Posts Tagged ‘social software’
A lot of talk recently about using Social Software to increase ones visibility. This is a positive step forward from the amusing stories about people being sacked for injudicious observations about their employers, or in a twist on the old story about being snapped participating in a riot while supposedly ill in bed, posting observations about the quality of their hangover…whilst pulling a sickie. So, this is a development, and the thinking behind it is very closely linked to the art of public relations.
We are to the world, the sum of what we make available for others to consume. We are judged by our words and our actions. In this new world of social software, whether we like it or not, that amounts to a hell of a lot of personal data and believe it or not, we can alienate people just as easily online as we can in the flesh! It is a two way street.
Let me explain – on a course recently I was asked, as part of my introduction to name one thing about my colleagues that I found profoundly irritating. The course was called ‘How to make lifelong enemies out of potential friends’ or something similar. I wracked my brains for a non controversial answer, but eventually, after dismissing the possibility of ‘brown shoes’ and ‘golfing trousers’ (well, actually I find everything about golf profoundly irritating from it’s accessories to its supposed invention in Scotland, but that’s another story), settled on flagrant self promotion as my answer.
I used as an example, some Tweets I had randomly seethed at – ‘Am sitting with a Vice President, two Distinguished Engineers and a Prince of the Realm’, ‘On a conference call with the Sultan of Brunei’, ‘Having a mineral water with the CEO’. To my astonishment, virtually everyone in the room was totally in agreement, except for one chap in the corner who was feverishly punching away at his mobile phone… These tweets are nothing more than self promotion by association and I would ask the perpetrators of this nonsense to consider whether they would repeat the tweet out loud to a room full of their closest friends before sending!
The principal of ‘Brand Me’ is well established and executives in forward thinking companies are encouraged to use social software to advance both the brand they work for and by association, their own imprint on the public consciousness. In IT, people who have done this to great effect (although not necessarily with social software) are Steve Jobs, synonymous with Apple, Bill Gates – Microsoft, Larry Ellison etc etc. These are bona fide celebrities with a lifetime of achievement in their lockers. However no technology has done more to advance Andy Warhol’s claim that ‘in the future everyone will be famous for five minutes’ than Twitter.
Twitter is a global phenomenon, we have rappers dissing one another, celebrities celebrating and a pattern of usage that extends from the useful to the banal. Twitter can be fantastically useful – in breaking news, in serving small virtual communities, simply in keeping in touch these technologies enable an exchange of ideas which is extraordinarily potent.
My point is this, self promotion is not straightforward. In some cultures it is practically compulsory (the music business, fashion), in others, frowned upon (law). It’s a difficult trick to pull off without offending someone, somewhere. My own view is that self promotion is necessary at times, and that in this information frenzy, so is self editing. A judicious tweet will win hearts and minds – an injudicious posting will live for ever!
These are interesting times, as the economy buckles and sways under the onslaught of rising debt and falling sales, the new economy, espoused by Wired magazine back at the turn of the century suddenly seems relevant again. As traditional companies fall by the wayside, a new breed of Digital Media Agency is poised to leapfrog the traditional PR practice and take the art of promotions into the 21st Century.
For traditional PR companies, the art of publicising a brand, be it a drink, a musician or a charity, is well established. Essentially, market research gives a picture of the current awareness of the brand and of the temperature of public opinion. This is compared to the desired state for the brand and a strategy is created that moves public opinion from the current position to the would-be position. At least, that’s the theory.
Most campaigns have a certain amount in common. Traditional media such as Print, Radio and Television are used to host advertising campaigns whilst promotional slots are arranged with ‘influencers’ appropriate to the desired brand. So an interview set up with Jonathan Ross for example on prime time BBC National Television will have a massive influence on the intended audience and will reinforce the effect of a straightforward advertising campaign.
Nowadays however things are changing. It’s hard to get a slot on the Jonathan Ross show and there are only a limited number of slots available in a season. Didn’t somebody say Facebook had over 300 million users? Hang on a minute! Jonathan Ross averages only 3.5 million…. and so logic being what it is, a new industry is born.
Given those figures, a digital media campaign ought to be able to deliver unprecedented conversion rates – shouldn’t it? Well a measure of caution may be appropriate – advocacy is often blinded by a fatal mixture of naivety and hope. There are a number of very significant factors, reducing the potential of digital campaigns to much more realistic figures. For example the degree to which a large audience might identify with the brand. Is it global or niche? Is it possible to correctly identify the location of the target audience? We know that Facebook tends to attract young professionals, creatives, writers and artists, that MySpace attracts a younger audience that is interested in music and movies but within those broad demographics, how easy is it to get to the target audience?
Let’s examine a case.
The movie ‘End of the Line‘ is a documentary which puts forward the idea that if current fishing practices are allowed t ocontinue unchecked, we may as a species succeed in turning our oceans into a primordial sludge supporting only single cell organisms – within our lifetimes. Apart from the compelling nature of the subject matter, a few things make this film especially interesting.
The film has now run for four weeks in the West End of London and has been picked up by cinemas around the country, with bookings until the end of September. The cause has been taken up by mainstream mass media - the Sun, Hello and Heat magazine, as well as regional and local papers and the entire national press.
It has also engaged with the corporate world in ways no one can remember any other British film doing. The head of a major High Street presence, Pret a Manger, saw an early screening and changed his entire company’s policy on tuna.
Waitrose put backing into the making of the film and even Morrisons is now advertising some of its fish as line-caught.
The fact that the film has struck such a chord with the people and companies who have seen it has put the issues in the film on the political agenda, in ways they were not before.
This is remarkable stuff – and unprecedented for a documentary to cause this much of a ruckus. Here are some more facts.
- Facebook profile - 4,596 fans
- YouTube trailer – 41,566 views
- Twitter page – 2,225 followers
- Claim your Piece of Ocean Campaign
Notwithstanding the emotive content of the film and I’m quite sure it would have had a substantial impact in it’s own right. it has undoubtedly benefitted to some degree from a well orchestrated PR campaign based primarily on using Social Software to raise the profile of the film. How was this done?
The film was backed by a web site and merchandising, so far, so Web1.0, but where this movie moves away from the mainstream is in it’s espousal of Web2.0 sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and it’s innovative use of a web site hosted campaign that gives viewers a chance to make their presence felt. What is especially interesting is that Twitter was added almost as an afterthought – a fact which is reflected in the comparitively low number of followers.
It is possible to visualise a campaign, something like the figure here. Web1.0 technology, traditional media, funding etc all have a part to play.
The key to leveraging Web2.0 technology is in fostering a sense of community, and it is on Facebook and YouTube that viewers have the chance to make their opinions known.
It is this sense of involvement that encourages users to return and continue the conversation, and critically, to recommend the site to their friends. In this way, it is possible to encourage almost exponential growth for a message which has a universal meaning. It might be more difficult to stimulate the same degree of growth for a line of clothing or a CD, but the principle remains the same.
Twitter has a particular characteristic that gives it huge potential in this space, the character limit of 140 and the inclusion of a URL make it possible to attach a clickable link to an irresistable tag line. This is a very different notion to the idea of pirating the hash tag to insert a completely inappropriate advertisment into the trending topics. Retweets spread the link virally and the takeup, relying entirely on the suitability of the content to the task in hand could encourage users to self select – I’m reminded of a campaign that ran in the New Musical Express in the mid seventies, to promote the T. Rex album The Slider – the first few weeks a teaser campaign ran consisting of a small photograph printed on multiple pages – a rear view of Marc Bolan, unidentifiable except perhaps for the trademark curls. After a couple of pages, the photograph appeared with a caption, printed large across the photograph “Bolan’s Back”. The campaign scored a bullseye with the intended audience and the album was a substantial hit. In a sense, the same kind of opportunity is available with Twitter, a tag line, sufficiently intriuging to deliver the click through would serve to tickle the appetite of the target audience. The beauty of Twitter is that the model dictates that anything resembling spam would die a death, Twitter depends on retweets to spread the message.
The key to success in harnessing the power of Web2.0 technology is to engage the audience with a strong message, and interesting content, to choreograph the interconnectivity of multiple forms of social media in a pattern that reinforces the message, keeps content fresh and encourages the audience to revisit and to pass the message on. Blogging, Web Sites with a high degree of interactivity, Facebook, Youtube and Flickr may all have a part to play.
I was reading Mariella Frostrup in the Observer last weekend as I tend to do over Sunday breakfast. She is remarkably level headed for someone who, like me, used to work in the music industry and something she said made me think hard about the nature of on-line friendship.
The context was not promising – her correspondent was considering having an affair with a long lost lover, recently contacted on Facebook and Mariella quite correctly and with great wit pointed out the obvious flaws in such a notion. She went on to say (and I apologise for the paraphrase, but it was a long article)
“As for Facebook forays, I must say I remain unconvinced by the so-called ‘social networking’ craze….. There are unarguable merits to an impoverished kid in Uganda connecting with a privileged western teenager and both learning something about the outside world, but how often is that the case? Facebook and its fellow sites offer teenagers a virtual social circle, and dissatisfied adults the chance to sit alone in a cloud of nostalgia. All fine and good if you have hours to waste ‘connecting’ on the most superficial level. It’s hardly revolutionary to suggest that the more time we spend on virtual friendships the less time and energy we have for our own flesh and blood encounters. Why show your holiday photos to 200 virtual strangers when you can sit down with your best friend and chat?“
Its at this point that Mariella and I differ. Now there are a lot of strands in this and I may even take two posts to cover them, but these, I think, are the salient points.
Mariella differentiates between virtual friendships and ‘flesh and blood’ encounters. I may be missing the point here, but not one of my virtual friendships has actually replaced a real life encounter, anymore than the telephone.
On line friendships, just like real life friendships can burn brightly, I have many online friends who I would count as ‘real’ friends in terms of warmth, reliability, humour, and well, friendship. Equally I have many online friends who I have shared a joke with, sparred with on a comment trail or just bumped into so often that we made contact – no more significant than smiling at somebody in the post office really. and that is my point – it’s the baggage attached to the term ‘Friend’ that I think confuses people of a certain age (sorry, Mariella, but you and me, both).
People of ahem, my generation (born in the fifties) tend to attach a great deal of meaning to the word friend – acquaintances are many but friends are few, we differentiate between friends and networks in a way that a teenager today would probably think odd or even quaint. So it’s hardly surprising that we struggle with the concept of social software – however it would be a huge mistake to dismiss it as frivolous.
Let’s start with the common misconception that putting your holiday photos online is the same as inviting 200 virtual strangers into your life. People are attracted to content first and personality second. I have proof. I run three blogs, this one on technical matters, Chimera Obscura on music and Grapes of Wrath (a work of total fiction). The comparison between the growth cycles is interesting, but I’ll save it for another post. The point I’m making here is that unless the photographs are extraordinarily good, it is unlikely that anyone will view them for more than a nanosecond. frankly, getting them printed in an old fashioned photolab will bring more browsers to your holiday snaps! No, the only people who will look at them on Facebook are your ‘friends’. And by and large their commentary will be funny and well, friendly.
But this is not only about Facebook, the Blogosphere too has a part to play, this debate is about social networks mediated by electronic means and I look back to commentators like Howard Rheingold (Virtual Communities) and Nicholas Negroponte (Being Digital) when I hear people discussing this phenomenon as if it were new. In many ways, you get out of a virtual community roughly what you put into it – socially active people have more friends, just like real…. yes, quite.
As for “connecting on the most superficial level”, what’s not to like? Sorry – seriously, I have managed to make some good friends who have introduced me to music, literature and art that I was not previously aware of – by the most serious and old fashioned of definitions, these people deserve to be called ‘friends’. I also have many ‘friends’ online who have brightened my day in a host of different ways – a Tweet here, a comment there, a photo.
As a mobile IT consultant, living a percentage of my life in hotels, I can unequivocally maintain that reconnecting with old friends is a fabulous thing – through Facebook I have connected with very close college friends with whom I lost touch over thirty years ago, ex colleagues, ex students who I am always delighted to see, but somehow never have the time or the geography to actually meet – I have yet to be disappointed. Quite the reverse in fact. I connect with other literary enthusiasts and engage with writing workshops, none of which would be possible in real life (just too busy). The world of asynchronous communication facilitates these activities and as a result, my life is substantially enriched.
I struggle with the difference between a virtual social circle and any other kind – in fact the toast ‘to absent friends’ surely celebrates the notion of a virtual social circle – the days of living in the same town as your friends were numbered by the invention of the steam engine. Actually come to think of it I wish some of my real friends were a bit more virtual! My social life and that of many people I speak to has been fractured by careers, marriages, divorce, relative success and failure. I would probably struggle to put together a real social circle – tennis friends, musicbiz friends, work friends, old friends, new friends – not an iota of commonality between them!
The age range of my virtual friends stretches between 22 and 75, the class, geography and culture range is undeniably greater than my ‘flesh and blood’ friendships and in considering this I am reminded of a remark made by one of my younger, virtual friends. “Facebook” she said, “is a great leveller”.