OMMA Social: Sink-or-Swim in Social Media

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After the behavioral targeting panel, OMMA attendees sat for "Sink or Swim: The Best and Worst of Social Media Marketing."

The discussion revolved around social media campaigns that the panelists thought were "sinkers" and "swimmers." Each concluded by presenting one piece of advice.

Rohit Bhargava makes a case for blogs without readers.

Flip to a search engine of your choice and search for "United Airlines blog." Eight out of 10 of the organic search results are dominated by United hate sites and general service complaints.

"You need some sort of content out there, combating this. United Airlines has no blog -- and it should, because look what owns the content." ("Content" refers to the above keywords.) Definite SINK.

In contrast, a query for "Delta Airlines blog" yields organic results dominated by material written by, or written about, the Delta Airlines blog. SWIM.

That's why blogs are useful, even if they aren't "in" with the blog-reading crowd: they give you a chance to combat bad talk, respond to people on the ground floor, and "own" search terms that may currently return wellsprings of consumer disdain. (And hey -- if people hate you as much as United is hated, you should really look into why.)

Michael Nicholas waves the flag for Wal-Mart ... and astroturf authenticity.

I shall preface Nicholas' section by saying that he used to work with political campaigns, way before life at Carat. And it shows.

With its "Wal-Mart Across America" campaign, Wal-Mart did a good thing really badly: it sent blogging evangelists out on the road, which isn't itself bad; but it tried to hide the bloggers' ties to the company.

"I think they feel like if they're at all open or truthful with people, they're gonna get hammered," he lamented. Pity. SINK.

Then there's Team Obama.

"[The Obama campaign] really understood that the key to group action is sharing information," said Nicholas, pointing to Obama's Facebook and MySpace, which leverage both "authenticity" and a "local" feel.

"Politics are about building an authentic brand." Here's the twist: a brand doesn't necessarily have to be all it claims to be -- but it has to FEEL real.

Another panelist immediately leaped in by observing Obama friended everyone who friended him first. "Hillary was slower to do that," he said.

Nicholas assented with glee. "Look at his Twitter page. It's crazy. And he's still on it all the time!"

Nicholas's Big Tip: Social media's level of perceived authenticity is higher than in commercial media.

"What's the difference between some Wal-Mart bloggers going on the road, and a press junket? NOTHING. But the sense of authenticity, and the sense of standards, are different."

And don't forget: sharing is key to social media success. I don't think that's how the Care Bears would have put it, but I guess it's equally valid.

"Think Obama's campaign was glad about ObamaGirl? No. But you gotta let it go," he preached on, letting loose a medley of rapid-fire quotables: Better to have people on the ground floor you can't control, than nobody on the ground floor at all. Desperate brands do unexpected things; what have they got to lose? Established brands, like Wal-Mart or Hillary Clinton, are another story.

Pete Spande needs nurturing. And so do your customers.

In response to frequent complaints about its crappy plans and service areas, the CEO of Sprint appeared in a commercial and committed to do better. He offered viewers an email at which they could file critiques directly.

Spande emailed to commend him on the campaign, and got -- wait for it! -- an automated message. A day or two later, he got an email from some random CSR, inviting him to check out the Sprint/WiMax website.

Regardless of Sprint's intentions, clearly the marketers failed to account for what would happen if the campaign was successful. "Was Dan really ready for all that email?" Think preemptively, damnit. SIIIIINK.

Putting real weight behind consumer input, Dell launched Ideastorm. Consumers can share ideas for Dell's review; if the company starts working on it, a status bar below each idea reveals the project status: "Partially implemented," for example. When was it ever so easy to move mountains in a big business? SWIM!

Spande's Big Tip (this is a riff off the things Nicholas said, which is why it sounds totally unrelated to his SINKS and SWIMS): It's not enough to BE authentic; you have to FEEL authentic. So don't just say "Hey, I'm being paid by..." You need to make it clear that regardless of who's paying you, you're not just gonna shill for the sponsors all the livelong day.

He also advised that marketers not kill their URLs, even after a campaign ends -- to which Josh Warner added, "It's the ROI that keeps on giving!"

Josh Warner likes a little mystery. No drawn-out cliffhangers, though.

EU-based Cardo Systems disseminated a YouTube video called "Popcorn with cell phones," which tapped into urban legends about whether cell phones cause cancer by depicting several ringing phones apparently popping corn.

"It borders on sink and swim because one can say it's a little irresponsible," said Warner. (That is, your phone cannot actually pop corn. And according to my college physics teacher, you're more likely to get cancer from your caffeine habit -- or even your wristwatch -- than from your cell phone.)

But to defend itself against potential backlash, Cardo "came out with a [sponsor] reveal in a matter of days."

Even so, questions about the video's authenticity circulated the 'net and topped YouTube charts for over six months. Here's a counterintuitive word to the wise: don't keep people hanging too long, but trust users to maintain the mystery of your kick-ass viral campaign long after you've done the responsible thing and admitted it was promotional.

People like to see strange things. They like wondering about the probability of corn-popping cell phones -- or Kobe leaping over a speeding car -- being genuine. And they like bamboozling their friends, even after they've been disillusioned. SWIM.

Warner's SINK echoed Spande on the Sprint campaign. "It struck me as disingenuous."

Warner's Big Tip: Expect conversation. Don't try to control it by removing dissonant commentary or passionate debates.

Bhargava concluded the panel by asking panelists how to identify a SINK before it's even created. Spande took this one: "if you can't justify why someone would do what you want them to do, by and large it's gonna fail."

by Angela Natividad    Jun-24-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Industry Events   

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