SXSW II: Social Marketing

The buzz this year at South By Southwest, and one of the big buzz words in the industry right now, is social marketing. Getting people to talk about your brand. Using people as a medium. Relying on a social network rather than a television network to create buzz.

One reason good social marketing is so coveted by marketers is that it can be cheap. Think about all those people running around talking about how great their iPhone is. Apple’s not paying them for that. And partly because Apple’s not paying these people, you get the second great thing about word-of-mouth: It’s trustworthy. People are more likely to value a message that comes from a friend than one that comes from an ad, a paid celebrity or the news.

There’s nothing inherently new about social marketing. It’s really just another name for good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. What has changed is that technology has hyper-charged these word-of-mouth social networks. Because of all the social networking sites, I have 400 readily-available social connections. If I find a message worthy of it, I can easily disperse it to all of my “friends.”

Companies were originally excited about how the Internet could change change the way they could speak to their customers. But what it’s really done, more importantly, is change the way customers speak to each other.

The question companies have, of course, is how do we use these incredible social networks? How do we get people talking about our brands? The answer is to support these communities. Make ourselves useful to them. Become a generous member. Stop talking about ourselves and start making social gestures.

Here’s a crude drawing of the mass media way:

That’s us, up there in our ivory tower, shouting our message to the masses we hope are out there. And our message is usually about us.

Now here’s the social gesture model:

When we start thinking about ourselves as members of a community rather than marketers to a community, we look at the landscape in a completely new way. A few observations about this shift:

1) Come down out of the ivory tower. Talk to the people, not at them. Have conversations. You have all the tools to do so. It’s not as easy as mass media, but with a little legwork, there’s a much greater upside.

2) Stop talking about yourself. You’re a member of a community, and nobody likes selfishness.

3) Stop trying to make a buck and start trying to build communities. Stop selling to people and start helping them make good purchases. Sales are the byproduct of good relationships.

4) Really, don’t be selfish. Don’t pretend to back a community. It has to be genuine, because if it’s not, people will turn on you. All those social connections can also work against you.

Is social marketing appropriate for every product? Probably not. But every brand should stand for something around which a social network can be built (if one doesn’t already exist).

This way of thinking is about doing rather than just saying. I’ll post more about that soon.

SXSW I: Convergence & Divergence

A couple months ago, I was fortunate enough to be sent by my agency to the South By Southwest Music/Film/Interactive Festival in Austin. There were a lot of really cool ideas floating around, and I’m going to do a series of posts on some of the relevant ideas I encountered.

My first post on SXSW is from a talk called “11 Tips to Managing a Creative Environment.” The speakers compiled the list after interviewing people who a) work in a creative environment, b) had to work as part of a team and c) had hard deadlines to meet. Some of these groups included entertainers (comedy troupes, theater groups, symphonies), media (print and online magazines), writers groups, restaurants, and a few others. Much of it applied to simply working in a creative environment, regardless of whether or not you had any authority.

One of the points they made was about the steps of the creative process and making sure everyone’s on the same page in terms of what step you’re at. This is critical in a creative department, but also important with a CW-AD team.

There are two phases in any creative process: divergence and convergence. Divergence is the brainstorming part. Churning out as many ideas as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter if they’re good yet. This phase is all about quantity. And the key here is to not judge. Don’t kill ANYTHING. Don’t say why you can’t do it, why the client won’t buy it, how it won’t fit the budget. We all know this is the golden rule of brainstorming, even though we sometimes forget.

An important step to making sure everyone’s on the same page is that, when you’re done with phase 1, make sure everyone knows you are. End the meeting, or say “Okay, now let’s look at everything we’ve got.” One of the comedy troupes marked the turning point with a smoke break. When they came back from the smoke break, everyone knew they were in phase 2.

Phase 2 is the convergence phase. This is when the ideas are culled down, refined, combined and, yes, killed. You have to edit here. Be ruthless. Only keep the great ideas.

Now, the point I want to emphasize is that in this second phase, the golden rule is you’re not coming up with completely new directions. This is about getting to a single solution, not creating more potential solutions–if you did your job in phase 1, you should have plenty. We’ve all been in meetings where we’re trying to brainstorm and someone is shooting ideas down. It’s frustrating, and it’s harmful to the process. But just as harmful is to be throwing out new ideas when you’re in the convergence phase. This is the time to improve the ideas that you have. A constant stream of new ideas in this phase can lead to chaos and frustration.

In an agency, young teams often fall into the trap of spending all their time in the divergence phase, then try to converge an hour before they’re supposed to present their work. I’d say it should be closer to 60/40, depending on your creative director. Most will like to see a few ideas. None want to see ALL of your ideas. Make sure you spend time fleshing your ideas out. Give them the time and refinement they deserve.

South By Southwest

Well, one of the perks of working in the business is getting to occasionally travel to really cool places. This week my agency sent me to the South By Southwest Film/Interactive/Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

There have been some really interesting panels so far, particularly regarding the evolution of online and social marketing.

I’m blogging about the festival with a couple of coworkers on I plan to write a couple blogs when I return, specifically about how you take an idea for a website, event, or other non-traditional idea, and create an interesting, eye-catching, simple piece for a traditional book. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to know as well.