TAG | social media
The internet is a weird and wonderful place. It connects people all around the world, people with niche and sometimes bizarre interests, people that would never meet in everyday life. I once saw a couple on a forum – I was doing that creepy thing where you read everything but don’t join in – who claimed to have been in a long distance relationship for a number of years, they had formidable ‘rep’ and were ‘respected members’ of the forum but it then emerged that they had never actually met. Through these relationships, and others, the internet gives rise to hundreds of new ideas, fads and crazes daily. An internet sub culture has formed and given birth to the internet meme:
What is a meme? Memes are spontaneous, amusing things which reflect some aspect of society or culture and can become every very popular very quickly. Recent popular internet phenomena are the Harlem Shake, before that Gangnam style and in the past we’ve seen planking, Rick rolling, lolcats and the list goes on and on and on and on. They can be anything from images, catchphrases, videos, words or themes, in fact here is a list that Wikipedia has complied and it’s all pretty random.
Yet these seemingly pointless phenomena have much wider implications, particularly on marketing. The aim of marketing is to promote a brand; you want to spread your brand image far and wide. This can be done by brute force – pushing your message in the consumer’s face through relentless adverts in magazines, on buses, on billboards, on TV, on the radio and on websites. But the holy grail of the marketer is known as ‘word of mouth’ – make the customer do the work for you and spread your message on their own. No only is this much less work intensive, but it also is more effective since consumers believe other consumers more than they believe billboards. The internet is busy changing everybody’s lives as usual and has the potential to revolutionise word of mouth marketing through memetic marketing – using memes, as concepts that spread from person to person via the internet, to encourage consumers to share a brand message.
Such phenomena are born and live on the internet, like a shameful secret they were once confined to the shady corners of chatrooms or forums but now they are plastered all over Facebook walls and taped to tweet decks. They are even slowly clambering out of our screens and into the ‘real’ world. (The real world is a place where two individuals in a relationship have had actual face to face physical contact.)
These are ideas and messages that go viral with lightening speed, reaching hundreds of thousands, even millions of people will little to no effort on the part of their creators. It certainly sounds ideal if you’re trying hard to get a certain message across – enter memetic marketing. Memetic marketing, is a term that seems overly technical for something which essentially started just for a bit of a laugh, and it means using memes in marketing campaigns. Simples. Only it’s not quite as simples as it seems.
As we know from the story behind key board cat, these phenomena tend to be things that somebody does messing around in their bedroom late at night that at the time they think is kind of funny, then the internet swallows it up and vomits it out everywhere, so they wake up in the morning and suddenly everyone is doing it. So these things tend to arise fairly organically and happen by chance. Nobody knows what will go viral and what won’t. Satire and political parodies tend to be popular, such as Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ but ultimately circulation and uptake are decided by the ‘internet community’ on forums, chat rooms, social networking sites and all other areas of web 2.0.
It is important to remember that memes are at heart humorous and simple which renders them not relevant to all marketing campaigns, but if memetic markerting is what you want then you have several options. The first is to piggy back on an existing meme and use this for the basis of your campaign. This is what Virgin Media have done with ‘success kid/victory baby’.The ‘Y U NO guy’ has been used on hipchat adverts and keyboard cat has been used to advertise pistachios. However, choosing the right meme can be tricky. The choice of meme and its meaning must be selected carefully to avoid any mis-interpretations. Memes have a shelf life and die out so using an existing one means that people could already be tired of it. Most importantly, stealing memes could initiate a back lash from an internet community unimpressed by your lack of creativity and willingness to free ride on others.
The second option is to create your own meme and this is obviously a lot harder but can be more rewarding. Old spice created a meme with their campaign ‘the man your man could smell like’ and Compare the Market have created one with their meerkat campaign http://www.comparethemeerkat.com/. You need to come up with something that is genuinely appealing or funny yet is still relevant to your company or product. There is no point generating a hugely popular meme that nobody associates back to you. In this way the meme replaces the traditional marketing ‘catch phrase’ and it needs to be very cleverly designed so that people want to share it of their own volition.
Memetic marketing can be very dangerous, once you’ve released your meme out into the internet wilderness anything could happen and many end up subject to vicious parody http://arcticready.com/arctic-ready. The advice when this happens seems to be ‘just go with it’ – no publicity is bad publicity right? In fact, another way to stir up some meme attention is to create the inspiration for a meme rather than a meme itself – is this the purpose of some campaigns which are so bad they’re good? These campaigns can get a vast amount of attention, although they tend to be more popular if the attention is negative. I cannot believe that the instigators do not foresee the way some campaigns are going to go, like the #IShopAtWaitrose or #susanalbumparty – the latter must be deliberate, how could it not be? If it was it definitely worked – who cared about Susan Boyle’s new album before that and then suddenly, with that hashtag, everyone was interested.
Conclusion – is memetic marketing the future? I’m not so sure, it seems a bit gimmicky to me. Using memes in traditional marketing campaigns seems a bit odd, like taking a fish out of water and then expecting it to leap back into the water to tell all its friends. In digital marketing, however, it is more natural – using memes on social media is like speaking the local language. I suggest we turn to the King of social media for advice – Barack Obama. The subject of many a meme, Obama, during an AMA session on reddit referenced ‘his meme’ and the crowd went wild. He’s following the age old rule of talking to your audience in their own language. He looks cool and people love it. I think this highlights that there are two different ways to use memes – you can acknowledge them and use them to relate to an audience or take advantage of them. Obama does the former, aggressive traditional campaigns do the latter and speaking on behalf of ‘the internet community’ I think we’d all prefer Obama, I mean, the former.
Since the first links between smoking and lung cancer were published by Richard Doll in 1950, legislation has been passed to try to control tobacco consumption. In addition to counter campaigns such as anti smoking adverts and specialist NHS services the Government restrict and regulate the tobacco industry in an unprecedented way. We’ve seen limits on smoking in public places, a ban on vending machines, compulsory warning messages on packets, excise taxes and unparalleled restrictions on advertising. This year the government are stepping up their game with more graphic campaigns and grotesque imagery.
Today most advertising campaigns are run online with a complementary social media campaign and since regulations began as early as the 1960s some of the most successful corporations, in one of the world’s largest industries, are unable to fully utilise any digital marketing. Furthermore, anti-smoking groups have been able to take full advantage of digital resources in the form of help quit websites, mobile apps, online adverts, infographics and web apps. So why do 157,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking every year in the UK? Why is smoking still a desirable thing to do? And why is brand loyalty still so strong – the highest of all consumer products?
The Government can ban tobacco firms from promoting smoking but they cannot ban the public from doing so. The tobacco industry invented marketing as we now know it. The first known advert for a cigarette brand was in 1789. The industry has a substantial legacy with strong, historically established brands to which few others can compare and this is not a market that is open to new entrants. These brand titans have been putting in the marketing ground work for the past 200 years.
As a result they are in a unique position; a comprehensive social media campaign is run – inadvertently – by smokers themselves. Whilst the only official smoking advertisements online are anti-smoking, there are ‘unofficial’ or implicit adverts for smoking all over the internet. Social media is full of indirect materials promoting smoking – photos, tweets, pinterest boards, discussions, polls, tumblrs, videos - all posted solely by consumers which perpetuate the brand message and cannot be regulated easily by the Government.
The Government have to be very carefully when justifying the regulation the tobacco industry for fear of appearing paternalistic. It cannot look like it thinks it knows better and needs to protect us from ourselves or from the big bad tobacco firms. As a result bans and restrictions are enforced with a focus on protecting children. Therefore, the focus of many campaigns is passive smoking and the messages are ‘I’m worried about mum/dad’, ‘you’re killing your children’ and ‘only way to protect your family’ is to quit.
Tobacco firms have been equally ingenious in response – their apparent aims are not to attract non-smokers only to try to get existing smokers to switch brands – but they’ve got into trouble. With the cartoon character ‘Joe Camel’ R.J. Reynolds were accused of intentionally targeting children. Internal documents emerged claiming that children were the ‘future’s smokers’, detailing that brand allegiance is formed before age 18 and instructions for campaign materials to be distributed near schools. R.J. Reynolds denies this but voluntarily ended the campaign in 1997. A study into the accusations famously found that that at one point more 6 year old children could recognise Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.
So branding is important. It is powerful and the Government are worried. Branding is what gives your company an identity through slogans, name, colour, music etc. and advertising promotes this. Branding is what makes smoking ‘look cool’. It is renowned that teenagers are keen to ‘look cool’ and are more easily swayed by peer pressure – this has historically been sited as the main reason for teen smokers.
But whilst brand image is traditionally formed physically through packaging, labels and adverts, today brand image is predominantly created digitally. The brand ‘voice’ speaks through twitter, is showcased on the company website, interacts with consumers on Facebook and networks through LinkedIn. Therefore, every time someone tweets ‘need a ciggie #addicted’ or a picture is posted of someone smoking at a party, brand image is re-enforced. Smoking advertising has gone viral. It is shared, liked and retweeted constantly.
Due to past decades of years of truly extensive marketing – and a highly addictive ingredient – the tobacco industry have a product that people want to share and promote of their own accord. Studies have noted for years how smokers tend to use their cigarettes as a ‘badge’, a ‘prop’, a ‘symbol’ and as long as they continue to do so – and post it on social media – they use their cigarettes to reflect and promote the brand image.
The irony is that this kind of promotion is so much more powerful than commercial, official, paid-for adverts. Consumers are much more likely to be swayed by what their best friend is posting or what Kate Moss is papped doing rather than a banner at the top of the page or an ad word on google. This is why businesses today work hard to create ‘share-able’ content on social media sites. This kind of marketing is self-perpetuating and there is not much the Government can do about it.
As seems to happen every time a new year rolls around, the media focus has now shifted from the recaps, summaries and top-ten lists of 2012 into predictions, forecasts and a crystal ball gazing free-for-all for 2013. A quick glance at the prognostications of those with their ear to the ground of the digital marketing terrain reveals all manner of cheery optimism for this year’s prospects. To give you a sense of the exciting things to come, we’ve put together this round up of the leading experts’ views of the field.
As always in the digital realm the key players (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are discussed avidly with a certain degree of fear combined with sycophantic praise. Rob Eleveld writes for Forbes, ‘we predict that Google is making a move towards charging for the data it collects and stores, and we might see this happen as early as next year.’ However, this daunting prospect is offset by his predictions that, not only will the number of digital marketing agencies double in 2013, but the marketing budgets of companies will expand to keep up with the growing digital demand.
Add to this the outlook of Lara O’Reilly at MarketingWeek, who reports on findings by the research company Forrester that digital budgets will grow to account for 20% (£31bn) of worldwide marketing budgets. Based on last year’s trend of 13% growth in the UK alone, it is reasonable to expect 2013 to be a year of marketing breakthroughs for companies on the digital front. If 2012 was all about ‘big data’ then 2013 appears to be time for some ‘big spending.’
With numerous other trends and developments to keep up with, 2013 promises at the very least to be a year of new opportunities to engage in interesting ways with more targeted audiences. Whether any of these experts can accurately predict the future of digital marketing is uncertain, but it is clear that whatever new surprises 2013 brings, the areas of search, social and other facets of digital media can no longer be ignored by competitive businesses.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are running for president in what has widely been said to be the first true social media election. The Democrats’ superior use of social media is claimed to be one of the factors behind Obama’s victory in 2008 and four years later the Republicans are determined to keep up. When 94% of social media users of voting-age are likely to watch an entire political message online the opportunity to be heard is unmissable.
Much of the debate surrounding this issue focuses on what social media means for politics and future political campaigns. Will facebook friends, followers and retweets become marks on a ballot form? Will events such as Obama’s ‘Twitter Town Hall’ replace more traditional grassroots political activities? Social media might be reshaping the political landscape, but what does all this political interfering mean for social media?
Politicians need to spread their message as far and as wide as possible and social media provides a platform to communicate with a vast network of users. We’ve seen businesses do the same and use social media sites to spread their brand message. But are they ‘taking advantage of’ or ‘manipulating’ social media? No, because social media can facilitate communication between politicians and citizens; on a broad scale as well as a personal one but most importantly it allows citizens to communicate back.
There is something about harnessing social media to aid political campaigns that makes me feel uneasy. But I think the reason for this is because campaigners’ approaches feel measured and calculated in a way that is in opposition to the free and easy flow of information that I associate with Web 2.0. There are teams of people who run the social media side of political campaigns and this can make them feel orchestrated or fake. Facebook even have their own Political Outreach Manager to advise political officials on how to use facebook most to their advantage in campaigns. However, social media can also facilitate interaction on a more genuine and personal level; Obama took part in an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on reddit and Romney is running a competition to win a ride in his private jet. In these instances both candidates are trying to engage with individuals rather than a whole population; a task made much easier by social media websites.
The wonderful thing about Web 2.0 is the control it gives to users. Politicians can try to use social media to spread their political messages but ultimately they have little control over that message once it is released and as a result their attempts can backfire. Web 2.0 is a two-way street and if you communicate through social media you become involved in a dialogue. Therefore, politicians can’t carelessly throw out propaganda on social media sites because it will inevitably be thrown back and normally in a much more amusing format.
The fact that social media facilitates a dialogue means that it also allows citizens the opportunity to express political opinions. Social media is reported as playing a role- the size of which is disputed- in the recent political revolutions in Egypt and Libya. Twitter provided a fast way to spread information of protests with hash tags detailing times and dates. Facebook pages with times and dates of protests were created. But it is not true to say that social media provides a universal platform for communication free from the confines of geographical and political boarders. Mark Zuckerberg may intend Facebook to “bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people” but the ways in which politics and social media interact differ vastly between cultures with some political regimes ban social media sites completely. In comparison to this, politicians engaging with social media and using it to increase interaction with citizens looks like a very good thing.
UK politicians have made tentative steps into social media but it will be interesting to see if the recent trends observed in the US are mirrored over here. If the run up to the 2015 UK election has a strong social media focus, we may have more than just the return of WebCameron to look forward to. Is politics reshaping the landscape of social media? Yes, but social media is a constantly changing entity. The beliefs and actions of politicians shape every aspect of our lives – a lot more than a tweet about someone’s breakfast or a youtube video of a surprised kitten.
Is print dead? This has been constantly asked, re-asked and over-analysed during the last few years with the expansion of current media developments. However, focusing on the traditional newspaper’s death sentence precludes us from examining the real and very exciting changes that have taken place – and are currently taking place – in the news industry as a whole; that is, how newspapers and news sites are interacting with social media creating news that is centred on your photographs, your videos, and perhaps most importantly, your opinions.
Newspapers and news sites have responded to demands with a new age of digital, personalised and unedited news. Whilst sites are exploring different angles, the overall agenda is the same; giving us an enhanced experience of the news where we all take part. The BBC News website’s ‘Have your say’ and ‘Your pictures and stories’ sections are just a couple of examples amongst countless. CNN uses ‘iReport’ – a user-generated site where ‘the way people like you report the news’ – influencing the way that CCN itself reports the news. And perhaps most groundbreaking is the ‘Guardian Zeitgeist’, a news feed application that literally captures the spirit of the times, pulling in stories from the main site according to ‘social signals’ (i.e. reader trends and mentions on Twitter). The day’s ‘Zeitgeistiness’ is calculated at midnight each day and is frozen in the archives for posterity. We create each day’s Zeitgeist; the news has been democratised.
Since news is now presented as something to which we should respond, actively contribute, and shape, the traditional client-editor relationship in the media has been overhauled. We now expect to have a voice in the news – to play a part in the debate – whereas in the ‘Letters’ section in traditional newspapers, the editor decides which of our opinions are worth publishing. The power has shifted from the editor to us; our opinions have become part of the news and the way it is told.
The relationship between news sites and social media is therefore ever-changing and increasingly significant. Recent turmoil has proved this: the London riots showed the BBC to be getting much of their information from Twitter, enabling journalists to collate news from many different places simultaneously; and Twitter is particularly useful in covering the Middle Eastern conflicts, as Syria for example have banned journalists. Twitter has become a new Reuters. Does this make the journalist redundant by simply using information from tweets? News sites certainly no longer appear to be the front line for news. However, we perhaps need journalists more than ever to sift through the copious amounts of information; not only creating a story, but actually providing an analysis.
If sources from ‘non-professionals’ have become the norm, can we trust the news? What are people’s Twitter agendas? There is no regulating body – or even necessarily an incentive – to maintain a reputable journalistic standards on Twitter. In which case, perhaps we should be increasingly sceptical of the news the more democratised it becomes. Whilst we assume news sites check their sources, these are becoming increasingly difficult to track down with the anonymity of the internet. Or, alternatively, should we potentially regard tweets as having less of an agenda than journalists’ articles, allowing Twitter and its counterparts to provide an oasis of democratisation in the agenda-driven world of journalism?
If recent years have indeed seen the democratisation of the news, can we say that this is for the best? Inevitably, new media can be used for good and bad, but where can the media go from here? Whilst having space to voice our opinions is undeniably significant, is there perhaps too much equality, and have we lost a sense of what is important news and what is self-important rambling?
It is a truism to say that the internet has sped things up. One two-word phrase, coined just three years ago, has now pervaded popular culture to the extent that your gran’s probably heard of it.
No, not Britney Spears. The two words are ‘Social’ and ‘Media’. In the UK, traffic to social networking sites surpassed that of search engines for the first time last May, and in the US this happened long before. Comment on the internet, once the preserve of hardcore forum users with their cliques and in-jokes, is now open to all: in 2010 pretty much everyone, from Barack Obama to us (and yes, Britney Spears) can, and does, have their say.
The benefits of the new connectivity seem huge: the popularity of social media around the world demonstrates the huge capabilities the web has to enable communication between completely disparate populations. Social media is providing freedom of expression to countries like China, as well as allowing the sharing of contacts, information and a considerable amount of entertainment.
And it hasn’t taken big business long to appreciate the potential of social networks. Some firms have started moving their main online presence onto existing networks. Given the everyday use of sites like Facebook, it can really come as no surprise – brands want to operate in the same space as their customers. The networks are hardly going to stop them. “What’s the issue?” you might ask. We’re constantly bombarded with adverts on all media platforms, all trying to convince us to do this, drink that, and definitely BUY MORE. This is a part of life, and when social media marketing is done effectively it can be fantastic – encouraging interaction from consumers and providing organizations with an opportunity a chance to engage with their audience in ways hitherto unheard of.
The problem is when it is done lazily, without thought for the individuality of the end user. Social networks provide advertisers in particular with the opportunity to interact with consumers on an individual basis. It is important that they take this opportunity – rather than using the networks as another tool to broadcast a single, bland message to an outdated conception of the uniform audience member.
For all companies in the current climate, existing social networks may seem the cheap and easy route to consumers, but they can only be part of their answer. Consumers want something interesting, interactive and secure when they use the web, and clicking a ‘like’ button shouldn’t be the end of the communication. In the interests of the sellers and the buyers, the experience has to be more fulfilling.
Most of you will be familiar with Foursquare, which allows its users to check-in at various places around town, and share favourite locations with their friends in real-time, while they’re already at the pub, the park or the gig. The point is to connect friends and places with one another – a bit of ‘planned serendipity’, the buzzwords so frequently tossed around by the architects of this and similar services.
Facebook has decided to enter the location-sharing social media market. The company has unveiled a new feature it calls ‘Places’, which functions a little like Foursquare, but with more emphasis on sharing the quality and stories related to particular experiences, in particular places, with particular people, particularly. The first concern which normally emerges with applications like Foursquare and Facebook Places is, naturally, privacy: Is my every location being broadcast to complete strangers? Will I be digitally cased by prospective thieves who know when I’m home and when I am not? Or, rather than being held up at a late-night meeting in lieu of attending her exhibition opening, will my girlfriend accidentally find out that I’m in the pub with my mates through an automatic check-in notification? Don’t let the specificity of the last example mislead you – these are just a few hypotheticals to meditate on (but for the record, the late-night meeting DID take place).
Nevertheless, there’s no question that over-sharing in social media is the result of both the products and services themselves – and how they’re used. Shortly after Foursquare’s release, a campaign called ‘Please Rob Me’ launched. This site did nothing more than aggregate publicly shared check-ins upon its launch, but its name and the design of the website (for would-be robbers and thieves to see who isn’t home) illustratrated its real purpose: to educate people on some of the more dangerous effects of location-sharing.
Point taken. But defenders of services like Foursquare and the newly-minted Facebook Places also are right to point out that the privacy risk is generally based on how these services are used – and the way users configure their privacy settings. Besides, is it any more dangerous than telling someone you have a 9-5 job in town? Or updating your Facebook status to let people know you’re on holiday in Spain? In some ways, no – although the ability for Facebook users to check their friends in without their permission is one issue centred on by critics.
While discussion of these location-sharing services is generally dominated by privacy and the dos-and-don’ts of trumpeting one’s every movement (bowel included), it was actually the words “planned serendipity” used briefly in the marketing video demonstration of Facebook Places which struck me. In fact, they bothered me. Why, beyond the fact of their wilfil self-contradiction, did they bother me? The short answer: because serendipity is fun as it is.
Serendipity is one of the things in life I tend to embrace. How often is it the case that the best people you meet, the most interesting facts, the most engaging events, the most enjoyable and fulfilling jobs you undertake, are happened upon by a seemingly random series of events? Serendipity has also served me well when it hasn’t produced the most satisfying or enjoyable outcomes. All the accidental wrong-turns and (so it seems at the time) dead-ends I’ve encountered in my life, figuratively and often literally, were enriching experiences because (I’d like to think) I’ve learned from them and grew as a result. Failure, which is almost never planned for, is one of the most enriching experiences one can have – even if it may not seem like that at the time.
Colleagues and friends of mine claim they use Foursquare more often than not to see what places to avoid: a certain ex has checked in to the Starbucks down the street; a work colleague – to whom a report is owed – just checked in to the restaurant at which you were planning to eat; and so forth. The downside of being constantly aware of the location of your ‘friends’ (in Facebook parlance – not to be confused with actual friends, obviously) might be the impact this has on your choice to seek out or avoid certain spaces.
Contrary to the intent of its architects, Foursquare – when used like this – does exactly the opposite of what it originally set out to do: open the doors to all kinds of new experiences, and connect them through a variety of overlapping networks. Facebook Places attempts to emphasize the attachment of stories and experiences to various locations – like a running review of existence. The service hasn’t landed in the UK yet so it’s a bit early to tell whether or not it will be used in a more interesting way than comparable predecessors.
A close friend of mine who teaches adult education in Canada is trying to use Foursquare as a force for good, with fairly positive results. His students – all of whom have BlackBerrys, iPhones and Android devices – receive points each time they check in at a museum or art gallery around town, but they can only collect and exchange those points – largely in the form of Starbucks gift certificates – by volunteering a five to ten minute presentation on an exhibit or feature piece at one of these places. Many of his students do in fact visit these places – and use Foursquare to see if their friends are checking (in and) out (of) the same spots as well.
It’s not quite planned serendipity, but as a result of his little experiment the number of half-open bloodshot eyes visible during the early morning portion of his class has dropped by over half. Like myself, he hopes that someone will produce an application that brings serendipity back to location-sharing social media products – kind of like if stumbleupon, Facebook and Foursquare had a baby. Facebook Places is in the early stages of its conception – perhaps this is the child we’ve been looking for.