Tag Archives: Engagement

VidCon Teases Keys to Engagement in a Shifting Marketplace

John Green Presenting the VidCon 2015 Industry Opening Keynote

John Green Presenting the VidCon 2015 Industry Opening Keynote

Attending a conference like VidCon can wear a person out – especially if the person is not the predominant target. With the majority of attendees being teens and pre-teens that are exceedingly enthusiastic about the YouTube celebrities, it’s far to easy to overlook what is truly special and energizing about this movement.  Vulture’s Bryan Moylan attempted to do this and, while he did capture some solid elements, they were nowhere near what the reality was in the Anaheim Convention Center. By actually attending VidCon, there are no promises that an older generation will completely “get” what’s going on. But, the sooner everyone realizes that the motivations of the majority generation of VidCon attendees is drastically different than the generations that came before, we’ll be quicker to get into the media innovations that will truly make a difference in the future.

One would think that being a part of the Industry Track – the most expensive entry – would count as being a bona-fide member… The thing is, being away from the groups of Creators and Community meant more than being on a different floor physically – it meant being in a different thought process of why people would want to participate in mediums that are so self-celebratory. Even though John Green (VidCon Co-Founder as well as the writer of Fault In Our Stars and a business partner with his brother, Hank, in starting VidCon as well as a burgeoning video/content industry) mentioned in his Industry Track Opening Keynote that only 18% of their company’s revenues came from advertising revenue, so many of the following tracks allayed the conceit that, somehow, we need to figure out how to work the traditional forms of media into this new phenomenon.

Attending VidCon confirms that the traditional media conceit will absolutely not work among this crowd, nor any crowd/generation beyond it. Certainly, there were numerous speakers that tipped their hat to a need for change in the way big business is done. We all know that it is easier and/or quicker to promulgate change when you are not really a part of big business (yet), but it was disheartening to hear from some brand people about how they needed to break into the content and disrupt the movement that is disrupting the norm. It just isn’t gonna happen.

Vulture’s Moylan does capture some essence from afar as it relates to the community that this community is a part of – one of shared experiences among large crowds that, without the internet and the new mediums, they would have not had the opportunity to connect with. Absolutely, there are chances to expand upon social good and education in addition to entertain. You just can’t overlook what this movement is writing the book on – true audience development.

As long as we keep our way-we’ve-always-done-it hats on, they are all looking to be movie stars. Take those hats off and we see it for what it is – people using a medium to build and foster audiences in ways that couldn’t be done previously. The most important thing to Creators – at first, at least – is gaining and fostering their audience. With relatively basic, YouTube-integrated products, they are more successfully doing what large brands with huge amounts of data and resources aren’t even aware that they need to do.  In the same way that Creators are working exhaustively to build an empire that they have no idea where it will lead them, the Community is looking to support and look up to those who put themselves forward in authentic ways.

Brian Solis of Altimeter put it succinctly when he said that traditional media’s challenge is in, “figuring out Attention Spans and Engagement”.  A huge, flourishing community is already on their way to determining what draws their attention and engages them. We just need to step in the room, stop projecting our beliefs and, just observe. We’ll hopefully get the point soon enough…

Mapping The Cost Of Innovation

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Many companies claim that they place an emphasis on innovation – and to a point, they are delivering – but when it comes specifically to marketing and buzz generation, companies set themselves up to fail in the innovation category.

Sure.  They may execute a campaign that utilizes a new technology or create a video that goes viral and generates an insane amount of views. They might even develop a marketing product that revolutionizes the industry or makes use of an existing product in ways nobody thought of before. But when it really comes down to it, most companies fail when bringing innovation to their marketing because they don’t plan or spend in the right way that lends to cost-savings down the road. Or, even worse, the execution doesn’t align with their strategy, so it hits the intended consumers like a thud.

Many innovative marketing products could be better if they were not treated as the end-all product that is oft copied, but as something that builds upon itself. Innovation done correctly is built with future iterations in mind so that products and development can be built on or added on cost-effectively. Too often, those new product are developed for one execution and then, upon its success, they do not allow for augmentation – forcing companies and their vendors to start from scratch.

Numerous factors lead to innovation that is not cost-effective.  Sometimes, due to a lack of vision or strategic planning.  Others might be due to a company’s lack of determination in supporting ongoing innovation expenditures. And then sometimes, products just don’t work out. All of those factors, are reasonable explanations for the waste of money but they don’t need to be. It really comes down to the ability to have long-term vision and communicate objectives well.

With the right executives supporting the long-term innovation play – where a specific near-term ROI may not happen – the environment can be ripe for marketing success for quarters and years to come.

Here’s how you do it — think more than one step ahead. Auto manufacturers build concept cars with the full knowledge that the car as a whole might not make it to the dealer, but components like auto-parking most likely will.  With that vision toward the future derivatives, even an unsuccessful campaign is not a waste of money. Be thinking of what components might be re-used in the future and make sure your team and vendors build those elements accordingly.

Granted, some form of smoke and mirrors is a component of your innovation process – and not in a devious way – you might think of innovation as putting the cart before the horse.  What it does is build an environment of hype that points to a vision of what the future could be. Be prepared to create assets that just show off what you are planning to do in order to effectively communicate expectations within the company. Utilize communication and spin control. If innovation is treated solely as a magic force that nobody has insight into, it is doomed to fail in the long run.  Even the major technology companies that have super-secret labs share some of their developments internally and sometimes, even externally. Maintaining to others that you are doing really cool things under a shroud of mystery will only lead to further questions on the money that’s being spent. Conversely, communicating too much without conveying the ultimate vision can be almost as damaging.

To the finance types, developing key KPIs to measure your success is a necessary component. Innovation is not an always-win proposition. You may not find huge marketing numbers to point to a winner. Come up with those elements that prove its working.  Is it money saved on future campaigns?  Is it press coverage of your marketing products? Is it related to time-to-market for future products? Is it tied to sales? Brand recognition? Whatever it is, make sure that is known to your team and management. Without those clearly understood KPIs, you’re effectively spending a lot of money on just an illusion…

When all is said and done, there needs to be an environment or atmosphere that welcomes trial and error. Intrinsically, there is no other undertaking that comes across so much success and failure with few traditional methods of measuring both. It is those corporations and organizations that truly embrace innovation (and not just tout that they are innovative) who most consistently bring successful innovations to market. Sometimes innovation can seem just outside your grasp (as an individual or an organization) but with vision, communication and execution, it will come back x-fold in marketing and revenue streams you might not have even considered at the onset.

Dodgers Dodged A Great Original Content Opportunity To Engage Fans

How exciting was it when the Dodgers were so hot at the end of the season to head into the MLB Post Season? For many in Los Angeles, just the thought that they will actually be able to watch the games on their television was enough to bring joy. Unfortunately, too many fans were unable to participate in the age-old ritual of being able to watch nearly any game on television because they didn’t have Time Warner Cable. For those who have sports superstitions (like I do), could it be too easy to blame the collapse on the very fact that many who couldn’t watch games when the Dodgers were playing lights-out could suddenly view every moment and, therefore, break the sports-win continuum? Naah! You can’t blame it on that. But the frustration the team felt with their post-season performance and the fans felt in not being able to watch as many games could possibly have been lessened if the Dodgers (and MLB) didn’t miss a golden opportunity to engage fans with original content production off the field.

The blown opportunity – like the blown mid-inning pitching and saves on the field – can be found in what the Dodgers didn’t do as much as what they did do. Granted, Clayton Kershaw had a mind-blowing year – leading to unending national coverage – and Yasiel Puig could fill crazy amounts of columns and blogs with those who love him and those who hate him, but what about the other players?  What about the opportunities to reach those who don’t care as much about the game, but the nuances and personalities of the players?

Looking at a key component of Olympic coverage provides a model for how the Dodgers can be even more compelling and attractive to fans. Every four years, people around the world start cheering for sports that they might have not cared about in the preceding three years and 50 weeks. They might be cheering for their countries, but lately, they’ve become more invested in the individual athletes due to the featurettes and clip packages conveying their journey.  Without being able to watch the Dodger players and hear the legendary Vin Scully talk about them during the games on TV, the Dodger fans (existing and potential) have very little opportunity to be “up close” and derive a more intimate interest and fandom.

The Dodgers (and by Dodgers, I may mean MLB as I believe MLB manages much of what the individual teams do) do a decent job of capturing the experience for fans and players with the Cut4 series of videos on their site, but the vast majority seem to be little more than PR pieces – as opposed to warm embraces between the players and the fans. it’s all too much on the surface.

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Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe that a team needs to post videos depicting the harrowing sequence of events Yasiel Puig endured to get from his hometown to Chavez Ravine. There’s a lot of great stories in the clubhouse about how the players got to this place in their careers. All of this leads to deeper engagement with the core fans as well as inviting more into the fold – both physically and digitally.

Much like a motion picture based on a comic book needs to engage people beyond the hard core fans, so too do the Dodgers and all other sports teams. For every Kershaw, Puig and other established players like Andre Ethier, Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford, there’s a Paco Rodriguez, Drew Butera or Joc Pederson with a story that’s ripe for original content to engage and broaden the fan base.

Aside

Launching product campaigns and watching trends, it is easy to see marketers shift quickly from one new technology or platform to the other without really gleaning all that they can from what they have already done.  Perhaps this is a … Continue reading

ESPN Can Second-Screen My Life!

As part of an article about the possibility for networks co-opting event rights – like NBC’s Olympic coverage this Summer – without paying a penny, ESPN’s EVP of multimedia sales told Adweek, “We want to see ESPN as a second screen for all sports. We know we have a lot of companion [mobile] usage even when it’s not our event. We want to take co-viewing to the next level.” ESPN may be one of the brands that are best positioned to move beyond just the games they air when it comes to second-screen apps. I would even go one step further… They should expand their definition of second-screen to include all live sporting events – whether you are watching the show on their networks, other networks and, most importantly, if you are physically at the games. This would align with my feeling that the best branded solution for second-screen apps is to focus on affinity groups rather than broad networks or shows.  By doing this, second-screen apps can best complement life and not just viewing habits.

I know this is a little “ideal” or “out there”, but imagine if ESPN was to focus on building that environment that extends the experience of “being there” to all viewers and building bonds in the real world between people who are all at the same event. What if there were special check-ins for people who are physically at the games – or if it automatically tracked whether users were at a venue or not and framed their comments in such a way that they could be found more easily. They can post bits about what they’re seeing in the venue and allow those at home to feel even more connected to the game. This can be done in association with ESPN’s already popular GameCast feature – building out a whole new feel for the game.

Courtesy of Adweek

Though the Adweek article was focused on television and rights, it did get me thinking about the possibilities for second-screen apps that deep dive into themes that matter to affinity groups. There are those brands that could work best to serve those affinity groups in all parts of life – as a second-screen. ESPN is obvious for sports, but could Bravo be the second-screen app for all things Arts – with check-ins and instant reviews from cultural facilities?  Could Food Network be the same for both restaurants and grocery stores? How about E! or Style for nightlife.  In all of these instances, there could be a great opportunity to enable connections in real-life that also feed into our digital lives.

To a certain degree, Facebook is a second-screen App to our lives.  But I think it is too broad. Narrowing down our second-screen-life Apps to the affinity groups (Sports, Culture, Food, Partying, Outdoors, Crafts, etc.) and anchoring them to the large niche cable networks could be just the ticket. If a brand is already developing a companion app, and the cost of including some location-based functionality is incremental, doesn’t it make sense to reach for greater inclusion, interaction and engagement?

Maybe I’m thinking too much in the clouds, but I really don’t think this is too far off.  Even from a sports perspective, there was a time when the new sports venues were installing systems to provide real-time stats at your seat.  Obviously, that went by the wayside when mobile Apps came on the market that could do the same thing.  There is obviously a demand for it in that engagement model.

If the right branding partners are leveraged, it could mean quicker and simpler access by people no matter where they are and what they are watching. Rather than a whole bunch of Apps that are specific to certain locations, requiring people to download a bunch of occasionally used Apps, those brands with the penetration should look to really run the gamut and make their Apps whole for the affinity groups that would most use them.

At that point, we’ll be talking about Second-Screens for our lives – whatever that life may be…

Fear Forces Social Television To Grow Up

TV Guide just released a survey about Social TV and the Mass Market and while I don’t know how many people were included in the survey, one thing that stood out was the top reason for people to share what they are watching.  When asked “Why do you share what you’re watching,” the leading response was not “To tell my friends which shows I watch.” Leading the way with 76% was the reasoning that they do it to help keep their favorite shows on the air.  That’s a huge component – and not a new topic on the list (it was second last year) – that points to the growing maturity (and perhaps cynicism) of the audience. When fans are using social media to try to manipulate the business behind their favorite shows, it’s a sign of growing up that evokes the sense of nostalgia or loss a parent might have when their child starts realizing that Santa, the tooth fairy and leprechauns don’t exist. If the numbers are true, it’s too bad that social media surrounding television has grown up with a bit more fear than innocent discovery.

There has been social outreach that has led to shows being saved in the past (Friday Night Lights and Roswell come quickly to mind.)  A few months ago, Daisy Whitney wrote about the correlation between social buzz and ratings – with the report from Nielsen that, for the 18-34 age group, a 9% increase in social relates to a 1% increase in ratings. But, neither of these directly relates to the fan’s somewhat bizarre use of social to trigger business decisions.  much like parents would not want their children to engage in the family finances, should the providers of television content want the viewers to feel that they have to do anything but love (and interact with) the show to keep it on the air?

With the viewer’s time investment in shows that have no assuredness they will actually remain on the air, perhaps the social action is something they can do to feel that they are affecting the eventual outcomes. And sadly, it seems they feel  that they have to do such a thing as somewhat of a defensive tactic.

There are so many opportunities for social buzz as it relates to celebrating – and even extending the narrative – for beloved shows. With the growing periods of time between seasons for a number of series, there is a need for more social programming to keep the audiences engaged.  Three Showtime series (SHAMELESS, HOUSE OF LIES and CALIFORNICATION) had season finales this past weekend and will not return with new episodes until winter of 2013 – that’s a long time to keep interest up.  Maintaining a flow of social content could help keep interest there. With an even shorter hiatus of nine months, the season 2 premiere the series, THE KILLING on AMC only brought in 1.8 million total viewers. While those numbers are still decent in this fragmented world, its a half million less than the amount who watched the season finale on June 19, 2011. Again, leveraging social to keep viewers engaged rather than letting them fend for themselves could have helped to generate more awareness.

I’ve always felt that social could be a better tool for exploration rather than maintenance. The thing is, there’s often a responsibility tied to the narrative of the show and the question of who “owns” that progression.  In most cases, the show runners or owners would not want to give that control to the users.  Without opening up the opportunities for conversation beyond the latest episode or a show’s “Who Shot J.R.?” question, there’s not really a lot users can dig into during the hiatus.

It then comes down to economics.  Networks have the model of promoting a show when it is actually on the air. The owners of the shows are in the best position to activate campaigns that bridge the gap because they control the show narratives, but they usually don’t have the budgets set up to handle any such campaign. There are many reasons this should change – beyond just retaining fans through long breaks – that we’ll dig into in a later post. I guess it comes down to who needs those viewers more, the show or the network. The answer is probably shared right down the middle to some extent.

So, at some point, the kids caught on to how the adults were doing things and innocence was lost. Some would argue that its hardest to foster true creativity and connection from fear. It would be better for all involved if the fear of a show being cancelled was not the top reason, by a large margin, for people to be involved in a show’s social activity. Time and again, it has been proven that people relate and connect to things that have a narrative or emotional hook more than those with just mechanical activities. The “saving the world” narrative might work for some shows’ fans – probably for limited periods of time – but to truly maintain and build a fan base, there needs to be a shift from fear to celebration/engagement in terms of social media and television.

Much Ado About #McDStories – Nothing But A Cautionary Tale

There is no doubt that social media is a key component for brand messaging and the non-moderated two-way communication it brings leads to larger messaging complexities. As we’ve seen time and again, the programs with the best intentions can go awry.  The latest is one by McDonald’s and even though the #McDStories component was a relatively small blip, it provides a cautionary tale for those companies who feel they can dive into the social media landscape without the proper staffing or strategy.  

McDonald’s launched a campaign last week touting the freshest ingredients through the sponsoring of the trends #MeetTheFarmers and #McDStories.  It seems that everything was going fine on Thursday with #MeetTheFarmers until they moved to the vague hashtag – #McDStories.  It seems that they were trying to frame it as an opportunity for suppliers to share their stories about working with McDonald’s (never mind questioning whether suppliers are actively tweeting while working with produce) with a sample Tweet of: 

“When u make something w/ pride, people can taste it,” McD potato supplier #McDstories

Unfortunately for them, users twisted the meaning as a call to bash the company. Some strong examples were captured by  The Daily Mail:

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This reiterates the fact that companies cannot be assured that users will respond to social campaigns in the way you would like them to.  Another lesson is that you’ve got to act quickly with campaigns that don’t work and even with ones that do. And, ultimately, hopefully it illustrates how you may not be able to get by with one person doing all of your social.  It definitely depends on the size of your company, but also the strategy of your marketing.  Companies cannot get away with saying that social is key to their marketing and not support the actual execution – that’s good for neither the company or the staff charged with running social.

In the case of McDonald’s, they are a huge company that is constantly being barraged by fans and detractors in this environment.  As such, the company has a seemingly aggressive social media staff that is able to monitor communications and make changes quickly.  It seems that within hours, they moved away from the campaign. But even with a large team, they are not able to control the life of the hashtag.

In addition to the quick campaign change, McDonald’s Social Media Director, Rick Wion, went into high-gear to try to manage things.  There’s a few different nuanced responses he made based on the different outlets. The first one is more explanatory of what happened and the second one comes off as a little defensive:

Last Thursday, we planned to use two different hashtags during a promoted trend – #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories.

While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.

Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny percentage (2%) of that.

With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.

Here’s the one with a little more of a defensive tone:

The #McDStories tactics was part of a larger campaign to share our stories about the farmers who grow McDonald’s food. As soon as we saw that #McDStories was not going as planned, we made the decision to pull the hashtag and replace it with the more positive and successful #MeettheFarmers. Within that two hour window from launch to pull down of #McDStories, the number of tweets about it jumped to a peak of about 1600 but then fell off to only a few dozen.

It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day and #McDStories was a tiny percentage of that–roughly 2%. The tweets that were used for the video an article are very negative, but given that McDonald’s is mentioned on Twitter more than 250,000 times each week, it is very easy to cherry pick negative (or positive) tweets that are not representative of the overall picture.

Bottom line–the negative chatter wasn’t as much as today’s headlines have lead people to believe. This happened almost a week ago and the hashtag is only living on because many media outlets are using the chance to push a provocative and tweetable headline.

Part of being in social media is knowing that you can’t control the message 100 percent of the time.

As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.

The keys here were that McDonald’s is taking chances and has prepared themselves to quickly respond.  Some would question whether the tone of the second response is needed, but we can all understand what a frustrating position Wion was in. Again, it has to do with a larger social strategy – if their goal is to respond to every concern, then they’ve got to be consistent with that.  It seems their strategy is to be active along many fronts with the promotion of many trends (#flavorbattle, #LittleThings and #ChickenMcBites) so the offending trends could easily be mitigated and forgotten.

So, what is the cautionary tale other than users will take advantage of social media the way they see fit? Maybe a little bit… But the larger lesson is that companies are wasting money if they don’t have a clear social strategy and the staffing to support it. Social is not a box to be checked on a marketing plan or an execution that can always be managed by one person with a Social Media Dashboard (i.e. HootSuite, Seesmic, Radian6 and many more).  Things happen too quickly and there’s hardly ever enough time to act upon user sentiment in effective ways without the resources to do so. 

As an aside (or an example), there is a company who completely missed the opportunity to leverage the #meetthefarmers buzz – Caretrace owns @meetthefarmers and they made absolutely no moves to drive traffic to their own site.

No matter how big or small you are, a real social strategy needs to be put in place and that strategy needs to weigh staffing issues to be able to deal with the realities of the social media environment.  On the surface, it may seem like you can get away with as little support as possible. Even if you don’t have the target on your back that McDonald’s has, the relevant level of support needs to be there to not only engage socially, but to optimize opportunities to drive more business for the company.

All this does not preclude you from having the issues that McDonald’s had, but this event highlights the ways in which the perception of a big error can be weathered or mitigated by a proper strategy. In the end, it probably is much ado about nothing and we will passingly refer to it in a matter of days and forget about it in weeks.  But the underlying learnings are certainly not a cautionary tale to be ignored…