Tweet the Power!

August 15, 2009

Twenty years ago, the rap group Public Enemy dropped one of the greatest rap songs of all time, Fight the Power! It appears two decades later, my brothers and sisters from across the pond have begun to fight the power via twitter.
Gordo brownOver the past week, I’ve been trying to master social media in the UK, it turns out that Gordon Brown,  Britain’s Prime Minister, would provide one of the best examples of social media mobilization campaign. The Leader of the Labour Party has begun to defend Britain’s National Healthcare System (NHS) by joining a Twitter campaign defending the health service from attacks by Republicans intent on derailing President Obama’s healthcare bill.

Britons angry at the attacks have organised a campaign on the micro-blogging site, which has also been joined by the health secretary, Andy Burnham. The social networking site crashed yesterday with the volume of messages for the #welovethenhs campaign.

twitterIt is because of a social media tool like twitter that this cross continental campaign is possible. This will no doubt be an exciting exploration of how social media tools impacting politics. This situation wasn’t created in a vacuum but a culmination of several factors.
UK is an engaged social networking community. Of the 34 million internet users, 27 million actively visited a social network site. However, individuals in London are leaders and are even more actively engaged. The city was recently declared as the new twitter capital of the world. The city has embraced the idea of creating a community on line to share and communicate. They have taken it a step further and have mobilized to influence change and stand up for themselves.
Moreover, this situation has generated additional attention because of the use of traditional media as well. Brown and other ministers have begun campaigning on American soil giving interviews to tell and share their story and not let the country be exploited and misrepresented unfairly by the hard right.
I can’t help but wonder would American’s collectively rise up against another country via social media? I doubt most Americans would rally around just one issue in another country. We all know the exploits of the Obama campaign to use social media to secure the election. However, this case should serve as a solid reminder to US politicians to remember that politics are no longer local, but global. 2009 may serve as another summer where we’ll see power may belong to the people as you gotta Tweet the Power!


Spain & Social Networking

August 3, 2009

I struggled this week to find a country I wanted to explore when I decided to examine one of the countries on my travel schedule when I go to Europe: Spain.  It appears this European nation is one of the few countries where Facebook hasn’t pulled a Napoleon Bonaparte can have complete world domination; they must supplant Tuenti in Spain. 


Tuenti is Spain’s dominant leader for social media.  The site is targeted at the Spanish audience predominately teens and the twenty something crowd.  

Approximately 13 million Spanish Internet users visited a social networking site in December 2008 – up 41 percent versus the previous year. The most popular social networking property was Spanish site, which grew 770 percent over the course of the year to 5.6 million visitors in December 2008.

Tuenti retains is elite status by only being accessible via invitation only.  Tuenti faithful can choose their network of friends, “ such as college dorms or favorite hangouts, as well as the more general categories, including city of residence or university attended, on which Facebook networks are based.”

Although this is a targeted demo for any marketers, advertisers beware… the Spanish site aims to change how they do advertising.  “To lead a change in the Spanish advertising market, by investing in a new relevant and segmented communication model, more efficient for advertisers and pleasant for users.” 

So what is this new “Spanish advertising market?”  I don’t know? I tried to uncover what will ultimately separate Tuenti from Facebook, but I kept reading rhetoric from the company’s CEO that keeps investors intrigued. However, it makes me increasingly concerned because sometimes being first isn’t enough.

I’m left wondering….

What is ultimately the difference between the local favorite and the Facebook? 

Can Spain support two social networking sites? 

Where will social networking and Tuenti be in one year or even 18 months in Spain?

Brands Beware

July 31, 2009


VirginAtlantic787IIIn December 2008, Oliver Beale, a passenger traveling on Virgin Atlantic from Mumbai to London, was so disturbed by his in-flight meal that he wrote a complaint letter to Richard Branson, complete with photos of the food. Copies of the letter spread rapidly via e-mail and the story was quickly picked up by bloggers and traditional media. To read Oliver Beale’s letter follow this link: The best complaint letter ever?
In response to the media attention surrounding the letter, Virgin Atlantics public-relations team quickly got out the message on Facebook that Mr. Branson had personally phoned Mr. Beale and invited him to help select food and wine for future flights. According to Paul Charles, a Virgin Atlantic spokesman, “Our response was so fast, some people even accused us of setting the whole thing up as a publicity stunt, We took that as a compliment.”

Letter Excerpt: “It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast.”

Honestly, this is one of the funniest letters I have ever read and it shows how quickly a company’s brand can be damaged through social media if they are not prepared with the correct response when issues arise. In this case Virgin Atlantic got off easy, Richard Branson made a call to Oliver and everyone had a nice laugh about the situation and now both Oliver and Virgin Atlantic have tons of publicity to help them sleep at night.
But as the recent United Airlines guitar debacle shows, this is not always the case. Twitter, Facebook and other social media are changing the world of consumer complaints and brands must remain aware that consumers can and will use social media to tell their side of the story.

Mind the Gap

July 29, 2009

Social media in the United Kingdom is becoming more popular according to a survey conducted a few months ago. According to Hitwise, “UK Internet users are spending less of their online time shopping and more time browsing online media.”Online_retailers_upstream_traffic_from_social_networks_email_webmail_UK_2009_2008_chart 

This  is a reported reversal from one year ago.

 Twitter use has also registered a huge spike in the UK.  Just this week, it was reported that “the micro-blogging site has popularized amongst the UK masses to such an extent that it attracted traffic 22-fold in just a year, being the fastest amongst all other sites.”

Not suprisingly, with these kinds of numbers, the UK is seeing the same kind of defection from newspapers to online news sources that is being experienced around the globe.  Another Hitwise survey found that in the UK, “print readership of newspapers has dropped by a staggering 5 million in 15 years. This equates to nearly a 20% decrease.”  

According to Social Media Trader, prominent newspapers in the UK have recognized the shift and most are responding.  Most newspapers’ online editions now are Web 2.0, as detailed below.   

Newspapers Icons* Popular** Video Blog/Profile*** Digg FP
Times 310
The Independent 139
The Telegraph 183
The Daily Express   0
The Sun 18
The Mirror 14
The Guardian 443
The Daily Mail 309
The Daily Star 1
Financial Times Planned 44

*Social news and bookmarking Icons for easy submission.
**Shows most popular, most emailed or most commented stories on the front page. Front page content determined by users.
***Has own blog or profile

mid-Mind_the_gap_oggThere is an slogan in England, “Mind the Gap”, that refers to the divide between the platform floor at the Underground and the train idling at the station.  It is a phrase that has worked itself into the vernacular and warns of the dangers associated with a disconnect between two areas.  It is an interesting reminder for us as we head to London with all its grandeur and history, to learn more about how respected brands like The Times of London – in print since 1785 – are working to adapt to the new world of social media. Just yesterday stateside, a respected national news brand, The Washington Post  announced the launch of a brand new mobile Web site characterized as “the definitive mobile news source for Washington. Unparalleled local and national news and analysis helps you stay informed and connected on-the-go.”  The swift shift in how the public now receives its news could not have been predicted even a decade ago.

As we spend our last week of class together, I know I’ll be thinking of these dichotomies, how fast social media is changing our field and how this class is working to arm us in real time with what we need to “mind the gap” in our own lives – both personally and professionally.  

Pepsi Targets Online Influencers in China

July 26, 2009

With their Voice of a New Generation campaign, Pepsi demonstrates itself to be a strategic player and early leader in the social media space in China.

Some bloggers have been critical of the campaign’s offline logistics, others see a error in going after a small niche audience and the available metrics indicate relatively poor initial online performance compared to other examples. None-the-less, I think Pepsi is blazing an intentional trail that other companies looking to enter the Chinese social media scene should consider following.

Voice of a New Generation is an integrated real-world/broadcast/digital program focused on the “alternative” or “underground” music scene. Battle of the Bands events are held with contestants earning slots on a branded American Idolesque TV show, with buzz and voting taking place in the Web 2.0 space.

Alternative Bands Perform in China

Voice of a New Generation Performance

Pepsi’s effort follows the successful Mongolian Cow Yogurt Super Girl contest (seriously, that’s the name). Super Girl generated 400 million TV viewers a month who voted for their favorite performer by SMS. Other talent search shows have been quite popular on Chinese TV as well. While the TV tie-in is certainly interesting, it’s the social media aspect of this campaign that is most intriguing and the real subject of this post.

Online, Pepsi is smart to create a social media ecosystem with many complimentary platforms:

  • Tudou–video sharing
  • Baidu–forum
  • Sina–blog
  • Tiany–forum
  • QQ–game
  • Douban–social networking

SMS/Twitter is missing, which warrants further investigation, but note the somewhat unusual inclusion of gaming. We see the implementation of a holistic plan strongly positioned to drive interactivity with the intended audience.

Why then are the numbers so small, as points out? More importantly, why do I think that’s just fine where many bloggers see Pepsi having misstepped by targeting “underground/alternative” music artists and fans instead of going after more of a “pop” audience where the numbers would be larger?

Two reasons.

1. I think Pepsi is going after cultural INFLUENCERS, not the broadest cross-section of the population. In the Coke vs. Pepsi war, it is important to differentiate the brands from one another and Pepsi has clearly decided to be the edgier player. Picking up market share can best be done by having a different personality than the leader. Read Bharghava and also Ries & Trout who explain this type of strategy in detail.

Creating an edgy brand promise is something that requires association. It’s one thing for a company to say they’re about individuality and fun, but another for those that actually live that individuality and fun lifestyle to provide the validation. So what we see here is Pepsi making a strategic choice to go after the small group of influencers. There is adequate literature on the power of influencers in the U.S. market, but I reference a Power of Influence blog post as it pointed me to a new international study (in which influencers are called “Global Multipliers”) for it has one particularly important finding:

“Among Global Multipliers in all markets, those in China are the most likely to use the Internet to share their recommendations.”

Pepsi is dead on target with the Voice of a New Generation strategy. Going after influencers that have their own social media connections on other platforms and in other communities can have great impact in the market. The metrics on the Pepsi sponsored pages alone are simply not painting the correct picture.

2. Pepsi is in the Chinese social media game for the long haul. Compared to Coca-Cola’s 2008 revenues which predominantly took place overseas (75%),  only 48% of Pepsi’s 2008 revenues were generated outside the U.S. That’s clearly got to change for Pepsi to stay competitive. As Fortune magazine points out, PepsiCo’s Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi (formerly of Boston Consulting Group) is a strategist well aware that “the U.S. marketplace [is] in slow-growth mode even in the best of times, [and] the biggest opportunities are overseas.” Reuters reports that given the enormous potential of the Chinese market, Pepsi is investing $1 billion in China over the next four years. So looking at short-term ROI (using the regular social media measurements) of the Voice of a New Generation campaign is meaningless. The game Pepsi is playing is for billions, not the cost of a one-off campaign.

Whether the underground music approach to tapping the emerging youth consumer segment of China works or not, Pepsi is on the right track looking to engage Global Multipliers in the Chinese social media scene. They should continue to identify these segments and engage them with other creative campaigns.

— “Pepsi Targets Online Influencers in China” posted by Gregg Rapaport

Entertained by the Grass-Mud Horse

July 26, 2009

Chinese internet users spend more time than Americans on entertainment sites (i.e. online games, music, video, blogs and chatting), but not so much on online banking, purchases, and search engines.  Due to the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre on June 4, China shut down Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Bing, YouTube, and many other social networking sites with no signs of opening them back up soon.  The combination of Chinese netizens internet behavior (prefering entertainment over online search and purchasing) and Chinese government imposed censorship makes it very difficult for companies to penetrate the market using social media tools.  However, difficult does not mean impossible.  To reach target audiences via social media tools, companies must be creative in their strategies and listen closely to what Chinese internet users are saying.

In 2008, the Pew Research Center reported that “few in china complain about internet controls” claiming that Chinese internet users approve of the government’s management of the Internet.  However, a recent viral YouTube video about the grass-mud horse (a symbolic defiance of Chinese internet censorship) proves otherwise.

grass mud horse

Michael Wines from The New York Times reports on the grass-mud horse as an “icon of resistenance to censhorship” in China (according to  adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Xiao Qiang).  Wines goes on to say that “China’s online population has always endured censorship, but the oversight increased markedly in December, after a pro-democracy movement led by highly regarded intellectuals, Charter 08, released an online petition calling for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.  Shortly afterward, government censors began a campaign, ostensibly against Internet pornography and other forms of deviance. By mid-February, the government effort had shut down more than 1,900 Web sites and 250 blogs — not only overtly pornographic sites, but also online discussion forums, instant-message groups and even cellphone text messages in which political and other sensitive issues were broached.”  It was called the most vicious crackdown in years by China Digital Times.

Videos of the mythical creature began to appear in early January 2009 on the Chinese search engine Baidu.  The grass-mud horse, a vulgar saying in Chinese, is symbolic and has multiple meanings. In the video, the grass-mud horse fights with the ‘river crab,’ a slang word in Chinese for ‘censorship.’  The viral video, reaching more than 1.4 million viewers as of early March 2009, has many strong double meanings that include mostly vulgar language.  Pairing perceived innocent words with double dirty meanings allows the video to get by strict government censorship allowing it to be widely distributed.

CNN reports in more depth about the specific meanings of each part of the video (Caution: not for children).  Global Voices Online reports about the internet phenomena of the grass-mud horse and its significance in the online and offline world in China.  The grass-mud horse has become so popular that an iPhone app was created for it in early June 2009 – re-named ‘strange horse,’ most likely due to censorship.

Global Voices Online explains that China’s government declared a ban on the grass-run horse after it went global with The New York Times article in early March 2009.  China’s administration claims that “the issue has been elevated into a political level, overseas media has turned it into a story of netizen and government confrontation.”  However, Oiwan Lam from Global Voices makes a clear point that it is not The New York Times, or anyone else for that matter, that is in the wrong for giving this worldwide exposure, but rather “the most crucial role [in promoting the grass-mud horse] is played by the Chinese censor / river crab, without which the Grass Mud Horse is nothing more than a dirty joke.”

Before entering the Chinese market with a social media strategy, it is essential to understand two major insights:

1. Censorship in China is a big hurdle to get over.  Before entering the market, be fully aware of what is censored.  Don’t let your marketing strategy falter because of this.

2.  Entertainment sells.  The viral video of the grass-run horse became so widespread not only because Chinese netizens are passionate about government censorship, but also because it was a medium that resonates with Chinese netizens.  To penetrate the Chinese market:  Make it fun.  Combine your product or organization with a game, video, discussion, or music.  High levels on Chinese internet users are already drawn to these entertaining sites online – make your presense known.

China’s Second Life

July 26, 2009

Broadband penetration in China totals 243 million for users age 13 and above. Of those, 224 million, or 92 phipihi.jpg picture by kstel2ercent, contribute to social media. That’s compared to 105 million Americans, or 76 percent of the U.S. broadband population according to  The Chinese audience has utilized all social media tools from uploading videos to posting to a micro-blog.  Today, companies are taking advantage of the Chinese advancement in technology in order to advertise and market more technical audiences embracing the use of social media.

 China’s Second Life alternative, Hipihi, is a great way for brands to increase their reach to this dynamic audience, which includes over 50,000 registered users in China. Hipihi, according to their website is China’s first 3D virtual world that provides its residents with a real-time online environment for creation, collaboration, commerce, communication and entertainment. The goal is to foster and facilitate the building of an Oriental-influenced virtual world platform that facilitates multi-cultural interactions. Through the removal of physical space-time limits seeks to develop a technology platform people-to-people interaction, HiPiHi for virtual/ online activity that transcends reality and enable a new lifestyle that ignites the passions, dreams and hopes of individuals worldwide.

Hipihi-newsignsatthewelcomearea.png picture by kstel2

Hipihi draws the attention of many bloggers who often visit the site since they were established, in part, due to the Second Life craze in 2005.  Creators of Hipihi used the popularity surrounding virtual worlds to help brands market to consumers using viral worlds as a way to communicate and purchase produces.  Hipihi players are all Chinese and the creators of Hipihi think most of Chinese users are using internet or play games for entertainment or networking, therefore, needed this 3D world to satisfy such needs.  If brands want to learn about the developments and attraction to larger online audiences that Hipihi and other 3D virtual worlds are providing for them, using such websites as Hipihi generates the type of attention that helps make marketing to audiences faster and more of a significant use of social media tools.