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2 posts from December 2011

12/13/2011 Use Social Media to Connect Friends and Family

Brands want people to connect with them through social channels. Social media usage among U.S. Internet users has more than doubled in the last three years (28% to 65% between 2008 and 2011). So brands are increasing the time and money they spend in these channels with the hope of attracting people through deals, content and, in some cases, customer support. 

That’s what brands want. What do most people using social media want? They want to connect with family. They want to connect with their current friends. They want to find old friends. Only a small group of people wants to use social media to connect with other like-minded people around a common interest. 

If you only looked at the marketing efforts online, you might assume that most brands and marketers believe that last group to be bigger than it is. But you would be wrong.

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I think a key question for brands in the next few years is this: What value or utility can they provide that makes it easier or better for people to connect with their friends or family?

A challenge for most is to refocus the gaze from internal needs to external, customer needs. And many times those external needs don’t necessarily have a direct connection to internal “goals” or “plans.” It means moving out of your internal business meetings into a state of empathy.

Here’s an example, imperfectly executed but with a clear value proposition behind it: ShopyCat scans your Facebook friends to recommend gift ideas. Right now the gift ideas aren’t very good, in my opinion. But they have started sending emails to remind me of upcoming birthdays, with those poor gift ideas. While ShopyCat is in the business of selling stuff, they’re doing it by tapping into something that’s very important to me: Remembering my family’s and my friend’s birthdays. They’re attempting to add a layer of utility to keep me connected (and make me look good).

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There aren’t a lot of other good examples, to be honest, although I believe that the ones that support community and charity help will resonate with peoples’ close networks (think Patagonia’s Common Threads initiative). I think there’s a much bigger opportunity for any brand that deals with any kind of food, since that’s a stronger connective tissue between people than we understand.

So when your brand is evaluating your next social initiative, try asking yourself: How can your brand help friends and family connect?

12/05/2011 Social Gift Shopping

Every year, we are continually challenged to find good gifts for our spouses/kids/parents/friends for the December holidays. I had one friend who kept a running list of things she wanted throughout the year. Every time she went shopping she made sure to add one or two things to her list. Whenever someone asked her what she wanted for Christmas/birthday/anniversary, she had a good answer! Most of us, unfortunately, aren’t like that. 

So I was interested to check out some of the new social gift finders this year, in the hope that they would make my life easier over the next few weeks. The two that caught my attention were Etsy's and Amazon’s Facebook integrated gift finders.

Both tap into your Facebook profile with the (as yet unmet) promise that they will scan your friends’ profiles and come up with unique gifts for them. Of the two, Etsy does a better job, since it looks like it’s more focused on keywords than actual products.

Etsy though looks at what you’ve said you’re interested in, rather than what you’re actually talking about on Facebook. So if you’ve loaded up your profile with lots of things you identify with, Etsy will search its catalogue for those keywords. Sometimes it gets a little funny. 

My wife Bella, for example, has only chose Sweden as a topic of interest. So when the Etsy gift finder cranks out its suggestion, guess what I get? Lots of Swedish, not much else.


Another friend, for some reason, has indicated she’s a fan of Red Bull (maybe because her two little boys are wearing her out). So the only thing she gets are Etsy products tagged with Red Bull!


I have to admit that while neither of the recommendations are perfect nor even close to being personal, the gift selection is certainly odd and entertaining, which is not always a bad thing when giving gifts. 

Amazon, on the other hand, looks to see what type of media you’ve liked in your profile, such as records, movies or books. It also searches its own site to see if you have a wish list. 

Unfortunately, it only works if you’re talking about specific titles. Which most of my family is not. It’s why the results can be somewhat absurd, since the last thing my wife would want for Christmas is the Steve Jobs book. 


One thing Amazon does have going for it is that it focuses primarily on birthdays! I’ve never understood why Facebook hasn’t trie to monetize this feature more. I think it’s the single most valuable tool Facebook (or any other social network, for that matter) offers. Remembering birthdays is something that Facebook has moved from my memory to its Web pages, a vast improvement. All they need to implement now is a one-click purchasing option.


While these are pretty good, they’re not perfect. I’ve created interactive gift finders for clients as well and all of these seem to make the mistake of looking for gifts based on expected or canned criteria. I’d like to see a more intelligent social tool that analyzes what you talk about with the most passion, in order to recommend GREAT presents. Maybe we’ll get there.

Or maybe that’s my next project. Happy Holidays.

UPDATE 12:30 PM:
Apparently I missed Shopycat, a gift finder created by Walmart Labs. It's actually be worse than the other two for personalized gifts. As for non-personalized, it suggested the George Foreman Grill to everyone (who wouldn't like that, right?).  While the app says it scans your updates, it's apparent from the list that it doesn't. And as for the suggestions for Bella? I think I'll stick with Etsy.

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