Archive for July, 2010

Going cold on email

Ben & Jerry’s has raised eyebrows by dumping its email campaign in favour of social media. The brand used to send out monthly newsletters, but recipients apparently told it they would prefer to be contacted via Facebook and Twitter, so it is now sending out only one email communication a year.

It’s part of a trend that Gartner flagged up in February, with research showing that a fifth of organisations will be relying on social media within four years (see our post here).

But is it wise to simply switch from one to the other? E-mail has been a hugely successful marketing channel in the past decade, and it’s hard to feel that it could have suddenly become irrelevant. Surveys have consistently shown that businesses that incorporate email as part of a multi-channel marketing strategy get better responses than those that don’t.

It’s easy to get mesmerised by the exponential growth of Facebook – it seems only like last week that it passed the four million user mark and already it’s up to five million. But these are small numbers compared with email users. In addition, the techniques for targeting and addressing them and measuring the outcomes have been honed over years, and are far more sophisticated than anything that social media can yet provide.

A funky ice-cream brand may have particular reasons for wanting to focus on Facebook and Twitter, and it could well be a viable approach for smaller brands with modest resources. But big brands should keep all their bases covered.

Do Twitter ads work?

Do Twitter ads work? That’s a question that since Twitter launched its Promoted Tweets in April, an ad format based on keywords that comes up in search results.

Since last month, advertisers also have the Promoted Trends option, a daily listing at the bottom of a list of worldwide trending topics on each user’s Twitter homepage, which they are using to provide links to landing pages.

Brands to have tested the water so far include Disney, Sony, cable TV channel TNT, Nike, and Starbucks. But there’s no word as yet on how the ads are performing.

Sceptics think that most of Twitter’s 105 million users will simply learn to screen them out, even though some marketers will find them appealing simply because it’s Twitter.  The first surveys on the subject are keenly anticipated.

Old Spice hits the spot

Here’s a fascinating example of how the advertising world can get itself bang up to date through the use of social media.  Procter and Gamble, not on the whole known for a relaxed attitude about how its brands are covered in the media, decided for once to go to the opposite extreme, allowing marketers for its Old Spice brand to try a novel and potentially risky approach.

The brand collaborated with its marketing agency, getting together a team of creatives, writers and tech geeks and working with an actor to create video commercials and release them on the Internet in real time (via Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and blogs). The spots were quick to do – basically a few seconds around some comedic theme. They were also created from comments about the brand gathered by two social media experts, who were essential elements of the team.

Iain Tait, Global Interactive Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, explains: “We’re looking at who’s written those comments, what their influence is and what comments have the most potential for helping us create new content. The social media guys and script writers are collaborating to make that call in real time. We have people shooting and we’re editing it as it happens. Then the social media guys are looking at how to get that back out around the web…in real time.”

And apparently it worked. At the end of the first day the clips had been viewed four million times, and the team churned out another bunch the following day.

More details here.

Unacceptable tweets

I’m still trying to process CNN’s remarkable decision to fire one of its senior editors for what it considered an ‘unacceptable’ tweet (“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”)

The tweet was a message of sympathy for the passing of an Islamic cleric who took a stand against the misogyny for which much of Islamic society is  known.  But he also endorsed terrorism and suicide attacks against the US and Israel. Clearly the latter trumps the former in the minds of most Americans.

A senior British diplomat, Frances Guy, got into the trouble for the same reason, writing on her blog that Fadlallah was a ‘decent man’. She wrote; ‘When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person.’ For this Guy was forced to issue an apology and retraction.

Extraordinary. But at least that was a more measured response than CNN’s. American liberals are incandescent about the company’s ‘gutless decision’ to fire Nasr, complaining of a black vs white, good vs bad mentality that is taking over US politics, in which nuances simply aren’t accepted any more.

Is this a story about social media, or about American politics? Both, obviously. A news broadcaster would have been vulnerable to attack if it had sided with Nasr, and with the right in its present paranoid state it was never even going to try. But how remarkable that a 140 tweet can be headline news and get an otherwise valued member of staff fired – just like that.

Social media effectively removes the barriers between our brains and the outside world -if we use it habitually, our thoughts and imaginings are laid bare for everyone to see. We become public figures, vulnerable to public opinion just as politicians are, and increasingly, like them, liable to pay for indiscretions with our jobs.

Domino’s do well

Good to see Domino’s specifically linking its growing success to social media. The pizza firm has posted an increase of nearly 29% increase in pre-tax profits in the first half of the year, with like-for-like sales growing by 13.7%.

According to CEO Chris Moore, much of this is down to Domino’s boosting its online activity. Its Facebook site now has more than 36,000 fans, with many more following individual store sites.

Moore also claims to be leading the way with social media initiatives such as affiliate marketing, a ‘superfans’ programme and a link up with Foursquare, the location-based social media site. As well as driving sales, this is also helping to develop customer loyalty, he says.

Can the iPad save Fleet Street?

Writing in this week’s Spectator Magazine, Mark Wood, former editor-in-chief of Reuters and CEO of ITN, recognises that newspapers are losing money hand over fist and considers if Apple may have devised an electronic format that could save the day.

In a fascinating piece, Mark says: ”The clock is certainly ticking. Microsoft gives newspapers ten more years at most as printed artefacts. One Financial Times executive has suggested that the FT will be out of the pink newspaper business in five. Other publishers give it longer: but the time frame is years rather than decades. To stay ahead of the game, newspapers and magazines …will have no choice but to migrate to an online format that people will want to keep paying for.’

Whatever impact the iPad has on newspapers, I think that they are going to have to change in terms of what they offer and how they share their content. The biggest effect the internet has had on newspapers is that it makes news easy to access for free. So getting news in your newspaper is not particularly special and it is often totally out of date by the time you read it.

The Social Web has fundamentally altered how news is created and distributed. A crisis in a country will often lead to citizens creating the news: tweeting; distributing photos; and blogging. How do newspapers respond to these developments?

Also the appeal of the Social Web is that people can talk with their friends directly and share information with them. They are clicking on links, moving around and are dynamic. They are not sitting quietly holding a static newspapers anymore, obediently reading what the editor of the newspaper wants them to read. So how will newspapers respond to that development?

The introduction of another smart and well-designed application from Apple which delivers internet content in a different format does not alter the fundamental underlying behaviours that people are exhibiting on the web. Which means that iPad or not, newspapers now face readers who have more power at their finger tips and far more choice than they ever did before. And, what’s more, the value of social media sites to people lies in the fact that they can create their own media now which is relevant to their lives.

So, to conclude, it is likely to take far more than the iPad to guarantee the successful future of newspapers as they move online to connect with their readers. But I’m sure good newspapers will successfully reinvent themselves to enjoy the benefits of the social media age.

Creating the future newspaper

The Journal Register, a US newspaper company, has signalled the death of traditional news gathering by adopting a completely new, social media-driven process.

Editors and journalists ask the readers online what they would like to have covered, emailing them and sharing ideas with them. They are sharing draft stories with their readers and getting them to comment on them. This is news as a collaborative process.

Rather than journalists saying, ‘we decide the news and here it is, take it or leave it,’ they are involving readers in the process of news generation.

It is a fascinating development and you can’t help thinking that a lot of newspapers who are struggling in the midst of this new world of communications could learn a lot from this company’s example – however foreign it may seem to their assumed patterns of behaviour.

However I think this example works on many levels: sure it is a good insight into how newspapers need to change and the changing relationship between readers v journalists. But also it illustrates, at another level, how businesses and brands need to be more collaborative. They also need to be more open and accountable and involve their stakeholders more in what they are doing and in the shaping of their services and products. Pioneers in this field like Dell are already well ahead of the herd and are adopting these techniques.

What is happening to newspapers is bringing into sharp focus some of the issues that other organisations are facing, as social media continues to accelerate and affect how people think and share information.

Who owns social media?

Of course no one owns social media. Social Media is the way people express themselves using powerful new tools, and they cannot be controlled. No one can stop someone tweeting a piece of news, for example, which can then trigger off a groundswell of activity online.

Companies have been structured into hierarchies, with information traditionally moving from the bottom upwards and top downwards. This is how most companies are modelled. But social media travels freely, regardless of company structures – anyone with a phone can quickly find information and share it with their friends. It is so accessible, and there are so many ways for people to use social media online and express themselves without having to have a meeting first, write a proposal, make a business case, seek permission or go through interview processes.

Social media is very fast, 24 hours a day, accessible, open and democratic. So if you have something interesting to say, then you will be rewarded with people online voting you up the pecking order or sharing your content. They will not read or share what you say simply because you hold a certain position in a company. Nor will they necessarily respect you because you hold a certain position in a company. It is what you say and what you share, and how you say it and how you share it that counts.

Against this backdrop – or rather infiltration of life with social media through phones, laptops, blackberries, iPads, TVs, game consoles etc – companies naturally need to put in place social media strategies.

So who owns the strategies? There are a variety of models in the marketplace, including a centralised approach where a team stipulates company policies and guidelines, sets out best practice, and oversees training of people, so that these then officially engage on behalf of the company – and so on. Some companies are more engaged than others, depending on the cultural condition of the business, the types of people within it and their mindsets, and how it is structured.

There is an interesting piece about this from Intel. They admit they cannot turn all their employees into social media experts but they realise they need to provide training and guidelines to protect the brand. Having spent so much on those ‘Intel inside’ ads, they don’t want someone to blow it by tweeting something damaging.

Intel’s approach is centralised, which clearly works for them, but in the social media world there is no so-called ‘centre’. Valuable insights and information can break from anywhere, which means management of companies has to be more open-minded and more open in structure and in sharing of information.

There needs to be more opportunities for staff to participate in the making of decisions. It is a difficult balance to strike between maintaining control and being open. The degrees of tension that companies experience, and how they manage that tension, will go some way, I think, to defining their successful transition to a more open and connected world.

BBC 6 Music reprieved

The BBC’s threat to axe its alternative music station 6 Music was always going to be a battle ground for social media. The cynics, including me, assumed that it was never meant seriously – the Beeb’s real concern was that after eight years so few people knew of its existence, and after the inevitable outcry from its adoring niche audience, and the newspaper headlines that followed, it would become much better known.

So no surprise that the BBC Trust has now stepped in and rescinded the management’s decision. No surprise, either, that the reversal is being hailed as a triumph for social media. As has been noted, in earlier times a few outraged letters would have been printed in newspapers – and ignored. At the most, a paper might have started a campaign, which might or might not have worked. This time, 180,000 people joined a Facebook campaign and millions of tweets were made on the subject. The BBC also received more than 25,000 emails and nearly 50,000 online responses.

But who was in the driving seat here? Did the BBC buckle in the face of a rebellion by its customers. Or did it provoke the rebellion for its own nefaarious purposes? If the latter, it’s an interesting example of how social media can be harnessed to achieve a particular effect. Yes, it’s manipulative, but only in the sense that all marketing is manipulative, and if everyone ends up getting what they want, what’s to complain of?

Lego retold

The story of customers coming to the rescue of toy manufacturer Lego is one of the most striking examples of the potential of social media, told here by Jake McKee, who at the time was the company’s global community relations specialist.

By the end of the 1990s Lego had lost touch with its customers and didn’t know what they were doing with its product. It even had a policy of not talking to them. As a result, the company had stopped innovating, and sales were stagnant.

McKee realised that the product’s fans held the key to the future. Not the kids, who had little to spend, but adult hobbyists, who on average spent $1000 a year on it, and were frustrated that the company didn’t listen to them. So much so that they had created their own communities. By reaching out to them, and simultaneously persuading his bosses to come down from their ivory tower, he was able to reinvigorate the company.  Product innovation, word-of-mouth and sales all saw significant jumps.

This predates the age of Facebook and Twitter but it’s a powerful reminder of the importance of opening up to customers.