Tag Archives: social media

keep social media human

How To Create Advocates For Your Business

People who use social media to connect to brands need real friends. As in, people friends.

Because only with actual people friends can a person have a conversation, and conversation is truly the most civilizing of inter-personal interactions.

In lieu of being able to change the current social dynamic in this country and connect all of those souls who have friended brands on Facebook, set brand logos as their IM icon or whose Tweets are like a corporate news RSS feed, I will bemoan it. There are people out there like that. But they are weird. And other people know that they are weird. Which makes them less trustworthy.

Think about it for a second (…thinking…). Who do you go to for an opinion when you are thinking about making a purchase in a category you are unfamiliar with? Family likely. A knowledgeable friend. Third-part expert sources.

You’re not checking Facebook to see if a brand you are considering has a lot of friends. Twitter neither.

Frankly, as much as traditional advertising cannot save a bad product, neither can social media or influencer outreach or brand advocate conversion efforts.

Because you can’t hide on the internet, and a bad product will kill you every time.

That is not to say that people who have had a good experience with your company, product, etc can’t help you – obviously they can. But they are reacting to a positive experience with the product, service, company, etc and therefore the primary way to create advocates is not to invest heavily in social media but to invest heavily in developing an effective and user-friendly product, service, company, etc.

That is not to say that outreach in social and other channels aren’t great ways to amplify what people who love you are saying. They are.

It’s just that you don’t have to do anything beyond create the product, service or company that people love. The rest takes care of itself, social media strategy or not.

Social media is just conversation in binary code. And like regular conversation among regular people, people don’t want a brand to help them along or get in the way. They will talk about it if it makes sense. But they will get annoyed if they find that a brand is trying to orchestrate the whole thing.

People don’t want to get sold, and certainly not under the disingenuous guise of ‘conversation.’

So let it happen naturally. The way to create advocates for your brand is to create an fucking awesome product or experience because, since you can’t hide on the internet, if you have nothing to hide that people will find out about it.

social media: new tool, same function

Hot on the news that major Facebook stakeholders are selling stock below the hyped valuation, news that bodes really well for that whole Web 2.0 revolution and makes one thing that perhaps things have been a bit overhyped, comes a not-at-all-backed-up-by-numbers article that attempts to claim that social media jobs are here to stay.

The article was timed about as well as an Al Gore pronouncement on global warming…and was, predictably, ripped by Valleywag.

Of course, any article that makes claims like “Social media allows people to spread their message to hundreds, if not thousands, of friends, followers, and strangers. Some companies can only dream of that kind of reach, while others pay millions in advertising for the same effect” without actually putting numbers behind why, for example, the reach of a corporate blogger/twitterer/Facebook-updater might be greater and more efficient than a traditional advertising buy deserves its share of ridicule.

It’s not that social media or the much-hyped Web 2.0 doesn’t matter. It does.

It’s more that grand claims by people who, surprise, surprise, happen to make money by selling people on spending their marketing dollars on social media should be taken with a grain of salt…even when there are numbers to back up their assertions.

In the case of this article, which attempts to show the value of corporations adding jobs that are specifically focused on social media, numbers are necessary. Because the claim just doesn’t make sense.

Unlike an advertising agency, which is paid to be ahead of trends and understand channels of communication and the whole form/function of messaging, a corporation (and these comments, again, are focused on corporate social media jobs) makes it money by selling its product…I know that sentence is one of the more obvious ones I’ve ever written, but it’s worth saying it in plain language. Because so many people seem to ignore what it’s saying.

Sure, there are support functions to the production and sale of a product, many of them quite critical…many of them, if you look at Apple as an example, as critical as product efficacy.

Product efficacy is the cornerstone. A product just has to work. If it doesn’t, everyone is going to know and then you’re in real trouble…a product/company can’t hide on the internet.

Once efficacy has been established then the other roles make sense…but what does social media do that, from an objectives standpoint, is different than what an already-established function does? It is basically consumer relations/outreach/PR or whatever you call it, just with a new way to reach people.

To quote Valleywag, “Social media technologies are new IT tools for the same old roles.”

Social media tools are important to understand, especially from a marketing perspective and especially as they involve…but how do they make traditional vehicles like TV obsolete? How does social media require a huge new department and masses of jobs? And how would you prove the worth of jobs like these in a challenging economy when costs must be justified with actual numbers?


oh, to be plaid

There is a small agency in Danbury, Connecticut called Plaid that punches above its weight (especially if you consider that the combined weight of all – approximately – twenty employees is probably less than Mike Tyson before he got bloated, tattooed and crazy).

That small Connecticut agency really gets social media.

And yes, they get it beyond the Brand Flakes for Breakfast blog that just might be the best agency-run blog out there.

If I weren’t so lazy a blogger I would have gotten out ahead of their Plaid Nation tour, “a rolling celebration of creativity and a demonstration of social media in action” that is really a van full of Plaid employees taking to the street to make their pitch.

If you’re a small agency, you have to think differently.

This year the tour hit the California coast (with the obligatory stop in Las Vegas that may or may not have taken the live webcams down) from Oceanside up to Frisco with the whole tour broadcast live, twittered and otherwise leveraged by emerging media.

How’s that for a way to show that you get it?

The functional and attractive website lets you follow their progress, download freebies and listen to their theme song (why a theme song, you may ask? no clue…). It’s also a great way to sell the agency and their capabilities.

But will potential clients notice?

the goods on plurk

Despite what the fresh-from-college traffic manager said when I showed her how to use the fax machine (amazingly, she had never used a fax machine), I am not a dinosaur. I am not scared of new technologies. I am fully capable of picking them up and integrating them into my daily life.

It just takes a while.

That is why I am thankful for The Girl Riot and her post on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly about Plurk. Because if she hadn’t tried it and reviewed it for me, I would have had to do it myself.

I’m not sure my Commodore supports Plurk anyway…

Her review is a great first reaction response to Plurk and should be read not only by you but by Plurk’s developers as well…though if they can keep their system up longer than Twitter I think that they’ll keep people happy.

Beyond being a useful blog post, it’s also pretty funny. For example, the “Ugly” about Plurk is: “………..PLURK?! really? wtf name is that?”

All I know is that in college it was slang for something gross.

alan wolk, social media & being un-anonymous

Now that we all know that Tangerine Toad is really Creative Director Alan Wolk, most recently of FCBi, and the dust has settled a little bit on that revelation, it’s time to see if it was really worth it for him to do the big identity reveal and to ask other questions that I’m just curious to know the answer of.

Some people say that this post is late to the game, I just say that it’s considered. I’m sort of like the lone Apache that followed behind the main group of warriors to kill those who came out of hiding too early…not that the analogy is totally relevant or even useful (not to mention funny) in this context.

Let’s just move on to the interview with Tangerine Toad creator Alan Wolk, shall we?

Alan Wolk

Alan, now that your identity has been revealed, has the response been what you expected?

It’s actually been a lot better than I expected. To begin with, a number of friends actually emailed to say they’d been reading me for a while and how funny is it that it turned out to be me.

“De-anonymizing” has also allowed me to converse with people in the field as me, not some “anonymous blogger.” That’s been a real plus and made me realize that I really did establish something pretty special with The Toad Stool and that people want to hear from me. (Well, some people, anyway.)

Blogs are supposed to be a “conversation.” Do you find that industry blogs are engaged in meaningful conversation?

There’s such a wide range of blogs that touch on the marketing and advertising industries these days. Some are very serious, some very light-hearted. There are blogs that analyze the ins and outs of user experience, blogs that review ads and blogs where you can gripe if you feel screwed over by your last agency.

But there are a core group of blogs, the ones I find myself gravitating to the most, where people have serious conversations about the changes going on in our industry. It’s been very edifying for me to find people willing to have these conversations and to really give some thought to solutions. I’ve made a lot of new friends through the blogosphere.

It also comes as a great relief to the people I work with, no doubt, as I can now have these discussions online with like-minded people (such as yourself) rather than coercing unwilling victims into discussing the possible future benefits of 3-D virtual worlds or whether Starbucks is proof that design has become more important than advertising.

If “your brand is not my friend” how can brands be successful in the social media space

Brands need to bring utility to people. A brand that isn’t a Prom King Brand can still play in social media if they realize that people are not going to seek them out, even if they like and use the brand. Non Prom King Brands need to provide utility and value to consumers. That can be as simple as going onto sites their customers already use and sponsoring some sort of useful tool or providing a valuable coupon—something that acknowledges that they are a brand selling me something, not a friend hanging out with me and that as such, they need to do something for me, not the other way around. That’s a huge paradigm shift for most brands—telling customers what they want to hear versus telling them what the brand wants to say. But it’s the golden rule of social media.

To take another of your phrases, if “social media is only social when you’re alone” what does that mean for a marketer?

TV is a group activity, print isn’t. We still read the internet more than we watch it, though that’s changing. But social media, because it’s aimed at me, rather than us, is something I’ll need to do solo.

For marketers, that means that you need to figure out when I’m alone (work? late nights?) and what appeals to each individual- not the whole family. It also means that while Charlene Li is correct that “social media will soon be like air,” the family is not going to be eating dinner in front of their Facebook accounts any time soon. So we’ve got to target social media engagements to individuals as opposed to groups.

What Web 2.0 elements are here to stay and what were just flashes in the pan?

Well Twitter’s going to be a flash in the pan if they don’t get their act together soon in regards to their ever-crashing infrastructure. But if they do, I suspect that Twitter and its offspring are here to stay. I’ve been describing Twitter as being like an all day cocktail party that you can wander in and out of at will. It’s a useful median between one-on-one tools like IM and group tools like message boards. It also allows for both business networking and personal connection. People are still figuring out the boundaries and of course there’s always the issue of how to cashify it.

Second Life is often derided as being a flash in the pan. And way too many companies did jump onto that like lemmings. There was a cool factor among agency types too, in knowing what it was, even if your only exposure was a demo at a briefing. But ultimately it was the wrong move for most brands. That said, I think the technology behind Second Life can be useful and that the idea of virtual worlds is still valid. It just needs a less fantasy-based framework.

Then there are things like BrightKite, a location based social networking service. Many people I know (myself included) jumped at the chance to join and then when we got there it was “okay, now what?” But many people had the same initial reaction to Twitter, and look how that’s grown.

What’s important to remember is that a lot of these technologies grow organically and their primary use is defined by the people who use them, not the people who create them. Remember- YouTube was supposed to be a place to put up videos of your dog for your parents to see.

Okay, let’s talk about how social media fits within an agency offering. Should digital be a seamless part of a traditional agency’s offering like TV, print and radio or does it need to be separate?

Keeping digital separate is pretty foolish. It was done by necessity as the talent pool—and budgets—for digital projects didn’t match up to offline ones. And during Web 1.0 there wasn’t a whole lot of creativity to be found in digital.

But that’s changed dramatically and the distinction is becoming less and less valid. The value of traditional media offerings is dropping too: people consume less traditional media and when they do, they’re more skeptical of the ads they see there. As I wrote in “The Real Digital Revolution” TV and print ads are just there to remind us to go online and check out if the product is really any good. People are not using ads as their primary source of product information anymore. What’s more, sixty years of Bernbachian advertising has left us somewhat immune to its charms.

Can agencies make an ‘ad agency margin’ off of digital or was it sold too cheaply for too long?

It’s definitely been sold too cheaply. But as the industry matures, I suspect prices will go up. If for no other reason than clients will start demanding better production value. Handheld, unlit videos are great for a tiny YouTube window, but as we move to full-screen video, we’ll want better production value and better looking film and someone will need to pay for that.

We’ll also need to pay the people who make the ads (especially that Alan Wolk guy) and if profit margins are low, agencies won’t be able to attract the right people. And finally, the rise of social media will make Web 1.0 formulas like PPC (pay-per-click) less prevalent.

Are agencies structured correctly to respond to the quickly-moving digital world? Could they be structured better?

Most agencies are stuck in structures that were put in place about 60 or 70 years ago to produce print and (later) TV advertising for large national brands.

That structure is totally obsolete these days and is why so many agencies have trouble adapting to the new digital world. We keep trying to force fit these outmoded roles and job titles to the projects we’re tasked with and what happens is we wind up with both a lot of overlap and a lot of gaps.

The traditional art director/copywriter team was a wonderful way to create a print ad and quite a revolution from the old days when the copywriter came up with the ad and slipped it under the art director’s door.

But we need a new revolution. Today’s digital marketing programs require a whole new set of participants. Everything from user experience to technology to content creation. It’s a more involved process than before and requires more input and testing. (Not the specious “do you like it” testing that’s inflicted on TV commercials, but the realistic “do people get they’re supposed to click here” type testing that improves websites.)

That said, we need to remember that the less people that own a creative project, the better and that anything created by committee will unfortunately reflect that sensibility. So while other disciplines need to be brought in, there still needs to be a core group of people who concept the project and own the vision. What that core group’s titles and day-to-day responsibilities are is something we still need to work out. But as with most things social-media related, I suspect that the users (e.g. the agency teams themselves) will wind up defining the process and the way things are structured.

So, what’s next for Alan Wolk? What’s next for Tangerine Toad?

Alan Wolk is going to find himself a gig where he can put his social media and traditional advertising skills to work. As someone who gets both worlds, I’m in a unique position to provide agencies and clients with a bridge between the two: the ability to engage consumers and provide them with something entertaining yet conceptual along with the ability to innately understand the digital arena and why certain formats work and how to use them. I’ve been calling it a “creative strategist” role – almost a cross between a traditional creative director and a digital strategist.

The Toad Stool blog will still continue to be an important factor in my life and in getting the word out. I’ve actually found it’s easier to come up with post ideas now that I’m me (as opposed to Toad) and that I can focus on ideas I feel strongly about, like the growing class divide in America and its effect on marketing and media.

brands are drowning in social media

Meritocracy is merciless, and hardest of all on those it would first seem to favor. And who would be more favored in the game of creating content than a big brand with a big budget?

A big budget that, according to AdAge, is only getting bigger:


So often, at least in the social media sphere, the big brands fall flat on their face, engaging when consumers don’t want their engagement and playing in a media sphere that they have nothing to add to. This is partly due to the fact that brands are inherently boring and partly due to the fact that social media unleashes the more meritocratic of all meritocracies: the internet.

Brands that put out blogs or connect on social media sites or host consumer generated content sites are uniquely ill-suited to succeed on the internet.

The command-and-control structure of most marketing teams, the layers of approval, the waterd-down content that passes for blog posts just can’t compete in terms of quality and content with what is out there for free from consumers. And consumers are always more trustworthy than brands.

Social networking isn’t a place that brands are welcome – as Tangerine Toad says, your brand is not my friend. People like brands when they give people value or utility. A Facebook page is not either. Nor is an application that demands an arduous registration process and automatically invites my friends and then doesn’t do much. That is a sneaky way to get consumers in your database. And consumers don’t like that.

Every once in a while there is an idea that succeeds because it is unique. CGC was that idea, and it was done well by Doritos particularly. But there are only so many consumers with the time and inclination to create for your brand and, once they create something, it becomes only part of the vast sea of content on the internet. How will other consumers find it? It’s not unique or new anymore…it’s just a tired tactic that lazy brands turn to when they don’t know what to do about this internet thing but feel like they have to do something.

None of this means that brands shouldn’t play in the social media space, just that they should play in it differently.

Social media is primarily about trust. The personalization of blogs, social networking sites and the rest show other internet denizens who may be viewing said content that there is a real person creating all of this. That this person, complete with real personality and idiosyncracies and things they feel passionate about, has no side agenda to sell something…it’s not about content as much as it is about content that a real person is behind.

It’s easy to trust a real person, even a real person you’ve never actually met in real life.

A person with an audience – and it is becoming harder and harder with the proliferation of blogs, Twitter and other social media to find an audience – is much more than a consumer. They are much more than an influencer. They have taken it to the next level by combining the elements of trust, immediacy, and un-edited personal reactions into opinions that are broadcast to their (niche and targeted it can be assumed) audience.

But how do you reach these people a Brand Manager might ask?

Ask politely, give utility and make sure that your product lives up to what you promise. The rest is out of your hands.

brands can be friendly, but can’t be friends

There has been a lot of talk from advertising-types, what with the Facebook advertising hoopla, that people do not want brands to be their friends. Adliterate puts it well here:

People may be brands but brands are by and large not people.But just because a brand has a personality doesn’t make it a person.

And I want my relationships to be with people not businesses. Sure that can be the people in those businesses but not the business as a whole.

Brands that try to worm their way into social media, that try to position themselves as your friends are doing the wrong thing. To quote Tangerine Toad:

Consumers aren’t looking for more friends…we’re looking for is authenticity. That means you tell us the truth. Admit when you’re wrong. Don’t treat us like criminals. And talk to us when you have news.

“Telling us the truth” means you’ve got to stop trying to pretend we’re not consumers and you’re not sales people. Because we both know that’s not true.

Brands, you know what I want this holiday season? I want value on good products, ideally from brands that have good, creative advertising. But I would be fine with just good products.

So don’t waste your time trying to be my friend. I already have friends. Real people friends that I can talk to, shoot the shit with, blog about after changing their name and actually have a back-and-forth real relationship with. And, except for that one old college friend who tried to get me to join some Amway thing, there is no pressure to buy anything from them to show my allegiance. Which is nice.

Instead of making a splash in social networking, spend that money on R&D, on design or even on your ad agency (especially if it’s the one I work at).

That is where you’ll find those incremental sales you’re looking for.