Monthly Archives: February 2011

A Social Discourse: LivingSocial

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

I am staring at the Jacksonville, Florida skyline. The sky is a beautiful azure and the soft light of the sun is reflecting in the mirror-like windows blanketing the towers of commerce. Only the lightest of clouds are visible and my mind is quiet, filled with only one thought:

Get a Mixbook Customized Calendar for only $12!

Of course, it is LivingSocial.com that is presenting me with this vista, not the northern beaches of Florida. At first glance the site – combining the aesthetic minimalism of Google with the vivid backgrounds of Microsoft Bing – appears to be little more than a clone of the controversial buy-in site Groupon. However, LivingSocial does do things differently than other sites, but are these things necessarily improvements?

First, some background. LivingSocial.com is a social buying website, offering daily deals that can be as much as 90% off. It was launched in 2007, and has been available in 89 markets since 2010. Like Groupon, LivingSocial uses witty, often tongue-in-cheek language to stand out from the often overly-politically-correct marketing landscape. The deals are catered to the individual, featuring local businesses based on information provided by the user. LivingSocial’s social aspect is almost entirely based in its piggybacking with Facebook. The site’s main motivation for social interaction is actually dependent on it (more on that later).

This brings me to the first major question for judging social networks. How broad is the platform’s audience and who is using it? According to LivingSocial’s published data, it is exactly who you would assume. LivingSocial’s users are mostly women, and typically fall in the middle class. As a result, most of the recent offers on the site include spa treatments, laser-hair removal and liposuction. The sales page that potential customers see provides examples that range from sushi to skydiving, but almost all of the daily ads I have seen over the past weeks have been targeted squarely at middle-aged moms.

Does the site have a stable, growing user population? LivingSocial has been going strong for almost four years. The site’s sales promotions use vague language, stating only that “thousands of excited readers will open their email to read about your offering…” Though they do not provide any specific numbers when it comes to users, the company did just receive a $175 million investment from Amazon.com, which speaks volumes about its staying power.

My third criterion asks whether or not the platform provides motivation for a user to visit and to share information. Each day on LivingSocial, users are presented with an offer, most of which boil down to “Buy a $40 gift card for $20.” LivingSocial takes 50% of that $20, and the rest goes to the business. Everyone wins. To get the most out of the platform, users must log in with or connect their Facebook account. They will now have the option to share a daily deal they have purchased with their Facebook friends. If three of their friends follow their link to purchase the deal, the original user gets it for free. In a best-case scenario, you can end up with hundreds of dollars in free services, and your friends still save money on things they would buy anyway. The site also includes recommended local businesses as well, making it a one-stop-shop, combining the best of Groupon, Yelp, and Google Places. With no subscription fees or up-front costs, I can easily recommend the site for personal use. For marketers, however, the site offers very little worth noting.

Finally, the potential the site has for a social marketer to create growth with any given company. LivingSocial’s largest downside, from a marketer’s viewpoint, is the lack of an internal social network. Any communication between users is done on Facebook. Sharing is done on Facebook. The entire site can — and does — function entirely confined within a Facebook or smartphone app. There is no real reason to even visit the main site after setting up your account (which again, you can do through Facebook).

Here is the simple truth of it all. A client could set up a LivingSocial offer allowing their customers to purchase $40 of product for $20. In that case, they lose $30 on each sale, and the offer only goes to people that happen to check LivingSocial during the 24 hours the sale is available. Alternatively, a smart marketer could put the same offer up on the client’s Facebook page. Now, the client is only out $20, and the offer goes out to the client’s 500 Facebook friends (and anyone else that wanders by). LivingSocial has a lot to offer for small businesses, or for people looking to save money around town, but marketers will find nothing here that isn’t done better elsewhere.

______________________________________________________________

Tim Howell

Tim Howell is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.

A Social Discourse: LivingSocial

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

I am staring at the Jacksonville, Florida skyline. The sky is a beautiful azure and the soft light of the sun is reflecting in the mirror-like windows blanketing the towers of commerce. Only the lightest of clouds are visible and my mind is quiet, filled with only one thought:

Get a Mixbook Customized Calendar for only $12!

Of course, it is LivingSocial.com that is presenting me with this vista, not the northern beaches of Florida. At first glance the site – combining the aesthetic minimalism of Google with the vivid backgrounds of Microsoft Bing – appears to be little more than a clone of the controversial buy-in site Groupon. However, LivingSocial does do things differently than other sites, but are these things necessarily improvements?

First, some background. LivingSocial.com is a social buying website, offering daily deals that can be as much as 90% off. It was launched in 2007, and has been available in 89 markets since 2010. Like Groupon, LivingSocial uses witty, often tongue-in-cheek language to stand out from the often overly-politically-correct marketing landscape. The deals are catered to the individual, featuring local businesses based on information provided by the user. LivingSocial’s social aspect is almost entirely based in its piggybacking with Facebook. The site’s main motivation for social interaction is actually dependent on it (more on that later).

This brings me to the first major question for judging social networks. How broad is the platform’s audience and who is using it? According to LivingSocial’s published data, it is exactly who you would assume. LivingSocial’s users are mostly women, and typically fall in the middle class. As a result, most of the recent offers on the site include spa treatments, laser-hair removal and liposuction. The sales page that potential customers see provides examples that range from sushi to skydiving, but almost all of the daily ads I have seen over the past weeks have been targeted squarely at middle-aged moms.

Does the site have a stable, growing user population? LivingSocial has been going strong for almost four years. The site’s sales promotions use vague language, stating only that “thousands of excited readers will open their email to read about your offering…” Though they do not provide any specific numbers when it comes to users, the company did just receive a $175 million investment from Amazon.com, which speaks volumes about its staying power.

My third criterion asks whether or not the platform provides motivation for a user to visit and to share information. Each day on LivingSocial, users are presented with an offer, most of which boil down to “Buy a $40 gift card for $20.” LivingSocial takes 50% of that $20, and the rest goes to the business. Everyone wins. To get the most out of the platform, users must log in with or connect their Facebook account. They will now have the option to share a daily deal they have purchased with their Facebook friends. If three of their friends follow their link to purchase the deal, the original user gets it for free. In a best-case scenario, you can end up with hundreds of dollars in free services, and your friends still save money on things they would buy anyway. The site also includes recommended local businesses as well, making it a one-stop-shop, combining the best of Groupon, Yelp, and Google Places. With no subscription fees or up-front costs, I can easily recommend the site for personal use. For marketers, however, the site offers very little worth noting.

Finally, the potential the site has for a social marketer to create growth with any given company. LivingSocial’s largest downside, from a marketer’s viewpoint, is the lack of an internal social network. Any communication between users is done on Facebook. Sharing is done on Facebook. The entire site can — and does — function entirely confined within a Facebook or smartphone app. There is no real reason to even visit the main site after setting up your account (which again, you can do through Facebook).

Here is the simple truth of it all. A client could set up a LivingSocial offer allowing their customers to purchase $40 of product for $20. In that case, they lose $30 on each sale, and the offer only goes to people that happen to check LivingSocial during the 24 hours the sale is available. Alternatively, a smart marketer could put the same offer up on the client’s Facebook page. Now, the client is only out $20, and the offer goes out to the client’s 500 Facebook friends (and anyone else that wanders by). LivingSocial has a lot to offer for small businesses, or for people looking to save money around town, but marketers will find nothing here that isn’t done better elsewhere.

______________________________________________________________

Tim Howell

Tim Howell is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.

The Social (Media) Life: Where were you?

Fill in the blank. Where were you when  _________?

Most people pose this question in relationship to “9/11′ or ‘when Kennedy was shot’, but here’s what I want to know: Where were you when you first heard about Facebook?  Before you answer (preferably in the comments section below), I know you weren’t glued to the TV that day and you probably didn’t call your friends and family to share the news. However, while in no way do I mean irreverence to the two tragedies previously mentioned, you must admit, in the past seven years, Facebook has truly changed the way people view communications.

Oh yes, you read that correctly…FACEBOOK HAS BEEN AROUND FOR SEVEN YEARS!  Can you believe it? I feel old! I remember I was sitting in French class my senior year of high school when my friend told me about Facebook. She said it was a little like MySpace…but cooler. It was exclusively for college students, so to join you had to be invited by someone you knew. She said she would send an invite that night when she got home. So that was the day I joined. Not very spectacular, I know, but 6 years later, Facebook has come a long way and so has my use of it. It has proven to be not just a fad and that it is willing to adapt and change as it continues to grow.

Back then, Facebook was called The Facebook (something that I had completely forgotten about until I was reminiscing for this post). Here’s a look at how the website has grown from social media concept to to social media giant.

  • February 4, 2004 – TheFacebook.com launches at Harvard University.
  • June 2004 – The Facebook moves to Palo Alto, California
  • September 2004 – The “Groups” application is added and the “Wall” makes its debut.
  • December 2004 – Facebook reaches 1 million users.

  • August 2005 – TheFacebook becomes Facebook.com.
  • September 2005 – Facebook expands to high school students.
  • October 2005 – The Photos application makes its debut.
  • December 2005 – Facebook reaches 5.5 million users.

Source: Mashable

Because I joined Facebook so early on this timeline, I understand that I am in an age bracket that some consider historic. My peers and I grew up alongside (and with) social media, and we helped it mature just as it helped us mature. Being part of this demographic truly gives me a unique perspective on the evolution of the medium, and as I have transitioned from using it solely for personal reasons to now using it as a business tool, my perspective has evolved as well.

Chances are, somewhere on this timeline, you created a profile and started connecting to people, but do you remember when? This brings me back to my original question: Where were YOU when you first heard about Facebook?

______________________________________________________________

Gerrilyn Koontz became a full time content manager for Make Me Social after graduating from The Pennsylvania State University in 2009.  Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she is happy to be back in the South living in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband Erick.

The Social (Media) Life: Where were you?

Fill in the blank. Where were you when  _________?

Most people pose this question in relationship to “9/11′ or ‘when Kennedy was shot’, but here’s what I want to know: Where were you when you first heard about Facebook?  Before you answer (preferably in the comments section below), I know you weren’t glued to the TV that day and you probably didn’t call your friends and family to share the news. However, while in no way do I mean irreverence to the two tragedies previously mentioned, you must admit, in the past seven years, Facebook has truly changed the way people view communications.

Oh yes, you read that correctly…FACEBOOK HAS BEEN AROUND FOR SEVEN YEARS!  Can you believe it? I feel old! I remember I was sitting in French class my senior year of high school when my friend told me about Facebook. She said it was a little like MySpace…but cooler. It was exclusively for college students, so to join you had to be invited by someone you knew. She said she would send an invite that night when she got home. So that was the day I joined. Not very spectacular, I know, but 6 years later, Facebook has come a long way and so has my use of it. It has proven to be not just a fad and that it is willing to adapt and change as it continues to grow.

Back then, Facebook was called The Facebook (something that I had completely forgotten about until I was reminiscing for this post). Here’s a look at how the website has grown from social media concept to to social media giant.

  • February 4, 2004 – TheFacebook.com launches at Harvard University.
  • June 2004 – The Facebook moves to Palo Alto, California
  • September 2004 – The “Groups” application is added and the “Wall” makes its debut.
  • December 2004 – Facebook reaches 1 million users.

  • August 2005 – TheFacebook becomes Facebook.com.
  • September 2005 – Facebook expands to high school students.
  • October 2005 – The Photos application makes its debut.
  • December 2005 – Facebook reaches 5.5 million users.

Source: Mashable

Because I joined Facebook so early on this timeline, I understand that I am in an age bracket that some consider historic. My peers and I grew up alongside (and with) social media, and we helped it mature just as it helped us mature. Being part of this demographic truly gives me a unique perspective on the evolution of the medium, and as I have transitioned from using it solely for personal reasons to now using it as a business tool, my perspective has evolved as well.

Chances are, somewhere on this timeline, you created a profile and started connecting to people, but do you remember when? This brings me back to my original question: Where were YOU when you first heard about Facebook?

______________________________________________________________

Gerrilyn Koontz became a full time content manager for Make Me Social after graduating from The Pennsylvania State University in 2009.  Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she is happy to be back in the South living in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband Erick.

A Special Commentary on Social Media: Watching Egypt

Gina .. Today, there has been a serious escalation of journalists and media professionals, has demonstrated thousands of journalists within the trade union of journalists, aimed at bringing down Makram Mohamed Ahmed, chairman of the Press, check out today quorum to bring down the captain of the office, have also been several demonstrations in the press institutions different, to bring down the editors, pro-Toregime and President Hosni Mubarak

Gina .. I’m fine and I hope that you may be fine .. There was a fire exchange between the protesters and supporters of President Mubarak .. I have hit a wall while fleeing from an iron fire .. But now, okay .. Events today very hot, and I expect that there will be mass protests on Friday next.

This is a first-hand, real-life account on the Egyptian revolution…as well as a young person on the scene in Egypt…as well as thoughts from a reform-minded journalist. But most of all, these are messages from my friend via Facebook.

As a follow-up to the piece on this blog last week on social media in the mainstream, I wanted to share my unique perspective on the events in Egypt because while many people throughout the world are seeing this news for the first time, I am seeing the repercussions of a generation worth of actions.

As the first country director for an American organization that worked to promote democracy and participation within Hosni Mubarak’s long-dominated government, I worked with scores of people who longed for regime change. Most of these people were in their thirties and younger. Many had never known a time when President Mubarak wasn’t “President” and all of them were active on-line and with their mobile phones.

In June of 2006, the organization I worked for released the first ever political party assessment report.   We commented publicly that there had not been significant steps toward reform in 25 years of Mubarak rule. Newspapers and blogs picked up the story, which led to me being called into the Foreign Ministry. Our activities were suspended; I was labeled a flagrant interferer and a spy; newspapers ran story after story; Mubarak-backed members of Parliament called for my arrest while members of the U.S. Congress countered by moving to slash Egyptian funding.

Through the weeks that followed as the situation escalated, I was sustained by the supportive texts and messages sent by my Egyptian staff and reformer bloggers like Sandmonkey. But, finally, a newspaper front-page headline screamed, “Eliminate the Spy” accompanied by my photo with a gun’s cross-hairs graphic over it. I left Egypt that week. I could because I was an American. My Egyptian friends could not.

And, of course, they wouldn’t want to. It’s their country and they were (and are) committed to change. So, they continued their reform movement through writings, lectures and postings until they converged on the streets just over two weeks ago.

This brings me back to social media. In many developing democracies, where the government still controlled the land-line infrastructure, the use of cell phones exploded faster than in the United States. SMS campaigns were old-hat even when I had arrived. This technology has helped bring reform-minded people together.

Looking back on my days there, if I were asked on how a revolution of this sort would happen, my hypothetical would be very similar to what we are seeing and reading about every day: Driven by the new generation of Egyptians eager for their voice to be heard, and spreading that eagerness through the  technological platform most associated with their generation, which is social media.

So, in the midst of the glaring (yet impersonal) international headlines, I look inward to my small personal community of Egyptian friends that social media has allowed me to maintain since I lived and worked in Cairo , and as the days have turned into weeks, these notes have helped feel like I have a front-row seat to history, despite being half a world away.

NOTE: This was published just prior to President Mubarak’s speech on February 10th.

______________________________________________________________

Gina London is Vice President for Strategy and Development for Make Me Social. She currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland and in 2006, was Egypt Country Director for the International Republican Institute. She is active on a number of social media channels, and a member of a number of groups including the Egyptian Association for Change.

Socially Made: January 2011

Throughout 2011, Make Me Social will publish Socially Made, a review of social media’s continued evolution in both influence and commentary.

The first month of 2011 offered a dichotomy of stories related to what “Socially Made” will be about in the future: The ways social media has become part of the mainstream.

There were stories ranging from commentary issued by Congressmen and women in real time during the President’s State of the Union address to the Twitter-basting of the Chicago Bears’ quarterback. However, if we were to define how social media was used this month in a word, it would be research, specifically manifesting itself in two ways during two events:

The Tragedy in Tucson
Tucson, Arizona was the epicenter for a tragic event, and in an effort to gain as much information as possible as to the timeline and progression that led to this dramatic and unwarranted culmination, investigators, the media and the public as a whole took to social media to research the gunman’s thoughts (we at Make Me Social refuse to use his name as a tribute to the victims and in our personal effort to prevent any increase in his SEO. We have instead linked to this page). The research resulted in a number of finds – including videos on YouTube and chats during online games – that cited incendiary language that was interpreted as everything from “just venting” to “a warning sign.”

The evidence of social media use by this individual led to discussions on the tone of rhetoric used on social media sites, as well as the rebirth of conversations on the types of people that can be found using these channels. These same conversations existed with the advent of cyber-bullying and the ongoing issue of privacy policies on social media sites. The truth is that defining a medium (and those that use that medium) by the lowest common denominator is hardly a fair representation (similar to claiming all business outsourcing is bad simply because some companies lay off their employees and outsource work to other countries).

Crazy typically finds an outlet – whether it is message boards or manifestos – and if social media can be an alternative to physical harm and/or used as a tool in which to learn about their reasons, then it deserves a chip in the game. Additionally, what we are finding is that social media is playing its part on the other end of this spectrum by helping to identify crimes and criminals. For example, an estimated 700 police departments across the country have their own Facebook pages to use as a research tool to help connect with their communities to keep them safe.

Egypt’s Revolution
The revolution in Egypt has resulted in conflict and violence throughout Cairo in an effort by the people to have their voices heard in governmental reform. Remarkably, the world has been able to receive new information on the day-to-day activities (despite the shutdown of most telecommunication systems by the Egyptian government) due to the resourcefulness of the public to find ways to connect to social media.

One person that has a unique perspective on this specific topic is David Faris, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University, who has researched and written about the effects of social media on the authoritarian rule in Egypt. He has summarized it this way:

“The critical role of social media right now is reaching global audiences with video, audio and first-hand accounts of the unrest. Intrepid Egyptians on the ground have managed to find internet connections here and there to upload videos, send Tweets, and post their thoughts to blogs. The most important change from the past is that social media (along of course with brave reporters from Al-Jazeera and other venues) make it impossible for the regime to hide what’s going on, from Egyptians but most of all from the world.”

We will be going into more detail on this topic in a future post, but the broader point is that individuals like Professor Faris, as well as his colleagues and the media, are utilizing social media platforms as a research tool to get first-hand accounts of these events. While it goes without saying that receiving an unfiltered flow of information mandates a trusted source, activism of this sort is tailor-made for the benefits social media offers.

Additionally, Make Me Social heavily encourages the use of social media as a mechanism for driving “call to action” – type activism of any size, as long as the messages shared are steeped in non-violent language. There is a responsibility that users of social media have to undertake or else risk being labeled with a stigma that will reduce credibility and effectiveness of the medium.

______________________________________________________________

Greg Morgan is Communications and Content Director for Make Me Social, a social media agency that develops customized social media strategies for businesses. With experience in industries ranging from sports to state government, Greg focuses in crafting messages for all types of clients in an effort to perfect what he calls “versatile communications.” Born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, he remains a loyal UConn Husky fan, despite now residing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Socially Made: January 2011

Throughout 2011, Make Me Social will publish Socially Made, a review of social media’s continued evolution in both influence and commentary.

The first month of 2011 offered a dichotomy of stories related to what “Socially Made” will be about in the future: The ways social media has become part of the mainstream.

There were stories ranging from commentary issued by Congressmen and women in real time during the President’s State of the Union address to the Twitter-basting of the Chicago Bears’ quarterback. However, if we were to define how social media was used this month in a word, it would be research, specifically manifesting itself in two ways during two events:

The Tragedy in Tucson
Tucson, Arizona was the epicenter for a tragic event, and in an effort to gain as much information as possible as to the timeline and progression that led to this dramatic and unwarranted culmination, investigators, the media and the public as a whole took to social media to research the gunman’s thoughts (we at Make Me Social refuse to use his name as a tribute to the victims and in our personal effort to prevent any increase in his SEO. We have instead linked to this page). The research resulted in a number of finds – including videos on YouTube and chats during online games – that cited incendiary language that was interpreted as everything from “just venting” to “a warning sign.”

The evidence of social media use by this individual led to discussions on the tone of rhetoric used on social media sites, as well as the rebirth of conversations on the types of people that can be found using these channels. These same conversations existed with the advent of cyber-bullying and the ongoing issue of privacy policies on social media sites. The truth is that defining a medium (and those that use that medium) by the lowest common denominator is hardly a fair representation (similar to claiming all business outsourcing is bad simply because some companies lay off their employees and outsource work to other countries).

Crazy typically finds an outlet – whether it is message boards or manifestos – and if social media can be an alternative to physical harm and/or used as a tool in which to learn about their reasons, then it deserves a chip in the game. Additionally, what we are finding is that social media is playing its part on the other end of this spectrum by helping to identify crimes and criminals. For example, an estimated 700 police departments across the country have their own Facebook pages to use as a research tool to help connect with their communities to keep them safe.

Egypt’s Revolution
The revolution in Egypt has resulted in conflict and violence throughout Cairo in an effort by the people to have their voices heard in governmental reform. Remarkably, the world has been able to receive new information on the day-to-day activities (despite the shutdown of most telecommunication systems by the Egyptian government) due to the resourcefulness of the public to find ways to connect to social media.

One person that has a unique perspective on this specific topic is David Faris, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University, who has researched and written about the effects of social media on the authoritarian rule in Egypt. He has summarized it this way:

“The critical role of social media right now is reaching global audiences with video, audio and first-hand accounts of the unrest. Intrepid Egyptians on the ground have managed to find internet connections here and there to upload videos, send Tweets, and post their thoughts to blogs. The most important change from the past is that social media (along of course with brave reporters from Al-Jazeera and other venues) make it impossible for the regime to hide what’s going on, from Egyptians but most of all from the world.”

We will be going into more detail on this topic in a future post, but the broader point is that individuals like Professor Faris, as well as his colleagues and the media, are utilizing social media platforms as a research tool to get first-hand accounts of these events. While it goes without saying that receiving an unfiltered flow of information mandates a trusted source, activism of this sort is tailor-made for the benefits social media offers.

Additionally, Make Me Social heavily encourages the use of social media as a mechanism for driving “call to action” – type activism of any size, as long as the messages shared are steeped in non-violent language. There is a responsibility that users of social media have to undertake or else risk being labeled with a stigma that will reduce credibility and effectiveness of the medium.

______________________________________________________________

Greg Morgan is Communications and Content Director for Make Me Social, a social media agency that develops customized social media strategies for businesses. With experience in industries ranging from sports to state government, Greg focuses in crafting messages for all types of clients in an effort to perfect what he calls “versatile communications.” Born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, he remains a loyal UConn Husky fan, despite now residing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.