Shiv Singh: March 2009 Archives
Less than a week ago Alltop launched its Personalized Feed Reader. Alltop is an online magazine rack that aggregates RSS feeds of every major topic from wine to personal finance and everything in between. It saves a reader from having to identify and add RSS feeds to a personalized Google page. All the best feeds on a given topic are easily scannable and can now be added to a customized page with a single click. Alltop is a simple, useful service for those who don't care to spend time creating RSS feeds and customizing them.
But Alltop has been bashed in the technology community. And in my opinion this bashing represents the worst of the technology community. This can be summed up in one phrase - technological determinism. I feel that many of the digerati and even folks in the social media space suffer from a technological determinism bias ( I do too at times). Technological determinism's doctrine is based on the premise that a society's technology determines its cultural values, social structure or history. It is the belief that technology is good for humanity and that it shapes humanity for the better. Got a problem - solve it with better technology. Technology is defined as the central causal element that promotes social change.
Undoubtedly, authenticity has become a much overused, over exposed word in marketing. We're all talking about authenticity too much. Is your company authentic? Do you have an authentic brand? Is the conversation that you're having with your customers authentic? Are you being authentic in how you approach social media? The list goes on. Its exhausting.
1. Social media usage will result in more influence. As social media adoption climbs exponentially, so too will the influence conversations in a social context will have on brand affinity and purchasing decisions. Participating in a conversation online, sharing an opinion and influencing a purchasing decision explicitly or implicitly are becoming second nature for more and more consumers. The only thing that will prevent these messages from spreading is that a lot of this influence happens in small groups within the walled gardens of the social networks and therefore goes unnoticed. That will change in 2009 as social network analysis vendors help us peek into the walled gardens and as a result marketers will pay more attention. An event like the Motrin episode, in which a group of social media-fluent mothers managed to force Motrin to pull down an online video they found offensive, will not happen quite as this year because marketers will focus on SIM more.
2. The focus will shift to influencers. Who are these people that influence your customers and how does their influence actually work? This will come into sharper focus, as reaching the influencers gets easier via the social graph and the plethora of technology vendors that make targeting easier. Different influencers will matter at different stages of the marketing funnel, too. For example, at the point-of-purchase, friends and family may matter the most in determining what a consumer buys, while at the awareness stage, key influencers, like the bloggers at Edmunds.com ,carry more weight. We'll also find a way to put a valuation on each consumer's potential influence for specific product categories. Google and a few others are already taking a crack at defining your influence rank.
3. Top-down branding will experience growing impotence. Most brand managers are used to defining their brands in relative isolation of the marketplace -- or they do extensive customer research and see it as their jobs alone to define the brand or the manifestation of the brand in different forms. That's going to change as consumers define the brands by the sheer volume of their opinions. They'll be shaping the brands more than the brands will be shaping them. As a result, in order for them to be remembered, brands will be forced to deliver much stronger value propositions to their customers Cute advertising won't be enough as the focus shifts to value exchanges. If you're a brand manager, you can either fight this or treat it as an opportunity to take your career in a different direction.
- Users don't expect a Facebook fan page when they visit Skittles.com. It is disorienting. Nor do they expect to be redirected to a twitter search results page or a Wikipedia page.
- Pointing to an unfiltered search results of a twitter keyword is dangerous and if you scan the page you'll see what I mean. Some of the things being said are ugly and alienating. I've had to blur out some of the tweets in my screenshot of the page because they're that bad.
- The Twitter audience is not their customer. Focusing on Twitter can be a distraction. This may not apply to the other social platforms but then they should focus on those more directly and leverage them in a way that's in sync with their ethos. Are their customers' influencers on Twitter? I'm not even sure about that.
- I want to feel enticed when I visit the Skittles. Seeing a Wikipedia page does not create a craving for me. And I can't imagine it does much for the teens who are Skittle's core customers.
- By pointing to a search results stream, Skittles is not encouraging a conversation. Rather they're just telling us that random people mention Skittle in twitter conversations. Twitter's format doesn't allow you to follow an existing conversation easily making the stream appear gimmicky.
- Skittles is fueling voyeurism versus participation. It is a cop out to point me to the conversations. I'd rather the brand and its representatives engage with me and my friends directly maybe through a promotion or something.
- All buzz is not good buzz even for a brand like Skittles. Sure, this is creating a lot of buzz but some of it is negative and with the profanity the brand is being damaged too. Skittles needs to be careful.
I must admit I'm a little exhausted by all the talk of social media gurus. One day they're heroes another they're the scum of the earth. They're either going to save your brand from eternal irrelevance or they're Twitter freaks in search of attention. Both characterizations are wrong.
I've always felt that social media is a monumental consumer phenomena (after all guess where the talk about social media gurus is happening - on the social media sites!) but its impact on organizations is still being understood. I've come to believe that social media is even more important to companies than I earlier thought. But hiring a social media guru is not always the answer.
Enter Social Influence Marketing. At Razorfish, we define social influence marketing as employing social media and social influencers to achieve the marketing and business objectives of an organization. The definition is important because it places equal emphasis on the social influencers as it does on social media itself. It is fundamentally about recognizing that peers are influencing one another about brands and products more than any traditional form of marketing. Why does this matter? Because to harness social influence marketing you don't necessarily need social media gurus, you need to embrace the philosophies of social influence marketing throughout your company. You need to think about how you're marketing to your customer's social influencers as well.
Social Influence Marketing works when all your digital touch points are studied through the lens of social influence. Whether its your e-commerce website, your customer support efforts, your media buying, the public relations components, product innovation, the partner extranets - all of it must be looked at through the lens of social influence. The social media gurus that don't do this are the ones that probably provide less value. A holistic digital perspective accounting for how social influence works in the context of a business and an industry is what matters.
I don't think the backlash against the social media gurus is a bad thing. It'll force higher standards and will result in the more strategic thinkers getting the attention that they deserve. However, I believe in the long run social influence marketing is what matters much more than social media gurus per se. Whether a company hires gurus or chooses to push all its employees into the realm of social influence marketing (just as was done with digital a decade earlier), will probably determine how much it will gain from this consumer phenomena.
Here at Razorfish, our goal is to make it a part of every employee's job and those philosophies come to bear when we talk to clients. Social cannot be pigeonholed just as you cannot pigeon hole digital anymore. As you mull over this, take a look at Phil Johnson's "Will Twitter disrupt or enhance your business" piece in Ad Age. It touches upon some similar themes.