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Managing expectations: the passion of ideas vs. the passion for brands in social media

Social media is taking people powered organizing to a new level – the relative ease, speed, and agility with which groups of like-minded people can get together and affect change is amazing. The real life examples of this power continue to roll in and while the case studies are intoxicating, from a marketing and brand standpoint, it’s a good idea to separate the insights from the actions and ultimately to manage our expectations as marketers/ communicators.

A recent example of the power of social networks to rapidly mobilize and pull together an amazing “crowdsourced” event is the #hohoto.ca geek holiday party in Toronto which benefits the Daily Bread Food Bank. This event didn’t exist prior to a week ago and so far has raised over $8k for charity based only on Twitter communications (while the event will use other channels – Flickr, YouTube, etc. the organizing and promotion has happened almost exclusively via Twitter networks) by a group of people who got together and decided to throw a party. The money raised from ticket sales is impressive with over 100 folks signed up to attend, but the small business community has stepped up as well and sponsored the event, and the venue (Mod Club) and ticket agent (Eventbrite) have also waived their fees to help with a good cause. All in all this mobilization and the resulting support has been something to behold – check out the twitter search stream for a sampling of how active and generous the community has been!

(Other recent examples are of course the #motrinmoms recent controversy and the #mumbai tragedy, but those have been well covered, and for these purposes I’m going to focus on what brands can learn from the #hohoto example.)

However, the temptation will be to say this is another proof of concept that social media works and use this as a case study for how brands should jump on board and harness this crowdsourcing. Yes and no. While this does prove in the power of the tools to mobilize and activate individuals, it’s not something brands should *expect* to happen for them just by participating in the social web. There is a difference between passion for an IDEA and passion for a BRAND after all.

Here are a few key insights that companies can learn from #hohoto and what makes it different from outreach and participation in SocMed for a brand -

  1. This event needed influential catalysts – the Mesh Conference team who are well known and liked influencers on the Toronto scene stepped in at the outset and pledged their support & promoted and “re-tweeted” the details non-stop to their network of “influencers” in the Toronto tech & communications community.
  2. It’s the holiday season and geeks like any reason to get out and network in person – throw in a charity angle and you’ve got a winner of an idea.
  3. Low commitment on behalf of the attendees – it’s a party after all, not providing intellectual property for the benefit of a company brand.
  4. Lowered expectations surrounding the implementation – the website and promotion was a work-in-progress by a loose group of individuals. There were some snafus – the website didn’t actually list the event details when it first went up, the date changed after the launch & tickets were sold, and there were spelling mistakes, etc on the site. No harm, no foul, but if this was a “brand” event I expect the reaction would have been a tad harsh to the “launch & learn” approach.
  5. The timeline for the event is tight – it’s being held on December 15th and therefore the constant stream of #hohoto hashtags and promotion is tolerated and embraced. If this were for a brand program I think we may have seen some “cease & desist” snark and comments from the Twitter community when every other tweet is about the event from personal accounts.
  6. The tools are powerful and the “cool factor” of tweet streams, on-site video streaming, twitter DJ requests, etc. etc. are important to extending the reach and motivating this particular community, *but* without the two key IDEAS – holiday party networking & charity – they are just that, cool tools.

For a brand venturing or participating in the space it would be dangerous to expect the same type of response for a purely commercial endeavour. Crowdsourcing can be powerful, but it can also backfire if the right insights aren’t there at the outset. Planning matters and a good idea will still rule.

Participating and building a network honestly is the rule of the day, and ensuring that you’re tapping into the passions of individuals for something they care about will motivate people far more than any shiny tool will.

If you don’t receive the same type of response to your brand, don’t be discouraged, it’s a different experience. Your response is probably just fine for your goals… if they were realistically set to begin with.

See you at #hohoto on the 15th? :)

[photo credit: Derektor via Flickr]

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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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The Family Guy disses UGC

I have a love/ hate relationship with the show The Family Guy… sometimes I love it, sometimes it makes me cringe…and it’s certainly no Simpsons, but I digress. It is a hugely popular and mostly witty show that holds a coveted spot in the Fox lineup on Sunday nights. A night known for poking fun at the doings of the parent company.

Which is why it was no surprise, but quite poignant and laugh worthy, when they tackled user-generated content, or content by committee in certain instances, in their episode on Sunday. I wrote about the potential pitfalls of over-doing UGC back in the euphoric Snakes on a Plane days, and the point still stands – some things really do take expertise to make them great, and art is one of them, as the Family Guy writers sarcastically reminded.

At two points during the episode the frame freezes and a voiceover comes on asking for viewers to vote on what the character should say next – “text 1 if Stewie should X”. In each case, after the 3 options were presented (2 being a logical extension of the plot and 1 being completely unrelated), the “audience” chose the nonsensical that detracted from the story, but was “cool”.

Before being accused of being elitist, there is a great value in input, integration, and participation across the board, as I’ve been harping on since I started the blog. But… there is a downside, and it is great as well. Diluting artistic vision, and in the case of a TV show, a collaborative partnership of creative folk, by force-fitting audience/ user participation can end with an inferior product that under-delivers. That can damage reputation, sales, loyalty, future endeavours, employee morale – the gamut. It’s a balancing act and demands as much strategic planning as any other portion of a campaign. Does asking for UGC add value for the consumer and the brand? Does it make sense? Will it stand the test of time? Does it need to? Etc.

When done right (ala the Bengals or Nike) it’s a beautiful thing. When done wrong it’s, well, stupid.

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GooTube opens the door to deep content

A lot has been written in the past couple of days surrounding the Google purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock, so I won’t rehash the obvious, but there are a few things about this merger that intrigue me… and I think some are underestimating Google’s long-term strategy in the deal.

Danny Sullivan believes it to be an eyeball & ad revenue grab that has little to do with the mission of the company – to “organize the world’s information”. Others feel that this was a shot across the bow to Microsoft and NewsCorp and lament that Google will be making money on that which is now free. And still others worry that we are back in the dot-com days with a bust around the corner.

I agree Google wanted eyeballs from YouTube. But to pretend it has nothing to do with search and deep results, and is mainly about inserting ads into videos, is shortsighted. Although YouTube doesn’t provide transcripts of videos, they are in heavy negotiations with major content providers to continue to develop their product, and have just announced deals with Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and CBS. The partnerships are a sliver of the type of integration possible as we continue to explore the limits of 2.0 applications and user-generated content. The recent out-of-the-box online campaign with Saturn shows the potential of the types of targetting and cross-media promotion Google can deliver. Up to this point both Google and YouTube have been respectful of consumers lack of interest in watching a pre-roll ad before their video choice and I find it hard to believe they would abandon their model completely in a rush to make consumers watch ads while searching for relevant information. Much more likely is an integration and expansion of the current AdWords program as well as partnerships and other opportunities for advertisers.

Will there be monetization involved? Surely. Will there be Rich Internet Application integration? Count on it. With the bank of Google behind the efforts, building data rich and context rich video results won’t be an issue. I firmly believe that Google sees video (and audio) as a natural extension of organizing information – information throughout history has typically been an oral tradition… why not capture that essence of how humans communicate within robust search results? It’s a natural fit.

The Google founders are getting serious about integration and simplicity as well. The next few years will most likely see a type of bundling that Microsoft does so well, but with the end results being highly targetted and relevant information accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection.

While there are quite a few worries about business models and revenue generation out there in the 2.0 space, this deal in my opinion removes that concern from YouTube, which had a shaky, and ultimately unsustainable business model (free & with copyright violation concerns), and integrates it with the proven model of Google. A good deal all around for consumers, advertisers, content providers.

Microsoft may be trying to go the niche route, ala Apple vs. MSFT of old, in their foray into the social media space by developing their UGC Xbox game design software along with their Live Space social networking platform, but GooTube will be sure to cause a stir in Redmond. It will be interesting to see if they go the portal route or the software route in their strategy…

[photo credit: leafbug on Flickr]

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The Bengals engage their fans

I’ve always been a Bengals fan. Well, perhaps more accurately, I was a Boomer Esiason fan (as well as a Joe Montana fan, which caused a huge problem when they faced each other in Super Bowl XXIII)… but I digress. My point is, I’m a fan of football (now, now, Canucks, my heart will always be with the Maple Leafs don’t worry), and I recognize the energy that a team gets from its fans, and that teams rely on customer loyalty to succeed – everything from filling seats to buying merch to TV ratings. But ultimately it’s a symbiotic relationship between spectator and participant with each getting something from the other. Which makes it a natural fit for social media.

And it’s good to see the Bengals get it. They are investing in UGC and integrating it into the experience at home games. A perfect fit.

The Cincinnati Bengals have become the first NFL team to launch a site where fans can post user-created videos. The new video site, hosted by technology firm ViTrue, … will be part of the Fan Zone section of the Bengals team site.

During a time-out in the Bengals-Patriots game on Sunday, an announcement invited fans to submit videos to the Bengals Web site showing their support for the team.

The Bengals will also send out e-mail messages today to 40,000 fans asking for user-created videos. The best videos as voted by fans will also be shown on the scoreboard during home games this season at Paul Brown Stadium.

This move is an investment by the Bengals in continuing to build relationships with their community & encouraging the community to build relationships with each other by participating in the decision of which videos get aired. They are allowing them to be part of the in-game experience and to celebrate their city, their team, and their love of the game. Hopefully more sports teams of all stripes will embrace the potential of social media and thinking outside the ordinary, as a way of giving back to their supporters/ customers.

[photo credit: Erik Eckel on Flickr]

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