What We Can Learn From the Failure of Blab

The social media community is reeling and in an uproar from the sudden closure of Blab. There’s considerable shock that the platform would be shut down within it’s die-hard community. My Facebook newsfeed has been full of the outrage. Yet take a step outside of our little world and it’s easy to see why Blab failed. Only the niche tech publications felt it worth covering.

Screenshot 2016-08-16 11.14.07

This is  REALLY IMPORTANT LESSON!

As I’ve said many times, it’s essential to keep the audience of a platform in mind before putting together a social strategy around it. Blab ended up being an echo-chamber for the same faces (only 10% of people who signed up returned according to the founder) and as such was unable to monetize. This is the same issue with many live-streaming options because many people simply don’t have the time during the workday to stop and tune-in.

Moreover, as Blab also noted, most live streaming content just isn’t that interesting to draw people in. This absolutely makes sense if you think about how people tend to consume live-media. It’s no surprise that the main success stories for livestream revolve around sports and entertainment events. It’s important to understand that these are not indicative of the success of livestreaming but rather of the specific times when livestreaming is a viable social strategy. 

In addition to content another issue with platforms like Blab is that they require an additional step in one’s routine. You can’t stumble upon a Blab on a platform that you’re used to accessing. You had to establish a different account and use a different app. There has to be a massively high incentive to do this for the average consumer which once again is why the content has to be very compelling. This is why out of all of the livestreaming options I’m betting on FacebookLive as the breakout option.

As social strategists it is essential to think about the way in which our target audience consumes content. As I’ve written elsewhere, experimentation is great but it’s not a social strategy and livestreaming is a great example. Where it succeeds is where there’s a diehard base eager to consume realtime additional content. But just because it works there doesn’t mean it will automatically translate to other areas.

Of course this is true for all platforms and why some have succeeded while others have failed.

The saga of Blab is a great learning experience for the social media marketing world. Let’s make sure to take it to heart.

Personal Branding Is Much More Than Self-Marketing

I hate the term personal branding. It’s one of those catchphrases that by now has been written about ad infinitum. Much of what’s out there tends to carry the same message- to the point that there’s even a wikipedia article on it. Personal branding is equated with the term “self-packaging” with the goal of marketing yourself along the lines of a company with the goal of furthering your career.

This definition is a major turn-off for many people- myself included. It’s rather ironic. Most of these articles begin with some form of argument about how you ignore your personal brand at your peril and yet the definition of a personal brand is incredibly narrow and appealing to only a certain subset of personality types.

But they do get one thing right: You do ignore personal branding at your own peril. The information is already out there and anyone who googles you will make a set of assumptions based on the information available. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t care about this- you absolutely do. Think about your personal brand as an extension of your offline personality. We all spend considerable time and money presenting ourselves in the most favorable light from fashion choice to speech pattern to what we reveal about ourselves in different situations. Personal branding doesn’t have to be about sales or trying to get ahead in your career. It can be as simple as making sure that your online footprint is consistent with your offline.

That being said, the quest to discover your personal brand can also be an opportunity to think through who you are as a person. In our fast-paced and career-centric world this often gets overlooked.

Here’s the exercise I use for my Social Media and the Brand Course:

During this course, I have my students work on a semester-long personal branding project. The goal is to hep them put together and implement an online extension of their offline personality and then experiment with how to engage with others around this personality. They choose a single platform that they can easily monitor through analytics- Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest.

I give them the following guidelines:

  • Be authentic: People can always spot someone trying to be something they’re not
  • Don’t overshare: Set boundaries just like you do with your offline circles.
  • Be mindful of your audience: Prospective employers & VCs will see this. Humanizing yourself is great. Being off-putting is not.
  • Have fun: It shouldn’t be a chore to post content

I then have them go through two group activities. To encourage conversation I switch up the groups between each exercise. We also come together as a class between each exercise to hear what each person came up with and offer feedback.

First activity: Talk about ideas for your personal brand. Who are you? What do you want others to know about you. Put this into 140 characters.

Second activity: What platform are you going to use for your project and why? What type of content can you share to introduce yourself to others and communicate your personal brand?

They then have a set of 4 milestones during the project:

  • Introductory paragraph: Taking what they discussed in class and coming up with an overview- the platform they’re going to use and why, the type of content they want to share, any additional ideas they have.
  • 1 Page Strategy Document: A more formalized document going over what success looks like for this project. This includes their goals and how they anticipate accomplishing them. (note: they are not graded on achieving these goals- rather the insights the draw from working towards them)
  • Weekly Check-in document: They turn-in 3 screenshots of content created the past week and 2 insights they can draw from how the content performed. This encourages further self-reflection.
  • Final Report: This is where they look at their initial strategy and draw insights from the overall project. I also ask them to think about the next steps for their brand. This can be anything from starting a blog, working on another platform, applying what they’ve learned to their start-up accounts, etc.

My goal for this project is to help my students establish connections between their offline and online personalities. I also want to empower them to get used to posting content on their accounts according to a set strategy to get that personality to come through. This is an opportunity for them to find online communities that they can tap into and engage with.

Personal Branding is important. As I’ve written elsewhere– it’s an insurance policy and one that’s come to my aid more than once. BUT it’s about far more than self-marketing or humble bragging. It’s figuring out who you are and translating that online to engage with others. After all, that’s how genuine relationships are actually built and those are the ones that will come to your aid as you work to advance in the future.

Personal Branding- Your Insurance Policy When Life Gets Tough

I stood in front of my students a few weeks ago to talk to them about creating their personal brand strategy. This is a semester-long project I’m having them do. It was a bit emotional for me given that just a few days previously my full time position had been downgraded to contractor work and I’ve found myself suddenly in the position of turning back to my personal brand to get me to the next step in my life.

It’s made me reflect on how it all began…

We talk a lot about personal branding in the marketing world. Some people really dig the opportunity to talk about how great they are but that’s never been my thing. I’m most comfortable being the geek behind the scenes who makes it all come together. I love empowering others and building communities. I don’t relish the spotlight.

BUT it is no longer enough to send in a resume and hope someone will notice. That’s particularly the case with my background. I’m not the person with a marketing degree and 6-8 years experience working with brands and agencies. I’m the grad student who spent time in Belgrade talking with nationalists to understand what made them tick. I’m the girl passionate about understanding why communities come together and what internal psychology fuels that sense of group identity.

And I’m the PhD student who stumbled into social strategy by accidentally leading a grass-roots revolution at the University of Virginia to reinstate their first female president.

My first job in social strategy was at UVA while still a grad student because they figured it was better to bring me into the process rather than have me outside at the gates. That ended up being my out once my advisors made it clear that my research on public opinion and social media just wasn’t going to be supported (that was 2012… have a feeling they’d be singing a different tune now)

January 2013 I knew that I needed to leave and get into the private sector if I wanted to continue to follow my passion of harnessing social analytics to understand how individuals participate in communities. So that’s when I started my blog, ramped up my Twitter and Linkedin accounts and got rolling.

That’s how my personal brand was born. Out of crisis and out of necessity.

It was this that I worked to communicate to my students, particularly those currently working or leading start-ups. Your personal brand should be something that you can use in your job BUT it should be more than your job. It’s your opportunity to think about what makes you YOU. What makes you unique?

I broke them into groups and it was probably a class more akin to psychology than marketing as they talked with each other about who they are as a person and then shared that to the class. We learned that one student is a single mom another a veteran. One guy spoke up with a lopsided grin and said that there was nothing that made him unique and that he was in fact rather stupid and easily distracted but he said it in a way that made the whole class laugh. We encouraged him to run with that- and by the end of the class he had begun to think about how he could actually leverage that bit of him into a full strategy.

That’s what personal branding should be. It’s not about the humble brag. It’s about introducing yourself and entering different communities to share your story and engage with theirs. As humans we want to build relationships and we want to help each other. Creating a personal brand allows that human attribute to translate online. It’s why we embrace each other when we meet IRL. We know each other and are rooting for each other. That’s the power of the personal brand.

I’m Suzie. I’m the girl with the red hair. I’m quirky and caring. I am at my best when I’m building and creating new opportunities for engagement. I work to translate this passion and personality online through my blogs, engagement in groups, and participation in conversations. It’s honestly who I am.

I’m Suzie. I’m a kick-ass strategist and I’m on the market. Tweet, DM, InMail me- let’s talk.

Enough with the Pokémon GO Hate Already!

Pokémon GO. It’s the app that’s taken the country by storm and sent masses of people running around trying to “catch ‘em all”. This had led to both some hilarious and Darwin-award worthy results. It’s also created a significant strain of haters, writing blogs and posts on various platforms strongly decrying this app as both stupid and dangerous. The fact is that there is an important discussion to be had here but all the hate against the hype is overshadowing it. The articles can be broken into two camps:

The first is a reaction to the game itself. Look. Pokémon GO is a game. It’s based on a ridiculous children’s show from the ‘90s and the subsequent craze that went along with it. The premise is simple- there are these creatures called Pokemon and you go around the fictional region as a “trainer” catching them. It’s not designed to be sophisticated.

So if you think it’s stupid- that’s fine. No one is claiming it’s anything other than a rather simple game. Those of us who enjoy playing it on our DS’s and other platforms do so because it’s fun and silly. Whether or not you enjoy it is a matter of your preference. there are plenty of popular games that I find to be ridiculous- Minecraft is one of them, Candy Crush another, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. It just means that it’s not my thing.

The second, however, is important because it’s a reaction to the app as the first widely used example of mobile Augmented Reality. For all of app’s warnings to stay aware of your surroundings the fact is that an AR app by it’s very nature nature requires us to be less aware. The information provided by an AR app is designed to supplement our surroundings and divide our attention from the physical reality. Other apps such as Blippar are working to become as widely used in the day-to-day. These apps present themselves as adding to our experience but they require that we look at the world through our phones.

As I wrote in a prior post, for an app to get widely used it has to be addictive. An addictive app (see Candy Crush) is one that we want to use all the time. So is it any wonder that these accidents are happening? While Candy Crush has led to some bizarre self-injuries , AR apps that encourage us to interact with our environment as we move raise the stakes considerably.

We need to talk about these negative consequences and put together a game-plan before it’s too late and other addiction AR apps arrive on the scene. Pokemon Go presents this opportunity but as long as you’re caught into the hate against the hype that’s what the conversation will center on. So let’s move on to the real conversation and leave people to hunt Charizard in peace.

Why Did Facebook & Twitter Succeed?

Facebook started in 2002, famously, in a dorm room. Twitter started in 2006 as a side project. As of 2015, Facebook has 1.5B Active Users and Twitter has 289M Active Users. Why did this happen? Why those networks? Why have they made it while so many others haven’t?

This was the rhetorical question I posed to my students a few weeks ago. We talk about “right place, right time” when it comes to the big two of social networks but there’s more to the story. It’s why Google+ as envisioned would have never become Facebook even if without the competition. It’s why we still don’t have a “Twitter killer” and why (as I’ll discuss in my follow-up post) Instagram is now the fastest growing social network.

What is a social network?

This may seem like a basic question but it’s important to start with this. A social network is NOT the platform. Rather it is the net of the connections and community that surrounds it. Success for a social network such as Facebook or Twitter stems from more than the need to attract users. They had to attract and/or build entire social networks to use and interact on their platforms.

The image is taken from a social network qualitative study done in the 1980s mapping out comparative strength of social network ties. Note the importance of kin and their inter-related nature. This was critical for Facebook.

The real value of Twitter and Facebook does not stem from the platform. It’s the people on the platform. Too often we get lost in the tech. Both Twitter and Facebook were started before the “app” hype. Both had clunky codes and Twitter even became known for the “fail whale” due to how often it appeared. The tech was essential but NOT sufficient- not even close.

Leading up to this course I asked my Facebook network the following question: “Why did you join Facebook/Twitter and why did you stay? Here’s a sample of what they said:

Note how well the reasons for joining Facebook maps onto the strong ties to the kin part of the social network image above. Also recall that Facebook started in the university community- a place designed to foster the rapid development of offline social networks. Twitter, by contrast, is a platform of purpose. It’s no coincidence that the “a-ha” moment sparking real Twitter adoption typically occurs around an event hashtag. This actually just occurred for two of my students through the #copa and #Eurocuphashtags. They had been struggling to get themselves into the platform and seeing the activity on those hashtags did the trick. This is a story I hear over and over.

Think about what your Twitter versus Facebook networks look like in terms of relationship source and depth. Need additional proof? Just think of what it means to unfollow versus unfriend.

So why does this matter? Sure it’s interesting from a geeky and intellectual perspective but as a marketer why should you care?

We need to understand the psychology of people acting within a social network and community in order to create strategies to get them to want to connect with our brand and share our branded content. This is why simply cross-posting content (as enticing as Hootsuite makes it) is a bad idea. That’s why your brand shouldn’t be on every platform. And, this is why, only a few social media apps can truly be called social networks (more about that in my next post).

Successful strategy is built based thinking through the psychology of the community. People will be attracted to and interact with your content depending on their reasons for being on that network. This impacts everything from content strategy to influencer marketing.

Here’s Why Your Mobile App Isn’t Taking Off

I’m writing this post because I’m tired of startups touting their apps as the next big thing and then being utterly shocked when they fail to takeoff. I’ll only say this once: It doesn’t matter how new and shiny your technology is and how excited it makes your VCs- the public has to decide that they want to use it for you to ACTUALLY get traction. So stop investing in big blow-out bashes and start investing in the basics of a social strategy and, in particular, community managers.

As we all know, the mobile application field is incredibly competitive and consumers do not mess around. The average consumer has 26 apps on their phone but mainly only uses 5. Also there’s zero tolerance for tech issues. In 2013, Compuware, found that 79 percent of users will discard an app if it fails to launch after 1 or 2 times. For an app start-up that can be absolutely disastrous. Sure your app may top the iTunes download list and get major publicity for that but if hardly anyone ever opens it after that that’s just a hollow number.

This happens over and over again. One recent example is Peach. It got massive buzz at CES 2016 with the typical “will this replace Twitter, Instagram, Facebook” headlines but within just a few days it was old news for the general populace. This is a great lesson-you can attract a few early adopter types but they tend to be very fickle and unless you harness them as influencers or knowledge sources they will likely be off to the next app to tout as the “next big thing”. Even if you do harness them you’ll still be left with a ghost town of a network which isn’t ultimately going to generate that coveted ad revenue you promised your VC’s you would be able to collect.

So what’s the secret? Clearly it’s not just in the build. There are a bunch of cool apps out there that just don’t get traction. For a non-app example think about Google+. It had users built in thanks to gmail accounts and people still didn’t utilize it. App adoption- social network or not- requires the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to solidify into actual use.

To get people to repeatedly use an app you need to have some type of offline trigger. The best way to do this is to get an entire community to become hooked. Facebook nailed this by activating entire universities and Twitter did it as well (albeit much more accidentally).

Here’s one idea- I call this the water-cooler effect and it goes like this:

  1. App developers do a soft-launch for a few early adopter-type people who, critically, are part of offline networks. They need to be active on several social networks, have a physical office that they go to and, ideally, a circle of friends outside of work. (Social strategists are basically stalkers and this info is easy to get) This is also a time to get feedback on usability- pay attention to this as it is critical. Remember, users will only try to open an app 1-2 times. Make sure that these people are majorly pumped about the app AND have a reason to want others to use it as well.
  2. When the app is ready for prime time let the beta testers know and make it a big online event. Get them super excited- even perhaps think of a way to gamify growing their circle of friends on the app. Because here’s the key- THEY are your offline ambassadors and gateway to adoption and retention of app use. It just takes one very simple question asked casually: “Have you downloaded this app yet?”followed up by “Here let me show you how it works” It’s that simple. Imagine what that would do say in NYC. I’m not going to go through the math here but even if you only got 10% of the people to spread the word you would get exponential growth.
  3. Community Management is critical to keep the momentum going. There WILL be rollout issues and features that people really want to see. Your Community Management team needs to be always on for those first few weeks to answer every question promptly and keep excitement growing in using the app. Invite users to give feedback, work with the internal team to adopt some of the ideas. Maybe there are 3 easy feature ideas you could put together in a week- why not put them up for a vote to see which ones the users want. This developers community and keeps users coming back for more.

Do you see the theme? It’s Community that makes your app succeed. This is a lesson that has been proven time and time again so please stop ignoring it. This is where your money needs to go. It’s a people campaign. Putting your logos everywhere doesn’t translate to retention! It’s the community that brings in the value and that’s what will make people continue to use your app. That’s what will get you that coveted revenue and make you more than a few day blip on TechCrunch.

Why I’m a Social Strategist (and it has nothing to do with social media)

“So what do you do?” It’s a question that I’ve learned to dread outside of the marketing world.

How do you explain the role of social strategist to a cabbie who is trying to make polite conversation or to a great aunt who barely knows what Facebook does? “Oh, so you post stuff on Twitter?” is hardly the response you want to get particularly when, let’s be honest here, the “What do you do” question is the opportunity to do some humble bragging. My current go-to is “I advise brands on the type of stuff they should post on Facebook and Twitter. You know the Super Bowl? Yeah stuff like that.” And then I change the subject.

Okay so it’s not really important that a cabbie understands what I do. But it does get a bit frustrating when it comes to family and friends. And I know I’m not alone. Get a group of Community Managers and Social Strategists together and within a few minutes we start to commiserate. Because here’s the thing. We do way more than work on social media. Sure that’s what you tend to see but for most of us what draws us to this career runs far deeper.
And that’s what you want to share in response to the “So what do you do?” question.
Social strategists are equal parts dreamers and doers. We’re best utilized in roles that intersect at the center of marketing and creative design. Often we’re the bridge between the two. That’s because our jobs require a blend of the two. It’s all too easy to loose this when the main output you see is various analytic reports but look closer and you’ll find that every social strategist has a strong creative streak. That’s why the unexecuted or failed social strategy hurts so much. It’s like a commissioned painting that was never finished.
My passion for social strategy is rooted in the joy of building- particularly communities. I firmly believe that there is more that can unit us than divide us. I look for individuals who are interested in learning, doing, or contributing more and find ways to build communities to empower them because we can do more together than divided. “Wait,” you’re probably saying, “aren’t you a marketer? This sounds like some airy fairy idealistic crazy talk.”
The way that I see it, any opportunity to demonstrate the power of community and our commonalities is a win. Anything I build that focuses on facilitating conversations between individuals who might not otherwise interact further ignites my passion. That’s why I do what I do.
Take a minute to look back through this post. You’ll notice that with the exception of the first paragraph I haven’t mentioned social media once. That’s because being a social strategist is about far more than those platforms. And that’s why I get a strange twitch in my eye when I have to use those mediums to try to define what I do.
Now I do have an ulterior motive for writing this post and that’s a call to action to make use of the full potential of your friendly social strategist. Sure we can answer your social media questions, manage your accounts and write blog posts.
But if you take a step backwards and let us into your wider content strategy and vision we can do so much more.