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Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

Despite what some spittle-lipped sharpsters might try to sell you, social media’s rapid behavior-changing adoption is still far from settled enough for anyone to analyze and measure.  The marketing industry still bobs chest deep in the churning waves, making assessment difficult at best.  The one incontrovertible truth is that in remarkably short order, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have powerfully reset both who we communicate with and how, leaving brands scrambling to determine just what to make of it and how to adjust.Picture 2

Today’s consumers enjoy a radical new level of access and empowerment; marketers enjoy a unprecedented access and insights.  And everyone involved must now balance the benefits of another powerful new platform even as we assess the drawbacks and limitations.

All of which makes Catharine Taylor’s latest post on Social Media Insider a great jumping off point for timely client discussions.  Under the provocative heading “Is Social Media Turning Us Into Whiner Nation,” Catharine raises the issue of determining the relative quality of social media input.  Sometimes this dialogue can inform and reshape productively, but many times, they amount to so much hyper-empowered bitching.

On one level, companies can consider all of this new social input the equivalent of having a world wide complaint desk that’s always open–a vastly enhanced, far more powerful version of the old one-employee department that existed solely to provide disgruntled shoppers an outlet for their frustrations.  And to a point, that’s reasonably accurate (consider Motrin, and just recently, Amp).  Social media provides a mass channel for opinion, and it can be skewed heavily by special interests or a vocal minority.  Worse, the most destructive of those opinions often spring from people far outside a brand’s core target, rendering them less relevant but still potentially damaging.  Should brands respond then or should they abide, enduring a temporary tempest before the shouters move on to the inevitable next offense, another issue of another new day?

These are questions brands and their advocates must address.  Like it or not, advertisers are well served to monitor these inputs, and make adjustments if necessary.  But to do that, we must all get more skilled at assessing those tweets and blogs–their relevance, resonance and virulence.  And we must also get better at assessing positive feedback; it’s far too simple to slip into easy acquiescence after hearing one or two glowing reviews.  Positive sources can be just as suspect as negative ones.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this new reset in the advertiser-consumer relationship–from a one-sided platform driven by wealthy brands to a two-way dialogue powered by basically anyone with broadband–is how hard it is for marketers to reconcile the fact that consumers now have a voice.  And speak up.  Pretty loudly sometimes.

We always thought that was our job.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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The notion of a Twitter Social Mobile Crash is not a metaphor.  I don’t mean to imply Twitter no longer dominates as the pre-eminent social media on the mobile platform–they certainly do.  In fact, according to a Crowd Science survey, 41% of Twitter users contact friends via social media rather than by phone.  And 11% of Twitter users admitted to tweeting while driving during the previous thirty days.  And that is probably a lowball number.478966.1-lg

Unfortunately, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a different study back in July that showed texting while driving makes you twenty-three times more likely to crash.

Do that math: twenty-three freaking times more likely to crash…

We gotta put these things down, hard as that may be.  And I’ll admit, I’m guilty.  I’ve done it.  I’ve texted and tweeted while steering with my knees.  But by any rational measure, that’s idiotic behavior.  Adding another comment on Amp Energy Drink’s boneheaded iPhone app doesn’t quite seem worth creasing a quarter panel of sheet metal…or worse.

So while the inevitable Twitter Social Mobile Crashes have already come and will keep coming, I’ll make you a deal: I won’t tweet behind the wheel if you won’t.  That way, we won’t have to meet on the shattered glass of an accident scene or the grim lighting in the emergency room; we can meet the way the web intended–virtually, with goofy assumed names and offbeat links.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Yesterday, a group of us at Element 79 took part in a conference call as part of an Omnicom initiative via the Harvard Business School called The Digital Transformation.  The featured speaker was Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace: a fast-growing social networking company with an enviable client list (that includes, somehow, both Coke and Pepsi–genius).  She took us through her company’s offerings and learnings, which primarily boil down to creating smaller online communities of deeply-engaged opinion leaders selected to provide a sort-of ongoing super focus group that’s allowed insider access to a company with an eye to helping them truly connect with their market.  Breezy and incredibly candid, Diane’s stories of how Communispace developed from a software provider to a leader in the social network space made the hour long presentation feel like sixty seconds. 

Communispace creates bespoke social networks for each of their clients and while their services are not cheap, they do provide truly insightful perspective that a typical focus group could not.  Using social networks to gain deeper understanding of market wants and needs simply makes intuitive sense.  It was all very fascinating.

But the anecdote that leapt out to me above all others was a casual aside regarding Motrin’s Twitter debacle (read this for some background).  Amazingly, among their highly networked, deeply engaged social networks, barely any Communispace power consumers had even heard of the incident.  This big day of reckoning for Johnson and Johnson, the crowning achievement of corporate responsiveness to a Twitter-driven issue proved to be largely a tempest in a very small teapot to the world at large.  Practically speaking, outside of a very narrow band, no one cared.  And that’s very telling…

Objects Online May Appear Larger Than They Actually Are

Objects Online May Appear Larger Than They Actually Are

For all of our obsession about new media, for all of our hand-wringing about the rise of social networking and the profound ways that Web 2.0 impacts both culture and daily behavior, this reportedly seminal moment in citizen-informed activism created barely a ripple on the surface of public awareness.  And yet it fueled countless blogs and online debates about the pervasive influence of Twitter and other new social mediums.  To anyone in those networks, it was big news.

And that is the point: the world of forwards and retweets and pingbacks can create an ecosystem of incredible influence through the sheer volume of the message.  Spark a debate on Twitter or any other leading social network and you will hear volumes of opinion loudly amplified, albeit in their specific closed systems.  This sturm and drang does not necessarily reflect popular offline opinion.  The very insider nature of such closed systems exaggerates the impact of any lightning rod issue.  Micro-blogging platforms acts like a microphone; creating very loud noise, but often in a closed room.  Meanwhile, the larger non-networked, TV-watching crowd continues their obsession over inanities like the travails of Jon and Kate, blissfully unaware of the drama brewing in one isolated social network.

So once again, it is up to an agency to help clients sort out the meaningful from the localized, the truly impactful from the trivial, when it comes to deciphering the impact of various messages among social networks.  Should you react?  Or should you respond: intelligently, cogently and appropriately?

Responding is always the better path.  These days, it takes consideration and prudence; two qualities not particularly emblematic of advertising agencies.  And so once again, the market dictates we evolve.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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In this week’s Advertising Age, Chris Perry–the senior guy in Weber Shandwick’s digital practice–wrote an article placing the major ‘blame’ for social media’s under-performance squarely at the feet of the ‘dated agency model.’  Because social media is so new and so revolutionary, traditional agencies and their clumsy attempts to mainstream it into existing profit structures fail to use this medium to anywhere near it’s full potential.  In short, we’re all doing it wrong.

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Oh please.  This kind of hand-wringing, model-bashing argument is getting truly tiresome; it’s too much “I told you so” that doesn’t tell much of anything. We’re slapped in the face with the promise of it even though no one has yet to deliver any profits from it.  Garrett’s Popcorn is tweeting now? Okay, I’ll remember that next time I feel compelled to talk to a tin of caramel/cheese popcorn.  Dell’s much ballyhooed two million dollars worth of @delloutlet Twitter sales?  That’s less than one hundredth of a percent of their annual sales.  NBC CEO Jeff Zucker said it best: “Our challenge with all these new-media ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies.”  Indeed.  This is, after all, a business.

But all of this is quibbling; fundamentally, Mr. Perry’s argument is flawed because Mr. Perry assumes there is such a thing as Social “Media.”  I disagree.

Social media doesn’t yet live up to the hype because social ‘media’–as agencies and advertisers define ‘media’–simply doesn’t exist.

Call me a copywriter, but words matter.  “Social Media” is an ill-considered term for advertisers.  As an important cultural phenomenon, slapping the label “media” on it creates the impression that clients must put messages there and that’s simply not true.  The explosive expansion and proliferation of social networks is nothing short of a communications revolution, but that doesn’t make them a marketing medium…or any sort of “media” whatsoever.  When my sister friends her long lost high school bandmate on Facebook, she doesn’t consider it an advertising platform–Facebook is simply a way to connect and communicate.  It is SOCIAL first and foremost; it is absolutely not “Media” by any traditional industry definition.  This simple reality drives headlines like this from today’s Online Media Daily: “More Women Using Social Networks, But Brands Not Benefitting.”  The whole conceit of ‘Social Media’ is a sociologist’s invention–using it in reference to marketing unnecessarily confuses the issue.  With the notable exception of Word of Mouth PR outreach, social networks provide an extremely limited forum for selling and driving profit.

Do social networks matter?  Very much so.  Should agencies be focused on them?  They better be.  At Element 79, we believe every one of our clients should be deeply involved in social networks–less as a selling platform and more as a deep, rich, real-time glimpse into consumer sentiment about their brands and categories.  Social networks present an unprecedented platform for real time research that savvy planners can mine for opinion gathering and monitoring. 

In these times when brands are opinions and opinion enjoys a vast media channel independent of the paid media that spurs and sparks consumer conversations, we must start creating metrics around social network conversations as another measure of our communications’ success in market.  Internally, this lays a new groundwork for planner responsibilities: first mining social networks for consumer insights and relevance and later assessing the results of our efforts.  Did our ideas enter the conversations?  Were our strategies compelling, our executions memorable, our messages relevant and persuasive?  That’s all measurable with the vast data engine that is the web.

These new platforms are social networks; rich and vibrant communication ecosystems that advertisers should strive to protect and foster.  Social media however, remains a pipe dream, an ill-considered fool’s errand where marketing messages flounder amidst a social setting that so far, is neither welcoming nor profitable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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In a time of such radical change in our marketing world, we all need to search out ideas on the best way to adapt and thrive.  Yesterday, the New York Festivals was in town for their award show and they presented a number of panels in the afternoon.  They had a tough time filling the room; the Chicago ad community rarely takes time from their busy workday to go out for lunch, let alone a panel that may or may not prove worthwhile.  That’s understandable but also unfortunate; now more than ever we can all benefit by sharing our experiences and insights.  Hopefully, that’s something we can change in the coming years.

Steffan Postaer, JT Andexler, Dave Hernandez, Diane Ruggie, Dennis Ryan, Alan Wolk

Steffan Postaer, JT Andexler, Dave Hernandez, Diane Ruggie, Dennis Ryan, Alan Wolk

After sitting on a panel titled “Is Craft Dead?” (Short answer?  No.  And neither is e-mail, Facebook or God, no matter how SEO-friendly those types of proclamations are.). After that, host Alan Wolk led a panel on Social Media–an area of deep interest to anyone paying attention to that emerging mass channel of opinion.  Of all the statements and suppositions presented, Escape Pod founder Vinny Warren made the most practical sense.  A veteran tweeter (follow him at @vinnywarren), he characterized the whole platform as ‘energy.’  It takes passion to regularly stop and send out some thoughts on your day and to Vinny, all those comments amount to ‘energy.’

In a world of immediacy where data and ideas spread like wildfire, the challenge of finding wheat in the dunning landfills of chaff can be exhausting.  Using Twitter as means of tapping into consumer-generated energy makes a ton of logical sense: like energy, Twitter flows continually, and thoughts that don’t stick disappear like so much wasted electricity on the national grid.  You either use it or lose it.  In most cases, losing it isn’t a particularly tragic thing, but if we can harness all that consumer wisely, we can access all sorts of information, inspiration and good ideas wrested from real world experience on our clients’ behalf.

Which is, you know, helpful.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  On behalf of all the panelists, here’s a quick thank you to Gayle Mendel for her hard work on bringing in this event.  We deeply appreciate your efforts.

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In his post on Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary, Marc Brownstein offers some thinking on ‘free media’ and whether or not it poses a threat to advertising and media agencies.  Despite the soaring popularity of social media, do brand efforts in these media advance the strategy and differentiate the product?  Can a fanpage create enough attraction on its own without an introduction via a TV commercial?  Is the platform even viable for self-promoting sales messages?

What?  All You Got Is A Hammer?

What? All You Got Is A Hammer?

In the end, Marc gently and tactfully demurs, his answer boiling down to “possibly, kinda, but not really…’  I’ll be more direct; absolutely not.  There is simply no way ‘free media’ will usurp paid media. First of all, the entire notion that there are ‘free media’ is flawed.  The placement of brand messages within social networks may not have an associated cost the way a spot does, but the time required to create bespoke responses to each individual inquiry/complaint/compliment/request for more information can be staggering.  For most companies, the current means of working social media amounts to little more than a new take on the old department store complaint office; you create a human face for the brand that allows people to talk and engage directly and conveniently.  But that requires staffing.  And man hours.  And training.  None of which come free.  I far prefer the title ‘earned media’–and savvy companies that commit to that investment are very likely to earn meaningful media placements in this emerging space, if for no other reason than there efforts will be have a strategic foundation.

Second, advocates love to trot out a few high profile examples of success in these arenas to demonstrate the emerging power of social media.  While a few efforts merit our attention, even those require a bit more sober assessment.  Yes, @DellOutlet is a notable success story for social media with it’s Twitter-exclusive offers and 600,000+ followers.  Its growth has been phenomenal, earning two million in annual sales in less than two years.  All of which is remarkable.  But it’s chicken scratch compared to the company’s total 2008 revenues of $61 billion.  Twitter sales represent maybe .003% of total Dell revenues, which makes me think it’s a bit premature to toss aside the traditional media powered sales channels and throw everything into free media.

And lastly, do consumers really welcome brands as active participants in these spaces?  They are, after all, social networks; the ‘social’ notion comes first and foremost.  Some brands can navigate this challenge, offering enough interesting content to keep people engaged, but that requires consistent, steady effort to insure your exchanges mesh with the brand’s strategic voice.  Treating social media as a separate silo will inevitably create dissonance between brand messages.

I believe every brand should engage with social media because brands are opinions and social networks let marketers assess ever-shifting consumer opinions of their brands in real time basis. Since social networking provides opinion with a powerful mass channel, marketers must take steps to actively influence brand opinion in that channel.  This is why we see such powerful convergence in the form of advertising and word-of-mouth.

If you truly want to integrate your messages, you can never rely on simply one tool.  You need to use you entire toolbox in thoughtful, strategic concert to build a truly great brand.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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We seem to have hit a rough patch for celebrity deaths this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and just yesterday, pitchman Billy Mays.  The demise of Michael Jackson in particular captured worldwide interest and led to all sorts of tributes and memorials, from BET to the cover of every major newspaper.

As is now the case with any breaking story with such magnitude of human interest, online usage spiked as people sought to learn what happened as it happened: for a short while, Twitter actually shut down and Google returned error messages for searches related to “Michael Jackson,” assuming that the volume of inquiries indicated some sort of automated attack on its servers.  For one hour last Thursday night, over one of every five tweets referenced Michael Jackson.

The interval between when TMZ announced his death and when more reputable outlets followed suit will provide fodder for journalists to debate for years; what caught my attention–courtesy of our ever aware planner Lance Hill–was the corresponding rumor that Jeff Goldblum had also died.  Oddly, Mr. Goldblum seems to be a more modern version of Abe Vigoda: rumors of his death first popped up ten years ago.  Picture 3If you check the chart at left, courtesy of the Twitter trend monitoring service  Twist, both Goldblum and Harrison Ford shared temporary obituaries late last week.  The ever-useful rumor-quashing site Snopes reports that these rumors originate via an automated prank; some ‘comedy’ websites encourage you to enter a celebrity’s name into a ‘fake news generator’ and then spread the story–similar rumors spreada few years ago about both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.  And apparently these fake story generators favor Hollywood deaths that involve the ‘victim’ falling off a mountain during a location shoot in New Zealand.  Go figure…

Social Media provide untold value–not only to enable us to connect more frequently in our time-starved culture, but also to provide a first person outlet for critical news as it breaks.  The recent coverage of the massive post-election protests on the streets of Iran would have been far less-comprehensive without the first-person details passed along via Twitter.  But as author and social media commentator Clay Shirky points out, having this vast distribution network accessible to everyone makes it all but impossible to define what constitutes a ‘journalist’ anymore.  Further, without being bound to the principles–and legal ramifications–of traditional journalism, false stories spread much further, much faster.  On the upside, ‘wiki’ principles hold true in these case as well; the majority of social media users want to know the truth and will quickly rise up to correct erroneous stories as they find them.

It takes a village indeed.  And online, that village is very, very large.  And loud.  And occasionally wrong.  But inevitably corrected.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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