Category Archives: Social media

What Drives Word of Mouth? Interesting Content

Compelling content will drive word of mouth for your brand, even if that content is irreverant and in the form of *gasp* a 30-second spot on broadcast TV. Exhibit A: McDonald’s talking fish. 

YouTube views of most popular posting of the spot: 246,757 <warning: this tune will stick in your head like spackling paste>

Google blog search results for “McDonald’s talking fish”: 29,921

Members of McDonald’s Filet O Fish Commercial fan club on Facebook: 289 

The spot’s been running for two weeks.

Social Media and Skittles

In about the time it takes to down a bag of Sour Skittles, a handful of nitwits hijacked the redesigned Skittles.com website, which Mars Snackfood relaunched over the weekend as an aggregator of user-generated Skittles content.  The new home page features the deep, Skittles-related insights of Twitter nation, and a few morons quickly figured out this was a cool way to post random obscenities on a company’s public website. Even better if that brand sells candy to kids! 

The new Skittles site also pulls in content from Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook. That’s it – nothing from the company except a feedback form and its video ads (via YouTube). In other words, Mars has turned over its Skittles brand strategy to the unwashed masses. Bad idea. The point is that social media should inform marketing strategy – it shouldn’t be the strategy. This is a nice gimmick, but I doubt it will have any staying power – and it won’t do much good for the Skittles brand.

Marketers Sick of Web 2.0? Not So Fast

Survey results released this week from the Marketing Executives Networking Group and Anderson Analytics are getting a lot of play in the blogosphere, particularly this nugget from the press release:

Twice as many marketers are “sick” of hearing about Web 2.0 and related buzzwords such as “blogs” and “social networking” compared to last year’s survey; however, marketers still admit they don’t know enough about it.  This was evident in the results of a social media study MENG released on November 6, 2008 showing 67% of executive marketers consider themselves beginners when it comes to using social media for marketing purposes.

A couple of points here. First, only 19.4% of the 643 respondents said they were tired of hearing the term “Web 2.0” (up from 9.1% a year ago), 12.2 % said the same about “social networking”, and 11.3% cited “social media” as a term they had tired of. Not exactly overwhelming condemnation of the concepts. And it’s no surprise that the year-over-year numbers would go up, considering those terms generate an endless drumbeat of media coverage. Hell, I’m sick of hearing about/reading about/saying them myself.

What the press release and subsequent coverage of the survey overlook is that when the respondents were asked what they considered to be the most important marketing concepts, the percentages citing “word of mouth,” “social network sites,” “viral marketing,” “Web 2.0,” and “consumer generated media” all rose year-to-year. Granted, these categories did not crack the respondents’ top 10 priorities (word of mouth was #11), but it’s clear that these concepts are rising in importance, even as the buzzwords themselves are becoming cliche.

The greater concern should be whether marketers will be able to sustain any progress they’ve made with their social media marketing programs. With more than half the respondents noting that their ’09 budgets have been reduced, the tendency will be to fall back on more traditional investments like sales promotions, which are viewed as safer bets than the experimentation that goes into identifying social media strategies that really work. The sales folks will be happy, but innovation will take a hit. So even though 79% of the execs in the MENG survey said that customer satisfaction was their top priority, customers can expect to be subjected to the same hard-sell tactics that have become so annoying (and so easy to ignore). Talk about tired.

Proof that the Mass Market Is Not Dead, Just … Different

The backlash against Johnson & Johnson over its ill-conceived Motrin ad proves that the mass market is alive and well, with one major shift: It’s now controlled by the consumer. Consider the irony: An ad that had been living innocuously for more than a month on a Motrin website and in a few print mags was Twittered into a national story by a small but vocal group of moms. This tells me that even the most targeted Web advertising – in the hands of the right viral (pick one) advocates/mob – has more potential reach than TV advertising in the pre-cable days. Not only that, but thanks to YouTube and the search engines, the campaign will endure in all of its infamy well into the future.

The Decline and (Rapidly Approaching) Fall of the TV Empire

A new study from a research firm called Grunwald Associates indicates a significant shift in the media habits of children:

Sixty-four percent of kids go online while watching television, and nearly half of U.S. teens (49 percent) report that they do so frequently — anywhere from three times a week to several times a day. … The study reveals that 73 percent of TV-online multitasking kids are engaged in “active multitasking,” defined by Grunwald Associates as content in one medium influencing concurrent behavior in another. This trend represents a 33 percent increase in active multitasking since 2002. While kids are using more media, their attention primarily and overwhelmingly is focused on their online activities.

I don’t need stats to tell me about the decline of traditional TV among tomorrow’s generation; I see it daily in my own house, as my 17-year-old watches downloaded episodes of Degrassi on her iPod, as my 12-year-old focuses far more time IM’ing or fast-forwarding through DVR’d Celtic games than watching live TV, and as my 9-year-old runs around the house making videos and begging me to let him post something on YouTube, or as he surfs for PS2 cheats online, half-listening as Jimmy Neutron drones in the background.   

Sure, there are a few seminal TV events that the family feels obligated to watch live, like the Super Bowl or, to a lesser extent, American Idol. But today’s kids are edging – no, rushing – away from the passive TV experience. I do not envy network execs.
 

Social Media Curriculum: Beginner or Advanced?

Companies are all over the map in their embrace/avoidance of blogs and other social media. Some, especially tech firms, have given virtually free reign to their employees to launch blogs and talk directly to customers. Others are paralyzed by concerns over governance issues and the possibility that some corporate blogger will disclose something that doesn’t adhere to corporate policy or catches the probing eyes of the SEC.  

Even the experts can’t agree on how to approach corporate blogging. In the true spirit of this new medium, a curriculum of sorts has organically sprung up for social media marketing. Start with Jeremiah Owyang, a Forrester analyst who posted on the “three impossible conversations for corporations” (1. Asking for Feedback; 2. Saying Positive Things about your Competitors; 3. Admitting You Were Wrong.) Good, solid advice for the social media novice. 

David Churbuck retorted that those tips are way too basic to be useful for most corporate marketers, who he believes are past the Blogging 101 stage and are seeking more advanced education:

This corporate blogging stuff isn’t a two headed chicken in the freak tent anymore. This is mainstream baby. Anyone writing posts about “impossible” corporate conversations has to step it up – talk about the serious stuff, like – contravening corporate policy by privately resolving a blogged customer support issue and having the blogger publically state the solution and thereby set a precedent for all future complaints. Let’s get into that one and you’ll earn my respect.

Challenged to provide his own advice (as someone who lives the stuff daily), Churbuck offered a couple of Blogging 201 primers: one on the risks of a no-questions-asked blogger appeasement strategy, the other a broader list of 10 topics that he’d like to see more discussion about:

  1. Tool and platforms
  2. Pronouns
  3. Metrics
  4. Rogue SMM
  5. How to do SMM/SEO right
  6. Going Uplevel
  7. Organizational Ownership
  8. One vs many
  9. Review mechanism and buddy systems
  10. The politics of being a know-it-all

The pundit and the practitioner have both agreed to dig into these and other social media marketing topics over the next few months, which is good news for any marketer trying to get his or her arms around this brave new world of “customer engagement.”

Of course, any curriculum would be incomplete without some backround reading: I’ve provided a bit of that with a dusted-off interview I did in 2005 with Lenn Pryor, who created the Channel 9 website for Microsoft in 2004 that serves as a touchstone for current social media marketing.

MySpace the Media Company

As traditional media companies attempt to turn their Web properties into social networking sites, it seems that MySpace is evolving into a media company. The New York Times makes that point in an article explaining how MySpace, though still operating independently under News Corp., is taking on many of the characteristics of traditional media companies as it builds out its own content. The site has “become very mainstream. It’s about consuming content and discovering pop culture,” co-founder Chris DeWolfe told the Times, which goes on to say:

As a result, the MySpace site resembles a portal like Yahoo or AOL as much as a social networking site. Peter F. Chernin, the president and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, called MySpace a “contemporary media platform” and said the site existed to “create content and connect people to one another.”

A quick view of the homepage shows that the portal comparison is correct. New sections devoted to news, politics and celebrities all feature original or licensed content (in addition to the site’s traditional user-generated content, including, for example, links to celebrity MySpace pages). It’s a pretty clear indication of where MySpace is going, since the new content is a way to attract advertisers – the lifeblood of any media company – without soiling the personal profile pages of MySpace’s gazillion members.

I don’t know if the “mediatization” of MySpace spells doom to the purists who just go there to connect with friends. And there are plenty of people pointing to MySpace’s slowing growth as a sign that the site’s appeal has peaked, but if I were AOL, MSN or Yahoo – or any other media company trying to reload to stay competitive – I’d be plenty worried.

Embrace the Swarm

Best presentation I’ve seen on social networking came from Chuck Brymer at the ANA’s annual conference in Phoenix on Friday. Brymer, president and CEO of DDB Worldwide, spoke of online communities as digital swarms, formed through a combination of technological advances and a growing distrust in institutions.

“People used to put a lot of trust in institutions,” he told about 1,200 attendees of the conference, held at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. “We believed what the government said, what the news media said, and even what advertisers said. It’s not like that today. As a society, we are more cynical and less believing. … We no longer just accept what we’re told by people in high places. Instead, we trust those who are close to us. Those with similar experiences. When you put the expanding digital swarm together with the simultaneous rise in trust in friends and family, you have a very powerful combination.”

This power, he added, “irrevocably changes” the roles of marketers. He compared the herd mentality of traditional marketing and advertising programs – communicating to people who passively sit in front of TVs and radios and read newspapers and magazines – to today’s far more active digital swarms: “The herd is passive. It lacks active intelligence. The swarm on the other hand is about actively sharing intelligence, and that is a huge distinction. While you can lead a herd, you cannot lead a swarm. You cannot issue instructions to a swarm. A swarm is not an audience in the traditional sense and it’s not looking to [marketers] for guidance.”

The implications of peer communication and localized information are significant, Brymer said. “Forget the idea that digital is the new media. The real new media is you and me.” As an example, he referenced Allconsuming.net, a site devoted to people “telling each other about the stuff they’re buying, eating, drinking, watching.”

How can marketers enter the swarm? One word: influence. “While you cannot lead a swarm, you can influence it,” Brymer explained. “Influence is one of the most valuable assets a brand can have in a networked world.” Influence, he said, should be measured in the same way we measure share of voice or share of market. “Brands that have influence command attention.”

In a swarm, he explained, success is determined by whether communities are attracted to your brand or run away from it. “Do people see you as a predator or a peer? If you are a peer, you have credibility and influence. As the word spreads throughout the swarm, people begin to flock to you. You gain greater influence and more people seek you out.”

This requires a level of authenticity that many advertisers may not be accustomed to. “Every touch point, every interaction influences whether your brand is accepted or rejected by the swarm,” Brymer said. “Every day, you are being appraised. The swarm is like a modern day Big Brother – it’s watching you, taking your measure, and evaluating your intentions.”

He suggested three ways marketers can influence the swarm:

  • Conviction: Brands that are influential, he explained, all start in the same place: with the personal vision and convictions of the marketers behind them. Brands that stand for something – he offered Harley Davidson, Apple and Volkswagen as prime examples – attract followers. “What makes these brands influential is not their size,” he said. “It’s that each believes in something and has built brand communities of influence among its members, who in turn influence others.”

  • Collaboration: Swarms want a say in how your products and services look, what they do, and what they should do better. Two examples: Lego, which offers downloadable software from its website that lets kids design their own creations>. Another is Philips, which lets consumers track their individual contributions to protecting the environment by switching to energy-saving light bulbs.

  • Creativity: As you would expect from the head of an ad agency, Brymer touted creativity as “the one element that can influence a swarm more than anything.” Creativity is universal, regardless of the media in which it exists, because it allows marketers to connect with people at an emotional level. “Interesting ideas and provocative thinking influences swarms.” The power of the digital swarm is its ability to pass these ideas on virally. One example: an ad from a Dutch insurance company called Centraal Beheer that has close to 1 million views on YouTube:

Brymer closed with a (slightly paraphrased) quote from former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shineski: “You may not like change, but you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

New Blog Alert: Business and Networking

Former CMO mag colleague Constantine von Hoffman has a new blog called Business and Networking, which if you knew Con or follow his other online exploits would immediately conclude that he’s playing it way too straight with the name. Anyhoo, he has a nice post today on the evolution of social networking from standalone site to online feature, keying off a post by Wired’s Chris Anderson. Con talks about the folly of businesses jumping on the social networking bandwagon without considering the need to provide good content as a hook for snagging like-minded enthusiasts:

Content/information that is aimed at a specific — not general — market. People already know where to go connect with everyone, now they need a place where they can connect with someone in particular. But don’t throw up a site and say it’s for Left-Handed Truffle makers and expect the Left-Handed Truffle makers to come flocking to you and provide all the content. Saying you’re aimed at a group is not enough. You have to give that group something beyond the ability to share videos, etc. That something is some sort of information.

As I pointed out a few months ago, I agree that the next big social networking movement will be toward niche/special-interest groups, not full-blown, category-owning destination sites like MySpace or Facebook. And as I noted on Con’s post, businesses can succeed as facilitators for users who share common interests, but they can’t force-feed community to their customer base.