Category: Content

US Mid-terms: the role of social media in the Republican’s success

I would not consider myself to be a fan of the Republican Party, but I am a fan of this comment by Lori Brownlee, social media director for the Republican National Committee (RNC).  Commenting on the success of their recent campaign she said “rather than simply using Twitter and Facebook as a broadcast tool,  we centered our plan around using social as a strategic listening and data collection tool.”

Check out this article just published in AdAge for more details.  There is so much that brands could learn from this approach – especially the ability to understand, in real-time, what people are talking about or asking.  Social media is a real-time game and it requires that a brand design real-time processes to play it.  This is not a game where you sit down and plan your content in advance – you plan your process in advance and this will then tell you what content you need to have out there right now.  A content strategy needs to be seen as a process that matches brand answers to consumers’ questions in real-time.

Neither do you plan your influencers in advance, people become influential because what it is they are doing or saying right now, and you therefore need to identify them in real-time.  Someone who is influential today, is not necessarily going to be influential tomorrow.

And key to this process are tools and people.  Listening and analysis tools (such as Sprinklr, mentioned in the article), but then places (such as newsrooms or command centres) where the tools can be plugged into people who can then process and share the information and make decisions about what to do.  Rather than spending time and money simply filling up channels with ‘brandfill’, brand should spend time and money creating (and then staffing and managing) command centres.

What is local news? Can it exist as a form of media?

Two weeks ago I had just returned home from football training with one of my sons. As I got out of the car I heard some distant thunder-like rumbling. But the rumble kept repeating itself in a very regular way. It was therefore clearly not a natural phenomenon. It was something that was very big or explosive (a bit worrying) but also very distance and not seeming to get closer (more reassuring).

So I wanted to find out what was going on. Did I listen to the local radio station? Did I look at the website of the local newspaper? Of course not. I simply punched #Norfolk #Suffolk #boom into a Twitter search. Hey presto – I found someone else with the same question and shortly we were joined by another with the answer – which was some uncommonly noisy military exercises taking place at the army’s Stanford Training Area (Stanta), some 20 miles way in Thetford Forest.

Now the issue here is not whether the local radio station or newspaper could or should have been giving me this information. Or that their inability to do so therefore represented a unfulfilled need or opportunity for a more (hyper) local variant of their kind to fill this supposed ‘gap in the market’. Radio and newspapers are constrained, and defined by, (and named after) the medium within which they have to operate (radio, newsprint). The expense of using this medium sets a floor, in terms of required audience, below which they cannot go. But this constraint also applies to the type of content these forms of media produce – which is something we tend to forget. We have lived in a world where information is married to distribution (content to media) and where distribution wears the trousers (i.e. defines what content can live within it).

The social digital revolution is all about the separation of information from distribution – the removal of the constraint upon content which expensive distribution channels once imposed. But the removal of this distribution constraint has not, as many assume, made it possible for the content form (as distinct from distribution form) that is local media to break through the glass floor and now operate at the hyper local level. At this level (or within the social digital space) the concept of content ceases to have any meaning – because content is a creation of the world of channel (distribution). It requires containment in order to be content.

What happens at the hyper local level (or in the hyper-relevant social digital space more generally) is that the form of content we call news stops being a finished product (i.e. content) and becomes a raw material. It becomes a component within a process that will allow individuals to define their own news. In the example I have highlighted it has become a conversation – which is a form of process. And when you aggregate conversations, what you end up with is a community.  And the question you also have to ask is that, when you remove the glass floor, do you find you have also removed a glass ceiling – such that process and community based ‘news’ migrates upwards and eats even more of the space currently occupied by traditional news content.  Yes is probably the answer.

The future is therefore pretty bleak for what we currently see understand as local news.  It cannot make itself more local because hyper-local news can never exist, or be aggregated within, the distribution form we associate with media.  And the hyper-local, or hyper-relevant, processes associated with information sharing in the social digital space (the world of the individual, rather than the world of the audience) are likely to migrate upwards and eat even more of its, already relatively impoverished, lunch.

adidas spills the beans on its World Cup campaign: they went #allin but what did they get?

BtJkpzZIUAAB77oOn Tuesday I was at one of Sprinklr‘s #social@scale events in London. These are always good because a series of big brands (who happen to be Sprinklr clients of course) basically spill the beans on what they are up to in social media.

The stand out presentation (no offence to the other presenters) was adidas who spilled the beans on their World Cup programme. It was fascinating because, firstly it was adidas, secondly it was the World Cup (the biggest potential brand exposure platform there is, especially for a sports brand) and thirdly, what an astonishing tin of beans it was.

To give you a flavour: the strategy had three elements, mobilization, anticipation and reaction. On the mobilization front they set up a social media command centre in Rio with a team of 80 people. 80 people! To put that into perspective the England national team only brought an entourage of 72 people – and that was the largest party England had ever assembled. From this command centre adidas were running a broadcast/content operation that was probably more extensive (in terms of its usage of channel and variety of output) than any of the traditional media broadcasters, although they didn’t trump the BBCs’ 272 people in terms of numbers. But I don’t think anyone trumps the BBC in terms of the numbers of people turning up at these sorts of parties.

In terms of anticipation adidas went there having prepared what they called a content bible: actually a vast library of material ‘in the can’, so that they could react in real time to almost any scenario. They also did something that was super-clever in order to get around the fact that they didn’t own the rights to any of the content from the games themselves, which was to have an animation facility on tap that could produce stylised video representations of the key moments of play which could then be put out as vines or assembled into montages for YouTube. In many ways these were even more ‘engaging’ than the real video clips because they challenged the viewer to match the clip and the players featured with the actual moments of play they were recreating. Making your audience work for the punch line always gets bigger laughs than just spoon-feeding them jokes.

And to give an indication of the speed of reaction, the Bazuca ball had its own Twitter identity. Come the infamous ‘was it over the line’ incident, ‘the ball’ tweeted that it was a goal before even the referee made his decision. Whether or not you think giving a ball a Twitter identity is a good idea you have to take your hat off to the speed of reaction.

Basically the whole thing was totally awesome in scale and organisation. In fact it was probably the most totally awesome way in which you could use social media, if you wished to use social media in a totally awesome way. Indeed this may even set a never to be repeated high watermark for social media awesomeness.

Why never to be repeated? Well here is where it gets interesting. The objective for all this awesomeness was simply to “have the loudest voice at the World Cup” according to @KrisEkman who was giving the presentation. So at the end of the presentation I asked the question, “why was this the objective and how did you measure it – was it just with respect to the share of voice of competitor brands or was it with respect to the whole World Cup conversation on social media?” The answer, it transpired, was basically to be shouting louder than Nike. This was because Nike was perceived to have ‘won’ the last World Cup and adidas wanted to out-gun them this time. And then came the killer question from Jessica Federer (@jjfeds) from Bayer. “How did you justify this expenditure to the bosses, in terms of what it did for sales or brand reputation” she said. The answer was startling. “We didn’t have to do this”, said Kris. Basically the team had been given an ROI pass: the whole thing had been declared an ROI-free zone. All they had to do was rack-up was more engagement stats than Nike.

Wow. Is that enlightened or just plain crazy? Not only were adidas spending a huge amount of money on a hunch, they were unable to have any basis for comparison for what a campaign vectored almost exclusively in social media was delivering versus what a traditional media based campaign would have delivered. Wow.

This seemed to me the equivalent of a football manager saying “you don’t have to score any goals, just make more passes than anyone else.” I tackled Kris in a coffee break on this one. Of course, it wasn’t a totally measurement free zone. The fact that they were using a platform such as Sprinklr to manage all the listening and response channels meant that they had control over a lot of the data. For example they could track contacts in social media through to online sales, albeit as Kris acknowledged, this was really only a small part of the picture. Now while Sprinklr does a good job on measurement, its main function is for real-time management and control. It can provide you with data you can plug into measurement processes if you want to, but, as far as I was aware, the Sprinklr data wasn’t really being plugged into anything.   Ultimately, adidas will also be able to look at uplift in sales and compare this to that generated by previous World Cup or Euro campaigns. Perhaps they already have this picture. None-the-less, this was a pretty big leap of faith.

As an aside, measurement is my big beef with many brands’ usage of social media. For example, everyone is spending big bucks producing loads of ‘content’ but no-one can measure the value the individual pieces of content created. Therefore you neither get a decent ROI calculation nor do you have an editorial framework that allows you decide which types of content you should be creating, i.e. which bits create the most value.

For myself, I didn’t quite know what to make of the adidas campaign. I was blown away by the awesomeness, but fear it may not have won the battle of sales, even if it won the battle of shouting. I always carry on about there now being two worlds for brands: the world of the audience (which is what traditional marketing has always been about) and the world of the individual (the new space where social media plays). Audiences don’t really exist in social media and to the extent to which they do, they are quite hard to create. For an event like the World Cup, which is probably the biggest audience-based event on the planet, is it therefore appropriate to show-up with an approach that, no matter what awesome levels of investment you throw at it, is always going to struggle to reach an audience as big as that which is available through more traditional channels? (Remembering, of course that social media isn’t really a channel or form of media, it is an infrastructure).

For sure, social media must form an important part of any campaign. Social media is a participatory media, it allows you to do things with groups of consumers or individuals that are not possible when you are simply ‘performing’ in traditional media, or ‘reaching out’ in competitions, promotions, events etc. But what it delivers in terms of participatory opportunity, it tends to lack in terms of reach.

It was interesting to note that very few of the 50 or so people in the room had seen the elements of adidas’s campaign. I must confess that I hadn’t encountered any of it. Put together all the elements in a show-reel and it looks totally awesome – but no consumer ever gets to see the show-reel. This is always a challenge, even if you are creating a campaign that has a higher dependency on high-reach media. But the way you solve this is by having a well-defined central creative idea, such that when a consumer sees just a bit of the campaign, it reinforces or creates the pathway back to that central idea. The idea acts as a multiplier to the individual tactics. Without this, you just have a bunch of tactics.

What then was the adidas idea? The tag line was ‘All in or nothing’ but this is a one-line expression of an idea not the idea itself. The difficulty I think adidas faced is that it is hard to make social media conform to the strictures of carrying an idea. You can use it to help create an idea or to involve people in aspects of that idea, but traditional forms of broadcast channel or conventional audience-based marketing activities are almost always better vehicles for actually driving an idea. Social media is also relentlessly real-time: a fact that adidas’s approach was set up to deal with. But it is hard to exert the creative precision necessary to sustain an idea, when you have only seconds to react. It is a bit like being asked a question, but then having to frame your answer in rhyme and also sing it as a jingle. Quite possibly adidas’s reliance (over-reliance?) on social media actually ended up eroding the focus on a creative idea (because singing all your responses in rhyme and in real-time is just too creatively challenging).

So I was left with the question: are adidas simply doing the wrong thing, brilliantly? At heart, it was a conventional broadcast strategy that used social, rather than traditional, media channels. But as we all know by now, social media is not about broadcast (it’s not even really media). You may well be shouting louder than Nike, but social media is not a medium for shouting.

And this is why I suspect this awesome display may represent the high-water mark: for adidas and perhaps all brands. For sure, they went #allin and whilst they didn’t get nothing, when they look at the sales lift, did they get enough?


Content and the 90:10 rule: why you should only spend 10% of your content budget on actually producing content

Brands have always produced content, it is just that back in the old days, they couldn’t afford to produce very much of it. This wasn’t because it was expensive to produce, but because it was expensive to distribute. There was a rough rule-of-thumb which said that maximum 10 per cent of your content (advertising) budget was spend on production and 90 per cent was spent on distribution (buying the media space). Now the great thing about social media is that you don’t have to buy it. “Fantastic,” has been the reaction of brands, “that means we can now spend 100 per cent of our social content budget on actually making the content.” It is as though something that was once expensive and desirable has now become virtually free and everyone has gone on a binge as a result.

However, we have forgotten that while it is easy enough to produce content and put it ‘in’ a social media channel, this doesn’t mean that the content is actually going anywhere or doing anything valuable for the brand. In fact the vast majority of brand content just sits in these channels like so much undigested brandfill. Content is only ever going to go anywhere, or do anything, if you socialise it – i.e. apply a process to the content you produce. In fact I think the 90:10 rule still applies: for any content strategy, only 10 per cent of the budget should be spend producing the content and the other 90 per cent needs to be spent ‘socialising’ the content you produce.

What is socialisation? Socialisation (like all things in social media) is a process and it has two components. The first involves finding out what content your consumers actually want and this has to start with establishing an effective listening and insight process. As simple and obvious as this step might sound, it is often either ignored or proves to be an almost insurmountable obstacle for some brands. This is because it reveals that the content (or conversations) consumers’ actually want is very different from the content (or conversations) the brand wants to have with consumers. In fact, consumers may not really want that much content at all. Rather than accept this rather unpalatable truth, brands often react by trying to provoke or entice (through promotion or gamification) consumers into becoming willing consumers of their content. Indeed Coca-Cola has stated its objective is to “provoke conversations and earn a disproportionate share of popular culture”.

What brands find when they listen to their consumers is that what they really want is answers to questions, either in the form of direct responses to real-time issues or through the ability to access relevant information, preferably where some form of peer endorsement process has been put in place. The place many turn to, of course, is Google and it never ceases to amaze me just how few brands have based their content strategies on an assessment of what questions their actual or potential customers are asking Google,  for which they as a brand can (should) provide an answer.

The second part of the socialisation process involves what you do with the content once produced. The reason content rarely goes anywhere in social media is because there are no audiences there to view it and such people as are there are not necessarily motivated to want to spread the content for you. Even if you have identified what Google spaces your content is relevant to, content left to its own devices is unlikely to attract sufficient attention to make it very far up the Google rankings. What needs to happen is that the content needs to be inserted into relevant conversations, matched to the spaces where the questions for which it is the answer are being asked.  This, of course, involves listening and responding to these conversations in the first place (step one again). This is a time intensive business and while you don’t necessarily need to attract a huge level of response to your content to attract the attention of Google (provided your content is designed appropriately in the first place), it will require some significant attention before the process of normal social interaction will provide it with sufficient Google juice to remain buoyant. Some content, of course, will never make it – so you have to start either the process again, or accept that there just isn’t a market for it.

The value of this approach is that, once you have given a piece of content sufficient buoyancy, it will remain relevant and useful for a long time, rather than simply being disposable. This is one area where brand-produced content is different to the content of traditional media. Traditional media content is designed to be disposable so that it produces an income stream. And traditional media outlets know exactly the value of the content they produce because there is a direct connection between volume produced and revenue (advertising or subscription) generated. This is one (of the may) reasons why it is foolish for brands to adopt a media model in thinking about how they approach content.

If brands applied the 90:10 rule the amount of content they produce would reduce dramatically, either because they couldn’t afford to invest sufficient time in socialising a large amount of content , or because they realised that there is no demand for the much of the content they thought they need to produce. They would also start to get a handle on what content creates value and thus have an editorial process that can focus on this rather than a process geared to generating a stream of disposable and /or unwanted brandfill.

For example, take this piece of content on ‘Spring picnic essentials’ from Coca-Cola. What process can you imagine might have been in place to determine that producing this content was a valuable or useful exercise and what process was then in place to insert it into relevant conversations such that it was likely to retain any sort of visibility or sustained relevance?   I don’t know what this process was, except that it must have been a very strange process. Or else there was no such process – which I suspect was probably the case.

It is a bit like old-fashioned press releases really. You didn’t measure the effectiveness of your PR programme by the amount of press releases you issued, but by the coverage you generated as a result. And you generated much of this coverage by the knowledge you had of the media you were targeting, the relationships you created with journalists and by not flooding these journalists with irrelevant content.

Perhaps there is much new-fangled ‘content marketing’ could learn from old-fashioned media relations.

How do we measure the value of content? A look at Coca-Cola.

How do we measure the value of content?  Given the amount of money many brands are currently sinking into content, this would seem to be a pretty important question to answer – especially since the conventional ways for measuring the value of content are not really designed to work in this new world where the brand positions itself as a publisher or media organisation – producing forms of online magazine.

To date we have generally measured brand content in two ways: either its effectiveness as a piece of advertising (usually via a direct link through to increases in sales) or we have measured it in the context of how it sits within a website (often through its place in a journey designed to lead through to online action or transaction).  In both of these instances the amount of content we produced was relatively restricted – either because it was expensive to produce or because producing too much of it lead to confusion.  However, the new approach dictates that brands produce a continuous, high volume stream of output – much like a conventional publisher.  No doubt this is why the publisher model is one that many brands like to reference.

Coca-Cola: leading the pack, but in the right direction?

Coca-Cola is one of the most high profile examples of a brand that has embraced the content and publication model.  In its, now famous Content 2020 video, chief creative type, Jonathan Mildenhall outlines how Coca-Cola is shifting from “creative excellence to content excellence”.  The corporate website has been declared dead and instead been transformed into a digital magazine and its stated ambition is to “make a Coke story part of your daily habit – whether it’s on Google+, Facebook, or Flipboard.”  Now that is some form of ambition.  I can’t even identify a traditional publisher whose content (at least in the online space) I consume as part of a daily habit.  The closest for me is the BBC – but even then I tend to come across their stories rather than making any conscious effort to visit their site (or use their app).

Set against this background, there has been a fascinating blogversation taking place between Ashley Brown – the prime mover at Coca-Cola behind the brand as publisher push, and Mark Higginson – from the University of Brighton.  Back in February Continue reading

Please listen to Kristina Halvorson’s presentation at SXSW

FireShot Screen Capture #103 - 'Go Home Marketing, You Are Drunk' - www_slideshare_net_khalvorson_go-home-marketing-you-are-drunkI don’t get to go to SXSW because I have to pay for my own airfare.  I can only go to the conferences that pay the airfare for me to come and speak.  Such is the life of an independent consultant.  However, I am fortunate enough to know some people who work for an organisation sufficiently large and enlightened to pay for some of its people to go to SXSW and since these people know what I am interested in – they can point me to the bits of it they think I might be interested in.  And they pointed me to a presentation by Kristina @Halvorson.

Please take the time to look at this (and / or listen to the accompanying words on SoundCloud) because it’s observations are spot-on.

It starts with an expose of the famous Oreo “dunk in the dark” Superbowl tweet which sent the marketing industry into such paroxysms of ecstasy.  The basis for her criticism was essentially the fact that while this tweet rocked the marketing world, it didn’t rock the world of the consumer for whom it was intended, basically because the actual numbers it reached were miniscule (in comparison say with the total numbers who tweeted about the event or watched it on television, or who might be considered Oreo’s target audience).  Music to my ears – so much so that I am going to use this example in a presentation at a conference in Hamburg in two days time.  (This is a conference which is paying for me to attend: In-Cosmetics 2014 if you are interested). Continue reading

Gagging for it: why content marketing is a fantasy

I have been a little off-the-pace in January, which is why I missed a couple of pieces on content marketing which gained a lot of attention.  Fortunately, I was having a coffee last week with Stan Magniant, the Head of Digital and Social, EMEA for the MSL Group and he brought me up-to-date.  The first is Content Shock produced by @markwschaefer and the second is the Slideshare presentation Crap. The Content Deluge by Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners.  Both are sceptical of content marketing and both are totally wrong in my opinion.

In brief Content Shock is wrong because it is applying an old-fashioned channel, content, consumption thinking in a space where such thinking is redundant and The Content Deluge proposes that the answer is simply to make better content, without recognising that the game is no longer about content, it is about real-time information.

But I thought, rather than just do another blog post, why not build on the spirit of The Content Deluge and ‘Do a Slideshare Number’ – so here it is.  Warning: the start of the presentation is deliberately designed to be uncomfortable, but hopefully not inappropriate.  Feel free to comment if you feel that it is.


We need to talk about content marketing

talkaboutkevinFINALContent marketing.  Now here is a trending thing.  Of course, from the earliest of days, content has been one of the primary areas of focus within the social media space, but it feels as though this thing ‘content marketing’ is now reaching some sort of critical attention mass.

A few years back everyone needed something which could be called a social media strategy – mostly just so they could say they had one.  You didn’t really need to understand it, you didn’t really even need to implement it, far less measure the value it created – still don’t one might say – you just needed to have one (preferably with a Twitter account and Facebook page tacked onto it) for when you got asked the question.  So it is now with a content marketing strategy.  I suspect that few marketing folk will be able to make it through 2014 with their credibility intact, if they are unable to hold aloft a content marketing strategy.

But here is the thing.  What exactly is content marketing and what is a content marketing strategy?  Also – how does it map against this thing called native advertising (or is native advertising just an ad person’s attempt to try and appropriate a trend which is currently playing more to the strengths of PR and journalistic, rather than advertising, types?)  Actually, I think we can answer that last question easily.  Native advertising is just an ad person’s attempt to appropriate a trend which naturally plays more to the strengths of PR and journalism, rather than advertising. End of story (and hopefully end of talk of native advertising).

Content: what content?

Of late, I have become a skeptic of the term content, especially this thing called ‘engaging content’.  It wasn’t always so.  In some of the first presentations I gave on social media some six or seven years ago I can remember my mantra was “get it a link, get it out there and get it working for you” – albeit the intent here was to try and get organisations to understand that content shouldn’t be highly produced and live on websites – it should be very low cost, produced in volume, launched from content hubs and live ‘out there’ in social (Google) space.  Conversation, Content and Community were what I preached as being the Holy Trinity of social media.  Continue reading

The latest croissant of absurdity from the SocialBakers

Every month I receive an email from measurement / metrics company SocialBakers alerting me to the latest  league table of performance for UK Facebook pages.  I usually avoid opening this email because it depresses me, perpetuating as it does, the view that Facebook activity and social media in general is a numbers game that is all about creating the maximum number of fans and this thing called engagement.  However, this month I took a look, just to see if things were changing.  They were not.  The part of the report that always depresses me the most, remained depressing.  I have shown it below. Continue reading