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Social Media Marketing Companies? Social Media Lines Are Being Drawn!

By: Abe Kasbo

Facebook stock began trading on May 18th. Not a Googlesque performance by any measure, the stock sputtered and continues to do so as of today. Yeah, it’s early, but Facebook’s stock seems to be exuberantly valued and trading at a premium, even today.  We have not learned much. The gold rush in social media, head-fakes and hesitation dribbles are by no means over.

It seems that enthusiastic lines in the sand are being drawn between social networking professionals and its skeptics. In his is recent column in Marketing Land, Ciaran Norris decries GM for pulling out of Facebook pointing out that the global advertiser dedicated a puny $10 Million out of $1.8 Billion to Facebook.  Apparently, GM did not like that Facebook would not let it advertise the way it wants to, using heavy banner ads. He points out, and we concur, that Cost Per Action rather than clicks is more valuable.  “What TV does, better than almost anything, is to create brand connections, and emotional reactions that result in us choosing one product over the other. And Facebook is working to prove something similar — that social connections, not hugely flashy banners, can do the same,” said Norris.

Social media relevancy in our lives in undeniable, but still begs questions: what value does it deliver to advertisers?  Ultimately does engagement the way it is defined in the social world pay off for an advertiser?  The answer may be that no one truly knows…yet.

The main stream business media is awash with anecdotal evidence about how some business transformed itself from a sleepy enterprise to a top selling juggernaut using social media.   Though empirical evidence over time is much harder to uncover – yes, of course, we only go back to 2004.  Yet, if social media enthusiasts are willing to tout its exponential growth, they must be willing to address its gaps.  If Dunkin Donuts is giving away donuts, they’re going to get a gazillion fans (6.3 million on Facebook and about 146,400 on Twitter), a small fraction of which seems to be or may be ”engaged.” D&D’s social strategy is exceptional and thoughtful, but the value of social media outlets to business, we believe, cannot be sustained by major brands alone. The shift to mobile is a key reason why.  Unless, businesses invest enough in creative campaigns to make it compelling for customers to engage in their brand.  That’s no small investment by the way, so once again we’re back to the big guys.

Yet social media outlets recognize that user generated content drives their raison d’être. Its that content that keeps people interested and engaged. People showing interest in people and the things they love, and brands are certainly a big part of that.  The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece on how social media outlets are partnering with celebrities to drive traffic and interest. “We have a business model based on advertisements and as people spend more time on Facebook, we monetize that,” said Jason Osofsky, director of Media Partnerships for Facebook. The article cites celebrities like Ryan Seacrest, Shaquile O’Neil and Jessica Alba.  Ms. Alba’s following includes 3.2 million on Twitter and 4.5 million on her Facebook page. “You have to have a social-media presence if you want to have a successful business, scalable business,” Ms. Alba says in the WSJ article.  Yet one has to wonder that if Ms. Alba wasn’t a high profile celebrity, would she have those millions of followers?

The Los Angeles Times‘s story on why GM pulled out of Facebook quotes Chris Cedergren, president of Iceology, a West Los Angeles consulting and research firm that works with the auto industry, who said “social media has yet to be time tested as an advertising tool and that research has shown that ‘people don’t really pay attention to the advertisements.’” With network television viewership dwindling, the emergence of consumer generated video, which itself is highly fragmented, search appears to be a stronger and more reliable contender for advertiser dollars right now. At the risk of overstating the obvious, social media, as we are defining it today, is obviously still in its infancy and we believe it is right that people like GM demand more from it. Mass aggregation does not make a good case for advertisement. After all, Facebook is all about me and it’s my 15 minutes of fame. And, since I am paying attention to what interests me, mainly what I am sharing my friends and what my friends are sharing with me, the challenge for Facebook is to get me to pay attention in a meaningful way to its advertisers.  How will Facebook and its advertisers distract users from their never-ending 15 minutes of fame?  That coupled the staggering growth of mobile (iPhone, DROID) may prove more difficult for Facebook advertisers because the screens are smaller. Where do you place the advertising?  If Facebook’s business model is about monetizing aggregation, how do you do that if a good chunk of the aggregation is happening on mobile devices?

The elephant in the room is the fact that social media has been with us way before we identified it as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  One of the lessons here is that communities have always gathered online and off by interest putting more pressure on for Facebook and others in the space to produce meaningful results.  Somini Sengupta reported in the New York Times that Facebook is turning “Likes” into Ads as one of the ways to monetize aggregation.  Facebook is using links that people like or post as sponsored stories, with businesses like Amazon as the sponsors. Business will “pay Facebook to generate these automated ads when a user clicks to “like” their brands or references them in some other way.  Facebook users agree to participate in the ads halfway through the site’s 4,000-word terms of service, which they consent to when they sign up,” said the story. Yet, Nick Bergus, the man who’s “like” Facebook turned into an ad was furious enough to want to delete his Facebook account, but didn’t.  That kind of sentiment is exactly what Facebook and its advertisers fear of course, so as Facebook and its advertisers continue to learn about the platform, Facebook will be more under pressure more than ever before because of its place in the public markets.  At the same time, both social media marketing companies and the platforms themselves understand the addictive nature and lure of the medium and its role in our daily lives. And that may just allow it the cushion it needs to experiment with monetizing its users while keeping advertisers interested.

Look, social media has been with us when the big names were no names at all.  In healthcare, ObesityHelp.com, a resource site for obese people seeking information on weight loss surgery, claims 600,000 members since 1998 and currently claims 3 million page visits a week from people looking for help.  Infertlityhope.com is another site that been successfully bringing people together about fertility related issues. Sailnet.com was launched in 1994 “as a resource where sailors could find everything they needed to support their own pursuit of the sailing lifestyle.”  And, there are many other examples who are thriving as a business right now.

The onus is on the social world, like it is on television, print and other outlets, to prove its value in the market place. At the same time, businesses and agencies must rethink engagement and bring forth innovations of the intellectual and creative kind to drive campaigns.  Although, regardless of how things shake out on the desktop with respect to social, mobile is the real game changer here folks, let’s pay careful attention and see how the social world responds to monetization of the audience in this space.


Montreal, Canada. May 15, 2012. Verasoni Worldwide CEO, Abe Kasbo spoke at The #140conf, Montreal today where he discussed  “Social Health. Improving Health at the Speed of Technology.” Mr. Kasbo spoke about opportunities for healthcare providers to reach patients and the community, specifically citing the highly successful Twitter surgery at Raritan Bay Medical Center that generated press and awareness for the hospital’s orthopedic surgery program.

He also cited Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution as a catalyst for the online campaign that brought pink slime to the forefront of the American public’s consciousnesses and the subsequent outrage on social networks that led to several plants closing and schools cancelling orders of meat laced with Pink Slime.  Mr. Kasbo also discussed how innovation in the automotive could soon be driving us to better health – no pun intended of course. He shared how Ford researchers are working on a series of possible in-car health and wellness connectivity services and apps aimed at “helping people with chronic illnesses or medical disorders such as diabetes, asthma or allergies manage their condition while on the go.”

#140mtl featured speakers from the United States and Canada who covered topics such as Branding, Marketing, Customer Service, Social Business Strategy, Social Media Measurement, Non-profit, Education, Leadership, Human Resources, Media, Blogging, Building Community, Communications, Real Estate, the Arts, Gamification and Location Marketing.

About Verasoni Worldwide

Verasoni Worldwide is a full-service marketing and public relations firm with offices in Montclair, New Jersey and New York City. Verasoni Worldwide delivers expertise in to multiple markets including healthcare, financial services and banking, start-ups, government, not for profit, and hospitality and travel. Verasoni Worldwide is recognized as a leader in developing and implementing meaningful, cut-through campaigns for clients. Verasoni Worldwide is a pioneer of the integration of digital and traditional media, including public relations, advertising, brand development, reputation management, and global marketing communications strategies.

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Check out this piece my Thom Forbes that came across my email this morning.  Affinity or lifestyle marketing comes to your friendly neighborhood grocery…about time!  I have been advocating integration of this type for years, in fact in our work with hospitals we have encouraged them to consider opening restaurants that offer healthy fare. It’s a natural, it’s not enough to tell people about the benefits of healthy living, it’s critical to show them.Can’t help but think that perhaps one hospital marketing strategy may be considering opening a restaurant :)

Whole Foods Opens Its First Wellness Club
Thom Forbes, Aug 15, 2011 07:41 AM

“If you know what’s good for you … ” is a phrase that’s fraught with threat. It implies that even if we do know what’s good for us, our actions suggest otherwise and may carry dire consequences. But even if we do know, deep down, what’s good for us, we often don’t know how to achieve it.

I’m not talking metaphysics here. I’m talking kale, and the new prototype Wellness Club that Whole Foods is opening in Dedham, Mass., this morning with the intention of not only showing and telling us what’s good for us but also how to prepare it.

A few years ago, kale was nothing more than a crossword-puzzle word to many of us. Then we began to hear how healthy this descendant of the wild cabbage — brought to Europe from Asia Minor by Celtic wanderers in the 6th Century B.C. — was for us.

The big question, as it is with so many healthy foods that don’t come in the cans and frozen packages that many of us grew up with, was “what do you do with it?” There wasn’t much of a trick to opening a can of Le Sueur Sweet peas and dumping them into a saucepan, or reading the instructions on a package of Bird’s Eye Cut Green Beans.

The Whole Foods Wellness Club, on the other hand, will provide answers to searing questions like exactly how to sear an Ahi tuna. Or pronounce “Ahi.”

“As at a gym, club members check in at a front desk, but in this case it’s steps from the salad bar, near the fish,” writes Kathleen Pierce in the Boston Globe. Once inside, members can use the reference library, take a lifestyle evaluation, or “learn how to prepare a dish — such as mango quinoa porridge — from a chef in a sleek kitchen, and then head out into the store to find, and buy, the ingredients.”

“The mission of the Wellness Club is to provide an inviting environment where members are empowered to make educated and positive lifestyle choices that promote their long-term health and well-being through coaching, delicious food and a supportive community,” according to a Whole Foods blog post. “It will feature courses and lectures developed by medical doctors, inspirational and informative skill-building classes, supper clubs and special events, coaching and support.”

Members get a 10% discount “when they shop for healthy foods.” But, as Pierce points out, “access to that empowerment comes at a price: It costs $199 to become a member of the Wellness Club, and monthly dues are $45.”

The upscale grocer intends to open four other Wellness Clubs before the end of the year — in New York; Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; and Princeton, N.J. — “and if the prototypes do well, we would open more in 2012 as part of a growth initiative,” John Mackey, chairman and co-CEO, told analysts during a conference call in February. “Our purpose would be to educate people how to eat better to achieve the highest degree of their health potential,” Mackey explained and Supermarket News’ Elliot Zwiebach reports.

Products that meet the club’s “code of health” carry a Wellness Club seal of approval.

“A lot of people get overwhelmed when trying to initiate a lifestyle change,” Heidi Feinstein, a Boston nutritionist and holistic therapist tells Pierce. “They can purchase a lot of stuff that they don’t know how to use, end up wasting it and don’t succeed. It’s nice to have a guide when introducing yourself to all the abundant ways to revitalize your life.”

A blogger who calls himself Calorie Ken doesn’t want to put a damper on the idea or be seen as “Nelly Negative,” but he gets the feeling from Pierce’s story that Whole Foods is overemphasizing what people eat at the expense of how much they eat. He suggests that Whole Foods and other retailers “teach us how to eat better and help us have a good time doing it, but build the effort on a foundation of portion control and calorie awareness.”

Calorie Ken also suggests that it would be nice to have similar Wellness Clubs in lower-income places that really need them. “Perhaps they should’ve chosen to do it in Mississippi, the fattest state in America,” he writes. “Oh wait! There’s no Whole Foods in all of Mississippi!”

It’s all about achieving that elusive “balance,” of course — a topic gracefully tackled by Katherine Rosman in her Family Finances column in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Invited cross-country to San Diego to moderate a panel about the benefits of financial planning at a convention of 2,500 female bloggers, Rosman decided to combine the engagement with some interviews, meaning that she’d be away from her husband and two young children for a longer-than-usual six days.

“If you can judge by the absolute swarm of marketers who had descended upon San Diego to try to get these bloggers to sample their products, these women have real influence,’ she writes. “Yet almost every woman I met or listened to at the conference revealed a continual inner struggle between a desire to be fully engaged in family life and professional ambition.”

But “balance is almost an impossible ideal …,” she concludes, “even as we still aspire to it.”

It makes eating well, in the right proportions, seem comparatively attainable — or, at least, a good place to start. If you know what’s good for you.


GLSIssue: Global Linguist Solutions (GLS) in Falls Church, Virgina is a provider of linguistic services to the United States Government.  GLS needed a marketing firm who understands both the Middle East and The Arab-American Community because of its focus on Arabic language speakers.

Idea: Verasoni’s creative team developed culturally appropriate visual and written messaging, identified media outlets in the United States and around the world to distribute GLS’ brand.  Verasoni Worldwide carefully crafted language in English and Arabic to ensure that GLS made appropriate cultural connections which were the first and important steps to helping GLS achieve its goals.  Stories were placed on air and in print in various cities around the US including New York and Detroit.

Impact: GLS saw a significant increase in the target market interest in its services and brand. Verasoni achieved over 2 million impressions within three months.


Really what’s the big deal?  So Facebook hired a PR firm to smear Google, and it got caught. So what?  PR firms everywhere are scrambling to make sense of this, Inside Facebook, a well know blog, called it “a spectacularly failed attempt at undermining the competition.”

So Facebook is scared that Google will be able to beat them at their own game and it wanted to defame Google’s Social Circle.  So Google’s overtures into Facebook’s world was perceived as a real threat by Facebook.  Like HuffPost, Facebook’s content is not generated by others, so any attempts by Social Circle to pull content from Facebook is perceived as an attack on Facebook’s core business.  So Facebook hired global PR giant Burson-Marsteller to spread false information about Social Circle’s privacy policies to ultimately defame it and cause doubt in the minds of current and potential users.

I’ve now devoured about 50 articles about the subject in a couple of days.  The PR world is filled with condemnations and abuzz with horror to discover that Burson-Marsteller engaged in this type of behavior.  In the New York Times, “Paul Cordasco, Burson-Marsteller’s spokesman, said that the firm made a mistake.  He said “The mistake clearly was not being transparent about the client,” He added that employees would receive additional training to make them “fully aware of our code of responsibility that emphasizes full transparency.”

Let’s make some safe inferences based on Mr. Cordasco’s statements. First, he did not apologize for the covert tactics, but did addressed “client transparency.”  Second, he talked about some “code of responsibility” that emphasizes “full transparency.”  So they will be talking to their employees about this.  No where did I get a feeling of regret or contrition about their strategies and actions?

Look, I am not condoning Burson-Marsteller’s behavior, nor Facebook’s. But this happens in virtually arena where PR plays a role. Politics, finance, medicine…and I go on.  In addition, the idea of front-running false stories to destroy a political or business opponent’s credibility is only part of a larger epidemic of content distribution, true or false, to affect search rankings along with reputation.  It’s in the DNA of of some pr and marketing firms to do this work.  Yelp, Google Reviews are only some examples where people create false identities to promote or destroy a business’s credibility. Blogs are set up under false pretenses and micro-sites too.

Business on the internet is simply business. The business of defaming the competition existed way before the internet, and will continue to thrive as long as there is a need, PR and marketing firms not withstanding.

 


Please click here to read the article by Hugh Morley in The Record about working seniors as a desired demographic. Abe Kasbo, Marketing and PR firm CEO is quoted in the article.


For the week of March 7, 2011, Verasoni’s Ahha Insights research on how hospitals use Facebook to market their brand and expand their mission was most read on www.healthcareitnews.com.  Many thanks to the readers and your feedback in discussing social media for hospitals.


NEW YORK, Feb. 28, 2011 -  A new nationwide study by Verasoni AhHa! and Simon Associates Management Consultants of how hospitals across the United States use Facebook suggests that hospitals are not using Facebook to its capacity to engage patients, build healthcare communities or develop their hospital brands.

Only a few hospitals across the United States are utilizing social media to connect with patients, improve the health status of the community and extend their brand, and these hospitals are doing it very well. The majority is not, the study indicates. “It appears that hospitals either have yet to grasp the role of Facebook with respect to connecting with patients, or have not yet invested in the medium to be able to use it as a viable marketing communications and healthcare or community development tool,” said Dr. Andrea Simon, President of Simon Associates Management Consultants and co-author of this study.The study looks at various types of relevant Facebook activities and tactics for 120 hospitals of various sizes and affiliations across the United States. The study includes an analysis of the size of network, frequency and types of posts, and the use of the integration tools available on Facebook, among other measures. “While the numbers clearly indicate that patients are on Facebook, it is the job of hospitals to find them, and engage them in a meaningful way. And, just because a hospital is on Facebook doesn’t mean that they are building a meaningful Facebook experience for both the hospital and the patient,” said Abe Kasbo, CEO of Verasoni Worldwide, co-author of the study.On hospital pages where there is a high degree of interaction between the hospital and members, the study found that patients, family members, friends and members of the community used the hospital’s Facebook presence to share experiences, laud, connect, and recommend hospital services, and in some cases praise certain physicians.Children’s hospitals appear to be clear leaders in the use of Facebook. Children’s hospitals in this study have Facebook mass, meaning that the hospitals studied seemed to be very engaged in Facebook. Their networks–the number of people on their pages–are larger than most hospitals in the study and their activities appear to be more robust, engaging, and relevant.Additional highlights from the study include:

  • Only 8 of 120 hospitals (6%) had more than 10,000 fans
  • Less than 40% of hospitals posted daily, those who posted on a daily basis had many more encounters with current and prospective patients as well as caregivers
  • Less than 50% used Facebook’s event calendar to promote health or hospital events
  • 80% of hospitals did not use Facebook’s discussion board, while those hospitals who did were rewarded with a high degree of engagement, adulation and recommendations from members
  • 76 hospitals (63%) had no unsolicited feedback or questions on their pages. 38 hospital Facebook pages (32%) included unsolicited feedback from their Facebook members

Please visit http://verasoni.com/ahha2/2216/ to view the entire study including, implications, methodology and data and sights on social media for hospitals.

Simon Associates Management Consultants, founded by Andrea J. Simon PhD, brings the perspective of corporate anthropology to help companies and non-profit institutions change by rethinking their brand positioning, redesigning their organization’s culture, and improving their financial performance through innovative and effective new approaches to product development and marketing. The firm assists companies understand how customers really see, feel, and think about a company’s products, services, and customer experience. To learn more, please visit www.simonassociates.net.

Verasoni Worldwide is a marketing and public relations firm with offices in Montclair, New Jersey and New York City. Verasoni Worldwide delivers expertise across multiple markets and platforms; including healthcare, financial services and banking, government, not for profit, hospitality and travel.  Verasoni Worldwide specializes in the integration of digital and traditional media, including public relations, advertising, brand development, reputation management, and global marketing communications strategies. To learn more visit http://www.verasoni.com. Facebook.com/verasoni. Twitter: @verasoni.com.