On Twitter, Social Immediacy, and the Recurring Non-Death of Jeff Goldblum

We seem to have hit a rough patch for celebrity deaths this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and just yesterday, pitchman Billy Mays.  The demise of Michael Jackson in particular captured worldwide interest and led to all sorts of tributes and memorials, from BET to the cover of every major newspaper.

As is now the case with any breaking story with such magnitude of human interest, online usage spiked as people sought to learn what happened as it happened: for a short while, Twitter actually shut down and Google returned error messages for searches related to “Michael Jackson,” assuming that the volume of inquiries indicated some sort of automated attack on its servers.  For one hour last Thursday night, over one of every five tweets referenced Michael Jackson.

The interval between when TMZ announced his death and when more reputable outlets followed suit will provide fodder for journalists to debate for years; what caught my attention–courtesy of our ever aware planner Lance Hill–was the corresponding rumor that Jeff Goldblum had also died.  Oddly, Mr. Goldblum seems to be a more modern version of Abe Vigoda: rumors of his death first popped up ten years ago.  Picture 3If you check the chart at left, courtesy of the Twitter trend monitoring service  Twist, both Goldblum and Harrison Ford shared temporary obituaries late last week.  The ever-useful rumor-quashing site Snopes reports that these rumors originate via an automated prank; some ‘comedy’ websites encourage you to enter a celebrity’s name into a ‘fake news generator’ and then spread the story–similar rumors spreada few years ago about both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.  And apparently these fake story generators favor Hollywood deaths that involve the ‘victim’ falling off a mountain during a location shoot in New Zealand.  Go figure…

Social Media provide untold value–not only to enable us to connect more frequently in our time-starved culture, but also to provide a first person outlet for critical news as it breaks.  The recent coverage of the massive post-election protests on the streets of Iran would have been far less-comprehensive without the first-person details passed along via Twitter.  But as author and social media commentator Clay Shirky points out, having this vast distribution network accessible to everyone makes it all but impossible to define what constitutes a ‘journalist’ anymore.  Further, without being bound to the principles–and legal ramifications–of traditional journalism, false stories spread much further, much faster.  On the upside, ‘wiki’ principles hold true in these case as well; the majority of social media users want to know the truth and will quickly rise up to correct erroneous stories as they find them.

It takes a village indeed.  And online, that village is very, very large.  And loud.  And occasionally wrong.  But inevitably corrected.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

“Social” Comes First, “Media” Comes A Distant Second—If At All

A lot of clients have their knickers in a twist over the profound changes brought on by the rapid adoption of Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et al.  They want to know how to leverage these new media: what it takes to make a fan page or develop lots of followers by tweeting.

Unfortunately, the only people who consider these networks “media” are marketers— that woman in your book club who just friended you certainly doesn’t think that way.  To most users, these platforms simply provide a convenient way to maintain personal relationships in our increasingly time-starved lives.

Recently, the clipboard set at Yankelovich has been making the rounds with a presentation on Millenials and Social Media that echoes this perspective.  Their research suggests social networks present a unique forum for personal engagement that is very hard for brands to penetrate effectively.  Despite their surging popularity, Yankelovich contends that the social media provide lousy environments to sell people on brands.

For the most part, I agree with those findings.  Most brands do not offer anything particularly unique or compelling to consumers; few boast the passion-stirring qualities of a true badge.  But some do.  Two million fans signed on to follow Adidas Originals on Facebook.  Nike+ created their own network of runners and as of last January, they logged over 200 MILLION miles.  Tony Hsieh, the hyper-connected CEO of Zappos has 821,000 dedicated Twitter followers, an impressive number but still far behind celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal (1.35 million), President Obama (1.5 million),  and the shameless Ashton Kutcher (2.3 million).

Notice that none of those examples could even remotely be termed a ‘parity product’—each is unique and singularly devoted to something (a team, a lifestyle, policy) that millions of people can share.  The same can probably not be said for something more prosaic, like say the Swiffer.

Moreover, each of these successful social media brands deliver something unique to people: advice, insider perspective, first looks.  That is unique content people care deeply about, and passion has always created and defined social groups.  If your brand legitimately demonstrates and champions some passion that excites a group of people in your market, you stand a good chance to earn positive returns on social media investments.

But if your brand does not, you can and should still leverage social media, but instead of trying to talk and lead, watch and listen.  Twitter makes it easy to aggregate what people say about your brand and Facebook users are notoriously public with their opinions.  Flickr posts feature tags and comments and combing through Amazon customer reviews provides refreshingly unvarnished consumer opinions.  The Social Media provide a constant real time focus group for any savvy brand.

So, should every client be in Social Media?  Definitely. 

Should every client be there with Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts?  Not so much.

Because this forum is far more “Social” than “Media.”  Here, you don’t buy followers or purchase a captive audience.  You can’t demand attention; you have to earn interaction.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): The Lost ‘Process’ of Creativity

LanceBGBGuest Blogger: Lance Hill

As a Director of Account Planning, Lance Hill works on briefs and stuff, with a decided focus on the ‘and stuff.’  Lance’s relentlessly inquisitive mind may be a by-product of his fascination with philosophy; he’s long exemplified how a good question is always far more interesting than the right answer.  Sartorially, he is a sneakerhead, with a pair of kicks for most every occasion.  With time at the Forbes Group, Brann and Barkley, Evergreen & Partners, Lance brings a rangy perspective to his work.  Texas A&M remains close to his heart, though practically-speaking, it’s inked onto his calf.  Oh, and he’s pretty deadly at Halo too…  

One of my favorite parts of the family vacations we used to take was the random stuff we found along the way.  I travel quite a bit today for work, but these trips are always based on a “get from A to B as fast as possible” mentality.  I’m glad my Dad never thought this way or I would have never seen the World’s Largest Peanut in Georgia or the countless other random precious memories in my head.  Lance1

Wandering around a bit has always been a good thing for the spirit, the mind, and the body.  The Native American and Aboriginal cultures were strong believers in this.  It’s quite sad that it has been lost by most people.

Truly creative people not only see the value in wandering, they practice it daily, even if only in their mind.  Trying to force creativity into a straight line, into the “get from A to B as fast as possible” mentality is not only wrong, it simply doesn’t produce results anyone really wants.

I’ve been trying to allow for this when writing briefs.  Originally, an exceptional brief was a clear picture of where you were and where you needed to get to.  But along the way, we forced the path itself into the brief as well.  The “big idea”, “the single most compelling thing”–you know the drill.

Worse, this kind of prescriptive direction all-too-often creates the dreaded “it’s off-brief” client reaction, particularly to great ideas that nail the problem and achieve the desired point, but in a different (and often better) way.

Lance2Imagine if Leonardo Di Vinci hadn’t painted over his original version of the Mona Lisa as a portrait of a very tense pregnant woman.  What if Wilbur Wright had turned to Orville and said, “yes it flies and I can control it, but it looks nothing like our original design.  Time to re-brief.”

Yes, we all have to move faster in today’s industry. Great creative ideas can still be had in that time frame.  Just agree on where you are, where you want to go (what success looks like), and let the creative minds start to wonder.   It’s the only way the creative process can really work.

Lance3So how do you draw up and rationally show the creative process?  You don’t.  Two men have nailed, in my mind, the true articulation of the creative process in describing how their agencies work: Dan Weiden’s “Show up stupid every morning” and Brian Brooker’s “Come up with a good idea and then throw it away”.   From what I’ve seen, coming up with great creative is really that simple of an approach and incredibly hard to do.  Both embrace the chaos and the wondering inherent in the mind’s formulation of something truly creative.

Planning as a discipline is supposed to help this process, not get in the way.   So why do our briefs so often try to force creative into a pre-determined path?

By Lance Hill, Account Planning Director, Element 79

Maybe We Should Leave Copernicus Out of Advertising

Just Your Typical 16th Century Heliocentric Mad Man...

Just Your Typical 16th Century Heliocentric Mad Man...

Ten to fifteen years ago, some very smart leaders in the advertising industry drove a Copernican shift; a conscious move away from a well-established mindset that put client brands at the center, to one that put the consumer at the center.

The thinking was that brand efforts should revolve around the consumer, with their needs as paramount to all brand decision-making.

It made a lot of sense.  And with regard to many aspects of advertising, it still does.  For instance channel and media planning must put the consumer at the center of all of their efforts, insuring our messages reach their chosen audiences.  Similarly, R&D and new product innovation works far more effectively when serving a strategic intent.

But yesterday, I was discussing the relative merits and challenges of converting the agency to a position centered around brand stories with Lance Hill, one of our creative planners.  In the midst of our conversation, he suddenly stopped, cocked his head the way a German Shepherd might when it catches an intriguing scent, then mused “If we commit to brand stories, then we can’t put the consumer at the center–the center must be the brand if we want our stories to be authentic.”

That’s heresy!  Outrageous!  And of course, entirely correct; brands that pretend to be something they are not in hopes of tapping into some perceived zeitgeist are the equivalent of politicians who swing through the Southern states and suddenly add “y’all” to their vocabulary.  It is dishonest, over-reaching and false.

The best brand stories are authentic: deeply so, with all the idiosyncracies and quirks of the people behind them.  So in honor of Lance, who coincidentally celebrates a birthday this weekend, let me direct you to one of his favorite brand stories: the Adidas/Run DMC story told by Reverend Run himself.  Fascinating, profane, illegal…and unflinchingly honest.  It’s far from my story, but four pairs later, this is my brand.  Enjoy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79