How do you measure social media success?

I often have discussions with people who are new to the social web. We talk about lots of things. How pen and paper come before pixels and pinterest. How different ideas require different tools — tools that may require heavy lifting. How the angle of the camera held above a lunch can make or break a meal. Never ruin a meal with a bad photo. Mmmmm, burritos.

We get sidetracked sometimes. That’s what makes it social. #burritos

We also talk about what success on the social web looks like. I mostly listen at the beginning.

  • Followers. Lots of followers.
  • Likes. Lots and lots of likes.
  • Retweets, shares, stars, ribbons, trophies…

Twitter counts followers for you. Easy.
Facebook likes to show you likes. Easy.
They make cases to fill with ribbons and trophies. Easy.

The problem with this approach is that their success is directly related to the actions of others. It’s tied to a number — a number that can be misleading.

It’s possible to get 20,000+ followers on a twitter account by the end of the week if you have a shiny credit card and dull ethics. Extremely successful companies do it… but is it social web success? You can launch an untargeted “like” campaign on facebook and grow your audience with imaginary profiles that will do more to destroy your community than build it. That doesn’t sound like success.

My definition of social web success removes the potential fan/follower from the equation. Social web success for any department or office tasked with joining twitter, facebook, instagram, [next big thing] is:

To sustain efforts for a set amount of time… no matter how awful, futile and demoralizing it becomes.

Inspiring, isn’t it?

Two months. Four months. Six months. It’s their choice. But if they can possess the same amount of zeal in week one as in week 25, they’re a success in my eyes.

It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. The social web garden requires you to bust the sod, turn the earth, plant the seeds, water and weed. Many stop watering before the seedlings emerge — they don’t see the numbers they have dreamed about, the momentum dries up, failure becomes a reality.

Sustaining efforts when things look bleak, having permission to fail at the numbers game, placing value in consistently feeding the beast. Things that are in their control.

It kind of sounds simple, but it’s not. Lots of accounts are created one month and forgotten the next. It’s easy to stop.

But with persistence, they can discover their niche, their voice, and eventually their success.

Note: This is only for people starting out, not for those who’ve been playing for over 6 months. Much like in life, the definition of success changes as you age.


20% text, 100% confusion

Two weeks ago I blogged about Facebook’s new “text in images” guideline and how I found it somewhat confusing.

“Ads and sponsored stories in news feed may not include images made up of more than 20% text, including logos and slogans.”

Recently (January 31, 2013) I saw a Jimmy Kimmel Live sponsored post (read: ad) in my news feed that only added to the confusion.

JKL mobile ads

At first glance, my eyes were telling me the image contained more than 20% text. So how did this image sneak past Facebook’s SPAM checkpoint and make it to my news feed?

Theory: By stretching the image’s height and loading the text in the middle of the image, JKL was able to get past Facebook’s defenses. Once inside, Facebook did all the work by cropping the image to display in the mobile news feed, serving up a text heavy graphic. Brilliant!

With this newfound knowledge, I conducted a test.

groundhog post on facebook

On the left is how the image appeared in mobile news feed thanks to Facebook’s auto-cropping. The text takes up 12.18% of the image, still well below the 20% cutoff. On the right is the full image, the text consuming just 5.75% of the image.

The result of the test?

Yet another rejection letter from Facebook claiming the image violated the “more than 20% text” image guideline.

denial email from facebook

How could this be? If you compare the two images side by side, the groundhog image clearly has less text than the JKL ad. Yet the JKL ad ran in my news feed while the groundhog image was rejected.

comparing facebook images

//stop the blog post… was just directed to a Social Fresh blog post, thanks Annalisa//

Does Your Content Play By Facebook’s New 20 Percent Rule?

Thankfully, the team at Ron Sachs has developed a grid-based template to help content developers determine what percentage of an image contains text. The tool is a 5 x 5 grid with a total of 25 boxes. An image meets the 20% test if text appears in no more than five boxes.

A 5×5 grid? Could it be that easy? No counting pixels in Photoshop?

ad 5x5 grid

I guess the grid explains why the groundhog image was rejected — text appeared in 8 boxes, 3 more than allowed. But it doesn’t explain why the JKL image found its way to my news feed as an ad — text appeared in every box, EVERY BOX???*

I’ve never wanted a perfect Facebook experience… just a fair one.

*Logos and slogans count as text.


Redefining insanity for the social web

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” -Benjamin Franklin

I’ve heard the above quote hundreds of times in my adult life. I’ve believed it. It makes sense. It has taken a residence in my mind. Forced me to give up when projects seemed pointless. An excuse to stop trying, to abandon the so-called broken.

Today I’m thinking this quote no longer rings true.

What if we’re just early to the party? What if the thing we’re doing isn’t broken, we’re just waiting for others to show up to make it work? What if doing the same thing over and over isn’t about getting results, but instead about preparing for when the crowd arrives?

The University was on twitter well before our students. In 2008 we were tweeting, but the messages weren’t yet reaching our intended audience. Instead of thinking the early efforts were insane, we added to it by setting up accounts for @admissions, @financialaid, @studentlife, @advising, @studentaffairs and many more. We played, we made mistakes, we learned from them, we prepared so that when the students finally arrived we’d be ready. Five years later, we’re doing the same thing, but getting much different results.

I think insanity on the social web is not exploring the possibilities of the new and shiny simply because it’s lacking an audience. Playing, learning and understanding before the arrival of the audience is preparing.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin

Well said, Ben.


Numbers are hard, facebook ads shouldn’t be.

I love facebook ads. Super targeted, cost-effective and very easy to use and understand… until this happened.

facebook warning box

“Your Page wasn’t promoted because your profile picture, which is used as the image in your ad, violates our guidelines.”

Red boxes on social networks can be scary. A violation of a guideline, yikes, that sounds wicked serious and not something I want to do.

So, what did I do wrong?

“Ads and sponsored stories in news feed may not include images made up of more than 20% text, including logos and slogans.” (Text in Images guideline)

example of acceptable image and unacceptable image

The profile picture has more than 20% text on it? Really? Did I make a text heavy graphic. My bad. That’s not good for any of us. Let me fix that. But first, shall we count some pixels?

profile pic

Let’s don’t count just the pixels of the text that is covering the image, let’s put a box around the words and measure that. It’s not only easier, but also works in favor of facebook since it’s a larger area.

profile pic with reb boxes

Image is 418×418 (174,724 pixels), and the boxes around the text are 388×27 (10,476 pixels) and 388×47 (18,236 pixels). That works out to 16.43% (28,712 pixels) of the profile picture being text, well below the 20% that triggers a violation.

Maybe facebook considers the entire area the wordmark takes up in its calculation. Let’s draw a bigger box.

green box on profile image

While 388×89 (34,532 pixels) is much closer to 20% coming in at 19.76%, it still isn’t more than 20% and shouldn’t be a foul.

Voice of reason: So why are you so upset, it only cancels your ad for sponsored stories in the news feed, all other ad types are available? Sounds like you’re just hating on facebook because you weren’t invited to the Graph Search beta party.

Good question, and here’s an easy answer: Sponsored stories in the news feed are GOLD. When promoting a post, I almost always pause the other ad types and just run with the sponsored stories. Sponsored stories generate clicks, they prompt interactions on the page, they give brands a human representative. People trusting people FTW!

ad screen

I totally understand facebook’s reasoning behind the “less than 20″ rule, nobody likes spammy content. But if I’m running an ad promoting my page, why would the profile picture be subjected to this rule? Cover photos, YES. Photos in promoted posts, YES. Images in ads, YES. Ads using the profile picture to increase likes of the page, NO.

profile pictures for uwgb

I’ve been using the same profile picture layout for a year. A photo of campus with an overlay of the wordmark. I don’t find it spammy. I think the campus scene is less spammy than a logo with a smaller workmark.

It’s not brand spam, it’s the brand. The brand the ad is asking them to like. If facebook wants brands to be less spammy on facebook, they should build an algorithm that prevents brand pages from playing edgerank with hack posts. The “like if you’re hungry, share if you’re really hungry” posts are more offensive than an ad that has an image composed of 20% text.

Now back to that Graph Search party invite…


Online Harvest Festival

From the Drafts: 11/23/2011

On the eve of Thanksgiving, the best harvest festival EVER, let’s think about how it works. Grow things, collect things, share things, enjoy things… together.

Not very complex, but we often get it wrong online.

Instead of asking our social web communities for trivial things (likes/follows/RTs), why not ask them for real things that could help strengthen the community. Instead of giving them what we think they want — on our own; let’s help them build what they want — together.

Study spots on campus

This –> The Advising page on facebook asked students to share their favorite study spots. On twitter they asked students to complete a tweet that revealed a secret to successful studying. They harvested the results, mashed it up and made a tasty photo album. A 100% student-generated take on how and where to study.

Grow. Collect. Share. Enjoy… together.

THIS –> This post isn’t about Thanksgiving, it’s about hacking into the idea of Thanksgiving… to make the social web more relatable. Stop thinking of the social web as an online world, start thinking of it as the world. Steal the ideas that make the world so awesome… celebrating events, holding the door open, creating laughter, sharing hope, smiling at a stranger.

It’s simple. Be human. Even if the landscape is digital.


16 ideas I’ve yet to have, but would like to share

I have lots of ideas on higher ed and the social web. Most of the time they are buried in conversations on twitter, left as replies to blog posts someone else has penned, hidden in a super secret facebook group of super awesome secret people, or bounced around my skull until the energy of the idea is exhausted.

I’d like to capture those ideas.
I’d like to share those ideas.
I’d like to blog.

If you were to look at this blog, you’d think I only have 3 thoughts a year. That is not true. I shower and drive just about everyday, and everyone knows that ideas live in the air of bathrooms (non-public ones) and automobiles (especially fancy ones). I have lots of time to breathe and think. Now I’d like to make time to document those thoughts.

Challenge: 4 “quality” blog posts about higher ed and the social web a month for the next 4 months (Jan-April 2013)

Feel free to call me out on this. Especially the quality part. Serious.

To the new year! #oddyears

Facebook decreases reach… grab your torch and pitchforks.

Lots of uproar over Facebook’s latest retuning of EdgeRank, spawning many theories and arguments.

A time to revolt! Or a time to reflect?

Instead of killing the ogre, try to understand what motivates the ogre. What does the ogre like? Hint: Learn from your experiences (both personal and professional), not from what the mob of angry villagers is chanting.

Part of what makes the social web kingdom so magical is the existence of ogres, unicorns and OPRAH. We must learn to live with them, adapt the harness bridle to accommodate the horn, giggle at the ALL-CAPS tweet… pay attention, learn, and move on to the next challenge.

Today’s outcry is over reach. Tomorrow it will be over loss of page likes and an increase in spam comments — or maybe follows from fake accounts that are more Roomba than Cinderella. The system evolves, changes are implemented, people gather and grumble. But getting back to today’s gripe…

Two things that we’ve done to grow our reach:

  1. Increase the number of people liking our page.
  2. Post often. The exact opposite of what the experts say we should be doing.

Organic page reach has doubled over the past year

Increase page likes – While reach includes people who haven’t liked your page, the more people you have in the pool, the greater the chance of splashing those around the pool.

Post often – Oversharing has been part of our strategy from the beginning. To show activity, share successes, highlight events. And now thanks to timeline, to archive what we’ve done in an easy to browse environment. By making it rain content, the pool remains full. Frequency is our friend, not our foe.

But this isn’t only about reach. Once your content is in front of them, is it connecting with them?

Stop worrying about pleasing an algorithm. Start worrying about pleasing your core audience (the people you are still reaching). What is your goal, to game a system so you can reach more people, or to make the people you reach smile, think and share?

While others become upset with Facebook and talk about abandoning the network (or at least not giving it their all), take advantage of their hesitation, and strengthen your efforts on the network.

Facebook isn’t asking us to buy the cow, they’re just asking us to feed it on occasion. Facebook ads work. Play with them. Learn from them. Grow with them. Keep the California cow happy.

Frequency and reach over a week on Facebook

So, what does the ogre like? I think Facebook wants brands to be more human. To act less like marketing machines. To smile, to laugh, to cry, to become more connected with the people who like them. I feel this gives nonprofit organizations a huge advantage. And I think that selling a product that lists hopes and dreams as ingredients is also a real advantage — we’re extremely lucky to work in higher ed social web. And remember, if you don’t like how the Facebook fairy tale is going today, simply wait until tomorrow for a new chapter to be revealed.

An open letter to facebook

dear facebook
Dear Facebook,

Thank you.

Thank you for making an algorithm designed with artificial intelligence so that irritating brands can’t game it. Thank you for serving up what people want, real conversations about real things, not brands pitching self-serving nonsense. Thank you for forcing those of us with brand pages to rethink our content… and our purpose on your network. Thank you for attempting to force brands to become more human, more interesting, more compelling, more friendly, more caring, more conversational, more real, more of what they should be. If your brand can’t find stories to tell, then your brand page shouldn’t exist.

And… thank you for evolving at a rate that forces brands to hire people like me to keep up on your improvements. Every challenge you create makes my job more rewarding.

Thank you.

Foursquare and two years ago

explore uwgb on foursquare
Just read that Foursquare is set to launch a “big new” redesign on June 7 — thanks for sharing the link, John Lucas.

First thought – Too late. Show is over. Move on, nothing to see here. The check in has checked out.

Second thought
– What if they’ve actually made it awesome?

I’ve craved (from a venue manager role) having a meaningful location-based service to play with on campus. I really thought Gowalla was the chosen one… I was wrong, although it was chosen by Facebook for elimination (got your ears on Instagram?). Will the “new” Foursquare be the one? Will they evolve their product so it becomes a go-to app instead of an “I’m checking in just in case someday this place offers a mayor special” afterthought?

Two years ago I floated a suggestion, something that I felt was missing, yet very doable. Something that would have made foursquare a valuable addition to UWGB’s social web presence. Something that would have helped promote events and not only encourage participation, but track it. Less emphasis on place, more emphasis on combining place with time over a semester. The idea made it all the way up to the co-founder, but to my knowledge was never released to the masses.

Here’s the email conversation where my hopes and dreams went up, then slowly floated back to earth:

I would like to set up special check ins for events.

Ex. Groovin Grounds in the Coffee House goes from 8-10pm on Friday, but people can check in to the Coffee House at any time. Is it possible to make location AND time specific checkins? So when people check in at 8:32pm on a Friday they get credit for attending Groovin Grounds.

This would be done to encourage attendance at campus events (concerts, movies, presentations, etc.) and a way to reward the Mayor of “Student Life” — is this even possible?

I know that Gowalla was giving out a special “garyvee” item if you showed up to a bookstore where he was doing a book signing during the posted hours of the event (utilizing both location and time).

Any info, please yell at me, thanks,

Simple request, right? I mean, even Gowalla was able to figure out half of it.

Hey Todd … awesome ideas you’ve got going there in GB … Here’s the scoop: we don’t do time-based specials in our system right now BUT if you want to use 4SQ to boost attendance at these events, you could try using some foursquare specials to offer some sort of freebies (coffee, food, etc.) for people who checkin at these events. Similarly, while a “mayor of student life” based on checkins at events isn’t possible right now, you could definitely set up all kinds of venues around campus and offer the mayor of each some kind of special. For example, we have another college right now who is printing a huge poster of the mayor each month and hanging it in the dining hall. Be as creative as you want!

The place to go to start offering specials is here:

Let me know if you have any questions.

At the time, I didn’t want to run specials, so the first suggestion didn’t work (at least not for me). And I didn’t want to award mayors of locations and buildings, I wanted to celebrate multiple mayors of involvement and participation.

Then something awesome happened…

hmm.. adding date and times to specials is a pretty good idea. lemme talk to jason. prob not anytime super soon, but i’ll see if he can squeeze it in


Dennis Crowley, the CEO of Foursquare, chiming in with his thoughts, very cool! However, since this conversation in March 2010, to my knowledge, it still isn’t possible to award users for participation in a series of events. But what if the “new” Foursquare will make it happen? Maybe “super soon” means within 2 years, and now is the time.

Or, like in the video below, will Foursquare drop the ball in the end. I don’t need another Yelp, I need better “non-special” management options for my current venues. I need to be wowed by the product before I strongly encourage its use campuswide. I need something I can take to the Director of Student Life and have it sing. I need a Foursquare that brings non-monetary value to the check in, meaning to mayorship, and the ability to promote its use for things that aren’t offered up as sugarcoated specials.

I really want a Foursquare that is less about unlocking deals and more about discovering/sharing opportunities to participate on campus. My fingers will be crossed until Thursday.