If You Think “Social” Means Viral, You’ve Got It All Wrong

This article was published as a guest post at AllThingsD, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

A few weeks ago, Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin and I sparred at the Rebooting Media Live event in New York. With an audience of top digital and media executives, I shared the results my company is getting from social — that social users are more than 2.5 times as valuable as users from search. Lewis surprised me by saying that when it comes to behavior on the Forbes Web site, he is seeing the opposite.

What gives?

With all due respect to Lewis, who is one of the greatest innovators in media, I left realizing that there are different ideas of what “social” can mean on the Web, and that not everyone knows where the gold lies. Putting the whole picture together, there are four different models for social that, despite sharing the same name, are completely different concepts.

Social = Viral Hit

For those on the marketing and advertising side especially, the word “social” often means that you or your client are jealous of someone else’s success. Viral hits are largely based on breakthrough creative, though great distribution is an often-forgotten second factor. Who wouldn’t want to be responsible for the next Old Spice guy? Of course, these kinds of hits are easy to ask for and hard to achieve. And if you do achieve it, you’ll need another viral hit to bring your audience back again.

Verdict: Good luck!

 

Social = 1,000,000 Fans

Here, the theory goes that social means getting lots of fans, and then something magical is supposed to happen. Like the boys’ adventure with the  “South Park” underpants gnomes, it usually ends up with a lot of time and money spent, a big collection achieved, and a big question mark over “what now?” It doesn’t matter how low your cost per fan was, if the value per fan is near-zero. It’s not the size of the fan base that matters — it’s what you do with it.

Verdict: Bad strategy.

 

Social = Comments

Another concept of “social” is that it’s a medium for conversation. With programs like @ComcastCares, brands have used this approach to shape their brand images and reputations — and it has worked. On the publishing side, the Huffington Post and other publishers have succeeded in using social engagement to drive deep participation and connection among an inner circle of its audience. Hosting a conversation certainly builds a relationship. A “Like,” comment, or share from a user can all get you more exposure on the margin, but, as Lewis noted on our panel, the friends who come that way don’t stay very long and don’t come back much. They came for their friends, not for your Web site. That’s why, even though engagement strategies are great for your core audience, they won’t single-handedly drive the large, loyal audience we all crave.

Verdict: Smart, but it’s not enough.

 

Social = Lasting Relationship

A lasting relationship with an audience is the holy grail of every brand online. In fact, it has made Amazon the most valuable e-commerce company on earth, and it’s made Disney and the NFL valuable over decades. But what some haven’t realized yet is that the most valuable mode of social is in keeping these relationships connected.

Do you have any idea how valuable a “Like” is? Any seventh-grader goes all atwitter when his crush says, “I like you.” It’s permission to see someone more, get to know them better, and talk to them all the time — not just once, but every day. If you are doing it right, a “Like” or a “Follow” begins a two-way relationship: One where your audience is asking for programming from you every day, week and month; and giving you their interest data about what works and what doesn’t. With that relationship, you can choose what content you create, and when and how you share it. That relationship isn’t once-and-done — it’s ongoing.

And data from our experience shows that it translates into a million visits a week from our fan base — almost one visit for every fan, not to mention dozens more impressions right in their home page, the Facebook news feed. Done right, social can already drive more traffic than search, making a new top venue to recruit, and more importantly, retain an audience.

More and more, I talk to marketers and publishers who have hundreds of thousands or millions of fans and followers, and yet have no idea what to do with them. They haven’t realized that they have subscribers at the ready, waiting for great content and experiences — the currency of their relationship.

Nor do they understand the tremendous value of those subscribers: If you give your friends what they are after, they’ll keep coming back for more, and they’ll bring their friends. This is exactly how companies like Groupon and Zynga have reinvented their categories and created businesses worth billions of dollars in the process.

Verdict: There is nothing more powerful than a lasting relationship.

How To Use Facebook’s Open Graph To Build Your Business

This article was published as a guest post at PaidContent, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

Last year, it became clear that Facebook is well on its way to becoming a social operating system underlying our digital lives.  And the enhanced Facebook Open Graph makes that vision a reality.

My company, Wetpaint, was fortunate to participate in a beta phase with Facebook and be a launch partner with The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) social reader project; in the process, we have gotten a glimpse of how to build media for a fully social web, and it’s had a dramatic impact on our business.

We have learned that without question, there is a ton to be gained in audience acquisition, branding, and retention by integrating into the Open Graph.  And, based on the few months’ head start we’ve had, I wanted to provide a brief guide to what has worked, and explain how to take full advantage of the Open Graph.

Here, then, are the four most important elements:

1. Determine what’s inherently social in what you do for your audience – This is the most important part, and it’s not easy, because people don’t want to share everything they read online.  Rather, they share the things that are helpful to others, or contribute to their public identity.

Don’t fight it.  Work with it, instead.  Provide content your audiences will use to define themselves and enhance their reputations as a curator.  With your content, what specifically can they share, and what can it say about them?

I especially like this item from a cousin who recently posted this recipe for fried Coke (what? oh yes!).  If you think it means she’s a southern gourmet, you’d be right:  she makes the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. And posting recipes like this makes sure we all know about her decadent down-home style.

People also respond to things that make them smile.  Who wouldn’t like a picture of a cat laughing with a dinosaur?  Sharing it makes a statement about what gems you can find, what loops you’re in, what makes you chuckle, and that you like brightening your friends’ day.

We are thumbs-up with things that back our opinions, or show we are in the know about things that are important to how we want to be perceived. For a news site, this means interests and causes that we want to support; and, for a sports site, it’s our tribal badging and admiration of teams and players.

And for games, movies, and events, it’s more about sharing something special together. Whether a concert or a conference, convening with others turns content into an experience. The phenomenon of Social TV that we see at Wetpaint, and throughout all TV programming, is proof positive that media events are made to be shared.

2. Start thinking in verbs – other than “Like” – To date, publishers have been focused on the page.  Now it’s time to think about the interaction – not just with the page, but with the content.  Think in verbs.  Facebook has suggested a handful of obvious ones.  Your audience should “watch” videos; “listen to” songs; and “read” articles.  But beyond that, you can also add your own creative alternatives:  “view” photo galleries, “lust for” celebrities, “OMG” scenes on TV, “vote for” reality TV contestants.  All of these help define a relationship between your audience and what they love.  And as a publisher, you get to take credit for that introduction and its viral distribution among a user’s circle.

3. Own objects, not just content – In the now-more-open Open Graph world, the objects of our affections are no longer just dumb pages.  Rather, you can define objects in the real-world – with the promise of improving Facebook’s and your audience’s connections to them, and to you.  As with the examples above, the limit of what you can define is constrained only by your creativity; however, the focus should be on objects that are natural social extensions of your consumer experience.  Don’t try to socialize objects that no one wants to share – I don’t want to circulate that I “zero balanced” my “bank account.”

4. Live in Facebook’s world – It’s not really just Zuckerberg’s world … it’s your users’ world, too.  500 million Facebook users are logging in every day, and spend seven hours per month (on average) on Facebook.  That’s why it’s important to create an experience that blends with the social world; and that experience needs to be connected, and in real-time. The more you integrate into Facebook’s clearing house, the more you can benefit from seamless transitions, access to connected user data, and user expectations of implicit sharing.  Facebook Connect is critical; as is earning the Likes to be in a relationship with your audience.  When you do that, you can program your users’ news feeds.  At Wetpaint, we average 30 impressions per fan per month.  I’ve never had that much communication in any of my relationships with friends or family (much to my mother’s dismay, which she reminds me of all the time), yet our consumers have it with us all year long.  And, beyond the news feed, creating a Facebook canvas app (we’re working on a new one now) means you can truly be everywhere your audience wants you to be – both in Facebook and on the Web.

With the new Open Graph features, a short-term way of thinking about the opportunity is that you are integrating into Facebook’s technical architecture.  But a far more meaningful – and, ultimately, more beneficial – way of thinking about it for both your users and your business is that you are integrating into your users’ lives.

I overheard someone at last year’s F8 event say that Facebook is no longer “Face”-book, it’s really becoming “Life”-book.  It’s that level of integration with real life that can create the most powerful opportunities for the next era of the Web.