Finding And Selecting The Right Influencer

What most of us forget is that at the end of the day, social media is merely a platform we’ve all recently jumped onto for marketing purposes. Yes, it’s a powerful one at that, but again: it’s still just a platform. The success of our online-hinged campaigns still heavily relies on the strategies we apply on the social Web and our adaptability to every new technology and trend that comes our way. And so, online marketers need to find ways to optimize social media to create buzz around their brands and grab the opportunities as they come. It will help with your site"s SEO because trend and number of visits it will generate will increase the ranking of your site.

One of the many popular ways to go about this is by leveraging on influencer marketing. However, as anyone who’s ever tried, it can tell you, it’s much more than just getting into an influencer’s good graces. Here are a handful of best practices you can use as a guide to help get the ball rolling and hit your goals.

Your Eye On The Prize.

The first thing you should do is identify what your goals are for even delving into influencer marketing, and list them down on paper. These include the most obvious ones like spreading the word about your brand, attracting people into your fold, increasing product revenues, etc. Organize them according to priority and constantly refer to that list every step of your campaign as draw up strategies. That list will be your constant guide to keep you focused on achieving those goals as your campaign progresses.

Finding Influencers.

Either for a general demographic or for a specific niche, you must identify the influencers and measure their level of influence, the depth of their engagements with their followers and many other factors that should align with your overall goals. This helps you keep your head in the game no matter the amount of noise online. Using social monitoring tools like Technorati, Klout,  SocialMention or Topsy can help you sniff out the right influencers for your brand on sites like Twitter and Facebook. They also display online impressions and sentiments on each personality.

The Screening Process.

Always remember that just like traditional marketing’s celebrity-fronted advertisements, the influencer you chose will also be, in a manner of speaking, representing your brand. You may also have to backread their previous tweets, status updates and/or the multimedia contents they shared to get your answers though. The broader their network, the better SEO it will provide to your website. Find as many potential influencers as you can and then just narrow down your list with these few questions to evaluate each one.

1. How many people are following them and how many are they follow back?
2. How often are they blogging, posting updates or tweeting?
3. Do they personally engage with the people in their network of followers? How diligent are they in responding to their followers’ queries or comments?
4. Do they share (or retweet) their follower’s messages? Are they articulate enough to carry out your message/s?
5. How involved are they in their respective tribes? Do their followers respond to their posts?
6. How do they fare on the search engine results pages when you do a Google search for the keyword phrases related to their market/niche?
7. Are their followers the right people you want to target marketing-wise?
8. What are their thoughts about your general field of business? How about your brand/products/services?
9. How passionate are these people regarding their beliefs?
10. Do their opinions and beliefs clash with the ideals you and your company lives by? Is their general public image apt for the personality you want your brand to embody?

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How Brands Can Benefit from Facebook Deals?

Recently some game-changing news hit the social street when Facebook announced “Deals," which finally explains why Facebook"s “Places" function unrolled earlier this year. Places felt like a Foursquare knockoff that Facebook incorporated just because they felt the need to not only be ubiquitous on the web but in the physical world, too.

The functionality seemed superfluous and essentially just acted as a way for people to brag about the places they were proud to be. In my stream, I noticed some initial activity when Places was unveiled, as people would check in to popular bars or restaurants, or if someone was taking a trip to California and needed people to know that they were at the airport and had run out of things to do.

Activity declined, as I"m sure you noticed as well, as it did with Foursquare. But Wednesday, things changed when Deals made its way onto the scene. For those of you who are unaware, Facebook Deals is essentially a way for businesses to incentivize customers to check into their locations. Its good to know that aside from SEO and other digital marketing strategies, there are other promotions that you can use to attract more customers. Lisa has written a more detailed post about the different kinds of Facebook Deals, but I want to take this opportunity to give a few first impressions of how brands can use this function to their advantage when it comes to marketing.

Exclusive Freebies

This one"s a no-brainer. By having your customers check in to your location, offer them something free and exclusive. Each location could have a limited number of freebies, but an unlimited number of coupons. The Deals that are already available are touching on this, with 1/2 off coffee or 20% off your American Eagle purchase. The idea is that these freebies will entice people to not only have it show up in their stream but also so they can brag about it. People love to brag about free stuff.

Competing Location Rewards

Another thing that a couple of the existing deals are doing is making locations compete for most check-ins to “release" deal for that specific location. This could work in two ways:

Regional businesses that have several locations compete for the most check-ins in a given town (i.e., Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is offering a free screening and a Facebook pint glass to the location with the most check-ins) and the winning location at a given time would get the reward.

National brands with locations everywhere could compete to get the most check-ins in a given store or city, and that location or city would hand out a deal of some sort. Say Baskin Robbins in Orlando got the most check-ins so all of the Orlando stores would get free ice cream for a day. It might have to be catered to suit the needs per capita, but you get the idea.

Geotargeting

The whole concept of Deals is based on Geotargeting as it is, but you could take it a bit further. I think there is a great opportunity to use geotargeting on Places for business help each other. There"s nothing wrong with piggybacking. It"s an “I"ll scratch your back if you scratch mine" type thing and brands can benefit from it, especially given this new functionality. Stores can work in conjunction to offer a deal that works in more than one location. Say for instance if you check in to a restaurant, our check-in will get you a free drink at the bar next door.

Also, utilizing other technologies such as Twitter search, you can geotarget individuals who are savvy enough to hashtag their locations to @ reply and remind them to check out your deals.

Canon Targeting

I have to give Olivia credit for this one, as she had the original idea and I"m just expanding on it. I say “canon" in the sense of things that all fit into the same category. For instance, say you are a pet supply company.

You could reward your customers for checking in to places that pet owners frequent that show their appreciation for their pets, such as a dog park, a pet-friendly restaurant or a vet"s office. Check in to five places on a list, and you get a free rawhide chew toy.

Scavenger Hunts

This one could be really fun. It also can be strategic, depending on what kind of partnerships businesses can establish. Say you check in to several places in sequence, each time getting an individual discount, but then getting a major discount when you complete all the required check-ins. It would be a fun way to give back to customers who are loyal to more than one location of any particular business, too.

Hive Couponing

Now, Lisa discussed the four types of Deals in her post, but “Friend Deals" are the ones that I think makes the most sense. But if you stepped that idea up and offered the same functionality of something such as Groupon, you could not only create attention for your business online but on the ground as well. Imagine having 200 people lining up to get a free shirt or a coupon for anything in the store worth $25 or less. (I"m looking at you, Urban Outfitters).

These are just a few ideas I have as far as what brands can do with Facebook Deals, but I have others, but they are the ones I"m not planning to give away for free. These promotions are an effective addition to your SEO strategy. I"d love to hear how you think brands can benefit from Facebook Deals, too.

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4 reasons why your brand should create its own APIs

There are countless ways in which brands can use APIs. In Silicon Valley, open APIs have long been a staple of how tech companies do business. Twitter has an API. Facebook and Yahoo! have APIs. Google kick-started the API phenomenon with the Google Maps API. eBay and Amazon.com pioneered APIs as a lucrative business model.

A location-based mashup uses APIs to plot YouTube videos about the World Cup on a global map using geotagging.

Now an increasing number of brands are getting in on the action: Best Buy, Sears, MasterCard, MTV and Rhapsody now sport APIs alongside upstarts like HotUKDeals, Zappos and Wine.com.

At last week’s Content Marketing Strategies conference in Berkeley, Calif., Lori H. Schwartz, chief technology catalyst for McCann WorldGroup, said that smart brands are increasingly turning to APIs as a way to entice would-be partners to take your data stream. Then reuse it in the burgeoning number of different media environments: mobile, Internet-enabled TV, the real-time Web and other places where customers are increasingly hanging out.

A quick primer for readers who aren’t familiar with APIs. An API, short for application programming interface, is simply a set of rules and protocols that allow websites and apps to work with each other. A typical API pulls data from a source – say, pricing data or inventory – and performs a function, such as parsing the content and displaying it in a new way – say, a nicely formatted row of Flickr photos, or text that appears larger for the vision-impaired.

APIs let businesses plug into the social Web

Businesses large and small are now catching on, as brands are evolving into social media platforms rather than stand-alone destination sites.
“The monolithic brands of the industrial age are giving way to the distributed, participative and democratized brands of the digital age — free-flowing from the bottom-up, rather than dictated from the top down.”

The North Face and REI have released skiing apps that display snow conditions at dozens of resorts along with forecasts, trail maps and more. Real-time weather data is pulled into the apps through APIs. Etsy, an online retailer of handmade merchandise, has cultivated a distributed network of developers who used the Etsy API to create apps like Etsy On Sale and SoopSee. Best Buy recently released a new AP: I that not only lets you browse its vast catalog of merchandise but lets you take part in an end-to-end transaction on a third party site.

As brand strategist Brian Phipps writes: “The monolithic brands of the industrial age are giving way to the distributed, participative and democratized brands of the digital age. The forward strength of brands will be free-flowing from the bottom-up, rather than dictated and manipulated from the top down.”

Here are four reasons why your brand should consider creating its APIs:

1. Increased sales

Depending on what you’re selling on your destination website, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to drive additional sales by deputizing bloggers, affiliate retailers, and online boutique shops into becoming part of the sales process. Make it easy for e-commerce allies to grab relevant data and present it to the world using their interface but adhering to your standards. If you’re lucky, a Web service developed by a third party could generate new sources of revenue.

2. Increased innovation

What if the community built new products and services on top of your brand’s foundation? The magic of APIs is that your development team and contractors don’t have to create solutions for every possible use of your product or service in the marketplace. You do know that you can’t possibly handle every imaginable use case and build for every platform and media format, don’t you? In a sense, APIs are the ultimate form of crowdsourcing. By releasing an open API with specific terms of use, you turn the community into developers and co-collaborators for your brand – at almost zero cost. By building out an external developer ecosystem, you’re essentially adding outside expertise and novel insights to your R&D process.

3. Synergy with new partners

The chances are that the marketplace holds potential partners for your brand that you’re not even aware of. APIs enable business-to-business interactions by opening data and processes to partners, either freely or through a commercial license. [[you need to reach them through surrogates acting on your behalf, armed with useful APIs.]] APIs can target specific communities or networks – say if Johnson & Johnson created an API offering discounted baby merchandise to mommy bloggers on BlogHer.

4. Increased customer satisfaction

We live in a social media world now. Customers are increasingly expecting brands to be social – to listen to conversations and embrace community input instead of just pushing out marketing messages. APIs let clever outsiders experiment with finding out what customers want – and giving it to them. If your name is BevMo, the chances are that your customers don’t just want to know which wines Wilfred Wong recommends – they’d like suggestions from their favorite experts, or perhaps from fellow wine lovers.

Have a question about APIs? Want to discuss how your brand might use this approach? Post a comment or contact me. And please share your insights below.

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5 cool startups at the first Launch conference

With a crowded conference space for the launch of new startups — DEMOspring, DEMOfall, TechCrunch Disrupt — is there room for another springboard for interesting start-ups?

Yep. The first Launch conference, held Wednesday and today at the San Francisco Design Concourse, showed off a wealth of entrepreneurial talent — and proved to be entertaining at the same time. Thanks to the conference prowess of founder Jason Calacanis and the on-stage cleverness of judges such as VCs Dave McClure, Yossi Vardi, and actor Kevin Pollak, who instructed startup founders to target “the C- to B+ students” who have grown up to become the vast midsection of U.S. consumer culture.

About 1,300 attendees turned out, and more than 100 startups competed for one of the prized placements on stage.

Here are a few of the startups I found interesting, both on the stage and of the demo pit:

Groupin: Organize your work & personal lives

Appconomy’s Groupin is a mobile app that lets you organize your work and personal life into “the groups and people that matter to you” and across the channels you already use. By simplifying group communications across multiple channels, including private in-app messaging, e-mail, SMS, phone Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more, Groupin makes working in groups easy, efficient and fun. It looked pretty cool to me, though the judges seemed unimpressed.

Give2Gether: Democratized social fund-raising

Anyone can instantly raise funds for a cause with give2gether, a welcome addition to the good social space. CEO/co-founder Amon Shafir gave me a deep dive into the service, which appears to be much more effective than efforts like Facebook Causes. While the average donor on Causes gives 70 cents for each cause he joins, the average person on Give2Gether has given $75 — about 100 times more — during the early going (about 30 projects). The trick is in sharing causes with your social contacts and monitoring the results in your dashboard. Says the site: “Think of it as the Twitter of philanthropy — a tailored, self-service SaaS platform helping non-profits monetize social interactions. Give2Gether turns strangers into friends, friends into donors and donors into fundraisers, at one-third of the traditional cost.”

News 360: News & multimedia on your iPad

In the demo pit, I met Nina Grigorieva, CEO of Moscow-based News360, who showed off its marvelous capabilities on an iPad. (I’m waiting for version 2 of the iPad before buying one.) It has the same elegance as Flipboard and, unlike News Corp.’s The Daily, it’s completely free and has some nice social sharing features. It aggregates thousands of news sources, tracks your favorite news sources, creates personalized news feeds by topic and lets you share interesting stories with your friends. If you own an iPad, you’ll want this app.

Brand-Yourself: Manage your reputation

Presented on Day 2, Brand-Yourself is a way for regular people to monitor and manage their online identity and reputation. The Web-based platform helps non-techies brand yourself or brand your business. Grow your online reputation by building positive content around your name that shows up high in Google, “bury” existing Google results, promote yourself to the right people on social media and monitor your progress as you build your brand.

DARfm: A DVR for radio

DAR lets you record, play and pauses your favorite radio programs, including talk radio, sports, news, music and another programming. The startup is founded by Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com and Lindows.com.

Other startups worth a look

See the full list of demo pit startups. There were plenty of other startups worth keeping an eye on as well:

• Hashable helps you build and track relationships that matter. It’s on the iPhone now, and an Android version is coming soon.
• LawPivot is a legal Q&A website enabling companies–especially startups–to confidentially receive crowdsourced legal answers from highly qualified lawyers for a fraction of the cost. Currently, open only to California lawyers and companies.
• TaleSpring allows authors and storytellers to create animated, interactive books that can be published to mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone and Android phones and tablets.
• Room 77 is “the world’s first hotel room database and search engine. Find the perfect room with personalized room recommendations at top hotels.”
• GreenGoose greengoose.com is a lifestyle app with gaming elements.
• Pen.io is a super fast way to publish content online, designed as an alternative to blogs.

Jason should be commended for the low cost of entry — DEMO charges about $20,000 I think, and TechCrunch Disrupt nearly $1,000. Quality, not entry fees, is what should matter when presenting best-of-breed startups to the public, and Jason nails that. Watch archives of the sessions on Launchconf’s YouTube channel.

Suggestion to Jason: Someone on your team should have been updating the website with information about each of the featured startups as they were presenting. It’s difficult — especially from home — to keep track of the names and URLs of the startups making presentations.

The second suggestion to Jason: Zero women among 15 grand jury members? What about Debbie Landa, Jasmine Antonick, Christine Herron, Kim Polese, Esther Dyson, Susan Mernit, or a few dozen other possibilities? You guys should make it a priority.

All in all, Launch is a fantastic addition to the conference circuit and a valuable new way in which startups can gain visibility and traction.

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