific rigor to optimize online sales.

Yes, search geeks lean on statistics – a LOT. But they also base their experiments and hypotheses on detailed observations of human behavior using heat maps, eye tracking, et al.

So why aren’t we doing this type of primary research in social media / influencer marketing?

After speaking with Danny Brown on Google+ a few months ago, I know that he and Sam Fiorella understand the differences I’m talking about here.  In fact, they are working on a more rigorous way to measure the types of influence that really matter to business.  I applaud their efforts.  It’s a huge challenge, and it’s where we need to go.

But for now, I can’t help but be skeptical about what we call “influencer marketing” today – which is mostly just a new type of PR outreach.

I hope my skepticism is off-base. Because proving that influencer marketing drives sales (profitably) would be an incredibly important thing to learn.

The bottom line is: if we are going to claim that influencer marketing is a meaningful way to drive sales at a positive ROI – then the onus is on us to prove that it actually does.

I look forward to seeing more evidence as the story unfolds.

For now, consider me a “hopeful skeptic”.

With Growth Slowing, Does Twitter Need a Better User Experience?
Did you know? There are 32 species of marine dolphins, four types of river dolphins, and six types of porpoises.

Twitter’s growth is slowing

Just in time for their IPO.

A recent post by Om Malik  claims Twitter will not come close to CEO Dick Costello’s targeted 400 million users by year’s end.

It’ll be more like 240 million, according to AllThingsD.

Twitter is adding about 4.5 million new users a month – a growth rate of 20-30% per year.

That’s not exactly “hot IPO” territory. Only 15% of the US internet population uses the service, after all.

Is this as far as we go?

More importantly: why the slowdown?

Twitter employees recently told AllThingsD that

Twitter has a basic problem with churn — lots of people sample the service, and then stop using it.

That mirrors what many of my friends say when I ask them why they stopped using Twitter.

My friends are older than the average user, however.

Is Twitter for Conversation – or Content?

Twitter recently added a new conversations view to make the service more useful as a conversational tool. It provides visual threading of discussions, which helps you stay on top of a discussion over time.

twitter_conversations-100051919-origThat’s great – except most people don’t actually use Twitter for engaging in conversations. The number of “lurkers” far outweighs the number of people who use Twitter for daily conversation.

Instead, most people use Twitter for its real-time news and media sharing awesome-ness. The vast majority of active users spend their time watching, reading, clicking and sharing stuff they find.

In other words, most people go to Twitter for content.

A Question of Noise

noise-canceling-headphone-6

With so many people following each other today (the average number of people connected to each  user continues to rise), it has become hard for people to find unique and relevant content on Twitter (emphasis on relevant).

The first challenge is that there’s simply too much content to sift through. If you follow over a hundred or so people who post frequently, you cannot possibly see it all.

As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, the primary method of filtering Twitter for signal – searching for keywords and hashtags – doesn’t slow the feeds down enough. A lot of junk remains.

A second, growing problem is the rise of redundant posts.

Little by little, as the number of connections per user grows, we are seeing the same links tweeted by more and more people. Redundant posts is another form of noise.

The result: “searching for signal” is wasting an ever-increasing amount of time for each user.

And as long as more people connect with each other, the math says this is going to get worse – unless Twitter starts filtering for us without our input, a la Facebook’s EdgeRank.

The looming threat to Twitter is clear: as each person hits their own point of “diminishing signal strength”, s/he may stop using Twitter and look for another way to find good content.

We may be seeing this occur right now, but only Twitter knows for sure.

It’s sort of like what might happen if cable TV channels jammed too many crappy infomercials into their lineup and…

… heyyy, wait a second…

10-worst-infomercials-ever-1-9838-1365536955-23_big

If Twitter wants to reduce churn, then they need to make the content shared on their network more relevant, more find-able and more engaging for ordinary people.

Doing this will require implementing better ways of organizing, prioritizing, surfacing and rendering shared links for each person.

It may, in other words, require a better user experience.

Twitter’s Not Sitting Still

Twitter clearly understands they need to improve their user experience.

To be fair, they have been rolling out lots of new features to address these issues.

For example, in the past few years they have:

  • Added media cards. This speeds content consumption and improves the user experience, but it’s not enough. Media cards are still in streams and surrounded by junk.
  • Vastly improved their UI.  Really nice job optimizing their original design.
  • Dramatically reduced spam.  They have dozens of people who spend all day swatting those flies for us.
  • Reduced Bots and Robo-Spammers.
  • Acquired Tweetdeck. We love Tweetdeck, but it’s not the answer. Neither is HootSuite, another tool we love.

I wouldn’t look to Twitter’s current ecosystem of apps for an answer.

The problem with Twitter apps today – including ours – is that our designs replicate Twitter’s noisy “fire hose in a stream” design.  This is because  Twitter requires us to do that.

By locking their app developers into their user experience, Twitter may have become their own worst enemy on solving this particular issue.

Media Curation Apps: The Long-Term Fix?

Of course, there are platforms out there that do a great job of media curation and rendering for ordinary people.

These are the things that Pinterest, Feedly and Flipboard do especially well.

When you study the growth rates of these apps, it appears that tens of millions of people are, indeed, looking for better ways of finding quality media than social networks can provide.

For example: did you know that in terms of new users, Flipboard is growing faster than Twitter?  That’s right.

Flipboard CEO Mike McCue recently confirmed they crossed 85 million users. They are now adding more than 5 million new users a month! Twitter is adding 4.5 million.

Ruh-roh.

The new gang of media curation apps seems to be attracting a not-inconsequential amount of attention away from the networks they pull their content from.

My own media consumption behavior has changed like this, too.

My Daily Media Ritual

Keep in mind that I am the CEO of a Twitter conversation mining startup…

In the morning, I open Flipboard first to get at all the “good stuff” on Twitter and other sources before I jump into HootSuite for engagement. Flipboard is my morning newspaper.

Here’s my Flipboard setup:

my flipboar setup

I also curate a few Flipboard magazines, which I tend to update right before breakfast (usually).

During the day, I will jump onto Twitter a few times for mentions, replies, follows and DMs.  I also use NeedTagger and HootSuite for my business posting and engagement.

At night, I use Flipboard exclusively for reading my Twitter (and other networks) content, because it is a such a great experience.

This is my daily media ritual. Your mileage will vary.

In related news, I quit buying newspapers and magazines more than a year ago.  And I read far fewer newsletters these days.

Your Move, Twitter

I can’t prove everything I just stated about Twitter. It’s mostly opinion (except for the growth numbers).

But I believe Twitter’s inability to separate signal from noise in their interface is the single biggest reason their growth is stalling out.

To fix this, I’d love to see Twitter build its own Flipboard-style media experience on top of their user streams and add some of the “personal interest graph magic” that Flipboard has mastered so well.

Keep the raw feeds, but offer an alternative and more immersive content navigation and consumption experience.

I believe doing this would go far to re-ignite Twitter’s growth as “the CNN of the social age”.

Just my opinion.

In full disclosure, I am an investor in Flipboard. I don’t have any inside information or ongoing relationship with the team. Not the reason for this post.

I wrote this post because I use both products. A LOT.

 

What do you think about Twitter’s slowing growth? What should they do to fix it?

 

Ref: Seeking Alpha

AllThingsD: Twitter falling well short of user growth target • 1:55 PM

  • Though Twitter CEO Dick Costolo proclaimed earlier this year he expected the microblogging giant to have 400M monthly active users (MAUs) by the end of 2013 after hitting 200M in Dec. ’12, sources tell AllThingsD Twitter currently has ~240M MAUs.
  • That implies a 2013 growth rate of less than 4.5M MAUs/month, and suggests Twitter will end the year with ~260M, far below Costolo’s target. For reference, Facebook (FB -0.9%) closed Q2 with 1.15B total MAUs (+3.6% Q/Q and +21% Y/Y) and 819M mobile MAUs. Om Malik previously reported Twitter is falling short of Costolo’s target, but didn’t give a specific number.
  • Twitter employees tell AllThingsD their company “has a basic problem with churn — lots of people sample the service, and then stop using it.” Twitter is trying to address the problem in part by adding Facebook-like features (such as a conversations view) it hopes will make the service less intimidating to new users. Ironically, this is happening while Facebook tries tobecome more like Twitter.
  • More on Twitter’s IPO: IIIIII