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Social creativity

Messaging in the stream. Not a new Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton collaboration, rather the aspiration of marketers wishing to bathe in the warmth of earned media. The idea goes like this. The brand creates a social home that people can join, like or check in to and as a consequence allow the brand to join their news feed and the streams of those they know. This feels good. “N” people take an action and “N x friends of N” are potentially exposed to the resultant flow of comments or messages. This makes for a fine CPM calculation and thus one rather “media like” basis for valuing a friend or a follower.

Am I alone in finding this a little unsatisfying? It pays to spend a little while in brand sponsored social environments, before gifting your client virtual Kool Aid, simply to follow the type and volume of exchanges that take place. The sad fact is that most of it is somewhere between lame and prosaic and its disemmination is unlikely to be of any real value.

The wise Miles Young CEO of Ogilvy has taken to quoting Abraham Lincoln on the subject of social media. Lincoln posited that “character is like a tree, reputation is like its shadow”. This is a useful reference and pushes one towards the necessary question “what does your tree look like?”.

If you are Pepsi (Refresh Everything) or American Express (Members Project) you have a pretty good answer to the tree question. You have created participation with purpose. The same is not true for everyone and suggests that more time and energy needs to be devoted to developing a real social strategy in which participation in the stream creates value for the participant and the interlocking streams of their social graph.

This brings us to the question of “what is social creativity?” put simply it’s  creativity that people want to keep and share. It does not have to be social as in socially responsible but that’s as good a space to start as any. It can also be socially valuable; inside information that it’s worth being on the inside of (Bergdorf Goodman for example) or service / experience enhancing (Best Buy, Dell, Jet Blue, Macy’s, Starbucks). All these cases are ones where the value exchange between the brand and its friends are clear.

The attraction of these strategies is also that they support long term marketing effect objectives in a channel that has been dominated by short term strategies and the pursuit of the last click. The good thing about trees is that they live long lives and cast long shadows.

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Social Service

It has often been said that one of the distinguishing features of the web is that it is both a channel to market and a marketing channel. The stand out brands and corporations in web marketing know this and realized that what they did online had to add genuine customer value through any or all of choice, value, convenience, relevance and service.

It is the last of this handful of virtues that separates the good from the average on Twitter. Why do Best Buy, Jet Blue and Dell constantly top the list of brands that are leveraging social media?

I think the answer is simple enough; all these companies have found a way of creating genuinely enhancing experiences through the provision of real time customer service and advantage in the form of advice, information, discounts and benefits.

Its been said that customer service is the new marketing. It’s also been said that those companies that make service the goal across the employee base are the ones people will want to do business with. The notion of broadly distributed service within organizations has the added benefit of connecting participating employees with the broader mission of the enterprise. Forty something years ago President Kennedy is said to have asked a Cape Canaveral janitor the nature of his job. The janitor was sweeping the floor but answered ‘Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon’.

Tweeting for Best Buy might be less lofty but those that do are helping the company to separate itself from its competition. Looking beyond this group an increasing population of corporations are adding a service layer to brands through social media, mobile apps and other programs. Happily these services, like the brands themselves, require promotion. The ROI comes from the equation that says pay for creating awareness of a service and for directing the consumer to an experience you own. You can earn more exposure by how that experience is shared.

The message to brands is simple. If you want to think social then think service. Service sits at the heart of relationships between brands consumers and at the heart of the conversations those relationships create.

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