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.

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.

Does Super-viralocity Equal Sales Potential in the UK?

August 2, 2009

Social MediaAs we come to the end of our blogging and coursework for Global Communications in a Digital World, it seems fitting to end where we began.

In our first blog post, we each named one US brand that uses social media well, and one that doesn’t (either because they are doing it wrong, or doing nothing). 

Today, if I had to choose one global brand that uses social media well, I’d reference my blog post on Doritos Sweet Chili in Brazil.  Using augmented reality (AR), Doritos created product packaging that creates the illusion that a virtual, computer-generated object actually exists in consumers’ worlds.  As of May 2009, 23,000 of these objects have been released on

And if I had to choose one global brand that has missed the mark, I’d reference a recent campaign from London-based agency Nudge. In 2009 Nudge created a Facebook app with self-proclaimed “super-viralocity” for the launch of Britvic’s beverage “Tango with Added Tango.” 

Tango Head Masher 3000The “Tango Head Masher 3000” app accesses Facebook users’ profile information, photos, friends’ information, and other content to enable consumers to create photo mashups using their own photos.  Consumers can replace friends’ images or faces in a photo with ridiculous images offered by the Tango Head Masher.

These photo mashups can be posted to the Tango Head Masher gallery on the campaign’s Facebook page.

Given the popularity of Facebook in the UK, this was a logical platform from which to launch Tango’s product.  According to market research firm comScore,  80 percent of the UK’s online population visited a social networking site in May 2009, a nine percent growth across the board in a year.  Of teens and early twenty-somethings, Tango’s target demographic, 86 percent of Internet users visted a social networking website.

The Facebook app is part of a full-scale consumer marketing campaign, including a Britvic-sponsored voice-activated freephone helpline that jokingly “offers advice on any side effects consumers might be suffering from after consuming Tango.”   As a reward for calling, consumers can enter a prize drawing for “some great Tango swag including a Sony PlayStation, some Sennheiser headphones, a Cannondale Bad Boy 2009 hybrid bike and a Sony iPod docking hifi system.”

Currently the Head Masher app has 10,745 monthly active users, but has garnered only 2 out of 5 stars based on consumer ratings.  Further, all of the posts on the campaign’s Facebook wall have been posted by members of Nudge’s staff.

Nudge claims that The “Tango with Added Tango” social media campaign is in still its soft launch phases, meaning they will have the opportunity to optimize the app later based first users’ initial impressions.

But Nudge needs to do more than just optimize the app.  They need to infuse their social media campaign with a key element of Doritos’ strategy – sales potential.

Consumers can create an infinite number of mashups using the Tango Head Masher 3000, but where’s the incentive to actually purchase Britvic’s product? 

Consumers could not activate the social media element of Doritos’ campaign without purchasing a bag of chips; consumers don’t need to purchase a can of Tango with Added Tango to use the Tango Head Masher 3000 Facebook app.  This could be problematic for a brand campaign whose primary mission is to sell more product and keep consumers coming back for more.

As we head into our week in London and are asked to develop digital communications strategies that both engage consumers and keep them coming back for more, let’s take a look at where we began.  Let’s ask ourselves the most basic of questions – what has worked for brands in the past and what hasn’t?

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.

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.