Why everybody* hates LinkedIn**, and what they could do about it

*Almost everybody. Click-drones in spam-farms and obsessive seekers after vast networks of people who don’t care about them, don’t count.

** Maybe “hates” is too strong a word, but definitely “finds it yawnsome” / “irritating” / “a chore”…..

 

bored dog

Oh hurray, a LinkedIn notification...

There’s a statistic that we’ve long since lost the source for (Socialnomics?! possibly..) saying that for a third of women in the 18-34 age group, the first thing they do in the morning is check Facebook. They wake up, and immediately reach for the smartphone, thinking  “I must catch up with what my friends have been up to in the eight long hours i’ve been asleep”.

Whatever your views about whether this is a good thing, there’s no denying that it’s a good thing for Facebook. At least for a section of the world, Facebook have got the formula so right that it’s the first thing they think about each day.

Now contrast that with LinkedIn. In a highly unrepresentative poll of people who happened to be nearby when this post was being written, here are the top 3 reasons why people most recently visited LinkedIn:

1. Trying to find something almost legitimately work related to do in order to put off doing something even duller

2. To switch off those darn endless email notifications

3. To update their profile because they’re about to finish a contract / get fired.

Not exactly the stuff of dreams, is it? LinkedIn is in danger of becoming synonymous with irritation: irritation at “having” to maintain a presence there (rather than wanting to because it’s valuable), irritation at declining the 20th auto-worded connection invite from a stranger that month, irritation at the lack of decent discussion in Groups and / or flooding with irrelevant blog links from the “look at MEEE!” types. And that’s before we get on to the endless invitations to experience the thrill of LinkedIn Premium for FREE!

We got a bit excited a while back when LinkedIn showed signs of becoming more than a CV-repository on steroids, but we have to say, the social side is still leaving us cold – and that seems to be the case for most people we speak to.  Very few people admit to finding LinkedIn an enjoyable, effortless way to maintain professional relationships and solve real problems. It should be so much better than it is.

So, below are our suggestions for some simple, and not so simple, ways that this could be changed. What do you think? Would they work for you?

One: Fix the utterly dull and useless LinkedIn Home Page feed.

The Home Page feed is, frankly, deeply unengaging. It’s the stuff that the Facebook News Feed team would call “bottom of the barrel updates” – “someone you’ve never heard of joined a group you’re not interested in“.

One simple thing that would make the Feed instantly useful: Active and popular threads in the groups you belong to should be the #1 item prioritised into the Home Page feed, alongside genuine updates from your contacts. Surely this is the most no brainer suggestion in the history of the world? LinkedIn is struggling for social “stickiness”, but still chooses to ignore the obvious area where it could be helpful.

For the life of me, i can’t understand why this isn’t already the case. Even setting the Home feed filter to “Groups” just brings you a bunch of irrelevant rubbish about how people you’ve never heard of have joined one of your groups, or people you have heard of have joined a group you don’t care about. Just bizarre. At least if you could see, at a glance, where the action is (and isn’t) in the groups you’re a member of, that would be useful.

The “Pulse” news section also needs a lot of work – it’s rarely relevant, and very US biased. Some kind of quality control on the sponsored posts would be great, too – i’ve lost count of the number of times i’ve had posts which are not just dull, but also badly written to the point of unintelligibility. With apologies to the firm in question, this is today’s offering – I didn’t have to look hard for it, just logged on and hey presto! a post apparently written by a random word generator.

Two: Encourage people to be themselves…just a little bit more.

Status updates on Facebook are easy. Sometimes too easy, for the natural oversharers amongst us. LinkedIn updates, less so.

Seen a great article on The Economist or Harvard Business Review? Tick, everyone feels confident about sharing that. Update about challenges you’re facing in your professional life? Er, no.  The thing is though, most of the people who care about the HBR article will already have seen it, and hey, HBR is so much better at being HBR than you are. It’s a “safe” update, but the value to your contacts is low.

But imagine if the culture on LinkedIn changed, so that instead of presenting the fake, shiny, go getting versions of our professional selves, people were a little more candid and authentic. Being brave enough to give people an insight into the not-so-perfect stuff you face at work, admit to challenges and look for support, could turn LinkedIn into a fantastic resource. Yes, some do that on Facebook – but while your Auntie Maud might be great at telling you how talented you are, aren’t the people in your professional network better placed to help you actually solve problems?

Three: Kill off the mindless contact collectors

Certain functions in LinkedIn tend to promote quantity over quality when you’re making connections. For example, you’re theoretically more visible in the internal search engine if you have more connections, and have a higher chance of seeing others’ full profiles (though there’s a loophole for that). This is all wrong.

Imagine how low the chances of your Facebook or Twitter feed being fascinating would be if you just friended or followed a couple of hundred random people who you’d never had a discussion with in your life? Personalisation and relevance is the lifeblood of social media, and connecting indiscriminately kills it.

A random set of impersonal contacts also further reduces the chances of you being candid (and therefore interesting) and getting value back from your network. So LinkedIn are entirely shooting themselves in the foot here. They’d be much better encouraging everyone to choose their most influential / supportive / knowledgeable contacts, however that is done – hell, just limit everyone to 50 and be done with it. Or make search visibility dependent on the proportion of your connections you’ve interacted with in the last 6 months. Whatever – but something needs to change.

Four: Dump the endorsements

It’s obvious why LinkedIn introduced these – some nice bait for people to log in, and a catchy “hot or not” style interface that just keeps you clicking away, spraying endorsements over your connections like champagne on a Formula One podium. But really they just add to the superficial, spammy feel of the site – you know you’ve just endorsed someone you barely know for Brain Surgery despite having no idea whether they’re any good or not. So why would you trust the endorsements on anyone else’s profile? If you really rated someone, you’d take the time to write a proper Recommendation, wouldn’t you.

A little disclaimer…

I should point out here that we’re not suggesting LinkedIn has no value; it does, if only as a public (and therefore more credible and verifiable) source for checking out companies and professionals, and (hopefully) maintaining good connections. There are even some genuinely well run and useful Groups out there, although they are few and far between and LinkedIn does them no favours in surfacing their content to users.

But what we are suggesting is that, for the most part, it’s not lovable. It’s missing that seamless ability to draw you in that the other big social media sites have.

What do you feel about LinkedIn? Could you imagine ever loving it? What improvements would help? Personally, I’m off to do some serious pruning on my Connections as a starting point – I might look like Billy No-Mates by comparison with the Contact Collectors, but at least I won’t keep getting LinkedIn Mails about life insurance from strangers.

Facebook Pages vs Facebook Groups – what’s right for your business?

Facebook Groups vs Facebook PagesIn today’s post, we’re going to look at the REAL differences between using a Facebook Group and using a Facebook Page for your business. Not just what Facebook says about the two options, which frankly doesn’t help all that much, but the actual pros and cons in practice – from your future Facebook community’s point of view as well as yours. And there are some huge implications which most people aren’t aware of.

Facebook Page vs Facebook Group – Definitions

So, let’s start with what Facebook has to say.

Facebook Pages:

…allow entities such as public figures and organizations to broadcast information to their fans.”

Whereas Facebook Groups are for

“..members… to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea”.

So, here’s the first point about the difference between the two, and it’s an important one: Pages are intended primarily for one-to-many broadcast. You run the show, your Likers join in. That’s not so say that discussions can’t take place between community members, they can, but it’ll be within the context of a post that you initiated.

One of the things that many people are unaware of with Pages, is that if a user posts on your Page, only you and anyone directly visiting that Page will actually see it. It will NOT appear in other Likers’ News Feeds, UNLESS you choose to share the post. Depending on the type of organisation you are, and what you’re trying to achieve with Facebook, that may be an advantage or a disadvantage – more on this below.

The key word in the Group description is collaborate. Groups are much more about a many-to-many discussion; think of them as all the members sitting in a big circle in a room, rather than classroom style with you at the front!

What that means in practice, is that when any group member posts to the group, that post will go into all the other members’ news feeds (News Feed Algorithm notwithstanding) without any kind of involvement, or moderation, from you. You will still have the ability to delete inappropriate posts and so on, but the basic assumption is that all members are of equal importance in terms of creating content.

Pages vs Groups – pros and cons

So hopefully you can already see that there is a distinct difference between Pages and Groups. They’re definitely not just interchangeable. But beyond the basic structure, there are some additional pros and cons which you need to be aware of when choosing your Facebook presence.

Facebook Page Pros

With a Facebook Page, you get access to a whole host of enhanced features which aren’t available to Group owners. These include:

Promotion. The opportunity to promote your content to a wider audience, via Promoted Posts, Advertising and so on, is only available to Facebook Pages, not to Groups. If attracting new members, or promoting specific content or offers in a short time frame is important to you, then this is going to be a deal breaker and you will need to use a Page.

Analytics. The facebook Insights package, which is included free of charge with all Pages, is very powerful and is continuing to be actively developed by Facebook – so it’s likely to get even better in the future. Insights can show you all kinds of valuable stuff from who your Likers are (where they come from, what age group and gender they are, and even when most of them are logged on to Facebook) to which of your Posts are most effective. You can even compare the performance of your Page with that of a competitor, without the competitor knowing about it. So again, this is a huge plus for Pages over Groups.

Visibility. When you’re in Admin mode for your Page, posting on other Pages creates a nice live link back to your own organisation.

News Feed. Liking another Page while you’re in Admin mode will pull that Page’s content into your Page’s News Feed (not your personal feed). This allows you to automatically collate content from partners or businesses which are complementary to yours, for example wedding photographers or florists if you’re promoting a wedding venue. That not only helps you keep in touch with those businesses, but it will often provide a good source of content which will be valuable to your own Likers, too.

Facebook Page Cons

Community spirit and engagement. Tthere are exceptions, but the majority of Pages find creating a real spirit of community – where Likers actively request and value other Likers’ opinions – an ongoing challenge.

You will be fighting the News Feed algorithm. Although we’ve not studied this scientifically, our own experience and those of our clients suggests that Facebook is far less generous when deciding how many Page posts are going to reach Likers’ newsfeeds, than they are with Group posts.

Moving on to Groups, there are pros and cons here, too. (Sorry – we never said it would be an easy decision!).

Facebook Group Pros

The major advantage is the way that Group posts work, in terms of the visibility of all posts to all members, and the higher probability (we believe) of a Group post showing up in a members’ News Feed vs an un-Boosted Page post.

Privacy options. The other Group-only function is the ability to make the group Closed. This means that a group administrator has to approve every new member before they get access, and group discussions are not visible to non members. Of course, if you’re aiming to build visibility on Facebook, this is a bad thing. But if you’re dealing with a sensitive topic / product / service which your users may not want to be seen discussing in “public”, this is the only way to go.

It’s also worth considering making a Group Closed in other circumstances, though. With an Open Group, each time a member comments on a post, that comment is likely to be included in their friends’ news feeds. If the Group discussions are on a fairly niche area, and it is (or is likely to become) a very busy group, members may actually prefer it if that wasn’t the case. That’s not necessarily because it’s a sensitive topic, but just because their friends may not share their avid interest in tropical fish breeding! So by Closing the group, you’re removing the issue of members self-limiting the amount they engage because their friends are telling them they’re sick of hearing about Guppies.

Group disadvantages

Apart from missing out on the promotional and analytical functions you get with a Page, the other issue we see with Groups is futureproofing. Group functionality hasn’t been actively developed by Facebook for a while, and unlike Business Pages they aren’t a direct revenue generating area. So in theory, there may be a higher risk that Facebook bins the Group function in the future.

However, good Groups definitely make a big contribution to Facebook’s “stickiness” – the frequency with which users log in, and the amount of time they spend on the site. So we don’t think Facebook are likely to kill off Groups altogether, but they may miss out on function enhancements in the future.

So, when do I use a Facebook Group?!

Hopefully you can analyse the pros and cons of each option above in terms of the impact on your own organisation type and objectives, as there really isn’t one right or wrong answer here. In general, if your Facebook strategy is quite strongly commercial – for example, you want to use it to sell directly, make special offers, reach out to a targeted audience quickly – then a Page will likely be the right choice.

On the other hand, if your product or service would benefit from a much “softer” approach, and/or you’re in a very niche area, then a Group might work better for you. For example, let’s say you’re selling Dog Agility equipment, and the community of people who own dogs and do agility with them is quite small – but extremely committed and interested in sharing knowledge. In those circumstances giving up some control in favour of hosting a very active community (to which you then have access for sales purposes!) might well be worth it.

Have we missed anything? We’re still realising little differences in the way both options work which can make a big difference, so if you’re aware of anything else please do comment below.

Three reasons Social Media is a massive headache for marketing managers

We’re all for trumpeting the new opportunities that social media has created for business marketing; there’s never been anything remotely as large and accessible in the whole of marketing history as the market provided by social media sites right now. But. For most SMEs, it certainly hasn’t made life easier.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated social media manager in your organisation, it’s likely that your marketing or communications manager looks a little bit more haggard when the subject of social media comes up, and here’s why:

1. Nothing Else Went Away.

Savvy marketers know that social media is part of the marketing MIX. It has certainly had an impact on the effectiveness and audience size for many other marketing channels, but unfortunately for your workload, none of the “traditional” channels is dead just yet.

Depending on your target audience, you may still need to deal with print advertising in your local paper AND radio adverts AND Facebook AND press releases AND Pinterest. When the telephone came along, everyone didn’t immediately give up sending things through the post; and so it is with social media.

2. Social Media has made consumers more demanding.

On all fronts, but especially around what they’re prepared to engage with in terms of marketing material. Social media is so much more of a personalised experience, and so much easier to tailor to reflect exactly what interests them – each Twitter timeline will be a unique combination of content, for example – that they’re no longer as tolerant of irrelevant content, or material presented in an uninteresting way.

This is bad news for marketing departments who used to get away with printing one newsletter which went to a wide spectrum of business types; if the content doesn’t become more tailored to the interests of each sector, it’s going to hit the bin that much faster.

3. The constant change.

Think about the world ten years ago: if you’d mastered the art of writing a press release, or creating compelling print adverts, you only had to figure that out once. Then it was a tick in the box marked “newspapers” and just keep improving the content. Social media on the other hand, has more complex functionality to master in the first place, and then tends to change enormously in the span of a few months.

The recent change to the Facebook algorithm is a great example; to continue getting results, most marketers have had to go for a complete change of strategy in terms of leveraging paid media rather than just building an audience and providing solid content. And those new functions, again, come with a learning curve to use them effectively.

So for all the opportunities social media offers, next time you see your marketing manager looking drained, have some sympathy for them – their job is quite definitely harder than it used to be!

Finding your voice: Can a company ever be social?

We’ve written before about the fact that the cultural challenges of addressing social media are, for most larger companies, far greater than the technical issues. This was something which came up again recently at a workshop session we provided for the Metal Packaging Manufacturers’ Association, so we thought that our blog readers might be interested in a few more thoughts in this area.

So to set out the flag to start with, I firmly believe that the answer to the question “Can a company ever be truly social” is “YES – sometimes”. With a qualifying side of “if the mindset is right, and they’re not too scared to try something new”.

The problem with “big company” social media

The challenge is this: for many larger companies, the communications and marketing process is something that’s been refined over many years. It has often (though not always) been designed to prioritise safety over creativity. The need for a replicable “house style” has eliminated much of the sense of personality which can come through more easily in a smaller organisation.

The difficulty is, that those very characteristics which work well in an environment of multiple layers of signoff, redrafting, and static communications, are big barriers to effective use of social media.

A willingness to experiment and be guided by results, to trust individual staff, and to be both natural and creative, are all much more likely to build connections with other social media users – particularly in the consumer arena.

On a related note, this article about the process which goes into creating a single tweet for a large corporate is both impressive and shocking. I was impressed by the agency’s willingness to be very honest about what happens, but also horrified by the actual process. This is what you get if you take old-school comms department processes which were fine for, say, creating a billboard slogan, and map them straight on to creating social media content.  Personally, i think it shows in the resulting tweet, which is very much like a billboard slogan.

That approach works just fine when billboards are all populated by other comms departments using the same approach, and is therefore what the consumer has come to expect and accept. In the social media environment, it just leaves the company playing catchup against the much more immediate, engaging content created by competing individuals – ie, the consumer’s friends on social media!

What’s the cure?

Sometimes, a company’s social media presence is a reflection of its internal culture – which is one of the reasons why jumping in and launching a large presence can be a very bad idea for big corporates. Unwittingly, they’re providing consumers with a window into what the company is really like, potentially undoing years of positive, “on message” branding associating their products with, say, energy and fun.

There are a number of ways to tackle this problem. It’s never a bad idea to start with the root cause – if your staff are really stifled and can’t take a bathroom break without signoff in triplicate, the world has moved on and that’s going to be having all kinds of negative impact on your business, not just your social media presence.

Spending some time listening more than talking is also a good idea; starting to get involved with social media doesn’t have to mean broadcasting. Begin by monitoring what, and how much, is being said about your products or services. That often gives obvious pointers on how to move forward.

Empower at least one member of staff to have some freedom in responding – our previous post on social media policies might help here.  Personalise the social media accounts you use; for example, in a Twitter account biography, tell people  it’s Jane Doe in marketing who runs it. That automatically allows Jane more freedom to show some personality than if she’s tasked with impersonating The Company.

Finally, considering a more holistic social media presence through employee advocacy, rather than a set of obviously formal channels, seems to be a brilliant way forward for companies who are really dedicated to making the most of social media. Employee advocacy is something we’ll look at in more detail soon – watch this space!

Page reach throttled? Get over it. 3 reasons why Facebook marketing is still a bargain

There’s been plenty of coverage over the last few months about the massive decline in Facebook Pages’ organic reach. In case you missed it: If a page with 5,000 Likers was regularly getting 1,500 sets of eyeballs on their page posts last December, as of now they’re probably getting more like six or seven hundred.

And yes, it’s deliberate; Facebook have been very open about their change to the News Feed algorithm. They’re a little less open about the reasons, pleading “improved user experience” (which doesn’t really hold up, as if a user didn’t want to see a Page’s posts they’d not have Liked them in the first place; or could just go and Unlike them) rather than “need to make a return on investment for our shareholders“.

It’s a shame they don’t feel they can be totally upfront about this: Facebook, and its shareholders, have invested millions of dollars in creating a concept which has changed the world and the way millions of people socialise. It’s not, in our opinion, at all unreasonable that they should start to ask for a contribution at some point. Charging for user accounts would be suicide, (Friends Reunited, anyone?!) so making a levy on businesses using Facebook as a marketing platform is the obvious way to go. And make no mistake - each and every post a business makes on Facebook is, and always has been, an advert!

Anyway, in some quarters there has been a somewhat hissy overreaction to this, with a few brands swearing that they’ll never talk to Facebook again. We think this is a mistake, and here’s why.

3 reasons why marketing with Facebook is still a bargain

One: The Targeting

The ability to ensure that your post or advert hits the exact people who are most likely to be interested in it, is still unequalled, certainly for anything with an audience the size of Facebook’s. (We’re not counting advertising your Pink Widget in the Pink Widget Monthly magazine, readership of 35!).

Compare the mainstream alternatives of billboards, magazines and papers, and even radio advertising: you are paying for access based on the size of their total audience, regardless of whether half of them are male and you’re selling a new type of pregnancy test.

Facebook allows you to target by criteria (geography, gender, age and many more depending on the type of content), and to pay only for access to that exact audience. Or, you can use what should be the best targeted audience of all: friends of your existing Likers. Provided you’ve built your audience the right way, to attract people who’re genuinely interested in your organisation, this will be great. If you’ve tried any of the shortcuts like buying followers….not so much. But you didn’t, right?!

Two: Trackability

Again depending on which type of content you use (ads vs boosted posts etc), you will get feedback on who’s seen your content and interacted with it, ranging from great to fantastic. Again, with traditional marketing you get almost none: yes you could use a tracking code in a print ad, but that will only capture those who take one particular action in response to it. You don’t know who’s read it and then had a bit more of a look around at your facebook page, or clicked through onto an article you included. Short of handing out the names and addresses of everyone who glanced your way, this is still as good as it gets.

Three: Cost

Yes, you are now being asked to pay something. But do you know how the something in question compares to the alternatives? We were genuinely surprised, not having had a great deal of contact with other advertising mediums. So here it is, from a recent (very useful!) study by Moz.com :

Facebook - cost to reach a thousand people

Facebook is WAY out in front for that one thousand eyeball fee, and print advertising, in particular, looks like pretty poor value.

So yes, Facebook has been a free lunch for organisations for a long time, and now it isn’t. But that lunch still isn’t being charged for at market rates, so it’s only likely to go up from here. Our advice is to appreciate the benefits, get smart about using Facebook’s many paid for options, and go get them!