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Facebook just keeps on growin’!

Recently released comScore tracking data shows that 5.5% of all time spent surfing the internet by US residents in November ’09 is spent on Facebook. That’s HUGE! It also doubles the amount of time users spent on Facebook just a year ago. This surpasses time spent on YouTube, Google or other popular sites.

The same data also reports that Facebook has surpassed 100 million US users in November. That ranks it as the #4 site in terms of users.

During this past summer’s beach vacation, I read an article in Wired that postulated that Facebook could possibly overtake Google as “King of Search” based on the simple premise that you trust the advice of your friends more than you do an impersonal mathematical formula (aka Google’s algorithm). Let’s say that you’re looking for a dentist. Would you give more credibility to the suggestion of a friend that you knew and trusted or a first-page search result on Google?

I’ve thought about that a lot in the intervening months – but, obviously not as much as Google has!  Google’s announcement last week that they have universally initiated “personal search” says two things to me. First, they are not about to surrender any possible search function to Facebook, or, that “upstart,” Twitter. Secondly, they buy into the concept that your past actions are a great predictor of what you are searching for.

The ultimate battle for search supremacy may come down to your past actions (Google) vs. your friend’s recommendations (Facebook).

Google states that “personalized search” is their differentiator. Before “personalized search,” each person searching on identical key words would get the same results. If you and I both searched on “Penelope Cruz,” we’d get identical search results. No more! Now, everyone gets personalized search results each and every time. (The fact that probably 95% of Google’s “searchers” are unaware of this is a whole different issue! Their “notification” consisted of a blog post.)

Penelope Cruz

Using the example above, if Google recognized that I often read People Magazine online (which I don’t!), then it would list the Penelope Cruz articles that have appeared in People first on my custom search result page.

However, if you have also searched on the films of Pedro Almodovar, but don’t read People, your “Penelope Cruz” search would most likely return those articles on Ms. Cruz that associate her with Almodovar first on your search results.

How does Google do this? It “remembers” everything that you have searched on over the past 180 days through a hidden cookie in your Google browser. Google thinks that they are doing me a favor, by cutting through the clutter and giving me results that my past actions indicate might be more valuable to me.

Maybe that’s good. But in the back of my mind, I am reminded of that every time I go to Amazon.com, they remember that I bought a Wiggles DVD for a friend’s toddler’s birthday a couple of years ago. Each time I go to Amazon.com, they keep informing me of new Wiggle’s CDs, games and videos and relentlessly ask me if I would like another, please?

Google’s cookie will remember each and every search for the past six months, with no chance of the searcher being able to say, “don’t count that one!”  What does this do to those of us who search for something one time because we are writing an article, doing research, or, those students searching for all kinds of stuff for a particular class, and those searches are not germane to their normal lifestyle? Those innocuous searches will skew the search results of that searcher for the next six months.

Here’s an example: What if you have a friend who loves Korean BBQ coming for a visit? You hate Korean BBQ, but as a gesture of friendship, decide to search on “korean bbq restaurants” so that you can suggest one to your friend. The next time you search for “restaurants,” you may wonder why Google lists Korean BBQ places at the top of your search list. Your past search activity has influenced your current search results. This whole concept has the propensity to drive SEO practitioners nuts!

Another example of how this could impact your looking for a new job is covered in this excellent blog post.

Maybe Google thinks that they are doing me a favor, but knowing some of the weird things that I have been known to search for, I could be in for an interesting ride!

What about you? What funky searches have you done recently that you think will skew your Google personalized search results?

For the past few months, I’ve been knee-deep in a local political campaign. We  were hired to do social media for a dark-horse candidate running for mayor of my hometown, Atlanta, GA. “My” candidate was barely a blip on the radar when we jumped in to create a social media presence in mid August. Yes, we were late-to-the-dance, very late, but we always love a challenge!  There were six viable candidates running for the non-partisan (non-party affiliation) office. Our client ranked #4 and had virtually zero social media presence. Of the three leading candidates, one had a very sophisticated SM presence, one was so-so and the third was mostly non-existent until the last few weeks before the November 3 election.

I will spare the suspense and tell you that my guy finished fourth out of six. The eventual winner (following a runoff held on December 1) was the candidate that had the best SM program. Did that win the race for him? Probably not – it was plain old “get out the vote” activity that caused more people to vote in the run-off election than in the regular election, BUT, the difference came from communities in Atlanta’s “intown” neighborhoods that common sense would say are among the most “wired” in the city. Social media was most likely a factor in these key neighborhoods.

What I learned from this campaign is interesting, and as far as we can determine, broke some new ground in the use of social media in local political efforts.

When we started this project in August, the eventual winner of the election already had the maximum 5,000 Facebook Friends on his personal FB page and had several thousand more on a “fan” page (ironically, this candidate polled in the single digits until just a few weeks before the election and was running a distant #3). The candidate that was polling in the #2 position had about 2,000 FB Friends and the candidate that was leading in the early polling had a SM presence next to nothing – about where our candidate was when we started.

We knew that we had to be aggressive – that we would have to be proactive in building a Facebook and Twitter presence. We would have to actively recruit “friends’ and “followers” rather than waiting for them to come to us. While our original plan called for a blog, the campaign communications people were not up to the task of keeping it up-to-date, so we eventually focused on Facebook as a message platform and Twitter to drive potential voters to the Facebook page.

Facebook worked well as a platform as we could attach videos, links to newspaper and magazine articles, links to political blogs, photos from events, etc. and we could do instant updates via an iPhone.

We met with a political consultant to get the lay-of-the-land in terms of who the key demographic / psychographic profiles elicited those most likely to vote. Atlanta is a city that is about 55% African-American and 45% White / Latino. Historic voting patterns in Atlanta city-wide elections showed this ranking of those most likely to vote:

1. African American women; 2. white women;  3. white men;  4. African American men; 5. Latinos.

We decided to concentrate our efforts on African American and White women, the top two “most likely to vote” groups. This was based on the concept that we had little time and few resources and needed to get the biggest “bang” for our effort. Furthermore, we knew that those aged 35 – 60 were more likely to vote than those younger or older.

We identified those women who fell into our target age group among the current 100 or so Facebook Friends that our candidate had in his small network when we started. Then, using the concept that most of their “friends” would be people like themselves, we went to these women’s “Friends” requesting that they become a friend of our candidate. We included a personal message stating that our candidate was running for mayor and attached a link to the candidate’s website. Since this was a City of Atlanta election, and only residents could vote, we did not pursue “friending” anyone who’s profile showed that they did not live in “Atlanta.”

We really worked this, and a small staff of three spent hours and hours “harvesting” friends in our target population from new “Friends” as they came on board. This was a laborious process – click on the profile of the potential “Friend,” copy and paste the personal message and click “send.” Even though we were using broadband and other fast connections, there was a lag as Facebook’s software processed the request.

Next, we knew that just because you post a message on Facebook, not all of your friends will see it. We determined that key policy statements should be posted multiple times in an attempt to have it impact the maximum number of people. We combined this with user info as to when Facebookers are most likely online. We focused on three dayparts: 1) early morning / early at work to reach those who log in to their Facebook accounts at home in the morning or as soon as they get to work; 2) late afternoon to reach those who may log in to their FB page while waiting fro the workday to end; 3) evening to reach those who access FB  from home between 8pm and bedtime. We would send a specific message “early morning” on Day 1, “late afternoon” on Day 2 and “evening” on Day 3. Time sensitive messages would be sent three times on the same day at the specified dayparts. Of the hundreds and hundreds of FB messages that we sent to thousands of people, we only received on complaint regarding multiple messages.

We also used Facebook applications to personalize our message. One of these was the “birthday” feature.  A list of “Friends” upcoming birthdays (today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow) appears on the right side of your FB Profile page. Each day, we would send personal birthday wishes to each Friend whose birthday was tomorrow. Although we used one of 5-6 standard messages that we created, we always used the recipient’s first name so that the message was more personal.

One of the most effective uses of Facebook was to pose questions or solutions to issues being raised during the campaign. This was most effective when our candidate’s Friends passed the 2,000 mark, as we had enough Friends in the network to elicit comments. We would create on-going discussions and have our candidate participate by making comments to keep the conversation going. Actually, our candidate was not doing this personally, it was done by us with specific input from the candidate’s senior staff.

We would also monitor the live News Feed and, when appropriate, our candidate would post comments to on going discussions. At times, we would use the “chat” feature to contact Friends one-on-one.

As our network grew, we received the ubiquitous requests to join all kinds of groups, support all kinds of causes, attend all kinds of events and become a fan of all kinds of people. Our policy was to NOT accept any of these invitations as they could become an “issue” in a political campaign, since we did not know anything about these organizations.  I cann0t stress how important it is to monitor this activity!  We learned a lesson when we accidently  “Twitter Followed”  a person in the “adult” business – who we immediately unfollowed!

By the end of the campaign, our candidate had the second largest Facebook and Twitter networks of all the candidates. We believe that had we had the opportunity to get involved with this candidate much earlier, we would have made a bigger difference. The winner of the election was the candidate that had the best Social Media presence, and defeated, in a run off, the candidate with the least impressive SMM effort. Draw your own conclusions.

Political candidates must realize that they can often reach as many people in a social media group with multiple messages much more efficiently and cost effectively than with traditional media.

Caroline McCarthy writes on “the Social” for CNET that Facebook has finally admitted to some stability problems:

“No, it’s not just you.

Facebook confirmed on Monday afternoon that there have been sitewide problems that saw log-in credentials turned down, status messages eaten up, and other various unpleasant occurrences over the course of the past few days. But the social network, which recently surpassed 300 million active users worldwide, hasn’t yet disclosed the source of the problem.

“Some users are experiencing errors across a number of site features,” a statement e-mailed to CNET News read. “This includes content occasionally disappearing, difficulty logging in or viewing profiles, and error messages when posting content. We are working to resolve these issues as soon as possible.”

Outages at major social media sites have drawn particular attention since a massive distributed denial-of-service attack last month threw Facebook into flux and took down Twitter altogether.”

In an announcement today (September 16, 2009) that surprised practically no one, CEO Mark Zukerberg announced that Facebook’s online community has passed the 300 million mark. The US population is estimated at 307 million.

In July, Facebook announced that they had achieved 250 million members, so the addition of another 50 million, or 20% growth, in just two months is explosive. That’s about 800,000 new users per DAY!  About 70% of Facebook’s users are outside the US, according to company statistics, but that computes to some 90 million users in the States. The fastest growing demo is adults 35+.

What started out as a community portal for college kids is threatened by takeover by their parents. Personally, I have noticed fewer postings by my college aged friends as they are wary of their parents following their activities too closely. I have a friend with a college-aged daughter that has refused to “friend” her mom on Facebook for that very reason.

More importantly, Zukerburg also announced, in a post on the company’s blog, that Facebook turned a profit last quarter, putting it ahead of its goal of becoming profitable in 2010. This answers many pundits remarks that, while the social networking site has enjoyed immense popularity, it wasn’t making any money. This news is seen by many as more significant than the passing of the 300 million member mark.

Risky Biz Blog is reporting that Twitter played a major role in helping drive the new Quentin Tarantino flick, “Inglourious Basterds” to the number one box office position this past weekend (blog post follows).

This is another example of how Twitter is being used as a consumer-driven marketing tool. Had film goers reacted negatively to the movie, their Tweets stating that would have impacted their friends’ and followers’ decision as to whether they wanted to see the film or not. But the opposite happened – those who saw the movie on Friday were mostly effusive in their praise via Twitter, driving the movie to higher attendance on Saturday and Sunday.

This is an important example of the growing impact of social media in the marketing spectrum. More and more the “message” is consumer, rather than marketer, driven. Both Facebook and Twitter allow people to communicate their likes and dislikes to their personal social communities. This “word of mouth” from people you know is more likely to drive purchase decisions than reviews or recommendations from people that you don’t know.

Some interactive sages think that this is where much of “search” will eventually be done – on social networks. Which would you trust more when searching for a plumber – a recommendation from your social media friends or a first page search result on Google?

From Risky Biz:

By Steven Zeitchik

Pitt_basterds_blog

Finally, a Twitter effect that benefits a movie instead of hurts it.

After lukewarm tweets from Friday screenings caused weekend drops for pics like “Bruno” and “Funny People” earlier this summer, “Inglourious Basterds” came along this weekend and rode a crest of tweeting goodwill.

The movie held fast after its $14 million Friday to finish at $37.6 million for Quentin Tarantino (it was his biggest opening ever, though “Pulp Fiction,” came out in an earlier, slower-rollout time) and, to the delight of media everywhere, provide plenty of fodder for a Harvey victory lap.

The initial fear for “Basterds” was that filmgoers expecting a pure action movie — the movie that the Weinsteins marketed — would be disappointed and give it a thumbs-down once the pic unspooled.

That would ding the film as it played throughout the weekend — especially as the more generous Tarantino fans who rushed out to see the movie Friday gave way to more general audiences over the weekend.

But the movie actually held its ground and even picked up steam as the weekend went on, as even Saturday twitterers enthusiastically tweeted and re-tweeted their approval.

rssarma’s “Inglorious Basterds” a glorious masterpiece!!” and LeVitus RT @dsilverman’s “Inglourious Basterds was excellent – Best Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction” were typical of the responses.

The questions audiences had coming in were, far from amplified by twitterers, dispelled by them. LilMissOpinion noted that “‘Inglourious Basterds was really good! I actually liked it & that somewhat surprises me.'”

(Also among the twitterers were some armchair historians, like one AshleyNJones89, who helpfully pointed out that “Inglourious Basterds is FICTION. Hitler wasn’t killed in a movie theatre. He killed himself along with Eva Braun. DUMMIES!”)

And though some reviewers — notably Manohla Dargis of the New York Times — got on the director for his inability to string snappy scenes into a cohesive movie, audiences noticed the same trend but didn’t seem to mind.

As jessedir tweeted, “Inglorious Basterds is A Night of Short Plays about Nervous Liars by QT, but they’re wildly enjoyable and well-shot plays.”

Of course, “District 9” benefited from strong word of mouth last week as well. But the word on that pic was solid coming in; tweets simply reinforced it. ‘Basterds,’ on the other hand, was a film with questions surrounding it before the weekend, but Friday and Saturday tweeting swung it in a decidedly favorable direction.

Speaking of swinging, we’ll be on a little vacation swing over the next few days, so posting will be light. See you later in the week, when the Twitter community will find new things about ‘Basterds’ to love.

If you haven’t been living in a cave the last couple of years, you are well aware of the financial problems faced by the world’s former biggest automaker, GM. Analysts and pundits have mostly credited GM’s fall to bad design and models that don’t excite or attract potential buyers.

GM almost followed their familiar path and brought to market yet another vehicle that would likely have failed to motivate the market and failed to meet sales goals, but Twitter rescued them from this possibly big mistake.

Bloomberg News (story follows) is reporting that GM has decided to cancel a new Buick SUV model after customers strongly protested that the vehicle did not match Buick’s brand attributes for luxury.

There is a tremendous take-away for marketers in this story. While many marketers have yet to see any value in Twitter (and other online platforms), the instant and loud negative feedback expressed through Twitter and  various blogs certainly got GM’s attention. The “new” GM was smart enough to tap into the cyber-conversation and honest enough to make the tough decision to scrap the Buick SUV.

Marketers should also note that the use and value of social media platforms does not always have to be proactive (using them to drive customers) and that it is just as valuable to listen and be aware of what is being said in the “conversation.” Doing this seems to have prevented GM from making another serious mistake, at a time when the company has little room for error.

——

Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) — General Motors Co. said it canceled plans for a Buick sport-utility vehicle announced Aug. 6 after potential customers said in person and online that the model lacked luxury touches they expect of the brand.

The decision was made Aug. 14, after GM earlier in the week showed the SUV and other future vehicles to consumers, dealers, employees, analysts and news reporters, Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said yesterday on a company blog. One blogger called it “hideous” and users of Twitter dubbed it the “Vuick.”

“We were all struck by the consistency of the criticism,” Stephens wrote. “It didn’t fit the premium characteristics that customers have come to expect from Buick.” He didn’t elaborate on the vehicle’s shortcomings.

The decision to cancel the Buick was based on all of the input, face-to-face, blogs and tweets, Christopher Barger, GM’s spokesman for social media, said in an interview. No matter how they expressed it “they just didn’t like it.”

The plug-in hybrid technology that was to be used for the Buick SUV will be applied to another vehicle that Detroit-based GM will discuss soon, Stephens wrote. GM had said it would begin selling the plug-in hybrid version in 2011, after the gasoline- only model began sales in late 2010.

“It’s obviously a sign of a faster GM and a GM more open to outside feedback,” said Jim Hall, principal of auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Michigan. “It also suggests there were already concerns inside the company about the product.”

Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson has said he wants to transform GM to be more responsive to customers and make speedier decisions.

Dubbed ‘Vuick’

Negative feedback spread on Twitter Inc.’s site after users began calling the vehicle a “Vuick,” a reference to GM’s Saturn Vue that provided the basis for the Buick. It looked more like a retread than a fresh design, they said. Detractors began using the “#Vuick” name as a hash tag — an indexing tool on Twitter that lets users quickly find messages on the same topic.

Rebranding a mediocre model with a new name was typical of the “old GM,” blogger Joel Feder said last week on his Twitter account. He called the car hideous and a crying shame. “#Vuick must die,” Feder wrote.

Twitter, used by Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears and the British monarchy, lets users post 140-character messages. The speed and popularity of the San Francisco-based service has turned it into a source of breaking news and consumer trends.

Twitter had 20.1 million U.S. users in June, according to research firm ComScore Inc. in Reston, Virginia. That made it the third most popular social-networking site, behind Facebook Inc. and News Corp.’s MySpace.