Friday, December 3, 2010

When It Comes to Facebook, Relevance May Be Redefined

To Create Conversation, Simple, Random and Banal May Be a Brand's Best Bets

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NEW YORK ( -- May 4, as you may or may not know, is National Star Wars Day, a fact recognized by no less august bodies than the Los Angeles City Council and the Church of Jediism, a George Lucas-inspired denomination that counts itself as the fourth-largest church in the United Kingdom. This year the occasion was also marked by the folks at BlackBerry, who updated their corporate Twitter account to read "May the 4th Be With You."

What does BlackBerry have to do with Star Wars? Not much, other than selling an app that turns your Torch or Tour into a faux light saber. But that didn't stop the tweet from being one of the company's most effective -- a phenomenon Brian Wallace, VP-global digital at BlackBerry parent Research In Motion, had to try to explain to colleagues.

Oreo strikes a balance between promotion and chat on Facebook.
Oreo strikes a balance between promotion and chat on Facebook.
"I remember getting emails from my peers asking me why we would post such a thing and was this why we created our Twitter channel," he wrote in an email interview. "My response was that this post reached over 150,000 people, 98% of the posts were positive, most tweets made a positive association with our brand, and it drove a 15% increase in our followers. Now what's the value of all that to our company? For the cost of $0.00 we have increased positive brand sentiment, generated a measurable earned-media value and now have 20,000+ more people who I can share product-related information to. Not a bad ROI."

Redefining relevance Marketing executives all over the world are having experiences not dissimilar to Mr. Wallace's. Relevance has long been a central tenet of effective advertising, but the rise of Facebook and Twitter are forcing a redefinition of the term. As it turns out, many people in social networks don't want to talk about your product, they just want to talk. We've long known that inserting brands into social-media channels requires a conversational touch, but many are surprised by just how conversational. There's increasing evidence that the most-effective kinds of marketing communications on these websites are simple, random, even banal statements or questions driven by the calendar or the whim of a writer that may not have anything to do with the brand in question.

What are you doing this weekend? What is your ideal vacation? What's your favorite movie or book? On Veteran's Day, BlackBerry posted a simple holiday-related message that received nearly 8,000 likes and more than 500 comments, many of which consisted of veterans thanking the brand and posting their PINs, allowing others to contact them via BlackBerry messenger. Reaction to that update far outpaced other recent ones concerned with products or tips.

It's never been particularly easy or cheap to get 8,000 people to do anything for a brand, but Twitter and Facebook may be changing that. "We're so used to advertising and marketing being highly reviewed, high-production-quality creative on which you spend a lot of money and time, and there's a whole flow built on creating and approving it, said Michael Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media. "All the sudden, a very simple question, like 'What's your favorite movie?' is engaging your customers and that's your creative. People say 'Whoa.'"

With more than 500 million people on Facebook and Twitter closing in on 200 million users, "stream marketing," as Mr. Lazerow describes it, will be crucial. What goes into those ceaseless rivers, alongside updates and content from friends, said Mr. Lazerow, "is some of the most powerful and important creative that we're going to be dealing with." On the part of the writers, that requires a different ability that's far from what's been traditionally needed in marketing. Said Mr. Wallace, "You need to be skilled at understanding how a seemingly random-type message can -- in the end -- contribute to the company brand and/or behavioral objectives."

Content should lean toward conversational Mr. Lazerow, whose company makes tools that help brands manage their Facebook presences, estimates that roughly two-thirds of a company's Facebook content should be conversational in nature. The exact ratio, however, depends on what it's trying to achieve. While there's no across-the-board data on how conversational posts compare to promotional ones, he said the evidence is clear. He pointed me to a few different examples on Facebook where those conversational posts produce eight to 12 times the response of more brand-oriented ones. "It's not always about your brand," he said. "It's about why people are there to connect with other people, [gettng them] to connect with you because they like you. The numbers speak for themselves."

Oreo is masterful in handling that balance between promotion and conversation. Consider the responses from several recent questions:

  • "Ever try dunking an Oreo cookie with a fork or anything else?" 8,200 likes and 2,300 comments
  • "Pick a flavor, any flavor! If you could create a new Oreo cream flavor, what would it be?" 7,100 likes, 12,500 comments
  • "Pop quiz: Twist, lick, then..." 6,500 likes, 6,200 comments

In case you're wondering, these numbers aren't far off what posts on Lady Gaga's page might do. Not bad for a 98-year-old cookie brand. Oreo's Facebook fan base has grown by 3 million since late October, giving it over 15 million fans. It's one of three brands, along with Coke and Starbucks, to penetrate a top 25 dominated by celebrities, entertainment properties and Texas Hold Em Poker.

The Kraft cookie's Facebook presence originates from a department at the digital agency 360i, which, with a dozen writers who work off pre-planned editorial calendar, is as organized as any publication and is now bigger than many. That department reaches more than 30 million fans across a long list of brands, including Coca-Cola, JC Penney, Lysol and Jell-O. Those writers typically have experience talking to people on behalf of brands, often as community managers in non-social network settings.

Inspire feedback "When you have ad agencies or copywriters writing your Facebook copy, it ends up being promotional in nature and if you're not inspiring feedback no one's going to care," said Sarah Hofstetter, senior VP-emerging media and brand strategy at 360i. "You can only talk about your product so much. Balance that with you're not trying to be their best friend, you're trying to achieve some marketing objective."

For Oreo, as Ms. Hofstetter explains it, those objectives are both fan-base growth and engagement on the page. For other clients, it's a whole different thing. Bravo, for instance, is interested in clicks and views of the videos of its shows. BlackBerry's Mr. Wallace said that success is about getting likes, or shares, or comments. Or maybe the person will click on an ad or post a photo or video he or she took with a BlackBerry.

"In the end it's behavior-based," said Mr. Wallace. "A Facebook fan has no value. Getting a Facebook fan to do something does."

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Subscribe to comments on: When It Comes to Facebook, Relevance May Be Redefined
By matthewcreamer | NEW YORK, NY November 29, 2010 01:04:57 pm:
@Barry. I think you can argue that a "like" is inherently a moment of consumer evangelism. What it's worth in dollar terms is another story, though plenty of marketers have assigned earned media weight to these things. You can definitely sniff at this -- and maybe you should -- but, really, does every interaction between a consumer and a brand have to kick to the bottom line?
By Story_Jon | Norwalk, CT November 29, 2010 10:45:15 am:
The value of "stream marketing" is astounding. I think if you told a brand marketer 10 years ago that millions of people would be viewing a stream of updates from friends every day where brands could be included (via opt-in), I think their head would explode. Especially when you consider all of the ways we, as consumers, can block out traditional advertising nowadays (iPod instead of radio, DVR/time-shifting vs live TV, RSS vs. newspaper/magazine). We so hate to be interrupted that to say to a brand "Yes, come into my life and connect with me daily" is far more valuable than most realize. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Overstep your boundaries and you can be "unliked" and kicked out of their digital lives with a single click. Realize the privilege you (as a brand) are given, and provide content that's valuable, engaging, and entertaining to keep your audience coming back, or at least to earn your welcome. Jon Thomas
By Kirkistan | Saint Paul, MN November 29, 2010 08:28:41 am:
Fascinating article. It turns out the very human-need to interact, to voice an opinion, trumps brand management. Brands succeed by locating the crevices in conversations where they add to (versus control) the conversation.
By EricaCamilo | Lexington, MA November 29, 2010 10:30:49 am:
Great article and great read ... especially on a post-holiday Monday. Thanks for sharing. I wonder how this translates to the B2B world.
By DarrinSearancke | Halifax, NS November 29, 2010 11:32:52 am:
It's true. Relevant interaction with followers/fans (read: brand advocates) does not require shoving your brand down their throats at every point in the 'conversation'. Small talk has a place in every environment.
By mickeylonchar | Spokane, WA November 29, 2010 01:01:03 pm:
Some of the "conversation starters" you referenced fall into what I call "chewing gum posts"--posted for empty engagement only, with nothing that is really really meaningful for the audience. Just as many marketers once put a premium on attracting a large number of "fans," (which, as Mr. Wallace points out is a meaningless metric), now they seem to have evolved to a point where engagement of any type is the goal. I sense that this too shall pass, if for no other reason than social media audiences will tire of it. While timely topical posts need to be accommodated, it is important for marketers to commit to a strong content strategy. Ask, "What can we do to help people?" and use that as a starting point. Find your audience's "category pain points" and help find solutions to them. And yeah, be entertaining and human about it too. If your social media presence adds value to the audience's experience, they'll stay and will spread you to others. If, however, the majority of your content is of the "Hello? Is anybody listening?" variety, I doubt that will be the case.
By pbehnia | Chicago, IL November 29, 2010 08:14:29 am:
Really enjoyed reading this! I also have to put in a good word for the M&Ms Facebook page. It has many of the same great attributes of the Oreo page: humor, community building and brand equity reinforcement. Regards, Parissa Behnia
By VickieJazz | Wayne, NJ November 29, 2010 09:48:20 am:
This is excellent advice for marketers who are not quite sure what to do with social media in the mix. Especially for a food or restaurant brand - people don't really want to carry on a conversation about your broadcast. It's not about push marketing - it's conversation further up the marketing funnel and it WORKS. Vickie
By ldmerriam | New York, NY November 29, 2010 09:49:34 am:
Although don't get too banal--it sure isn't working for Ziploc: v
By ChaseMcMichael | Menlo Park, CA November 29, 2010 04:00:33 pm:
Matt, great post were seeing based on crowd sourced social intelligence that consumers are engaging around content marketing just may not be on the brand directly. The big question "is the brand a leader in a content category" The biggest challenge we see is most brands don't know what their audience is really into and what gets them engaged. Through the Content Consumption Graph there is a way to access this trending information and relate it back to your brand. People that are active around your brand are also active on others. The others are very valuable and what content is being shared provides direction on what's relevant. I did a spot on "Influencer, Content Intelligence and Social Engagement" that address this head on and would like your feedback. @chasemcmichael @infinigraph
By dpuner | Boston, MA November 29, 2010 04:00:46 pm:
Good food for thought, Matthew. Banal content, I hope (and think, for that matter), will not work successfully for most brands as ongoing practice. There should be some sort of greater purpose or deeper meaning, for example, to asking likers/followers if they had a nice weekend. I ran with this a bit via blog: Thanks for the inspiration.
By BudgetJustified | Vienna, VA November 29, 2010 05:00:43 pm:
My underwear itches. @IfSheWereAMan
By TONI | WILTON, CT November 29, 2010 09:00:01 pm:
Matt - stream of marketing is great concept but what you are really seeing is marketing that takes a far more journalistic approach - hence, editorial calendars and writers who are not copy writers. The best facebook, twitter, social media engagements are those that are based on the story... what journalists do best.
By craigmurray | Columbus, OH November 30, 2010 10:25:47 am:
Great write-up. Relevance is certainly a relative term, and we constantly strive to understand and thread that into our brand's DNA in social channels. Brian Wallace's comments on ROI are spot on. Craig
By cpmurphy15 | New York, NY November 30, 2010 10:31:25 am:
This is definitely the right direction for Social Media, this is overlooked or deemed unproductive for a brand. But it still isn't quite there. With agencies and brands working off a "pre-planned editorial calendar" there is still potential for a lot more real time conversation between brand and consumer. Which brings me to my next point, that we are not trying to just "Inspire Feedback," we should be inspiring conversation one on one. 20-30 years ago the best way to sell a product was door-to-door sales. Well social media is the new medium for door-to-door sales, but instead of door-to-door it's profile-to-profile and not a salesman, but a representative. These brands are setting the right example and leading the social media movement, but there is still a lot of land yet to be explored and pushed.
By bojojohn | PITTSBURGH, PA November 30, 2010 12:39:35 pm:
Relevancy is key. However, I can't tell you how many of my wall posts this season began with "and what are you doing/what did you do this weekend"? As a busy working mom, I pass those questions by. I will answer them from my friends, not from a brand. And therein lies the rub. Give me something entertaining and I'll share it. Give me banality and I'll unfriend.
By meblair | Bowling Green, KY November 30, 2010 02:05:16 pm:
These people may not have bought the product per-se, but they expressed their content with the product and brand. By publicy expressing a "like" for a brand, you are drawing consumers closer to your brand and creating engagement that was not there before. I think this is a great article and really explains people's need and desire for interaction and conversation. Any way in which a brand/product can create conversation with and between consumers, it is a good way of keeping the name in the public eye!
By carlaimindspr | Pasadena, CA November 30, 2010 02:26:26 pm:
Interestingly enough, this is what my almost 15 year old son tells me - lessons learned from that demographic. I think that a combination of engaging in conversation where people feel their response (or a collective response) is heard and some kind of relevancy is key. I agree with the person writing about journalistic approach - telling a story, there are a lot of us out there that both love hearing and telling a story. And that clearly is more interactive and nuanced then advertising copy or randomness just for the sake of randomness (although that to becomes a story at times, not to get lost in riddles here "when is a story not a story).
By Thom | New York, NY December 2, 2010 07:18:21 am:
Very good insights + advice here re the death and rebirth of "copy" in the post digital mix. There are still a handful of guys myopically whistling past the graveyard in comments here, but progress is certainly being made. @tkennon |
By jkintzler | Riverton, WY December 2, 2010 09:00:13 am:
At PitchEngine, we're finding that yesterday's AP format press releases are being replaced successfully with conversational, engaging content by creative authors. That, coupled with multimedia and other assets has absolutely redefined the public relations practitioner's word doc mentality. As a former journalist, I love that good writing still counts. But, as a social media guy, I'm more impressed at the uniqueness of what's being written for specific audiences online. @jasonkintzler
By enghou | Singapore December 2, 2010 11:05:59 am:
This is quite an inspirational article.
By davidch999 | London, X December 2, 2010 11:19:20 am:
I'm finding (and using) more conversational language. Not just in social media. And not just online. Traditional corporate communication styles now seem less relevant. They're often full of gobbledygook, they're stuffy, and they take too long! I help develop corporate exectuvies' bravey when they're communicating and presenting. It's easier said than done.
By jbledsoejr | Fishers, IN December 3, 2010 12:27:33 am:
Great post! (light bulb goes on) this helps me as I've sometimes wondered (and been frustrated) that some of the most trivial posts have generated way more feedback than the promotional posts.
By alexavery | Flinders Lane November 30, 2010 08:59:42 pm:
It's curious that people seem to look to case studies by companies with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of brand equity investment behind them, a brand name product, that then engage in "successful social media" (compare to what?) and are then somehow considered poster boys for a new industry. There is almost nothing transferable from an Oreos case study to an SME or hyper-local brand. I believe in social media channels. I don't believe in hype. This is very much the latter. Here's why: This is a three point article, but point three is really a couple of paragraphs of point two. Be relevant and be responsive? I wonder if you practise what you preach... Throw Facebook into the heading for a hook. Use Star Wars in the first sentence... Matthew Creamer, you're worse than George Bush yucking it up with Zucks. I wonder if you've got a book coming out too. Slow news day huh?
By Barry | Los Angeles, CA November 29, 2010 11:21:32 am:
You've got to be kidding me - this is clearly an example of the echo chamber delusion that a lot of digital marketers exist in. So 8,000 people pressed "like" on facebook. Did they buy the product? Did they evangelize the product to a friend? Are people who answer questions on random twitter feeds influencers or, in this case, decision makers in the supermarket? Yes, you picked up more followers for nothing - if that gets you paid, congratulations but don't kid yourself that your brand or bottom line is being forwarded.

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