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Archive for July, 2010

Facebook‘s launch of instant personalization caused an uproar in the blogosphere. The company ran a pilot with sites such as yelp.com, where if you are logged in to Facebook and visit these sites, the content served would be personalized based on your profile information. Users have the option to opt out. Blogs talked and talked about it, and reports resurfaced about how Mark Zuckerberg made a statement that Facebook “doesn’t believe in privacy.”

Facebook has been growing at a very fast pace and during one week surpassed Google as the most visited site on the Internet. What % of Facebook users know of and care about privacy issues? I was once asked, “what is your stand on it”? I had no answer. On one hand as a consumer, I am exasperated at how easily available personal information is on the Internet. On the other hand as an e-commerce executive, I cannot help but realize that without that information, how would we get new customers? How would we use targeting and segmentation to grow the business? My consumer side wins over the business side. If you Google yourself, you come across several sites that replicate information from social networks. Not only that, these sites have other personal information that is in public records of the government. I spent one day emailing a number of sites to remove personal information – one site refused because the information was publicly available in government records. It is scary because now I have access to information on how much a person spent on a house, or anything that the person may have written or contributed to in the past. A couple of sites get your business information from some place (probably LinkedIn), and you have vendors calling you all the time after subscribing to that site. I got my info removed – they put it back up after a few months.

I wonder, where will Facebook go in terms of privacy? Will users start leaving if Facebook lowers privacy barriers? Has Facebook’s growth reached a maximum, and the only way to go from here is down?

Privacy is not restricted to social networks alone. A large number of retargeting and behavioral targeting companies have cropped up. Retargeting is relatively new, where you put a cookie on visitors who come to your site, and you serve them ads on other sites that they visit to bring them back to convert on your site. Behavioral targeting has different business models – your visitor data is contributed to a common cookie pool, and ads are served to users on other sites based on how closely they match your site visitors. In layman terms, once you visit a site, the site’s ads “follow you around” on the Internet. Many e-commerce sites use these programs, and I have seen ads follow me! It is easy to tell which ones are retargeting and which ones are behavioral — if you get served ads on a site you recently visited, it is retargeting; if you see ads for competitors of the site you visited, it is behavioral. I don’t know how much of personal information the sites have access to, but once a cookie is dropped, they can track you everywhere you visit. The best way to avoid this is clearing cookies after every browsing session. However, each time you visit a site it will drop a cookie, so clearing cookies frequently can be taxing.

I don’t mind cookies because it helps save passwords and sites remember my login and information. As long as sites do not know who I am by name, I don’t care that they know which sites I visit. But you have to wonder, how much more advanced will these sites get, since they have access to so much information? Retargeting business models are becoming a commodity because it is easy to do, cost is low, and there is very little differentiation among vendors. If there is any advanced capability, it is easy to replicate. Vendors have to be smart and devise advanced ways to target and segment, which requires consumer information.

Recently, it was made illegal to pass credit card information automatically. For example, some sites use Webloyalty where at the end of an online purchase, you can sign up for access to certain discounts and offers. Your credit card information will, in some cases, automatically be passed if you choose to sign up, and in some cases there maybe an automatic monthly fee. This is how you get that $9.99 free credit score charge monthly in your credit card statement!! It is now illegal to automatically pass credit card information, and the customer has to enter credit card info again after signing up – this serves as an additional layer to ensure that the customer is aware of the charge. LinkedIn does something similar and shady. You can sign up for a Pro account but you have to call to cancel and cannot choose the option to opt out of monthly automatic fee. I complained to Consumer Affairs and disputed their charge on my credit card. It is such a blatant manner to fool the consumer – clearly, if the consumer wants to sign up for a monthly service, he/she will do so. Removing that option just shows that the company is being greedy and does business in taking advantage of consumers.

There need to be legal rules and regulations around online privacy. There are always loopholes, but laws such as the above on credit card information force businesses to change their business practices and make them more compliant.

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I love Sundays! 9-10pm = True Blood, 10-11pm = Mad Men. Whats not to love? I am glad to see Don Draper back in action, and Peggy more confident and modern with a cute hairstyle. I caught up on previous seasons having missed them when they ran on TV, and was disgusted by Don Draper. He is a brilliant ad exec but a mess on the personal front. I felt sympathetic for his wife-cum-homemaker Betty, and yet her coldness towards her kids washed away the sympathy. Joan’s sassiness and Peggy’s rebellious nature and ambition made both my favorite women. Roger’s awesome one-liners were charming. Yay, Mad Men is back! And so refreshing after the gory scenes of True Blood. It was a slow start, but as usual will hopefully pick up the pace during the series. Don still disgusts me, but his undeniable charm and Jon Hamm’s “endearingness” make it so hard to hate him.

By far my favorite episode was when Lois smashed the British executive’s foot, and my second fav was the last epiosode previous season when they leave the company to start a new one. I love the show for its dark humor and confident women.

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I love Manhattan — and living in Manhattan — you can really find everything you could ever want in the city. Problem is, it takes a hell of a lot of money to get there! I have taken some time off to buy furniture for my newly renovated place – no easy feat in Manhattan! I don’t have a single piece of furniture except for some chairs, and a tiny entertainment center. Wires are all over the floor, and I want to find something functional that keeps wires hidden.

I decided to conquer Manhattan. There are three main buildings to visit for remodeling and redecorating – Architects & Designers Building (A&D) on 58th & Lex, Decoration & Design Building (D&D) on 58th & 3rd, and New York Design Center (NYDC) on 33rd & Lex.

D&D and NYDC sell to trade only, and entry is restricted. Last year I was not allowed to enter. This year, I took my architect’s company name and entered the building. None of the stores shared prices – they said I should select pieces and leave my architect/designer’s contact info, and they would send prices to her. A lot of designers make money from them because they (designers) mark-up the prices – even if they don’t mark it up, in some cases shipping & handling charges wipe out the discount.

A&D: The building is primarily for people looking to remodel and can find appliances, tiles, shower enclosures, bathroom fixtures, closet organization, kitchens, and cabinets. The building houses brands such as GE Monogram, Miele, Wolf & Sub-Zero, Davis & Warshow, Woodmode, Hastings Tile & Bath, Poliform, Poggenpohl, Valli & Valli, and Artistic Tile. It also has furniture stores such as B&B Italia and Holly Hunt on the first level. I love Holly Hunt, but my architect has warned me of their prices – not as high as Cassina, but much much higher than Crate & Barrel.

D&D: The building is primarily for people who have tons of $$$ and looking to do custom work such as custom upholstery, curtains, and rugs. D&D mostly houses showrooms with textiles and fabrics. High-end Donghia and Holly Hunt are housed there. The Holly Hunt furniture in D&D is very different from the one a block away in A&D – D&D has a lot of traditional furniture stores so Holly Hunt has traditional pieces there, while its A&D store has very contemporary pieces. For contemporary furniture, a few of my favorite showrooms were A. Rudin, Donghia, Kravet, J. Robert Scott, Stark, and Missoni Home. David Sutherland was mostly outdoor furniture, but the decor of the store was excellent. It had seagrass limestone tiles, and as soon as you enter you feel as if you can smell the sea or beach, and the limestone tile with exotic sea shells added to the look. A. Rudin had the softest leather furniture – a few pieces were made of lambskin leather which had the softest feel, and I felt as if my fingers would melt in the buttery feeling. Stark had very good carpets of all kinds – contemporary, transitional, and oriental. I enjoyed visiting D&D but was very overwhelmed due to the numerous stores and fabrics. It is very difficult to pick colors and fabrics unless you go there with a designer. Not that I intend to return – the prices are too high.

NYDC: The building mainly houses furniture and rugs, with some lighting and home decor stores as well. The furniture is both traditional and contemporary, with more contemporary stores contrary to D&D. A number of showrooms specialize in contract furniture for offices. Some stores seemed sterile with few people and furniture lying around as if deserted. I wanted to check out Nicoletti Italia for Natuzzi sofas but it closed down a few months back (Natuzzi needs to update its site). I liked a number of stores including Dennis Miller Associates, and need to return because I tried to do all 16 floors in 1 hour!! I really liked some contemporary furniture, and need to go back to complete all the floors. It is good to visit NYDC because they have many furniture stores, which gives a good idea of how to redecorate and which colors to use together if you are looking for ideas.

I visited a few stand alone stores as well. Cassina is a high-end Italian furniture store, and has great sofas and chairs. A friend had bought something from there but told me of their ridiculously high prices. I liked one leather chair and it cost over $6.3K!!! They have an annual sale event every year, and this year they have it on Sep 24. I will wait for sale. Lazzoni is a contemporary furniture store located on 18th St. I liked their beds and mirrors, but it was very expensive. A simple side table cost over $1.5K. The furniture comes from Turkey, and at this time people in Turkey were on a 1 month holiday so usual lead time of 4-6 weeks is now 16 weeks! Roche Bobois is located on Madison Avenue a few blocks from the NYDC building. It is a French company and has very good beds and coffee tables. I really liked the furniture, but it costs $$$$$! Coffee tables cost around $3K, and each dining chair is around $1K. Eight years back I bought my coffee table for $200, and it is still intact today!

Jensen Lewis in West Village has good quality furniture. I liked their Calligaris beds, dining tables, chairs, and entertainment centers. Their walnut wood pieces have a warm feel and combined with black lend a very contemporary look. If they weren’t so expensive, I would have bought the entire Calligaris walnut set. Modani on 19th St is okay, with nothing new to offer. The showroom has a black-and-white feel and few pieces. I visited B&B Italia in Soho and in the A&D building. The A&D store is much better with a larger collection, but is open on weekdays only while the Soho store is open on weekends as well.

ABC Home & Carpet on Broadway & 19th St is a large store of 6 floors, and has a Calvin Klein section. It is super expensive, more so considering that the pieces were not that good or new. One recycled bar stool cost around $800. A Calvin Klein sectional sofa cost $18K. AM almost had a heart attack and looked for pieces to criticize specifically with respect to their prices. We walked across the street to Sitdown NY which had decent pieces but looked very cheap. After ABC, AM found the prices to be quite refreshing! Moss is another store in Soho, but specializes in novelty pieces. Not my style. I visited Raymour & Flanigan, but it is too traditional for my taste. There are so many traditional and barn-like furniture stores in NYC, which I found surprising because I thought New Yorkers like contemporary furniture – guess I was wrong. I like all things European.

Bo Concept is another store I quite liked. It has very good and sleek contemporary pieces, but the quality does not seem up to par with Crate and Barrel even though prices are comparable. I am having second thoughts about getting a Bo Concept walnut bed set because its nightstand costs over $500. Its so ridiculous that two nightstands at $1K cost more than the bed at $900! I mean, why is the nightstand so expensive even though its such a tiny thing? Of all the stores, Crate and Barrel has the best quality for the price. West Elm seems okay with reasonable prices. Design Within Reach is another store I visited, but am not too crazy about the quality. Its red Eames chair has appeared in several blogs and is comfortable, but very low. AM did not like it.

I have to yet visit department stores such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. I don’t have high hopes though, because Home is not their specialty. Since we liked Natuzzi sofas, I plan to visit Natuzzi in Soho. I also plan to make a trip to Calligaris and Concept Furniture in Brooklyn, and Room and Board in Soho.

I also made a trip to Paramus, NJ. I visited Ashley furniture, Huffman Koos, Jennifer Convertible, and Ethan Allen in Paramus. Ashley has very traditional furniture, totally not my style. Their rugs were not bad though. Jennifer Convertible was okay, and Google had bad reviews about the quality. I loved Huffman Koos – they had lots of Natuzzi sofas on sale, and it was a good deal because you could get the entire floor model set for $1,200. AM was sold on Natuzzi. I love burgundy and fell in love with a burgundy sofa, but it was being discontinued and I would have to buy the floor model. I found out yesterday that there is a Huffman Koos in Manhattan – yay! Ethan Allen was too country-like and traditional.

I did not go to Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware because they are too barn/coastal looking and not my style.

I am exhausted and cannot wait to get this over with. Its so difficult to make a decision – every contemporary store has a white sofa – how do you decide which one is the best? Once I decide on furniture, I will make a decision on rugs. Most of the showrooms featured neutral colors like beige, cream, brown, and white, with neutral contemporary rugs and low mood lighting. I intend to do simple neutral furniture and have a colorful oriental rug with Indian/Pakistani/Turkish colors and dark base. I love oriental rugs, and although I liked neutral contemporary rugs I think a splash of color would make it look less sterile.

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You would think that with renovation done and having moved into my new place would mean peace of mind. Quite the contrary. I am finding so many errors, and took the day off today to discuss details of errors with my contractor and run errands. I don’t know how to connect speakers into the wall and found someone in my building who will do it for an hourly fee. I had so many more errands to run, and am taking time off to buy furniture. Buying furniture is no easy feat — which places in NY sell contemporary stuff? Very few. Crate and Barrel, West Elm, and Bo Concept are common. I read reviews and went to places such as Moss and Cassina – Moss had novelty one-of-a-kind pieces (at one-of-a-kind prices), and Cassina had gorgeous Italian-made leather furniture with skyrocketing prices. AM liked one leather chair which cost OVER $6,300!!! Seriously! Ridiculous prices! How come they are still in business? No piece of furniture is worth that much.

So yeah buying furniture is no easy feat because there are very few places in the city. There are small boutique-type places but they must be pricey. Sigh!

Anyway, I was done with my errands by 3 pm, and decided to watch Twilight Eclipse. I watched previous parts on Amazon On Demand and liked the movies. This one I watched in the theater and it was so boring. The entire movie is focused on the love triangle between Edward the vampire, Jacob the werewolf, and Bella who loves both of them but loves Edward more. I tried reading the book, but the book was so much worse. The entire book just had conversations between Bella and Edward, silly conversations. I could not even read half the book. The movies are much better because of the action sequences which I love. But Eclipse was so boring, and I did not see the chemistry between Bella and Jacob – her love for him was so out of the blue. Kristen Stewart is so wooden and dull. Her tone is bla, and whether she is happy or sad or in love, she has the same tone. I could not bear to watch or listen to her. I don’t understand how two awesome guys can be in love with the bark of the tree — really — she is just so yawn. I also don’t get that she was all about Edward and now all of a sudden she wants to spend more time with Jacob. It seems like she is double-dating and expects Edward to be okay with it. Argh! I kept thinking, when is this movie going to get over?

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I watched True Blood before reading all the books, and liked it. Sookie seemed like a good fit. Then I read all the books, and fell in love with them. The characters came to life, and the show made it so much better. Every single character is amazing and plays the role with aplomb, except Anna Paquin. After reading the books she just did not fit.

I don’t think Anna is a good actress, and fails to connect with the role or the audience. I don’t see her as Sookie. There are times when she gives weird expressions that look blank and say nothing. She comes across as arrogant and silly. She cannot do scared – she starts breathing heavily when she is scared which is so fake. A good actress would show fear on her face, not in her actions. I cannot bear to watch her.

Last week’s episode was terrible except for Lafayette-Eric-Pam scenes. I love the trio. I like bad Bill too – good Bill was nothing but Sookie’s bitch, bad Bill is dark and exciting. Alcide and Sookie have absolutely no chemistry, and there was a disconnect in their scenes. Having so many other characters helps in that I don’t have to put up with Sookie. The casting director made such an excellent call with every other cast, why did he/she miss out on Sookie, the lead heroine? Why Anna Paquin? It has completely distorted my imagination of book Sookie, and I always imagine her as the gap-toothed Anna with blank stares and zero chemistry.

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A friend introduced me to a wonderful website that is the best online resource for wood. I love wood in all forms, and the various types boggle my mind. They come in different types and cuts. For floors, common cuts are plain, quartersawn, rift, and rift & quartersawn. Each cut has its own character, and you need to cut it the same way vertically to get a specific visual. While choosing floors and cabinet wood for my renovation, I got so engrossed in the wood types and found beauty in the grains, cuts, and character surrounding them. A part of me feels guilty though that trees have to be cut because customers (like me) create demand for wood.

I got rift & quartersawn red oak floor strips done in my apartment, and they look wonderful. Just the right amount of light and dark without being too grainy like the usual oak floors. I wanted light wood to keep dark areas of the apartment brighter. Also, dark floors show more dirt. Reminds me of something my mom always said — dark or light, the dirt is there, so it doesn’t matter whether you see it or you don’t – the dirt is still there.

Anyway, I looked at various wood types on the site. My architect showed me a gorgeous sample of African Mahogany veneer, and I fell in love with it! I decided to do my kitchen cabinets with the wood with pale green tiles and countertop. I took a risk with green, but I loved the countertop and the sample looked perfect with green.

African Mahogany, also called Khaya, is lower priced than other mahogany types. The veneer, when finished, has a nice shine and looks like a mild version of Tigerwood. Tigerwood has very dark prominent lines/stripes, kind of like a tiger’s stripes hence the name. It is a beautiful wood type, and reminds me of burnt wood in a fireplace due to its dark lines. If you have Tigewood in your place, nothing else will stand out as much.

I love the way my kitchen has been done, and the wood looks stunning. With pale green floors it looks amazing – I did not expect the green floors to look so good. Green is a tough color, and I used a color enhancer to bring out the green. But since the tile is pale green and not bright green, it has a calming influence. I feel like walking on them without shoes and feel the warm-cold floor on my feet! Warm because of the warmth the look adds, cold because well slate is cold! I did all bathroom cabinets in the same wood to keep uniformity between woodwork in the entire apartment. It looks perfect with every tile and countertop.

I am so happy with my choice, and have discovered so many many beautiful things during the course of my renovation. There is really so much beauty in the world! But nature’s beauty is the best. I looked at so many many porcelain tiles but none, not even ones that call themselves “faux stone”, could mirror the beauty and warmth of stone. I forced myself to use porcelain in one bathroom to be practical and it looks nice and modern, but the beauty of stone is just outstanding.

Marble, limestone, slate, quartz, quartzite, sandstone, and granite are some stone types. A common characteristic among stones is that you cannot choose the color they come in – every single stone tile is different. You cannot pick one and think that the entire place will look the same color – there are a ton of variations in all stone tiles. Many people don’t like that, but I love it. It adds so much character, and makes the place interesting. I saw a sample of Travertine and chose it for a bathroom; the actual tiles had many variations and the bathroom ended up being quite different from what I envisioned, but I love it.

Marble looks grand in bathrooms and kitchens and makes a statement, but they etch very easily. So many historical sites in India are made from marble, and the etching adds to the beauty and history of the buildings. People use marble as kitchen counters and it is easy to knead dough on it. It looks gorgeous (no other stone compares), but is impractical. A ton of kitchens have it as backsplash. I love marble Calacatta, which is commonly used along with carrara.

Limestone is very popular in bathrooms and has a very calming influence. It etches very easily from lime, etc. Many historical buildings in Italy and Jerusalem are made from limestone. I think that age and usage add character to the stone. Travertine and Jerusalem Gold are commonly used in bathrooms.

Slate is commonly used in bathrooms as well, and is a tad cold and hard. It is commonly found in India. I like slate on display, but I hate it in bathrooms. All bathroom pics I have seen look so ugly and “heavy” in terms of visuals. The variations are huge. The only slate I like is Burlington which is what I used on my kitchen floor.

Quartz is a type of slate with shine.

Sandstone is not as common, is soft, and can stain. Sandstone has swirls – the yellow one has sand-like swirls and black has water-like swirls.

Soapstone is very durable for kitchen countertops and can be continuous as a sink as well. It looks quite nice too, but is very common. Looks awesome with white cabinets.

Quartzite is one of the toughest stones, and is used in kitchens. It is a good stone, but very bland and light on the grains. I like quartzite because it is not as grainy as granite, but the ones I saw seemed to harsh or dull.

Granite is very grainy, busy, and heavy. I hate granite – I really do – till I saw exotic ones. When I first saw granite and my contractor recommended I use it as tiles, I almost gagged – I was horrified at the ugliness, heavy grains, and busyness. I looked and looked and could not find a “lighter” granite. I thought that I may have to use quartzite or engineered stone in the kitchen. Then I walked into Woodmode on Lex ave and came across the most gorgeous countertop I have ever seen in my life, with heavy variations and shiny speckles. It was so stunning that I moved all the books on the counter and was awe-struck at the beauty. I had to have it. The store people did not share the name with me. So I turned to the Internet and after days of browsing found it. My architect saw it at Walker Zanger, and I was in love! I did not find something as gorgeous, but close. WZ had one of the most gorgeous granite and quartzite I had ever seen. I loved their Chianti leather finish, and wanted to use it somewhere but it was too expensive. It was absolutely breathtaking and would have looked outstanding in my kitchen, but I decided to use my first choice. It made me see granite differently. Granite has layers, fissures, and veins, and some of them have a 3D effect where the veins are a layer below the top of the counter. I started seeing the beauty of granite and its variations. The different types seemed so fascinating, and I found myself drawn to ones with sparkle, and it seemed as if all granite stones had a sparkle somewhere.

My granite countertop is being installed tomorrow – I hope it looks good – I spent a hell of a lot of time, effort, and money on it.

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One of the biggest questions related to social media is, is it a sales channel? Can it be a sales channel? How do you monetize it? A billion $ question, if you ask me. Social media is like a black hole – every company is trying to figure it out. Ones that have figured it out and are looked upon as “best-in-class” have yet to monetize the channel.

One of my favorite sites is the award-winning much-touted OPEN forum. It is a forum by American Express for its small businesses. It provides content relevant to small businesses and keeps the user engaged enough to come back for more. It performs extremely well in organic search. It is a website all by itself. I have seen online advertising on sites such as http://www.entrepreneur.com just for OPEN forum, displaying video content. Many people have cited the forum as a best-in-class, and it makes perfect sense for Amex because the company not only signs up small businesses for its card, but also provides services. Now for the big question – does it increase leads?

Starbucks got a lot of attention when it made its “free pastry” promotion viral on social media. However, the company did not share results on how much sales it got as a result in its stores.

There are ways to monetize this channel, but it will never be a big component of e-commerce. Facebook and YouTube are the largest visited social networks, and users are there not to buy, but to interact with networks and watch videos. Users are likely to buy after visiting forums, communities, and blogs, but these are not as widely and frequently trafficked. Hence social media as a whole will not have a positive ROI in terms of sales, and should not be viewed as such. These sites, however, provide access to a wide network, and networks of network, with the ability to drive significant traffic. In addition, the great thing is that one does not need to spend a lot of money – all it requires is creativity, persistence, and really committing to the channel. Of course a lot of money spent the right way does help – the OPEN forum is a great example. But eventually companies start viewing the investment in terms of ROI, and it becomes a white elephant that is too expensive to manage and does not have positive ROI.

Take the example of Facebook. Here are a few steps to follow:

  • Build a professional-looking page and make it interactive – An in-house creative with HTML knowledge can do a fairly good job. Freelancers can do it for as little as $500.
  • Leverage existing properties – Add Facebook link in emails, direct mail, brochures, catalog, and all communication materials, website/Homepage, store windows, etc. Every customer touch-point by the company should have the URL.
  • Customize URL – Have a URL that makes it easy for the user to find you. For example, http://www.facebook.com/openforum and/or http://www.openforum.com/facebook. I prefer setting both up but promoting the latter just because it makes the user remember the website.
  • Explore Facebook advertising – This step should be done only after a professional-looking page is in place, else users will not “convert” or like the page.
  • Drive fans to the page – Include links in your and partner Wikipedia entries. Make links available to affiliates and partners and “exchange” fans with them. Use sweepstakes to add fans. Leverage networks for sweeps – for example, every user that enters a friend into the sweeps automatically gets 1-2 extra entries to win something. For consumers, it could be anything – gift cards, shopping spree, paid trip for two, iPad, free music downloads, etc. For small businesses, the incentive could be a paid trip to a conference or conference pass, Facebook advertising credits, subscriptions to magazines or research tools, online conferences, etc. Fan-only content and exclusive promotions and discounts are other ways to drive fans by making promotions viral. A referral program is also a great way to add fans. Members get an incentive to refer a friend, similar to the sweeps example above.
  • Provide engaging content to keep users engaged – Exclusive promotions and discounts, user-generated content (photos, videos, discussion groups, tips) are all ways to keep users engaged. These are subtle ways to increase sales. If a user sees another users’s outfit, he/she may like it and want to buy. A specific shoes website (don’t recall the name) has videos accompanying the products, and seeing the shoes on someone makes a world of difference and can potential increase conversion rates. A similar strategy can be used on Facebook through user-generated content, testimonials, and videos and photos on outfits.

Now for the most important part, how do you measure performance.

  • Have the number of fans increased? Keep track of an increase in fans on a weekly basis and compare it with competitors. Over time you may come to a consistent % weekly increase – use this as a benchmark. Has this % increased after your efforts? If so, then you can use it to justify performance. This is the best and easiest way to measure performance.
  • Do the efforts drive traffic to the site? Measurement is as simple as adding a tracking code in all Facebook URLs, working with a technology partner that has tracking ability, or simply looking at free web-based tools and evaluating before and after traffic from Facebook as well as Inbound links.
  • Has Google page ranking increased? This is a little more far-fetched since none of the efforts drive traffic to the website, but in the long run it may be worth exploring this metric.
  • Do your customers engage more on social networks? Again, this is a very subtle metric. Rapleaf is a company that takes your email and direct mail database and identifies their patterns in social networks. You can use Rapleaf’s service to understand existing user behavior online, and see if that pattern has changed after building and promoting your Facebook page. Again, this is subtle but worth exploring. It is a cost-effective way because Rapleaf works on a monthly-fee basis.
  • Does it drive revenue and sales? There are several ways of testing this. Use a separate promotion code on Facebook to track redemptions and sales. Every person that “Likes” a page is an existing or potential lead. If running a sweeps or referral program, see how many users who signed up and shared their email ids end up purchasing something. Once you have a user’s email id, it is easy to track revenue driven by them. Apply a customer lifetime value to every new sign-up. Over time, there should be a consistent % of qualified leads from all the leads. So revenue = qualified leads * customer lifetime value. It is easier to track if users purchase directly from Facebook – if the revenue is collected elsewhere (eg. stores, website sign-ups, search, affiliate), it is difficult to track the impact of Facebook. A lot of times users may see a promotion on Facebook but convert through another channel such as search or affiliate. If you have an existing web analytics package or ad server, do a path analysis for before and after Facebook efforts, and see if Facebook has increased its standing in the path.

Again, social media will never be a prominent sales channel, but its relevance and importance cannot be denied. Lets go beyond revenue and leads for a few minutes. What are other benefits of this network?

  • Customer service – Want to reduce costs at that expensive call center? Use Facebook. Get customers to post their questions and concerns on Facebook. It is easier for them as well to write on Facebook than wait for 10-20 minutes on a call. Concerned about having the world read customer issues? Set up an email id with facebook@companyname.com, and address all issues through email. The benefit is that if call center reps have to address the issues, they can respond during downtime.
  • Making customer feedback constructive – An unhappy customer will want to tell the whole world about their bad experience. Two instances come to mind. One, a customer was so unhappy with customer service at the call center that she wrote it as a status message. Two, one customer was so unhappy with her experience that she made it a point to write a negative comment on almost all posts by the brand. How to you deal with this? Take all comments offline and encourage customers to be constructive. Write a templated response informing that you have heard them. Email them and ask them to email their issues to you – they will have to write something constructive – “I hate you” which is prominent on the Wall will not show up in the email response. The customer in case two above stopped expending energy in writing negative responses and wrote a constructive email explaining her frustrations. We apologized and mentioned that we will channel the feedback internally to the group concerned. RESPOND to the customer and genuinely try to address the issue. If possible, give them an incentive to make good for the bad experience. Jet Blue posts a templated response and drives users to their customer service page.

One thing to keep in mind is NEVER delete comments unless they are inappropriate or spam. Customers need to air their grievances, and Facebook should encourage an open communication. Sephora deleted a few negative comments. This made a customer angry and she responded with strong words on their Wall. More customers posted comments on how this was unprofessional of Sephora, and it became a heated conversation. Deleting negative comments is the worst thing a brand can do – there are other ways of dealing with this feedback, so why do anything that reflects negatively on the brand and company? Gosh, this is a looooooong post. There is always so much to write about social media, and in this case Facebook! More to come… adieu.

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