Becoming a Social Media sensation: is it a science or an art?

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Today we propose a relaxing reading for the weekend. A little generic analysis on some factors that can be crucial to be successful with the Social Media. Let’s start with a couple of pondered and interesting reflections from two respected professionals, to tragically finish with a couple of picturesque characters that are now making the web crazy.

During an event at UCLA, I remember I assisted to a presentation from Justin Goldsbourgh (@jgoldsbourgh). As you can imagine, it was related to Social Media. Justin worked as PR for the telephone company Sprint and now he works for a big American network of digital PR. I was really impressed by the way he walked on the stage: throwing business cards on the floor. After letting everyone doubt about his mental health, he explained his thought: throwing bizcards - a cult object for every good marketer – is exactly what many companies do: by using Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube and Twitter to speak about themselves, annoying the world with their slogans, their boring promotion, their key-concepts. It’s not effective, but rather harmful. When a company backs up unread, unseen, unheard and, most of all, unshared contents in the digital universe, it means that it’s doing it in the wrong way. The final sentence of this curios show was: “People, don’t’ share key messages, people share awesome!” People don’t share the intention or the vision of a company; people share cool stuff.

New, catchy, relevant, unique and real contents. According to Justin, companies must stop using new media as a broadcasting channel and start using them as publishing channel: creating stories. If a company can’t do it, doesn’t have time or resources to do it, must abandon Twitter. Abandon Facebook. Close down the Youtube channel where the most successful video counts 13 views. For Social Media the famous “Nike rule” – Just do it – doesn’t work. It’s not about how cool is the channel, it’s not about the last iPad application, or some brilliant service of geo-location: if the brand has nothing to say, it will die right after the launch.

The advent of the Web 2.0 made available a lot of channels and opportunities, but the companies don’t necessarily have to use them, if they don’t know how or they have nothing to say.  A Twitter page where the last update is from 2009 is a huge mistake for the company. On the other hand, when the message is concrete, relevant, new and well structured, then it’s correct to use all the channels, all those possible and imaginable.  And we had a perfect example in the recent (and very expensive) campaign for Barbie and Ken.

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The relevant contents can come in from everywhere, it’s just necessary to understand and value them. A while ago a client complained on Twitter for a sensational delay of FedEx. The marketing department took its time to reflect and then decided that, instead of offering some discounts to hush the annoying client, they could take advantage of this occasion to tell a story. So they created a seminary where collect all the negative experiences (obviously including the one already mentioned) to show them as case studies to all the employees of FedEx. A modern and effective training, based on real-world stuff, not just on some experts catchphrases. Obviously the unsatisfied customer has proudly re-twitted his involvement in this initiative (for sure way better than a “Wow, FedEx gave me a 10 dollar voucher!”).

Need another example of a company saved from a difficult situation by good ideas? The Red Cross case history, a wrong tweet that caused a semi-disaster magically turned into thousands of people positively involved.

Let’s continue our article, with another precious idea from an high respectable marketer. Simon Mainwaring (@simonmainwaring) is an Australian marketer now settled in America and he has a lot of experience as an adviser for brands (like Motorola) and as a creative for agencies (like Ogilvy and Wieden+Kennedy) This article takes inspiration from a panel discussion at the South By South festival (@SXSW), the biggest forum on culture and new media held every year in Austin Texas.

At the SXSW an important question was posed: is it right for a communication agency to behave as a software company? Is it correct for creative agencies to delve into the technical side of the web marketing? Or should they focus on the creation of contents, that, anyway, are the vital lymph of a good digital communication?

One of the sentences twitted from the event that have mostly impressed Simon (and me as well) is: “Agencies have to stop obsessing what they don’t know, and focus on exercising what they do know”. Companies should focus on creative concepts and strategies and leave the technologic platforms to who is able to manage them. The storytelling is a fundamental process to have success in the Social Media (the “awesome” that people share). And also big companies sometimes forget that; they tend to focus on the implementation of platforms and technologically innovative channels, just to try and propose them to the next client.

This is a question I ask you, with the conviction that an unique answer doesn’t exist to satisfy it. Working in the Social Media means to stay halfway between these two worlds. The artistic world of creativity, narration of the brand’s history, conversation with the angry customer to make him fall in love with  a company available for a chat. And then, there is the scientific world, where the channel is built, the platform projected and the last technology has been put into the market by some crazy scientist.

Certainly, either it is science or art, the agencies and companies must understand that these media have an incredible power. Social Media have really the capacity to create a new universe in a very short time. I try to explain myself with this recent example:

It’s a video of a girl, UCLA student, who thought to let the world know what she thinks of the Asian community in the famous Los Angeles University. She complains of several factors, always premising that she doesn’t want to offend anyone. She doesn’t stand that they always invite their parents to visit them, their manners, but most of all she doesn’t have good words for the Chinese students that speak at the telephone in the University’s classrooms (the Asian community at UCLA represent the 37%).

It all started from nothing, but the result is astonishing: almost 5 million views in a few days, several releases in the main American mass media, hundreds of video replies… and the consequent (and unavoidable) threats for the video’s author. In a few hours a lot of correlated initiatives were born, both offline and online, amongst which the site that soon took advantage of the fuss – getting one the best URL in history, by the way – to sell t-shirts and promote donations to Red Cross and so to support the tragedy in Japan. It all happened in a few days: a million views reached in few hours, millions of people involved and activated by a quite banal video, played with an amateur camera in a bedroom.

Another trivial example: the world social network community is going crazy to understand the reasons of the viral explosion of Rebecca Black, a young singer that with just one song ( notable for the total, although innocent, banality of the lyrics ) is getting closer to 20 million views on Youtube, in one week. Here is the video, produced by the Los Angeles house Ark Music Factory:

I don’t know if these two examples help us to understand something, or they are simply more confusing. Certainly they are successful cases and, although different, they both touch those magic sensitive spots that can stimulate the process of viral sharing. It’s sure that, as Alessandro Palminiello said about his campaign about Nonna Lea, to plan a success in the Social Media can’t depend of scientific factors: there is no way to foresee it and there is no guarantee of success, independently from the budget.

The obsession for the figures and the ROI is part of an old logic: it’s neither right nor wrong, it’s simply as it is. We don’t want to annoy with statistics about the loss of credibility of the traditional media, but only to remind, once more, that Social Media use different metrics and the success must never be taken for granted. The only advice that we can give, if there is a lesson to learn from all of this, is that, before rushing to the channel we want to use, we must have our stories ready. Without our “awesome”, people won’t listen to us.

Guido Ghedin

Translation by Luigi Tarini

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