Social Media’s the Little Engine That Can Build Awareness

Here Are Six Reasons Why It Will in 2010

By Judy Shapiro

Published in Advertising Age;  December 16, 2009

http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=141109

Remember the children’s story “The Little Engine That Could”? It told of how the big shiny engines were not up to the task of getting up over the hill to deliver the toys to the kids in time for the holidays. Instead, despite the skeptics, it was the little engine in an act of pure will, that kept telling itself, “I think I can, I think I can,” who was able to get over the big hill to get the job done.

In some ways, social media is like that little engine (and I use the term social media in its broadest sense to encompass digital and social media). Everyone is playing with social media, but there is a deeply held perception that social media lacks mass audience reach, measurability and depth to get the job done. This perception fuels the debate of whether digital agencies are “ready to lead,” which as been a hot topic even within this very forum. Some digital agencies contend that social media is mature enough to be the leading vehicle whereas big agencies stay true to the law of large numbers that traditional media reliably delivers.

But the debate about who should lead seems rather irrelevant, because the key concern should be what will work to get over that “awareness hill” that every advertiser must scale to achieve business results. Is the little social media engine ready to scale the big hill?

“I think it can” and here’s why.

When social media exploded on the scene (and I think that’s a fair characterization), it garnered attention because it held the promise of microtargeting in combination with a new level of engagement that one-way traditional advertising could never duplicate. No one doubted the value of reaching people in these highly engaged environments, but no one really knew how to do it efficiently en masse. Large agencies operated within the traditional ad model that delivered numbers while digital agencies tended to rely on the “viral” nature of their tactics to deliver large numbers. That approach was too hit-and-miss to satisfy most businesses and rightfully so.

This is why, until now, social media has not captured a larger share of big advertisers’ budgets — it seems oxymoronic that social media’s microtargeting capability can ever deliver mass audiences.

But like our little engine, I believe 2010 will be the year where the social media finally says “I think I can” to deliver large audiences because the technology pieces are coming together to create the formula for audience reach, measurability and interactivity that yield intent and business results. There is a new maturity in this space as represented, for example, by marketers who now understand that thousands of Twitter followers has no direct relevance to effectiveness or that Facebook alone can not launch campaigns.

Here’s how the social media engine can be used to deliver mass audiences efficiently:

  • Think about creating “content campaigns” to drive a focused message using a multichannel approach, e.g video, mobile marketing, social networks and even traditional media. This approach puts the value on content as an audience builder but in a very strategic way. And to help content campaigns along, there are innovative new technology companies, like WebCollage, that offer content syndication and management services to make this task very efficient on a large scale.
  • Tap into the power of your customer service organization to be your social-media front-line soldiers. It is one of the most powerful ways to achieve mass reach within current organizational resources. JetBlue is a great example here as they make it a point to respond to every tweet within minutes.
  • Create mobile apps to propel new interactions while allowing you to bake in the viral looping element. Gap Style Mixer is a great example; the app gets you in-store discounts while letting you share the discounts with friends.
  • Use behaviorally appropriate ad networks as the “carpet layer” of a social-media campaign to deliver large number of impressions similar to the old fashioned GRP (gross rating points) of TV. But to ensure that impressions deliver interactivity, weave in a diversity of behavioral targeting opportunities and retargeting programs from companies like FetchBack or SearchIgnite (this is where you re-present ad an to a target who did not respond the first time).
  • Adapt real-world social networks to extend the reach of your social media campaigns. One innovative company in this space is called HouseParty, which allows people to host real world parties for product sampling (think Tupperware parties or Avon Ladies). This company cleverly utilizes social media so they can deliver large scale numbers quickly and efficiently.
  • Introduce new tools to measure social media that focus on engagement, interactivity and intent. One great example is a company called Nuconomy, which provides new tools to understand how interactivity drives intent and sales.

As in our story, when the little engine scaled over the hill, it gleefully said “I thought I could, I thought I could.” Perhaps 2010 will be the year when the social media is able to say the same.

Judy Shapiro

Twitter’s growing pains in 2010.

I have been tracking Twitter much like a bird lover would affectionately monitor a prize species through their every migratory move in an effort to gain that prized sighting. So when I notice a flutter of Twitter buzz that Twitter is profitable – it perked me right up.

My first instinct when I read the tweets was to say; “Well done”.  But when one reads a bit more, one is struck by the realization that their new profitability engine was because of some cash deals rather than a sustainable monetization engine where, gasp, Twitter  actually sells a service to a “Judy Consumer”.

No such business maturity seems to hover anywhere near the Twitter nest. This is probably why Twitter has some serious skeptics, myself among them sometimes. “When will they grow up” I ask myself, “and create a real business with real services.”

But I see no such plans yet, nor, do any of the business analysts who should know. Sure, I see how Twitter caters to a few industries brilliantly – the media world and the PR world for instance. But I don’t see any deepening of “Judy Consumer’s” attachment to Twitter.

Instead, we hear loud twittering about how business can use Twitter to great effect or endless schemes where businesses can use Twitter to promote themselves. And all this business exploitation of Twitter carries the real risk that it will alienate its fragile consumer base which BTW has so many ghost users that its hard to get a real tally of who lives  in Twit-o-ville.

Yet, I can easily imagine some consumer friendly services with just a bit of mature business thinking. For instance, I love Twitter because it has become a highly accurate, human filtered way to sift through the info saturated digital world. The list of people I follow on Twitter is a mere 24 (I have a paltry 185 group of hardy followers) and is highly structured into three rough tiers: about 1/3 are made of up huge news publishers so I hear about the big news items (e.g. CNN), then another 1/3 is made up of a group of “specialty” reporters and pundits covering categories that are important to me (e.g. Guy Kawaski). The final 1/3 are folks who amuse me or are likely to find that quirky item on the web that I would never ever find on my own.  Surely, other people use Twitter the way I do and I bet there’s a paid service in there somewhere.

Maybe I am too hard on Twitter. Maybe they are thinking along these lines anyway. Or maybe Twitter wants to continue its Peter Pan life within the cocoon of the techno-rati.

Maybe.

But here’s a thought for you Twitter folks to help you on your journey of maturation. When you wake up tomorrow pretend that you have no idea about how you are going to make payroll in the next four weeks. Or for a change, forget that you have oodles of someone else’s cash in the bank and try to figure out how to convince your first 1,000 prospects to buy from you. You’d be amazed at quickly you grow up in the process.

Take a chance and join us in the grown up world – we’re ready to welcome you with open arms.

Judy Shapiro

The real lesson to be learned from Mister Splashy Pants

Like many of us – I use Twitter as a good filter for all the stuff that I should read about but would never, ever find on my own.

Anyway, one little bit caught my eye; “How to make a splash in social media”. It was one of those hyper fast – 4 minutes presentations presented at TED/ India, featuring Alexis Ohanian of Reddit with a clever bit about how Greenpeace used social media to halt whaling. Good cause. Great message.  http://www.ted.com/talks/alexis_ohanian_how_to_make_a_splash_in_social_media.html

His opening, “Lots of consultants make a lot of money talking about this stuff.. I’m going to try and save you all the time and money and explain it 3 minutes” was the beginning of a clever and catchy presentation on the power of social media.

I was hooked, that is until he revealed the story’s main theme. Somewhat stunned I heard him conclude that social media was largely free. I was disappointed to hear yet another digi-rati so in love with technology that he failed to be objective. I was surprised that Reddit’s CEO, Alexis, clearly a thoughtful man, fell into the trap so easily.

It seems, therefore, left to us real world practitioners to set the record straight. My message is very simple. Social media is not free – but the myth is perpetuated because capturing its costs is harder than traditional media.

So let me repeat – social media is NOT free and I will use Alexis’ case study of Mr. Splashy Pants to introduce reality to his ever sunny and youthful telling of the story.

The presentation itself condenses the uplifting real world experience of a Greenpeace program that wanted to stop whaling. They introduced a grass roots promotion to name this initiative to garner attention. One quirky name, Mr. Splashy Pants created a groundswell, among the community; including the Reddit team which helped Greenpeace achieve its noble goals. The whales win, Greenpeace wins, social media wins and Reddit too.

His quotable quotes reinforce the “social media is free” theme and included a wealth of digital “truisms” such as:

  1. “It costs nothing to get your content out there”
  2. “The content distribution platforms are free so it only takes a few minutes of your time to distribute…
  3. “All links are equal …”
  4. “And the cost of iteration is so cheap…”
  5. “We {at Reddit} got behind it ourselves,.. we changed the logo …

Now all these “ism’s” sound great until you actually think about each one critically. So let’s do just that and you’ll see why Alexis, earnest though he was, succumbed to the myth like so many before him.

“It costs nothing to get your content out there” .  Who does he think is writing all this content that;  ”costs nothing to distribute”- content fairies with some pixie dust?

“The content distribution platforms are free so it only takes a few minutes of your time to distribute…” And since when is time, even “a little time”, free? And what if you are not as tech savvy as Alexis? Would it in fact be “just a few minutes” for most people?

“All links are equal …” How can he say this with a straight face unless he means all links are, quite literally, created equal? But anyone in the real world knows that even a 1,000 links with little traffic has very little value versus one site with lots of traffic. Getting quality links is the point and that is not really free to get.

“And the cost of iteration is so cheap…” This principle has caused more money to be wasted than perhaps any other ill conceived corporate mantra. Take it from real world experience – iteration borne of a lack of preparation (e.g. research) is rarely profitable. The ideal is to get it roughly right … but that takes upfront planning time which is definitely not free.

“We {at Reddit} got behind it ourselves,.. we changed the logo …” This little point sounds innocent enough and it is. They felt it was a worthwhile cause to get behind by creating a logo and giving it support. Well done. But tell me how many companies can count on that type of support which surely helped? Would that cost nothing too?

Time is money – even in the social media world. Maybe the reason this myth is a hard one to beat is because no single social media activity takes a lot of time. But when you add all the pieces together, you have a “content campaign” which is a time investment that most definitely is not free – but it does seem invisible.

That’s why Alexis fell victim to the “social media is free” trap. Don’t you fall for it too.

Judy Shapiro

Is Mobile marketing’s new found popularity an investment bubble space waiting to burst?

I have been here before. The mobile space has always had its boom and bust cycles closely following the technology advancements in this technology segment. But despite the natural up’s and down’s in this space, I do believe the mobile segment is still poised for better growth as mobile computing begins to gain more penetration with the advance of the next gen networks and devices.

That’s the good news.  So what worries me?

I worry when I see so many companies jumping on the mobile app/ mobile marketing bandwagon. Within the last month alone, I have been asked to assess no less than 25 ventures, wannabe ventures or a guy in a garage who did an iphone app. I have looked at a bunch of new retail mobile apps, coupon delivery services, city guide apps and video based mobile services. That’s almost one venture a day and it even beats the pace I experienced when I was at Bell Labs New Ventures and new tech ideas where as plentiful as sand on a sea shore!

So that’s why I feel like a “mobile” bubble is forming that will be inevitably bust taking with it players who are too late or underfunded or just badly timed.

So while the potential for mobile marketing is tremendous – it has begun to take on the “gold rush” type of feel priming many people for disappointment.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Judy Shapiro

My top 10 New Year’s “un-resolutions” for 2010

We all know about our New Year’s resolutions. We make them with all good intentions to keep them. But we also know that what usually happens is that, inevitably, one by one our resolutions go by the way side. So I stopped making those New Year’s resolutions years ago because it seems to be a recipe for failure.

Instead, this year for a change, I have started to make “un-resolutions” – things I am determined NOT to do. Here’s my top 10 un-resolutions. Take care – this may become a new tradition.

1) I will not get seduced by any new digital marketing toy just because some industry pundit thinks it’s the coolest thing to hit the street. Nor will I believe every promise made by every new marketing technology company.

2) I will not abandon common sense in digital marketing and be blinded by digital agencies promises that their “new” campaigns will go viral and get the attention of millions of people. I will continue to listen to my gut and if it sounds to good to be true, I will let skepticism drive my decision.

3) I will not abandon newspaper, magazines, radio and other forms of traditional media if it is the right vehicle. No matter how sexy digital media may seem because of the perceived lower cost, I will continue to create integrated programs that weave together the best of both the traditional and digital worlds.

4) I will not give up my attachment to email marketing. Sorry folks – but email marketing, well done, drives real business results. If your email campaign did not work – either you had a bad list or an inadequate call-to-action or maybe your agency did not know what they were doing.

5)  I will not be fooled into thinking that the ad market is going to rebound in 2010. Nope. The ad market will continue to be buffeted by the tides of an evolving economic landscape and by consumers’ ever fickle attraction to new tech toys like mobile devices.  These trends will continue to dampen ad revenue for publishers for some time to come.

6) I will not get excited about cloud computing – at least not yet. I do see how it is going to dominate in the next 5 years – but there are real security problems to solve before everyone can get into the clouds. Conversely, I do get excited by all types of ASP offers as that is a steady business model that offers real value to consumers.

7) I will not blindly follow Google as they chow down every tech industry from telecom to digital publishing. Ever one loves to love Google. Me too. But that does not mean that I have to support every initiative as Google relentlessly marches toward digital dominance. In the process, they stifle competition and kill real innovation by companies who deserve to succeed. Now here’s my one New Year’s prediction (for 2012) – I predict that Google will have to break themselves up to avoid the growing recognition that Google is really a monopoly, albeit a new kind.

8 ) I will not diminish my slavish devotion to data driven marketing no matter what new platforms come out that can behaviorally target any audience any way I wish. I know I know – the BT folks can slice and dice an audience so many ways that it makes a marketer salivate. But unless I can see, touch and feel the data – I will pass for now.

9)  I will not start following every Tom, Dick and Jane to gain more Twitter followers. OK, so I only have about 175 folks following me but at least I know they read what I tweet. Quality – not quantity is what drives social media.

10) And my final un-resolution. I will not try appear to be “30 something” just because I love digital marketing. I know that the average age of people in digital marketing tends to be 27 – but my depth in this space has yielded real world, hard won recognition. And while I am at it, will not submit to peer pressure to use more “hair product” than one can find in a Duane Reade store so I can appear suitably young as a digital marketer. What you see (grey hair and all) is what you get :)

There you have it. My top 10 un-resolutions for 2010. If you have your list – feel free to share it here.

Judy Shapiro

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,193 other followers