Gather round children, it's social media story time

  • Marketing
  • March 11, 2010
  • Ben Fahy
Gather round children, it's social media story time

There were scones and jam and cream. There were a host of digital natives and possibly even a few digital virgins. There were a few ironic technical glitches. And there were a range of social media truths laid bare and observations made by the five speakers at yesterday's CAANZ Digital Leadership Group Social Media in Business forum.  

DLG chair Tony Gardner kicked things off by saying the tide has most definitely turned since the DLG's inception in 2008. Unlike back then, he says there's now not much excuse for not engaging in digital commerce or marketing, particularly given social media is the second most popular online activity behind services such as banking. He puts the rise of social media down to the ongoing "humanisation" of digital channels, such as location-based social network Foursquare, that add benefit to life in the real world.

Social media, he says, is really about story-telling. And there's a story behind every Twitter feed, every blog, every Facebook page. It's storytelling, he says, that is growing and so are the technical capabilities required to disseminate those stories. But because social media is organic, porous, personal and subjective, all words that strike fear into the hearts of corporates, some control has had to be given up.

But David Whittle, chief executive of digital agency Mark Sydney, the first speaker to take the stage, thinks this is a good thing. There were a few chuckles when gremlins attacked during his presentation, which detailed both the proactive and reactive uses of social media.

From a business point of view, he says consumers are much more than just consumers now: they're designers, publishers and inventors and the wisdom and talent of that crowd can be tapped into by companies who know engagement is key and that commercial messages sent by friends on social networks are far more effective than messages in traditional communications. Or, in other words, love begets love.

He says your social network can be a collection of advocates and they can be used to help sales, often for free, like the librarian in America who's written more than 18,000 book reviews for Amazon.

The example of Westfield's 'All I want for Christmas' campaign shows how quickly this engagement and cut through can be created with social media, even in the difficult Christmas period. With only $20,000 ($10,000 prize and $10,000 of media on Facebook) a Facebook application was created to try and enhance awareness of the Westfield Giftcard.

"It went viral so quickly everyone thought it was a virus. If that's not the definition of viral, I don't know what is," he says. It was so popular, in fact, that Facebook in the US became concerned and pulled it after three days. Even so, in that time the campaign got 350 times its target audience and increased the size of the Westfield database by five times.

Of course, the opposite also applies. Good news spreads fast, but bad news spreads faster, as the Domino's 'prank' video that showed staff violating a selection of ingredients perfectly illustrates. Whittle says the first mistake was doing nothing. But, in the end, the chief executive of Domino's posted a video on YouTube – wisely, on the same platform the scandal initially came out on – apologising and explaining (check out the apology with a very interesting trust worm attached).

Youtube Video

The end result: there are no more secrets, admitting mistakes is key and the cost of inaction can be high. And his advice, a common refrain from social media exponents, just get in there and do it.

Frucor's Iaan Buchanan was up next, discussing the rise of V and the role social media has played in it. For V, the conversation economy is ever more important and marketing, particularly to the younger generation, is increasingly about how you can include your brand in those conversations.

Around its tenth birthday, he says V was losing relevance among the key 18-24 age bracket and TV wasn't working. So the brand decided to create an online community called the V Republic because 18 percent of Gen Y believe traditional broadcasting messages, whereas 50 percent believe a message if it comes via a friend. As such, he thinks the companies that can think of interesting ways to engage consumers online will be the ones reaping the financial rewards in the real world.

Ironically, despite Whittle's claim that there are no secrets, V's rocket pack campaign tapped into the power of secrets in this age. People expect to know everything immediately. And when they don't, they tend to start talking about it. V tapped into this extremely well (the V tricked out car and virtual $100,000 giveaway also helped engage the community) and its sales soared as a result.

Of course, he says social media is much different to a traditional TV campaign and its associated advanced planning. Things will always go wrong and people will say things you might not like to hear, which is why it's essential to be nimble and flexible.

Duncan Blair, Orcon's head of brand and communications, closet geek and "lonely introvert" (the typical Twitter user, apparently) discussed the ways social media was used to leverage the Iggy Pop 'Together Incredible' campaign, approach key influencers and even to find a suitable Orcon-enabled location in Wellington to film one of the musicians, as well as the ways it can be used to engage with customers, whether it be through promotions, customer service or information sharing.

Their policy: engage early, often and transparently.

He says it's important to find the person or people in your organisation that are already interested in social media. Then empower them to do it for the business and bring some personality to the brand. They will make mistakes, he says, but sometimes, those mistakes can be endearing (unless it involves boogers in Domino's pizza, then not so much). And in social media, anger can quickly turn into praise. Homer Simpson defines this mix of crisis and opportunity as a 'crisitunity' and Blair says it's interesting to see the response from people who are surprised when there's someone there at the other replying to them and dealing with their concerns.

Like many Kiwi social media practitioners who have limited budgets, limited time, and limited staff, Blair is struggling with the personality-based nature of social media. There will always be scaleability issues when one person is associated with an entire brand or Twitter account because it's so difficult to hand it over to someone else. As a result, social media isn't a nine to five job and it's difficult to leave at the office door.

The Wine Vault's Jayson Bryant, speaking on behalf of the minnows, knows all about this. He turned to social media out of desperation, as he thought it was free and the occasional radio or print ad wasn't helping to sell his wine. So, he started posting online videos of wine tastings on Wine Vault TV and offering advice to drinkers. At first, he found the process difficult and says he was uncomfortable in front of the camera, but after a long period of persevering, the relationships he fostered through social media and his attempts to respond to every Tweet, email or comment led to hugely increased sales.

His advice: Listen to your community ("they will let you know if you're doing something wrong"), care and give a shit, ask what they like, and ask what you can do for them. Basically, your social media followers are your unpaid sales team.

The last speaker, Tourism Queensland’s Chris Chambers, explained the rationale behind the multi award-winning ‘best job in the world’ campaign. As per usual, and a dash more irony, the value of social media often seems to be shown by quoting figures about the value of traditional media publicity (A$390 million in this case). He says it's not enough to have a good idea, you need to execute it well. And sales are the final mark of a successful social media campaign.

And he agreed with the previous speakers: expect things to go awry.

"In social media you're going to get your ass kicked a number of times," he says, pointing to servers crashing or fake videos such as this, which, he proudly says, was not taken down (he just sees this kind of activity as part of the social media process).

Tony Gardner summed up the themes of the social media event with three words: honesty, agility and innovation.

Honesty works, dishonesty doesn't, because you will be found out; agility is important because it doesn't go to plan and the campaign day is just the beginning; and social media forces people to innovate, to think laterally and to think more about what consumers find interesting.

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  • Elly Strang
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