SOCIAL SIGNALS


The incorporation of Google+ and +1 into SERPs and the probable introduction of real-money gambling to Facebook are game changers.


These are just a number of ways companies are making use of social media. As time evolves there will always be new and innovative ways to reach consumers. But consumers are much more aware of online tricks and traps and consumer psychology dictates that real 'word of mouth’ marketing efforts are the most effective.

Facebook

When you think of social networking, the first word that springs to mind is Facebook, and for many people Facebook is social media. Indeed, its numbers are staggering; the company boasts in excess of 800 million users - bringing its global penetration to ten percent of the entire world population. In the UK, Facebook numbers peaked in July 2011 with 30 million users, and Ofcom’s 2011 Communications Report outlined a 46 percent take up rate of social networking for all UK Internet users, driven primarily by this platform. Yet, while Facebook marketing activities should be included as the core part of any plan, there is a massive and widespread misconception that a Facebook fan page is sufficient for a well- rounded social media plan.

Twitter

Twitter, too, has come a long way when you consider that in May 2008, Nielsen reported that the network had reached only 1.2 million unique visitors globally. However, at the start of 2012, Twitter has reported 100 million users worldwide (and up to 250 to 300 million accounts), 20 million of whom are in the UK. And it’s not just the customer numbers that are on the rise, but also the site’s usage by those customers. The average number of tweets per day in June 2010 was 65 million, which rose dramatically to 230 million per day in September 2011.

Though celebrities tend to dominate the trending topics, sports events from the recent Super Bowl to a Manchester derby (football) have hundreds of thousands of interested people actively engaging in real-time, which is, or should be, a key part of targeting activity for affiliates and operators.

Beyond Facebook and Twitter

Some analysts are predicting that 2012 will see the emergence of the niche social platforms but in advance of that, there are several other key networks that affiliates need to consider, for various reasons.

Google+ cannot be ignored primarily because of its deliberate impact on SERPs which is the lifeblood of any affiliate activity. Outside of that fact, however, it has become a monster of a network filling the gap between the personal elements of Facebook and the quick information and content sharing that Twitter enables.

Google+ reached 20 million users in 24 days, 1,011 fewer days than Facebook, and proceeded to achieve 40 million accounts in its next few weeks with Larry Page announcing in early January 2012 that the service has hit the 90 million mark.

Another network of supreme importance is YouTube. It is an under-appreciated fact that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine behind Google. There are 100 million social actions every week on YouTube - this includes ‘likes, ‘shares’ and comments, and video (on desktop and mobile) is among the fastest growing segments of Internet usage.

Other sites, such as Foursquare, have more than ten million active users, and the latest social darling is Pinterest. If you don’t count sites like Google+ or new Yahoo! channels that have built-in user bases, comScore’s data shows that Pinterest would be the fastest site of any kind to hit ten million monthly ‘uniques’ in the US. Indeed, of its 13 million registered customers, 12 million are American, 83 percent of whom are female. In the UK, there are currently less than 500,000 users, however, the numbers are rising rapidly and, more importantly, the demographics are vastly different from the US with 56 percent male registrants, of whom 29 percent are in the top income bracket and more than half are earning more than $100,000 per year.

Search versus discovery

We are operating in a social world and it is imperative to include a social strategy in affiliate work. It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Your current and future customers and revenue generation opportunities are hanging out on social networks, ergo, this is where you need to be active in order to find them. The growth of social networking is directly in parallel with the move from search to discovery. Push links including tweets, likes and +is are driving how people discover information. Actions are taken based on recommendations from friends and the flow through the Internet is driven by news feeds, twitter feeds and browsing recommended links from Pinterest, Tumblr or StumbleUpon. Search will always have a place, but its relative importance is declining in the face of the meteoric rise of social networking.

Google’s social strategy

Google is ‘socialising’ its search function - presumably both to tailor and improve its service in-line with customer behaviour and also to ensure the success of Google+. A few months ago, Google incorporated Google+ into its algorithm which dramatically impacted SERPs. Around the same time, it included its +1 ‘endorsement feature’ in the SERPs and since then, +1 has been widely adopted with the button served over five billion times worldwide per day. Just recently, in mid-January, Google announced its most radical transformation ever, with a new “Search Plus Your World” format. It finds both content that’s been shared privately along with matches from the public web, all mixed into a single set of listings allowing people to search against both the broader web and their own Google+ social graph.

To a certain degree, affiliates are victims of their own success, as the new position Google is taking and the Panda update are as much about Google ensuring the growth of its own network to compete with Facebook, as they are about cleaning up search results by incorporating user generated content which is infinitely less corruptible and malleable than links in acquiring positioning in the results. This makes affiliate work significantly harder and more complex, but addressing the core of the networks will yield results that do justify the effort.

Facebook’s EdgeRank

Beyond Google, the most important algorithm that affiliates need to address is Facebook’s EdgeRank. EdgeRank is the equivalent of SEO for the Facebook platform. It is not numbers of fans or followers you have on your page, it is the number of people that see your content that is critical. It is Facebook, not you, that determines who sees your content at all.

EdgeRank = affinity x age x type:

• Affinity represents the strength of the relationship between you and the individual reader based on both the direct relationship between both people, and the wider shared network.
• Age is the time since the item was posted. Newer is better.
• Type is the kind of item that has been posted - a news item, a comment, a ‘like’, etc. More authority is given to direct items, and less to comments; less still to likes.

The value of ‘like’

Typically, on Facebook, comments are more valuable than likes: the average clicks are 3.103 per like, but reach 14.678 per comment. The Financial Times has outlined that for every brand post on Facebook, fans write an average of 100 comments in response and for every fan of a brand, there are an additional 34 friends of that fan that can be reached with a marketing message. Consider this finding in conjunction with a Socialnomics survey which found that 90 percent of consumers base purchasing decisions on peer recommendations and only 14 percent trust advertisements, and you begin to understand the real underlying power of networks when used in association with other direct acquisition tools.

Recent research has found that 56 percent of consumers said they are more likely to recommend a brand to a friend after becoming a fan on Facebook and 51 percent of consumers said they are more likely to buy a product once they become a fan. Brand exposure (directly to fans, and indirectly to friends of fans) in social media tends to lead to significantly higher usage of the owned/core website. Data from comScore has shown that user interaction with UK football clubs, for example, is dramatically increased from exposure and fan pages on Facebook.

The average user has 130 friends and spends 700 minutes per month on Facebook. 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month and in over 60 seconds, there are 5JO.OOO posted comments, 293,000 status updates and 136,000 uploaded photos.

The right content

To engage with the audience in social media, there must be a conscious mindset change from broadcast messages to customer engagement and from content distribution to generation.

Social networks are immensely personal, and advertising/promotional messages will be unwelcome except in the case where they add value. Value can be in the form of humour, subtle brand/site promotions and offers - as long as there is no ‘hard sell’, not shouting a message. The fact that fan pages exist at all is indicative of how people are willing to welcome brands into their private world, but the message has to be in context, and that means using the same tone and format as the audience for their personal relationships. Success is borne only through the realisation that despite the relationship being titled ‘fan’, you are effectively a friend, as your messages appear in the same timeline and in the manner as pictures from last night, or a joke, or a news story of interest. Seamless engagement, which differs by network, is critical to driving traffic to your portal or site.

Mobile networking

Social networking is the most common use of mobile Internet. In excess of 50 percent of all UK mobile Internet minutes are spent on Facebook, and mobile use of social networking is up 80 percent compared to 2010. This means that, although both social and mobile marketing are relatively new concepts, there has to be a considered synergy between the two to maximise results.

It’s fair to say that gambling companies and affiliates have yet to widely embrace social marketing. The best practice companies tend to be brands like Coca- Cola and Starbucks who have 34 million and 25 million fans respectively. On the other hand, the more pervasive gambling company is arguably Paddy Power, and yet, its fan numbers barely top 60,000 at last count. Right now, the social landscape is there for the taking, it’ll be a land grab for the early movers and once that happens, everybody will pile in and dilute the opportunity. Despite today’s naysayers, social media is the next big thing.
 
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