Is Social Media for You?

I occasionally get invited to talk to local community groups and professional associations about social media – specifically, using social media to enhance their businesses.

I suppose people expect enthusiastic evangelism, hard selling, and a deep dive into social media strategies and tactics. Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong: I love social media. I use it, study it, teach it, research it, live it, breathe it, and have fun doing so. But I always start these presentations with an invitation to first think things through, and decide if social media is for you.

Here are the things I ask people to consider:

Your AUDIENCE -Who do you want to reach? Identify your specific stakeholder groups, and rank them in decreasing order of importance. Then, ask: Are they online? Do they use social media? What media do they use, specifically? Are they always connected, or people who only have Internet access at the end of a busy and exhausting day?

Your GOALS – What do you wish to accomplish? If there’s one thing you wish each stakeholder group to remember about you, what is that?

YourSELF – Social media takes time. It is a long-term commitment. Done right, it requires a change of lifestyle. Are you ready to invest the time and effort? The first 5 blog posts are very easy to write. But the 500th? Can you keep up the enthusiasm and generate content over the long run? Are you always connected? Do you have a smartphone? A digital camera? Or, do you have a lifestyle that keeps you away from the computer for most of the day?


I ask my audience to ponder these questions, and make an informed decision about what they want to do. Then, I provide incremental solutions, starting with what I think is the easiest/most familiar to them. Each person can pick and choose a social media solution that fits them best.

I am getting a bit tired of hearing consultants sell social media as a panaceum, and get people into a social media program they are not then able to sustain. I guess you can’t expect a person who makes a living this way to start a sales pitch with reasons why you shouldn’t buy… but that’s the approach I take. Oh, and then… sure, I move on to social media strategies and tactics.

QR Codes: (When) Do They Work?

I recently had an interesting conversation (actually, a couple of them) about QR Codes -Are they the next big thing? Will they save paper advertising?

As Nelu Lazar of Nehloo Interactive rightfully points out, QRCs are not so “next” – they’ve been around for more than 15 years. But, with the increasing popularity of smartphones, QRCs are crossing over from industrial uses into the consumer market.

So, are they the next big thing? I personally don’t think so. Based on what we know about human behavior, it seems to me that for the individual the cost of using QRCs exceeds the benefits. Let me explain.

Theories of human behavior, decision making, models of how humans navigate the Web and search for information – such as Information Foraging Theory (IFT) all agree that humans are inherently programmed to conserve energy – aka, to be lazy. There’s a quick cost/benefit analysis that goes on in our minds before we decide to engage in a behavior. And most often, we take the short, easy route. That’s why they tell you not to put important information on you website 2 clicks away. That extra click is effort (a cost), and many people will not expend it. So, the golden rule of Web usability, marketing, persuasion: MAKE IT EASY.

The reason why I do not believe in QRCs is because there are too many costs associated with them. In most situations where I see QRCs used, the cost/benefit analysis suggests that audience members will not use them. Let’s count the costs:


  1. You need to download an application on your phone.
  2. When you see a QRC, you need to pull out your phone, then:
  3. Turn it
  4. Navigate to the application
  5. Launch the application
  6. Take a photo
  7. Wait for the photo to be uploaded/processed
  8. Wait for the information to download
  9. Look at the site, video, etc. that the QRC links to

Some of these steps are based on assumptions that may not hold true:


  • The assumption that you have a smartphone
  • The assumption that your network speed is high enough that the waiting time is very short
  • The assumption that the photo produces a good enough image for the code to work
  • The assumption that people want to get more information on their smartphones. I think some research is needed into the “get more information” behavior. It may be that when people are in “get more information” mode they want to be able to access it conveniently on a larger screen, where they have faster connection speeds, anyway. How many more steps would it take to get that information to your computer?

Given the many steps involved in using QRCs, the user needs to be highly motivated, either intrinsically, or by the benefits you offer at the other end. So, before you decide to use QRCs, I’d advise you to think about:


  • User motivation – what are some situations in which users are highly motivated to get to the next action, or to get more information? These are situations when users need something, rather than you needing to sell them something.
  • Benefits – if users are not motivated by some sufficiently powerful need, what benefits are you offering at the other end, that make it worth the cost of clicking through? Not only do you have to make sure that those benefits are large enough, but you also need to think about:
  • Communicating those benefits – I see many QRC codes that are mysteries. I have no idea what’s at the other end. In IFT terms, they have low to none information scent. You need to communicate clearly and convincingly what’s waiting on the other side, so the user can make an informed cost/benefit analysis.

I usually am an early adopter. I love new and shiny things. But I am very skeptical about QRC. Nelu pointed me to this blog post with ideas about using QRCs in education. They all sound need, but what problem do QRCs solve that cannot be solved more easily by using email or other form of digital communication? I rarely give any paper materials to students, if ever. So I do not need a link from physical to virtual space, because all of my written communication with students is digital, anyway.

To provide the other side of the story, I leave you with some readings that argue for QRCs:


But, I want to hear from you about evidence: When have QRCs worked for you? What numbers do you have that show the percentage of users who click through? I am interested in evidence that would prove me wrong – if you know of any, please post it in the comments below.

[Update, March 29, 2011] RWW covers a survey study on QR code usage.

Social media and marketing

Shel Israel explains it beautifully:

The essence of social media is that it is humans. Humans connect to humans and they form communities. They own their communities, brands don’t. The perspective of traditional marketing is to take a message and find delivery channels to inseminate into people’s foreheads. This is not social. Social is for a marketing executive to start a blog and ask people why they hate his marketing efforts–then listen–really listen to what people say the way Dell has done and a few others are trying to do.

I can’t wait to share this quote with my PR students. I love it because it explains something that I’ve been thinking about… what happens to cultures and communities when corporate interests intervene (or try to own communities/conversations). This quote explains that one of the things that happens is that the conversation loses its humanity and authenticity. It becomes hollow. It ends.

Silly, what comes to mind is Suze Orman’s line: “People first, then money, then things.” – what a good lesson to teach my PR students!

Related post: The only real social networks are personal onesĀ 

Is Apple the worst good company?

So IT (inevitable tragedy) happened. I dropped my iPhone.


  • pay $250 for a replacement unit (by mail or in an Apple store)
  • pay $150-200 for some company to put in a replacement screen (which voids the Apple warranty)
  • continue using it, although the glass is cracked, the beauty is gone, and my eyes tear up every time I look at it
  • (no, the $5 DYI option is not an option)

I’ll pay $250 for the replacement unit. Although I know I’ll probably drop this one too, sooner or later (please, God, later!). So I investigated the possibility of buying some kind of insurance against accidental damage.

Apple sells an extended warranty, but no insurance against accidental damage. Of course, the regular $3.99-5 AT&T phone insurance is not available for the iPhone.

An AT&T store manager recommended Safeware, and other sources suggested checking with home/renter’s insurance companies. Geico doesn’t offer it, but apparently State Farm does. I called two State Farm agents and they both told me State Farm stopped writing this policy for the iPhone because they were losing money. A Safeware customer rep. told me Apple hasn’t released components for the iPhone, so no one can repair it – that’s why insurance is not available. I did find one company who offers iPhone extended warranty (just like Apple Care) and Accidental Damage Protection (ADP): SquareTrade. You can buy ADP only within the first 30 days of getting a brand new iphone. The rep. told me they’re also considering dropping iPhone coverage, because it doesn’t make financial sense.

I hate Apple.

But I love my iPhone.

So, does having a good/revolutionary product mean you can abuse your market? Dictate your own terms, set high prices, refuse insurance, make it difficult for other companies to insure your product, charge a fortune for a replacement unit when you know it will, sooner or later, break?!

What are the factors that make it possible for Apple to “abuse” customers and still keep them coming back?

  • a good product. After having the iPhone for a few months, I can’t imagine living without it. It’s useful! It’s beautiful. I’m emotionally attached to it, to the pleasant experience of using it, and to the unique feeling of “cool!” (powerful branding, there). I know it’s silly, but I can’t help it. It’s gotten me at a level deeper than reason.
  • targeting a high-end market. People who buy the iphone (most of them, anyway) can afford the $250 replacement cost. They won’t be happy about it, but it won’t break the bank.

Apple’s marketing strategy works – but is it good PR? Apple has the potential to define a new type of organization-public relationship: the (happily) abusive one! Can this type of relationship last, in the long run? Does it provide enough of a trust cushion to carry Apple through a major crisis, should one happen?

What do you think?

Is Apple’s marketing strategy somewhat abusive? What makes it work? What does it mean for PR and the long-term relationship with publics? How do you feel about your iPhone? How do you protect your iPhone? If it broke, would you pay $250 to replace it? If it broke again, would you pay $250 again?