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The difference between forcing a community and finding a community

The last couple of years have brought a shift in social “media” as ad agencies have tried to disrupt the space with clever gimmicks (Real-time marketing) which is what they’ve always done best. Disrupt conversations and grab attention. It’s a perilous game: one misstep and you’ve got an angry mob on your hands. And it doesn’t work to drive much of anything except a couple of articles and some goodwill. Until the next brand trumps it and you’re forgotten. It’s a zero sum game in the end, and one that costs a lot of money to boot.

The real growth is where your value meets a need. There are a few brands who are doing it right. They’re the ones who spend the time getting to know the community of people who could USE their product or service and deliver the value behind it in a way that impacts someone’s life.

The digital space isn’t all about YOU. It’s about how you can help US. Sure, wit and snark will always play a part, but that’s a small part. Customer service? Big part. Relevant content that I can use? Big part. Being there when people are just talking? Big part.

It’s time to get back to basics and start serving the customer, not just looking for the most likes and retweets. Pay attention to the people, they’re the ones who buy your products. Invest in that strategy and you’ll win.

[Image credit Robie06]

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Working in the Cloud!

I know I’ve been a bit cagey about what I’ve been up to the last two months, but the time has come to share the great news!

I’m joining Cloud AdAgents as Managing Director, effective today. I’m thrilled to be running the Toronto shop, working with some fantastic clients, and a stellar bunch of people as we grow the business and continue to refine our new agency model.

So what is Cloud? We are what the name suggests, an agency that taps into the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world. We believe that you don’t need to be tied to a desk to do your best work. You don’t need to work in a large formalized structure. Sometimes that works, but it doesn’t for everyone – either employee or client.

We believe in the power of ideas; ideas that can come from anywhere. Quite literally, the World Is Our Office ™. Clients don’t need to be limited to getting great work from a single geographic location, or a single type of cultural experience. We believe in empowering entrepreneurs and freelancers and enabling them to work on large client business as part of a larger team. We believe in giving back to the community, and are really looking forward to what we can all achieve together in the coming years.

We have a foundation in digital and social media, but we embrace integration with all mediums, as they make sense strategically. We believe relationships matter: with our clients and with our partners. We are headquartered out of the espresso bar on Queen West where we have a collaboration space (and amazing coffee & snacks), but most of the time you’ll find us using the digital tools to get things done. Skype. Email. SMS. WebEx.

I’m really excited about being a part of this new agency model and seeing where it takes us. It’s daring, it’s challenging, and it is in the cloud.

And … I like challenging the status quo.

Come by, say hi and have an espresso (just ping me first because I may be any number of places!) :)

You can also find us on Twitter: @CloudAdAgents and Facebook: Espresso Bar / Agency and be sure to check in on Foursquare when you drop by, we’ve got a new deal at the Espresso Bar each week!

ps – look for our new website in the coming weeks!

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Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…

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The rules haven’t changed THAT much.

Molson has pulled it’s Facebook advertising campaign after public pressure and denunciations accused the beer company of promoting drinking amongst young adults. There’s always been a fine line alcohol companies have had to navigate in their marketing campaigns, especially considering the target market for mass vs. premium beer brands has always been 19-24 year olds (or 21-25 in the USA) who the beer brands try to make loyal customers for life by targeting them when they can first start drinking legally. That’s the nature of the biz, and one rainy day during patio season can heavily impact sales. When I worked on the LBOC and LUSA (Labatt Breweries of Canada and Labatt USA respectively) interactive brands back in 2002 this was something we had to be acutely aware of, and submitted our campaigns to rigorous scrutiny and approval by the AGCO. Frankly I’m more surprised this got past the AGCO than I am that Molson tried to push the envelope.

According to Molson this campaign is a result of the social media space being relatively new.

‚ÄúThe whole realm of social media ‚Äì there’s lots to learn,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIt’s really a new area. We’re probably groundbreaking and leading in a lot of things we’ve been doing.‚Äù

Social media tools, the Read/Write Web, and CGC may be relatively new, but the regulations surrounding alcohol marketing and advertising are not, and strategies that involve getting young adults to drink to excess to promote a product are not “groundbreaking”.

Social media does not mean throwing common sense out the window, no matter how much you’d like to get a beer version of Girls Gone Wild going to encourage sales (and believe me, sex sells and there’s nothing wrong with that… when done responsibly). Social media is not “one size fits all”, nor should it be. If you’re tying your brand to a campaign, there still may need to be rules in place (especially if you are a regulated industry), and Molson, and their agency, should have had the sense to have moderators in place before allowing a video picture to be posted or entered into the contest at the very least, and should have nixed the idea of having the contest revolve around students “partying on campus” at the brainstorming level. There are other ways to promote a product and engage in the social media space.

The campaign, pure and simple, involved getting young adults, with whom binge drinking is already a huge concern, to drink beer and post videos about it for a chance to win a trip to Cancun; what other message were they supposed to take away from “partying around campus”? Tupperware? Tea? And anyone who has been to Cancun knows it’s the haven for drinking to excess, so the underlining message is quite clear. If Molson and their agency didn’t think through the ramifications of this, I’m truly surprised. “One upmanship” amongst young adults is well known, and it’s one of the reasons why drinking games like quarters and keg party’s are still around; to think that giving them a chance to do so to win a trip wasn’t going to happen, or indirectly encourage it in order to create the most provocative video pic, was irresponsible. They were right to pull it and they are right to be called out in two subsequent Globe and Mail articles (the power of the print medium is still alive and well).

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Owning up to a mistake is a key part of the transparency and authenticity of social media… that may be the “groundbreaking” part Molson is missing here. There are a ton of ways I can see to have gotten the same message across, had fun, and engaged the demographic they were trying to reach. Hopefully they’ll have learned from it and my guess is the regulatory agency’s won’t be too far behind.

It would have been a different thing had they targeted it generally vs. specifically to colleges in my opinion.

Update – and viewing the creative where “Molson Cold Shot 6.0″ cans are front and centre leaves the premise that the campaign was “misunderstood” sorely lacking.

Update 2 – From one of the comments on the article:

If anyone should be worried about anything, it should be about pictures being on Facebook. Has anyone said anything about the fact that unflattering pictures may end up being within the public domain without someone’s consent? Has anyone mentioned that such pictures bein used by Molson as part of a commercial undertaking without the express consent of those being captured? [i.e. anyone in the photo who didn't enter the contest]

ps – before anyone accuses me of being anti-partying… I’ll see you at the Firkin during a Leafs game ;)

h/t – Traffick

[photo credit: AffiliateBob via Flickr]

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Viral vs. Word of Mouth – what’s the difference?

I know I haven’t blogged in eons, but I have been supremely busy with new clients and programs at TFC and have been putting theories into action so to speak, and my blog has suffered. For that I do apologize. I hope to rectify the situation after returning from a week in the sun in early May, although I do have one other post brewing I hope to squeak out before I leave (how’s that for some mixed metaphors!). :)

All that aside, in reading Sean’s wrap-up from the CMA’s recent “From Mass to Grass Conference”, I was struck by something I’ve been noticing recently – a blurring of the lines between viral & WOM when speaking about the success of a “word of mouth” campaign. In too many instances they actually are describing a viral campaign. And there is a distinction worth noting – viral occurs when you’ve passed the tipping point; WOM gets you to the tipping point.

I hate to be blunt about this, but if you’ve purchased TV ads and billboards and are blaring your URL to the world, it doesn’t qualify as word of mouth. It can definitely qualify as viral if enough people dig what you’ve produced online and send the link to their friends, tag it, or post about it on their blog. But it’s mass audience, not influencers and organic.

The essence of WOM is that it spreads organically; you are earning the publicity, not paying for it. If your microsite URL is on TV you’re the one spreading the word, not your customers.

If we’re talking to our client’s about generating word of mouth, we should also be making the distinction between getting the WOM via advertising vs. getting it because their customers were evangelizing to their friends.

[Update - June 15, 2007] I’m adding this as an update here to Sean’s post on his blog as I don’t feel like signing up for a typepad account in order to comment… btw Sean, my comments are fixed, it was a database issue (spam will take over the internet before we know it!).

I don’t have a ton to say except that I don’t believe I said above that WOM couldn’t be orchestrated, I just obviously have a fundamental disagreement with Sean as to what constitutes true word of mouth. Semantics do matter if you’re working towards long-term and big picture goals. I’ll reiterate my thoughts – if you are using mass advertising to drive people to your website and then push or cajole them to spread the word, that’s not meaningful word of mouth that builds true influential brand evangelists and contributes to long-term customer loyalty (the fundamentals of a WOM program). It’s an ad campaign with an online driver… same as it was in 1999, 2002 or 2005.

Word of mouth happens when people are compelled to share their positive (or negative) experiences with your brand or product within their circle of influence. Word of mouth can be orchestrated, but it has to come from a position of equality and respect… not blaring an ad on TV. Mass isn’t sexy – exclusivity is (as I pointed out in my WOM presentation at SES, available here). Viral isn’t a bad thing by any means, it’s just different.

[photo credit: moose477 on Flickr]

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Toyota’s Hybrid “community” needs a social media remedial

I came across an announcement on MediaPost about the re-launch of the Toyota Hybrid community website and decided to check it out (note to MediaPost — links would be helpful and more social), being an old auto ad chick myself, an environmentalist, and invested in social media. As reported, it sounded fantastic and a wonderful way to get the community involved. And it is pretty cool. But was that the point?

The main issue I have with the site is it’s built completely in Flash. High on bells and whistles, low on seamless integration and usability. It’s also difficult to find. I went to the Toyota Prius page from my Google search and the link there was to the Edmunds Toyota Community. Huh? Cross-linking/referencing new campaigns is a good thing people… you never know someone’s entrance point. I went back to the homepage and saw a cryptic banner for the “Hybrid Synergy Drive“. Excuse me? What does that mean? “Synergy Drive” sounds pretty cool in brainstorming sessions, not so much when you’re looking for a car, or to join a community.

When I finally get to the site it opens in a new window – bad. Then the Flash loads and I get a jumble of meaninglessness, although it looks cool. It’s not a “community”, except in the loosest sense of the word. It is tightly controlled and lacking depth or stickiness. There is no two-way communication with Toyota the company, and the only communication between community members is to view “reasons” people own the car (the reasons Toyota oh so nicely provides to you vs. allowing you to express your own opinions – about 15 -20 to choose from), or to chat via IM with people you’ve added as friends (except good luck finding someone, you’re identified by # – how personal and social).

Sure, once you’ve picked your Toyota-approved “reasons” you can manipulate their graphics to personalize a bit and you can upload a photo or video tied into your “number”, but so what? That kept me engaged for approx. 10 seconds. Why would I come back?

On the plus side, I do like the ability to search by various factors (age range, miles driven, vehicle colour), but with all the issues identified above that functionality is not optimized or persuasive.

The rest of the tools are ones you’d find on the vehicle branded page, which has nothing to do with community, and everything to do with the purchase funnel. It’s not a bad idea per se, to provide these tools on a community site, but they should be secondary to the purpose.

It’s disappointing to see that companies and agencies still don’t get it – if you want to form, join, or lead, a community, it has to be about them, not you. I’m sure the hybrid community has a lot of things they are passionate about and like to share about their vehicle outside of what Toyota allows… on another website. Although, I shouldn’t be too surprised as it appears companies and agencies still don’t get that search engines don’t index Flash either. Could be why it was so hard to find in the first place.

[photo credit: Husky on Flickr]

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