Conversion is Key

Having spent the last 24 hours away from Facebook and Twitter in support of a World AIDS Day campaign, I found I had a little extra time on my hands (“Hmmmm” say the productivity police in my head)

Anyway, I spent the extra time watching the campaign that was the reason for my abstinence and trying to put some numbers together on conversion rates and such.

Here’s the basic idea: Alecia Keys and a number of other celebrities (Usher, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, etc.) swore off twitter (posting pictures of themselves in coffins and declaring themselves digitally dead) until $1 million was raised to support children affected by AIDS in Africa and India.

Whether or not you agree with the idea or support it, what is interesting here is whether or not the campaign worked. These 18 celebrities are among the most popular in the social sphere, sharing their daily thoughts with an average of 1.6 million followers each (on Twitter alone). Their message went out to some 29 million followers, linking them to a Web site to donate money to ‘save’ the digital life of their favorite celeb.

To understand how effective the campaign was, we need to determine whether and how well the business goals were met. Assuming that the goals of this project were: one, To raise awareness, and two, to raise $1 million, how did it perform?

The fact that the message went out to 29 million people on World AIDS Day and generated significant buzz, and that the destination Web site, buylife.org was brought to its knees, overloaded with traffic for much of the day, indicates that goal #1 was probably achieved. Awareness was raised.

As of 9am on December 2nd, however, the campaign has raised a paltry $160,000, which at $10 a pop translates to donations (conversion) from only 16,000 followers. This implies a conversion rate of just o.o5% – see chart below. That seems low to me. To raise $1 million, the campaign would need conversion of 3.4%.

Celebrity Twitter Followers
Alicia Keys 2,690,910
Usher 922,927
The Buried Life 99,841
Swizz Beatz 366,794
Serena Williams 1,846,393
Ryan Seacrest 3,683,704
Lady Gaga 7,240,217
Kimberly Cole 1,267,934
Kim Kardashian 5,467,082
Khloe Kardashian 2,068,681
David Lachapelle 5,669
Justin Timberlake 3,534,574
Jennifer Hudson 66,523
Jay Sean 339,979
Janelle Monae 129,431
Elijah Wood 7,542
Daphne Guiness 921
Bronson Pelletier 13,045
Total Followers 29,752,167
Average Followers 1,652,898
Conversion Rate 0.05%

The math may be a little fuzzy (many of these celebs are followed by the same people, we did not include Facebook followers at all, and we assumed no-one donated more than the minimum $10). However, no matter how you look at it, there are millions and millions of celebrity-obsessed followers who showed a lot of interest in the campaign by visiting its site, but when it came time to pony up, fell somewhat short of expectations. Why did this happen?

I can think of two reasons. The first is that the Web site was key to conversion, since all cues to donate were housed on the (very well-designed user-friendly) site. So much so that when it went down these celebs broke their silence to let followers know how to donate via text. There may have been some missed opportunity while the site was down.

The second reason was that there was a stirring among commentators to the effect that $1 million was small change for this group. “Why don’t they just make the donation?” they asked. It may be that followers felt duped into spending money when they saw no reciprocation from their celebrity favorites in the form of matching or outright donations.

I realize that the goal of social media campaigns is not all about direct conversion. However, when conversion is a stated goal (which it had to have been in this case), what level is considered typical for a campaign of this size? What do you think happened here? What can we learn from this about social media and conversion in general? My take: Just because a business, celebrity or organization has millions of followers does not guarantee conversion.

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Actually, Brand is King

Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite fond of the phrase “Content is King” especially as a passionate advocate of content strategy. However, recently I’ve heard grumblings along the lines of UX is King, or Marketing is King, or Social is King, or…you get the picture. The truth is, if we’re all driving to the same end goal (and we should be) then content, UX, creative, marketing, retail and social strategy are all courtiers, and your brand is the true King.

Before I get carried away with lame analogies, let me make my point. The brand is the single unifying factor in all marketing endeavors. Like it or not, your audience experiences your brand in multiple ways – the user interface you deliver, the in-store experience they have, your social presence, their conversation with your call center, and the list goes on. No single medium can be used to ‘build a brand’ in a vacuum, because each has an important role to play in how it is perceived.

A great example of this is a company like Chick-Fil-A. As a brand they are one of the most successful in the industry when it comes to using social media to grow awareness and sales. However, Chick-Fil-A are the first to say they grew their social presence by leveraging existing brand ambassadors–people who were already raving fans . They understood their brand and used that to connect with their fans and grow their business.

On the flip side, there are plenty of examples out there of companies building websites or participating in the social space in a way that is not consistent with their brand or audience. They are no more building brands than splitting atoms.

Bottom line: no matter how good your strategies are, if they do not accurately reflect and support your brand, they are unlikely to succeed.

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Go with the Flow

Love, love, love Jonathan Mendez’s blog post about unlocking the true value of digital with user flows, and here’s why…

I think that Johnathan’s assertion that user behavior is goal-driven and focused is key to the way we view digital experiences. His hypothesis is clearly supported by the facts: users are more likely than ever to reach out through social networks for information, search is becoming increasingly long-tail, and site entry points are more diverse than ever. The longer we continue to see the website home page as the primary entry point, the longer we cripple the entire user experience.

My question is, how do we track and manage the entire user flow across all channels and media? And by media, I mean everything including the in-store experience which is as much a part of the user experience as anything else.

The answer, I think, lies in building user flows on steroids. Starting with research-based personas, developing a deeper understanding of their goals (knowing that the same persona can have a different set of goals on Monday from those she has on Friday) and then applying known, typical and desired user behavior to the model, we can come up with a set of user flows to which we can map the appropriate content and functionality.

And of course, testing, measuring and analyzing after the fact will help us to keep content focused and continue to satisfy the users’ goals. Once users realize that there is a pay-off for sharing information, they actually become facilitators in the customization model, helping us to fine-tune personas because providing that information ultimately helps them reach their goals quicker.

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Calling All Storytellers

For all those authors, journalists, photographers, artists and other narrators who fear that they might be part of a dying profession, I’m pleased to tell you that the art of story telling is alive and well and living in cyberspace. Nothing new about that, for sure, but how many of us are truly embracing the change?

The digital industry is literally crying out for those who are well versed in communicating ideas and inspiring change through content (words and/or images). In a traditional sense, this would be achieved by creating an article, book or picture series that transports readers into the story and creates a connection between their reality and another’s. In a digital sense it means creating and managing a digital presence that does the same thing, across multiple media, in a dynamic environment.

Technology has brought us to the point where literally any idea can be broadcast to millions, billions within minutes. Along with this capability, however, comes the greater challenge of managing and developing content to support the central idea.

This is where the storytellers come in. Some people are just naturally talented in the art of weaving a narrative that is engaging and relevant, and that serves certain predefined needs. These are the folks that need to be helping to take digital content to the next level. So for those of you sensing the end of an era in traditional communications, I say come on over to the dark side, take back your art, and teach the digital community a thing or two about storytelling.

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The Value of Insight

Web analytics, social auditing, behavioral research, ethnography and search audits are great windows into your users’ minds and motivations. These insights are critical in helping to define user and business goals at the outset of a web design project. How effectively do we use them?

Great web design happens when the experience is built on what we know the business wants from the site AND what the users tell us they want. The process of connecting these pieces of information to overall site strategy is, well, Digital Strategy at its best.

One way to ensure that valuable insights and research are not lost is through careful mapping of these objectives to the site structure and content. Content mapping exercises, user flows and detailed use cases will ensure that we are headed in the right direction.

So how can we ensure that we stay on track? Formal accountability – evaluating how well we achieve user and business goals by establishing and measuring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – is not a new practice, but lately it has been pushed to the side in the wake of faster turnarounds and smaller budgets. Definitely not a smart sacrifice – KPI’s keep us honest and help us to fine tune our approach based on what we learn, giving the client more bang for their buck.

When the temptation arises to do something cool simply because the technology allows it, I say lets do a reality check by asking “Is this what the user wants to see? How do we know this? How can we confirm that this is effective?”

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Why I Shop for Shoes Online

OK, so anyone who has met me knows that I am just a little addicted to online shoe shopping. While I freely admit to my obsession, I also maintain that I am working while I shop, because those beautiful Blahniks have much to teach us about user experience. Here’s my rationale…

10 years ago, I would never have said that the apparel and shoe industry would be a leading force in online sales. I mean, give me a break. A girl needs the full experience when buying clothes or shoes. She needs to touch them, try them on, see them from all angles, and then carry them proudly home. To be as successful as they are today, shoe and clothing retailers had to deliver a user experience that would overcome these barriers to online purchasing. Here’s what they did:

1. Free Shipping Both Ways – The customer is offered no-risk online shopping. Buy them, ship them free, try them on, if you don’t like them, ship them back free. No questions asked.

2. Visual Experience – most clothing and shoe retailers offer multiple views of the same product so you can see it from all angles, much as you would in a dressing room. Many also show the product in use so that shoppers can see the size of a purse or length of a skirt without having to translate dimensions.

See Bluefly.com…

And eBags.com…

3. Advanced filters – users have the ability to shop for what they want, the way they want to shop. By brand, size, color, style etc. and can easily turn filters on and off to change their results.

See Bluefly.com…

Or Shoes.com…

So if perchance you find me gazing lovingly at a pair of Stuart Weitzmans on my screen, know that I am researching best practices in user experience, not shopping for yet another pair!

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Reactive Content Strategy

Content Strategists do a good job of defining web content that addresses primary user needs and behaviors. What should we be doing to capitalize on what users are telling us after the page is published?

What sets a digital experience apart from traditional media is that it facilitates a two-way conversation. We put certain content out there and users respond to it by:

  • Spending time on a page
  • Commenting on content
  • Bookmarking and/or returning to a page
  • Adapting their search behavior
  • Talking about our content
  • Sharing our content

We have an opportunity to react to this information by adapting web content to what our users have told us they want to know. If social audits, search trends and site analytics tell us that the conversation amongst mothers currently revolves around diaper rash this week, post an article about treating diaper rash. If that page is bookmarked, viewed and shared actively, post a follow-up article.

As content strategists our job is to figure out how to develop and manage reactive content strategies that can adapt to ever-changing user needs and interests.

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