Funny how a scene from a movie set in the 1930s can help provide a lesson for audience engagement in the 21st century.
This 2½ minute scene from Jean Shepard’s classic holiday film “A Christmas Story” provides a great example of how a “worst practice” can kill a community of followers.
Nine-year-old Ralphie is a devoted follower of the “Little Orphan Annie Radio Hour,” and listens to the program religiously. In an effort to build a community of dedicated followers, the program’s sponsor allowed kids to become “members” of a special club: “Annie’s Secret Circle.” Club members received an official-looking letter and a special decoder ring which allowed them to decipher coded messages that were broadcast at the end of each program.
Only Official Club Members with the official decoder ring could decipher these messages. Once you opted-in, you were part of a community of kids who also followed Little Orphan Annie and her adventures. You could identify fellow members by the ring they proudly wore. Suddenly, you had a connection to kids you didn’t even know through membership and shared allegiance to a radio show. Only this community had the ability to decipher Annie’s secret messages.
While this was a great way to build and engage a community, the sponsor ended up blowing it. As demonstrated in this scene, as Ralphie was decoding his first much anticipated secret message (hoping no doubt to discover the location of a hidden treasure or find a clue to next week’s adventure), he was let down to find the coded “messages” were no more than “lousy commercials” from the show’s sponsor, Ovaltine. In frustration, he threw his decoder ring away.
This scene dramatizes an important point in engaging your audience. Once you have a community, be sure the content you send them is relevant, useful and wanted. If your content becomes about “you” and not about “them,” you’ll see followers drop off and fall away, just as Ralphie did.
From a content standpoint, it always helps to be thinking in terms of the next engagement. Filter your content by asking, “Is what I’m about to send enough to get my followers to come back the next time?”
If there were a national holiday to honor those of us in the ad biz, it would have be Super Bowl Sunday.
It’s the one day of the year where 100+ million people sit in front of their TVs IN EAGER ANTICIPATION of seeing our handiwork. They dare not miss a commercial, lest they be out of the loop during the water cooler discussions that inevitably take place starting on Super Bowl Monday.
Too bad this isn’t how folks view advertising the other 364 days of the year. Most of the time, it’s seen as an intrusion. Something to be avoided, either through channel surfing, the DVR fast-forward button, a trip to the kitchen, hitting the mute button or just by flat-out ignoring it.
So what makes Super Bowl advertising so different? How did we get to this point where viewers actually go to the bathroom during the game action so they won’t miss a commercial?
In a word, the content.
Since the Apple “1984″ spot more than two decades ago, the Big Game has been a showcase for engaging and entertaining spots. Marketers figured out early on that to maximize impact with a diverse audience that size, you don’t run the same old tired focused-grouped-to-death spots you’d run on “Desperate Housewives” or “Dancing With The Stars.” No, you needed something outrageous. Something that was “more” than what was considered acceptable on network TV. Something that translated well to the office water cooler patter. Here’s one of my favorites of recent years, for Ameriquest.
In short, Super Bowl marketers were thinking in terms of viral video, even years before that term really existed.
Of course, over the years, there has been quite a fair amount of “Creative Malpractice” done in the name of Super Bowl advertising. Just as many attempts at viral videos fall flat and fail to resonate, so do some Super Bowl spots. GoDaddy comes to mind. So does some of the more recent Budweiser work, for example the spot featuring the marketing guy getting tossed out the 5th floor window because he dared suggest the company cut back on its Bud Light budget. And, in the soulless quest for being named “the top-rated spot”, advertisers have resorted to some questionable examples of borrowed interest, such as shooting gerbils from a cannon.
Inevitably, there are some spots that will show up Sunday that will engage us and be talked about for quite a while to come. And there’ll be some (too many, I’m afraid to say) that will warrant no more than a collective, “Meh.”
The good news is, all these marketers are reaching. And on the national day of advertising, that is a good thing.
Come back Monday and let us know what your favorite spot(s) were.
If you are a fan of sitcoms, you are probably quite familiar with the concept of the “fourth wall.” The idea being that the actors perform for the phantom fourth wall, and that we, the audience, are that fourth wall. Under this scenario, actors are aware of the audience and perform for us, but never really involve us in their routine. We are observers, not participants.
If you think about it, that’s pretty much the same model that most corporate communications (including advertising) have used over the years. Marketers are aware of their audiences, and they perform for their benefit, but never truly involve them in real time.
Social Media is changing that. If traditional marketing can be compared to a sitcom, then using Social Media can be compared to improv. The audience has the opportunity to play a role in the performance. And the organization—the “improv troupe”—has the opportunity to takes its performance wherever the audiences wants to steer it, while staying in character all the while.
Yes, it takes a certain kind of moxie to perform without a script, and yes, you may find yourself out on a ledge a time or two. Some requests from the audience may seem to come totally from left field. But to achieve true engagement with your audience, you can’t rely on a one-way conversation. You need to demonstrate to your audience that you hear them, and the best way is to actually acknowledge that the members of your “audience” are part of the conversation.
And more and more, that is what the audience is going to demand.
(This is the 21st in our series of Social Media posts for the month of October. We look forward to your feedback on this series.)
Remember when your grade school principal used to threaten you with the idea that your transgressions would go on your “permanent record?” As school kids, we all envisioned this “permanent record” as a granite slab that duly recorded every spit wad, hair pull and rubber band gun for all mankind to see.
Thanks to the Internet, there is another form of a “permanent record” that we have to come to grips with. Once something is said online or some news article or blog post goes out, it’s being indexed by the major search engines. And when you Google or otherwise search for a company, what you get is a long list of relevant postings regarding that company or individual.
The much-dreaded permanent record.
One of the core tenets of Social Media is that the user is in control of the communication. The organization has a voice, but it is only one of many. Communities are about the members, not about the organization.
Too often, companies don’t like to even admit that negative things are being said about their brand. Their attitude seems to be, “If I ignore it, maybe everybody else will, too.” The problem with that kind of thinking is that customers today have a lot of ways they can express their displeasure.
And while you can’t control what people are saying about you, you can organize that speech by highlighting the good stuff and rationally responding to the not-so-good stuff. You can organize it by embracing the people who love your brand and challenging them to speak up and share the good word.
So when some dissatisfied customer or vitriolic ranter decides to go off on your organization or its products, what do you do? First off, accept that negative things are going to be said about you online…if not in the forum you set up and enable, then somewhere else just out of your sight. The web allows for a “comfortable anonymity” of its users, which makes them less inhibited, in both a good and bad way. You think less about moderating your comments when you’re sitting behind a computer screen hiding behind an email address, avatar or IP address.
Welcome to the art of Reputation Management.
The key to Reputation Management is to accept that knowledge is power. If you don’t know what is being said, you won’t be able to address it. Make it a best practice to survey major social networks and blogs for comments about your company, products or competitors. Free tools such as Google Blog Search or icerocket.com can help you get started. Here is a sample search results page for a marketer who gets lots of attention from bloggers, both good and bad—Walmart.
Negative commenters can be broken down into a few groups. The first (and the one that scares marketers the most) can be referred to as “trolls.” These are contributors who have a chip on their shoulder and who just want to complain, if not about you then something else. Most of the time, their complaints are baseless and often over the line (as an example, check out the comments on YouTube videos). Generally, it is best to just ignore this group, as their comments will be seen for what they are.
The second kind of negative comment generally comes from people who have an ax to grind against your company. They had a negative encounter with you at some point in the recent (or distant) past, and just aren’t willing to let it go. Acknowledging that you “hear” these folks will generally appease them to the point where they back off.
The third group of complainers can be very valuable to listen to. These are folks who have encountered some sort of legitimate problem or hiccup with you and are looking for a solution. These are customers who are “winnable,” and by listening to them and facilitating some sort of solution, you can often turn these negative customers into satisfied customers and in some cases into brand evangelists.
The advantage of knowing what’s being said about you, good and bad, is that it gives you an opportunity to respond immediately. And by “respond,” we’re not talking about arguing, justifying or trying to bribe commentators into pacification. It is more of an acknowledgment that you’ve heard the person, and you are open to helping them work through their issues.
You have a lot invested in your good name. It’s worth taking a little pro-action to protect it online.
If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, and are interested in what’s going on here at QMD/IQ, I invite you to visit our Facebook page and become a fan, or just comment on what you see. It’s all good.
(This is the seventeenth in our series of Social Media posts for the month of October. We look forward to your feedback on this series.)
As an organization, you have a lot of resources that many visitors and others would find useful. As we mentioned before, most people are using the Internet to find some kind of solution. The most successful Social Media programs are where you help visitors solve problems in ways only you can do it. The knowledge and experience you have around your business and industry is invaluable, and likely can help many, many people, even though you have yet to find a way to “monetize” it.
As an example, let’s say you are a retirement community. You have a lot of experience helping families transition a member to a new and different living environment. You have a lot of knowledge as to what caregivers should be looking for (and avoiding), what the needs of residents and families are, and other information that can give peace of mind and help potential customers make informed decisions. Why not make this kind of “intelligence” available to all who visit your site (and elsewhere on the ‘Net)? This information exchange could take the shape of white papers, a blog, or an online newsletter, or even links to industry-leading information sites. Turn your website from an information-only site into an interactive, dynamic community or a “clearing house” that makes your visitors “smarter” and gives them tools to make confident decisions.
Perspective clientele and their families would come to you in their earliest research phases to educate themselves on the issues involved in the process of finding a great solution to one of life’s more stressful situations. Instead of selling floor plans or amenities, you’ll be in the business of alleviating fears.
You are demonstrating that you understand your customers’ “greater purpose” and you are using your resources to create a solution they can’t find anywhere else. You can repurpose this content in blogs, newsletters, social groups and elsewhere. And as visitors discover this information and find it useful, you’ll find two things will happen: one, they will more often choose to engage with you at a deeper level (in many cases purchase), and two, they will freely share their experience with others and forward your information to them. (Remember the dynamic of Social Media: “receivers” are also “the medium” and are also “creators.”)
This is not selling; no where in this process are you “asking for the order.” What you are doing in this introductory phase is proving value to your prospective customers and building trust. You leave the door open to inquiry, but never is there a “quid pro quo”—“We’ll give you this information, but we expect you to buy from us.”
You are a smart organization. Social Media gives you the opportunity to it off.
(This is the sixteenth in our series of Social Media posts for the month of October. We look forward to your feedback on this series.)
Embracing Social Media is more about the culture than the technology. It implies that you as an organization have moved away from the “top down” model of communicating with customers, and is foregoing the natural tendency of wanting to control every communication. You are now committed to involving customers in a conversation. Your organization is demonstrating its trust in its customers.
Social Media provides the opportunity to tap the strengths of your “passionistas” (those within your organization who best embody the values of the company, and are honestly interested in helping customers). Blogs are another great way to get the individual voices of an organization speaking for the brand.
Blogs can provide fresh content for your followers and can help you build a reputation as a “thought leader” in your industry. And it doesn’t have to be the CEO doing the blogging—in fact in my opinion, in most cases it is better if it isn’t. You’ll want to pick somebody who is comfortable with the practice of blogging, and who is in a position to relate to customers and what they are looking for. As with all Social Media, you’ll want to be transparent. No ghost writing. And as comments to posts come in, moderation of those responses should be very light if at all.
“Selling” disguised as “blogging” doesn’t work, either. A blog’s point of view really has to start with the reader. What is an issue the customer is having that we have the expertise to help them with?
Online services like WordPress and Blogger have made starting and maintaining a blog simple. If there’s one word I would recommend to keep in mind when blogging, it is “consistent.” Have a consistent point of view. Consistently add fresh content. And consistently be a voice your followers want to hear.
Blogs can add a personal face to a very corporate organization. Wells Fargo Bank recently started a series of employee blogs directed at building engagement with groups that are traditionally underserved by the financial industry—students, minorities and single-parent households. These blogs are written from the point of view of the writer, not the bank. Bloggers often refer to the bank’s products or policies, but do it in the context of trying to be of help to these groups.
If you are interesting in blogging, our advice would be to follow other blogs before you jump in. A great place to start would be alltop.com, a web portal that bills itself as an “online magazine rack,” and can connect you with hundreds of relevant blogs in different industries and categories. Or, check Google Blog Search to find out what people are reading.
Another benefit of blogs is that they can help build your organization’s profile on search engines. As others forward or link to your content, you are developing a more in-depth online “story” about your organization.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about a content strategy that can help you get started.
(This is the sixth in our series of Social Media posts for the month of October. We look forward to your feedback on this series.)
One of the arguments marketers have used against Social Media campaigns is that it requires too much work
for too little return. “Social Media operates on too small a scale,” they may say. “No way you can expect the number of eyeballs from an online campaign as you would get from a traditional mass media campaign,” the thinking goes.
True. But is the number of “eyeballs” the correct measurement? Shouldn’t we be concerning ourselves more
For decades, we in marketing have had little choice but to subscribe to the paradigm of “media attrition.” It goes something like this: “If we hit 1,000,000 people with the same message, we’re bound to influence the behavior
That means we deliver the same message to 1,000,000 folks with the expectation that we may actually get 10,000 of them to take action.
With Social Media, however, it is possible to affect the behavior of the same 10,000 folks by starting with a far smaller number. Like, say 1,000. Or even 100.
Thanks to the Internet, social networking sites and other online tools and communities, the traditional “media funnel” as we know it gets turned on its head. It is literally flipped upside down. Instead of starting with a big number to get a small one, we start small with the expectation we can grow our community. What the Internet doesn’t deliver in numbers, it delivers in influence.
So whereas 1,000,000 used to equal 10,000, now 1,000 does.
And who, exactly, are these 1,000? They’re your best customers, the ones who already feel like you are part of their “personal brand.” The ones Malcom Gladwell would refer to as “sneezers.”
Finding them may take a little work, but once you identify them, and dialogue with them from the perspective of “what can I do for you?” rather than “here’s what I want you to know,” they’ll react positively and stick with you.
Nurturing a Social Media community takes a little more elbow grease than executing a media buy, but in the long run it’s worth it. Those initial 1,000 souls will become the “medium” of your message moving forward to friends, family and Facebook. Through the Magic Multiplier of social media, that initial 1,000 will soon balloon to 10,000 or even 100,000.
Right away you can see you don’t have to haul in huge numbers initially to be successful in Social Media. For conversation sake, take your engagement number and multiply it by 150 (the equivalent of a 0.75% conversion rate—pretty good by mass media standards). This will give you roughly an equivalent number of unique “eyeballs” you’d have to reach through mass media to achieve roughly the same results. If you engage 1,000, you’d have to reach 150,000, etc. Now ask, “what would I have had to spend to get those eyeballs?” There. You roughly have a working figure to show what that engagement is “worth” in traditional marketing dollars.
And with Social Media, your campaign doesn’t end when your ad budget does. Each member of your community has the opportunity to engage deeper and bring others in.
Looked at it in this respect, Social Media can be as competitive in scale as mass media.
Influencing behavior via Social Media may not work the same way as through conventional media, but the results can be just as effective (the Evian “Rollerskating Babies” video on YouTube for example, has attracted over 11.5 million views, in addition to the other free publicity it has generated. This could translate to a mass media value of more than $1 billion!)
With Social Media, you end up with customers who have chosen to engage with you on a deeper level. They have opted in. They came to you because someone in their personal circle recommended you. And if they have a good experience, you are “made” in Tony Soprano-speak, and won’t have to compete for them on a transaction-by-transaction basis, you’d likely have to do with a mass media campaign.
Just do the math.
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(This is the fifth in our series of Social Media posts for the month of October. We look forward to your feedback on this series.)
Trying to simplify the act of developing a Social Media strategy into a bite-sized blog post is sort of like trying to explain the Declaration of Independence in a 140 character Tweet. Something’s going to get left out.
So rather than attempt to be a comprehensive “how-to” post about Social Media strategy, we intend this as more of a “view from the mountain top” of things to consider when developing a Social Marketing strategy.
In a basic sense, developing a strategy for Social Media is much like developing a strategy for any other marketing endeavor. The intent is to create a “road map” you can follow that encompasses goals, audience definition, budget, tactics and content. And then, defining the metrics by which you’ll be able to discern whether or not your program was a success.
Let’s be clear here that Social Media by itself is not a strategy. Social Media amplifies your strategy. It provides a more natural, non-intrusive, organic way to demonstrate your core values to your audience, and allow them to share ownership of the brand.
Here are seven basic questions you’ll want to consider when developing a Social Media strategy:
What you are hoping to achieve? Are you hoping to find new customers? Re-activate inactive customers? Get customers you already have to try something new or change behavior? Use it for customer service? For feedback? To evaluate new product ideas or concepts? Then decide on metrics: How will you know if the program has been successful?
What level of involvement do you (the brand) intend to have? Will you employ a passive model of “listening” to gather intelligence? Or are you willing to adopt a more aggressive “hub and spoke” model where there is active interchange between followers and between you and followers?
Which platforms meet the goals you have set and the involvement level you have determined? If all you want to do is listen, you may be able to get by with using Google Alerts, Technorati (to see what people are bookmarking) and RSS feeds (to subscribe to blogs/newsletter from thought leaders and influencers). For customer service, you may wish to integrate a real-time platform like Twitter. For community building, you may wish to use a social networking site like Facebook, LinkedIn or Ning. And if you want to build your own platform, you may wish to build your own microsite(s) and drive traffic with Search Engine Optimization, paid search (key words) and perhaps even banner ads. The key is to set your goal first, then decide on which platforms will help you get there.
What is the narrative, or “story” you wish to convey? What do you want your audience to think after having engaged with you? How do you want them to describe the organization? Make sure the content you develop is consistent with that. Just like a good 30-second TV spot, every 140-character Twitter post, YouTube video or Facebook blurb contributes to the overall brand narrative.
How will you build an audience or community? Effective communities are started with passionate users/customers. Who are your influencers? How will you find them, and what will it take to involve them? (Some of our posts to come may give you some ideas.)
What will keep your audience engaged? The key is to stay relevant. Emailing a 10% off coupon may attract a lot of attention the first time you do it, but it is important to recognize this act as a conversation-starter. What are you going to do to follow that up?
What’s next? Monitor and adjust. The beauty of Social Media is that you can see reaction in real time. So if you’re not getting the information feedback you’re looking for, try something new. If you find one platform is outperforming others by a wide margin, put your emphasis and attention there. Try to understand what content drives engagement, and focus on what that next layer of content might look like.
At its best, Social Media can help you identify your most passionate users and engage them in meaningful discussion. Social Media strategies can be simple or complicated. It all depends on the goals you have and the level of involvement you feel comfortable with.
The important thing is to have a strategy.
As always, we look forward to your feedback on this series. If you’re not currently receiving the Quisenblog, you can subscribe here.
Bio: Mickey Lonchar opted for a career in advertising after many assurances it would not require any math or heavy lifting. Having spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.