USG

As I read the article from the Journal of Interactive Advertising, where authors Cheong and Morrison discuss user generated content and how consumers view such content, I was reminded of a Facebook post from my neice a couple of weeks ago.  She follows a blog about movies and posted the trailer for the yet-to-be-released “The Hangover 2.”  The movie has already generated a fair amount of buzz thanks to bloggers, teens who post links to the trailer, and (gasp) even reputable critics from area newspapers.  In the reading, the authors point out that there is a “dearth” of literature comparing user generated content to traditional, producer generated content.

I thought the reading seemed to go on forever (like many of its sentences).  There were a few good points in it, though, especially this one:

“Nontraditional media, especially for younger consumers, typically include (but are not limited to) the Internet and its associated channels, such as cellular phones, PDAs, and interactive television.  Not surprisingly, in response to the widespread availability of growth and computer-based and digital technologies, studies of opinion leaders have evolved to include computer-mediated communication, particularly that related to the Internet…potentially can influence one another more than those who have only traditional, one-way channels.”

I was surprised to find that the authors published this paper based on interviews with just 17 participants.  However, their point is clear.  Today, marketers have so many channels, vehicles, platforms, avenues…there are so many ways to generate buzz for the right products.  As they write, getting the media right is “getting more difficult because consumers’ media selections have become more complex.”

I think the aforementioned trailer and the blog post from Moviefone is a great illustration of this.

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Until I read this article, it never dawned on me that there would be/should be/are guidelines regarding moms sharing opinion, guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission, nonetheless. 

It’s been a while, but I recall sharing my opinion on storebrand baby wipes when chatting with other moms at my daughter’s daycare center, discussing the best place consignment shop for kids clothes in Tampa with other moms in the workplace, or giving tips about which brand of teething biscuits crumbled the least to the lady standing next to me in the Publix baby aisle.   I listened to other moms and, sometimes, they listened to me.  This is not new, of course.  As has been mentioned in almost every reading thus far for this course, consumer endorsements and testimonials can be quite effective, perhaps even more effective that paid print ads (I can’t remember which article included that, but one of this week’s readings noted that).

So now, for some moms, the place or way they share their opinions, experiences, or reviews has changed, but now the FTC is involved?  So sharing this information verbally with fellow moms in the park is okay, but if I were to blog about it, I would/could be in danger of being sued?  Holy smokes, that doesn’t feel quite right.  And how would it be monitored?  Where is the “freedom of speech” argument for this one?  

That said, though, I didn’t receive free samples of products with specific requests to share my views and opinions with fellow moms in the park or in the daycare center.   If I had, it likely would have impacted by credibility as an opinion-sharer. 

So, then, if mommy bloggers are getting free items from marketers, who want them to plug products and services and provide access to the sphere of influence that these mommies have, then maybe there should be some regulations.  I am torn.  But whether or not there are regulations is likely a moot question.  The guidelines are here.

It’s about transparency

I think there should be transparency and, in the interest of full disclosure, think the idea of having bloggers post that they received free items in their blogs is a good idea.  But, again, how to police this?  My friend who blogs about her experiences and has a following of about six people mentions specific products all the time.  Is someone watching to see if she discloses receipt of comp goods?  Is there a magic number of readers that would require disclosure?  I believe the guidelines only apply to those who are paid to write reviews, but does that include those bloggers whose posts generate enough views to have ads start popping up on their pages?

I like this statement from the article, which boils this issue down to ethics:

“Bloggers bear not only a legal, but also an ethical responsibility to their readers by being transparent about relationships with companies and honest in their reviews.  In turn, public relations practitioners and marketers have an ethical responsibility to allow bloggers to operate in this manner.” 

Ok, I think I am off track, though.  The purpose of this study was not to debate the merits of the FTC guidelines or the ethical behavior that bloggers should display.  Burns looked at bloggers’ reactions to the guidelines and made recommendations for public relations practitioners regarding maintaining positive relationships with mommy bloggers.

Power Moms React

Burns looked at 15 blogs from Nielsen’s Power Mom 50 (who knew that even existed?!), a “collection of leading voices in the mom blogosphere based on a blend of blog posts, comments, and link love” (another new term for me).  These top momfluencers, at least those who were already being transparent in their reviews (by letting people know they received free product), did not generally express strong opinion about the guidelines.  Their feelings were not universal, though, it seems, as Burns notes.  One blogger, in particular, Robyn Wright, has a good point:

“I think it is a crock – there are lots of other “groups” that get things all the time and they don’t have the same type of rules.”

There were ample comments made for and against the rules, but it seemed to boil down to this:  ethical bloggers were likely already disclosing this information but now, in an ambundance of caution, bloggers are using blanket disclaimers or mention sponsorships in posts, as appropriate.

Evolution

I have viewed this video before and fellow students showed it during one of our mass communications graduate classes last year, but was reminded of how powerful it was in chapter 10 of Groundswell, where they talk about Unilever’s campaign for Dove.  Take a second to watch it.

I like the whole concept and it seems altruistic…but at the same time, it is all about selling soap (or whatever other Dove product viewer’s might use).  Even so, it is smart, positions Dove as on the side of “every woman,” and, at the same time, positions Dove as the product for people who want “real” beauty to use when fighting Mother Nature.

It is clearly a viral success.  As mentioned, classmates showed it during a presentation last year.  I just showed it to my husband and daughter.  I’ve posted it here and you may have viewed it, all at no extra expense to Dove.  A quick Google search of “Dove evolution” shows that it was referenced in far more influential blogs than mine, that it has been lauded by consumers, and loaded multiple times on YouTube, Vimeo, and other video sharing sites.  Again, all at no extra expense to Dove. A 2006 online article indicated that the commercial had, at that time, triple the impressions online than in the paid-for Super Bowl ad.  We’re still viewing and talking about it five years later.  I think they got their money’s worth!

As the authors of Groundswell point out, this somewhat risky ad (risky because they went against the expected “beautiful women use our product” message and went with average, everyday women) was, in a sense, not a risk.  Here’s what the authors write about the campaign:

“…radical message was well researched, and it was delivered through traditional channels like any other brand campaign, with a mix of TV, print, and outdoors ads.  And it worked — people were definitely talking about the ad campaign and Dove.”

Prior to launching this campaign, though, the company had experimented with digital media as the center of campaigns, setting the stage for this success.  That is something important: they took a calculated risk based on the successes and failures of previous campaigns.  They didn’t simply start and have phenomenal success on their first project out of the gate.

Though it has been a while, I remember memorizing the four P’s during both marketing and mass communications courses in college.  At that time, the P’s stood for product, place, price, and promotion.  They were touted as the essential elements of the marketing mix.  Later, a wise professor (the same mass comm guy who ensured that I would never use “first annual” ever again), taught me about another group of P’s.  This second group had five P’s: proper preparation prevents poor performance. 

I kept thinking about both sets of P’s as I read the three chapters of Groundswell that were due this week.  And some recent projects.

The projects include the purchase and production of ads intended to drive traffic to MBA info sessions, ads pushing a new MS degree in real estate offered at USF, and pieces of the still-in-my-head-after-four-years marketing plan for the College of Business. For all of these, I have been responding and reacting to opportunities as they present themselves. In some cases, we have done really well and managed budget, resources, and opportunities smartly. In many instances, though, the directions presented in this book were largely ignored…we have not truly strategized, remembered the five P’s, or followed Li and Bernoff’s POST method.

As a refresher, POST stands for people, objectives, strategy, and technology.  Smart marketers know that considering these things carefully sets the foundational framework for social marketing (or any marketing, for that matter).  Who are you trying to reach, what are you trying to accomplish, how do you want relationships with customers to change, and what technology will you use to implement a plan?

One of the hardest parts of the POST method would likely be the second step.  After identifying your target, what do you want them to do or what do you want to accomplish?  The book gave some great examples that could be applied to my job today (listening, talking, energizing, supporting, or embracing).  

Chasing Rabbits

When I worked in non-profit, I used to get so frustrated that my agency would chase dollars, meaning that while we stayed true to our overarching mission, we often changed focus and emphasis based on whatever funders were seeking and the dollars that we were chasing to keep the doors open.  While we don’t quite do that in my current job, I find myself still chasing rabbits and good ideas instead of getting the plan out of my head and getting the strategy on paper so we can implement it systematically.  There was a particular quote that reminded me of this in the chapter on strategy.  The authors wrote about executives who held a couple of half-day sessions to talk about social initiatives and were soon buzzing about ways they were going to use technology and kick-start their campaign.  The authors wrote this about the executives:

It became clear that they were heading into a dangerous place.  By becoming more comfortable with the groundswell, they felt they had the tools and knowledge to act, but they had not yet thought through the consequences.

Guilty.  If we’ve done fairly well (on some things) without practicing this POST method, imagine the success we would have enjoyed had we done the preliminary work.  If we had considered the five P’s taught to me years ago. 

Going POSTAL?

After the chapter about POST, the authors stress that listening is the very first step, so perhaps the acronym should be POSTaL (people, objectives, strategy, technology, and listening). 

The story they use to illustrate another smart marketing adage, that your brand is what your customers say it is, is powerful.  A first-rate cancer treatment center in Texas promotes itself as a place with a shiny new proton therapy center and top-notch treatment programs.  But for the patients who pay the center’s bills, it is viewed as a place providing needed therapy, that makes people wait (sometimes for hours) for treatment while insisting and stressing the importance of arriving on schedule for treatment.  The irony is, for the very people who are waiting for treatment, time is the single most important thing, precisely what they are desperately grabbing for and the reason for obtaining treatment.  The cancer treatment center (spent lots of money) but began listening to patients’ conversations in an online community and learned that the brand they were touting was different than the customer’s lived experience…AND CHANGED as a result of the eavesdropping.  In addition, they discovered that, for all the shouting they did about their facilities and programs, the customers were not choosing to come there based on advertisements and reputation.  They were coming there largely based on referrals from hometown doctors.  Again, the cool thing is that illustration shows is that after listening to the audience/customer/patient, the hospital responded and implemented a strategy to reach out to the referral source.

Relating this to my job

Fortunately, one of the things I did do well on the job is start listening before jumping in to create a “social media presence” for the College of Business.  I recall feeling badly about squelching a colleague’s enthusiasm as she suggested that the College of Business needed a social media presence and needed to quickly establish this presence to address some reputational challenges on a national level.  “We should have the dean blog, create multiple pages on Facebook, and get lots of people to like us so that we can push our marketing messages out to them,” she said.   She even volunteered to do the work.  I insisted that unless we knew what we wanted to say, we shouldn’t start shouting.  And we needed to figure out why anyone would come to the blog or how we would drive traffic to it.  I began by starting a personal twitter account and using Tweetdeck to watch the (very limited) conversations about us.  We then opened a twitter account for the college (we’re @usfbusiness, by the way) and then, once we had a GA who could manage it, established a YouTube channel and eventually a Facebook page.  Sounds great, right.  We did parts of this plan very well.  But we didn’t do everything well as we really couldn’t (even today) articulate the objective or strategy .

Talking, talking, talking

I liked the chapter on talking, especially since it contained real-world examples of how to get communities talking and how to measure the return on the social media investment.  Unfortunately, it isn’t necessarily easy to determine how to do this for my own job.  Anyone interested in tackling that?

You don’t see many companies putting out PSAs like this one that focuses on its own product. Watch it. Seriously. Click the link and watch it.

This cartoon seemed appropriate for one of our readings this week, which discussed the reasons consumers contribute their content.  The article basically discussed four reasons that people contribute.  The two primary ones: they have self-doubts they want to minimize and they want to do so in a social arena that allows them to connect with others. 

Disclaimer: found the cartoon on tumblr…no idea who to credit…

Groundswell

This week’s readings began with a new book, Groundswell, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.   In the introduction, the authors, who are both analysts for Forrester Research, note that they wrote the book because they desired to detail the whole groundswelling trend (implying that most of the books on the market focus on pieces of the trend, such as blogging, wikis, etc).  They say that it is hard for company strategists to know where to start when it comes to social media.  In my case, they’re right on that point…I feel like Rick Clancy, the executive described in the introduction: he was dealing with rapidly changing technologies that not only changed the way businesses and customers communicated, but also shifted the balance of power and (in many cases) change who controls the message. 

If you can’t beat ’em …

After reading about 70-plus-year-old Bob Lutz, an executive for General Motors who was responsible for new product development back in 2004, I understood why the authors titled this section, “If you can’t beat em …”  Lutz began writing the FastLane blog and soon realized that people wanted to hear what GM was saying.    Readers would share praise as quickly as they would share stinging criticism.  GM took that to heart in a relatively quick fashion and, as the authors note, blogging and interacting with customers in this fashion has changed the way the company communicates.  Here’s what they said:

GM no longer needs to be concerned that auto industry trade magazines and expensive TV commercials are the only way to communicate with customers, dealers, employees, and investors — it has a direct channel.

I was reminded of something a coworker said some time ago about social media: people are going to talk anyway, why not be a part of the conversation?

It’s About Relationships, Not Technologies

I appreciated the easy way the authors detailed some of the technological tools that have made groundswelling a trend, but, more than that, I appreciated one of the early statements made in chapter two: concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.  While the tools presented often make it easier to communicate or provide the so-called “bells and whistles” that do so, I am becoming more and more aware that the social media is first and foremost SOCIAL … the word comes first in the description, for goodness sake!  These media provide avenues for people to connect, collaborate, network, and enable relationships.   It’s not called billboard media or bullhorn media…it’s social media. 

As our class is presenting new social media tools to one another each week, I like the simple “Groundswell Technology Test” the authors shared to evaluate new tools.  While the authors correctly point out there is more to evaluating a tool (security, access, etc), they have provided four easy questions that might help short-list tools to explore further:

  1. Does it enable people to connect with each other in new ways?
  2. Is it effortless to sign up?
  3. Does it shift the power from institutions to people?
  4. Is it an open platform that invites partnerships?

Really Simple.  Really?

I am embarrassed to admit that I am still a bit confused about RSS feeds, though.  I “kinda” get what they do and how they aggregate info, but am still unsure how it works (how I get them, instead of having to go find the blogs, etc).  The authors point out that these feeds can be excellent marketing tools (and they aren’t the first to do so), so I am going to have to go back and re-read that section or find some time to play around with RSS.  It is ironic that the RS in RSS stands for “really simple,” dontcha think? 

 Climbing the Ladder

The social technographics ladders reminded me a bit of a graph about product life cycle and early adopters, the one that shows innovators, early adopters, early majority, and laggards.  While it isn’t quite the same, the social technographics ladder neatly categorizes consumers into groups that (sometimes)  build upon one another: creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives.  I think the reason the ladder reminded me of the product life cycle graph is that those who are in the creators category are likely early adopters (and blogging provides a platform for early adopters to talk about their experiences). 

The authors take this concept further.  They point out that research about how a particular target market falls into these categories can help smart marketers can estimate the target’s social activities and be used to craft strategies on how to best engage them.  They point out that companies with access to a tool such as Forrester’s can do this (but add, “if not, you can still make a reasonable estimate of the social activity of your customer base”).

The Final Question

Why do people even use social media in the first place?  They authors give reasons for this, ranging from keeping and making friendships to paying it forward to validation and the (their words) prurient impulse.   They close the section by saying that the biggest challenge for dealing with groundswell isn’t understanding why people use tools or a marketer’s mastery of the technology.  I agree with their closing statement:

It’s whether you’re accomplishing a useful business goal and, on top of that, how you’ll measure that success and then prove that the groundswell effort was worth it.

That is the million dollar question.

An Extra Comment 

I have to say that this book is a much easier read than the Shirky book, at least for me.  However, one thing is bothering me.  The authors claim they wrote the book because of repeated client requests for information and a desire to educate readers on the groundswell trend.   But, especially in the chapter where they discuss the social technographics profile, I felt like the real reason they wrote the book is to promote the Forrester profile.  Perhaps that feeling will change as the book continues.