With a recession all but upon us and the average passer-by more distracted than ever—either with financial worries or simply with the digital device he's carrying—the guerrilla tactician has to do more than startle with the traditional craziness. People are looking for escapes and ways out, brands have to give people something else to think about.
I'll never forget attending my first World Cup game. It was back in 1994 and took place in my hometown Rose Bowl, the same field where I marched in gleeful pride at Pasadena High School's graduation. Romania squared off vs. Argentina. The game was nothing short of electrifying. Back then my word-of-mouth trajectory seemed unlimited. Armed with both AOL and Compuserve accounts, my post-game "dude, I was there" viral dispatches flew across my network of friends, family, business-school classmates and fellow P&G summer interns with almost unrestrained velocity.
When it comes to marketing, broadly speaking, the fashion industry is frankly a bit naff, (for my American friends; naff adjective Brit., informal lacking taste or style.) Naff, in the same way that the masses latch on to the latest trend and ruin it for the rest of us. And while I recognize this is part of the cycle of natural selection that leads to cultural change, there’s still so much more of the lowest common denominator kind than the meaningful and creatively extra-ordinary. I’m mostly disappointed by how it latches on to the latest marketing buzzwords and technical possibilities to get more clicks.
As the Information Age barrels forward, a new role has emerged. While new platforms-from Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr-have turned consumers into creators, they’ve given way to more writers, more content, and (as we painfully know) more choices. But there’s something else. Content creators are not passing content through traditional editorial channels, nor should they be. The cost of filtering content has passed from the pocket of the publisher way downstream to the pocket of the consumer. As a result, we as consumers are left in the position of having to decide what is worth our time. Whom should we pay attention to? Whom should we ignore? Who decides which content is exceptional and what to tune out?
I'd like to advance a hypothesis: Despite all the excitement surrounding social media, the Internet isn't connecting us as much as we think it is. It's largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships. During the subprime bubble, banks and brokers sold one another bad debt — debt that couldn't be made good on. Today, "social" media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.
In his seminal pop-book, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argued that people are happiest when they can reach a state of "flow." He talks about performers and athletes who are in the height of their profession, the experience they feel as time passes by and everything just clicks. People reach a state where attention appears focused and, simultaneously, not in need of focus at the same time. The world is aligned and everything just feels right. Consider what it means to be "in flow" in an information landscape defined by networked media, and you will see where Web 2.0 is taking us. The goal is not to be a passive consumer of information or to simply tune in when the time is right, but rather to live in a world where information is everywhere.
One of the greatest challenges I encounter today is not the willingness of a brand to engage, but its ability to create. When blueprinting a social media strategy, enthusiasm and support typically derails when examining the resources and commitment required to produce regular content. Indeed, we are programing the social web around our brand hub, which requires a consistent flow of engaging and relevant social objects. Social objects are the catalysts for conversations — online and in real life — and they affect behavior within their respective societies.
Facebook, the popular networking site, has 350 million members worldwide who, collectively, spend 10 billion minutes there every day, checking in with friends, writing on people’s electronic walls, clicking through photos and generally keeping pace with the drift of their social world. Make that 9.9 billion and change.
Advertisers are frustrated. You’re all having direct conversations with friends on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the rest while totally bypassing the mass mediums they understand. Rather than consuming content all day on TV, in newspapers and on the radio, you’re engaging, one-to-one, with individuals you trust. They can’t get in the middle of that. They hate it. So it’s perhaps predictable that we’re experiencing the rise of in-stream Twitter advertising.
The Future of the Social Web is here today and we’re learning that engagement is not a matter of if or when, but to what extent, how and what value can we deliver and derive from it. The Social Web is much more than a window into information and interaction, it is a completely transformative medium that is changing how we forge relationships, interact with one another, and distribute and discover information. In many ways, the online social revolution is reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution. Access to free and expansive media platforms and distribution channels has democratized influence and shifted the power of authority from those who previously controlled the media to those who disseminate it.
Fact: Information sources are exploding. More information will be created in 2009 than all prior years. Fact: Attention is finite. We're becoming media agnostic, but when we're interested in something we dig down into our interests. This is why I and others like Robert Scoble are really excited about digital curation. Facebook and Twitter lists are one level of curation. However, there are others. Posterous and Tumblr are fantastic platforms for soliciting contributions from groups of people around a shared interest. And they're platforms that will enable all of us to curate together.
While social media often commands favorable media attention, the less often told story is that successful initiatives are rare to come by and that there still a number of organizational roadblocks that managers need to overcome in order to make progress. Still, we are seeing signs of progress in the form of new efficiencies, more direct ways to connect with customers, and ways to make products and services better. From my experience working and talking with people in large, complex organizations, here are a small sample of obstacles to look for with suggestions on how you might overcome them:
The power of social media marketing is that it is immediate and direct, allowing brands to engage customers in a real-time dialogue, but it's important to beware of the short window during which your message remains relevant (an hour, a day, a week) in each of the social media channels such as blogs, Twitter, and social networks. Think of message relevance in terms of "half-life" and durability. The half-life of a social media message is the time it takes for the message to begin losing relevance. The durability of a message is how long it takes for it to fade completely from view. If you give this concept careful consideration, you can create the right messages for the right audiences based on your predictions of how long the messages will last in each channel. Match the social media message and its expected duration to the appropriate online channel, and over time, your audiences will come to expect different types of communications from your brand on each channel.
Imagine an advertising world where ... spending on interactive, one-to-one advertising formats surpasses traditional, one-to-many advertising vehicles, and a significant share of ad space is sold through auctions and exchanges. Advertisers know who viewed and acted on an ad, and pay based on real impact rather than estimated “impressions.” Consumers self-select which ads they watch and share preferred ads with peers. User-generated advertising is as prevalent (and appealing) as agency-created spots. Based on IBM global surveys there are four change drivers shifting control within the ad industry:
Three months ago I did something that many considered virtual heresy. After five years and 5,300 posts I shuttered my blog, Micro Persuasion, in favor of a lifestream which you can find at SteveRubel.com. I thought I'd share why I went this route, what I learned these past three months and the implications for brands. As I have written many times, the world is facing a quiet crisis of attention. There are more shiny objects and information vying for our attention than ever -- with no end in sight. We're coping by making choices.
Most platforms gain traction through a killer app. In the second generation of real time, that killer app was market data for financial traders. What will it be in the third generation? Today, the real-time Web is associated with social networking status updates via services such as Twitter and Facebook. But whether this will be the killer app for this generation is not clear. As we enter a period of "social update exhaustion" (as in, "I really do not care what you had for breakfast"), the real-time Web may evolve into things that we really need to make a living or to get essential stuff done. The killer app matters, because the winner at the platform layer will be the company that hosts it.
Within moments of shouting "You lie" at President Barack Obama during his speech last week to a joint session of Congress regarding healthcare reform efforts, Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, became the latest hot topic on the Internet. Almost instantly, the relatively obscure Congressman became the top search on Google, Yahoo Search and Bing. His name dominated tweets on Twitter and became a top topic of posts to news streams on Facebook. The blogosphere erupted. His even less-well-known political opponent, Democrat Rob Miller, an Iraq war veteran who is running for Wilson's seat in the 2010 election, got his own online impact: as of last Friday, he had received $750,000 in unsolicited Web-based campaign contributions, according to Politico.com.
"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." -- Plato That may have been true 2,400 years ago, but it may not be so true today. In fact, in our always on, desperately seeking stimulation media environment, you have to say something -- and something meaningful and arresting, or at least communicated in an engaging way -- to keep the hungry masses satiated. Else, they'll go somewhere else. Sometimes it takes smart people a long time to catch on to this new reality (many never do). Sure, they understand that Ali became "The Greatest," Elvis "The King," Gandhi "The Mahatma" et al. through a combination of endowment, passion, and hard work. But they also know, intellectually, that manufactured spectacle played a supremely important role in their progress; spectacle, by the way, that at times both engaged and enraged the masses.
Recently, I discussed the validity of whether or not social networking (the verb) and social networks (as a noun) were impairing our ability to learn. A Stanford study suggested that this might be the case. It seems that the initial research and its supporting data is now emerging to help us further analyze whether or not this is indeed true or merely hypotheses based on the various samplings of individuals who may or may not serve as relevant subjects. I do believe that we are becoming an increasingly social society. It could very well be the era of introversion to extroversion.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of putting together a website or social media campaign is the copy. Many people assume that the same words that work for print campaigns or materials can just be copied and pasted for the web, but that’s just not true. The web is an entirely different medium, and copy needs to be treated with the same respect that design and user interface elements get. Text is a very important part of user experience on the web, so it needs and deserves the same sort of design consideration. You must make your text usable in the same manner that you do the rest of your website or social media campaign materials. In short: text is user interface.
While producing information costs money, information as such doesn’t necessarily carry monetary value; it mostly carries intellectual, social, artistic, practical value. And that’s why, historically, news has been commercially, publicly, politically and privately subsidized. That information is not necessarily connected to a physical good (paper) or a concrete service (the delivery), or a limited quantity anymore, making it difficult to measure its price. We have difficulties spending money for digital information because at the end of the transaction we neither save time nor do we hold anything concrete or limited in our hands. It feels like buying air.
In 1971, the oft-quoted political scientist Herbert Simon predicted that in an information age, cultural producers (that's designers, but also filmmakers, theater types, musicians, artists) would quickly face a shortage of attention. "What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients," he wrote. The more information, the less attention, and "the need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it." Now we have a wide-ranging discussion about what is and what can't be free (Malcolm Gladwell on Chris Anderson, Virginia Postrel on Chris Anderson), which is basically about the future of profit. Maybe we should be considering a dilemma of a human nature: the future of attention.
There's something a little heartbreaking about the very existence of "And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture," by Bill Wasik. After all, it's a meditation on living, breathing virality that resides between the hard, dead covers of a book. I can point you to its Amazon page or to any number of reviews and write-ups -- including, most recently, James B. Arndorfer's "Father of Flash Mobs on the Future of Viral" in the Ad Age Bookstore -- but the actual pages of "This" are trapped, even on a Kindle, in their own separate, fixed, unlinked world. And so, for this latest installment of Dumenco's Media People -- an ongoing series of conversations with media grandees -- I took Bill Wasik out for tea recently in New York City, near the headquarters of Harper's Magazine, where he's a senior editor, to attempt some ... interactivity with the living, breathing social-media observer and mischief-maker.
A Burger King franchisee recently chose to market its outlets by taking a position on a contentious issue. It would be a brilliant move if it wasn't so utterly stupid. I guess they presume their customers are suspicious of the theory of global warming, so declaring the sentiment would 1) get folks' attention, and 2) make them want to buy a Whopper.
When is the best time to get a consumer's attention while they're online? When are you most likely to get them to think about your brand with a sales mindset, rather than as an annoyance? These are among the most frequently asked questions by people in the digital marketing industry.
It’s bad enough that society is already suffering from M.D.D. (Media Deficit Disorder) – a modern day, technology led version of A.D.D. We can’t seem to do any one particular task well anymore, because we’re so busy juggling multiple things at the same time. Our attention spans have shrunk to the size of a newt. We can’t even seem to hold a thought consistently without drifting…….what was I saying again? Now along comes Twitter, which totally reduces our collective thought leadership to 140 characters or less and in doing so, belittles and minimizes every big thought into a punch line or social limerick. It’s premature articulation if you ask me and it’s very unsatisfying. Even with products like Twerbose (seems like it was made for me) which tries to cheat on Twitter’s size limitations by linking to a (gasp) blog post of sorts, the problem still remains and isn’t going away anytime soon.
"It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you." -- Bill Bryson For those of us with only mortal brainpower, Bill Bryson's vivid imagery renders the concept of complex systems accessible. Complex systems are those that are greater than the sum of their parts; they have properties that cannot be explained through reductionism; they are economies and hurricanes and you and me. Search is a complex system.
For more than 100 years brand marketers have largely focused on push - a mix of tried-and-true tactics that include paid and earned media. However, that was before the Attention Crash, which is changing the economics of digital marketing. The endless supply of content is taking a toll. It has forced consumers to make hard choices about where and how they spend time. Today people are browsing less and going deeper into a small number of sites. The exact mix of destinations change. What they have in common, however, is that they are all useful.
Unlike the ironic sentiment often expressed when quoting (or, as in this case, vitiating) Shakespeare's Richard III, I am not suggesting that attention is unimportant. I am, however, suggesting that businesses obsession with attention is misplaced, at best. And the fact that major industries have evolved to feed this obsession, simply adds to the problem.
Over the last several years, the problem of attention has migrated right into the center of our cultural attention. We hunt it in neurology labs, lament its decline on op-ed pages, fetishize it in grassroots quality-of-life movements, diagnose its absence in more and more of our children every year, cultivate it in yoga class twice a week, harness it as the engine of self-help empires, and pump it up to superhuman levels with drugs originally intended to treat Alzheimer’s and narcolepsy. Everyone still pays some form of attention all the time, of course—it’s basically impossible for humans not to—but the currency in which we pay it, and the goods we get in exchange, have changed dramatically.
As we are tempted by social networks and the kinship of new friends, followers, and fans, we intentionally or inadvertently, create a new era of personal recognition and attention that extracts an unconditioned human response and consequently shapes an unpredictable personality and behavior over time. Social networking, common sense, prudence, and direction are not ingrained in our DNA. We all need a little help and advice, now more than ever.
Listening is about being still. And patient. And generous. It’s a difficult trifecta to achieve. Think about the last time almost anyone you know gave their absolute attention to you or someone who was talking to them. You have to quiet your mind entirely, and be willing to be influenced by someone else’s thinking and thoughts. You need to put aside any desire to rebut or argue a point, and be completely open and non-judgmental. Very hard to do.
TV advertisers are finally discovering that YouTube + viral imagination = free media. The good news for you is that money is not a barrier, which means that marketers of any size can play. But the rules are different, as they always are online.
Perhaps what is most interesting and prevalent is the behavior transformation in content consumption that is taking place in “Twitter time” and it's establishing a new world authority. For many of us, we’re migrating away from destinations and potentially RSS readers as well as our primary source of news, relevant information, pleasant distractions, and trending topics. We’re quickly focusing on Twitter, Facebook News Feeds, FriendFeed and the statusphere as our highly curated and personalized attention dashboards. As content publishers, producers, and creators, we need to acknowledge, understand, and embrace this critical disruption.
A debate appears to be brewing in the retail community about whether chatter from social media sites should be viewed as a potential direct marketing research goldmine or as sketchy territory.
In general, there are two ways to model human relationships in software. An “asymmetric” model is how Twitter currently works. You can “follow” someone else without them following you back. It’s a one-way relationship that may or may not be mutual. Facebook, on the other hand, has always used a “symmetric” model, where each time you add someone as a friend they have to add you as a friend as well. An asymmetric model allows for more types of relationships. This attention inequality is the foundation of the Twitter service.
I remember it very clearly. Four of us were getting together for breakfast last year at SXSW. We were waiting for a cab, and we started sharing our Twitter stories. Each of us had one…We had used Twitter in ways that it was never imagined to be used, getting real value from it. It was at that point that I started to think about Twitter as something other than a fun little SMS tool. I also started to wonder if Twitter might be the game-changer that finally put some heat on Google…the favorite conjecture of recent times is “Who is the next Google killer?”.
Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered and ripped us off for so long, we're sick of it.
We’re all fighting against attention clutter. Our email inboxes are creaking. Our media consumption habits (from newspaper to magazines to TV to radio) are all sporadic and random and very hard to track. It takes more and more for someone to capture our attention and convince us to change our course of action. Let’s consider this to be the continuum: awareness, attention, engagement, execution, extension. I’ll explain all five, and thread into them how social tools can help.
“Unbelievably bad taste.” “An alarming level of stupidity.” “How much encouragement does the pedophile community need?” Those were just a few of the comments in the British press after Woolworths stores in Britain were found to be selling beds named Lolita, designed for six-year-old girls. (The Lolita was a whitewashed wooden bed with pullout desk and cupboard, on sale for £395.)
A conversation about powerful writing with Tony Leighton.
For an all-natural brain boost, skip the pills and hit the colors. In the latest and most authoritative study on color's cognitive effects, test subjects given attention-demanding tasks did best when primed with the color red. Asked to be creative, they responded best to blue.
Most marketers looking to get their messages out by using NBC's popular morning-news program, "Today," figure they'll need to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a 30-second spot. And yet Taylor Larouche and her pals were able to snag much more time than that -- for free.
Almost three decades ago, the UK's number one hit record at the start of the new year was 'Brass in Pocket' by The Pretenders. "I gotta have some of your attention," sang Chrissie Hynde. That refrain proved very popular with teenage girls back then. Companies are desperate to command our attention, too. But it is getting harder to persuade people to pay attention.
JetBlue's Terminal Five at New York's JFK has already garnered plenty of attention, and now it's looking to let advertisers in on the action.