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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.

How to create your own social analytics dashboard

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There are a lot of social media metrics and measurement tools out there aimed at corporate users. Some of them are quite good. Some less so. But pretty much all of them require us to buy into the way in which they define and calculate success. The problem with this approach is that there is little or no opportunity to fine tune either the KPI (Key Performance Indicator – how success is defined) or the algorithm (how the metric is calculated). This probably isn’t a big deal for organisations with no clear social media strategy but for the increasing number of companies that know what they’re trying to achieve with which platforms it soon becomes a problem.

So what’s the solution?

Well, as far as I am aware there is no off-the-shelf system available (correct me if I’m wrong) that allows these sophisticated users to build their own social media  dashboard and track the KPIs that they define on a regular basis. So it’s left to the social analytics geeks like me to build bespoke measurement models (usually in Excel, albeit with some useful, informative charts and graphs) and either keep them updated manually or invest a significant chunk of budget in developing a software-based solution (nice work if you can get it).

Regardless, there is still a process that needs following in order to create such a ‘dashboard’. Here’s mine:

1. Objectives

Everything must start with objectives. What are you trying to achieve? This is the only thing your KPIs should be tracking.

2. Competitors

Who are your competitors? Do you care what they’re doing? Is it important to be beating or challenging them? If so, then make sure you build competitor tracking into your KPIs. It also has a bearing on the metrics you’ll be able to use.

3. Data Sources

Which channels are you (and your competitors) using? If you’re using them, you should be including them in your measurement model. Don’t leave them out because you already know you’re not performing well in those areas.

4. Metrics

The tricky bit. What metrics can you extract from each data source/channel and how easily/inexpensively? There are compromises that might need making here depending on resources and budgets.

5. Behaviours

Armed with all of the above, it’s time to decide what behaviours on social media (both yours and others’) most accurately reflect the objectives you are trying to achieve.

6. Calculations

The clever bit. Now is the time to take the metrics and work out how they should be combined mathematically in order to create KPIs that accurately measure the identified behaviours on each platform.

7. Augmentation

For me, the last stage is the most important – and most frequently omitted. By augmenting the KPIs with other business data that also measures your objectives (such as incoming lead volumes, sales, customer service requests, customer satisfaction data, etc.), you can link social media activity and investment with real, hard numbers that the board will understand.

Putting the social media cart before the horse

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I’ve noticed an increase in the number of prospective clients talking to me about how they need to take a more grown-up approach to their use of social media. They tell me they know they’ve not been very good at using it and need to get a proper structure and strategy in place that is better aligned to their business and communications objectives. We have some discussions about how I could help them and talk about what it might cost. Yet, all too often, after some deliberation they  declare that they’ve decided to find someone to help them with implementation, at a fraction of my cost (albeit not a massive one).

Maybe I’m biased, but to me this is false economy. Sure, if you have invested in developing a strategy/plan and a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve with social media, it makes absolutely no sense to hire a senior consultant to execute that strategy. But equally, if you’ve already identified that you need to create or refine these, then you are going to be sorely disappointed spending £3k a month on someone “doing” social media without actually knowing what they’re supposed to be “doing” or why.

But don’t worry. In the words of the social media ‘guru’ in the cartoon, I’m sure you’ll “figure it out later”…

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:

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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.

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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.

Social media crisis planning

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In this penultimate post describing the five-stage social media engagement model I outlined last week, I propose a process for escalating the most severe brand mentions.

For most companies, there will come a point where a comment is discovered on social media channels that is so important and so severe that escalation will be required; the single mention that sparks a whole series of internal recriminations. The key to keeping the issue grounded and assessed objectively is to have an escalation procedure in place.

By setting some simple criteria that must be met, you will be able to determine whether an issue requires escalation and, if so, who needs to be involved in resolving it. The criteria will vary from organisation to organisation, but are likely to be based around the following:

  • The influence of the person making the comment
  • The speed at which the comment is being spread around their networks
  • Whether the comment has, or is likely to, attract the attention of mainstream media
  • The number of other people agreeing with the comment or contributing similar experiences
  • The impact of the comment on your company’s reputation

The criteria you choose can be treated individually or in concert (e.g. the person must have high influence and the comment must be high impact). You may even have immediate and trending criteria to pick up both wildfire and slow burn issues respectively. On the basis of these escalation rules, you should be able to easily determine the most important issues that need attention, before they get out of control – at which point you will always be on the back foot, reacting to each new mention.

When it comes to the issue of who to escalate an issue to, try to avoid the default of sending everything straight to the CEO or general counsel. Instead, I recommend you put in place an escalation team consisting of senior representatives from key departments: marketing; communications; sales; human resources; product development; customer support; etc. By doing so, there is a clear and common understanding of the collective responsibilities of the group – as well as a reassurance that the right people are focused on bringing the issue to a satisfactory resolution.

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.

How to decide whether to respond to social media mentions

A few days ago I outlined a five-stage model for social media engagement. Assuming that effective monitoring is in place to flag up mentions, the first stage requires a company or brand to evaluate whether engagement is actually required.

The types of mentions that you would probably want to respond to – because the person is either an existing or potential brand advocate or brand adversary – include:

  • Mentions of your company at presentations or events
  • Compliments directed towards your company, products, services or employees
  • Recommendations and referrals to your products and services
  • Customer service issues or enquiries
  • Sales leads or product/service enquiries
  • Company, product or service issues that you are aware of and have an explanation/response for.

Equally it is important to be clear on what not to respond to, as doing so could either be intrusive, inappropriate or inflammatory. Such instances include:

  • Generic mentions, perhaps alongside competitors, without any kind of commentary
  • Comments that are deliberately antagonistic in nature
  • Mentions that simply link to your own blog posts or announcements, unless they are low volume and an individual response is warranted
  • Discussions between two or more individuals that mention your company but where your responding would be seen as intrusive.

When it comes to deciding whether to respond, there are two golden rules:

  1. Does it appear that the person wants the company to respond?
  2. Do we have anything useful to respond with?

This simple visual model summarises the options:

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If it’s clear that person is not anticipating a response and you have nothing useful to reply with, then a response is probably unnecessary. That’s not to say you have nothing to learn from it, however. Conversely, if the person is clearly expecting a response and you have something useful to respond with, then you should absolutely respond. However if a response is anticipated but you have nothing of value to add, or if a response is not expected but you feel you can contribute, you need to proceed with caution. In the first scenario, all you can probably do is acknowledge the comment; in the second, you need to tread the fine line between delight and dismay.

How to get social media engagement right

 

Social media engagement rules or protocols provide guidance to employees regarding how to go about participating in online conversation on behalf of the company. They are usually intended to direct rather than restrict, and are often perceived as more positive in nature.

Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) posed some questions of any organisation looking to develop social media engagement guidance:

  • Who are your organisation’s social media heroes today?
  • What kind of engagement is your organisation currently enabling?
  • How will your rules of engagement align with company culture and values?

They recommend that organisations:

  • Listen to what is being said across the social web and get a feel for the sentiment of existing conversation about your company before participating in social media dialogue;
  • Monitor the frontlines using listening tools, fielding frequently asked questions immediately and pushing those conversations needing a more detailed or experienced answer to the correct people with those skill sets in the organisation;
  • Develop a method to filter noise and spam from the relevant conversations using a workflow that meshes well with the organisation’s structure.

But the biggest challenge that most organisations face isn’t how to monitor social media, but what to do with the information they discover. That’s where the right engagement model comes in.

A five-stage model for engagement

If you subscribe to the view that social media engagement is about connecting with people to build relationships that are mutually beneficial and emotionally fulfilling, then you immediately realise that most companies aren’t actually geared up to work in this way. Here is a five-stage model that might help:

1. Evaluate

Is engagement actually required? A response might only be necessary if it comes from an existing or potential brand advocate or adversary, but things like deliberately antagonistic comments, ‘private’ discussions, generic mentions without any commentary, etc, may not warrant a response at all.

2. Acknowledge

With social media there is an expectation of 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 the opportunity to build a connection with an advocate or build a bridge with an adversary will be lost.

3. Prioritise and Classify

If your brand receives a high volume of relevant mentions, it is likely that you will need to prioritise and/or classify them. That way you can ensure the right people 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.

4. Escalate

The key to keeping major issues grounded and assessed objectively is to have an escalation procedure in place. By setting some simple criteria that must be met, you will be able to determine whether an issue requires escalation and, if so, who needs to be involved in resolving it.

5. Respond

Any response strategy should consist not only of what you want to say, but also who is going to say it and how, as responding online to a compliment is very different to responding to a criticism. Whatever you do, you must resist the marketer’s natural urge to control, target or infiltrate social media – the resulting fallout will provide perfect fodder for others, including competitors and the mainstream media.

Over the next few days, I’ll delve into each of these five stages in more detail.