It was oh-so-déjà-vu when I returned to the office after attending School of WOM. Just like my mother would do after a long day of classes, my boss asked me: What did you learn today? As if, magically, I had it all figured out.
Did I dare quote author and futurist Brian Solis? He opened the conference with a challenging statement: Social media, while inspired by best practices, is so new that there is no box to think outside of yet—we need to define our own best practices.
This sentiment was echoed the next day in Yahoo!’s principal research scientist Duncan Watts’ keynote presentation supporting his latest book Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer. Watts reminded us that as marketers, we need to hypothesize, test and iterate as rigorously as scientists do.
So with an open mind, I took it all in—attending a variety of workshops, mingling and sharing war stories and successes with other smart, experienced and so very friendly pros. My mission: To find my own answers. While “one size does not fit all” when it comes to social engagement, there are rules of thumb that apply broadly to most brands and organizations. Here are five of my favorite school lessons learned:
1. Make it tweetable. Brands not only need to come up with messages, but also something that is significant, meaningful and shareable. Social media has given us an amazing stage, but it’s what we say when we step up to the mic that truly matters.
2. Give ‘em a reason to keep “Liking” you. Sure, you can reel them in with a chance to win a new iPad 2, but if you don’t create an experience that people want to talk about—and deliver tangible value time and time again—your customers will break up with you.
3. Don Draper would be fired today. The “Mad Men model” is a thing of the past—now, it’s all about storytelling. It’s no longer about finding your audience, showing up uninvited, interrupting and badgering them. Today, the only messages people see and hear are the ones they choose to see and hear. While we don’t have 30 seconds to be marketed to (thanks, TiVo), we do have 30 seconds for a great story. We seek them. We connect with them. And, everyone has a story to tell. Those who tell it best, win.
4. The revolution will not be televised. Rather, it will take place on a mobile browser. Like social media, mobile should not be a stand-alone program. Instead, it’s another platform for campaign activation. To be successful, mobile elements must be unique and involve location and real-time interaction. Without it—useless.
5. News Feed Optimization (NFO) is the most important invention of our time. Thanks to EdgeRank, the Facebook algorithm that controls what you see in your news feed, we need to be very strategic when we think about the content we create. Not only do we need to come up with posts that are highly engaging (Liked and commented on—a lot), but must also remember a host of other factors, such as the nature of the content (photos and videos rank high) and the time of day when we post (weekends are best since there is less competition). This is great for consumers, but for marketers, not so much.
While not commandments, these lessons can inspire us to think outside the box. What social engagement lessons would you add?
Is offline engagement dead? At last week’s School of WOM in Chicago, I approached one of the speakers after a session to thank him for an interesting presentation. When we shook hands, he said: “Thanks for the eye contact. For more than 40 minutes I only saw the tops of heads!” While we both had a good laugh, the exchange made me wonder – can social media professionals ever go off-line? How do you engage people when they are engaged elsewhere?
Being an engagement geek at heart, I decided to do a little experiment. In my next session I observed the audience and their engagement with the speakers. (Yes, I get the irony of my not paying attention to study others not paying attention). More than half of the 33 people in the room were regularly using laptop and their phones or pad devices during most of the session. ( I know – some of them were taking notes) And one guy I sat next to – who really outdid himself – had a computer (Facebook), his phone (tweeting) and an iPad (gotta keep up on email)! And, I had to laugh when he asked me at the end of the session, “so, what was your big take-away?”
What does this mean? Are we so tied to the tools and devices that facilitate online engagement that we disengage with what’s happening in the here and now of our lives? Or have we become so skilled at double- and triple tasking that we can tweet, answer email and learn at the same time? Or is attending a conference like getting my Clash concert t-shirt – saying you were there is enough?
The real issue is – does it matter? My response would be a texted, tweeted and liked yes! While online tools can help spark conversation, share knowledge and even motivate action, not everything can be accomplished in the cloud. Someone still has to take those great customer ideas and make them into a product. Someone still has to buy that product after trying that cool app. And people still need live and interactive exchanges to solve problems and spark innovation. When we act as if our “real” lives exist only online, we all lose.
OK – I’ll get off my soapbox now – and make room for you. Let me know what you think. Can we find the right balance where today’s tools facilitate and allow us to appreciate both on and offline interaction? Share your thoughts and we’ll recap what we learn in a future blog. (If you’d like to talk offline, my number is 847-322-9429). Until then,” thanks for the eye contact.”
Lots of people attending SXSW this year were newbies, including me. I came because I was invited to moderate a panel about the growth and impact of social marketing budgets. (more on that in a later post) The speaker packet that came with the job signaled some of the culture and inconsistencies of this event.
The first instruction was to go to the speakers’ “green room” at my venue and check-in an hour before my panel. It informed us that once we checked in, we would not be able to leave the green room until we were escorted to the presentation room, There, the captive speakers were to make final preparations. All of this was a bit laughable. First of all, the so-called “green room” was a hallway space behind a portable room screen. It was packed with SXSW volunteers who monopolized the three chairs and took up the remaining square footage in little cluster mobs. Secondly, my panel was all senior managers of big brands who were not going to be held prisoner for an hour that could otherwise be productively spent.
Here was the next piece of advice that we received: “Do not begin your presentation by telling the audience that you have not prepared for the session.” Really? In addition, the materials informed us if we were not good that the audience would simply leave and go to a different, better session. Being a frequent presenter who works hard at giving the audience something of value, I wondered about the civility of an audience that would simply up and leave.
Only later did I realize why this counsel was rendered. Our panel was SRO and thankfully, no one voted with their feet. The audience was engaged and interested to the end. Immediately following, I went to a “core conversation” session, which is a facilitated group discussion. It was supposed to delve into how to monetize UGC. It ended up being a tutorial about Gen Z and how best to engage them. The monetization was exchanging reputation points for merchandise. Not five minutes into the “discussion” an audience member asked when they were going to start dealing with the topic that was advertised. The presenters continued chatting about their Gen Z site. Pretty soon, others started asking direct Qs about the topic they came to discuss. Before too long, about a quarter of the group was gone.
Not as bad as the poor woman who was a “solo” presenter on the subject of “social shop”, obviously a hot topic since she filled a ballroom with well over 250 people. She started by fumbling around on the dias, trying to connect her computer and search frantically for her deck, She kept telling the audience that she would start as soon as she located her material, which she never did. In the process, she actually knocked a chair off the stage! Finally, she said, “Well, let’s just start. Everyone likes to shop. Where do they shop on-line? Hmm, let’s think. Oh, Amazon. And,where else?” Ouch! Within 10 minutes half the audience stood up en masse and left. 20 minutes in, only a few diehards remained.
This is the culture of SXSW. By and large, the sessions and speakers are chosen through a crowd-sourcing process. People submit ideas in several categories and then the public votes. The brief topic summaries are irreverent, creative and designed to appeal to the geek crowd that SXSW draws. Here’s the issue: is this the best method of getting the best content? The brief topic elevator speeches do not present enough information to really grasp what the submitter really wants to present. The funniest or goofiest descriptions go viral and people vote them in. Other submitters do the best job of socializing their submissions and garner the most votes. Now we have a bunch of potentially interesting content, but no idea of the experience and quality of the presenters. While I appreciate the authentic nature of this approach, my experience attending these sessions was so hit or miss, that it begins impacting the perception of the overall experience. It’s difficult for me to leave the office, even though it’s energizing to participate in a group knowledge soak. So many of the sessions did not do a good job of communicating the true topic, so I either left (Yes, I was uncivil in this way) or I learned something I didn’t set out to explore.
Ultimately what every newbie learns is that the value of the conversation is key; not in the quality of the panels and presentations. Yes, I had a different learning experience than what was billed, but ultimately the learning comes from stringing together unrelated nuggets and creating a new body of knowledge. As long as your brain is wired a bit differently when you leave, you’ve made a good investment of time and money, even if you didn’t learn what you thought you would.
While the same can be said for many conference experiences, as with everything at SXSW, it was just more apparent there and therefore, more revealing. Conferences should be a magical alchemy of content, connections and conversation. What conferences do you think do the best job of this?
For many of us, the line between online and off has disappeared. Bandwidth is relatively cheap, public hotspots are almost ubiquitous and mobile technology and infrastructure is rapidly catching up to the hype.
I can’t think of a time in the last two years when I didn’t have either my smart phone, a computing or Internet accessible device not within arm’s reach; or at least during the hours I am awake. With the explosion of QR codes here in the states, smart apps and interlinked social networks, the role of content has grown exponentially.
We all understand the value of a brand, right?
Brands spend big bucks on traditional advertising, marketing, product development, associate training, call centers and tweaking their customer experience to ensure the consistency and value of their brand. After all, brand value equals trust and the more trust a person has in the brand, the more they are willing to suspend skepticism, overlook glitches, forgive problems and most importantly, dial down their price sensitivity.
What does this have to do with technology though? Where am I going? Stick with me.
Historically, paid media and paid activities (investments in infrastructure, promotion, people and products) drove brand value. Nod your head, you know it is true.
Is that still true today? Yes, but the equation isn’t quite as simple as it used to be and the balance of power is tipping. Twenty years ago, your contribution to the brand, frankly didn’t matter one bit. You and I added very little to the brand value equation other than did the cash register ring.
Today, much like in politics, your contribution to a brand’s value does matter. It matters a lot.
Two ways. One. Your reputation. Two. Your content. Technology allows for the organization of content in ways that are interesting and more importantly, relevant. But it is not the brand message so much as it is your message that drives brand value today.
Let’s look at a simple example.
LIB-Tech makes a hot snowboard called the Skate Banana. It has all sorts of technical innovations that make it for some, the board of choice. For some, knowing the specifications and performance characteristics of the Skate Banana is crucial but for most, they wouldn’t understand what a reverse camber is if it bit them. They do know it is cool and will likely improve their performance on the mountain. How do they know this? They see and talk to others AND they consume content. Usually, the content that is the tipping point associated with brand value is customer content. What do I mean?
To buy a Skate Banana if you can get your hands on one is north of $700 with the right bindings. Is it worth it? Do I need a new snowboard this year? Am I willing to wait three weeks for a Skate Banana since the retailer sold out of their inventory in the first week or am I willing to drive 80 miles to get one this weekend. The higher the brand value, the more I am willing to act on these things. Simple. We all know this.
But what is really driving Skate Banana’s brand value? I click on the in-store QR code to find this. Ooooh, very sexy. I talk to the sales associate who tells me story after story of epic snowboarding experiences he had and how much he loves his Skate Banana. I go home and dive into content. Customer content. Everything from HD video of extreme back country boarding to amateur product demos and expert impromptu boarder interviews. I log into a private snowboarder community forum I belong to and have a chat with some guys about the pros and cons of the Skate Banana and boarding at Telluride. I have boarded with one of these guys before and his reputation as an expert, as well as, honest is solid. I am sold.
All if what I lay out here is a prelude to this.
In the near future, earned content will exceed the influence factor of traditional advertising and will become on of the largest contributing factors to brand value.
There is a caveat. If you don’t know how to properly use it, you will not-you cannot-reap the fruit. Someone else will, but not you. Here is a simple example of what I mean. If you cannot drive a manual transmission, you cannot drive a Lotus, no matter how much you want to. Simple as that. Somebody else besides you will slide in the driver seat who knows how to drive a stick.
For earned content to deliver on its power, it has to be fully integrated into virtually every aspect of your brand experience in relevant ways big and small. An example of what I mean is this: integrate customer how to videos into your online version of an owners or assembly manual. Not rocket science but relevant and effective. However doing it once in a row and putting it in one place won’t cut it. It has to be ubiquitous.
Also, you need to know your content equity value. Simply put, content equity value is measuring the contribution that content is providing to your business KPI’s. Today, most brands are not even tracking this. If they were, they would find their equity value to be woefully low.
The prediction I am willing to make is the brands who understand and act on full content integration and who actively manage their content equity moving forward with be the firms with the highest brand value and will likely dominate their market niche.
So the twenty-four dollar question is, where does your brand sit? Are you prepared to be a leader or a laggard as content takes over?