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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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How mobile drives friends and followers

Mobile advertising is worth no more than $150m in the US in 2009. Given the distribution of devices, the growth of data usage, and the increasingly centrality to the lives of Americans this is somewhat surprising.

It’s likely that the significant gating factor is the fact that few advertisers have hit upon a reasonable business model where a return can be generated as a result of consumer interactions with mobile content. Maybe that is about to change.

The increased penetration of smart phones and so called ‘super phones’ is synchronous with the growth of social media applications run very effectively on those devices. A huge volume of Facebook and Twitter actions are executed away from the desktop and an increasing number of advertisers are building their own services and applications on those platforms with increasingly promising commercial benefits.

It seems logical therefore that mobile advertising will grow as these applications develop and it seems like a simple click to friendship or click to follow will allow a direct ROI calculation build around the value those friends and followers.

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Social Gyroscope

A device for maintaining orientation. Goodness we all need one. Among the many places it would be handy is in our online social interactions in which our work chums, families, friends, casual acquaintances and those with whom we share our double lives are scarily co-mingled.

If we were minded to we could do Facebook for friends, Linkedin for work, A Small World for posh friends, Twitter for – actually not so sure about that – and Second Life for the alter egos of all of the above.

That possibility is neither practical or very satisfying – thus the need for the Social Gyroscope ™. Its role is straightforward. Whoever you connect with, regardless of when or  how, the SG orientates all of your other contacts and places them in a neat hierarchy of relevance and frequency of connection and also provides a handy “oh shit” filter to prevent accidental combustible interactions.  As a consequence you have the right folks on hand all the time on any device and any network.

Thus far the Social Gyroscope is in alpha test only and its prospective users will have to continue to rely on a remarkable but slightly unreliable device called the human brain for a while longer. First round funding anyone???

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“The report of my death is an exaggeration”

Mark Twain made the remark a long time ago but it may be worth applying it to the purported death of interruptive advertising. We all know that mainstream media has become impaled on all things interactive, social and digital and that changes in the distribution model of media have proceeded in a way that does not support advertising simply because (zut alors!) many consumers avoid advertising if they can and almost none actively seek it out.

As a consequence, and as I have written before, the new media displaces the old yet does so without any kind of plausible funding model. There will be a reason why the owners of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter do not publish their revenue figures and it’s not because they would take too long to add up.

Worse still of course the attention (time spent) given to the new channels reduces audiences to the old creating the triple whammy of reducing audiences, reducing revenue for programming and editorial and escalating the costs of reaching audiences for advertisers. Among all media channels print is being hit most dramatically; the announcement by Hearst that the Seattle Post Intelligencer (Microsoft’s local paper) would most likely close in weeks is the latest in a long line of suspensions, reductions in frequency and closures and is certainly not the last.

The sadness of this is that the print industry is almost beyond saving, its economics are horrible and it has just two strategies remaining. The first , being acquired by deep pocketed benefactors, is challenged by a combination a shrinking population of the egregiously wealthy and a reduction in the correlation of newspaper ownership and political influence. The second may have a little more potential; print needs to find a new way to measure itself and charge its advertisers. Doing this is in everyone’s interest, for retailers and other advertisers the correlation between advertising and sales has never been more important, for the media yield management in a market of declining demand will only get you so far.

To this end the key may be to look at all the digital connective tissue that can help ascribe value to analog media including unique urls, promotional codes and mobile short codes that can help the media and its customers understand the value of their readers. In a perfect world this will translate to a pay for performance model in which the media can invest in running ads and other promotions and see the results in the registers of their customers. If this sounds like partnership rather than an adversarial set to, so be it.

As for YouTube, Facebook and the rest their issue is different. I guess we all know that their users won’t approve of interruptive advertising and that commercial free is good. All true, personally I like HBO, luckily I like it enough to pay. Is the same true of the world’s most popular digital platforms? 5 cents a play on YouTube, $1 per month on Facebook? That’s unlikely but by the end of 2009 it would be totally unsurprising if sessions on both did not start with, and become punctuated by, ads. 

The calculus seems simple to me. For the consumer it’s pay or prepare for interruption, for the media owner it’s prepare to interrupt and prove your contribution to sales.

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Orthodox Jews and Harley Davidson – persistence for the observant

It’s often said that the greatest example of consumers embracing a brand is the propensity of some to have the Harley Davidson logo tattooed on some body part or other. The point is that no greater love hath any man than to willingly desecrate his person in tribute to a commercial enterprise.

According to urban myth, orthodox Jews, however, can’t join the party for the simple reason that even one tiny tattoo eliminates the possibility of being buried in a Jewish cemetery. This suggests that the almighty objects to the defacement of his work though as yet the Talmud remains as silent on the matter as it does on the use of Botox.

Let’s assume for a moment that this is true. What to do if you wish to declare your infatuation? Well, the answer is in the widget business. One of the singular attractions of creating another ‘you’ is that you can set new, and less painful, rules of self-desecration. To that end any advertiser who decides to create a widget and enable its distribution has some home of achieving a persistent presence for their brand, service or message on the personal profiles of its customers and fans from Facebook to iGoogle.

We all know that passive consumption of advertising has challenges, we know also that brand websites are very rarely as ‘sticky’ as their owners or authors would like and that neither strategy is wholly dependable. My friend, Mike Lundgren (from sister agency VML), said only yesterday that ‘if your ad is not on YouTube it probably sucks’ and he opens up a compelling debate on how to value communication.

In a recent post I suggested that every communications brief should now ask ‘why should someone keep this communication and why should they share it?’. I am starting (thoughts please) to think that we need to think about levels of preference, relevance and engagement that look right to the heart of the businesses we operate and the brands we create. This in turn requires a very rare blend of sobriety, integrity and creativity delivered through a dual filter of consumer insight and corporate self awareness.

Success is measured in the tracking of persistent brand presence. Who? How many? How often shared?. If nothing else we will give people a way to show us their love in this life without compromising the next one.

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Monetizing Facebook – Is the answer outside the network?

Perhaps a quarter of total web traffic occurs on social networks and that number could double if the share was restricted to non-corpaorate or academic use. This number, however, does not convert in anyway to the share of total web advertising expenditure. In contrast the social newtorks are the main source of the lowest cost form of inventory that provide the impression bank for the myriad ad networks that add value through targeting and re-selling to advertisers mostly on a performance basis.

The outcome for the social networks is not a happy one. They accrue limited revenue and open their environments to a volume of advertising of varying degrees of relevance little of which is welcomed by their users.

Facebook is of course not just one network but a central set of tools and utilities on which many separate and interlocking networks operate. The Harvard Alumni, the Obama supporters, the WPP employees and so it goes. Given that this data is self reported and (unusually for such data) mostly accurate does this set up a more relevant ad model?

The operation would involve Facebook selling access to the their users and the networks they create by allowing, for example, advertisers to target the Harvard group, not on Facebook, but elsewhere on the web as they use other sites who also sell their inventory to the network operators.

In so doing Facebook becomes a fascinating behavioral targeting play in its own right without compromising its own properties. The question this raises is one of privacy, will Facebook users object to their data being used in this way? I suspect not; the data are not personally identifiable and its users are already accustomed to the absence of free lunches in media consumption.



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