Monday, September 29, 2014

Help vs. Hype

Social and online content that helps, rather than sells, is the best way to win the hearts and minds of consumers. Especially in modern business, when there is huge competition for attention, how you build your business in terms of trust and consumer confidence matters.

Jay Baer is a New York Times bestseller, marketing consultant and the second-most retweeted person by B2B marketers. In a nifty little podcast, he explained the difference between the two social media marketing approaches, and here is my summation:

Utility, or as Jay coined it "youtility," is key. If you want your brand to stand out, provide tools or content that helps your consumer make educated decisions or access crucial information. The target audience should find some use or benefit in your offering, whether or not its directly related to your product or service. The preference for your useful content can drive the consumer toward a preference for your brand.

According to Jay, brands tend to shy away from providing an adequate level of helpful marketing for free for fear of losing proprietary stock or competitors imitating content. However, withholding your "secret for success" is working actually against you. There are no secrets, and if you don't provide helpful content for your consumers, someone else will. Just because you have all the ingredients and a recipe, doesn't make you a chef. Finesse and focus make all the difference. Successful brands hone in on a niche audience or content type/style and give away all they know bit by bit.

Helpful content also facilitates trust between brand and consumer. Brands that capitalize on help-centric marketing are confident in their own thought leadership and are comfortable when other people begin to advocate for and tell the brand story; a hallmark of a thoughtful and mutually beneficial relationship.

On the other end of the spectrum, hype marketing is essentially tooting your own horn. It's the intent to sell without any depth, youtility or consideration of the end-user. Hype casts a wide, overly-optimistice net and lacks focus; a marketing interaction that consumers tolerate, at best.

Jobseekers, apply Jay's thoughts on helpful marketing to yourself and your job search. Don't just tell 'em, show 'em.

Jason Swenk featuring Jay Baer article here.

Comments open to all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Don't #Ask

Q&A and #Ask sessions sprout up all the time and are pretty common on Twitter for people and brands alike. But far too often these seemingly short-lived and simple PR campaigns become unruly and unstoppable monsters.

You should evaluate what you or your brand may be risking if you decide to candidly engage in an unfiltered, real-time conversation with the anonymous, opinionated and vocal beings of the Internet. So, is a social Q&A or #ask sesh a useful or meaningful marketing tactic? My short answer is no. Although, of course there are always variations and exceptions where there's a possibility it could go surprisingly well.

Maybe the Internet has gotten meaner, but I don't think any of the following responses were unpredictable. Here are a few cautionary tales of brands that got it so horribly, horribly wrong:

Poor Roger Goodell. The recent, highly-publicized domestic violence in the NFL isn't the first time the commissioner has had a nasty go-round with passionate Tweeters or an association with a less-than-postive hashtag. In May of this year, someone in the NFL camp thought it'd be a good idea to have Goodell participate in an open forum Q&A to... Actually, I'm not sure what the intended goal of this campaign was because it was orchestrated at a time when football-related concussions/traumatic head injuries and racist team names were blazingly hot topics, even outside the not-so-small world of professional sports. The NFL used the hashtag #AskCommish, and the resulting participation was far from ideal. Some tweets were crudely funny, some were completely irrelevant, but most attacked Goodell, the brand and the institution head-on and for everyone to see. Take a look at some of the tweets here. Be warned, grown-up language ahead.

J.P. Morgan almost held its first live Q&A session last year with the hashtag #AskJPM. However, the day before the scheduled event, the hashtag was already hijacked. It failed, and it failed hard with more than 18,000 tweets in 24 hours, not a single one of which was kind. The bank originally hoped the hashtag would connect consumers with a knowledgable executive who would field questions related to leadership and career advice, but the tweets that followed harshly criticized the bank's behavior and ethics. One tweet read, "Do your clothes fit better without the added weight of a soul? #AskJPM." The avalanche of negative tweets was too overwhelming for J.P Morgan, and it consequently cancelled the Q&A session, simply stating it was a "bad idea."

The NYPD is another brand that made a faulty attempt at good PR via social media, and it sure did escalate quickly. To boost perception of and solicit goodwill toward the Big Apple's boys in blue, the NYPD PR and social team encouraged the public to take a picture with a friendly officer and post the photo on Twitter with the hashtag #myNYPD. This was ultimately received as an open invitation to mock the department and publicize several instances of police brutality and misconduct. Twitter was flooded with disturbing photos all united under the #myNYPD hashtag. The campaign backfired in a big way, and several high-ranking officials are still reluctant to admit complete failure or acknowledge the newly unearthed ill-will and resentment.

Is it at all possible for #Ask to go right? Maybe. Brands and celebrities that use a moderator or have a strictly defined goal could have better luck. LiveNation's Twitter account does a pretty good job at this. The account hosts different musicians throughout the year and filters and chooses the questions the artists receive and publicly answer, being a trusty middleman.

However, I don't think I would ever advise my friend or my client (or even myself) to bet on such a risky and volatile tactic. The Q&A sessions appear to continually be a popular brand perception tool, but it is not one I would recommend incorporating into a social media marketing plan.

AdAge article here.

Disagree with me or itching for an intellectual debate? Comments open to all.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Good Kind of YouTube Stardom

Digital word of mouth is a hot commodity, and no one has this masted quite like YouTube stars.

YouTube is an awesome way to showcase products, and YouTube stars have huge influence in saying what's cool and what works. They also enjoy a very loyal and passionate fanbase. The comparatively lengthy video content is at least a marketing tool and at most a valuable friendship between creator and viewer.

Entertainment, fashion and lifestyle YouTube channels dominate in the online cult-like followings, which is why brands tend to emulate their styles and content. The commitment YouTube celebs have to their fans, even in the midst of corporate attention, is quite admirable as well. It'd be wise for brands to use a similar foundation when marketing to audiences via social media.

So, think of this as a launching pad for your long-awaited YouTube stardom. Or at least a quickie  guide for brands who are looking to partner with this influential bunch and/or cultivate a similar following.

1. Embrace the nuances of your brand's behavior. Don't abandon your identity, but do develop an audience-centric mindset.

2. Don't overcommercialize, and be picky about endorsements. Viewers know the difference between a sales pitch and honest usage. Pro-YouTubers suggest incorporating the product or brand in a way that makes sense, and remember it's ok to say no to endorsements or partnerships. Keep the interests of your audience at heart.

3. 30-second pre-roll is annoying and doesn't work. Try a five or 10-second bumper instead. YouTube audiences understand that ads fund their free content, and they're ok with that, but to a point. Relevancy is important if you want to be remembered, too.

4. Don't repeat what you did on TV. Viewers are less passive here, just like other social media platforms. They want the option to interact, and it's difficult to do that with an iteration of a TV spot.

5. Get to know the taste and humor of your intended audience.  It makes it a lot easier to tailor content to their needs.

6. Ulterior motives are not cool. This should be a no-brainer, but worth the reminder. You are trying to build a relationship, not a one-time transaction.

7. Natural growth is far and beyond better than forced growth. Let viewers like you for you. Avoid the overwhelming acts of desperation for likes, shares, favorites, etc... If authenticity shines through and viewers' needs are appropriately met, they will be more inclined to continue a friendship.

8. If you are going to pursue a YouTube channel, make it a priority and keep it maintained. Out-of-date and out-of-touch material isn't doing either party any favors.

9. A genuine interest in viewer happiness. As in, "What is the real reason you are invading YouTube with your product or brand message?"

Good luck to you and to them.

I pulled some wisdom from two websites this week, as well as a few successful YouTubers:

Marketing Magazine article here.

Fast Company article and video here.

Missglamorazzi EvanTube HD iJustine Schmoyoho

Disagree with me or itching for an intellectual debate? Comments open to all.

Monday, September 8, 2014

You might like this #WCW

There is a right way for brands to participate in trending hashtags.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I'm a huge Law & Order: SVU fan and an even bigger Mariska Hargitay fan. #BensonandStablerForever. So, when I saw the latest promo for NBC's Fall line-up, I was excited, to say the least. The TV spot features Mariska with Sophia Bush and Debra Messing, each representing her new or returning crime-fighting television show. The ad is overflowing with girl power and emphasizes that "your Wednesdays will never be the same." #WomanCrushWednesday is onscreen for the duration of the spot, and the three women even form the letters "WCW" with their hands. (It's a good bet that all three programs air on Wednesdays, too.)

The hashtag you know and love has infiltrated traditional media.

Promotional hashtagging is nothing new. Brands are quick to participate real-time conversations and use existing hashtags to become embedded in relevant topics. Most of the time, it's in effort to further a brand message when convenient. Brands may also create unique hashtags to publicize a short-term campaign. The problem with this type of hashtag usage is that it usually lasts for just a blip in time. It's short-lived and spur-of-the-moment.

NBC takes these tactics a step further. The #WCW hashtag bridges traditional media to social media. By perpetuating #WCW, it has created a hybrid trending-campaign hashtag; here's a topic that is consistently and regularly trending used to promote a related, short-term campaign. NBC crafted an appropriate strategy around something that exists naturally in the social media environment, and the best part is the message will be the same every Wednesday. No need to develop more or different content for the duration of the campaign.

NBC incorporates several important aspects of social media marketing. The TV spot targets the usual suspects who would respond favorably to the ad as well as accept the offer to join the conversation online. The television networks, the programming bookends, the dayparts... It was all considered to reach the intended audience. I first saw the spot while I was watching the SVU marathon last Sunday on USA. This was no coincidence. Online, NBC was smart to use a hashtag that spans the majority of social networks. Hashtag participation is easy, and it doesn't feel like endorsement. It's likely anyone with a Twitter account will encounter Mariska, Sophia or Debra on their timelines soon, and whether or not they fully process the ad, they will have at least been exposed. And I'd have to agree that these talented, career-driven women are indeed crush-worthy.

A variation of social media marketing that I especially appreciate is when brands are resourceful and use a no-waste approach to a campaign. Circumstances and tools are sometimes so plainly visible, that all that's left to do is connect the dots. This NBC promotional drive is a great example of connecting the dots.

Social Media Today article here.

Follow NBC here and Mariska here.

Disagree with me or itching for an intellectual debate? Comments open to all.