Alternative marketing thinking

iCONTRACT

Mum’s on Twitter. #Help

She’s 72, mom is, and she has a new toy. Hashtags. Unleashing her fury on the village fishmonger. Pomfret not fresh #eipcfail. Auto drivers, vegetable vendors, the weatherman and now the fishmonger, all at the receiving end of her recent and often generous use of hashtags.

She DMs (direct messages) me often. “r u in del?” Checking on my recently busy travel schedule. “Feeling g8”, giving me feedback after her 5K morning walk. Were’s da cheq?? Asking when the cheque I promised her will reach. I respond promptly, avoiding #epicfail(s) and #nasty(s) as she plays around with the grammar of another tool she’s just discovered.

Mum’s been a learner all her life. Over a decade ago she enrolled for Literacy Mission’s evening classes – to learn Kannada- when she moved to Bangalore. She attended every class, the certificate she received now adorns her mantel shelf.

I wonder if she’s heard of Google+ yet. There’s been so much talk about it recently that the local news channel must have reported something. Mum hasn’t sent me a DM yet via Twitter, “where’s my Google+”, not yet. Knowing mum it could come in anytime.

I wish the world had a bit of mum’s spirit. Plunging headlong and trying out new and unknown things. In the digital world, registering and using emerging tools and technology platforms.

Now I can foresee smart one liners coming my way. But hold on a minute.

Despite all our early cribs and complaints about not wanting to let the world know about when we burped or farted via our status alerts, hasn’t Facebook become our fireplace on the web? Come on now. Aren’t we almost unconsciously clicking on and reading the odd Twitter link or enjoying juvenile cat videos posted on YouTube?

So how come we get into these discussions on the need for another platform? When we don’t even know how useful it might turn out when a million of your friends sign up to it. How useful and serendipitous Foursquare could be if we bumped into an old flame at an airport when checking in becomes a new favourite game. When an Instagram you posted get 20 “loves” from people who we’ve never ever met.

I am not a new platform junkie as many of my friends think I am. No I’m not. Trawling Mashable and GigaOm to see when new digital toy is signing up alpha users. This is not a manifesto for that sort of thing. But I do have my ears on the ground; discovering, using and trying to understand the next tool that could change people’s behaviours and effect the way we live. I am a sucker for that. About being where people are, and knowing why we do what we do. A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools – it happens when society adopts new behaviours declared Clay Shirky. Wonder when mum will RT that.

The Genius of Social Media

Like my friend Reem Saied, if you have a habit of looking at Twitter trends, you too must have noticed a rogue trend a few days ago. Govind Tiwari. The man was No 1 in India and No 5 worldwide in Twitter’s trending topics.

Govind Tiwari from Allahabad as his blog proudly introduced him. A funky, retro site that struggled to keep up with the traffic that landed on the page.

He was either a brilliant marketing idea or some white hat spoof (I had a few warnings pop up on my anti virus, as I clicked on some links) designed to show off the power of social media.

The event had all the elements of a wonderfully worked new media campaign. Like with Twitter, the man’s images had taken the pole position on Google Images. A Facebook page (half a dozen gold diggers too) that is nicely curated. A Linkedin profile that said he is an engineering student (a new one that came up a few hours later gave him more credibility.) A YouTube page, Govind Tiwari 11, created a few months ago. And of course an Orkut page, Orkutiya as he called it, where he invited people to be fraands.

The digital world recognized his genius though. With the buzz the topic was getting, experts are chipping in. He could have made over $ 35,000 in Google ad revenues in a day with the traffic he got on his page says this tweet. Someone advised him to join Apple or Microsoft. Plugged.in talked about SEO lessons from Govind Tiwari, his blog was the top result on Google during the frenzy.

Brands are lining up to make hay. Kingfisher promised him a month’s supply of beer. AXE Angels reached out to help him. MTV is chipped in with some smart ones too.

To me Govind Tiwari is truly a well worked experiment in Transmedia story telling. Perhaps the best we have seen from India, or done by an Indian somewhere.  Create a well worked character. Build in some quirks and traits that get talked about. Use every media channel uniquely to further the story. This chipmunk video that sings Sheela Ki Jawani on the YouTube is just in line with character in the campaign, yet not the same thing.

So who is Govind Tiwari? An 18 year old having fun from his home somewhere. A hacker who managed to game the Twitter trending engine? A marketer who has managed to capture the collective imagination of people trawling social media channels? Rather than say WTF?, I say genius, Hats off sir Govind Tiwari Allahabadwalle!

Dear Nike, I am not a consumer…

I have been a Nike fan forever.

Just looked in the shoe rack and there are 5 pairs of Nikes of varying vintage there. I wear Nikes for work and play, my kids wear Nikes to school. Recently a pair that I use for my morning walk lost a rubber padding on the sole. So being a fan, I thought why not write to the company whose products I so love.

The email id put me off a bit. “consumercare.india@nike.com. While I do understand where the word comes from, I never think of myself as a consumer of anything. In Nike’s case, I am a fan, a believer, an advocate and more. I have a poster pinned up in my head from an old Nike campaign that goads me every morning, to wake up and run. It reads, “Either you ran today, or you didn’t”.

If I have to get in touch with Nike, alas, I have to come under the nomenclature “consumer”. I want to be a fan, perhaps a team member, a co-runner…

But I am only a consumer in their books. They have a section on their website under a link called consumer care policies. Care is a better word though. Policies, terrible…

All of this put a bit of doubt in my mind about my relationship with Nike, and since the mail was formatted, I shot it out.

Promptly comes an auto response from the server.

“Dear sender”

My relationship with Nike is coming apart 😦

P.S. To be fair to Nike. I did get my shoes repaired for free at the local Nike store.

Sleuthing through the recent Facebook shutdowns

There’s been fear and loathing in social media land recently. As some of India’s most visible Facebook fan communities started to go missing. It all began early this month when the Pizza Hut India page was shut down. The news was important enough to feature in mainstream media and on digital blogs. While the Pizza Hut page came back up, two other Indian properties, FCUK India and Cadbury Bournville, went down too. Both the pages are back up after the blip. Check out this interesting inflection of the FCUK India page on Wildfire Social Media Monitoring App.

So what’s happening in social media land? Is the promise of limitless, free consumer engagement is beginning to evaporate even before we have started? What are the future challenges that brands and social media managers will have to keep in mind to ensure that their carefully built properties do not disappear?

The simple answer. Adhere to Facebook terms of service. Live by the rule book, they are straightforward, and everything will be fine. No problem.

In reality things are a bit different. Most brands want to grow their fan pages exponentially, And Pizza Hut India has had some success as this report from December points out. A good promo can do wonders to your page and your confidence, terms of service or no terms of service.

These takedowns are widespread. Allfacebook reports that there has been a slew of app take downs around the world where one of Facebook engineer tried to explain “We’ve been getting a lot of user feedback recently, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. We turned on a new enforcement system yesterday that took user feedback much more heavily into account.”  Apologies and a form on a disabled application appeal page continued in the engineers post.

Spam and blackhat stuff aside, what can legit brands and social media companies do to avoid seeing their efforts and nascent fan pages go down? Once again, play by the rules. There’s no escaping that. Don’t misuse the “like” button, don’t try to induce fans to comment, tag or post.

If you have been managing a Facebook community, you may have received mails from Facebook staff urging you to remove apps and promotions that violate Facebook’s terms. We have received a few and  have been proactive in working to ensure compliance.

We think the problem arises when you don’t respond.

The Facebook platform has been written to record every action that a person makes on a page. Dig around the code and even you will know who commented, who posted, who shared something on any page. So it is easy for Facebook to track admins and what they do, the promos and apps they post etc. And if they find an offending app or promotion on a page they write to the specific admin who posted it.  Now this could be the reason why some pages are being taken down and others narrowly missing the cut. The admin who posted the app or the violating promo has moved on and is still the page admin, or has not checked his Facebook designated mail in time. Our experience is that Facebook does warn offending admins and if they respond and take necessary action then the page stays on. Simple.

So going forward. Stay within the limits of what Facebook allows. Ensure that the admins you have on the page are people who are actively managing the page. And three, and this is a tricky one. If you are an admin look thru every one of your Facebook mails, yes, you get a lot many of them from your friends, fans and the community. Read through them, lest one of them happens to be a mail that warns you about an offending item and the future of your million fan social media community.

Anna Hazare and lazy protests in a frictionless world.

I just signed up an Avaaz petition supporting Anna Hazare. Took me one click and a five field form. In fact my form was incomplete, saved my mobile number from getting into yet another database.

In less than 30 seconds I had posted my contribution on my wall for my friends and their networks to view and participate. Felt good that I did my bit in helping weed out corruption in India.

I am an armchair protester you see, sitting in an air conditioned room, connected to broadband wifi, clicking away. Ah my bit. The world is in safe hands.

This is not a post about us armcharists. But about how easy it is to rustle up a group these days.

I counted and then lost count of the number of groups there are on Facebook goading us to to support the noble man. My search showed me 183 pages. There were more, but I gave up. Hard work Nishad. I am sure you understand my pain. Social networks make it easy. Click on a button and you are done. No money either.

There are online petitions, Facebook apps, Twitter widgets, what-have-yous. And there are millions of us taking the easy way out. Clicking on the create a group tab on Facebook without even looking if someone else has created one. Mind you there’s a search box on top of the page. And it is easier to join a group than to make one.

Would my contribution be good enough if I didn’t create my own thing? I am a geek you see. The guy who does cool things. Clicking a button is for others.

Maybe I should have started a group that protested the formation of so many groups supporting the Lokpal movement. Would have been quicker. Damn I spent half hour writing this…

We need to save digital from the IT department

A few weeks ago we got a very strange request. Could you please make our IT guys the admins on our social media properties? The mail was innocuous in its tone. A simple request you could accede to you’d think. A little digging revealed what was coming. There were multiple names in the mail, and each one of them had to be made admins.

Our team promptly set about working on the request. Looking for the said individuals on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.  And when we could not find them, we wrote back asking for handles and URLs. Promptly the response came. What is a Facebook URL? Why do you need a Twitter handle to access an account? While yes in the case of Twitter, many people can use the same log in credentials, in the case of Facebook, you need to have an account, we replied.

We don’t want to be on Facebook, we just want backend access, our client pleaded.

I hope you are getting the drift. People who had never used Facebook or Twitter, never understood a platform like Linkedin now want to be choreographers of the space. Ah. Make that an effing Ah!

Can you please tell me what I should do with this button that has like written on it? I am getting emails from people I knew from long ago who want to be my friend now…

See I have nothing against IT guys. But for companies who still have policies like “all IT related services should be managed by the IT department” guys you need a relook.

Digital is not about IT, they are about people and social is not so much about media, but about behavior (I borrowed this from @metaxas). Users have never had to worry about the IT behind the digital platforms that are so part of our lives today. Which is why my Mom DMs me these days rather than call me. She has done a cost benefit analysis of the two platforms and figured it out.

If I could give IT guys some advice, learn up as much about people and behavior as you know about hardware and software. Play around on the platforms you want to manage and control. Lean to give up control rather than put locks and admins. You guys could be the most sought after people on this planet, or you could work for Mom.

And the TV Commercial Came in Last

Anyone who’s been following the incredible story of Tony Williams (Adam Schweigert has a detailed post on how the story unfolded) the homeless man with a golden voice from Columbus Ohio will notice how sluggish brands and agencies have been in responding to the story. The moot question here could be; should brands and agencies really react to such a thing at all? But now that Kraft has, well this post…

The story began, as Adam writes, on January 3rd when The Columbus Dispatch posted a video on their website. This video was later reposted on YouTube by an anonymous user, which then blew up the internets and in a day raked up over 6 million views.

Adam goes on from being a homeless man to a national and now an international celebrity that once again demonstrates the power of the net, word-of-mouth marketing and social media.

Somewhere in this all, came Kraft. Who had this TV commercial in production perhaps, and thought why not ride the viral and get some buzz for itself. The funny thing is that due to the nature of how traditional TV works, the actual made-for-TV commercial will only go on air later today. While the story developed on the internet and is now beginning to die out, the Kraft ad will go on air as a paid for advertisement. In fact the YouTube posting of the ad has already notched up some 300,000 views from around the world. The Kraft ad, dad in the doghouse has nothing to do with the man and the voice himself, and is at best a corny attempt to ride the wave of sympathy that Tony Adams is getting at the moment.

In a world of breaking news, reality television, and more importantly trending topics, how can brands be more inventive in taking advantage of the moment, in more unique and original ways?

Social Media’s New Gold Diggers

Sitting on the fringes of some social media campaigns I am noticing an interesting bunch of players. Fans who have made it their business to win prizes that brands offer online.

You see them again and again and again. The moment a contest is announced by a brand, they swoop down, powered by their personal networks on Facebook, Twitter and 4sq.

Free keychains, no problem, Tee Shirts, we will play! Mobile phones bring em on…

Anything that is thrown down at them, they are game. The same names, the same faces, similar styles. Their theme is familiar. As if telling brand and community managers – you play, we are game.

The “9s” in the 90/9/1 rule of social media they are. They don’t create much on their own but they are ready participants on games simple and tough. Sharing, joking, heckling, flaming, cheering – they seem like a virtual band of brothers and sisters sharing tips as they move from network to network, game to game.

We have heard about Chinese Gold diggers and their subsequent ban on online. Virtual millionaires on Second Life and this excellent story in Wired Magazine that tipped us about this demographic some years ago. Others who help you farm better on Farmville and stuff. But these guys are not that intense. Afflicted with ADD as it were, flirting between many contests at the same time, day in and day out.

It’s a privilege to be a fly on the wall to watch these online merchants ply their trade. Young people from cities and small towns who have learned tricks, shared tips and how tos online.

Would be fascinating to bring these new age netizens together for a tete-a-tete. Understand their real world lives, virtual avatars, online strategies, motivations and more.

In the connected world, anything is possible and I could be a digital anthropologist. Dig, dig, dig

The Genius of Amazon.com

I have been watching the travails of a mum trying to buy her son a Beyblade stadium on her Facebook Page. After perhaps visiting at every possible brick & mortar store in town, she descended on eBay and triumphantly declared that she had found the item. Not too soon though. A few weeks later another post informed us that eBay had returned her money because they ran out of stock. Aggarhh!

Having a young son myself, I have been making discrete enquiries of the said item. I browsed through eBay, found the stuff and left it for another day. Yesterday, after eBay returned the money, I searched the web and found some stocks available on Amazon.

Once again, I did not buy the item. Browsed around and left. I have done this tonnes of times on many online sites including Amazon. But yesterday was different. A few hours later, there was this email in my inbox from Amazon. With a full listing of all the available Beyblades and accessories. With a pointer to more.

Now we are all aware of search marketing and contextual advertising. I think this is the next level. Dynamic content delivered discretely into inboxes the moment a marketer discovers that someone is looking. Once again this is not new. There are enough services that track clicks and nurture leads. Just that I had never received such an accurate and timely eMail from anyone like this. And I have been logged into Amazon like forever.

It somehow felt new. A lot more intuitive and personal. Perhaps a lot of us have experienced it better. Yesterday I did.

And I may just buy the Beyblade stadium my son’s been dreaming about.

Advertising. Not Like the Music Industry.

There have been many stories in the media in the last few weeks about the decay of advertising. There was this long one about The Future of Advertising in Fast Company. BusinessWeek countered it with this one on how Big Dumb Agencies may not be going away anywhere soon. The most provocative one, however was by Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz. It was a brutal piece, one that tore apart our business as one with a “poisonous core”. While there has been a lot of debate and discussion around the post – in fact Peter has posted a rejoinder explaining various points on his original one, I thought the last item on his first rant to be a bit off key.  Advertising Agencies are the New Music Industry, he wrote.

I am not sure if the music industry analogy is the right one for the advertising business. While just like the music business, traditional advertising is being run over by the arrival of the Internet and other digital mediums, unlike the music industry, which went down primarily because of the growth of file sharing, I think advertising will evolve thanks to a combination of many smaller changes.

Search Marketing. While Google and others in the search marketing business are seeing exceptional growth, search marketing alone will not end advertising as we know it.

Social Media. Yes it is hot at the moment and will be extremely important in the years to come. Social media engagement will be one of the many things that marketers will need to help manage a brand.

PR. For years PR was a discipline that marketing had little influence over. Bougsky’s allegedly famous quote “…write me the press release” aptly describes how PR has become an important mover of marketing messages. Recently Pepsi’s Shiv Singh tweeted about wanting a partner who was a combination of a digital agency, a traditional agency and a PR company.

Video. BMW films showed us what can be done when branded messages are played out in digital media. There have been many experiments that have followed. The age of video, though, is just beginning to play out.

Mobile. Mobile devices will have as much or more impact on the marketing business as computers, TV and radio have had in the past. Always connected, always on phones are a tsunami that will change traditional messaging, but will need to do more to completely annihilate brand messages.

Location Based Services. These new and emerging concepts will add another dimension to real-time marketing. There are some simple and straight forward “Minority Report” kind of possibilities that location based messaging can do. These concepts will evolve and amaze us in the years to come.

Reality Enhanced. Ideas like augmented reality are just being experimented with at the moment. There will be more we will do by overlaying smart digital ideas over real things in the future.

Gaming. In an attention starved world, inventive new branded or brand embedded  games will give marketers access into the minds of people.

Crowdsourcing. Not so much a concept as much as an approach to producing ideas. Crowdsourcing will chip away advertising agency strongholds and change advertising in many ways.

Amazement. For decades, advertising had this knack of creating jaw-dropping moments. Not anymore. Anyone with a digital camera can now. Ads now have to fight even harder to be seen and talked about.

Marketers, marketing messages and the ones who create them, advertising agencies, will have to change to stay in touch with people who have lot more to do. The reason for this change will be many. All of them equally relevant.

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