Archive for March, 2009

Striking a balance between Skittles and stagnant

When I started Steele Headed, I told myself I wasn’t going to focus exclusively on social media. I figured that there were already enough bloggers out there praising SM as the end-all-be-all of integrated marketing and public relations, and that I should approach my blog from a new angle. In an attempt to branch out, here’s a post that ties in a few elements of Web design, usability and user experience.

fruit-skittlesAnd what better way to transition from SM to Web site design than the Skittles site? The popular candy brand (a division of Mars, Inc.) changed its home page several weeks back to include nothing but social media sites (YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter included).

I won’t go into too much depth on the pros/cons of this unique viral marketing approach (enough bloggers already have), but I do want to use the site as an example of incorporating two-way communication in a Web site. (If you’re looking for discussion on the Skittles site, check out these posts by Shel Holtz and Matt Dickman.)

Studies have shown that using two-way communication features in Web design improves usability, encourages repeat traffic and increases the overall success of a Web site (contact me if you want more info on this; I’ve got research galore, including a number of scholarly articles).

The Skittles site is on one end of the spectrum, devoting all of its Web site real estate to user-generated content. It favors feedback and fosters conversation. The site is constantly changing, and gives users the chances to interact with the brand. It’s a quintessential example of using two-way communication in Web design.

On the other end of the spectrum is a site that uses no elements of two-way communication. For example, take a look at “the official Vonage site.” This Vonage page* is essentially an online flier. It provides no space for user feedback and sends users a single one-way message: “buy my service.”

vonage1

The trouble with the flier-like page isn’t so much its pushy message as it is the lack of options. It’s a prime example of how online marketers don’t consider the user experience.  When I came to this page, I had two options: buy the service or leave.

To make matters worse, the page doesn’t even include a link to the Vonage homepage. But once I found my way there, things weren’t much better. The only way to interact with the company was through email or telephone. I was left alone and frustrated on a stagnant island of a Web site.

So how do we strike the balance between Skittles and stagnant?

In my experience, it’s about pairing useful content with usable interaction. Realistically, most sites aren’t going to take the Skittles path and hand over the reins of their Web site content to just anyone (literally). But providing a way for users to interact with the site in a human way is important. Time Warner Cable provides a good example of a site that gives frustrated users a chance to “Contact Us,” giving the site a personal feel.

The moral of the story is that usability affects PR; people who get frustrated with a Web site tend to have a negative opinion of the host company. Including two-way communication features can help alleviate some of these problems by offering users a way to ask for help — or at least leave feedback. When users can interact with the site, even if they can’t find what they’re looking for, they don’t leave with a pent-up feeling of angst and frustration.

But maybe it’s just me? Maybe I expect too much when I visit a company’s Web site? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.

* Upon further investigation, I found that the pre-paid cell phone company only uses this page to lure potential customers, and actually has another “full-service” site.  But because Vonage uses SEM to place this link at the top of Google search results, it’s what I found first and makes a great example.

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March 30, 2009 at 11:39 PM 3 comments

The Social Media Involvement Pyramid

Earlier this month I ran across a great blog post by Ruth Seeley discussing different levels of involvement with social media. Ruth’s post referenced a piece of research done by Forrester that defined five different tiers of social media participation and put them into this ladder diagram.

**It should be noted here that this study is a little outdated (April 2007). Regardless, the distinctions of involvement are still relevant.

Social Media Involvement Latter

The diagram suggests (as Ruth does in her post), that users should start out on the base rung and work their way up to the Creator level. But we all know that’s just not the way it works. Ruth even admits to starting at the top and working her way down.

I’m not a fan of the ladder design for two reasons:

1) The steps aren’t mutually exclusive. While I understand that the groupings are organized in a natural progression that may lend themselves to this type of diagram, to successfully survive in social media, you need to be active in all 5 areas. (I’m excluding the Inactive group all together.)

2) The progression doesn’t make since. There’s no real “top” or “bottom” in SM as portrayed in this diagram. Users don’t have to start as spectators, and rarely work their way through each rung. A fair number of my friends and friendz could be labeled solely as Joiners or Critics. I guess they just jumped to reach these rungs on the “ladder.”

But enough of my mockery. Truth-be-told, I like this diagram and would love to see more research regarding the use of social media. Shoot, it’s research like this that gives PR professionals an excuse for wasting half their time on sites like Twitter and Facebook!

But that’s why I decided to revamp the diagram and put it in a whole new context.

So here it is, The Social Media Involvement Pyramid:

Social Media Pyramid

Big deal, huh? You think I just ripped off someone else’s idea, and tweaked it a bit? Well, you may be right, but here’s why the SMIP makes more sense to me:

Similar to traditional public relations, success in the SM world depends on a good base of research — in this case Spectating. Users must have an understanding of what they’re dealing with in order to know what they’re talking about. The more knowledgeable they are the better shot they have at good communication. More time should be spent in this area than any other. (The stronger the base, the better the pyramid!)

Joining is almost equally important in SM . Connect to intelligent, influential people and find out what they’re saying and doing. This is similar to a PR pro’s need to network. There’s a reason this is the second tier of the structure; it’s all about who you know (or interact with online).

Collecting is essentially a more engaged form of spectating. It’s the equivalent of a PR pro’s task of monitoring. It’s real-time research to find out what’s important or interesting. It’s also the last part of what I consider to be the base of the SMIP.

Without a strong base, the top of the pyramid has little relevance.

I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but involvement in the Critiquing and Creating levels are generally not as significant if you haven’t spent an adequate time building your SM base. To make a solid argument, you have to have a sturdy base. Think of it this way:

Inverted Social Media Involvement Pryamid

**One last special note should be made to point out the most important figure in the ladder diagram: 52 percent of online US adults are not active in social media. Again, I know this study is almost two years old, but the fact is that the majority of adults who actually access the Internet were not involved with social media. Makes you wonder why there’s such a fuss over this stuff, huh?

March 18, 2009 at 10:33 PM Leave a comment

Are we friends on Facebook yet?

Are we friends on Facebook yet?

the_facebookNo? Well, before you head to the famous social networking site, keep reading. I wouldn’t want you to be surprised when your request for Facebook friendZship is denied.

As a member of Generation Y, I’m part of the crowd that Facebook “grew up” with. When I first created a profile on the site in the fall of 2004, Zuckerberg’s brain-child was still in its infancy (and it was still located at Thefacebook.com). It was a place for college students to connect with all of the new friends they were making, and for me, a tool to help remember people’s names.

Since then, Facebook has continued to evolve into a place to connect with people through pictures, posting and periodic updates for millions of users worldwide. By adding and improving features and removing the initial restriction to users with .edu email addresses, Facebook has become an undeniable force in the Web 2.0 world. It spurred so much controversy in Egypt, in fact, that it made international news.

So, what’s my beef? Why the ‘tude of this post and the warning about Facebook friend requests?

FonzieFirst off, I’m not some sort of Facebook Fonzie, looking to protect my “cool” online image. I just have standards.

As I continue to get more involved with social media applications, I’ve started to analyze my use of different sites to line-up with my own unwritten “objectives” for online self-promotion. I’ve shared some of my thoughts on Twitter, and tend to agree with My Old Man on LinkedIn. But to me, Facebook is different.

Call me old fashioned, but I think FACEbook should be saved for people I‘ve actually met FACE to FACE. The site enables me to stay in contact with real friends across the globe. Better than any other medium, it’s helped me maintain friendships with people that I may not see or talk to more than a couple of times a year.

So I ask: Why would I want to muck that up with a bunch of people I met on Twitter who I know solely by a 48 square-pixel image and the occasional 140-character update?

To clarify, I love my Twitter community and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Heck, I even said I’d give up Facebook for Twitter if I had to make the choice. But that doesn’t mean I want a bunch of people I barley know connecting to my most intimate of online information. And on the flip side, I’m not sure I want access to their info!

From my experience, the folks in my generation are with me on this (with the exception of a few aspiring SM gurus). I’ve heard numerous conversations about how well you should know a person before “friending them on Facebook,” and it’s fairly well known that a blind Facebook friend request is just plain creepy.

But maybe we’re all missing out on something? I know everyone uses SM differently, and that’s the beauty of it. You reap what you sow. If you put a “Facebook Me!” link on your blog page, you’re gonna have a few Friendz you don’t know so well. That’s just not me.

I’m curious though: How do you use Facebook? Has it worked out for you? Let me know via comments below.

Oh, and if you’re thinking about testing me by sending me a Facebook friend request, don’t expect me to budge on my standards. If we haven’t met F2F, and you can’t fight that urge to connect, try following me on Twitter.

*First image courtesy of urlesque.com

*Second image courtesy of wikipedia.org

March 9, 2009 at 9:24 AM 7 comments


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