Turning Brands into Communities

In his book How Brands Become Iconsmarketing theorist Douglas B. Holt puts forward that you need three types of consumers to sustain your brand; followers, insiders and feeders. Followers are people who connect with the brand’s story, and incorporate it into their own sense of identity (think people who’ve grown up drinking Coke and feel a loyalty to the brand, people who choose to drink Heineken because their father did). Insiders are people who influence other people to buy (the cool kids at school, people who are “famous” on mainstream social media). Feeders use the brand to say something about themselves (people who choose Android to seem less “mainstream” than Apple users), and are the most fickle as they tend to abandon the brand as soon as it’s no longer socially relevant to them. 

logos-brandingIf we take Holt’s suggestion to be true (which, given his experience and credentials, we probably should), incorporating a private, self-hosted social network into your marketing strategy can be an important step toward long-term success.

Private social networks are ideal for followers. By creating your own social network, you’re encouraging and fostering the idea that your brand is something they’re a part of. For people who feel (or are inclined to feel) that a brand is part of their identity, something they’ve fully embraced, social networking is a great way to connect with others who feel the same way and want to share about their experiences.

Insiders are the Pied Pipers of marketing; people follow them because they want to be wherever they are, regardless of the destination. If an insider recommends your site or product, you might see a short-term spike in visitors and sales. If an insider joins your social network, their followers will likely join as well and once they start participating in the conversation, you have a much better chance of converting them to loyal, long-standing customers.

Feeders use brands to make statements; and if they’re part of your social network, that’s a much more powerful statement than just using your product. You’re creating a space in which they can fully explore the reasons they’re choosing to use your product or service, and the part of their identity it affirms.

On top of catering to all three groups, having your own social network is the ideal way to identify which of these categories your (prospective) buyers fall into, and which you’ll need more of to sustain your brand over time. You’ll get much clearer information and insights than you would from a page on one of the mainstream social networks; people won’t be swayed by how they want to be perceived by family and friends they’ve added on Facebook, and there’s no algorithms that will prevent people from interacting simply because your post didn’t show up in their newsfeed.

In short: having your own social network is one of the best things you can do to cultivate the audience you need for your brand’s long-term success.

Interview: Leanne Hughes on Social Media and the Body Modification Industry

Leanne Hughes is an internationally respected body modification artist (specialising in body piercing), and has recently moved from Australia to London to continue her professional development. Her next project is a membership site focused on connecting industry professionals with trusted vendors (conceived and built by Samppa and Aneta VonCyborg, owners of VonCyborg Body Art). We spoke to her about social media and the body modification industry; the pros, the cons and the potential.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and your background in the industry.

I grew up as a somewhat isolated and lonely individual, never really feeling like I fit in, until seven years ago when I began my career in the body modification industry as a body piercer at The Piercing Urge in Melbourne, Australia. The body modification community is my family and I am very much at home within it. I did my piercing apprenticeship at The Piercing Urge, Australia’s leading body piercing and tattoo studio. I fell quickly into it, piercing came very naturally for me and after a few years I started specialising in genital piercing and had a lovely and loyal client base.

leanne hughes tongue splitAt the start of the year I made the decision to leave Australia, pursue my desire to travel and my dreams to move further into the body modification scene. On June 30th 2015 I flew to London and have been residing there with Samppa and Aneta VonCyborg. Samppa VonCyborg is one of the world’s best known and respected body modification artists; body modification has its roots in the piercing industry, but has developed and progressed into more extreme modification of the body.

I am currently working as a Personal Assistant to the VonCyborgs, as well as working part time in a well known tattoo studio, Love Hate Social Club London, which is part of the famous Love Hate Tattoos chain by Ami James of Miami Ink. Body Piercing, modifcations, tattoos, scarification and  body suspension are my biggest passions. My personal modifications include several piercings, heavy tattooing, scarification and a tongue split. I also partake in body suspension when I can, it is the most beautifully intense and euphoric experience I have ever known.

Do you think social networking has had an impact on the piercing community, and how people perceive body modification?

leanne hughes piercing 2Social networking has definitely had an impact of the piercing community and the way people perceive body modification. I believe for the most part it has been a positive impact in that it has brought the industry into the mainstream and it is becoming more accepted in society to be pierced, and tattooed, and the more extreme modifications are also becoming more accepted. There is definitely a fascination held by those not involved in the scene. However there will always be people who view modification negatively and will judge harshly. But that goes with anything in life.

What are the upsides and downsides of social networking, from your professional point of view?

The downside to the industry being brought into the mainstream is that the line between those passionate about modification and those being modified to be “cool” has become blurred. And sadly, true artists are being “copied” by individuals not good enough or qualified to be offering modifications. This includes not only piercing and tattooing but sadly extreme procedures such as tongue splitting and ear pointing. It is one thing to receive a dodgy piercing that you end up having to take out, or a bad tattoo that you have to get removed or cover, but it is another matter altogether to have what is technically a “surgical” procedure performed by an incompetent artist and suffering severe medical conditions and/or disfigurement as a result.

That said, there is thankfully a good deal of focus and effort made by the industry to communicate the importance of doing research before undertaking in any form of body modification, whether a simple ear piercing, a tattoo or a tongue split.

Facebook, Instagram and the other major social networks have fairly strict content policies; have you ever seen photos reported that you don’t believe should have been?

I have definitely seen photographs that have been reported with no need to have been, generally by those who are narrow minded and judgmental. I personally posted a photo on Instagram of a male nipple piercing I did and it was reported as nudity as someone thought it was a female nipple (off topic, but for the record I strongly support the “free the nipple” movement).

On the other side of that I have also seen photographs posted that definitely should be reported. I think the way social media sites, Facebook and Instagram particularly, moderate posts needs improvement.

Are there online communities for piercers outside of the “major” social networks – if so, how popular are they? If not, do you think there’s a market for one?

Outside the realm of Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, there really aren’t any alternative social networking sites for the piercing and modification industry. Fetlife has become a means of communication, but is not an industry specific site. BMEzine was the biggest site for the industry, an online magazine noted for coverage of extreme body modifications, but sadly it has slowly been diminished over the years – the founder of the site, Shannon Larratt, passed away in March 2013.

I think there could potentially be a market for industry specific sites, but with the ability to create forums and groups, either public or private, on Facebook this is perceived as a much easier and more favorable option. These forums and groups, more so the private ones, give piercers, tattooists and modification artists a means to communicate, share, ask questions, seek advice, discuss and debate. The privacy also allows the sharing of photographs that would not be permitted to be shared publicly, so that is definitely a bonus. There are many forums and groups, some piercing only, some tattooing only, some extreme modification only, some shared. Some are wonderfully informative yet some are not so great, as is the way with any industry.

I personally would love to see an industry specific social networking site, however I don’t see it happening any time soon due to the dominance of Facebook.

PeepSo 1.1.0 Is Out!

PeepSo Members Page

PeepSo Members Page

We’re proud to announce that PeepSo 1.1.0 has just been released!
A major focus of this update was the inclusion of a Members page to create a special wall for your community. Combined with real-time search, you’ll be able to filter users as you type and see how many friends you have in common for each person listed.

PeepSo Getting Started Page

PeepSo Getting Started Page

We’ve also created a ‘Getting Started’ page with a video showing the first steps you should take as you create your own community. You’ll receive a list showing the pages, the shortcodes and the official PeepSo plugins available. Sign up for our newsletter and we’ll give you a free copy of The Secrets of Successful Online Communities ebook.

Photo counter on Activity Stream in PicSo 1.1.0

Photo counter on Activity Stream in PicSo 1.1.0

Another feature that was introduced in PicSo 1.1.0 is the overlay that says how many pictures there are in one post. It looks fantastic and really adds to the plugin’s usability.

This version also fixes a number of bugs and adds improvements not only to the core but also to supporting plugins. You can see the changelog here.

Don’t wait. Upgrade to the latest version today. You can find upgrade instructions here.

10 People Who Were Arrested for Social Media Posts

It’s not just people living under oppressive governments who get arrested and imprisoned for what they post on social media. Even your “friends only” content can end up getting you in trouble; your contacts might report your post to the authorities, and Facebook will get in touch with police if they believe someone poses an immediate threat to themselves or others, or if someone has uploaded criminal content.

It’s pretty clear that in most cases, people simply don’t understand the implications of posting to a site with millions (or even billions) of members; that when you post something to Facebook, you’re writing with permanent marker (if you have a teenager, it might be worth creating a private social network for family and friends until they’re aware of and prepared to deal with the consequences of what they say).

Here’s some examples of people who were jailed or fined for what they put up on social media; sometimes jokingly, sometimes not.

1. Up in the Air

Paul Chambers wasn’t very happy about his flight being delayed due to snowfall; he tweeted that the airport (mentioning it by name) had “a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” A week later, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and detained for seven hours.

In another case involving British travelers, two young British tourists were  detained on arrival at Los Angeles airport (LAX) after one of them tweeted that he was going to “go and destroy America.” Even though “destroy” is just British slang for “party”, the man and his traveling buddy spent the night in separate cells, and were put on a plane back home.

2. Photographed Red-Handed

Maxwell Marion Morton was charged with first degree murder after posting a photo of himself and his victim to Snapchat (one of his friends took a screenshot of his perhaps unintentional confession, with his username in full display). 

A teen mom in Florida was arrested after posting a photo of her then-11 month old son seemingly smoking a bong on Facebook. The authorities decided that the photo was staged and the child had definitely not ingested any drugs, but the mother was still fined for owning the bong and forced to undergo an assessment of her parenting ability.

3. Friends or “Friends”?

Maxi Sopo fled Seattle for Cancun after he was charged with bank fraud. He bragged about it to all his friends on Facebook, including a former justice department official. He was arrested and sent back to the United States.

Jacob Cox-Brown posted “Drivin drunk… classic 😉 but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry. :p.” on his personal Facebook page. One of his friends reported the post to police, who matched his car to an unresolved hit and run case and he was prosecuted. 

4. Evil Exes

Mark Byron was going through a custody battle with his wife, after she claimed (and he disputed) that he’d committed an act of domestic violence. He posted “… if you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely — all you need to do is say that you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner…” on Facebook, and a judge ordered him to post an apology to his wife on Facebook (to be left up for thirty days) or he’d end up spending two months in prison.

David Voelkert was friended by a stranger called Jessica Studebaker on Facebook – or rather, someone pretending to be a stranger called Jessica Studebaker. He knew that it was really his ex-wife Angela, who had created the profile to try and get information she could use against him in their custody battle. He told her, via the fake profile, that he’d planted a GPS in Angela’s car and was planning to kill her. Angela took the information to the police and David was arrested; he was released immediately when he produced a notarised affidavit stating the following:

“I am lying to this person to gain positive proof that it is indeed my ex-wife trying to again tamper in my life. In no way do I have plans to leave with my children or do any harm to Angela Dawn Voelkert or anyone else.”

5. Pitiful Pranks

Dakkari McAnuff posted “100 RT’s (Re-Tweets) and i’ll shoot someone walking,” on Twitter in March 2014. After that, he posted a photo of a rifle pointed at a Los Angeles street, someone lying dead, and himself (apparently) in a police car. Police used the posts to track down his location, raided his home, and charged him with making criminal threats (costing him a hefty 50,000 dollars in bail money). He and his friends claimed it was a prank that got out of hand.

A 14 year old Dutch teen sent a tweet to American Airlines (under the username Queen Demetriax_), saying “Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m going to do something really big bye.” Although intended as a joke, American Airlines responded with “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” She pleaded with them not to tell her parents or take action, but eventually had to turn herself into police where she was charged with posting a false or alarming announcement.

 

 

Interview: Samantha van Vleet of Cassava Shop

Samantha van Vleet owns Cassava Shop, an organic non-GMO herbal supplement company based out of the United States. She also owns TTCTwins, a semi-private forum/network for people trying to conceive twins. Her company is a great example of how niche social networks can benefit small business owners, and even create business opportunities; we interviewed her about her experience running a niche network, and how it gave rise to a very successful online business.

samantha van vleet

Tell me a little bit about TTCTwins; why you started it, where it came from.

I have been fascinated with twins from the time I was little. I had a set of Cabbage Patch twin dolls and I always had them. I dragged them everywhere. Once I got older, I still thought the idea of twins was amazing. I looked online for places that discussed it, but there really weren’t many and the places that were available, weren’t so friendly. Women would be attacked and vilified for wanting twins because of the potential health risks involved and “no one should want that for themselves or their babies.” Yes, there are risks involved in having twins, but the decision to try for twins isn’t anyone but the couple who is trying’s. So in 2009 I decided to set up a simple forum and I posted the link two or three places. It grew insanely fast and quickly became the authority on the subject, simply because there was no other site dedicated to the subject. It became a safe haven for these women who wanted twins to find information, support and assistance without being judged for that desire.

Why did you decide to start your own membership site, rather than using existing social networks (eg, Facebook groups)?

For the same reason I was avoiding the other sites; the judgement and condemnation of choosing to try for twins. By creating a membership based site, you give members the ability to protect their privacy and conceal their identity much more so than they would be able to on Facebook. And with such a delicate subject, this is important. I wouldn’t want to post on Facebook under my full name, about my attempts to conceive twins where my family or friends could easily stumble upon it and identify me.

How did TTCTwins become, or give rise to, Cassava Shop?

Many of the women on TTCTwins were talking about yams increasing fertility. This sounded odd to me and a few members and I decided to research more on it. Turns out it was a very specific type of wild yam that had this twinning effect. A village in Africa had a twinning rate of 1 in 11 and it was believed to be due to the estrogen-like substances in the skins and peelings of sweet cassava, consumed daily by members of the tribe. Obviously, we all wanted some, however, at the time there was only one source for it. I had ordered a bottle, but it just seemed fishy to me. I started looking into it more and I just had an off feeling about it. I decided to make my own to see if it was even possible to replicate the powder in the capsules I had bought and still include the skins and peelings as advertised. There wasn’t. I later determined that those capsules were filled with gari, a cereal like product made from cassava that didn’t contain the beneficial skins and peelings. At first, I intended just to make them for myself, but when other members of the site learned about the gari in the other capsules, they were outraged. After all, who wants to take a supplement that doesn’t even contain the stuff it needs to work effectively? Members started asking me if I would make them a bottle as well. I agreed, and next thing I knew, I had emails nearly daily requesting bottles of sweet cassava supplements. My husband looked at me one day and asked “So, when are you turning this into a business?

Do you think niche social networks are better for small business owners, or prospective small business owners, than the larger social networks?

Absolutely. We use coupon codes to track where our sales are coming from (along with other tools) and I would say that 80% of our sales stem from TTCTwins. The reason is simple. We are the trusted authority. We have had competitors pop up since we started Cassava Shop, but they don’t have the advantage we do. We’re trusted. We’re the authority on the subject. We are the place everyone turns to for information on trying to conceive twins and one of the first results on Google.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start up their own niche interest group or private social network online?

Find something that isn’t out there yet and make it work. Focus in on a specific niche. Don’t be afraid of it being taboo or eccentric. Odds are, if you’re interested in it, there are surely other people who are too.

Getting On the Same Page…Literally

The saying goes, “are we on the same page?” Meaning: do we understand each other, is everything clear, has everyone learned what they need to know so progress can be made.

It’s an ideal metaphor for good communication, particularly when applied to web pages; if all your colleagues and customers are scattered across different platforms and channels, it’s going to be much more difficult to ensure people are getting the information you need them to get, when you need them to get it.

PeepSo's admin interface.

PeepSo’s admin interface.

Creating your own social network saves you from having to post the same message, over and over. You can have a real conversation in a quiet, dedicated space, rather than participating in the online equivalent of shouting in a crowded room. It works better from the customer’s end, too: rather than being unsure whether they should inbox you, text you, tweet you, send you a carrier pigeon, etc to get in touch with you, they’ll have a central communication hub where they know they’ll be able to get the support and advice they need. Further, it’s all on your website; the same place they’d go to purchase your product(s). 

PeepSo is the ideal plugin if you’re looking to start your own social network; it’s clean, streamlined, and easy to use (no coding knowledge necessary). The admin interface will be of particular interest to business owners, as it allows you a huge amount of control and insight (similar information to Facebook’s Insights tool, but easier to read and interpret); you can track post engagements, check reported content (you decide what’s acceptable, not Facebook), check your member demographics, and much more.

All of your information and communication in one place. Simple, smart, and effective.

Market Networks: The New Way to Do Business Online

In an article he wrote for TechCrunch last month, James Currier looked at the rise of market networking software; software that provides an intersection between online marketplaces (sites like Etsy, eBay and AirBnB which allow multiple buyers to connect with multiple sellers), and social networking sites (sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which emulate our offline social networks and are based around identity); he provides HoneyBook as an example, a market network for the events industry which allows professionals to connect around projects and keep all of that project’s transactions and paperwork in one place.

Image by NFX LLC.

Image by NFX LLC.

Currier suggests that these market networks have an edge over simple online marketplaces – and I would add, websites with selling capabilities – as they encourage a connection more meaningful and long-term than a simple transaction. They emulate how business happens in real life: the networks of professionals and clients which pop up on these sites often begin with people who have been communicating for years inviting each other to the site, and creating an online version of a network that already exists via fax, phone, invoices, etc.

Installing PeepSo on your website is the first step to creating your own market network. It allows you to bring all your professional connections together in one place and introduce them to each other. You can tell people about a new product and send them to the checkout page, with them staying on your site the entire time. You can build meaningful online connections within the parameters you want to set for them, eliminating the blurring between personal and professional that Facebook doesn’t just enable, but enforces (you have to have a personal account, for example, to use their Business Manager tool).

Marketing networks are the next step in successful online business, and PeepSo has everything you need to get started.

 

Outsourcing Censorship: Who Cleans Up Your Social Network’s Feed?

To keep offensive content out of our newsfeeds, social networking sites can employ one of two strategies: they can “active moderate”(screening every single post uploaded), or they can rely on their users to report anything suspicious or unsavory, and pass those reports over to content moderators. Larger sites like Twitter and Facebook tend to use the latter strategy and, given the sheer number of reported posts daily, it’s understandable that they’d decide to outsource moderation of reported content.

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Image via Tony Adams on Flickr.

Many of the people who spend their days looking through reported content are horrendously underpaid international contractors, making as little as one dollar per hour plus commissions (estimated to bring their average rate of pay up to four dollars an hour). They’re often highly educated and must pass a stringent English test in order to gain the role. Most content moderators end up leaving the role due to the psychological damage caused by hours of looking through incredibly disturbing content, from beheadings to animal torture. On-shore workers are better paid and can have very good physical working conditions, but still end up suffering greatly from what they have to look through each day: in an interview with Wired, a US based former content moderator describes developing depression and problems with alcohol as a result of the videos he was moderating for YouTube.

While Facebook’s public documentation keeps its content guidelines relatively vague, they’re laid out in explicit detail for its content moderators. A Moroccan contractor recently released his copy to Gawker, and its seventeen pages are divided into sections like “sex and nudity”, “hate content” and “graphic content.” Cartoon urine is okay, real urine is not. Deep flesh wounds and blood are okay, mothers breastfeeding is not. Some posts are judged on their context, rather than their content (eg, videos of animal abuse are okay as long as the person who posted it clearly thinks animal abuse is wrong). Strangely, all photoshopped content (whether positive, negative or neutral) is approved for deletion.

When you think about it, it’s concerning how little most social media users know about the rules they are expected to follow, or about the people and processes involved in enforcing those rules. One of the major benefits of starting your own social network is that you’re playing by your own rules – and you know exactly what those rules are. You decide what is acceptable, and what is not; both in terms of common decency, and keeping your community on-message.

Facebook Groups: The Social Network Within a Social Network

In 2010, Facebook completely revamped their Groups product; the idea was to create smaller communities within Facebook where people could discuss a shared interest, talk with their family members, buy and sell goods within their local community, connect with any of the smaller microcosms within the macrocosm of Facebook. Groups can be open (anyone can take part in the conversation), closed (anyone can request to join and see the group’s members and description, but won’t see content until they’re approved) or secret (you have to be invited by an existing member to even know the group exists). You can opt-in to get a notification every time someone posts in the group, see all posts to the group in your newsfeed, or only see content when you visit the group’s page.

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Facebook Groups: proof that people want smaller-scale social networks

Given how much Facebook filters newsfeed content from Pages, it’s no wonder businesses are turning to Groups to interact with their customers. Groups also allow you much more control over who can see and interact with your content, meaning businesses have less trolls and spammers to deal with. Posts are ordered by last interaction (a new comment will send a post to the top of the group’s feed), rather than by popularity; and you can guarantee that, unless they opt out, your members will see everything you post – without you having to pay exorbitant advertising/boosting fees. You can control content by creating your own list of group rules, and remove any members who don’t abide by them.

When people ask what’s the point of creating your own social network, they only need to look to Facebook Groups – the popularity of this service shows that there’s a demand for smaller online communities. These groups *are* their own social networks, we just don’t identify them as such because they come under the Facebook umbrella.

Facebook Groups are still subject to Facebook’s rules and regulations; you might be able to ensure everyone you’re connected with will see your posts, but Facebook still has the right to collect data about you and your group members, and they can remove your group without notice. If you create your own social network, on your own website, you get all the benefits of a Facebook Group without any of the drawbacks. You’re also able to connect with people who might not want to join the macrocosm of Facebook for personal reasons, or who might not want business activities connected with a personal account.