Archive for September, 2010

Alert: Twitter Mouseover Hack

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

If you’ve logged into Twitter today via their website, it might be a good idea to change your password. I’d also strongly recommend accessing Twitter through a third party client like Tweet Deck or another service. While surprisingly there isn’t anything on the Twitter Status Blog, it appears that Twitter has been hit by a “mouseover” hack that’s causing people to tweet and retweet the same hack over and over again. If you would like to read more about the hack Sophos has an article that explains the flaw.

In simple English, hackers have exploited a security flaw within Twitter that allows for mouse over commands in JavaScript that allows people who hover over the link to be redirected to other websites, or replicate the message. Interestingly, the tweet shows as a block of text, like information on a redacted document. Also, as I learned this morning, the current hack appears to put giant letters overtop of the Twitter interface.

I’m sure more folks will write better explanations of what is currently going on, but as of now it’s best to stay off the main Twitter site, or access it through a third party application which appears to block the mouseover hack. As irresistible as it may seem, please don’t click on any tweets blocked out with color, but if you do please use a third party client to change your password as soon as possible.

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We All Like A Feel Good Story

Monday, September 13th, 2010

It’s a pretty safe assumption everyone other than the crankiest of curmudgeons likes a feel-good story. I know that after being bombarded about news that makes me sad, or angry, or both, I like to hear about something good that happens to the deserving. I don’t think I am taking any risks with that premise. So when a small park 250 miles north of the Twin Cities, that features a bear and her cubs, is able to increase its annual budget by half and beat out some of the largest national parks in the United States for a $100,000 prize, this sounds like a story that is going to have a happy ending.

Lily is a black bear living in Bear’s Head Lake State Park near Ely, Minnesota. She also is probably the most popular living bear on Facebook with over 112,000 followers. Last year when Lily was pregnant, a webcam was placed in her den and the world was able to watch the birth of her cub, Hope. Soon after the webcam was set up, www.bear.org was overloaded with visitors to the site who wanted to catch a glimpse of Lily. Soon after, a Twitter feed and Facebook fan page were set up to disseminate quick updates regarding Lily and to provide educational information about American black bears. Many look to social media as a quick way to get the latest celebrity gossip, breaking popular news trends, or just to catch up with friends. Lily was able to transcend the traditional assumptions by being a conduit of knowledge for her followers. A look at Lily’s Facebook Page illustrates not only how people can keep up with their favorite Minnesotan black bears, but also how they can gain extensive knowledge from bear experts. Facebook is allowing interested individuals to learn from people they might never have been able to communicate with before and to learn more about bears than a watered-down TV special could provide.

So what does this mean? By putting up the webcam, and providing information through blogs, tweets and Facebook status updates and interacting with their followers, the research group working with Lily raised a significant amount of money to continue their work. Through direct donations and the sales of Lily-branded goods (like t-shirts), the North American Bear Center can continue to “advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans” as they state on their website.

Just as exciting as the money coming into the North American Bear Center is this news for Bear Head Lake State Park. The park only has about 100,000 visitors a year, but this year had hundreds of thousands more virtual visitors. When you considered that 285 million people visited national parks in 2009, with the Great Smokey Mountains National Park garnering 9.5 million of those visitors (according to a USA Today article), the next piece of information should come as a shocking surprise. Coca-Cola’s LivePositively website’s contest for the most popular park in the United States, allowed voters to select Bear Head Lake State Park as the most popular park in the country. Out of the 5.7 million votes, the Minnesota park received 28 percent. So a park with an annual budget of only $230,000 gets another $100,000 from Coca-Cola to use on park improvements. How awesome is that?

I know in my last blog posting I had to walk a fine line when discussing the value of social media and email campaigns, in relation to traditional postal mail. I think in the case of Lily the Bear we had an extraordinary event, which helped to drive the success of social media campaign—Lily’s social media success wasn’t manufactured, instead it grew organically from the webcam, the expertise of the researchers, their willingness to share their knowledge, and people’s thirst to learn more about wild bears beyond what they saw in Yogi Bear cartoon. There’s a wealth of context to make Lily’s story interesting.

I understand this is unique. However, nearly every organization has something interesting to say and the ability to share it with their members, donors, customers or just the general public at large. Social Media should be fun, and engaging and *gasp* sometimes enlightening. That’s what makes it great. The North American Bear Center can determine its ROI from Lily because there would have been significantly less in donations without the bearcam. I highly doubt they were sending out tons of fundraising requests each year.

You might not be able to measure the value of your social media spending, but that doesn’t belittle its value. For small organizations, it can provide a lifeline to raising donations by finding an audience you might not have previously been able to access, or by reaching customers in a very niche market. Organizations and businesses shouldn’t feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to social media. Just because you have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, doesn’t mean people must follow you. Instead you have to be engaging and interactive and actually provide content people are interested in. If you do that, you may be able to reap significant rewards for your hard work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look at some cute cub photos on Lily’s Facebook page and smile.

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Trying to be Young Again

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

If I don’t put my shopping lists into an Excel spreadsheet, I find myself mumbling at the store about not remembering what I went there to buy. I have not yet reached a point where I am telling hooligans to get off my lawn, but I have shifted ungracefully out of the 25-34 marketing age demographic. However, after looking at the results of a recent Epsilon marketing survey, I find that I may have more in common with today’s whippersnappers than I expected. Just like the college kid at the dinner table, I am tied to my Blackberry 24/7/365 looking at Twitter updates and reading my email. However, I am like the younger generation in a more unexpected way; like them, I am much more likely to read my monthly Microcenter paper advertisement than I am my daily TigerDirect email. Interestingly, last week a survey came out that might have explained why.

The survey, from Epsilon’s ICOM division, discovered that “fifty-three percent of all respondents say they pay closer attention to information they receive by postal mail, compared with email.” The study also suggests consumers in the 18-34 demographic prefer to receive and trust postal and newspaper marketing over online messages in the US and Canada by a 2-1 or whopping 3-1 margin based on various criteria in the study.

After sharing this information with my coworkers, quite a few of them were taken aback. I know that I too was surprised by these results. I’ve worked on some very successful email campaigns, and our organization is looking to social media as an avenue for future revenue growth. I’d have thought individuals who had something more technologically advanced than a Commodore 64 as their first computer would be more open to electronic communication as their primary source of receiving marketing information. Based on this study, I would have been wrong. It was then actually a conversation with The Wife that got me thinking about this and I have a couple of reasons I think this might be the case.

Too Much Email

Epsilon learned that “consumers are receiving more email than ever, and in many cases not opening it at all.” It didn’t occur to me, but this is absolutely true—especially for businesses where I have an existing relationship. This may be excessive but I have four email accounts: my work email, Gmail for personal use, Hotmail for paying the bills, and Yahoo for signing up for things. Without exaggeration I get hundreds of emails on a daily basis and I know I am not the only one. If all four of these accounts were synched to my Blackberry, that little red light of doom would never stop blinking at me. I check my Yahoo account roughly once a week and I always find at least seven emails each from TigerDirect, Borders, Amazon, Delta, Continental Airlines, Papa John’s and multiple Las Vegas casinos. Not to mention the emails about taking online courses, selling my valuable metals and government grants. Much like the historical perspective that all postal solicitations are junk mail, it’s really easy to bucket all email offers as spam.

This isn’t always the case though. Email can be a very successful avenue for marketing products and services. The key is to properly target your message, have a good offer, etc… Professional marketing managers know all of this already, but I think that sometimes gets forgotten when it comes to email campaigns. Timely isn’t a synonym for daily. Also, Delta Airlines, I already have your Amex (and you know it), stop asking me to sign up for one weekly.

Don’t Click This Link

The study also brought the following information to light regarding the reliability of information received through electronic communication, “blogs, Facebook and online forums each ranked with 8 percent, while YouTube, Twitter and other social media outlets had 7 and 6 percent, respectively. Email attracted 12 percent.” Email at 12 percent is rather low, and while I do think it is a very effective avenue for marketing when the message is accurate, it still has it challenges. When you consider the historical concerns of people in regard to phishing scams and other scamming techniques used in electronic communication, it can be a challenge to differentiate between a legitimate offer and an attempt to collect your personal information for nefarious purposes.

To do it right, social media marketing is a real challenge. Engaging your community while being entertaining and interesting is difficult. However, there are so many sources just pushing out the next white paper link to improve your business, make thousands of dollars from the comfort of your own home, or in the instance where I received an unsolicited offer to buy socks in threes instead of pairs, we are surrounded by the noise of inappropriate or unprofessional attempts to get us to click. Postal mail doesn’t have the same sense of noise. Since the cost of postal mail is consistently going up, we do get less marketing mail daily, so it gets more attention. Other than Discover, I don’t get weekly credit card solicitations anymore. Most of my mail now advertises local companies or unique services and typically people do take the time to look and examine the offers because quite simply, there are fewer of them.

Interestingly, “consumers who earn an annual income of less than $60,000, as well as shoppers aged 18-34, are more likely to say receiving direct mail from a company makes them feel like a valued customer.” There is a perceived effort involved in direct mail that may not have been apparent before the proliferation of online marketing and advertising. Beyond interesting copy and a good offer, the piece has to be printed and someone has to deliver it. With this sense of work involved (imagined or real), direct mail subconsciously gets priority over electronic communications.

Finally, the study proposes two things. The first being that “good relationships are built on trust, so it is not surprising that most consumers depend on flesh and blood over modems and monitors.” While I agree with this statement, organizations like Comcast have done an excellent job developing trust using platforms like Twitter and if an organization is utilizing social media effectively online, trust can be developed with a user community. The second is essential for any organization to understand. “The upshot is that regardless of the demographic, marketers need to employ a multichannel campaign for topmost customer engagement. Social media, like many forms of communication, should be incorporated as one component of a broader strategy.” In other words, email can be successful, social media can be successful, but without postal marketing you are probably missing out on your full audience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out to Denny’s for a Grand Slam breakfast for dinner.

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