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My (Official) Thoughts on Snapchat

My (Official) Thoughts on Snapchat

No one can deny the unbelievable power of this social media juggernaut, but where does it fit in the world of marketing?

Snapchat launched in 2011. About a year later, it was on my iPhone and I started sharing. It wasn’t long before (almost) everyone I knew was using the app, and not too long after that, I read about how Spiegel and his gang turned down $3 billion in cash from Facebook. As someone who has yet to be offered such a huge sum of money (fingers crossed!) I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could turn it down. And I know I wasn’t alone. But, by all accounts, it seems like the Snapchat team made the right move. (At least for now; let’s see if Wall Street continues its devaluation tirade.) So here we sit, about three years later and Snapchat holds a lofty valuation of $16 billion (after a recently closed $175 million round of funding).

Snapchat and Marketing

Let’s Look at the Valuation

The $16B valuation is flat with the round raised in May 2015. But, as a recent Vanity Fair article points out, a flat valuation at a time where banks like Morgan Stanley and funds like Fidelity are slashing portfolio valuations is something to be proud of. Even Snapchat isn’t immune; Fidelity knocked the high-flying Icarus out of the sky in November with a 25% writedown. (Of course, they just led the new round of funding, so read into that as you will.)

The point is, the tech world is in the process of balancing itself out. A little over 15 years ago, money was pouring into tech companies (that returned absolutely nothing) and Wall Street went belly up when the sky came crashing down. This devaluation comes at a moment of sobriety where smart investors realize they don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Snapchat is exciting, and it resonates with a coveted demographic: millennials. So while the Zenefits, Palantirs and Dropboxes of the world are getting serious wake up calls (you can’t just take money forever and not be expected to pay it back) Snapchat still has some rope to work with. But that rope is getting shorter.

Intentional Hurdles

Right now, it costs $750,000 a day to advertise on Snapchat. To say that there are very few brands that can afford that is an understatement. The kinds of brands with six-figure daily ad dollars are very few and very, very far between. But that’s more or less the idea: in Snapchat’s eyes, if you want mom n’ pop shop ads appearing everywhere, you can spend your time on Facebook or Twitter. The limited (and, so far, coveted) ad space that Snapchat offers goes only to those deemed worthy.

This business model looks great when it is first rolled out. After all, everyone knows about Snapchat and its audience of 13-24 year olds (and yes, they say 13-36, but 77% of Snapchat users are under the age of 24), so when they announce that they will be selling ad space, the largest brands in the world tear open their wallets to the tune of $10 million commitments. But most brands and organizations don’t have anywhere close to that kind of spending power. So when a $100 million ad revenue is projected, it needs to be looked at a little more closely.

Snapchat’s ‘Run Rate’

In October 2014, Snapchat unveiled its ad model. They made about $3 million dollars over the course of the next few months. (They lost close to $130 million, but that’s the world of startups for you.) Then Discover launched, Viacom was signed up with several properties, and in the summer of 2015, Snapchat started looking at ‘selling’ its ad space overtly for the first time. Of course, at that point those wallets I mentioned flung open.

$10 million dollar commitments from several brands is impressive – there’s no question there. But let’s be realistic: Snapchat on pace to make $100 million per year if things keep moving the way they are is a concept that makes a lot of dangerous assumptions. Perhaps the most dangerous of all is that brands will derive measurable return from the network in the long run and continue to pour huge sums of money into disappearing ad space.

Snapchat’s Marketing Value

As I’ve mentioned, Snapchat is an exciting platform that is hugely engaging. We’re talking 8 billion video views a day huge. But Spiegel has not minced words when it comes to their approach to advertising: “We care about not being creepy. That’s something that’s really important to us. […] We think it’s weird when brands try to act like your pal [by tracking your web browsing habits].” (Source) That’s great for user experience, not great for advertisers. If I need to reach 18 year olds in the market for a first car with a high propensity to engage with digital ads, I won’t spend close to a million dollars a day to probably reach them. Once the novelty wears off, I’ll want measurable return and granular targeting. It seems like Snapchat is starting to accept that, and this kind of targeting is being rolled out (with criteria like age, gender, location, device and context), but more expansive interest and behavioral targeting will be a necessity for any long-term success.

On that same note, measurement is a real problem. On Facebook, I can tell you almost anything about the people seeing my ads because I outlined a very clear persona when I launched my campaign. What’s more, I can tell you everything that audience is doing from an engagement standpoint, and I can track all of that activity from the medium to my website. Snapchat started with views and reach. If we’ve learned anything from Google Display, views are pretty meaningless. Two seconds with more than 50% of pixels visible. So when I’m told that I received a million views, I have no way of knowing if that is worth my time. Slowly, Snapchat has been working to improve these metrics (for example, by partnering with Nielsen to provide more insightful and useful data). But the big issue (for me as a marketer) isn’t necessarily with either of these problems (both of which can and are being fixed by the platform). My issue has to do with using the platform to drive results for business objectives.

Snapchat is, by nature, a native product that is completely end-to-end (hat tip to Steve Jobs for the lingo). I, as a user, am not interested in clicking through to another source (be it a website or the App Store or what have you) while I’m using the app. I’m there purely to digest content and engage with a community. So when (if ever) Snapchat develops a more universal platform where smaller brands and organizations can afford it, how will they be able to justify the investment? Brand awareness and community development are extremely important; there’s not question there. But from an investment standpoint, will these intangibles (for the most part) be worth it?

My Official Thoughts

So here’s what I think about Snapchat.

I love the product. I think it’s brilliant and it keep getting better (with the exception of a few notable hiccups – paid lenses anyone?). I think that brand humanization potential is huge, and the ability to reach millennials is unparalleled. There is a vast array of potential when it comes to content, and people love digesting this content from both friends and brands (as we’ve seen with plenty of case studies). But, I think a long-run monetization of the audience will be next to impossible. We’ve already seen that with paid replays and paid lenses, the latter of which was one of the worst rollout strategies I’ve ever seen. (I won’t get into that here, because it could easily be another thousand-word article.) Millennials don’t want to spend money, so Snapchat’s only hope for revenue will be advertising.

For now, brands are willing to pay, and the future looks good in terms of targeting and tracking, but the platform is inherently limited in terms of its broad appeal. Barring a paradigm shift, the value in advertising on the platform will only be available to huge, global brands that find tangible value in impressions. Most companies, especially SMBs need results linked to revenue, and right now that doesn’t seem to be on the radar for the app.

There is a lot that marketers can do with the platform, and when it comes to personal branding, I can’t think of too many (any, really) media that do a better job of helping one build one’s brand and connecting with an audience (#KeysToSuccess). I look forward to seeing how brands and individuals continue to use it creatively, and to continue leveraging it in the work I’m doing, but I do wonder about the long-term. It’ll be fun to watch.

Reasons Why Charging for Guest Posts is a Terrible Idea

Reasons Why Charging for Guest Posts is a Terrible Idea

If you’re willing to accept guest posts on your blog or website, don’t bother charging for the ‘privilege’.

I was recently pointed in the direction of a website called Careerealism, which happens to have a guest contributor network. This isn’t uncommon; a lot of websites, blogs and communities offer a chance for guests to contribute to their network. I’ve personally written for websites like Search Engine Journal and Social Media Today, so offering guest spots isn’t an unfamiliar practice. What I was surprised to see with Careerealism, however, is that they charge people to write for them.

Don't charge for guests posts

 

Charging for guest posts is a horrendous practice for a whole host of reasons (a few of which are listed here). Sure, these guys have a fairly substantial number of unique visitors (though I think they might be bolstering those numbers a little bit, as my research through Alexa and Compete put their unique monthly visitors substantially lower in recent months, not to mention the fact that they’re certainly double-counting a lot of their social audience members, which is visible right away) but is it worth paying $130 per month to be a part of their ‘expert’ program?

No matter how you spin it, it never is. Here are a few of the reasons why charging for guest posts will always be the lesser of your options when running a blog that accepts guest contributors.

You immediately lose credibility.

Being a good writer does not make one an ‘expert’ in his or her field. Here is the list of requirements to become an ‘expert’ contributor on Careerealism:

  • Must be an author, consultant, advisor, or coach for a career-related industry (i.e. social media consutant, life coach, etc.)
  • Must have a website or blog
  • Must submit a writing sample (URL from previous guest posting/blog posts)
  • Must have an updated LinkedIn profile
  • Must have an updated Twitter account
  • Must provide a headshot and bio

Where exactly are the credentials that indicate that the person submitting their profile is an expert? Oh, I see, there are none.

One larger problem that this showcases (which I will not get into here) is that the ease with which personal brands can be established (he says as he writes from his self-titled blog) makes terms like ‘expert’ and the oft-overused ‘guru’ meaningless. Moreover, in this case, use of the term ‘expert’ is diluted even further by the fact that these ‘experts’ are paying for the title.

Imagine if MDs has the option to either pay standard tuition for medical school, go through their years of practice and receive their degree OR pay slightly more to skip the schooling and receive the degree right away. Having $130 in disposal income and a registered URL does not an expert make.

You limit your contributor network.

Anybody who works in the field of marketing, particularly those who focus heavily on social, will understand immediately why a potential network of contributing writers is shrunk substantially when they’re charged to write. It’s too easy to write for free.

Granted, to make it onto some of the larger publications it takes some time, a lot of work on your part to build that personal brand and, in some cases, a friend on the inside, but that effort is well worth it when you receive the credibility that comes with being published on one of these reputable sites. Readers can see right through that when the blog to which you’re posting very publicly touts their pay-to-post structure. So savvy bloggers will naturally steer clear. The problem with that is that it’s the savvy bloggers that you want.

Which brings me to my next point…

Article quality goes down the drain.

When savvy, experienced writers are turned off by your structure (and they always are in cases like this) you’re left with the bunch that is more desperate to have their name published with a third party than willing to craft high-quality content.

These are the cases where you see lazy posts that are repeated all over the place (with different titles). Case in point, when I type ‘personal brand’ into my finder on the Careerealism blog, I get 9 results…on the first page of posts.

You want honest, unique articles. Lists are great – the stats prove that – but subjective content that dissects phenomena, news and one’s industry are what make guest blogs great. There is only so much value that can come from reading list after list of ‘expert’ tips.

What’s more, if I, as a writer, am paying anything to write, I want to churn out as much content as I possibly can (with the expectation that, because I am a pre-approved ‘expert’, it will all be published) in order to get some value out of the money that I’m spending. Again, this often leads to shorter, repetitive articles that generally won’t do much to add to the reader’s experience. And that means that it won’t be long before reader attrition rates surpass acquisition rates, and you’re forced to try and explain to your paying contributors why they should stick around as readership declines.

Conclusion

This is an issue that I feel pretty strongly about (as you can see) because it cheapens the hard work that so many people put into building their personal brands. Sites that offer these kinds of programs dilute the value of real experts that have worked to earn that title (though hopefully not by touting it on LinkedIn, because that also cheapens the term).

I also think I should make it clear that Careerealism is not the only site like this. There are plenty out there. This just happens to be the example I’ve decided to write about.

10 Ways to Improve Your Landing Page Conversions

10 Ways to Improve Your Landing Page Conversions

There are a lot of reasons why your landing pages might not be converting, so here are ten things that might help.

Your landing pages are designed to drive conversions. But with so much noise, and what can sometimes feel like guesswork (though it doesn’t have to be), our landing page conversions might not be as strong as we had hoped.

Improve Landing Page Conversions

These are a few best practices to keep in mind next time you decide to create a landing page in the hopes of driving new conversions from a campaign.

1. Match Your Page Title

If I, a consumer, have clicked on your content from an ad, email, social post or some other source that read one thing, and I arrived at your landing page only to find that the title does not match the original content, I’ll likely a) go back, thinking I arrived at the wrong place or b) exit because I feel duped. Keep a consistent message from content to landing page in order to maintain consistency throughout the consumer’s journey.

2. Clear Call-to-Action

If you have paragraph after paragraph of text and wait until the very end of the page to prompt me to take action, nine times out of ten, I’m going to leave. The average online attention span is eight seconds. If you don’t have a clear call-to-action above the fold prompting visitors to take action immediately, they likely won’t.

3. Direct Users to Your CTA

Using something as simple as an arrow, a photo or even turning your images slightly to face your call-to-action call lead to significantly improved conversion rates. Our eyes naturally follow directions that guide them. Do yourself a favor and help your prospects along the way.

4. Single Message

Landing pages have significantly higher conversion rates when there is a single, clear and uninterrupted message without any distractions. As noted above, people have short attention spans. If you push too many messages (i.e. more than one) at the same time, they will likely become overwhelmed and move onto something simpler.

5. Contextualize Your Offer

Showing is better than telling. Think about the classic door-to-door sales person. Your Fuller Brush Man wouldn’t simply tell you how great his products were, he would show you a mess and clean it up! On your landing page, you should try and do the same thing. Showcase an example, or a video that highlights why the product is a must-have and the offer can’t be beat!

Fuller Brush Man Conversions

6. Conformity

Along the same lines as the single message approach, every bit of content on your landing page should be aligned with the purpose of the page itself. If your goal is to get people to download your eBook, everything on the page should not only push people to download the eBook, but focus on its benefits. At no point should the attention that a consumer is giving you be broken. Don’t share links to other pages, and don’t promote other offers. Your landing pages should be singular in nature.

7. Test Variations

Keep all elements constant, but change the color of your call-to-action from blue to red. Did it make a difference? Now change the phrasing of your page title. Did that help? It is no secret that A/B testing is a valuable practice, yet not marketers take advantage of it in all aspects of their campaigns. Maybe they’ll run A/B tests on email campaigns, or social ads, but too often landing pages are not tested. Try using a service like Optimizely to make things even easier and to automate some of the process.

8. Give a Guarantee

The majority of consumers are naturally risk-averse. Therefore, when they see that something is guaranteed – satisfaction, as a soft guarantee, or, as Kaplan does, improved test scores, for a hard guarantee – they will be more comfortable making a purchase or subscribing to a service. There is simply something comforting about seeing that a brand is confident in its product.

9. Segment by Source

If you are running search ads, social ads and email campaigns, they should have their own landing pages. Each of these variations should have its own set of A/B tests as these audiences will not be made up of the same people, and neither one of these audiences are likely to have the same tastes.

10. Show Accessibility

People are naturally skeptical when it comes to web offers. Showing that you have a real email address, an actual phone number and can be found in an office somewhere in the world will boost the confidence of your visitors. Again, people like to know that there is an actual human being on the other end of the computer that will be there is they need them.

Try some of these tactics and see if you can’t boost your landing page conversions next time you run a campaign!

Takeaways from a Week in San Francisco

Takeaways from a Week in San Francisco

After a week in the hub of tech and the starting point of a lot of digital trends, there are a few things worth noting.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in San Francisco for the Social Media Strategies Summit. There, I had the treat of meeting up with a few peers from around the industry and listening to some great presentations. There were a couple of interesting digital trends that I noted while I was there, and I thought the very least I could do is share those here.

Marketing Tech is on the Rise

The world of marketing technology is as exciting as it is complex. There is so much happening in the world of marketing (specific) tech, that it can often be hard to keep up.

One of the most interesting presentations I sat in on during the conference was my friend Travis Wright‘s presentation on the future of marketing technology. He covered some of the most advanced topics I’ve heard covered on the subject (at least at a social media event like this one) and it was refreshing to see this kind of content being shared with a more general public.

Digital trends marketing technology

What exactly is marketing technology, anyway?

The world of MarTec, as it’s commonly referred, relates to the technologies that we use in order to execute our marketing efforts in a more efficient manner. It is the collection of technologies that we, as marketers, use on a daily basis. It is a fairly avant garde topic that is a heavy focus of some of the most cutting edge brands, and it is great to see that it is making its way into the mainstream.

Employee Activation

One thing that became abundantly clear while I was in San Francisco is that brand (even larger ones) are starting to embrace the idea of employee activation. This is one of those digital trends that has been making waves in SMBs, but it hasn’t yet made its way up to the top. That’s all starting to change.

Several large brands spoke about their own employee activation programs. What is employee activation? Essentially, it is the idea of empowering your internal army of brand advocates to represent the brand on social media with their own accounts. There are clear drawbacks: what is the brand is poorly represented? This is an obvious deterrent from brands adopting the practice.

What companies have done is implement best practice guides. They have chosen the right employees based on evaluation process and provided them with the training they need in order to implement the program effectively. The results have been pretty impressive so far, and once these programs are scaled, major brands will be even more prevalent on social media than they already are.

Predictive Analytics is Defining Strategy

More and more, I talk about the rise of data. As many of you know, I am a huge supporter of the use of data for the purposes of developing strategy. Well, it seems less and less like I am a part of a minority. Another major focus at the event in San Francisco was the use of predictive analytics for the purposes of developing more successful strategies.

Predictive analytics are exciting, but can be somewhat complex. The reason is not that there is a lack of data – far from it. But we are seeing a move in a direction that embraces these data and analyzes them more effectively than ever before. There are plenty of tools that exist on the market offering these kinds of services, and they are now becoming more detailed and valuable.

Though predictive analytics still has a bit of a ways to go, it is clear that this is a trend that is on the rise. It shouldn’t be long before we see everyone – from Fortune 500s to mom n’ pop shops – adopting the use of these insights.

Conclusion

Spending time in the origin spot for so many digital trends provides a ton of insight into the direction this industry is taking. It is exciting to see that, for the most part, everyone is moving in the same direction.

Digital trends noted in San Francisco

One clear indicator of this is the rapid expansion of so many fields. Whereas it took years to hit a few dozen marketing tech providers, there are now nearly a thousand (the number having tripled in just three years). It is exciting to think where we might be at this time next year if this rate of innovation is maintained.

3 Things You’re Almost Definitely Forgetting in Your Digital Marketing Strategy

3 Things You’re Almost Definitely Forgetting in Your Digital Marketing Strategy

There are some things that even the most knowledgeable of marketers might be forgetting to include in their digital marketing strategy.

A digital marketing strategy is a pretty robust thing. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that most marketers and business owners often forget about a few important components that need to be included in a digital marketing strategy in order for it to be successful.

Like I said, there is a ton that needs to be considered in order to build a working strategy, and just because these three components are included, it does not mean that it’s a finished product. But they are important and they are going to help your brand grow online. That said, here are three elements that need to be a part of every digital marketing strategy in order for it to find success.

Social Media Advertising

Gone are the days when paid advertising was a luxury afforded to the largest and wealthiest of brands. Even in more recent years, digital advertising, which consisted primarily of Google AdWords and banner ads, was too grand a cost for most brands to bare. Now, with social media advertising becoming more commonplace (and about as simple a practice as any) all brands can and should be taking advantage of it.

A few months ago, I conducted a little internal case study/experiment in order to showcase the cost effectiveness of social media advertising when compared to ‘traditional’ digital advertising, Google AdWords. I decided to look at a relevant and pretty competitive keyword: ‘social media’. What I found was that on a CPC and CPM basis, social media advertising could be nearly ten times more cost effective when targeting the right demographics on social media (another value added).

Include social media advertising in your digital marketing strategy

So the question becomes, why are brands not jumping on the opportunity to build their digital presence by including a section devoted to social media advertising in their digital marketing strategies? The proof is in the numbers, and the more you work with social ads, the simpler and more successful they become to achieving business-specific goals.

Data-Backed Strategy

I’ve grown to accept that data is not for everyone; I guess my attraction to numbers makes me an anomaly. But if you don’t like data, at least do the longevity of your business a favor and find someone who can help you analyze data and incorporate it into your strategy. Hypothetical marketing plans are a thing of the past. We have a world of insights at our fingertips – literally!

Build your digital marketing strategies using your data

Delving into your owned media (i.e. any digital media that you are in total control of, such as your website or branded social media channels) and industry media (using a listening or data aggregating technology) can produce some incredibly valuable information. This information can help you create things like content strategies, help you identify new demographics and opportunities and begin building ResponsiveBrandingTM campaigns.

Don’t let a distaste for numbers deprive you of a huge amount of potential. Let the data be the driving force behind your digital marketing strategy, and let it reinvent your strategy as it changes.

Influence Marketing

We often hear a lot about influence and influencers, but what exactly are we talking about when we say ‘influence marketing’? Leveraging the power of influencers can launch your brand into a new realm and expand your reach and your own influence in the marketplace. Why is that? It all comes down to trust.

According to the results of the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer – an annual, global trust and credibility survey – 67% of people trust experts in a particular field, and 62% of people their peers (or, as the study puts it, ‘a person like yourself’). The beauty of influencers is that they can be – and often are – both of those things: industry experts that people consider their peers (in large part thanks to social media and its ability to connect people).

2014 Edelman Trust Barometer for your digital marketing strategy

By identifying your industry’s influencers and reaching out to them, you can forge relationships that can turn into brand advocacy. This can be an invaluable asset when looking to build your business not only in the short term, but in the long run as well.

Conclusion

There is a lot that will go into your digital marketing strategy. These three assets will only be a small part of the overall product, but they can play an important role in the overall success of your business, and so few people are properly taking advantage of them. Next time you review your business strategies, consider including these three elements in your digital marketing plan.

A Major Announcement from t2

A Major Announcement from t2

Social selling and social business at t2.

Last week t2 was featured in a press release with some big news about a new partnership.

If you haven’t seen the press release, read it here.

Last week, we announced a new partnership with NexLevel Sales, a social selling consultancy headed by one of Forbes’ top 25 social selling experts in the world. It’s an exciting new venture – and for more reasons than one.

First, what exactly is social selling?

Social selling is an exciting new realm of building relationships through social media in order to facilitate transactions. It is also the process of using social signals in order to identify opportunities, threats and pinpoint exactly where prospects are in the sales funnel. Essentially, social selling is the process of leveraging social media in order to qualify leads, decrease conversion time and eliminate waste from the sales process. In other words, a great tool.

Social selling and social media marketing.

Today, 98% of sales professionals believe the relationship is the cornerstone of closing a deal (Source), and 52% of brands believe social media is the best means of building relationships with prospective clients. (Source) So, the laws of transitivity would suggest that social media is one of the best ways to aid in closing a deal. (Assuming, of course, you have a good product and the prospect is in the market for it.)

Social media – from your blog to Google+ – are valuable platforms that can be leveraged to increase sales. And today, they tie in closely with the marketing process.

How are sales and marketing tied together?

There has always been some linkage between the sales and marketing processes, but at the same time, a disconnect has existed that has made the process somewhat tedious and, at time, combative. Which department holds what responsibilities? Who takes credit for conversion? Where does marketing end and sales begin? These are questions for an old market – one where social was not a factor.

Today, the lines between sales and marketing have become increasingly blurred. Last week, I hosted a webinar with Sales Gravy discussing the power of social selling. During the Q&A period, I was asked about the difference between social media marketing and social selling. I thought it was a hugely important question, because it is a difference that is still being defined. Essentially, the two departments are slowly merging, and the process is becoming increasingly more fluid.

Outbound marketing is dying – we can all agree to that. With inbound marketing, everyone needs to be a marketer, and everyone needs to be a salesperson.

Incorporating Sellarketing into t2

Julio Viskovich, the founder of NexLevel sales and the key theorist behind the concept of Sellarketing introduced the concept a little while ago. What is it? It is essentially the idea of breaking down barriers between sales and marketing. How can the two departments become one, cohesive unit functioning in unison towards a common goal?

Every salesperson needs to be a marketer – both a personal and brand marketer – and every marketer needs to be a salesperson. Using social, these two worlds collide in a unique and powerful way, and that is the idea we plan on introducing with this new partnership.

A brand’s sales and marketing departments can no longer be standalone entities. They need to work as one in order to grow their market share, and this is the first enterprise solution that builds on that concept.

We’re very excited about this new venture and we’re looking forward to flooding the market with this exciting, new idea.

To find out more about the partnership or to discuss how we might be able to assist your business, please contact us.

FTC Rulings Suggest Changes to Social Media Marketing World

FTC Rulings Suggest Changes to Social Media Marketing World

The Federal Trade Commission recently chimed into the social media marketing conversation, and businesses now need to watch their step.

Slowly but surely, all good things come to an end. In this case, the good thing that is coming to an end is the free-for-all that many businesses have enjoyed when it comes to social media marketing. This is not the first time the government – or a regulatory body, for that matter – has stepped into the mix. But what many saw as a quick, easy way to build brand equity is slowly becoming a structured, bureaucratic process – much like traditional avenues of marketing.

I’m not saying that we are facing any sort of an ‘end of social media marketing’ as so many people – for reasons beyond my understanding – seem to enjoy suggesting. Not at all. I am simply saying that the world of social media marketing is slowly becoming subject to more stringent regulation standards.

Regulations becoming more clear to social media marketing world.

Image credit: Shutterstock. Used under license.

So what happened?

Let me start off by making it clear that this relates to a ruling that affects the way brands conduct themselves on Pinterest. This is not universal, though it alludes to the almost inevitability of these kinds of changes taking effect.

Recently, Cole Haan launched their #WanderingSole campaign on Pinterest. Users were asked to pin Cole Haan images to their own, Cole Haan-branded boards and tag the brand in an effort to win $1,000. Sounds a lot like plenty of other campaigns we have seen sprout up on Pinterest. The difference here is that the FTC cited a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. What in the world is that, you might be asking yourself? Well, it states that the FTC has “the authority to take appropriate action when unfair or deceptive acts or practices are discovered.”

Now this definition is pretty broad, if you ask me. But in their ruling, the FTC made it quite clear what the issue was:

We believe that participants’ pins featuring Cole Haan products were endorsements of the Cole Haan products, and the fact that the pins were incentivized by the opportunity to win a $1000 shopping spree would not reasonably be expected by consumers who saw the pins. Moreover, we were concerned that Cole Haan did not instruct contestants to label their pins and Pinterest boards to make it clear that they had pinned Cole Haan products as part of a contest.

Based on the definition of the Section, it seems quite clear that their concern was that this campaign fell under the ‘deceptive’ category.

What’s the big deal?

In this case, The FTC seems to think that Cole Haan was incentivizing people to become brand advocates (or provide product endorsements) that were not created organically (and not specified to viewers of the participants’ pins).

Imagine you are walking through the aisles of the grocery store, minding your own business, when someone comes up to you and suggests you buy a particular brand of cereal. They tell you how great the taste is, how it is healthier than alternatives and much less expensive than other, comparable products. You’re convinced, buy the cereal then see the individual that talked you into buying it collecting a reward from the manufacturer behind the store. You would probably feel a little cheated. Maybe this person has never even tried the cereal! What have you done!

This dramatic reaction is exactly what the FTC is trying to avoid. When brand advocates sprout up on social media, they should be generated naturally. Brand advocates should not be bought. This relates to the idea of earned media. Cole Haan, in this case, was buying perceived earned media, which is, in many marketers’ opinions the most valuable type of media. (Media wherein brand advocates promote your brand without any incentive – simply a love of your product/service.)

What does this mean moving forward?

One of the amazing features of the world of social media marketing is that it is a market that has slowly begun to self-regulate. Basic laws of microeconomics have come into play and we can see them manifesting themselves and creating stability and common practice among market participants.

That said, there are still some elements that are not regulated. That is not the fault of a brand like Cole Haan. They were simply doing what they thought made sense for their brand to launch a successful campaign. The reason why regulatory bodies like the FTC exist – for better or for worse – is to prevent issues like this from becoming common practice. Earned media is a valuable asset, and if brands were to find a way to purchase it (without disclosing that it had become a paid-earned hybrid medium) it would lose a considerable amount of value (much in the way paid and even owned media have lost a lot of weight since the advent of social networks).

Brands simply need to ensure that they are not trying to find loopholes or backdoors when running campaigns. If a campaign works and goes viral, then you’ve done a great job. If it falls flat, then you’ve learned something. (Then again, you might need to start job hunting. But we’ll go with the glass-half-full perspective here.)

If you would like more (very, very exciting) information on Section 5 of the FTCA, click here. To read the full ruling by the FTC, take a look at the SlideShare below: