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Posts Tagged ‘Social Networks’

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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This recent Yahoo! news item tells the story of Alecia Dantico, a professional Tweeter who is part of a growing trend of large corporations hiring talent to send out messages on that social network.  

Like most creative endeavors, this could be a very smart thing or a small distraction: the results depend upon strategy and even more importantly, execution.  

Strategically, this initiative needs a clear purpose and goals: brandbuilding?  Outreach for direct consumer connection?  A modern update of the old consumer complaint department?  Whatever the reason, this and any marketing endeavor needs to have a clearly-defined goal, otherwise it’s simply another distracting tactic.

The execution must then work to execute this strategy, mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of the platform.  For Twitter, one of those strengths is the immediacy and topicality of a group conversation; the best tweets are often helpful and always engaging.  Comedy, surprise, discovery; the best Twitter feeds deliver those on a dependably regular basis.  In other words, if the brand personality doesn’t engage or worse, if corporate concerns over legal and control issues sanitize and stifle the 140 character executions, the result more likely will be a “Bland Personality.”

Picture 2Which is why this platform provides the perfect retirement opportunity for copywriters.  Office location, 9-5, assignment flowcharts: none of these agency realities matter in the world of corporate micro-blogging.  All that matters is the need to create relevant engagement that serves a strategy.  Our creative enterprise has a well-earned reputation for eating it’s young; here at last could be a way to make good with an ongoing freelance gig that serves both brands and creatives.

It also serves the newer offerings of Word-of-Mouth PR agencies, most of whom already follow this sort of ‘create a strategy and outsource the execution’ type of model.  

It doesn’t however, serve large agency structures.  Considering this article in relation to yesterday’s post which took Weber Shandwick’s Chris Perry to task for laying the blame for Social Media’s slow development as a brand platform squarely at the feet of traditional agencies, perhaps I should rethink.  Particularly after posting yesterday’s blog to LinkedIn’s AdPro group to solicit other points of view and receiving some very thoughtful responses.

Corporations need results from their tactics.  They also need something else: responsibility from their marketing partners.  The cost structure of a traditional agency makes this kind of initiative rather challenging from a creative execution standpoint.  However, the benefits of insuring an integrated strategy and established results expectations make this an easily-adopted new tactic…

Once you outsource to a few talented, interesting, retired writers.

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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A recent Pear Analytics study finds that 40% of Twitter messages from a random sample of 2,000 tweets amount to “pointless babble.”  Items like “I’m eating a sandwich” clog the micro-blogging service, followed closely by conversational messages between users at 37.5%.

In other words, nearly 80% of Twitter content amounts to little more than incidental conversation.  Which should serve as a stark reminder that Twitter–and Facebook, MySpace and hundreds of other smaller social networks–are all about the social.  Overeager advertisers looking to exploit low cost media platforms need to take a hard look at this communications environment: it’s hardly a welcoming audience to commercial messages.

Of course, not knowing the people of Pear Analytics or their credentials, I decided to grab ten tweets from this morning’s Element 79 feed and analyze them.  In fairness, being an ad agency  and not an individual attracts a disproportionate number of industry reps, job seekers and for some reason, people who tweet in Spanish and Mandarin, but that is mostly a result of an earlier non-discriminating ‘you follow us/we’ll follow you” policy: a basic no-no of effective social networking.  Anyway, here are this morning’s ten:

1.  @JBajancopymaker:  This would be Babble.CT

2.  @tkdainc:  This pitches an artist who creates doe-eyed anime creatures sporting tatoos and furry hats with ears.  This is Sales.

3.  @redsquareagency:   A link to camo-wearing, gun-toting Hispanic military men, two of whom sport this agency’s t-shirt.  This is Sales, and depending on your perspective, funny or ill-advised.

4.  @richandcom:  A link to a news item about well-financed quick buck schemers hosing longterm investors.  This is News, of the irrelevant and vaguely depressing sort.

5.  @Oshyn_Inc:  A link to a blog about “Live Server Dynaments.”  I wandered at “Live Server” and they lost me at “Dynaments.”  News.  Kind of.

6.  @GuyKawasaki:  A funny link to Craig Damrauer’s witty morenewmath.com .  This is Humor, and depending on your perspective, funny or time-wasting.

7.  @charlottehrb:  This is a Conversational Message between users.

8.  @kevin7211:  This, the first of three Tweets within three minutes, spotlights some ad guy selling mobile with a ‘context over content’ message.  Wants to be News, But it’s Babble.

9.  @drdue:  Sales pitch for girdles.  Bad targeting.  Sales.

10.  @LuckyIntern  RT of an Adweek article.  News.

So by the strict parameters of this carefully-conducted study, the predominance is split between Sales and News, both at 30%, with Babble and Conversational Messages at 20% each.  Of course, by personal standards, the Kawasaki link was the only thing worth following.  For a quick laugh.

Laughter definitely has human value, but it’s kind of hard to bill to a client…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Actually, You Haven't Exactly Read These Before

Actually, You Haven't Exactly Read These Before

Back in 1983, Peter Gabriel released his “Plays Live” double album and as an avid fan, I bought it and spent hours poring over the liner notes.   Actually, what I mostly remember about those notes was how he cheekily copped to ‘cheating’; the majority of the tracks featured overdubs and other sonic clean up and tightening work he performed later in a studio.  So while it was an audio record of his live performances, they were dolled up a bit to make them slightly more presentable.

I think that’s entirely reasonable.  I’m wrapping up a wonderful two-week Wisconsin vacation by traveling to Minneapolis this morning to make a presentation on social networking.  As part of that, I pulled together an e-Booklet called “Collected Thinking” which assembles twenty representative posts from this blog.  As I edited them, I did a good deal of revising and rewriting, reordering and reconfiguring.  Hopefully, the result is more coherence and focus.  Of course, if you’d prefer, you can take the opposing view and say I cheated.  I won’t hold that against anybody.

You can download a .pdf of it here: CollectedThinkingEBook .  Or you can go to lulu.com and buy it, but that would be rather needlessly extravagant, wouldn’t it?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Back in the mid-70’s, I used to ride the bus to junior high with a kid called “Tiger” Jackson.  Actually, none of us called him “Tiger” but apparently someone in his family did and he liked the sound of that a whole lot better than “Bill Jr.”  Tiger was never particularly popular but he was always the first to have any comedy record–George Carlin, Steve Martin, The National Lampoon Troupe–and somehow, the mere act of owning and sharing that material lent him a consideration he wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

I hadn’t thought about Tiger in three decades but yesterday we had a long discussion about social networks with a client that is getting very active in that space and facing the challenges every corporation does as they make the foray into the less-charted world of earned media.  As we explained the “Hey Everybody!” nature of Facebook and the “Hey anybody!” nature of Twitter to a curious if bemused seventy-year old, the question of “But…why?” came up again and again.  “Why do people spend so much time on these networks?”  “Why do they stop what they’re doing to write about it?”  “Why do they think anyone would care?”

We try to answer these queries with intellectual theses about the need for connection in a socially-isolating world where people bowl alone…  We wax philosophical on how technology empowers a cognitive expansion of our collective Dunbar numbers…  But at it’s heart, this need to broadcast what we’re doing, what we think, or what we have found to an unseen audience that includes friends, nodding acquaintances and a considerable amount of total strangers, bears more than a trace of narcissism.  “Look at me!  Follow my links!  Enjoy this comedy brought to you…by me!

Picture 2I type this fully aware that this insight indicts me and my social network habits perhaps most of all.  I write this blog most weekdays, creating lessons on marketing for…well, for whomever stumbles across them.  But I want people to stumble across them so I send out links to these posts over Twitter and LinkedIn.  Every morning during my commute, I try to find some topical story to inspire a one-liner for my Facebook status update.  I tell myself that I do these things because I need firsthand knowledge of social networking or that writing about contemporary advertising forces me to develop an intellectual discipline during these rapidly-evolving times.  And all of that is true.

But that hardly explains why I check my blog stats everyday to see how many people read the post.  Or why I secretly thrill when a friend on Facebook ‘likes my status’ or someone re-tweets a link.  Or why so many people on twitter spend hours each day, forwarding links like a modern day Tiger Jackson.  All of that springs directly from narcissism; a narcissism every client wading into the waters of social networking with hopes of spreading their messages would be well advised to keep in the forefront of their minds.  As an advertiser in social media, your wants and needs will always fall a distant second to your audience, unless you find a way to align your needs with theirs.  If that seems unthinkable, just read the first few paragraphs of this MobileInsider post by Steve Smith.  As he winds up for his pitch against ill-considered mobile phone apps, he says this: “For the benefit of those consumer brands that weren’t listening the first few hundred times this has been said, consumers do not wake up in the morning thanking the lord they live in a country where they get to worship your brand and see life through its narrow self-serving lens. That only happens in the retro-fantasies of Don Draper and the households of top executives at many of these major brands.”  Ouch.

Adjusting to the foundational narcissism that fuels social networks not only presents a real challenge, but a direct juxtaposition to the necessary narcissism of every corporate marketer.  Which is why these are, and will continue to be, very interesting times…

Of course, if you feel differently, I welcome your comments.  Even if you think my thinking is way off-base, the narcissist in me will take comfort knowing you responded.  Bless you.

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Last week, Gene Liebel, a managing partner at Huge, wrote a terrific piece for Mediaweek that took a skeptic’s view of engagement as the ‘metric du jour’ for success in digital projects.  As someone who has a turnkey presentation titled “Engagement is the New Black,” I read Gene’s article with a decidedly vested interest.  What was most interesting is that he doesn’t discount the importance of engagement; he simply doesn’t believe it is an accurate indicator of the ultimate metric of in-market success.  He considers engagement more of a ‘side effect’ and offers very strong cautionary arguments for anyone who would make it the end goal.

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Possibly the strongest point he makes–and one that’s not surprising coming from a User Experience expert–is how optimizing an e-commerce web site to make finding products easier will actually reduce page views and time on site, both of which are key measures of engagement.  At the same time, that type of optimization will increase a site’s conversion rate dramatically as visitors find what they need more quickly.  So even though engagement falls, sales increase–a powerful argument against making engagement your end goal.  Liebel contends consumers rarely invest time ‘engaging’ with brands anyway; when consumers visit sites, they have specific, practical needs–whether that’s information or purchasing.  Staying on a site longer does not necessarily correlate to deeper engagement–it could just indicate that consumers must dig deeper to accomplish what they want–a strong negative.

What he’s really arguing for–just like so many other leaders in the field today–is a better measure of value.  In a difficult economy that continues to squeeze marketing budgets, we need to arm our client partners first with programs that work and then with solid proof that those programs work.  As data points continue to improve (Google claims 85% of all media will be trackable by 2012), we will need new measures of our programs’ in-market effects.  More importantly, we will need multi-dimensional measures; today’s socially-networked world of mass-channel opinion requires a new measure of the combined impact of both paid and earned media, and how that drives sales.

Sales may be the ultimate metric for brands, but accountability remains the ultimate metric for agencies.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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