a different kind of Social Media – finding a language

Where Language Leads we Follow

I’ve been considering the clash of cultures that social media marketing brings to the table. There is the community-first, relationship building,  conversation-driven culture of social media itself. And there there is the marketing culture that is conditioned by its roots in advertising with strong tendencies to depersonalize the transaction, to speak in numbers and the control of what is ostensibly assumed to be a deceptive/persuasive message. One taps into our deepest, surest human values (finding friends, sharing, a sense of transparency). The other tends to treat people as quantities or at best mere intentions or desires.

As these two cultures of community and commerce come together in the new form of social media marketing it strikes me that there is a certain challenge that naturally faces us. If social media is about transparency, and we are building business oriented social media groups based on principles of sharing, honesty and openness, social media marketing itself is in need of a language to talk about users and customers in a way that gives honor and respect. If indeed we are going to carry through the mission of social media to a logical extreme, people cannot simply be click-through-rates and cost-per-conversion. They cannot merely be “eyeballs” or impressions. When we talk about the success or the failure of a campaign, the implementation of a marketing strategy, it cannot be how many “sheeple” we caught or failed to pen. It cannot just be funnels, as useful as that analogy might be.

The reason I am thinking about this is not a case of conversion. That is, I am not just an evangelist who has been taken with a new way of thinking about persons and want to apply it everywhere, overturning tried and true truths of advertising practice. It is that it strikes me that there are some untapped and very interesting possibilities within social media marketing itself if our marketing brains can get to the point where we come to understand the process differently. One of these possibilities that is appealing to me is that of being able to talk openly (and analytically) about social media efforts themselves, amongst the business social media community, and harvest the collective wisdom and experience of all of us who are just setting out on what has to be admitted to still be an uncharted sea. And, in order to do this, openly, we must find a language.

When people quibble about words, they really are talking about mindsets, about concepts. But it is good to start at the words and work out because mindsets can be slippery and difficult to grasp at once. You change the words, and you change the concepts, slowly. I began discussing this with my friend Chris Porter @67tallchris. I was thinking about how to blog real time social media strategy as it is being planned and executed. The benefits of this is that my collection of conversation peers all can talk about principles and best practices in a way that actually are being done. A dialogue can develop between shared ideas, held-to principles and real social media actions. It was Chris that helped me realize that largely this is a question of language. In indeed we are to import the real values of social media building into the conversation about social media marketing, the way we talk about our aims and achievements needs to change and grow. If the benefits of social media transparency are going to accrue, gone must be the back-room talk of numbers and percentages alone. I understand vividly the desire to chase and numerify important things like ROI and conversion rates, but I am talking about another thing here. I am talking about crowdsourcing the conversation in two ways. And for that a language and set of concepts is needed.

Building A New Discourse

From my Skype conversation with Chris I moved to an informal Twitter chat on #usguys. Jacqui Kimmel @GoSocialSA and Trish Ableoff @trishabeloff both helped begin thinking about what these words or concepts might be. Where is it that community values and business aims touch, conceptually? What terms that are meaningful and respectful in a community translate well to the kinds of things we are seeking to achieve in social media building – notice, I am moving away from the term social media “marketing” here, already. A few words/concepts came to me on that Twitter discussion. “Satisfaction” is a word that seems to swim in both worlds. Customer satisfaction is a now well established concept – a concept, the Wanamaker origins of which Ric Dragon @RicDragon educated me on in a recent and very satisfying Skype brainstorm. And “satisfaction” seems to map fairly well onto at least the landscape of aims social media experience. It is not quite right, and we still feel that we are on the old marketing side because people generally are not looking for satisfaction per se when the participate in social media. There is something else.

Another term that appeals to me, and I have already been using it for a few months unconsciously, is investment. Investment obviously has its business meaning, but it also has strong sociological and personal meanings. We invest in each other. We invest time in things we care about. Investment seems to be a word that carries its meaning across both worlds. I think it is safe to say, for instance, that in social media management and strategy we want to inspire others to invest in our media, our offers, our services. But even more so, to invest in our community.

So what I’m seeking here is perhaps the concept of co-investment. We in business invest in others. Our customers. Our fans. And they in turn invest in us. Our community. Our offerings. Perhaps if we can talk about social media building as our co-investment, achieving co-investment, we are getting somewhere.

But this is just the beginning of the conversation. If we are going to be able to invent and evolve a different kind of social media, if we are going to create a new language and tool set for thinking out the problems and challenges that are unique to social media building, this is going to take a conversation. In fact several cross-channeled, cross-purposed but still dovetailing conversations.

For the pleasure of it, the etymology of the word investment:

investmentLook up investment at Dictionary.com
1590s, “act of putting on vestments” (a sense now found in investiture); later “act of being invested with an office, right, endowment, etc” (1640s); and “surrounding and besieging of a military target” (1811); commercial sense is from 1610s, originally of the finances of the East India Company; general use is from 1740 in the general sense of “conversion of money to property in hopes of profit,” and by 1837 in the sense “amount of money so invested; property viewed as a vehicle for profit.” For commercial senses, see invest + -ment.
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coca-cola’s friendship machine meets the social machine

A Commercial for Friendship

It’s not really a viral video, or perhaps even an attempt at one [watch the video, it makes a difference]. Only 10,000 views in the first three days. It’s a conceptual video, and perhaps one that is aimed specifically at the kinds of people that would find this kind of thing compelling: social media citizens. It lacks the short visual “hook” that makes something viral. Instead it is a commercial, carefully crafted to persuade, to inspire. One of the largest companies in the world makes a kind of performance art piece representing its product, and produces a beautiful message cut right from the values essential to social media group making.

Mashable wrote about the video release, explaining the machine’s design:

Coca-Cola actually planted the machines in Argentina last August to celebrate International Friendship Day, but just this week uploaded the video to its YouTube channel. The machines appear to be about 12 feet tall and requires that you ask a buddy for a boost to use it. Coke rewards that bit of cooperation by dispensing two Cokes instead of one.

via Mashable’s article “Coca-Cola’s Friendship Machine Rewards Cooperation with Cokes”

This is what really fascinates me about it. Social Media values have begun to exert pressure upon corporate messaging, upon their self-branding, that pulls them towards an ethic that is different. Previously it was all about the product. Post-handshake and storefront, in the Age of Advertising this has been the case. Make an amazing product, show that, and nothing else matters. The “sell” was showing the product. And endorsements – from outright pitching to unconscious associations – were nothing more than 3rd party proofs of the quality of the product. This Coke machine does something else, a shift that is slight in focus but huge. It is no longer smiling people who are made to smile because of the product’s quality. It is rather people who are made to smile because of themselves, and the product is only an catalyst or even space for it. There have been themes of this in advertising for a long while, but never perhaps so explicitly performed. The machine is literally climbed upon bringing two people together.

The Art of It

This goes to some very admirable achievements in marketing built right into the machine itself. It is monolithic, imposing a 2001 like unreachableness, but it is also a lateral invite to people to join with each other. The great corporate logo suddenly becomes a jungle-gym, a physical puzzle game – given the right age of folks. The very size of Coca-Cola becomes playful.

I talked briefly about this with Stan Phelps on Twitter @9INCHmarketing and he pointed me to a Harvard Business Review blog post where Coca Cola spoke about a shift in marketing, surely something that this machine is part of. I quote somewhat at length for convenience, as it points us toward a philosophical shift in general: capturing expressions. Expressions are the new vital metric.

In the near term, “consumer impressions” will remain the backbone of our measurement because it is the metric universally used to compare audiences across nearly all types of media. But impressions only tell advertisers the raw size of the audience. By definition, impressions are passive. They give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagement with our brands is ultimately what we’re striving to achieve. Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level…

…So, in addition to “consumer impressions,” we are increasingly tracking “consumer expressions.” To us, an expression is any level of engagement with our brand content by a consumer or constituent. It could be a comment, a “like,” uploading a photo or video or passing content onto their networks….

[one strategy]…Develop content that is “Liquid and Linked.” Liquid content is creative work that is so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. Liquid content includes emotionally compelling stories that quickly become pervasive. Similarly, “linked” content is content that is linked to our brand strategies and our business objectives. No matter where consumers encounter it, linked content supports our overall strategy.

via: Harvard Business Review – blog

But there is something even more going on here beside just brilliant marketing, or a seismic shift in corporate strategy towards user loyalty. The machine – even if a ploy – captures something that is happening in the media that it is designed to thrive in. It speaks the language of community building that is binding social media communication together, and perhaps necessarily so. There is the sense in Twitter, or in Facebook that the vastness of these connections, these platforms dwarf us, and we needs the boost up from the person right next to us to make anything out of it. The Coca-Cola Friendship machine performs – even if for only the benefit of a camera and a YouTube viral try – the very mise-en-scene of social media itself, and it does it in symbolic and artist fashion.

The Gift as Essential

Not to be missed is that a gift results in any shared labor to use the machine. A second Coke is dispense. 1 becomes 2. For those that have been following our recent conversation on Gift Economy and Gift Economy logic in social media, it is no coincidence that a gift result is the outcome and focus of Coke’s social experiment. Note, Pepsi attempted to make itself the center of gift-giving in a very different, I would say less powerful way. Gift is the creation of positive debt that binds community together in a symbolism of surplus. The Coke machine becomes the locus for gift giving, creating a micro circuit that cements the brand as not only the goal, but the means and the space. That this is done for a 3rd eye, the camera, to be poured into social media platforms is really evidence of the intimacy of connection between Gift Economy thinking and social media itself. This is what is special about social media. It has created a powerful nexus of sharable affects under the distinct values of Gift Economy logic, and it is not completely clear if Coca-Cola is using social media here, or if social media is using Coca-Cola.

the buttoning of the Web: entrenching brand in behavior

TechCrunch reports on the Netflix attempt enter the remote control market. An interesting, if brilliant example of not only how tech device companies are scrambling to secure a place in an ever expanding array of media choices, aligning themselves on a slippery landscape, it also suggests that media modes themselves are trying lock themselves into well-established behaviors. No doubt making the button topos of the remote a space for preferential placement is in some sense derived from the “buttoning” of websites, conceptually. In interesting track of human behavior evolution. Web interactions became “buttoned” graphically, so much so and to such a degree of reality, that so-called “real” buttons now are being thought of as themselves labelable and transposable. Also, entering in the the hardware is one of the surest ways of anchoring your service into the media behavior of users for years, though we can certainly imagine how fast these “Netflix” remotes will become dated.

Brilliant idea: Netflix and a number of consumer electronics companies have joined in a development effort to put Netflix-branded one-click buttons on remote controls that operate Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray disc players and other devices.

This should make streaming Netflix from your TV even more convenient.

Netflix this morning announced that, starting this Spring, branded buttons – including some featuring the company’s logo – are planned to be placed on remotes that operate certain new Blu-ray disc players from companies like Best Buy’s in-house Dynex brand, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba and others.

via Netflix’ Next Destination: On Your Remote Control.

facebook aesthetic penetration: thoughts at aimClear

Had a nice exchange with Aimclear, mostly around the new Facebook personal profile design and for me the power of its aesthetic joining of photographic ads to the rest of its photographic content. Merry Merud’s excellent and detailed post on how deeply Facebook is penetrating into user interests (and how they can serve advertisers) really got me thinking about how elegant and bold the Facebook profile move was. For the chain of thoughts:

I first commented:

The one thing I would want to add is something to the idea that the aesthetic changes may not be relevant marketers:

“While aesthetic changes in Facebook profiles may not seem relevant to marketers, the new profile elements will effect how some users self-identify and express their predilections… and thus, effecting targeting metrics.”

The aesthetic changes indeed by my eye are entirely marketer directed, in that the provide a visual bridge from the operative left column, to the right side advertisement column.

When they came out I did a very quick mock up of how these changes created a visual chain of images, joining the left to the right side through the filmstrip up top. Its actually a masterstroke of design that marketers should be interested in. I would expect a higher conversion rate for Facebook ads, and would love to see an eye-tracking study of how the changes are viewed.

To which MM replied,

@mediasres thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree, the new profile layout does draw the eye a bit more and will hopefully lead to more clicks and eventually conversions. Thank you for pointing it out as it *IS* relevant to marketers.

The post was meant for marketers who use Facebook Ads to consider the possibilities of new targeting inventory through Facebook’s new prompted “interested, etc” fields and not on the aesthetic of the new profiles.

This WebTrends post does the impact of Facebook’s profile change more justice: Facebook Ads 66% More Ad Space & What It Means for Marketers

Which lead to my thought,

I should have qualified my comment as only parenthetical and hopefully complimentary to what you were saying. In a sense the conversion increase that may come out of Facebook ads, first is grounded itself in exactly the targeting capabilities you so beautifully illustrate, only then coupled with the CTRs of a new design. But I see the two intertwined, as a single move by Facebook – deeper penetration into the user, both informationally and aesthetically. For some reason when I first saw the new design I was inordinately shocked by how ad friendly it was, as if it may even have been the overriding reason for the change – how the ad column suddenly was aesthetically, graphically fused to the content of the page. Much as how Google aesthetically blurs the lines between its text AdWords ads, and the (largely) text organic results (and now the more enhanced text options on the left side), Facebook seems to do the same thing with the photographic emphasis in content. By such reasoning I wonder if it really is a photo ad medium more than a text ad medium, made for expressly that. This is one future where Facebook may have Google beat, Facebook has become about faces.

What is your feeling if you don’t mind me asking? Do you expect Facebook to ever overtake Google in terms of advertising effectiveness or dollars? Something of what you are saying is that Facebook is quickly building an architecture of interests meant to rival the intents expressed lexically in a search (and a search history). It strikes me that they have a hurdle of trust to overcome there, the barrier between the private and the public that is much more easily bridged by searches for information, rather than passive advertising.