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Culture in a 24 / 7 world

The “C”-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness

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I’ve been struggling to reconcile an issue for a little while now. As I look at my Twitter and Facebook streams it is quite obvious that there are hundreds of people with all the answers regarding social media. I see a non-stop torrent of links to tips, key learnings, best practices and everything else under the Sun. But on the other hand, it seems every week brings a new example of brand self-immolation on some social network.  How can this be? In an entire lifetime you couldn’t read all the expert content on the How-Tos of social media, and yet…

Well, first I think it’s important to understand that we probably only hear about a fraction of the social media campaigns that are activated, and those fall into two categories: wildly successful and catastrophic. Take a look at this:

 

The "C"-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness. The "C" stands for Culture.

The “C”-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness. The “C” stands for Culture.

Why do social media campaigns, at least the ones we are aware of, tend to fall into one of these two extremes? I believe it is because of the way they connect, or disconnect, with culture. The best campaigns play with, align, leverage or otherwise amplify something happening in culture. From kittens to Star Wars to the Oscars, the winners usually are the ones that we can relate to, that are working with some sort of visual shorthand for an idea or concept we all know.

Conversely, the ones that bomb often do so due to cultural tone-deafness. When you don’t understand the conventions of a platform, or you don’t realize that you are using a term that the “kids” use to signify distaste, or you don’t think your post has racial, sexual or religious overtones, well, you are headed for trouble.

Strategy is important. Solid technical and tactical execution is important. But I think an understanding of culture, especially when we are talking about social media, trumps everything else.

 

 

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  • Published: Oct 4th, 2013
  • Category: Archives
  • Comments: 2

Hard Questions [UPDATED]

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tedxles

This morning I received an email from the organizers of the TEDxLowerEastSide event, which is scheduled to be held later this month at The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts. As one would expect with a TED event, the speakers’ list looks fantastic and the theme for the day, The Hero’s Journey, is a strong platform on which to build an emotionally and intellectually compelling program.

I’ve been to one previous TEDx event, TEDxHarlem, and it was terrific, so I was eager to fill out the application. Sure, I’d be getting home late the previous day from London, but these type of opportunities shouldn’t be missed. So, I started to fill out the application which was pretty standard stuff until I came to this part:

Please choose one question and answer in 500 words

  • If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on who you are and what you do, how would you be? What would you do?
  • What is it you are trying to create in the world and how is your work helping to manifest or support that?
  • What question are you living?

Could you answer these questions? Have you even asked yourself these questions? If you’re at all like me, things just got really uncomfortable for you. Uncomfortable in a way that punctures your probably comfortable life. My guess is that you are reading this from within a well-lit, climate-controlled environment, or perhaps off of your smartphone. Sure, we all have hardships and challenges in our lives, but by and large you are probably reasonably comfortable. Go read those three questions again.

You hear a lot of talk about “getting out of your comfort zone” but it’s hard isn’t it? A job, kids, leaky roof, maybe elderly parents, there’s a lot going on in your life and quite frankly staying inside your comfort zone sounds like a damn good idea. I get that. So I’m not going to ask you to quit that nice gig, or even give up your $4.50 latte. But do this for me – copy and paste those three questions into a word document. Don’t try to answer them right now, just print the questions out and tack them up on your office wall. Just read them each day for a week, or maybe a month. Think about them a little bit. Then, when you are ready, try to answer just one of them. If you do, I hope you’ll share them with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

UPDATE: After I wrote this blog post, I sent a note to the TEDxLES organizers saying that I appreciated the invitation to apply for attendance, but didn’t feel I could honestly answer any of the three questions. this afternoon they got back to me and referred me back to the application page, noting that based in part on my comments, they have amended the application essay question. It now reads as follows:

  • If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on who you are and what you do, how would you be? What would you do?
  • What question are you living?
  • What is your favorite TED talk and why?
  • TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Which of the 3 are you particularly passionate about and why?
  • If you were to give a TED talk, what would it be about and why?

So they added to more questions, which are ‘easier’ to answer. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Actually, yes, I am sure. I don’t like it. Now people can take the easy way out. We have too much of that in this life. If I do decide to apply for attendance I won’t choose one of the latter to questions.

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#TrendSpire2013 – Four Ideas For The Future of Television

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I was honored to be a speaker last week at Trendspire 2013 in Atlanta, which was the brainchild of Native Marketing working with Turner Media Group (TMG) Insights & Inspirations.  Native Marketing has been doing trend research and presentations for Turner since 2011, but this is the first internal company-wide conference to explore trends in media, entertainment, technology and pop culture.

It was a terrific day of inspired panels and presentations, filled with very smart people. Since it was held at, and for the benefit of, Turner, much of the talk revolved around television programming.  From what I heard from others, plus ideas of my own that I’ve been knocking around in my mind for a while, I’ve come up with four ideas of what the future might hold for a more interactive future of television*

1. Have a TV show host a hackathon, use winning idea in show

Television and hackathons makes a lot of sense. In fact, there was a TV Hackfest in San Francisco earlier this year, and I’ll be a judge at the upcoming TV Hackfest in London.  The 2nd Screen Society is also producing an AppHACK event with AngelHack in Los Angeles on November 2nd/3rd.  These events tend to focus on creating tools to make the consumer experience of watching television better. Here’s how the London event describes itself:

What is a HackFest? The aim of TV hackfest is to provide a range of tv technologies, SDK’s and API’s  as well as briefs and competitions – to developers, designers, agencies, creatives and entrepreneurs  to build design and show how future video entertainment could be delivered within an interactive multi-screen environment. From first and second screen apps, to social tv mashups and broadcaster / content centric content briefs , the TV Hackfest is a way to get creative and build future mutli-screen TV concepts with some cool prizes for the winners.

But here’s what I’d like to see: What if a show like ABC’s new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. held a hackathon? Ask the developer community to create a cool new piece of tech and incorporate the winning idea into the showI’m sure that a developer or start-up would kill to have their app or tool integrated into a primetime television show. The PR for the network, the show and the winning developer would be enormous.

I could also see a brand integrating into this very easily.  A mobile phone company would be great for this sort of thing, or really any brand that has a tech focus, or a brand that wants to develop that perception. You could build an entire season-long campaign around this, plus in-show integration and sponsorship of the hackathon.

2. Create spin-off as mobile-only mini-series during off-season

People have a voracious appetite for the shows they love. From Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead to Sons of Anarchy and House of Cards fans count the days until the new season starts. The idea of content made for the web (webisodes) isn’t new, but it’s time to develop content that is mobile first. Why not make a 5-10 episode mini-series set within the world of an existing show? Twelve to 15-minute episodes could be created to develop secondary characters (for a possible 1st screen spin-off?) or wrap-up plot lines that weren’t given enough time during the regular run of the show. In a similar vein, check out USA’s Burn Notice graphic novel. Each episode could end with an interactive survey, poll or questionnaire that could provide valuable data to the writers and show-runners.

3. Kickstarter + Gamification = Pilot Picker

One of the tenets of new marketing revolution is the importance of building communities and engaging people on a deeper level, getting them invested in your offering. Kickstarter is a perfect example.  Every year networks offer up a host of new programs, yet very few of them survive. Perhaps if people were more directly invested in the success of the show the network could develop a new dynamic with its viewers. Here’s how it could work:

  • First, properly integrate game mechanics into a network’s website.
  • Set up a page on the network’s site in Kickstarter-style, where writers/producers can “pitch” their shows.
  • As viewers accumulate “points” through various activities on the site, allow them to “invest” in new show concepts (prior to shooting pilots).
  • The shows with the highest investment (which represents potential viewer interest) get greenlit for shooting a pilot.

This has the capacity to completely disrupt several current industry models, potentially saving money for the nets and generating a higher percentage of successful new shows.

4. 2nd Screen App + Augmented Reality = Character in your room

At TrendSpire 2013, Steve Brown, Chief Evangelist and Futurist and Intel, spoke about what he’s expecting to see soon and I was truly excited about an idea he threw out. Computing power is going to be so big and fast that we’ll be able to bring characters from the first screen into our living rooms via a 2nd screen app, and they’ll be able to recognize and adjust to the environment. Imagine Walter White sitting next to you on your couch discussing the finer points of meth dealing. Or a horde of zombies suddenly stumbling around your bedroom as you pan around the room with your tablet. This sort of 4D experience could open up a host of creative opportunities and truly change the viewing experience in ways we can only begin to dream of.

 

Mobile, interactive and off-screen are all ways TV can reinvent itself to benefit from the changes in culture and consumer behavior we’re currently experiencing. The question is, which networks will jump in and grab first mover advantage.

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#AWX Recap 1 – Considering the Client-Agency Creative Partnership

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Last week was the 10th Annual Advertising Week here in New York City.  I wasn’t able to attend as many events as I did last year, but would like to share my thoughts on a couple of panels I did attend. This post originally appeared on TheAWSC.

 

Advertising Week kicked off Monday with the usual bevy of panels and events throughout midtown Manhattan. I had hoped on attending several of the talks, but, as is often the case, work found of way of altering my plans and my schedule. But I was able to make one session, and it was one I’m glad I caught because it touched on a subject I don’t often hear discussed. Entitled Unlocking Client Creativity, the panel, moderated by Jennifer Rooney, CMO, Network Editor, Forbes, focused on how agencies and brands can work together for greater creative output.

Having worked in the agency world, across various industries, for more than a decade I can tell you that this is a vital issue, and one that is rarely focused on.  We’re all familiar with the usual paradigm: Agency bleeds and sweats, then presents the ideas to a client who, not unlike the Roman Emperors of ancient times, gives a thumbs up or thumbs down to the ideas. It’s been this way, well, it’s been this way as long as there have been agencies and clients. I think we all pretty much take it for granted that that’s the way it’s done.

I’ve been involved in my share of agency-client brainstorming sessions, but these never quite feel like a real stage for true creative ideation. It’s more of a team bonding exercise, or a way for the agency to show that they really value the client. Everyone leaves saying what a great time they had and how terrific the session was, but I don’t think I’ve ever really seen breakthrough ideas come from such an arrangement.

But this session was about getting deeper than that. It was about true partnerships. How in-house agencies can work with outside agencies; how (and when) it might be appropriate to engage ‘the crowd;’ and the importance of setting up methodologies that can help keep things on the right course. The panelists included execs from DDB and their client, Glidden paints, as well as Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4As, as well as Terry Young, CEO and Founder of Sparks & Honey.   Young made a point that I thought was quite important, noting how crucial it is for client-side decision makers to be involved throughout the process, rather than just at the end. Nothing’s worse than spending weeks on an idea only to have it killed by someone who hasn’t been invested in the idea at any point along the way.

I can see why co-creation with the client would be a challenge. Do they have the resources (time, skill) to participate? Will ego (on both sides) sabotage the whole operation? Does compensation need to be factored differently? Fair questions, but in an industry where some things are broken, and others are being significantly disrupted, it’s worth considering an idea that, if correctly executed, could lead to more work being sold.

 

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8 Tips for Hashtags

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Digiday’s Saya Weissman has a piece today talking about brands and hashtags. It’s a good piece and a strong reminder that brands employing a GMOOT (Give Me One Of Those) strategy will often be disappointed in the results. So, with that in mind, here are 8 things to remember when thinking about using hashtags as part of your communications strategy:

1. Keep the consumer in mind

Ask yourself the following:

  • Would I use that hashtag?
  • In what context?
  • How does it connect to my life?
  • How often would I use it?
  • Is this hashtag just our strapline, or does it mean something more?

If you’re going to implement a hashtag and it’s only serving the brand I think you’re going to be in trouble.

2. Do you really need to create a new hashtag?

Every day there are tons of existing and new hashtags being tweeted, is yours adding anything new or different to the cacophony? Maybe it would be better just to engage people around hashtags they are already using. Check out hashtags.org to see what’s already going on.

3. Is this hashtag going to be hijacked?

There is no excuse at this point for a brand to be surprised when something like this happens. A hashtag is a type of user generated content and we’ve seen time and time again what happens when brands open up like this. So ask yourself, is your brand currently facing some dicey PR issues?

4. Understand culture

Before launching your hashtag make sure you’ve done a cultural audit. If you’re ad campaign shows to young women sharing a delicious, fresh-brewed tea, #2Girls1Cup is a very bad idea.

5. Connect to culture

The Super Bowl (all sports really), reality programming and awards shows tend to generate a lot of activity on Twitter. How can you leverage this with your hashtag?

6. Support your hashtag

In some ways a hashtag is more like a product itself than a communication tactic. You have to promote it with earned, owned and paid media if you want to see it grow roots and thrive.

7. What’s the longterm plan?

You’re putting a lot of effort into making a hashtag work, but is this campaign only going to last a day or a few weeks? Think about the longterm viability of your hashtag.

8. For God’s sake, measure!

Whatever you do, don’t go to all the trouble of creating a whole plan without having a measurement plan. Understand what you’re trying to accomplish with this hashtag. What does success look like? Use something like Hashtracking to get some analytics on your efforts.

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Focus On Human Behavior, Not Media & Tech Trends

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 UPDATE: This post has been nominated as a Post of the Month over at Neil Perkin’s Only Dead Fish blog. If you liked this post please consider giving it a vote. The other nominees are really excellent, I recommend giving them a read as well.

 

As Creative Culturalist at Y&R New York, I’m often asked about trends in media and technology. It’s an easy question to ask, and relatively speaking, an easy one to answer.  Some quick curation via a Google search will reveal that the consensus tends to gravitate around things like Big Data, the Internet of Things, 3-D printing and wearable tech. Of course these really aren’t predictions anymore, as all these technologies are available now.

Risky Business: Predictions

I tend to be weary of predictions or forecasting for a number of reasons, primarily because we humans aren’t very good at it. In 2006, one year before the launch of Twitter, was anyone touting the emergence of social networks? Before the first iPad hit stores in 2010, were people claiming tablet computers would be huge commercial successes?  We must also consider that not only do successful predictions only come to fruition occasionally, but what we often claim will be the next big thing rarely is. Why are we so bad at making predictions? As psephologist and author of The Signal and the Noise Nate Silver deftly points out, the problem is often the mindset of the people who make them (watch a terrific video with Silver here).

Experts in a particular subject aren’t always the best at seeing the bigger picture and often miss key factors.  Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox, brought the notion of deep knowledge in a specific field versus the more beneficial general knowledge across a variety of subjects to the public’s attention; and more recently Dan Gardner’s book Future Babble expanded on this idea, applying it to our modern age and deftly illustrating that the prediction emperors rarely have any clothes. From sports to politics to finance, and especially pop culture, the so-called experts have a success rate no better (and often worse) than flipping a coin.

Besides, asking “what is the next big trend in media and technology?” is probably asking the wrong question of the advertising industry. Rather than focus on that, I believe it’s more important to ask:

How does the advertising industry react to the media/technological advances and cultural shifts that will shape consumer behavior?

By analyzing the meta-trends of media and technology we can examine the likely trends in human behavior that are a result of recent trends in media and technology, and how emerging human behavior is likely to shape future trends in media and technology.

 

The connection between human behavior and media & tech trends

The connection between human behavior and media & tech trends

Here’s where having an understanding and familiarity with everyone from Marshall McLuhan to cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken to speculative fiction author William Gibson (whose latest trilogy featured a what was in essence a planner as the main heroine) – is of vital importance to people in the advertising industry. Trying to guess at technology trends without understanding culture and human behavior is a bit like complaining about the crispness of the sheets in your stateroom on the Titanic. You’re focused on the wrong thing.

Failing To Plan is Planning to Fail

From this perspective, more useful perhaps than predicting trends is the science (art?) of Scenario Planning. Rather than guess what is going to happen and stop there, let’s think about what our response, as marketers, would be to certain future situations.  If we posit that 10 years from now the Internet of Things will disintermediate many aspects of advertising, what will our response be? What will happen three, five and seven years from now to lead us to that 10-year prediction, and what steps can we take in the intervening years to prepare, or perhaps make a strategic pivot, for the proposed disintermediation? Alternatively what if the Internet of Things opens vast new opportunities for advertisers and their agencies? What will we do between now and then to position ourselves to take advantage? Understanding human behavior can help us think about how potential consumers will gravitate towards, or away from, these possibilities.

It’s this sort of rigor that author Nassim Nicholas Taleb encourages in his book Antifragile. The key is not in accurately predicting the future, an impossible task, but rather in being agile enough to seize an opportunity and resilient enough to rebound from setbacks. This is exactly the position the advertising industry finds itself in right now. The only thing we can know for certain is that existing boundaries are being demolished. If Brand X needs a 30-second TV spot, who is capable of creating it?:

  1. Consumers
  2. Advertising Agency
  3. Media Agency
  4. Production House
  5. The Brand itself

If you answered, F: all of the above, you’re right. And so ad agencies need to adapt. But that’s easier said than done. Last year on FastCo.Create I wrote about the need for agencies to have ‘makeable ideas’ before they can make things. I’m excited to see, seven months later, that people at my agency are making that evolutionary shift, as evidenced by the 90 Days of Making project, which I covered recently for PSFK.

“The Internet is a chameleon.”

Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion dives into the dramatic changes we’ve seen in storytelling, driven by the Internet. He states:

It is the first medium that can act like all media – it can be text, or audio, or video, or all of the above. It is nonlinear, thanks to the World Wide Web and the revolutionary convention of hyperlinking. It is inherently participatory – not just interactive, in the sense that it responds to your commands, but an instigator constantly encouraging you to comment, to contribute, to join in. And it is immersive – meaning that you can use it to drill down as deeply as you like about anything you care to.

The evidence is clear from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, and everywhere video games are made. Now Madison avenue must find their own solutions to what media theorist Douglass Rushkoff calls Narrative Collapse in his recent book, Present Shock.

It’s as if the linear narrative structure had been so misused and abused by television’s incompetent or manipulative storytellers that it simply stopped working, particularly on younger people who were raised in the more interactive media environment and equipped with defensive technologies.

As storytellers, this to me is the fundamental question of our times that we must grapple with as marketers. How do we tell stories that resonate with people in this environment? In just two short years we’ve gone from the long-form branded content stories of The Man Who Walked Around The World, a brilliant 6:27 single-take film, and Chipotle’s animated insta-classic Back to the Start (2:21), and replaced them with meme-defining images during the Super Bowl and seven second Vine videos. Yes, it seems this evolution has been driven by both technology and consumer behavior, but is this really best for the industry? By feeding people what they seemingly want, are we limiting the potential and power of what we do best?

Cultural Singularity Paradox

Ultimately the speed with which we are asked to do things – develop insights, create ads – prevents us from stepping back and analyzing much of what we do, before or after the fact.  Modern culture has warped our relationship with time, as Rushkoff explains in the chapter entitled “Overwinding – The Short Forever” in Present Shock:

When everything is rendered instantly accessible via Google and iTunes, the entirety of culture becomes a single layer deep. The journey disappears, and all knowledge is brought into the present tense. In the short forever, there is no time to prepare and anticipate…  It is also unavailable to the cultural creators. No sooner is a new culture born than it is discovered by trend-setting Vice magazine; covered by the New York Times Style section; broadcast on MTV; and given a book, record or movie deal.

And so we in the marketing communications industry are stuck in this temporal quicksand, unable to step beyond the now. As a result we lament the loss of those things that could truly advance the industry, if only we had the time. The Cognitive Surplus that Internet guru Clay Shirky writes about seems a fantasy to those of us in advertising, as we struggle to deal with what I call the Cultural Singularity. The Internet, and certainly social media, has sped up the rate of adoption, lowered barriers to entry and provided access to the mainstream for formerly niche groups to the degree that, despite all the tools at our disposal, we can’t possibly keep up. Yes, we have access to vast amounts of knowledge, and yet we are more uncertain than ever – the Cultural Singularity Paradox.  And so we look to attend Cannes or TED or SxSW for an opportunity to hear our colleagues and compatriots share their thoughts, only to rush back to the office, never allowing for metacognition – thinking about thinking – to take us to new places.

But the challenges keep mounting, and while many are in the Shirky camp — including Being Digital author and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte and journalist and TV critic Jeff Jarvis (author of Public Parts) — seeing technology, and its effects on people as a boon; others, such as Evgeny Morozov see dangers in Technological Solutionism. His book, To Save Everything Click Here, paints a darker picture of where technology may take us. Similarly, the problems Edward Tenner wrote about nearly two decades ago in Why Things Bite Back – Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences haven’t been alleviated, if anything they’ve been exacerbated. And so as marketers, how do we deal with this? Are we making people feel more anxious? Are we truly serving their needs?

Books such as the aforementioned Future Babble and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan address the challenges of predictions and our inability to see highly improbable events before they happen. I believe focusing on just such challenges, understanding our biases and learning to be adaptable to changes, as Taleb writes in Antifragile, are key factors in the success of agencies in the future. If our world is one of constant shift and change, characterized by words such as disruption and complexity, then gatherings such as WPP’s Stream unconference are the ideal place to hold such lively discussions. 

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