Dear Social Media Marketers…
After yesterday’s Oscar celebrations, it appears some of you have not quite learned the first lesson of social media: Social media, such as twitter, is for people to communicate with each other.
So, for example, during the Oscars, many people used twitter (or other social networks) to communicate with their friends, family members, followers, etc – hey even with their favourite brands. What they were talking about were movies, dresses, actors and actresses. Of course, as a marketeer, or a brand, your very much invited to join the conversation. But please bear in mind, that on social networks your audience is there not to hear you selling something, but to hear you contributing the discussion.
Funny tweets, adding something are cool. Because they make your brand look good, and you appear like an active participant in the conversation. That’s what you marketers call building a “relationship”. Take this one (with image) by Nintendo: “And now, a special message from Bowser… RAWR Wreck-it Ralph got robbed” (image here: https://twitter.com/NintendoAmerica/status/305859830650896384/) – good one. Plenty of retweeds, taking part in the conversation. Making a point. The brand acting like a friend who wants to chat.
Compare this with “Lincoln may not know what a cell phone is but even he can appreciate Truly Unlimited data while on the Sprint network” (here) are just … [deleted due to trying to be nice]. It’s simple: Dear Sprint (and others like you – and there were plenty), if you don’t want to join the conversation, but disrupt the conversation by inserting sales messages then social networks are not for you.
Nobody follows a sales person to listen to them selling something. If you think social networks are like opt-in sales lists, where every conversation can be prepped up with a bit of sales talk… then please return to the drawing board. It doesn’t enhance the brand, it doesn’t create positive vibes, it doesn’t create positive relationships… it’s simply annoying.
Please remember, most of the people who follow you are probably your customers already… so why do you want to bore them with… a little more sales talk? In social media, your brand is “humanised”, it appears just as all other humans. So, act like a human, talk like a human. Then people will interact with your brand … like a human. Unfortunately, if your social media personality is annoying door to door sales person, many people will treat you exactly like that: They will close the door. Sorry!
Social media (and the wider Internet for that matter) is full of numbers that appear to be explaining things… from 57% of users of network Y doing X to 46% of users of website B coming from C. The problem with all these numbers is that, although they seem to explain what is going on – they mean we forget to understand why it is going on. This is especially true in the case of social networks: many researchers (and marketing “gurus” at the same time) seem to treat social networks, and by that I mean anything from the classic social networks to forums, groups, everywhere where people interact online, just like any other mass media channel. Talking big numbers, rather than small stories.
The problem is, that, for the most part, these researchers forget that actually twitter users are not the same as people who watch ITV1, while facebook users are not the same as people who listen to Capital Radio. What many people forget is that social media networks are, for the most part, made up of circles of friends (or people sharing a common interest) who are using social media technology to do what they want to do. As Hart put it in 1992: The internet is a “growing community of communities”, or as more modern authors would call it “Tribes”. That makes social media very different from a traditional media outlet, even a traditional media channel for the most part. Understanding that “tribe members” are there with a purpose means that in many ways, social media is probably more and more like person to person conversation, or telephone conversations. Yes, social media can be measured more easily than say telephone conversations (Wouldn’t it be fun, if we could say “37% of telephone users mention brand X when speaking to their friends”) – but really, social media is and remains a big conversation between distinct networks of friends. When I talk with someone on twitter it is nothing like a TV advert, but it simply is a conversation that is public… that may be between me and all followers, or it may be between me and just one friend. And the ultimate dynamics that are governing the conversation are not numbers and probabilities, but quite unique relationship dynamics. Dynamics that may, span across different social networks: For example, I may be responding to something a friend wrote on LinkedIn by means of sending a @tweet. Or in fact, conversations may be strongly influenced by relationship dynamics which go beyond social media sites, when taking to someone I know in real life. Yet, all the quantitative tools and amazing numbers that we have won’t account for that. Sentiment analysis simply doesn’t account for irony or “in jokes”.
Of course, quantitative numbers aren’t useless… far from it. But when it comes to human interactions they explain some, but not all of the dynamics that are at work. And more often than not, what they do forget is that social media is actually not one big audience – but simply circles of audiences, tribes – or simply a few humans speaking to each other using this technology. And many conversations and relationships online are just as unique as those in real life. So we need to understand, more than simply “numerise”, what is actually going on, if we are trying to make sense of consumers, followers, friends, contacts and whomever else we talk with…
It amuses me just how many people confuse viewers or exposures to use the correct lingo (I guess) with effectiveness. Take this quite viral video by a well known German company:
It has racked up almost a quarter of a million views on YouTube since being posted just two days ago. Not bad, even in terms of “traditional” advertising. It’s also quite good that it is subtitled in English to appeal to an international audience… which no doubt facilitated that I (based in the UK) got the video from someone based in the US (!).
All good then… Well… here’s the problem: The video might have gone happily viral, and it may be seen by a lot of people, but how many of these are likely to purchase the product (and I guess that is ultimately why they made the video?)? Well, the person who sent me the video had no idea what the video is about, let alone that it is an advert, and thought it was from a German TV show. I can understand he was probably confused because it was just too long … and you have to wait for a long time until you get to see what it is all about (and I’m not gonna tell you, but I dare you to watch it for that looooooong!).
Again it raises the problem, of what social media campaigns are actually designed to achieve? The product is a new product line, so how does “going viral” in a market where the product isn’t even available help? It is also evidently not a cheap production, so someone must have spend quite some money (and thought?) on thinking “How do I get that product known?”. Of course, it’s easy to suggest that social media is simply unpredictable (well.. sort of…), and that nobody is in control (sort of…). But that doesn’t mean that spending lots of money and have a “hit and miss” approach to media and campaign planning is the answer. Instead it means clearly that what marketing managers should be doing is be extra careful about what they do: how they integrate messages and how they ensure that messages are not just “cool” and “shareable” – but also achieve an objective. The sad realisation for many marketers maybe that in the end, social media is actually often not such a revolutionary media at all… but rather just another communications vehicle, with some characteristics that complement traditional channels. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make social media in any way immune to good old planning, rather it shows that established theories, models and (prior) research is even more applicable in an environment where messages travel at supersonic speed. And that when all is said and done, having a hyper “cool” video, a great viral ad or a gazillion-times shared pic doesn’t always mean you are successfully influencing behaviour, purchase intentions or even brand-connected emotions.
Here is an interesting argument: Apparently a brand “won” the advertising battle during the Super Bowl – not by advertising… but by tweeting (see for example, here – or here). While the tweet was, indeed, pretty funny… the question is was that tweet really “better” than a traditional advert? Well.. one critical voice is Mark Ritson, who argues in this article that no media is ever better than the other. I guess he has a point in saying that – at least from an impact perspective – an advert seen by several million people can hardly compare with a tweet tweeted to a few thousand followers. However, apart from a simple audience measurement perspective, there is another quite important point to consider – and that is who is most likely to be exposed to the tweet or advert respectively. I’d argue that is actually a crucial point – and that this makes quite a bit of difference when deciding who “won the battle”…
Let’s just think about who is likely to watch an advert vs who is likely to follow a brand on twitter (or facebook, or whatever). In the case of the Super Bowl, the audience is likely to be people interested in sport. If these are people who also like Oreo may (or may not) be the case. But in either case, the prime motivator for watching the game is not to find out something new/funny/entertaining about cookies. Alternatively, who follows Oreo (or any other brand) on social networks? Probably people who are quite involved (in an emotional way) with the brand already. That might explain why approximately 20 million of those cookies are eaten every day – but only 75.000 people follow Oreo on Twitter. Thus, having a brilliant tweet is hardly going to raise awareness or even remind people of the existence of Oreo (in case anybody needed to be reminded). But rather, a funny tweet is most likely to strengthen the emotional bond with already loyal followers.
The other important point is surely to figure out how any media (and media users’ characteristics) feature in the campaign objective. For example, if the main objective is to raise awareness of a brand, well, social media is probably pretty useless. Even if something is reweeted or shared, I’d wonder how much of this really has an effect that is more than very short-term. On the other hand, if it is to strengthen emotional bonds, or show a certain brand personality, then a traditional advert is probably less effective. At least less effective than tweeting and talking to a select few followers on a daily basis… (and occasionally being retweeted).
So if anybody is trying to answer whether or not Oreo (and social media by implication) should be crowned the winner of the advertising battle, I’d be a little skeptical and answer: “It all depends”. And of course, I do so while remembering that I retweeted a multicoloured Oreo sometime last summer (which a friend tweeted, from a friend, from a friend etc). While the image was cute, memorable and catchy… I also haven’t eaten an Oreo for several years now…. At least for their sales, not sure my retweet was a success.
In 1999 Fogg proposed a “Functional Triad” of computer persuasion. This is a highly intuitive model of (different) computer applications and how they can be used in persuasion, roughly divided into three “categories”:
The first broader category encompasses “tools” which increase an individuals ability to achieve a certain behaviour. Fogg in his work uses the example of a calculator, which enables a person to respond to mathematical questions faster and more reliable than when relying on brain power.
The second category, “medium”, provides an experience, for example a virtual environment in which to learn a certain behaviour.
The third category, “social actor” emphasises the virtual (or real-life) relationships that can be maintained through the use of technology. This can be either in the form of making the app appear more “human-like”, increasing compliance.
If we take the 7S (Simplify, sign-post, suggest, socialise, self-supervise, support and suggest) we can map them to the three categories originally proposed by Fogg. Importantly though, computers, mobile devices and apps have evolved significantly since 1999 – and therefore an app can ultimately (or maybe should even) use all three categories for successful persuasion.
For the 7Ss, simplify, sign-post and suggest are most easily associated to the “tools” category. They enable the user to achieve the behaviour change by making the behaviour easy to understand, give further information and suggest ways to achieve the goal.
Self-supervise and support are most easily associated to the “medium” category, providing a way to relive and reflect on a particular behaviour virtually. For example, relive a run that has been completed virtually.
Finally, socialise clearly falls into the “social actor” category. Rather than being purely virtual (like in Fogg’s original work), much of the social experience can, however, be shared with real humans through social networks.
Of course, none of the categories is truly exclusive – and one could argue, that, for example, “suggest” may equally be a medium rather than a tool. However, the important part is probably that all three categories are sufficiently covered and “merged” into one app. This btw. again highlights the importance of using social functions as a crucial factor when trying to change behaviour!
Ref: Fogg, B. (1999). Persuasive technologies. Communications of the ACM, 42(5), 26–29.
Have you noticed the little i in some internet adverts? Well, in case you weren’t aware, the i indicates a behaviourally targeted advert, i.e. an advert that is sent to you because of the websites you have visited. While there are many privacy issues surrounding this tactic (I’ll talk about those some other time), let me ask first: how good is this? The idea is seemingly convincing: once you visit a particular website, like for example easyJet, you can then be reminded of the offer on a different website. At face value this makes quite some sense, i.e. the advert appears a few days later and reminds the viewer of what he/she has seen, the offers etc… Good in practice, but… there is a hitch in the process.
For example, I recently checked flight prices on easyJet’s website to Malta and Paris. Now, every few days, I get reminded with a big bright advert asking me “Do you still want to go to Malta?” or “Do you still want to go to Paris?” and giving me an appropriate flight price. But what seems really nice in theory, rapidly turns into reactance on my part. It almost smacks of those annoying restaurant touts that you run after you offering free drinks in tourist hotspots, hoping that somehow they can make you purchase something you didn’t want. Yes, I did check the flights (and prices), and I also decided not to buy them (at least at that time). So what good does it do to remind me of them again? Unfortunately, easyJet isn’t the only company I seem to encounter regularly. I recently order some shirts (yes, actually ordered them) and guess what? I’m being asked to buy the same shirts again every few days. Similarly, Amazon advertising seems to remind me to buy the book I recently bought…?
This kind of targeting has two massive problems:
Firstly it constantly targets the same people (those that either bought or decided not to buy), and my own reaction as well as good old reactance theory would suggest that this will simply lead to negative feelings towards the brand and the product.
Secondly, constantly advertising to the same people totally neglects the need to achieve reach, i.e. a wide audience, which is arguably more important than well targeted advertising. Take the example of the shirt offer: If you have been to the site, you will know the offer. Reiterating the offer is pointless. People who are most likely to respond to the offer (at least in the short term) are people who DON’T already know about the offer, not people who have already decided how they feel about the offer.
Thus, behaviourally targeted advertising has, even if you don’t consider issues such as privacy and how people feel about that, two major negative points that are totally overlooked. Both, of course, have the potential to be extremely damaging to the brand. At least in my case, if and when I ever decide to fly to Malta, I’ll surely try to fly Air Malta first… Thanks easyJet!
Just a few days ago I returned from Lisbon – and it seems like I’m heading there again soon: This time I’ll speak at the first European Social Marketing Conference, organised by Jeff French in collaboration with the European Social Marketing Association. I’ll be speaking on effectively using social media to engage audiences. The line-up of confirmed speakers also includes Gerrard Hastings – who can only be described as the most eminent figure in Social Marketing in the UK (and beyond) today, speaking on the importance of evidence data and audience insight.The organisers are still looking for abstracts for several break-out sessions. Deadline is the 13 August – so there’s plenty of time to get your proposal in!
For more information – head over to the ESMC Lisbon website here – and looking forward to seeing you for some late autumn sun, stimulating discussions and custard tarts in Lisboa!
Below is a presentation I’ve recently given at a research seminar at Hull University Business School. It is, to some degree, a follow up from the original Advergame paper we did a few years back. This times though, we looked at how food marketers are living up to their own, self-set standards for interactive/digital advertising when it comes to designing games for mobile phones.
Unfortunately, we found that most games completely ignored the guidelines that leading marketers have set themselves as part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. This is certainly not a ringing endorsement to the powers of self-regulation – but also questionable if it is in the (longterm) interest of the marketers. Unethical business practices have in the past led to much more stringent regulation, e.g. in relation to advertising on television. Do marketers want to take a similar path when it comes to digital content?
If the conversion of products into (almost real) friends in the social networking sphere isn’t enough for you, then a new tool might make brands just a little more “human”. Some brands, like for example Dorito, the crisps brand, now comes with music attached – in the form of its very own playlist (see here). Similarly, Snickers, the chocolate bar, has a “work out” playlist – to help you “get some nuts”.
Both playlists seem to have been a little orphaned though – and with relatively few subscribers. So the question may be – how far are consumers willing to immerse themselves into a brand world? What do you think? Would you listen to “Burger Bar X” tracks? “Coffeeshop Y”? Washing powder Z”? Do you know of any exciting brands on Spotify? Let me know via the comment function !