The benefits of a dedicated digital R&D budget

When it comes to digital marketing, there are huge benefits to being an early adopter.

First, there are cost efficiencies in new platforms due to lack of competition. Second, to borrow a real estate analogy from Tom Martin, those who move into a neighborhood before it’s popular benefit most from any future popularity.

Digital marketing is full of shiny objects. Of course, a preference toward early adoption can give way to shiny object syndrome. It can distract time and budget away from programs that are already proven.

That’s why a dedicated digital R&D budget is so useful. By sequestering a portion of the overall digital budget for experimentation, the brand and agency are empowered to balance new initiatives with proven programs.

And it’s as simple as documenting that, in the coming quarter or year, we will spend this amount on R&D. No more. No less.

Why does it matter? Here are three specific cases for a dedicated digital R&D budget.

1. Aggressive digital managers: Keep ‘em blocking and tackling too.

Here, the digital function is managed by an early adopter or tech enthusiast. She reads industry publications, attends conferences, and plays with all the new toys. With these folks, budgeting permits some playtime with shiny objects while protecting the rest of the budget for proven digital tactics.

2. Conservative digital managers: Keep ‘em out of their shells.

Here, we have a ‘traditional’ marketer managing the digital function (and perhaps several other functions). He relies on his agency to invest resources in research and pitch new ideas. A dedicated R&D budget lets him safely invest in innovation so opportunities aren’t missed out of fear.

3. All managers in a recession: Keep ‘em confident at the water cooler.

And finally, we have the resource-strapped manager with aversion to risk. The recession has left him and his peers under pressure to defend programs. Of course, ROI is hard to come by early in the R&D process. A budget protects him from sticking his neck out or going up the flagpole on every project.

By creating a dedicated budget for digital R&D, we can benefit equally from new technologies and proven programs regardless of our personality type. How do you create the freedom to experiment in your organization?

How I rented my condo in 5 days with FREE Facebook ads

It’s no secret that I love Facebook advertising. Last spring, I entrusted my dating life to Facebook ads. And, this summer, I used a basic Facebook ad campaign to rent out my condo.

My rental property is walking distance to Arizona State University, so it’s highly attractive to college students. In late June, my tenant informed me he was moving out. I had a small window to move in new tenants between him leaving in late July and school beginning in late August.

Here’s how I found perfect renters in just five days with Facebook ads without spending a dime …

Ad creative. The obvious imagery for housing is a property sign or a swimming pool or, say, the house. I tried that approach. Meh. Facebook ad with smiling face image

Studies have pointed to the effectiveness of smiling faces in ads. So, into my ad creative mix, I threw a face – my face.

I wanted to grab my renters’ eye. And I wanted to differentiate against the corporate apartment complexes that were also targeting my audience. The call-to-action to “Rent my condo!” added an informal tone to the campaign.Facebook ad with rental condo image

The results? Ads featuring my grinning mug drove 55.6% of the campaign’s reach, 74.3% of its impressions, and 77.8% of clicks.

Ad targeting. The best thing about Facebook ads is the granularity of targeting options. Demographics. Interests. Geography. It’s all there.

For this campaign, one ad group targeted those who lived within 10 miles of ASU. The other targeted all ASU students nationwide.

Why nationwide? I figured my targets might still identify as residents of their hometowns (for the same reason that college students don’t get local driver’s licenses and remain registered to vote back home). Plus, if they were home for summer break, they may need a rental when they returned.

The results? The nationwide ads drove 54.2% of reach, 73.5% of impressions, and 80.0% of clicks. And, most importantly, the combination of national targeting and my smiling face landed my renters.

Wait, didn’t you say something about free? Yup!

The landing experience was free enough. I started a Facebook page for the condo and used basic features for customization. An album housed shots of the property. The cover photo was a Google map screenshot highlighting the short walk to ASU. (Check out the screenshot below.)

And the ads? Well, the ads were free too. Facebook wants you to take its platform for a test drive. It knows that its granular targeting and cheap clicks are addictive. And it wants to get you hooked so bad that it regularly offers up $50 and $100 ad credits.

Right now, you can get a $50 credit for Facebook ads by filling out a form and chatting with a Facebook rep. It’s the perfect opportunity to play with Facebook ads for free. Have fun!

Facebook fan page for renting my condo

Video: Looking for love – or leads – with Facebook ads

It’s been almost a year since I used Facebook pay-per-click ads to meet women … and received some fun media attention in the process.

As you may recall, I used Facebook’s demographic- and interest-based targeting to drive eligible bachelorettes to my Facebook page. Clicks cost about $.75. That’s 10 clicks for the price of a cocktail!

Creepy? Yes. Effective? Yes!

The project made a fun case study for DIY marketers seeking to stretch limited Facebook budgets. Here’s a presentation I gave on the topic last summer:

Facebook Campaign Overview

Facebook Ad Targeting and Bidding

Facebook Pages and Free Apps

Facebook Campaign Results

Click the image to watch ’em all on YouTube.
Facebook ads presentation in YouTube player

Q&A with MarketingSherpa: Ensuring Facebook doesn’t tear down your wall

I was recently interviewed by MarketingSherpa director of editorial content Daniel Burstein. The interview was in support of our whitepaper 10 Facebook Promotion Myths.

Download our Facebook promotions whitepaper

Click the pic to download our whitepaper on Facebook promotions.

Daniel Burstein: In reading Facebook’s guidelines, sweepstakes and contests seem like the biggest way to run afoul of Facebook, since there are some pretty strict limits. However, I see marketers violating these guidelines every day. How strict is Facebook at monitoring and punishing violators?

Matt Simpson: There are multiple examples of pages being shut down for violating the promotion guidelines. Scandinavian Airlines is a good one. Our Facebook rep says, “We have people constantly monitoring the site for promotion violations (…). If someone is caught, the page is taken down, and they are asked to reach out before we can re-enable to ensure they are clear on the issue.”

Obviously, it’d be impossible for Facebook to police every page. I tell social media marketers that shutdown is a risk, not a certainty. How open are you to losing your investment in the campaign? How open are you to seeing your page shut down? How open are you to telling fans that the rules of the contest or sweepstakes they entered just changed?

Of course, no one watches your page as closely as your boss and your competition. The latter observer has a vested interest in you following Facebook’s promotion guidelines … and in tattling when you don’t.

DB: How do you tell if you’ve been penalized by Facebook? What are the initial steps to getting your account reactivated? Do you lose all data and friends when it is deactivated?

MS: We’ve never seen a page shut down because we follow the rules! That said, I’ve had contacts verify our Facebook rep’s description that “If someone is caught, their page is taken down and they are asked to reach out before we can re-enable to ensure they are clear on the issue.” It’s my understanding that you don’t lose your data or fans. Your page is just invisible until you address the issue and earn reinstatement.

DB: What are three key steps every marketer can take to avoid getting penalized again (or in the first place)?

MS: Here are three questions to ask yourself before launching your promotion:

  • Am I seeking virality? If the premise of your promotion is to go viral, it’s a huge red flag. That’s not to say that a creative concept and well-built technology won’t drive organic growth. But don’t expect to spam the news feed and get away with it.
  • Am I using Facebook functionality? Be careful here! Do not ask fans to post, like or comment on content on your wall or photo albums. Do not use “like” buttons as a voting mechanism. You must run your promotion through a third-party application.
  • Am I collecting contact information? At the end of your campaign, you’ll have to contact your winners to distribute prizes. Remember to collect their contact info in your promotion app, because you cannot contact them through Facebook.

DB: Given the need to follow Facebook’s terms and conditions, what factors should marketers weigh when deciding whether to hold a promotion on Facebook or not. For example, I see many print ads that used to send traffic to a brand website, instead sending traffic to the brand’s Facebook page to enter a sweepstakes or contest. Would they just be better off holding promotions on their own site? In the end, what value does a Facebook fan really have to a marketer?

MS: The concept of collecting fans with an iPad sweepstakes on Facebook is very 2010! It’s a snoozer. Plus, how many of those iPad fans stick around to engage with your brand after the sweepstakes ends?

As marketers, our objective should not be to build a Facebook promotion. It should be to create passionate bonds with consumers by delivering social and interactive engagements. Currently, Facebook offers the best platform for delivering that kind of engagement.

By social, I mean that the engagement should offer frictionless sharing and visibility into how my friends are engaging. By interactive, I mean it should be more than a contact form. For example, I should be able to submit content and browse, vote and comment on others’ content. Ideally, I’d also collect a marketing opt-in such as an email subscription or Facebook like.

Interactivity is easy to deliver on a website. However, no one delivers a personalized social experience like Facebook. Fortunately, the Facebook Graph API enables you to add Facebook-esque social elements to experiences – including contests and sweepstakes – on your website. We often see this referred to as “connecting with Facebook.”

The next frontier is to deliver social and interactive engagements on your Facebook page and on your website simultaneously, with or without Facebook Graph API.

Why force consumers to log in to or connect with Facebook on your website? These steps are barriers to engagement.

Why your new Facebook Timeline is not a better expression of you

I ran into someone on Facebook the other day. Someone I hardly recognized. Someone from the past. That someone was Matt Simpson circa winter 2008.

Facebook recently unveiled its new layout for user profiles called Timeline. It’s pretty darn slick. The slickest feature is a menu of dates that lets users bounce quickly down the Timeline from recent posts to posts made in, say, winter 2008. Facebook’s algorithm initially sorts posts in a given year by importance until you drill down for a chronological view.

Timeline: The new Facebook Profile

It’s my new Facebook Profile! The menu on the right lets you quickly jump to dates in my past.

Now, a little back story. When I joined Facebook in winter 2008, I was not in a good place. Facebook reflects that. Some of my posts were angry jabs at the economy and Corporate America. Some were depressing lyrics from Pink Floyd, to whom I listened relentlessly as I tried to “figure things out”.

Of course, there was also joy. Facebook’s algorithm says my top story of 2008 was my engagement. The algorithm got it right. It was a special happening, despite its later dissolution.

When introducing Timeline, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Our job is to make this profile the best way to share everything you want and the best way to express who you are.”

Therein lies the rub with Timeline. It looks awesome and it’s super addicting. But it’s not a better expression of who I am.

The Matt Simpson of winter 2008 is not me. Heck, the Matt Simpson of last Sunday is not me. It’s where and when I was. It’s not who I am.

Reviewing one’s Timeline is like standing before the snow-capped peaks of Mt Rainier and admiring printouts of the map that got you there.

Zuckerberg described the old Facebook profile as a place where old posts “just fall off a cliff” after a week or so. What’s wrong with that? A list of short-lived posts is a much better expression of a person than random events of their distant past.

Old stuff falls off a cliff. That’s life.

Identification with distant milestones is living in the past. Not to say we should never look back and smile. Let’s just not get confused about who we are.

I’m not the guy who struggled through the winter of 2008. Nor am I the guy who excitedly held newborn nephews and nieces twice since 2008 or who overcame his fear to leave the stability of Corporate America in fall 2009.

A better expression of me is the guy who recently announced he was spending Friday night reading Moby Dick at a coffee shop, posted a photo of butternut squash sprouting in his fall garden, and expressed his gratitude to Bulbstorm’s tireless developers for launching another great product.

Wanna know where I was? Check my Facebook profile when Timeline goes live to everyone in the next week or so.

Wanna know who I am? Keep your eyes on my updates as they enter your news feed.

Or, poke me and we’ll get a coffee.

I know many will disagree with me. That’s ok! Do you think Facebook Timeline is a better expression of you? Let’s discuss in the comments.