The past couple of months have been an interesting time for me. I was entrenched in a couple of new business pitches, as well as in many discussions and presentations involving emerging media.
Now that I’m coming out of this intensive time spent primarily talking about the future of media delivery, media consumption and subsequent models for planning and purchasing said media, I’ve been reflecting a bit on what I’ve learned. Where I feel I’ve gained the most insight is in how our media minds need to evolve and adapt to these emerging media trends.
The Mathematical Mind
It took me awhile to put my finger on it, but I’d have to say the biggest drawback we as media people have in fully understanding and applying “emerging media” is a want, I would say a need, for specific order and categorization in our work. We may use big words and a lot of acronyms that many don’t fully understand, but in the end, we want nice, neat, simple labels applied to what we do and how we do it. Our logical, mathematical minds always want one and one to equal two.
Think about it: We do detailed analysis on target audiences so we can label them based on demographics and behaviors that will allow us to better decide the mix of media to use which are nicely separated based on how the message is delivered to the audience. Yes, from a professional standpoint, the majority of us are the dreaded “Type-A Personality,” seeking order and control in what we do.
Case in point:
As mentioned above, the current rash of hot emerging media trends has been the focal point of my professional life for the past couple months. Most of these things aren’t terribly new (especially things like mobile, blogs, podcasting, RSS, social networks, P2P networks, et cetera) per se, but are emerging in terms of advertising opportunities. Most were developed on a “grass roots” basis by people reaching out to other people, not as a means to push messaging to the masses.
I was having a difficult time sitting in meetings where folks were trying to place them into unique, simple categories. My opinion was, and still is, that most of these things don’t live in a vacuum in the eyes of the consumer, and most consumers don’t see these things as “media” or media delivery mechanisms. Therefore, we shouldn’t be placing them in silos without context around how people are actually using these things: to be more connected with others.
It could’ve been I wasn’t as articulate as I needed to be in saying that. It could’ve been that I was fighting a losing battle against rooms full of Type-A Personalities. Most likely, it was a bit of both. Regardless, my point didn’t seem to resonate.
It's about the company, stupid
Then, the August issue of Technology Review hit my desk and crystallized my point, as much as a publication from MIT can “crystallize” anything. The cover story, “Social Machines,” provides an in depth look at the phenomenon of “continuous computing” and what, exactly, that means. In essence, it means that “always on” connectivity between the slew of gadgets we now rely on has led to people’s use of technology as a means to develop communities -- of family, friends, co-worker, or others they’ve never met in person but have strong ties to for one reason or the other. It talks about the phenomenon of “Web 2.0," whereby what once was a repository of relatively static documents is now becoming “a platform for personal publishing and social software.” And the desktop and laptop computer are by no means the sole or primary devices being used to get at these platforms.
(Before I move on and tie this together, let’s keep in mind my initial pronouncement regarding media people’s need for categorically defining things. I’m about to make a couple of broad statements about mankind and a few thousand years of history that will, in short order, lead me to my ultimate point. I only insert this interruption to let you know that I do not completely stand outside of this need to have things labeled neatly, at least when it suits me. Anyway, back to our normal programming.)
I make no claims as a cultural anthropologist, nor do I claim expertise in the finer points of human interaction, but I feel like I can safely say over the course of millennia people have proven that they will use advancements in technology as a means to draw closer together as a community. Initially, that meant physically closer together. It could have been to get things to market; it could have been to simply get from Point A to Point B. Think of the wheel.
But when you think of communication innovations, such as the printing press, the telephone, or short-wave radio, it was about the community that can be built via shared likes or dislikes simply by having discourse with others regardless of location. And that is the mindset with which things like mobile, blogs, podcasting, RSS, social networks, and P2P networks, i.e. Web 2.0, have flourished.
Thoughts on moving forward
So what does that mean? It means that we need to redouble our efforts around being focused on business objectives, as well as be consumer-centric, not media-centric, in everything we do. Define the business objective, understand the audience, and then determine the channels for reaching out to that audience.
It means we’ve got some growing pains ahead of us when it comes to our want for simply defined buckets vs. actual consumer behavior. People are empowered now to NOT be easily placed into preconceived buckets of demographics, behavior and media usage. Linear usage of media is quickly becoming a thing of the past, if it hasn’t already completely evaporated.
It means we’re going to have to define the best ways to become part of these communities of communication where ideas are freely passed back and forth, not simply consumed. It could be we move from being advertisers within content to creators of content to best take advantage of some of these emerging media. That, in and of itself, is a pretty large shift in the way we think about the business our clients are in, and our jobs of planning their media and communication.
It means we’re going to have to seek units of purchase and measure that make the most sense in a new paradigm of media usage and creation. We’re going to have to question where “media” value exists -- in the delivery of a large audience, in the inclusion and acceptance within, or maybe in the development of, a community, or at some other point.
Don’t be alarmed. Much of this work is already in progress, and that’s the exciting part. Right now, we’re in a time where we can say things like “a new paradigm of media usage and creation” and have it mean something. We can all participate in this new definition of what we do. It’s like we’re all one big community or something.
Then, when digi-pod-mobi-socio-blogging takes off in a few months, we won’t be trying to figure out under what line item on a media plan it should fall.
Jerry Courtney is the Associate Interactive Media Director at GSD&M in Austin, TX. He oversees the Interactive Media Group at GSD&M, ensuring successful integration of work and process with the Media Planning Department. Clients include SBC, MasterCard, US Air Force, UnitedHealth, AARP and SAM'S CLUB.
How can my brand deliver value that's unique to Facebook?
Delivering value on social networks requires a deep understanding of why your community members are there and what kinds of behaviors they practice. Even not-so-sexy brands can find ways to deeply engage their communities if they can identify the intersection of an online behavior and their product or service offerings.
Staples offers a great example of this on its fan page. The company noticed that users are sometimes tagged in photos they don't like on Facebook. This is a pain-point that Staples transforms into a fun experience through the "I Shred U" application that is embedded in its fan page. The application lets users select an offending photo that they can then send through a variety of Staples shredders and then post to their friends' stream with a custom message and sound. The application also offers users the opportunity to "trick" the photos by adding speech bubbles, additional artwork, and messages. Check out the experience on the fan page.
Is there a place for B2B brands on Facebook?
The demographics of Facebook are rapidly evolving, and some of the fastest growing segments are in unexpected areas. For example, Hewlett-Packard's fastest growing community on Facebook is for retired employees. As demographics change, there will be more and more opportunity for B2B brands to develop a presence on Facebook. For the moment, however, those pioneering B2B brands typically have a consumer division. Staples is an example of this. Boca Bearing Co. is another. Its page includes a Twitter feed, videos featuring educational content about bearings, a product catalog with quick links to purchase from the company's site, as well as links to other social content.
In many respects, Boca Bearings has created a hub on Facebook that extends its website onto the platform and aggregates its social efforts. This does offer some value to the community simply by bringing content closer; however, future development might include platform-exclusive promotions or competitions to drive deeper community engagement.
Before pursuing these opportunities, however, brands should consider how they are segmenting their communities. In this case, Boca Bearing is actually serving an "RC Hobbies" community, a "Recreation" community, and its B2B community. Facebook might be a great place to showcase user-generated video content or host a competition based on that content for each one of these communities. But does it make sense to have them all on the same page? There is definitely a small but growing opportunity for B2B brands on Facebook, but they need to focus carefully on these kinds of questions in order to be successful.
What works when launching a presence on Facebook?
There are many different approaches to developing a presence on Facebook, but brands seem to be increasingly coming to the game with a plan to jumpstart their communities through promotional offers. Last year, Intel challenged Sprout to create a new Facebook fan page and application for the company, with the goal of building a significant Intel community on Facebook. The result was a fan page with an embedded application that empowered the community to lower the price on three laptops in advance of Cyber Monday. In less than two weeks, Intel reached hundreds of thousands of people and acquired more than 24,000 new fans.
You don't have to be a giant brand like Intel to do this successfully though. Sprout also worked with a hair products company named Living Proof on a new fan page that helped boost its community from 800 fans to 10,000 fans in just a few months. One of the keys to success was embedding a free sample offer into the homepage experience. Another was an exceptionally clean brand experience that included the company's blog feed, a Twitter feed, direct access to customer service, styling tips, and video content about how the brand's products are made and work. Finally, one of the most engaging elements of the experience is an interactive questionnaire that guides users to the product that is most appropriate for their hair types and styling preferences.
How can my brand leverage competitions and philanthropy?
Many brands have had success leveraging competitions and campaigns that are connected to charitable causes. Recently, Clorox did both with its Clorox Clean-Up "Power a Bright Future" grant campaign. This is another example of a brand that does not seem to be an immediate fit for Facebook, yet the company found a way to deliver value to a community there. The key was to empower fans to help direct five grants of $10,000 back into their communities.
Participants in the contest were asked to submit a photo and a short message about the cause they wanted to fund. A panel of influential children's advocates selected finalists based on the impact of the program on kids, the quality of the entry sent in, and the potential for the grant to help the program grow. After that, the public was given a chance to vote on Facebook for the winners. All voting participants received a Clorox Clean-Up coupon as a thank-you for voting.
Chase is currently running a campaign that takes this approach one step further with its Chase Community Giving program. The experience allows users to vote for as many as 20 local charities for the opportunity to get a slice of a $5 million funding pool. In short, Chase is crowd-sourcing the direction of funds to local charities.
One final note about competitions on Facebook: You'll want to steer clear of competitions that require Facebook actions to participate. Facebook rules make it clear that the network doesn't want to be on the hook for anything that could affect the outcome of a competition. For example, sharing something with friends cannot be a requirement to participate in a competition.
Can it just be about entertainment?
Sometimes the best opportunity for brands online is to simply provide some entertainment and education to their communities. Adobe is another brand that wouldn't seem like a natural fit for Facebook because it has other active community sites where users solve problems and share tips. Last year, however, Adobe created a fun experience for its community that presented fans with a series of images and asked them if they were "real" or "fake" (i.e., manipulated with Adobe's software). If a particular photo had been "faked," a tutorial showed how it had been done.
In this case, Adobe realized there was a community on Facebook that it was not reaching through its other channels -- namely, college students. The company used its Facebook experience to engage these new users and provide them with information about deep discounts that were available to students enrolled in college programs. The mix of fun, education, and promotional information effectively grew the brand's community base to more than 42,000 fans.
There is no shortage of unlikely brands finding success on Facebook by driving brand awareness, lead generation, engagement, and sales. And, as these are still relatively early days, there are still many opportunities for brands to think outside of the box and create new experiences.
In many ways, the biggest challenge is matching a community need against a solution that fits with your brand and into your larger social strategy. Brands that are looking for more inspiration should visit the Facebook Preferred Developer list. Sprout was one of only a handful of companies that launched with this program back in 2009, and there are now almost 50 companies there today.
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Inviting too many people
A conference call isn't a kindergarten birthday party. You don't have to invite everyone in the class just so no one's feelings get hurt. A lot of marketers make the mistake of thinking that a conference call will be more productive if every last soul involved in a project is on it. The rationale is often that people don't want to have to go retrieve information after a call when they could have just asked for it while on the call itself. Or, they don't want to have to reiterate the decisions made during the call to others. But that reasoning leads to cluttered, unproductive calls -- and a hell of a lot of wasted time.
Invite only essential parties to conference calls -- the people who need to be present in order for things to move forward. Everyone should plan to walk away from a conference call with marching orders, and part of that will be assigning tasks to people who weren't on the call. If people are regularly leaving your call with no direct action items, you know too many people are on the calls.
Are you stuck with a boss or colleague who insists on inviting too many people to every call? Try this: Come up with a gross estimate of the median salary of the people who are on any given call. Break that down to an hourly wage. Multiply that wage by the length of the conference call and the number of the people on the call. Show that figure to your boss or colleague and note that it's a rough estimate of what that call just cost in man hours alone. They might start thinking differently about how they send meeting invites.
Another tip: If you're worried that you've invited too many people to a call, don't hesitate to kick off the call by admitting so and giving people the option to bow out of the call if it becomes apparent that they're not essential to the issue at hand.
Inviting the wrong people
Right in line with the sin of inviting too many people to a call is the sin of inviting the wrong people. It's a bit of a delicate balance, to be sure. People often invite too many people because they're afraid of not inviting the right people. Conversely, when you try to pare down an invitee list, you risk accidentally cutting out a key decision maker or someone vital to moving a project forward. And just inviting the head honchos isn't a way to play it safe -- sometimes they're the most clueless when it comes to a given project.
The problem seems to stem from a lack of understanding the team members' individual responsibilities. And that's nothing to be ashamed of -- there are plenty of situations where it's impossible to know the exact roles of everyone on a project, especially if you're working with a client. But do your research in advance. Send around a fast email to gain clarity on everyone's role and what the chain of command looks like. Then use those insights to refine your conference call invite list. And, come on -- if you're deep into a project and still don't know what everybody does, you need to start paying attention more.
Not sending an agenda
If you ever set up a conference call and an invitee hops on the line without knowing why he or she is there, you've failed. Conference call invites shouldn't just include a subject line, time, and dial-in number. They should include a detailed description of the topics that will be discussed and in what order. If key questions need to be answered before the call is over, those should be included.
Will everyone read your description in advance? No. They won't. But some will, and those are the super-prepared people who tend to push things forward on conference calls. And even those who don't read in advance will ideally have your notes in front of them when the call starts. This will allow them to skip ahead and gain a better understanding of where the call should be going. Oftentimes, seeing how much ground needs to be covered on a call will deter people from derailing the topic at hand. After all, everyone wants calls to end on time. Which leads us to...
Not enforcing a time limit
In my experience, all conference calls run too long. You must set time limits for conference calls. But more importantly, you must respect them. For one, it's simply rude to expect people to stay on the line for longer than planned. But in addition, knowing that a call as a "hard stop" is really the only way to ensure the conversation keeps moving along.
This ties closely to the previous point of setting an agenda in advance. In this process, it's useful to also assign time limits to each topic of discussion so you can gauge whether you're staying on schedule. Also, setting time limits on topics enables you, as the call leader, to act like the music that comes on during an overly long Oscar speech -- a polite but firm reminder that there are other people who still need to be recognized.
Setting up a call for something better resolved via email
This one is pretty simple. Any time you're about to set up a conference call, pause for a second. Does this need to be a conference call? Could it just as easily be replaced by an email chain or Google doc? Granted, sometimes it's nice -- and even essential -- that people connect in real time and hear each others' voices. But remember that we now live in a time-shifting world where people prefer to work and play according to their own schedules. Increasingly, asking people to make themselves available at a precise moment is seen as an imposition. So only do it when it's truly essential.
Establishing a regular mass conference call
I'm going to get some objections on this one. "But Drew, it's vital to have an all-hands check-in each week." Is it? Is it really?
In my experience, such regular all-hands calls start with the best of intentions. The idea is that if everyone goes around the virtual room and says what they're working on, one big call will eliminate the need for many smaller calls throughout the week. And that might be the case initially -- maybe (but probably not). Over time, these sorts of mass check-ins wane in their usefulness because everyone starts to view them as a weekly burden and stops preparing anything useful to say. Likewise, because everybody is on the call, people hesitate to ask necessary questions of specific individuals because they don't want to waste everyone else's time or put someone on the spot. All useful conversations are reserved as follow-up one-on-one conversations. No time is saved. Time is wasted. And everyone on the line doesn't want to be there.
Scheduling them on Mondays or Fridays
I know some people are really going to take issue with this one. After all, I'm suggesting that two-fifths of every work week be off-limits for conference calls. But hear me out.
Mondays and Fridays play unique and vital roles in the work week. Monday is when you line up your ducks for the week and hopefully kick things off right. Friday is when you scurry to complete tasks that might have been dropped throughout the week and tie the week up with a nice bow so you can hopefully actually enjoy your weekend.
Conference calls, for the reasons discussed in this article and many others, tend to be windows of time in which no "real work" is accomplished. Thus, if you schedule them on Mondays, you're more likely to find that by Tuesday, you're already behind schedule. And that's a stressful way to kick off the week. If you schedule them on Friday, everyone involved is missing out on vital hours required to wrap up their work week. So please, for the sake of everyone's sanity and workflows, try to keep the conference calls in the Tuesday through Thursday slots.