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!


Skypin’ Around

August 3, 2009

Social media seems to be enjoying a great degree of popularity in the United Kingdom. According to eMarketer, 39 percent of UK Internet users (over 15 million people) will use social networks least once a month in 2009. Recognizing the potential, many advertisers and marketers have not missed the opportunity to tap into social media to help their clients.

One case study stood out to me—Albion’s award-winning Skype Nomad campaign, in which they sent a woman on a 33-day world  tour to near and far-away places from which she communicated via Skype.  (A fun assignment except for the possibility of sleep and food deprivation, though.)

It seemed like an efficient and creative way to demonstrate and showcase the product to its intended audience. As someone interested in learning more about Skype, this campaign resonated with me primarily because of the way Albion and their client chose to communicate to their audience to achieve their business objective of helping Skype raise awareness of the company’s mobile solutions.

Skype Nomad followers engage in conversation with the Nomad.

Skype Nomad followers engage in conversation with the Nomad.

Beside the fact that they knew their audience (early adopters), three other things  stood out about their approach:

1. They made it personal.The Skype Nomad, Rebecca,  posted updates about her daily experiences (good and bad) on Twitter and Facebook, among other social networking sites, photos on Flickr and (with some help from the Albion crew) videos on YouTube. The Nomad’s initial posts focused on the technology and whether/how it was working, but as the 33-day campaign progressed, followers also saw how she was reacting to her environment and circumstances: “The mountains so great that u can’t help but feel small. These mountains that minutes earlier I was cursing are now my comfort,” she wrote after what sounded like a particularly trying day from a technology perspective.

2. They were authentic. (See #1.) There was no sugarcoating—when Rebecca was having a bad day, her online friends and followers new. (“When she was down, or the technology didn’t work, she was brutally honest,” according to the Albion website.)  Followers also knew when something was good or worked, because they could see her using the product out on the field, much like they would be.

3. They started (and maintained) a conversation.While on the road, Rebecca “asked the community to help her make decisions about her trip.” This helped engage stakeholders even further by inviting them to be participants instead of just observers. (Albion states that after establishing a relationship with the audience and posting her field-based product demos on YouTube, sales of the 3 Skypephone rose.

Not only did the campaign result in increased awareness of Skype mobile solutions in the UK and the U.S. (9 and 18 percent, respectively), but Albion reported the following data points because of the campaign (or Rebecca’s personal and authentic ongoing conversation for the campaign’s duration):

  • 800,000 unique blog visitors
  • 140,000 Flickr page views
  • 300,000 YouTube video views
  • Over 175 stories in global blogs, press and television

London Calling–But are marketers answering?

August 3, 2009

Forgive the cheesy title, but after studying social media use in six different countries, we are heading to London to work face-to-face with actual clients and The Clash has been in my head, along with numerous other songs about London. London has a particular allure because 1) it’s my favorite city and 2) I assume there will be a parallel between the marketing practices of the UK and the US, thereby making it an interesting study (plus the fact that everything is in English makes the research easier). Upon beginning initial research into the use of social media, one of the first things that I found is the dichotomy between companies using social media and those not using social media. Anybody who studies or works in social media knows that social media is still in its infancy. Though many organizations (government, military, nonprofits, corporations) do engage in social media, there are just as many, if not more, that do not engage. Some organizations do not because they question the value of the current available tools, and others do not participate because of issues with access to the tools.

McCannSurveyA recent survey (table at left) by McCann Erickson Bristol shows that “two-thirds of marketing experts admit they do not understand social media despite acknowledging it is here to stay. The Social Media survey of marketing professionals found that 86% of them thought social media is more than just a fad. However, 65.6% of them said they did not know how to use it for the purposes of marketing.” This survey shows a common refrain. Communicators are beginning to see that social media is a viable tool, yet many are struggling to find an appropriate or effective use for it. Throughout the semester, we’ve seen numerous examples of effective social media, but as this survey shows, there is still trepidation to embrace the tools.

So while this survey shows that marketers do not know how to use social media, there are many UK (and European) companies that are using it effectively. The British candy maker Cadbury recently started a social media campaign to promote the new Crème Egg Twisted candy. “Dubbed “Operation Goo, “the initiative invites British consumers to become CIA agents. (That’s Cadbury Intelligence Agents, of which there are now 9,082.) The participants search out the candy bars across the country by finding clues on Cadbury’s Website. The top ten agents then create videos “with Flip cameras supplied by Cadbury, upload them on YouTube, and win points for generating the most social media exposure via tweets and videos. The agent with the most points by mid-July gets $33,000.” What Cadbury is doing here is creating engagement and conversation. Engagement is probably one of the most important aspects of social media. The sheer numbers of people who participate in social media means that the word can reach many more people than traditional media.  One analysis of the campaign stated, “Overall, it’s win-win for Cadbury. They promote one of their latest products through others via a social media experiment and then use and analyse the successful techniques used by the Super Agents to gain the most attention on each YouTube, Twitter, blogs etc.”

Overall, the biggest take away from my own perspective of managing and strategizing social media at work, and studying at school, is that there are numerous opportunities for brands, regardless of what country they are in. With a little bit of research and a Website survey of the brand’s relevant competition landscape, a marketer can help spread the word very effectively, and cheaply. But brands need to realize that they should not engage in social media just because everyone else is doing it. They need to have a strategy just like they would use for every other communication campaign. One thing that should be readily apparent is that an understanding of social media will be in great demand, so there should be future career opportunities for those of us who study it.


Meerkats Stink in South Africa, But Smell Like Roses in the UK

August 3, 2009

In our class research on social media in South Africa, we learned how viral marketing using social media can go very wrong. Case in point: Mo the meerkat, Vodafone’s short-lived mascot. Capitalizing on the interest in the cute, furry animals popularized by the television series “Meerkat Manor,” the mobile phone company took the live animal and created a cartoon version that walked a very warped path with commercials of Mo stripping and ogling a female meerkat.

Rather than elicit a positive buzz online, many people wrote about their hatred for Mo. Rightly so, I had to agree. There is something wrong with taking a beloved animal, targeting him to children, and having him cross the line. This is a key point for companies considering social media: Do Your Research and Know Your Market.

Success can be had, even with meerkats. Across the pond, jolly ol’ England found meerkats to be social media gold. The company Comparethemarket.com, which offers care insurance and encourages its visitors to compare its rates to other insurers, launched a social media campaign called comparethemeerkat.com, fronted by an imaginary Russian meerkat named Aleksandr Orlov.

meerkat.com

The mock website actually lets you compare meerkats. I picked a scuba diving Berliner mixed with a miming meerkat in Cairo.

Picture 1

All in good fun, comparethemeerkat.com continues to make references to the real comparethemarket.com company with a similar logo, similar color scheme, and even referencing the other site that offers cheap insurance. These not-so-subtle references ensure that you never lose sight of the actual company behind the campaign.

If you can’t get enough on the site, you can follow Aleksandr elsewhere in cyberspace. He has a Twitter account with 21,992 followers and growing. And he has more than 500,000 fans on Facebook.

But none of these friends would mean anything if the real company behind the campaign wasn’t seeing a benefit. According to Michael Litman, the comparethemarket.com saw success quickly.

In the first 3 days of the campaign over three quarters of the monthly quotes target had been achieved. The year on year uplift in quotes was 45% and vitally, over 50% of the site traffic in the first week was going directly to comparethemarket.com. Finally, the number of quotes is up by 90% on the same period last year.

Comparethemarket.com’s success proves that:

  1. They did their research and knew their audience.
  2. They never lost site of their own business, despite the online phenomenon of comparethemeerkat.com and Aleksandr.
  3. Their social media platforms worked well together, giving the fans seamless integration.
  4. They had fun, but never crossed the line.

Note to other companies: Remember that meerkats can bring success, but not when you name him Mo.


7/7/05 London Bombings and Citizen Journalists

August 3, 2009

During my very first visit to London, I woke up to a morning similar to any other — except I slept in later than usual;  after all, I was on vacation.  I had my morning cup of coffee and turned on the TV only to discover that July 7, 2005 would not be like any other. 

Explosions had taken place in the London tube at various stations.  One being Edgware Road, the area where I was staying.  To say I was scared would be an understatement.

At first, the media and government announced the explosions as underground ‘circuit shortages’ that had occurred throughout the lines.  A map of the entire tube was pictured on the news report indicating each affected station with a red circle.  But to me, it seemed much too coincidental that this happened at so many stops throughout the tube; and, sure enough, 20 minutes later, a double decker bus exploded.  At that point, all of the explosions were verified to be bombings as part of a large calculated terriorist attack.

I was shocked, stunned, scared, and confused all at the same time.  I could hear engines outside and people in the streets.  My initial impulse was to stay locked inside and wait it all out.  However, my travel buddy thought otherwise.  His initial impulse was to run to the streets and find out the facts of the story.  After much convincing, and perhaps a feeling of obligation to make sure he was not harmed throughout our trip, I agreed to go outside with him and find out more information about what exactly happened.  After all, the media didn’t get the whole story right the first time (‘circut shortages’), we wanted to get to the bottom of it.  Plus, we were in the middle of it all.

We stepped outside to find chaos everywhere.  The tube stations were closed and filled with police and caution tape lining each corner.  We couldn’t get very far.  But, the looks on people’s faces, including the police, told it all.  Everyone felt the same way as I did: shocked, stunned, scared, and confused.  But many of them had something I didn’t (due to traveling abroad), a camera cell phone.

 

During the summer of 2005, camera cell phones were the rage.  A relatively new product (at least to those will a normal-sized bank account), they were just beginning to become a cell phone ‘norm.’

According to the BBC, this day in history, 7/7/05, was when “the phenomenon of “user-generated content” (UGC) or “citizens’ journalism” came into its own in Britain, as members of the public took over the roles of photographers and news correspondents.”  And I fully agree.

I was there to witness the massive amounts of people who had their cell phone camera on them and used it, over, and over, and over.  Even without a cell phone camera in hand, I began to feel guilty for just wandering the streets.  Like a car wreck, people were drawn to the tube stations.  The sidewalks and streets were filled with onlookers.

Building on the BBC article on citizen journalism, The Online Journalism Review  claims that 7/7/05 marks the day that the UK public became citizen paparazi, not journalists.  From my experience there, I would have to agree with this as well.  It seemed that the general public went overboard with their camera-happy involvement in the activity both in the streets and underground. 

On the other hand, however, how else would the rest of the world hear and understand the tragedy?  A major image that sticks with many of us is the bus explosion, a photograph taken by a civilian.  This citizen journalist, who choses to remain anonymous, won the Nokia Citizen Journalism Award for this photo.  This image allowed people to see firsthand the impact of the terrorist attacks — giving them a personal and emotional connection.  Anna Shipley, Communications Manager of Nokia UK said: “…Citizen Journalism is very much being recognised as a credible part of the media agenda. The increasing quality of camera phones has meant that more and more people are able to capture spontaneous and newsworthy moments whilst going about their everyday lives.”

Similar to many other countries, participation in online social networking and media has incrased in Great Britain. The reports on the 7/7/05 bombings proved that the work submitted by citizen journalists is unmatched by any mainstream media news source; a comprehensive and truthful story can be told by working with, not against, each other.

It is clear that citizen journalism took off on 7/7/05 in London, and has little signs of ever stopping.


Lessons Learned Part 2: What UK Marketers Can Learn from Other Nations

August 3, 2009

As recently as May of this year, two-third of marketers in the United Kingdom (UK) said “they don’t understand social media,” according to a survey from McCann Erickson Bristol.  Interestingly enough, 86% believe that that social media is here to stay.  So while a specific social media skill level may not be on par, the conceptual understanding of social media’s importance is.  Therefore brands that want to incorporate social media into their UK-based Communications and Marketing plans should a) focus on the basics and b) look to other country’s success stories.

Back to Basics

In my first blog entry of the semester, I discussed three things – Authenticity, Transparency and Relevancy.  Without sounding redundant, I believe that these important characteristics can serve as framework for UK marketers to test the social media waters because they are both broad and easy to understand.  These are not only social media concepts, but in general good PR practices.  Therefore, marketers can easily apply these theoretical skills to concrete social media software programs such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Best Practices

Countries such as Brazil, Russia and China are experiencing social media growth at a rapid rate.  While there are certainly a number of cultural nuances among these diverse nations, they can (and should) serve as models of successfully integrating social media practices into traditional communication plans. 

Fortunately, UK marketing professionals understand the power of social media, which is the first and (often most vital step.)  By following a basic framework and a other’s examples, UK marketers are sure to find success.


Unsocial Social Media: A Recipe for Brand Destruction

August 3, 2009

UK Social Network Statistics (July 2009) posted by Clicky Media reports that on-line social networking has become very much a mainstream activity for UK Internet users of all ages.   The report states that 80% of ALL the UK’s on-line population visited a social networking site in May 2009 and the average UK Internet user spent 4.6 hours on Social Networking sites over  a one month period.

Among the UK’s most popular Social Networking sites Facebook has long ranked #1 with over 19 million active users.  Bebo followed as the second  (8.5 million visitors), then Windows Live Profile  (6.9 million visitors) and MySpace (6.5 million visitors).

Last, but certainly not least in the UK top five social networking sites is Twitter (2.7 million visitors)  which has vastly grown  in site visitors numbers by 3000% over the last 12 months according to ComScore.

In efforts to capitalize on the growing Social Media phenomenon of Twitter, one trendy UK furniture store, Habitat UK, began microblogging on twitter to spread word to consumers about upcoming sales and store promotions.

Sounds innocent enough except, Habitat decided to use trending topic #hashtags at the start of their tweets to gain exposure.  Habitat used top twitter-hash-logo-for-fluidtrend hash tags such as #iPhone, #mms and #Apple–a somewhat clever, yet very messy strategy on their part.  The spamming quickly became noticeable and the Twitter community tweeted about it for days voicing their disappointment much to the embarrassment of the HabitaDt.

Sample tweets regarding Habitat’s poor marketing strategy included:

“…Sad day when reputable brand resorts to using trend hash tags to advertise”

and

“…not what you expect from an otherwise classy brand…”

Habitat’s response to this backlash was to delete their offending tweets and replace them with some generic product and sales promotional tweets.

But can the reputation damage  this brand suffered be repaired so easily?

Later realizing that perhaps not enough was done on their part to clear up the messy hash tag incident, Habitat released this apology:

I know people have been waiting for a response tweet from us; we are treating this very seriously and wanted to offer a longer message. We have been reading everyone’s comments carefully and would like to make a very sincere apology to any Twitter users who were offended.

The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to. This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offense that was caused. This is totally against our communications strategy. We never sought to abuse Twitter, have removed the content and will ensure this does not happen again.

It has been really valuable to hear how users would like us to use Twitter and we are determined to do better for the Twitter community.

I find this Habitat case study well  illustrates the power of social media and how its user-generated comments and conversation can build or destroy a brand. Ignoring a conversation in social media and not responding effectively can greatly  impact a brands bottom line.  If unsocial social media is a recipe for brand destruction, then Social Media Monitoring is surely the only cure. It would be wise of brands to be prepared for the negative impact social media sites can wield via preventive measures in “Social Media Monitoring”.

habitat-uk-twitter-fail

Steps to effective Social Media Monitoring include:

Start by listening to social media.  Free tools such as whostalkin.com, socialmention.com or Google alerts can help you track down buzz around your brand to get an idea of what a brands on-line social media landscape looks like and to identify brand mentions and conversations around your brand.   If the  brand is global with a huge web presence, then it may be best to use a social media agency to produce an audit or on-line landscape analysis.

Join the conversation. The key to managing and maintaining brand reputation within social media is to be part of the conversation.  Investing time in engaging with customers through social media helps brands build relationships, developing trust and show value to their customers.
If a brand discovers negative or factually incorrect buzz –they should react quickly so the information is not spread further via blogs or micro-blogging sites.    A recipient of bad service will tell at least ten people and many more  if they are a blogger or active on social networks. The earlier a brand learns of dissatisfaction the faster they can react.

Transparent Communications.  Open and honest communications can protect your brand against the perils of social media.  If something goes wrong, brands should not be defensive as it will encourage further negativity.  Instead, brands should simply explain their position, let their customers know how they plan on rectifying the situation and invite feedback.

Social Media Strategy
.   Brands can push down negative posts indexed by search engines  If  a company has a blog, they can respond with a formal blog post making sure that its title features keywords that match the negative posts or content. This will help to add positive search engine results, .Counteract anonymous and negative comments by highlighting testimonials from some of your best customers. In support of the blog post you can use your Twitter account to raise awareness of your response. Depending on the scale of the negative reaction you can respond via video or audio in the form of webcasts and podcasts. If you have an on-line community, you can host the conversation on your own website, confining the negativity to one area and allowing you to respond immediately.

With ever-increasing popularity and immediacy of social networking sites such a Twitter on the rise in the UK, brands would be wise to recognize the value of proper engagement strategies and incorporate social media monitoring in their communications plans otherwise risk becoming victim of unrepairable brand damage.