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Dark Social: Digital Word of Mouth

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“Dark social” isn’t as malicious as it sounds. The term was coined by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic in 2012 to describe the sharing of information in emails and instant messengers – sharing that existed long before social media platforms were popular. Social media ROI is getting easier to measure, but dark social is more difficult. And it accounts for a huge portion of the referrals your website is probably getting.

When looking through your Google Analytics, you probably notice a large chunk of the referrals are listed in the “direct traffic” category. These hits can come from a variety of behind-the-scenes sources; a link shared through text, email, native mobile apps (like Facebook’s), messengers, Slack messages, Snapchat, and someone using a secure HTTPS browser all fall in this bucket. It’s word of mouth on the internet, but not the kind you can track easily through Facebook Insights.

The Struggle for Social Media Strategists

While it’s great to have so many avenues for your content to be shared, dark social adds to the struggle for social media teams in proving the value of what they do. If you can’t specifically show that these direct traffic hits are from people copying and sharing a link you put on Facebook, it’s tough to show true ROI. Social media marketers are under a lot of pressure to show concrete metrics, which is sometimes next to impossible. There’s no real way to say “yes, all of these direct traffic hits were from text messages sent in this market.”

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Dark social can also make optimizing content tough. Without knowing how the content is being shared specifically, marketers can’t design it for those platforms. These shares are likely hitting demographics that may not be on other social channels, like the 55 and older age group. When you can’t pin down the audience and the channel, it’s difficult to be strategic.

Shining the Light on Dark Social

So, what can PR pros and marketers do about dark social? Here’s a few things to focus on to get a better handle on this type of sharing:

  • Use Google Analytics’ customer URL builder. This can help with proving that your social sharing is driving dark social communication, and which posts are bringing in the most referrals. No matter where the link is clicked from, you’ll be able to see that it was that specific link you created for your latest Facebook post that brought visitors to the website.

 

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  • Invest in a tool made for dark social tracking, like st by Radium One.
  • Make shareable content a priority. Even when it’s hard to track, dark social is still sharing of your content. Make sure your social posts are shareable – find the emotional connection, keep text short, and include visuals whenever possible. You might not be able to optimize it for a Snapchat message, but you can still focus on creating content that resonates with your audience, no matter where they are.

Download our Social Analytics POV

free social analytics

“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” – Peter Drucker

More than ever, public relations professionals are working to quantify PR’s value for their clients. This can be difficult for a number of public relations tactics, but social media is notoriously hard to pin down in terms of ROI. Executives and business owners have been told their business needs to be on social media, but without the hard numbers to back the “why,” many still aren’t on board with investing time and manpower into social. Social analytics tools exist that provide in-depth data for social channels, but these are often pricey, prohibiting smaller PR agencies and small businesses from using them.

Thankfully, there’s still hope for those who have tight budgets or are overwhelmed by the idea of tackling Google Analytics. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all provide free, built-in analytics that offer a wealth of information. For businesses on these platforms, these free tools can tell you what’s working, who your audience is, and help you build stronger content for social. The key is knowing which numbers are important.

We’ve created a new, downloadable white paper covering our perspective on free social analytics to help you better understand how to use these tools strategically. Meaningful Measurement: The Social Media Data You’re Underutilizing— and How to Put it to Work for Free includes guides through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest’s free analytics. Key stats on each channel are highlighted, are well as which numbers aren’t important.

 A few highlights:

  • Discover why page “likes” on Facebook don’t really matter
  • Learn how to understand the impressions stats on Twitter
  • Explore your Pinterest audience demographics in-depth

 

Download the full POV here, and start turning your social media stats into knowledge: http://awordsmithcomm.com/about-us/thought-leadership/

Facebook Newsfeed Algorithm Updates – 3 Things to Know

facebook algorithm

For a company not even two decades old, Facebook has done a fantastic job integrating itself into the daily lives of people around the globe. It quickly became a hot spot for brands looking to connect to a wide variety of audiences, and public relations professionals have been including the platform in their communications plans ever since. However, Facebook hasn’t made their job easy. After successfully positioning themselves as a requirement of nearly any brand’s PR, the social media giant has continuously made it harder for companies to reach their Facebook followers.

Despite keeping up the appearance of a brand friendly platform in recent years, Facebook’s frequent newsfeed algorithm changes have cut back on the reach that companies are able to achieve. Their most recent changes, announced June 29, 2016, will redirect social media users back to what Facebook says was its original intention – connecting with family and friends. Content on users’ newsfeeds will highlight posts from their friends and family, rather than posts from brands and pages. This is a stricter version of a change that has been happening since Facebook did away with its completely chronological newsfeed a few years ago.

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Here’s 3 things for communications pros to keep in mind with the new changes:

Shareable content is more important than total follower count

When users were guaranteed to see most of your page’s posts in their newsfeed, a simple “like” was enough to boost your reach. Now, more than ever, engaging content is the key to reaching your desired audience. Though your page’s posts will take more of a backseat on the newsfeed, there’s still ways to reach your targets through their friends and family. The content now given priority isn’t just posts from friends, it includes highlights of what they’ve commented on and shared. Engaging content is content that gets shared and discussed, and shared content reaches beyond your page followers. Focus on creating content that adds value for your followers and isn’t just marketing. No matter how many followers and likes a brand currently has, there’s potential to reach hundreds if not thousands more through commenting and sharing.

Advertising reach is not affected

The reach of paid ads on Facebook will not be affected by the algorithm changes. Keep in mind, though, that social media users don’t have a high opinion of advertising on these platforms. Have specific goals in mind for your ads, and line up the content with what’s being posted on your page. Think like your consumer – what value can you add for them through a social media advertisement? How can you create the ad to be less intrusive and more engaging?

Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket

While Facebook is still an important tool despite these changes, there are numerous other platforms to take advantage of. Twitter is a fantastic option for direct conversations with your audience, and makes sharing content easy for followers. Snapchat can be a great way for brands to show some behind the scenes footage and try new ideas that might not work well on other platforms. If your company is primarily interested in driving sales through social media, Pinterest is a land of golden opportunity. Facebook will likely continue to be a part of most organizations’ communications plans, but the rapidly changing social media landscape offers new alternatives that can boost a brand’s reach.

Engage, don’t broadcast: People hate social media ads

social media ads

Mallory Benham, a 23-year-old recent graduate, summed up the problem with social media ads in an interview for a recent Harris poll with a quote that’s likely to frustrate many marketing professionals.

“I go on social media to see and know what my friends are doing. I don’t want to see ads clutter my news feed. If I’m interested in a product or service, I know where to look.”

Traditional communication campaigns certainly don’t rely on letting your audience come to you; rather, you have to know where they are and go find them. Today, no matter what type of company you represent, your audience is probably on social media somewhere, and millennials are probably a portion of your target consumers. If they’re on social media, why not place your brand’s ads there, in addition to having a presence on the platforms?

Well, because your audience hates it. They hate seeing social media ads on Facebook so much that 56% of them are actually motivated to drop Facebook completely.

The Engagement Dilemma

Most organizations, even if they don’t understand all of the reasons why, know they need to be on social media in some capacity. They know their clients are there, and they need to “engage” with them. However, a fundamental misunderstanding of what engagement is defined as is likely contributing to an overemphasis on social media advertising and frustrated social media users. Advertising to your social media followers isn’t engagement, and placing the focus here robs your brand of the true benefits of these platforms. If you’re convinced social media is solely about lead generation, sales, and conversions, you might be missing out on great returns from your audience.

Say no to social media ads

This isn’t to say social media advertising is completely worthless – just that there’s a different way to think about it. Here’s how to get the most out of social media ads without alienating your audience:

Understand that social media rarely has short-term pay off

Despite its reputation for being a fast-moving communication source, social media doesn’t often provide quick results for brands. A social media campaign is a long term investment of time and resources and requires effort in relationship building. Social media ads for your website might be seen for a few seconds by your target audience, and – if you’re lucky – they might click the link. However, they haven’t necessarily clicked “like” on your brand’s page. If you can build a strong social presence that provides value beyond a sales pitch, your consumers will like you and then be engaged with your page on a long term basis. A sale from an ad can certainly create a brand loyalist when the product is great, but a follower on your Facebook page can create fans out of people who haven’t even purchased from you yet. Then, when they do purchase down the road, they probably already love you.

Define engagement for your brand

To a certain extent, engagement is defined by what’s most important to each individual brand. This could be likes, comments, shares, reach. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that your social media accounts are about your customers first and your brand second. In Likeable Social Media, author Dave Kerpen, notes the importance of thinking about what your customers would want to see in their news feeds, and then taking the lead in engaging with them. If you were a customer, would you want to see only links to flash sales and pictures of your products?   To take the lead in engaging, make sure you are responding quickly to comments and feedback you receive on your social media accounts. Keep the voice you respond in conversational and authentic, so that it doesn’t seem like a robot is responding. A likeable brand voice will be helpful when your followers do see an ad from you – they’ll be more inclined to click it.

Get laser-focused with your social media ads

If you’re going to do a Facebook ad, your advertising dollars will likely be best spent on an ad that drives likes to your page, rather than visits to your website. As audiences are often irritated by ads and sales pitches, it can be less jarring to see an ad for something that exists within the Facebook “world” – your company page. The more likes you have on your page, the more people who are connected with you and know where to find you when they’re ready to buy.

If you do place ads that are focused on website clicks, make sure to get very detailed with your targeting. It can be tempting to make your audience for your ads as large as possible in order to get them in front of more people. Occasionally this might be the right action, but not often. It’s much better to have a strong sense of who your consumers are and hyper-target your ads to this group. Your reach may be smaller, but you’ll be reaching the people who are more likely to connect with your brand. Choosing “men and women, 20-65, in the US” probably won’t be as effective as “women, 22-35, in Dallas, TX, interested in health, wellness.” It’s possible to target Facebook ads so detailed that only one person will see them, so it’s a great platform to try out different, specific audiences.

The key to social media is to remember to engage – don’t broadcast. Your audience will be more likely to stick with your brand through the multitude of social media changes still to come.

Dealing with Negative Social Media Comments: You Can’t Just Delete

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Social media allows brands to connect with their consumers on a pretty cool, personal level. When you set up a social media account and get things rolling, it can also be a nice ego boost. Things have been going well on your company’s Facebook page – people are liking, commenting on, and sharing your posts. Some have left nice 5 star reviews on your page. Your followers are climbing every day, and you’re getting great reach on your paid ad placements.

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And then, it happens – someone posts a negative review or comment. It’s easy to feel angry. Here’s this ugly comment tarnishing your sterling social media branding efforts. Can’t you just delete it from existence, and then forget about it? Well, no, you can’t. And you can’t just ignore it either. Both of these responses can take a molehill issue and make it a mountain. There are a few steps you need to take to not only deal with the comment, but turn it into a positive experience for your brand.

  • Really read the review or comment. Is this something that needs investigated?

Even though it’s frustrating, turn on your customer service skills and really read the person’s complaints. What went wrong for them? It’s worthwhile to go to the team members involved (if any are mentioned, or you can deduce who may be) and get their take. Things happen, team members slip up, and customers get upset. Mistakes are often an opportunity for customer service improvements. The commenter’s complaint may also highlight that certain policies your company has aren’t working.  If you put yourself in the commenter’s shoes, you may be able to better see that yes, this circumstance would upset you, too.

  • Respond to the original comment as soon as possible, and get it out of the public eye.

You can respond to the comment even while gathering more information for your team. As soon as you see the comment, respond with a brief answer that shows empathy, a desire to help, and a call to action to move the discussion out of public view. Something like, “John, we are so sorry to hear this. This isn’t the experience we strive to provide. Can you email us at xyz@brand.com with more details? Thank you!” would work well.

  • Follow through with a solution.

Showing empathy isn’t enough, however. You still have to follow through with finding a solution. Hopefully the commenter will take you up on your request to email or direct message you (if they continue to respond in public view, try prodding them again to come to email/direct message while responding as best you can without giving out private information). Talk to team members involved and put together a plan. Step one explained above is useful now in designing this response plan; would the issue be resolved with a refund, or is something deeper needed? If a service wasn’t performed, that’s one thing, and easily fixed with a return or refund. However, if the commenter is, say, accusing an employee of racism, an in-depth internal investigation may be needed before you can circle back with the commenter. This would require figuring out what actually happened, making a public apology, and maybe even changing policies if the commenter is telling the truth.

  • Share takeaways with your team.

No matter what your response plan is, be sure to share notes with your team afterward. There is likely a learning opportunity here. In some instances, team members may be able to highlight policies and procedures they think aren’t working and could have led to the issue. In a best case scenario, the commenter will leave much happier, and you will be able to use the event to avoid a similar issue in the future. Sometimes, angry commenters can be become brand loyalists after you’ve seen an issue through.

  • A Troll in the dungeon.

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Some people just want to watch the world burn. Occasionally, you will get comments from people who apparently have nothing good to say about anything, or just have too much free time on their hands. If you have a commenter of the first type, your team could have done everything right and exceptionally well, and this person would still be upset. Even if they’re just looking for free stuff, working with them and offering a refund may still be worth your time and brand image. For type number two, you really don’t have much opportunity for recourse. You’ll know them when you see them. Their comment is likely inflammatory, vulgar, and very obviously a lie. Still take the time to consider it, and even give an opening for response via email or direct message; just understand you probably won’t hear from them. However, if the comment is slanderous, threatening, or uses over-the-top language, this is your free pass to delete it and block the commenter. If the comment got some traction and responses before deleting, you’ll need to post a brief response to your page explaining why you deleted it, and re-iterate your company’s ethical standards. Either way, delete it without guilt, and move on care free!

5 Reasons PR Pros Can Be Thankful For Social Media

As public relations professionals better understand social media metrics and analytics, we get better at proving these platforms’ worth to clients. Everyone knows social media is an integral part of a communications campaign now; even though the platforms shift and change, the need to have our clients on them remains. But necessity doesn’t mean social media is always easy to deal with. A brand crisis is born on Facebook weekly, internet trolls test our

Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays, the father of public relations

patience, and doing social media well requires a decent time investment.

However, PR pros still have plenty to be thankful for in the social realm. As we head into Thanksgiving, here’s a reminder of why social is good, and what blessings we can count.

1. More Opportunities for Organic Media Coverage

Broadcast outlets now routinely include a live Twitter feed onscreen, and often parse social media for up-to-the-minute stories and trends. If we are carefully monitoring hashtags and participating in conversations appropriately, the brands we represent have the opportunity to garner organic coverage in the media – no pitching required. The key is to participate in discussions where the brand logically fits and can add value. We can’t just add a rainbow flag to the profile picture and call it a day, either; the brand must be able to further the discussion already happening. No client has a place in every popular hashtag.

2. A Chance to Fix a Crisis Before It Starts

Though social media outlets have proven to be a dangerous mine field for clients’ image, the platforms can also be a place to monitor negative attitudes and attempt to correct the course before a full-blown crisis happens. Many brands use Twitter as a quick response customer service tool. Businesses can also directly connect with upset consumers before they take to Yelp, Trip Advisor, and the 5 o’clock news with their complaints if the company monitors social media comments and responds immediately.

3. The Ability to Really Explore Consumer Engagement

“Engagement” is difficult to quantify on social. Is it likes, comments, and shares? Or is it tied to conversion rate? However a business defines engagement, PR pros have the chance to really dive into connecting with their audience. PR is a field centered around relationships, and social media has redefined how these are built and nurtured. The PR industry has entered a new era with social media, and has access to tools that Edward Bernays only dreamed of.

4. New Avenues for Pitching

Social media has changed the face of pitching. While some journalists still prefer to be pitched via email, many are open to a direct message on Twitter. Most Twitter users have the app on their phone and get notifications of direct messages instantly. It’s also a quick way to show that you’ve researched them beyond their email address and found their Twitter handle. Even if you’re not ready to pitch an idea right away, you can connect with journalists by retweeting them and tweeting comments about their recent pieces.

5. “Soft-Sell” Posts

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An example of “soft-selling” – cute!

Social users aren’t very receptive to hard-selling on Facebook and Twitter. Sales posts and links do have their place, but brands’ followers are looking for posts that add more value to them. As a PR pro, this type of content can be a break from press releases, pitching, and campaign writing. One of the A.wordsmith clients I do social media work for is a pet supply store. I get to spend a little bit of time each week looking for adorable animal videos and news to share on their pages. It’s a fun way to start Monday, and one I’m definitely thankful for.

Choosing the Right Social Media Platforms for Your Business

Social media platforms have solidified their place in any business’ public relations and marketing strategy. You know you have to include social media as part of your brand’s image no matter what business sector you fall in, but it can be overwhelming when you look at all the options available. How are you supposed to find the time to manage five orsocial media more different accounts on social media? Add in the fact that copying and pasting the same posts across all your platforms is not a best practice, and panic about how to not only do something with all these accounts but do it well sets in. Where do you begin?

Particularly with smaller business, the answer is to start by recognizing that you don’t have utilize everything that’s out there. Large corporations may have more time, man power, and funds to take advantage of everything on the social media buffet, but this isn’t always the best choice. Not every platform plays into a specific business’ needs and strengths. Choosing what will work for your business should be based on where your audience is and what benefits each platform is capable of. Here’s a brief guide to knowing if four of the most popular social networks are right for your business:

 

  • Facebook – If you use only one social media platform, this should be it. Facebook boasts over 1 billion users, meaning the majority of your audience probably has one. Many consumers see an active Facebook account as a sign that a company is legitimate and trustworthy. With over 900 million daily users, the majority of people on Facebook are checking in daily, which provides a ton of opportunities to get your brand in front of them.
  • Twitter – If you have the ability to dedicate a staff member to monitoring social media, Twitter may be a good choice for a customer service outlet. Users on Twitter tend to expect very quick responses, and conversations change fast. This is also a good medium to participate in professional discussions by following hashtags related to your business and engaging in scheduled Twitter chats on regular topics.
  • Pinterest – Does your brand fall in the lifestyle, food, fashion, or craft categories? You should be on Pinterest. The platform relies heavily on visuals, so anything you post featuring your business or products needs to be well-shot, edited, and eye catching. The key to gaining followers on Pinterest is to post and share photos and links from other related organizations in addition to your own, to build boards that users want to keep up with. Pinterest can also work well as a private “file cabinet” to store resources, photos and more in an easy to access location.
  • LinkedIn – The network for professionals, LinkedIn can work well to legitimize your business in the eyes of the public. A business page is relatively easy to set up, and users don’t expect frequent updates on LinkedIn. LinkedIn requires less maintenance, and comes in handy during hiring periods, and functions as a way to connect your employees and grow your own professional contact list.

 

The most important thing for any business on social media to remember is that these platforms require time and dedication. They need to be monitored and maintained. Don’t overload yourself by giving in to the urge to try everything; choose what makes sense, give it the TLC it needs, and you will see a great return on investment in time.

15 Hidden Features of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Google+

I have a few surprises for those social media junkies out there! PRNews tweeted out an awesome infographic today about the 15 hidden features, tips and tricks for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Most of these came as a surprise to me – who knew you could “mute” a Twitter account without unfollowing it? Or that you could message someone on LinkedIn without actually being connected with them? For those folks who can’t seem to get enough of social media networks and learning more about better ways to use them, check out the infographic below provided by Salesforce.

Why should you care about social media?

For those who are less than interested in social networks, there is much to learn about why these platforms are great for both personal and business online presence. Facebook, for example continues to build its platform for business pages and allows users to manage their own or their businesses’ reputation, allow engagement, promote events, and to network and build relationships, whether personal or professional.

Twitter on the other hand is great at providing an opportunity for you or your business to report on news, build brand loyalty, provide a place for customer feedback and connect with potential or current customers. While LinkedIn is dubbed as the “professional” form of Facebook, it is important that every working student, graduate, professional has a page to promote themselves and connect with other professionals online.

Whether you love it or hate it, social media is here to stay and those who want to explore the many benefits of the platforms will love these hidden features.

Hidden Social Media Features You Should Know

Salesforce.com