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It’s Not About The Leggings: Strong Online Stances And You (Part One)

About a year and a half ago, I recommended to my sister, at that point a stay-at-home mom, to look into Lularoe. “I think it’s going to be a thing.” I said.

Trust me when I say I’m happy to say I’ve been wrong about a lot of things, but about this I was right. It has exploded in popularity.

Since then I’ve noticed a leggings debate online: people who love them, people who hate them. And one of my Facebook friends (to paraphrase her) asked ‘What’s so polarizing about leggings?’

Guys, it’s not about the leggings. (I mean, is it ever?). It’s about the way the leggings, certain topics in current events, lifestyle choices, other products, etc, are being handled online. This polarity stems from three things: aggressive marketing tactics, extreme blog post titles, and differing views regarding online etiquette.

Aggressive Marketing Tactics

I’ve noticed a rise recently in more aggressive marketing tactics. These include three specific things I can think of offhand:

1) Automatically adding people to Facebook groups.
2) Pulling people you barely know into messaging threads involving hundreds of other people (ok maybe tens).
3) Repeated, unsolicited online messages from strangers.

Usually when these things happen, someone wants you to buy their stuff. No, not do they want to buy their old cribbage board but do you want to buy something they have a lot of inventory of: leggings, supplements, essential oils, ‘adult’ toys, cookware, etc.

The perps of this aggression are often MLM people (If you don’t know what an MLM is, here’s a previous blog post about them.) but can also be people who are very involved in a cause (political, religious, etc).

Now I will say I know PLENTY of people not doing douchey things (my sister among them). And I also know many politically active or religious people who are also not becoming aggressive on social media. But plenty are and it’s giving those who sell similar products a bad name.

What makes this aggression feel so personal online is that most people have their smartphone within 3 feet of their bodies. If you can picture walking up to someone’s door at 10 pm and asking them for money or following them around their house to show them your latest product, that’s what it can feel like, especially when these request come from multiple sources.  It can feel like you literally can’t get away from them.

(Note: I was added to a group nonconsentually a few weeks ago and couldn’t easily ‘leave’ the group from my phone. I had to wait 12 hours before I was back at the office to leave it and in those twelve hours I got over 100 notifications. And I’m good at this. So I can only imagine the less tech savvy can feel even more powerless in a situation like this.)

Now you may ask yourself, ‘How do I know if what I am doing is aggressive?’ Here are two tests:

A) If you did this to someone in real life, would it be aggressive? Like if I made you stay in a room you didn’t want to be in, does that seem aggressive? Of course! But if I invite you to come in the door and offer you candy to do so, does that seem aggressive? No. Turn your online action into a real life one and you’ll get your answer pretty easily.
B) Think of someone doing the same thing to you about something you don’t care about. Considering both the person and the action, does this seem aggressive? While you feel passionate about essential oils, your friend Mary might be passionate about rabbit rescue. If Mary did the same stuff you’re thinking of doing to you related to rabbit rescue, how would you feel? If you’d feel crummy to receive it, don’t give it!

My list:

Adding people to a Facebook group: Too much
Inviting people to join a Facebook group: Fine
Mass messaging more than ten people at a time to sell them something: Too much
Sending an email to a list of my customers: Fine
Posting a status update showing your product in case people want to buy it: Fine
Posting a status update showing your product and tagging fifty friends on Facebook you want to buy it: Too much
Automatically adding the email address from a business card to your marketing email list: Too much
Emailing someone whose business card you have linking to where they can sign up to your marketing list: Fine

Draw the lines for yourself but even if you think someone is receptive to what you are doing, it is more powerful to let them opt in.

To summarize, we live in a climate of activism and side hustles. Balancing important opinions we want to share and the comfort and feelings of others is something we’ll all struggle with. Just remember, it’s not about the leggings… but now that you know what it is about, maybe you can do something about your part in it. Because honestly, the only people we can change is ourselves.

This is post one in our series focusing on strong online stances. Stay tuned for post #2 on extreme blog post titles!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

How Pregnancy Has Made Me a Target

…For online ads, that is.

Although I didn’t make a public announcement until recently, targeted ads still found out, and kept appearing on my Facebook and Instagram feeds. But, if I hadn’t told anyone yet, how did the internet already know I was pregnant?

Soon after finding out, I downloaded two apps, BabyCenter and What to Expect (both fairly popular). I also started a registry online. Several online articles say that this combination of app downloading and browsing history made the announcement happen a little earlier- not to actual humans, but to the internet. (Side note: I did almost accidentally make a semi-public announcement to the internet via Pinterest when I mindlessly pinned a pregnancy related article to a board I thought was private- whoops). There’s a creepy Big Brother vibe to it.

Here are some of the more interesting targeted ads I’ve seen go by:

Exhibit A: Ovia, a Pregnancy & Baby Tracker This is a screenshot from my phone, which I’d normally crop but knowing this was a mobile ad vs desktop is important. As mentioned earlier, I already have two similar apps downloaded on my phone (from the App Store, not through a link on Facebook).

Admittedly, I did decide to download it because it’s more interactive than other apps (allowing you to track weight gain, keep track of meals and moods, look up symptoms- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled “Is ____ normal during pregnancy,” and size comparisons that aren’t just food based). Size comparisons include fruits & veggies, Parisian Bakery, Fun & Games, and Weird-but-cute animals (guess what I chose?) So, this was a sponsored ad success.

Unfortunately, I don’t actually know how big a Roborovski Hamster is, but I’m still having fun.

 

Exhibit B: Carousel Designs. This was a desktop ad that appeared in my Facebook newsfeed as I took a break from registry building (which, I’ve found requires some breaks). I didn’t give it more than a passing glance because I was on a baby shopping break, but for purposes of this post I did some follow up.

The link redirects to babybedding.com, which makes sense because it’s entirely crib/nursery related. I’m not in any position to design a nursery right now, due to figuring out space and not knowing if it’s a boy or girl yet.

Exhibit C) Preggo Leggings The timeline for this ad is interesting. Not only did it coincide with browsing for maternity clothing, it also appeared after being put in a Lularoe Legging group on Facebook. I’m not really sure which one triggered this particular ad (probably the maternity clothes), but here we are.

I didn’t click through this ad because I’m kind of burnt out on the online world of leggings right now. The internet may have a good eye for search history, but that doesn’t mean it has perfected it’s timing. It did seem like they were a bit more expensive than I’m willing to pay for an article of clothing I can only wear for another 5ish months, and with all the other stuff that I have to worry about, leggings aren’t very high on the list.

Exhibit D: Babiesfan Fun fact, I can’t actually find anything online about this sponsored ad, and I didn’t click on the link in Instagram. I’m kind of regretting that now, though, since this pillow is looking heavenly on a Friday afternoon. (I am thinking while some pregnancy offerings are more niche, like the leggings, this pillow may be a more universally appealing item.) This was my first Instagram targeted ad, and I’m sure more will follow.

Finally, this isn’t really an ad, but an interesting notification from one of the baby apps. It’s a light inactivity notification (“Hey, you haven’t posted anything to Instabookchat in awhile. Let your friends know what you’re up to”). Since I don’t really ‘participate’ in the app, apart from reading the daily tips and seeing the cool weekly progress updates (I’m not sure why fruits and vegetables are the go-to scale for size updates, but that could be a blog post of it’s own), Babycenter was giving me a bit of a nudge.

I’m not sure how I feel about being low key shamed by a robot for already not participating enough in mom activities, but for what it’s worth I did take a look into the group forums. Unfortunately I got sucked into reading a lot of “Here is everything that can go wrong” discussions, and decided to stick with the daily tips section instead.

So, if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or just curious, the body isn’t the only thing that changes- your internet might start to look a little different, too. But remember that you can customize the internet to see less of the ads, notifications, and other personalized online experiences so you can be as comfortable as possible, whether you have a baby at the avocado stage or just had guacamole for lunch.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Online Reviews: An Introduction

Last year, I packed up my family and moved us to a new apartment, a process I liken to having a root canal, only with less sitting, fewer painkillers and far more cursing. I hired movers for the job, and was pretty impressed with their humor, chill attitude, and the fact that one of the guys kept right on working despite needing to bandage a wound on his palm with paper towel and duct tape.

Yes, I tipped, but then they told me that if I was really happy to give them a review on Facebook. This was a first for me, but it made sense. This was a Maine micro business at its core, just starting out. Online reviews were pretty critical in generating good word-of-mouth.

Making your own business available to online reviews is a double-edged sword. The folks at Yelp acknowledge this on their guidelines for responding to reviews: “Negative reviews can feel like a punch in the gut. We care deeply about our business too, and it hurts when someone says bad things about our business. For you founders and sole proprietors out there, a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.”

Sometimes a business can do everything right, but there may be no pleasing a customer who has had a terrible day, perhaps because he’s just spent the entire week DRIVING AROUND A MOVING VAN THAT GETS 5 MILES TO THE GALLON AND WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU TO INCLUDE THE EXTRA SAUCE IN HIS TAKE OUT ORDER LIKE HE ASKED?!?! ONE STAR!!!!!!!!

Sorry about that flashback.

The point being, is it worth buying into online ads? Yes, but it takes courage.

Unlike traditional print reviews written by critics, online reviews keep coming, and coming and coming, so long as internet-savvy folks keep using your products or services. The advantage of this is that each day is another day to get it right, to improve your weaknesses and build upon your strengths. Here are a few more popular choices to get you started in this brave new world:

Yelp is enormously popular, having garnered more than 115 million reviews last year. Making money off ad revenue, Yelp is free for both the business itself and for consumers. Seemingly everything — from local restaurants to doctors, from prisons  to showgirl supply stores — gets reviewed through their website or mobile app.

The company uses an algorithm to  weed out fake reviews or reviews written by owners about their own businesses. Yelp’s relations with small businesses hasn’t always been rosy, as owners have complained that the algorithm weeds out positive review and leaves negative ones. Yelp admits its algorithm isn’t perfect, but the company has become so ubiquitous, so popular since its 2004 founding that utilizing Yelp makes still makes sense.

Facebook reviews are a pretty organic extension of your existing business’s page. And it makes all the sense in the world to utilize this free service. As we’ve noted before, 79 percent of American adults who use the Internet use Facebook.

Like Yelp, you can respond to reviews positive and negative. Search Engine Journal also notes that Facebook reviews will be giving Yelp a run for its money, in part, because Facebook is already integral to our everyday lives: “Facebook is a platform that nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. We use it to document our lives, connect with friends through Messenger and check into businesses. It’s the one-stop shop for us to get everything we need to get done, from collecting information about our friends, finding news and stories to read and to watch cat videos.”

Google, like Facebook, is seemingly everywhere. Similarly, it only makes sense to integrate product and service reviews with the search engine giant, especially considering how powerful and important Google Maps has become for finding, well, anything.

Our theme for February is “Loving Your Favorite Businesses Online.” Leaving a review, whether on Yelp, Facebook, Google, or elsewhere, is one way to give a business a boost. Stay tuned for other ways you can share the love this month!

Where Have All the Millennials Gone? The Year In Social Media

Snapchat took them, every one.

If CNet is to be believed, we are going to be living with Snapchat for a long, long time. The image messaging app and social media platform continued to dominate one very important market in 2016. Snapchat, which filed for its IPO in 2016 and turns 5 in next year, is still the go-to hub for the all-important millennials.

Snapchat (now “Snap”) claims 200 million active users — 60 percent of whom are under 25 — watching 10 BILLION videos every day.

So what is driving Snap’s popularity? Is it its mobile-first attitude? Yes, there’s that. Plus, for years we were taught that what gets posted online stays online forever. And then comes along Snapchat’s message-destruct feature, giving folks a platform where they can post first and think later.

If you’re a company looking to target millennials in 2017, it looks like Snapchat is still the way to go. But let’s not discount Facebook, especially if you’re aiming for a more, ahem, seasoned demographic. Pew tells us that Facebook is still the most popular social media platform.

Facebook’s number of users continued to grow in 2016 to the point where 79 percent of American adults who use the Internet use Facebook. That’s an increase of 7 percent over 2015, something Pew attributes to the fact that more older adults have joined that community.

Twitter was in the news a lot in 2016, mainly for its use in the Presidential campaign. And yet, it’s only fifth in popularity, trailing far behind Instagram, the second-most popular platform. Once an online hub for the before-it-was-cool-Williamsburg-hipster-vegan, Facebook-owned Instagram is now used by 32 percent of online adults.

Instagram was followed closely by Pinterest and LinkedIn, with 31 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

Compare that to Twitter, used by only 24 percent of online adults.

One of the bigger surprises in 2016 was that while Vine withered and died, Google+ still clung to life. Although not mentioned in the Pew article, good ol’ G+ still has 2.2 billion users, thanks in part (I’m guessing) to the integration with the wildly popular Gmail.

Yet, it’s important to note that only 9 percent of G+ users actually bother to publicly post content. And so Google+ continues to orbit the social media sphere like an abandoned space station. You can still see G+ in the night sky, only no one’s onboard.

So what’s going to big in 2017? Video sharing may be a bigger driving force, based in part on the fact that Snap entered the oft-derided wearable arena with Spectacles. Augmented reality may continue to be big, considering Pokemon Go’s continued popularity.

One thing that won’t likely change in 2017 — the challenges many local, small businesses and nonprofits face in trying to navigate the ever-changing social media landscape. Lucky for you, companies like BEC will be there in 2017, too.

Post-Election: A Loser’s Guide to the Internet

Some things are just too darn hard to bear. You know what I’m talking about — wars, natural disasters, hangnails. In my case, the recent outcome of the presidential election has sent me into a spiral of depression that will likely take me four-to-eight years from which to recover.

I know I’m not alone. For proof, see this article in QZ.com on post-election depression, and how election-addiction leads to post-election depression.

After more than a year of consuming as much news as I could about the election, I’ve found that, now that the whole thing is over, I want to banish it all from my psyche. Yet every time I go online, it pops back up. It’s like after eating a garlic pizza — sure it was fun at the time, but the resulting indigestion is no picnic.

I’ve taken to going onto Facebook only when needed, and I’ve also avoided the Twitter account I’ve set up strictly for bathroom humor.

To keep my sanity, I’ve started compiling a list of websites that are largely non-political. They are decidedly geek-infused, mainly dealing with the future or the distant past. My attention will be on them for the next four-to-eight years:

  •  Wikipedia’s “On This Day.” A daily timeline of events, births, deaths and holidays and observances on any given day. Hey, did you know that Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” was published Nov. 14, 1851? Thank you, Wikipedia!
  •  Space.com. All things space, all the time. Want to know about super-moons, gas giants, Uranus, and other giggle-inducing astronomical trivia? Space.com should be your destination.
  • AVClub. The sister publication of the satirical news site, The Onion, The AVClub is a smart, snarky guide to film, books, television comics and more.

You can’t completely avoid post-election news, but they’re a good substitute for sites such as Politico that regularly fed my election junkie habit, for which I’m currently paying the price.

Also, kudos to the slacktivists on the image-sharing site Imgur, who, shortly after the election, attempted to block any news of the presidency from the front page by upvoting photos of sea slugs.

Also, I’ve started reading about three or four books simultaneously, most of which are between 40 and 20 years old at this point. I’ve become reacquainted with my favorite film from the 1990s, “The Big Lebowski.”

I’m sure this won’t last. We all move on and the healthy, better part of us learns to accept things the way they are, even if we don’t like it. And with that, comes a refinement of social media habits and learning that life does not stop and start at our convenience.

Besides, the holidays are upon us! And those aren’t at all depressing.

Facebook’s Attempt at Mind-Reading

Social media has always been a platform for self-expression, and has even evolved into a way for people to stay in touch and get updates on current events. Facebook in particular has some interesting methods of encouraging users to share their experiences, beyond the “What’s on your mind?” prompt for status updates.

In the past year or so, it seems like Facebook has been upping the ante in terms of getting people to share how they feel about things-current events, politics, sports, even seasonal changes.

Sometimes, it seems as if Facebook is reading our minds…These are a few of the things that I’ve noticed in the past few months that Facebook has offered to anticipate what we want to share:

Temporary Profile Pictures and Overlays

Last summer, Facebook started introducing temporary profile pictures as a way to let people show support for a cause, be it political or showing support for a sports team. When you make a temporary profile picture, you have options for how long you want to have it set for (a day, a week, a month), and then it will automatically switch back to whatever you had before. Last November, Facebook created a French flag overlay to show support for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Facebook prompts users to show their support by creating a temporary profile picture. In these circumstances, a temporary profile picture is meant to extend support and solidarity no matter where you are in the world.

Good Morning/Afternoon/Seasonal Changes

A couple weeks ago marked the first day of fall, and you may have noticed a “happy first day of fall” message at the top of your Facebook newsfeed. A couple months ago, I was on my phone and noticed a “Good Morning, Kassandra” message with a sun beside it (in the same top-of-newsfeed position). This isn’t an every day occurrence for me, and I haven’t figured out what the pattern is (or if there even is one), and one day there was a “Good Afternoon” curve ball. These messages don’t even have a “share with the public” option, so I can only imagine that they’re just to create a positive user experience.

Let People Know that You’re ______. 

Another feature that borders on creepy is the “Let people know you’re watching” option during a sporting event (only on mobile). The scores will automatically appear if you’ve liked a team’s official Facebook page. Facebook has since added a new “Sports” section that you can access to get updates from any team without having to “like” a ton of Pages. This area of Facebook is called Sports Stadium, which came out this past January. In addition to sharing a status update, you can “hang out” with other Facebook friends who are watching the game, too, and talk about it within the app.

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Another example of a narrowed “let people know what you’re doing,” Facebook started sharing a “Register to Vote” campaign. When you click on it, you get taken to a printable page for voter registration along with instructions. And, because it’s Facebook, you could share with others that you’d registered.

Safety Check

Similar to “Let people know you’re watching,” Facebook has a “Safety Check” feature. If you are in an area that’s in crisis (natural disaster or otherwise), Facebook picks up on this if your location services are on, and will ask you if you are safe. Fortunately, I live in a pretty low-crisis area, so I’ve never seen this in action, until last week when one of my friends used the tool to let people know she was safe in North Carolina. For those of you who watched our Facebook Live video last week, we talked a bit about this Safety Check feature there, too.

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These are just a few ways Facebook is attempting to anticipate what people care about and changing the way we interact with each other online. Can’t wait to see what’s next, Facebook!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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