Understanding the Cost of Content for Social Media

Posted on August 27, 2009 by Comments Off

David Patton, Editor in Chief, WE Studio D

When WSJ.com was experimenting with social media like TwitterFacebook and Digg my thought was: This is a chance to publish our content on someone else’s site or platform (that had an established audience) for free. Sign us up.

For media companies this is a no brainer because they are all about creating content. They have reporters, writers and editors that are paid to create content or news that is in search of the widest audience possible. It takes minimal additional time to ensure the content is getting to social media outlets.

But what about organizations that aren’t media companies? They typically aren’t set up to be content creators or publishers. There are rarely reporters or writers on staff. Can organizations use social media as effectively if they don’t have those resources focused on content?

Yes, if they begin to think of marketing, communications and advertising teams as content creators and publishers. These resources also need to refocus some of their time on creating the right kind of content and getting that content onto social media platforms.

It’s important for organizations to look at social media not as an add on, but as a replacement for some of the things the organization might have done in the past.

As Tac Anderson wrote this week, it’s possible to measure the ROI of social media in many ways. Whole Foods has been very active in social media and feels it has a high ROI, but admitted in this Mashable post that it’s taken more time than expected.

While using social media is almost free (if done quickly and efficiently), especially when compared with ad placement, creating the content that will be effective in telling a story isn’t. But creating content that is authentic and credible, that lets the expertise and passion of the organization show through, is less expensive than creating slick marketing and ad content.

Is your organization shifting resources to content creation for social media from other tasks? Do you plan to?

Photo by Material Boy

How to Spend $65 Billion (Not on Advertising)

Posted on July 22, 2009 by Comments Off

Nathan Misner, Vice President, WE Studio D

Sunday Tribune:  Free Advertising, 28 June 2009

Image by Krishna De via Flickr

Over at Forbes.com today, they’ve published a quick Q&A with Anthea Stratigos, CEO of the media research group Outsell. Her latest study predicts $65 BILLION is going shift away from traditional advertising channels this year. This isn’t a surprise; we’ve seen some dreadful numbers across newspapersbroadcast andmagazine for a couple of years now (although this year even the previously relatively ‘safe’ September issues are getting walloped). There is something new that struck me, though.

The assumption over the past years has been that ad budgets would just scoot from offline platforms to their online platforms, but stay within the advertising discipline. The interesting part about the article was that Ms. Stratigos’ report doesn’t see that. She has that $65 billion big ones not shifting to online advertising such as banners, interstitials, keyword buys or sponsorships but instead to “owned” media — site content, SEO, rich on-site experiences and opportunities to engage with their customers.

As the internet and digital marketing discipline matures, consumers and customers expect a company’s web property to do something. It can’t just be a product site or a digital brochure, but rather it needs to create an emotional or aspirational connection between the brand and its target audience.

Take a site like Unilever’s dietary supplement brand Slim-Fast: There is actually very little product information on the site. Instead they’ve opted for content that aligns the Slim-Fast brand with an aspirational lifestyle including diet tips but also exercise regimens, nutrition guides plus community and social features including chatting with nutritionists, a support network and user-generated success stories.

For communications professionals we have a real role here. Some PR folks, who may have cut their teeth only doing media relations, helping our clients tell their stories directly to customers outside the 3rd party validation model (e.g. journalists) might feel uncomfortable. But this is where our experience in storytelling, nuance and audience understanding has a chance to add tremendous value.

In this type of content creation we have a responsibility to:

  • Help craft these stories and content so they contribute to our client’s master narrative
  • Know the audience’s media consumption habits to help determine what types of content are appropriate for the site
  • Know which content is appropriate to “eat in or take out” (i.e. What is best experienced on site, and what can be made sharable and embeddable for use on other blogs, social media pages, etc.)

This type of digital experience melding product branding with storytelling, tools and social media that is going to be infinitely more valuable to customers than the new-via-old advertising online advertising model of interrupt and repeat.

How ready are you to create and execute?

Are Virtual Billboards the Best Way to Engage Gamers?

Posted on June 22, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

Virtual BillboardChris Brogan made a good point in his newsletter this morning about the latest in-game ad spending projections … and the non-advertising opportunities brand marketers may be leaving on the table.

The projection for 2014, according to a PaidContent article, is $1 billion. The in-game advertising space is a hot one for a couple reasons:

  • Gamers are actively engaged so awareness is higher than with many traditional forms of advertising
  • The channel is not yet saturated (however, the medium’s early success may lead it to cannibalize itself)
  • Various research studies commissioned by the likes of Massive and NeoEdge Networks indicate a high degree of brand recognition and even brand affinity following exposure to in-game ads.

But beyond simply establishing brand awareness, what I personally would want to see for my clients is evidence that the influence and engagement needle is moving. And the gaming space is rife with opportunities for this. For one, gamers tend to be a passionate, engaged bunch. Merely creating brand awareness via a virtual billboard within line of sight misses the potential to create brand experiences and relationships with gamers.

Chris offers a couple good suggestions — allow gamers to play a game of “Gran Turismo 6″ against an individual from the brand; brand sponsorship of a professional racer to periodically play against you live online — although the challenge, he acknowledges, is that these scenarios typically don’t scale.


What if you empowered all of the gaming enthusiasts within your company to engage with other gamers in the space? What if each of these brand advocates was equipped to bring brand-sponsored giveaways to the gaming conversations taking place all over the Web? Not tchotchkes, but something relevant and meaningful — say a branded special limited release of a new game. And what if these brand advocates had a few extra giveaways on hand to give to select influencers within the community to pass along to their buddies?

Food for thought…

Why PR Isn’t Advertising

Posted on April 15, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

In a recent BusinessWeek Small Biz story, “Why PR is the Prescription,” author Steve McKee — an ad guy — touts the merits of PR for bringing attention to brands in a downturn. Noting the blurring lines and changing media dynamics, McKee offers suggestions to non-PR pros for navigating this murky terrain.

McKee also highlights the convergence that’s taking place between the advertising and PR disciplines, holding up the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of public relations (“the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution”) against the Crispin Porter + Bogusky employee handbook definition of advertising (“Advertising is anything that makes our clients famous”). McKee’s take on the two disciplines is that “other than stylistically, there is very little difference between the two. Both advertising and PR are all about generating attention and affection for their subjects.”

While I agree with McKee’s overall point — the lines are blurring, the media landscape is changing and the right story, told in the right way at the right time can drive profound impact for a brand — I’m inclined to disagree with his view on the relative interchangeability of advertising and PR.

Advertising is a fabulous tool for driving broad awareness and extending a defined and controlled message. As CP+G say, it’s about making brands “famous.” PR on the other hand is about building credibility and shifting perceptions — in a word, brokering influence. It’s less about fame and more about trust and believability.

This is a particularly important nuance for brands and communications practitioners when navigating the social media terrain. This is a space that the advertising mindset sees as a ripe opportunity for building and spreading brand fame like wildfire. But this is where the inflection on influence is key. On paid media channels, fame can be bought; in social media it must be earned.

And this is really the distinction between PR and advertising.

Twitter and AdSense — A Fruitful Marriage?

Posted on April 3, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

AdAge reported today that Google is selling ad units that allow marketers to stream their 5 most recent tweets across the AdSense network. So, in place of a traditional display ad, a recent tweet appears. Clicking on the tweet/ad takes the visitor to the company’s Twitter feed. @TurboTax is the first advertiser to sign up.

At first blush, this is an interesting concept, and a great example of meaningful integration across disciplines and platforms — definitely one to watch. Though not without some potential issues to iron out. A few thoughts:

Transparency. This is a new one for advertising — a paid media placement that isn’t scripted. Risky perhaps, but for many brands, a window in need of opening.

Human voice. Presumably the AdSense clients’ Twitter feeds aren’t being penned by copywriters, and as we’ve been hearing, on social media it’s the human voice that drives influence and credibility.

Copyright & Permission. OK, so what happens when @TurboTax retweets a follower’s tweet. As discussed in the case of the Mark Cuban saga, a person’s tweets are in fact subject to copyright if they are original thoughts. In Mark Cuban’s case, fair use comes into play because he’s a public figure and does not make money on his Twitter messages. But what if @TurboTax (or any other AdSense client) retweets a tweet posted by a private entrepreneur who uses Twitter to prospect for business leads, and this retweet is filtered through the AdSense units — mightn’t this run risk of copyright infringement? And even if it’s determined to not technically be copyright infringement in a given circumstance, aren’t a lot of individuals going to be irked to see their tweets or twitter handles pulled into a brand’s advertising without their permission?

Content. The AdSense units are a vehicle for reach; the Twitter feed a vehicle for authenticity and transparency — but at the end of the day, content is going to be what drives influence and determines ROI.

An AdSense feed such as this could be a very effective use of the medium and content (permission issues aside):


This, not so much:


“Human Voice,” Brand and the Wizard of Oz (Part 2)

Posted on March 19, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

Building on the question I posed yesterday – what does this “human” brand voice actually sound like, and how is it delivered? – a few further ruminations:

On Twitter, for example, it is argued that a best practice is to put forward employees to act as both themselves and brand ambassadors — this is the approach@Zappos is much applauded for. But not all marketing communications are, or will ever be, delivered via 140-character thought-bites — Twitter is still a very niche channel and also only one channel, more than a little over-hyped.

What of the rest of the mix?

A scroll down the #journchat Twitter stream reveals substantial discussion around the press release of the future, does it have a place, and specifically, its evolution into a news release (news announcements written for the end-audience, as opposed to an influencer audience of press and analysts). So what voice will it be written in?

JetBlue, for example, is a brand that carries a very strong, witty brand voice. And JetBlue is also widely recognized as an innovative communicator and power Twitter-user (for listening, relationship-building and promoting offers). But that voice and creativity has not yet carried over to JetBlue’s use of press releases, which are written in the familiar starchy corporate AP style.

With all the philosophizing and rallying around human voice, why do we think this is?

What sometimes gets missed in discussions around human voice within the social media context (and which in PR circles inevitably spills over into hypothesizing on voice in traditional PR communication tools) is that the “human” brand voice we associate with brands like JetBlue is not the same as the actual human voice we hear from Tony Hsieh of @Zappos on Twitter or an executive blog.

When a brand communicates in an official capacity, that voice is carefully crafted around an equally carefully crafted brand persona. Now, some might argue that in the future brand news will not be delivered in an official capacity, but instead via less formal, more direct communication channels such as blogs and social networks. Whether that actually proves to be the case or not, in the interim, what does the “human” voice of news delivery sound like? Does it sound like the JetBlue brand voice? And if so, how is it crafted?

Will PR writers reference the brand’s intricate brand style guide to write press releases? Will PR writers partner across disciplines with brand managers and creative directors to build the brand style guide? Will PR agencies hire copywriters to work beside editorial writers?

It’s a fast evolving space, and the rules and paths aren’t yet written. What do you think?

The new media Church-and-State mash-up

Posted on February 13, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Director, Integrated Communications – WE Studio D

The unhappy fate of the newspaper is TIME magazine’s cover story this week, with a “modest proposal” for a user-pay micropayment system laid out by former managing editor Walter Isaacson. The argument – by now familiar to us all – is that while the predominant philosophy online is in favor of information being free, quality reporting costs money, and quality news coverage therefore cannot – should not? – be free.

As we hear daily reports of declines in print circulation and sweeping newsroom layoffs, the irony is that news consumption is not down. In fact it’s up. But it’s online. And people aren’t paying for it.

Citing the Wall Street Journal’s model of charging a monthly subscription for the online editions, Isaacson notes that WSJ paid subscriptions were up by more than 7% in 2008. This may ultimately be the compromise audiences are willing to strike with a select number of elite news outlets that specialize in exceptionally high quality (read: costly) reporting. But it won’t work for all.

The trouble is, on the social web, information doesn’t stay put. And nor should it. That’s the beauty of it. On the social web, quality content – and influence – radiates in all directions.

Church, meet State

Isaacson may not approve, but there is another model playing out on the web. That which has traditionally been revered as the “Church” and “State” of editorial and commercial interface is beginning to blend into a single amalgam of “content.”

Though this may make the traditionalists among us squirm, here’s the rationale: The digitally-steeped generation of consumers has become accustomed to living in a world of mash-ups and social media in which content of all formats blurs together and consumers customize content in personalized online environments. Consequently, static ad formats like banners lack impact in this user-generated digital world; it’s the integration of brand and content that offers greater potential influence. And increasingly it’s this type of blended content experience that advertisers are looking to buy.

Examples of publishers moving in this direction are ESPN, which is integrating editorial and branded content via a prominent video player on its home page, as with the recent Ford F-150 ad. For some time Federated Media has also been espousing a strategic marketing model it refers to as “conversational marketing” – the idea being that advertisers that recognize and respect the conversation are invited to join the conversation. And popular social media blogger Chris Brogan is also experimenting with the model, publishing a Kmart-sponsored post on his Dad-O-Matic blog in December.

There is push-back to this blurring of lines – as both FM and Chris Brogan have witnessed. The key is maintaining full transparency. And there are certain lines that must not be crossed. Advertisers may be invited into the conversation, but integrity should not be compromised and reporters or bloggers should never be prevented from writing with authenticity.

Web 2.0 = Integration

Online, media brands dissolve. Driven by search, content is king and each story must live or die by its online relevance. Online, influence becomes less about stature and more about ambient resonance. How many fans and followers do you have? How many times is content retweeted and reposted? Did you make it onto Digg’s top story list?

As the news model shifts and reshapes itself, we see traditional reporters reinventing themselves as bloggers. As bloggers, reporters are no longer anonymous bylines behind neutral information, they are expected to put their personalities forward and build a community “fan” base. In this new world, reporters must become their own marketers, and begin thinking about relationship-building and influence-extending like PR practitioners.

Likewise, marketers have the opportunity to themselves become media. In a search- and social media-driven landscape, it’s the quality and relevance of content that drives consumption, not its source. But to be effective, marketers have to learn to think like publishers – they must place their focus squarely on the needs and wants of the audience, not the brand.

Motrin Moms

Posted on November 17, 2008 by Comments Off

David Almacy

Motrin ran into a bit of trouble with their new ad campaign this weekend.  They did a nice job with the creative, the script is tight and the animation in the video itself is pretty well done but there was just one *minor* problem.  Their message angered their primary target audience:  Moms!

Basically, their campaign is centered around the premise that “wearing babies” (carrying i.e. BabyBjörn style) can be, well, a pain – in the neck, shoulders, lower back, etc.

Angry moms flocked to sound off via social media, including:

The negative response has been overwhelming.  An organized protest effort has emerged urging Motrin to take the ads off their website and put a stop to the print campaign.  Many indicated that they went to Motrin’s website to email their thoughts and feedback.  According to one blogger, a Motrin marketing VP (McNeil Consumer Healthcare) responded via email.  I attempted to visit it, as well, but http://www.motrin.com wasn’t loading.  Either they pulled the whole site down or massive traffic crashed their servers.

Now, before one jumps to the incorrect conclusion that the Internet is to blame for this backlash, let’s take a step back and not condemn the medium. Fundamentally, Motrin just missed the mark here and instead of phone calls and letter writing, consumers simply chose to voice their concerns online.  Hopefully, Motrin will learn some valuable lessons from this and attempt to engage their critics in the same venue.  There is an opportunity to remedy the situation by reaching out to key influencers in the “MomBlog” universe, build relationships, form focus groups and solicit their ideas to avoid future missteps.

In the meantime, I imagine that Motrin executives will require extra doses of their own product for the next few weeks.

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