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Baby’s First Words: The opening tweets of well known brands

It’s throwback Thursday, so let’s take a look at some of the more interesting first tweets from some well known brands.

Friendly

Corny

Smart

Boring (how times change)

Grateful

Matter of fact

Funny

 

 

Who’s winning the war for growth – Twitter or LinkedIn?

Both Twitter and LinkedIn posted Q4 2013 earnings results this week, and both saw sharp declines in their stock price. But what other comparisons can be made from the usage data they made available?

User numbers

Although the two firms use different methods of calculating active users (Twitter has its own Monthly Active Users metric, whilst LinkedIn relies on its own membership data and Comscore measurement), a comparison can easily be made.

Users

Much has been made of Twitter’s slowing growth, but LinkedIn’s growth has slowed even further (a mere 1.6% increase on Q3 2013, which actually showed a sharp decline).

Winner: Twitter

Activity

Again, both companies use different measures of activity. Twitter has its nebulous ‘timeline views’ whereas LinkedIn relies on Comscore’s calculation of page views.

Views

This would account for the marked discrepancy in the absolute numbers seen above, so it is better to look at the growth/decline over the last quarter. Here we see that whilst both platforms have declined, it is actually LinkedIn that has dropped the most:

  • Twitter: Timeline views down 6.9% quarter-on-quarter and up 26.5% year-on-year
  • LinkedIn: Page views down 8.2% quarter-on-quarter and up 9.8% year-on-year

It’s also worth looking at these absolute activity number relative to the user base.

Views per User

Again, a direct comparison between the numbers themselves is not helpful, because of the methods each platform uses to track activity. The trend is interesting though:

  • Twitter saw a 10.5% decline quarter-on-quarter (3.5% down year-on-year) in timeline views per active user
  • LinkedIn saw a 9.6% decline quarter-on-quarter (9.2% down year-on-year) in page views per unique visitor
  • Over the full year, timeline views per active user on Twitter actually increased by 11.8% whereas page views per unique visitor for LinkedIn saw a massive 24.9% drop

Winner: Twitter

Revenue

From the data above, it seems odd that Twitter’s stock price fell by a quarter following its results, whereas LinkedIn’s fell by only (!) 15 per cent. Looking at revenue trends might help.

Revenue

LinkedIn is the clear winner when it comes to net revenue, out-gunning Twitter by a factor of almost two. But Twitter is beginning to close the gap; its net revenues are up 117% year-on-year compared to LinkedIn’s 47.3% growth compared to the same quarter in 2012.

Revenue per user shows the same story.

Revenue by User

In Q4 2013 LinkedIn brought in $2.39 of net revenue per user/visitor compared to Twitter’s $1.01. But yet again, it is Twitter that is seeing the fastest growth in this area, putting on 38.4% quarter-on-quarter (66.5% year-on-year) compared to LinkedIn’s 12% quarter-on-quarter (21.8% year-on-year).

Winner: TBA

So whose stock would you buy?

How Twitter’s user engagement problem affects brands

In case you hadn’t heard, Twitter has something of a user engagement problem. In its Q4 2013 earnings results the social network reported that whilst user numbers had grown overall, both the total number of timeline views and the number of timeline views per active user had sharply decreased, as shown below.

Engagement

Some commentators are putting the decline down to all the user interface changes that have been brought in since the IPO, but regardless of the reason what it essentially means is that my, your and everyone else’s tweets are not being seen as much as they were. In Q4 2013, the average user made 613 timeline views – or 6.7 per day, down from 7.4 per day in Q3. That’s a 10% less chance that our tweets will be seen (and probably more given that the number of users has increased).

And that’s why Twitter’s user engagement problem is yours as well: you are going to have work even harder to get your messages across. No wonder then that Twitter’s advertising revenues increased by over 40% in the final quarter of last year. Perhaps this downward trend is just a cunning ploy from Twitter to get brands spending more of their advertising dollars with them?

Twitter’s quarterly results: what marketers really need to know

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There’s been a lot of negative coverage this morning regarding Twitter’s latest financial results. The focus has been on the poor profit figures (the company posted a net loss for the full year of $645 million against revenues of $665 million), but what numbers did the social network reveal that might be of interest to those brands using it to engage consumers and customers?

Usage

Investors have reacted badly to the news that – in the US – monthly active users (MAUs) only grew by one million (1.9%) in the last quarter of 2013.

MAU

What marketers need to know:

  • MAUs outside the US grew by 8 million in Q4 2013, an increase of 4.5% over the previous quarter
  • Year-on-year growth in the US was 20%, bringing the number of monthly active users to 54 million
  • Outside the US, MAUs grew year-on-year by over a third – up to 187 million from 140 million in Q4 2012
  • CONCLUSION: The usage numbers in the US might be stalling but growth outside the US shows no sign of letting up

Advertising

Although profits are down Twitter’s full year revenue is up $665, an increase of 110% year-on-year.

Advertising

What marketers need to know:

  • Around 90% of Twitter’s revenues come from advertising, and these rose by $67m (over 40%) in the last quarter of 2013 alone
  • Full year advertising revenues increased by 120% to $594m from (just) $270m in 2012
  • Average advertising revenue earned per 1,000 timeline views (how Twitter measures user engagement) stood at $3.80 in the US and just $0.60 outside the US in Q4 2013 – but the latter rose by 140% year-on-year
  • CONCLUSION: Twitter is still a ripe advertising channel and marketers outside the US should start familiarising themselves with its products and services

Engagement

This area, I suspect, is the one most troubling Twitter and its investors. It should also be a cause for concern to marketers.

Engagement

What marketers need to know:

  • The absolute number of timeline views decreased across the board in Q4 2013, down by 11 billion to 148 billion worldwide, although still up from the same quarter in the previous year
  • Worse still given the growth in monthly active users, the number of timeline views each user makes dropped by 10% worldwide from Q3–Q4 2013 (a bigger slump internationally than in the US), with an average user making 613 timeline views over the quarter compared to 635 the previous year
  • Whichever way you look at the data, user engagement is down: quarter-on-quarter; year-on-year; full year-on-full year; and both in the US and internationally
  • CONCLUSION: If user engagement continues to fall, marketers will need to work even harder to reach and engage consumers and customers that are themselves interacting less

You can download a PDF of Twitter’s earnings presentation from their website. A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet containing the data behind my analysis is available for download from this site.

Using Twitter cards to drive web traffic

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 12.02.22Twitter ‘cards’ are nothing new. As a user of the social network, you have most likely seen them already. They’re the little content previews that appear underneath a tweet when you click ‘View summary’ or ‘View media’ when the author has posted a link to a web URL such as a news story from The New York Times or a YouTube video. But did you know that you don’t have to own one of the most popular websites to have a Twitter card appear when someone links to your content? Like this:

Anyone with a blog or website can apply to have Twitter cards enabled for their posts or pages. You simply have to include some code in the source of the page that conforms to Twitter’s requirements, then apply for authorisation (which in most cases currently appears to be immediate). This presents a number opportunities to drive traffic from Twitter to your site, particularly as Twitter provides a few different card layouts:

  • Summary Card: Default Card, including a title, description, thumbnail, and Twitter account attribution.
  • Summary Card with Large Image: Similar to a Summary Card, but offers the ability to prominently feature an image.
  • Photo Card: A Tweet sized photo Card.
  • Gallery Card: A Tweet Card geared toward highlighting a collection of photos.
  • App Card: A Tweet Card for providing a profile of an application.
  • App Installs and Deep-Linking: An extension to any Card that provides app download and deep linking.
  • Player Card: A Tweet sized video/audio/media player Card.
  • Product Card: A Tweet Card to better represent product content.

My favourite implementation so far has been from the online fundraising site JustGiving. They use product cards to give every fundraising page a Twitter card that shows the amount raised to date, the charity being supported and a clever ‘donate’ button, like this example shows:

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.58.31

This, according to the site’s social and labs product managerJonathan Waddingham, “helps bring more Twitter users back to the site to donate”. Whilst JustGiving has no data showing an increase in donations pre- and post-Twitter card integration, Waddingham confirmed on Twitter that not only did the click-through rate (CTR) increase by 50% when they moved from summary cards to product cards, but that they know that tweets from Twitter buttons have twice the impact of tweets from other sources.

twitter-stats-2013-01

As more site owners implement Twitter cards, the novelty (and with it, click-through rates) will no doubt wear off. But for now, if you’re not already using Twitter cards you really ought to start thinking about what they could do for your web traffic.

How brands should respond on social media

Facebook-reply-buttonThe final stage of the five-step social media engagement model I outlined is response. By following the previous four steps (evaluate, acknowledge, prioritise and classify, and escalate), a brand will inevitably be faced by the question: so how exactly should we respond?

First, any response should include consideration not only of what you want to say, but also who is going to say it and how; responding to a compliment is very different to responding to a criticism. Whatever you do, you must resist the natural marketer’s urge to control, target or infiltrate social media – the resulting fallout will provide perfect fodder for critics, competitors and commentators (especially those in the ‘traditional’ media). However, when done properly, companies are just as entitled as any other individual or organisation to participate in online conversation with their customers, and in most cases it will be warmly welcomed. Contrary to popular media opinion, these people are not just a bunch of activists waiting to attack – although they will if companies appear irresponsible or disrespectful by simply treating ‘their’ space as yet another advertising medium.

The ground rules for participation in social media are undefined and open to constant interpretation. One person’s contact and dialogue is another’s spam and manipulation. But responding with information about your product or position can deliver a number of benefits:

  • it gets your side of a story heard, straight from the source;
  • it can generate word of mouth, assuming what you have to say is worth talking about;
  • it provides instant feedback on what you have to say;
  • it allows you to communicate in your own voice, on a less formal basis.

Responding to negative mentions

Let’s first look at some of the most common negative situations and the kind of response you might consider.

Malicious attacks are directly intended to inflict some kind of reputational damage on an organization or individual. Yet they provide an opportunity to encourage others to support your position. A direct response is rarely recommended, but peer pressure can quickly redress the balance. Let’s be clear: this isn’t the same as rigging votes or posting anonymous messages, but about building a network of friends for a brand that will defend it in times of adversity, like a good friend who defends you in public.

There is a lot of what can only be classed as mischievousness that takes place in social media. People want to ruffle an organisation’s feathers because in their eyes they’ve done something wrong and want them to respond. If this happens, remember that you don’t have to respond directly, but you might want to before someone else does. Each case will vary, but a little bit of humility will go a long way towards showing an openness that could be quite unexpected.

However, the vast majority of negative mentions will probably just be caused by misinformation or misinterpretation, so make sure your communication is clear and honest. There are also opportunities to facilitate conversations and add value to existing communities, but that requires organizations to evolve from wanting to control the conversation to becoming the facilitator of conversation. The objective is to give people more reasons to talk about your company.

Responding to positive mentions

Positive mentions are generally easier to deal with – although take care not to come across as conceited or arrogant. In most cases, it will simply be a case of acknowledging the compliment and thanking those making it. If it’s something really wonderful, then you could also consider using it in some way as part of your own social media marketing efforts, for instance by linking, tweeting or blogging about it in a way that makes the acknowledgement public. Personally, I find companies that do this for every compliment quite tiresome – it makes me think they are vain, desperate or have nothing else of value to contribute (or all three) so think carefully whether you risk turning a compliment into a criticism, purely as a result of how you choose to respond to it.

Prioritisation as part of social media engagement

The third part of the social media engagement model I recommend to brands is Prioritisation and Classification. Here’s how it works.

If your listening strategy results in a large number of relevant mentions, it is likely that you will need to prioritise at some point. That way you can deal with the highest priority items first as these are the most likely to escalate quickly before you get chance to evaluate or respond to them.

  • High priority mentions will probably include potentially damaging comments about your products or services, or issues that could have – or already are having – a direct impact on revenue or reputation.
  • Medium priority mentions might include relevant mentions about your organisation or a competitor, such as complaints or compliments.
  • Low priority mentions are most likely to cover blog or forum posts where you get a passing mention or general comments about the company, products or services.

Another way in which to identify those mentions that require a response is to classify them. This can help distinguish comments on products – and even different products – from customer service issues, for example, and general competitive references from news and announcements. It can even be used to segment potential sales leads for quick and easy follow up. This is particularly useful when there is a cross-departmental social media team with different areas of responsibility and, when combined with an appropriate listening platform, can form the basis for routing comments directly to the people who need to respond to them.

On Monday I will address the fourth stage, Escalation.

How brands can respond to tricky questions on social media

In this second post delving deeper into my five-stage social media engagement model I take a look at how companies can acknowledge difficult questions and issues raised on social media in order to buy themselves time to formulate an appropriate response.

Once a brand mention on social media has been discovered and you have decided whether to respond, one of the most difficult elements of social media engagement for companies to deal with is the time factor. In social media channels there is an expectation of – indeed, sometimes a requirement for – immediacy. By the time the PR, customer service and legal people have all had their say, there is a danger that the discussion will have already moved on and you will have lost your opportunity to build a connection with an advocate or build a bridge with an adversary. For most organisations, it isn’t an option to bypass these internal stakeholders, but there are two strategies for dealing with this situation.

Be prepared

It is often said that conversations that take place on social media are a true reflection of the conversations that take place in real life. Therefore, chances are that the issues that get raised in forums, blogs and the like will be the same ones that you’ve already had to deal with as a company. It doesn’t take a lot of work then to adapt and modify the responses you would give to shareholders or journalists and make them appropriate for social media. Make them short and less formal, and put additional detail on your website (at a hidden URL if necessary) that you can link to. If you do this for the most common issues as part of your normal crisis planning and preparedness activities, you will save yourself a lot of running around every time someone mentions it on Twitter.

Buy time

For those new issues that bubble up online, you obviously won’t have pre-prepared statements ready to go. So you will need to buy yourself some time whilst you do. The best way to do this is to acknowledge the mention (note that this isn’t the same as acknowledging the issue or problem), through a simple form of words such as ‘Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll see what I can find out.’ This shows that the brand is listening to people’s concerns and may mean that they are more likely to suspend their final judgement (which will likely be influenced by their peers and your competitors whilst you formulate your response) until they hear back from you. The downside of this approach is, of course, that there is now an expectation that they will get a resolution in a reasonable period of time. So, before you acknowledge make sure that your organisation is committed to resolving issues as openly and quickly as possible, as attempts to brush a problem under the carpet or ignore it until it goes away are only likely to backfire, creating a bigger problem than a single mention in a social network.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at how brands and companies can classify and prioritise social media mentions in order to ensure the right person provides the right response in the right amount of time.

Why businesses should follow their customers on social networks

shunningI was somewhat disheartened, yet not completely surprised, to see that Twitter has released a feature allowing its users to receive direct messages (DMs) from people they don’t follow. As reported by The Drum, what this really means is that businesses and brands on Twitter can now receive DMs from customers – such as when asking for account numbers or tracking numbers – without having to follow them (it also opens those brands up to a barrage of DM spam which is perhaps just desserts).

It’s a move that comes at the same time that Twitter announces the ability for businesses to schedule tweets in advance so that they “can publish content at any time without having staff on-call to Tweet on evenings, weekends, holidays, or other inconvenient times”.

These are both clear signals that Twitter is prioritising the demands of brands and businesses who simply want to use it as a marketing channel for broadcasting messages, not a way to converse and interact with their customers. It’s further evidence of the slippery slope that takes Twitter further and further from the core principles of ‘social’ media and closer to mass commercialisation.

When it comes to the DM/following issue, I just don’t get it. Why on earth wouldn’t a brand want to follow its customers, to hear what they care about, what they’re passionate about, what they think of other products and services, and even competitors? Is it really that awful for a brand to be seen to be following their customers? Is it really that difficult for the person who asks the customer to send a DM to click the ‘follow’ button as well? And what message is this ‘arms length’ attitude sending to customers about how much the brand values them?

Scheduled tweets I can perhaps understand a little more (everyone deserves time off), but I’m afraid can’t see it being used for anything other than filling our timelines with more broadcast messages – even worse, messages planned by a marketing agency – with little resemblance to, or consideration about, what is happening in the world at the time. We have already seen examples where scheduled tweets have caused unfortunate reputation damage simply because no one can predict when a crisis or tragedy might occur. Many more brands look set to join their ranks with such an easy ‘fire and forget’ approach.

For me, both of these developments are nothing more than treatment for the symptoms of lazy marketing – interruption, irrelevancy and ignorance. Brands would be better advised to follow their customers, to listen to what they’re saying, and to talk to them like human beings.

Image source: stock.xchng

Will 2013 be the year of social customer service?

It was Professor Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion who first exclaimed, “By jove! I think she’s got it”. But I’m finding myself shouting the same words in relation to the increasing number of companies I try to engage with on Twitter. OK, so I don’t actually shout, nor refer to them as female, but you get the general idea.

Three conversations of my own so far this year have led me to this literary conclusion, as well as a few I’ve seen mentioned by others.

Nationwide Building Society

My first example comes from Nationwide Building Society, which has taken the sad decision to close their branch in my local Norfolk market town. Despite petitions and protestations, they look set to go through with their threat at the end of this month, leaving just one bank (Barclays) in a small rural town whose fate already looks terminal judging by the number of empty shops.

I am sure Nationwide have their reasons, although as a customer myself they haven’t done a very good job of explaining them, one of which is that the branch simply doesn’t get used. So when I popped in this week to bank a couple of cheques and some cash (which I will soon have to make an extra hour’s round trip to do) and tweeted a photo of a fairly full counter, the last I expected was this conversation:

http://storify.com/niallcook/asknationwide-conversation

Whilst Nationwide’s initial response was a bit too scripted for my liking (the 1/4 gives it away), the “By jove…” moment for me was seeing them realise that even though they weren’t going to resolve my issue, that was no reason not to respond to it.

I don’t expect anything to come of it, but I do appreciate the fact that they have tried to listen. Although if I ever find out they didn’t pass my comments on, then I’ll be switching to Barclays!

British Airways

My second example comes from British Airways.

Now I don’t know if you’re aware, but the EU legislators have recently ruled conclusively that not only do airlines taking off from EU airports have to pay compensation for cancellations they now have to do so for long delays. The penalty to the airline is a flat rate per passenger of up to €600 (based on distance), unless they can demonstrate “extraordinary” circumstances beyond their control. Worse still (for the airline at least), passengers can claim for delays incurred in the past (although not completely indefinitely).

Personally, I find this pretty unfair, but having incurred such a delay when travelling to New York for Thanksgiving last year, I duly put in my claim for compensation (€1,800 – more than I paid for the tickets!) at the end of November. Then I waited for an acknowledgement. And waited. And waited. Then called. And waited. Then called again. And waited. And… you get the picture.

Having given them over 6 weeks simply to acknowledge my claim, I called again and said that unless they dealt with my claim then I would be forced to assume they had accepted it and would pursue them for the amount they owed my though the small claims court. They promised to “see what they could do”.

I was pretty incensed to have been put in this position, so took it out on the @British_Airways Twitter account:

http://storify.com/niallcook/british-airways-conversation

Within a couple of hours, I’d received an email from British Airways confirming that my claim had been reviewed, approved and that I’d have a cheque within a few days. True to their word, it arrived today (and has gone straight toward paying for my place on a cycle ride from London to Paris in July, in aid of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices).

Tesco

Buoyed by these two experiences, I decided to see if the @UKTesco account could help me get the VAT receipt I’d been requesting for a Tesco Direct order. You have to request one online, yet given no indication of when you might get it. Here’s the ensuing conversation:

http://storify.com/niallcook/uktesco-conversation

Putting aside my astonishment that obtaining a VAT receipt from one of the country’s biggest retailers is such a rare request that it takes 12 weeks and gets done by a separate area of the business (I have visions of an old woman painstakingly typing up VAT receipts in a broom cupboard somewhere in Tesco HQ), it’s just another example demonstrating that social customer service on Twitter is here to stay – whether you like it or not.