"Closing the Information-Gap" by Sasha Strauss, Managing Director & CEO, Innovation Protocol
Twenty-four months ago, CEO clients responded to the notion of social media with “don’t waste my time talking to me about that childish thing.” Now, they’re asking how they and their organization can elevate themselves to a leadership position in their category on the back of social media. Oh, and “please define tangible, financial benefits” along the way. This ubiquitous gap leads to all kinds of problems—the biggest one being apprehension. To mitigate this nauseous sensation, I suggest three things to ponder:
COST: Contrary to popular belief, social media isn’t free. Organizations shouldn’t just participate in online communities—they must strive to lead the discussion. That’s never been free in any sector, why would it be in the most powerful communication channel in history? Social media will take money to increase visibility or address the needs of your audience. For example, last year, Pepsi skipped the Super Bowl and launched The Pepsi Refresh Project. The campaign received over 61 million votes from users giving input on various initiatives - from building playgrounds to donating pajamas. The program gathered more than $14 million to fund 352 projects, and they’re fully committed to the project for 2011. What kind of tangible benefits will Pepsi receive from something like this? It actually isn’t even measurable—not yet anyway. What matters is that they’ve essentially shifted their target demographic and converted a brutal advertising spend into a social campaign that is positively impacting millions. That social impact translates into an army of supporters/believers/advocates/customers that prefer Pepsi now over the alternative.
VOICE: What you “sound” like within the social media sphere is also extremely important. Social media allows an organization with countless voices to condense that cacophony into virtually a single sound. For example, the voice of Zappos (@Zappos) on Twitter is CEO Tony Hseih. He has over 1.7 million followers and shows his fluency in the social media space by using powerful features (like hashtags: #) while taking the time to engage and publicly refer to other users. As both the CEO and official Twitter voice, Tony sets the tone for Zappos and can clearly represent the brand, no matter what the circumstance or context. It’s an authentic dialogue that followers use to connect with their favorite online retailer, and Zappos can use their social media observations to understand their connection with their audience. As an individual, Tony can speak on behalf of his industry, consumers or even himself—because it’s authentic, it’s social, and it’s timely. This freedom flawlessly represents the Zappos brand, but might not necessarily work for a more conservative organization like Disney. Disney’s audience is so diverse—and, potentially, so concerned about general internet content, that Disney has actively decided NOT to have a singular social media voice. Or a social media voice at all. Robert Iger, the CEO doesn’t have a Twitter account – but he understands the power of the environment. For example, his company recently purchased the social-gaming company Playdom and launched the “Let the Memories Begin” campaign. It takes user-generated social media content of happy park-goers enjoying themselves publicly for use in advertisements and promotions. In fact, this month Disney World began projecting guest photos onto Cinderella’s castle and on Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” in California – it’s media, it’s social and it’s universally desired and consumed.
MEASUREMENT: We’ve covered the cost of social media, and therefore it’s clear that content blasting around the Internet would have financial implications. So the final consideration must be measurement. Social media enables users to publicly portray their affinity for content posted by clicking “Like” or adding the person/organization as a “Friend.” This mark of popularity has quickly become a barometer for content relevancy. While your number of “Likes” or “Friends” are great indicators of interest, they’re just a temporary acknowledgement of your relevance. What also must be considered is WHO is publicly endorsing you. In offline retail, it’s the difference between your friend Sally telling you she loves Miracle Whip and Oprah mentioning it in an interview. The validity of the endorsement is correlated with the significance of the endorser. The prestige of endorsers is a more accurate measurement of how well your social media strategy is doing. Fortunately, there are plenty of free tools to measure your impact and influence in social media. For example, Google Analytics is a free service that supplies detailed information about visitors, like where they’re coming from (physically and online) and what they’re doing when they arrive.
If you want to get a strong sense of how social media can build advocacy – but how it also requires deep analysis of cost, voice and measurement, check out the explosive advocacy around Old Spice. Yeah, your dad’s deodorant. A brand nearly written off by grocery retailers worldwide. In a last-stitched effort to capture youth attention, the brand launched a series of video responses by towel-clad Isaiah Mustafa that directly addressed casual users and celebrities alike. In this world of “Likes” and proprietary analytics, Old Spice’s social media managers were able to look at the number of views each video had, the followers it generated, and immediately measure user behavior and sales on their site. In as little as a few months, marketing managers attained bottom-line results that reflected consumer understanding and the eventual retail action it informed. More importantly however, Old Spice is building a community of advocates that will follow and listen to the brand as it continues to evolve. They’re now listening… what you tell them next is yet another chapter in the ever-evolving game of social media marketing.
I suggest that you do not fear the beast that is media pushed through social channels. Embrace and look at the next 6 months as an opportunity. An opportunity to gather fans, learn from their words, support them through social actions and grow your understanding of the market you’re trying so aggressively to own. Just think, organizations of all sizes and budgets can finally engage their audiences with real-time mass communication. I’ve dreamt about this very notion since my first days in the communication field. I was disappointed that press releases took weeks to grab media attention. I was frustrated that even the wealthiest brands had to write, produce and distribute print media campaigns to clarify false assumptions thrown into the public sphere. Today, it’s nowMedia. It’s in controlledMedia. It’s what we’ve always wanted: social media.