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If like me, you are getting weary of TV ads that misuse and abuse hashtags, and get excited about those that do it right, then read my opinion piece published today in B&T magazine about the do’s and don’ts of ‘hashtag marketing’.

And as nothing beats walking the walk, I have even thrown in some best-in class examples for good measure (and much needed inspiration on this side of the world).

I would love to hear from you about your own experience (and perhaps frustrations) of being subjected to hashtag madness, and of any good or bad examples you may have come across recently – whatever part of the world you are in, get in touch!

Here in Beautiful Australia, advertisers and agencies are still getting to grips with it. They will get there eventually. Thanks to those of us who know better, stand up and shout.

Vine has been gaining momentum ever since its launch in January, piggybacking on Twitter’s considerable user base and fast becoming the new social media darling amongst younger users.

To this day, and despite the recent launch of arch-rival Facebook’s Instagram video sharing feature, it is showing no sign of abating. On the contrary, if anything Twitter promises us that with Vine ‘2.0’ soon in market this could well be the beginning of greater and bigger things to come.

In terms of reach, the latest publicly available figures stand at 40M Viners worldwide (up from 13M in June), with an estimated 50K in Australia (source:@SMN_Australia, thanks David!).

Now some of you may argue that’s a drop in the (South Pacific) ocean, hence not even worth considering as part of your marketing mix.

I beg you to reconsider and here is why.

Vine offers a unique, playful way to connect with your audience that drives differentiation for your brand.

Vining has been described as a new ‘art form’ by Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and rightly so. Simply, the 6-second videos (or Vines as they are known) are ‘little windows’ into your consumers and fans’ creative minds.

Unlike Instagram’s ‘generous’ 15 seconds and various props (e.g. 13 filters, cinema mode etc.), Vine’s time constraints and ‘raw’ approach to video creation truly put the power of your imagination to the test. The art of Vine-making is tricky to master as it requires you to be creative not only in the story you are telling but in its execution also – with only 6 secs to get your message across artfully.

And so not surprisingly, the 6-second short-form video is particularly popular with the creative community, with some art directors specialising in Vine-making and advertising agencies using it as a tool for hiring creative staff. It actually takes skills to create something meaningful and beautiful at the same time, in such a limited amount of time – just have a go and see for yourself.

The first Vines I saw were rather painful to watch, jerky and hard to comprehend at the best of times. However, as advertisers and Viners at large got the hang of it, the micro-video blogging network grew on me as did the quality of the content.

9 months later, it has turned out to be a great way for brands to seek participation from their fans. Successful examples of this abound in the US, where the adoption of Vine is the most prevalent amongst consumers and marketers.

Famously, GE with its successful ongoing #6SecondScience projects; one of which can be seen here. And its #GravityDay campaign – the longest Vine chain ever to my knowledge – as sampled here.

Other early adopters include Virgin Mobile USA with its #happyaccidents campaign and Airbnb which took Vine-making to a new level by inviting the audience to co-create the first short film entirely made of Vines.

Vine may never reach the same scale as Instagram (with 10 times as many monthly users today); however I can foresee its community and loyal following building steadily over time. Vine-making is hard to master for a start and so when you do, you tend to stick to it. Simply, as a brand it gives you an edge (or USP) hard to compete with in your category. As a fan, teenager or aspiring creative, it makes you stand out amongst your friends or peers; it makes you feel good.

In my opinion, it is the creativity at the core of its proposition that gives Vine longevity and makes it appealing to the hyper-connected 15-to-30 years old and creative at heart the world over. Twitter made that clear on the day it announced its launch and so did Dom Hofmann, Vine co-founder, when he said “constraint inspires creativity”:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 2.33.39 PM

The arrival of Vine on the market was timely for a number of reasons.

Not only does it tap into our growing appetite for consuming and sharing visual content on social networks and on the go, it also gives advertisers a new tool to achieve cut-through on social media amongst the ever-increasing noise.

As recently outlined by Ipsos, competition for ‘image attention’ has indeed never been greater as we hop from one screen to the next and back, and our senses get solicited all day long by hundreds of messages in different media formats.

Vine is simply a great tool for creating attention-grabbing rich visual content and generating earned media amongst social media users.

How critical is Vine to your social media marketing mix?

GE’s CMO Beth Comstock admitted recently that social media had played a critical part in helping turn around the company’s fortunes. In her view, social media had helped make GE “relevant in a lot of new ways”.

I agree.

I recently became a fan of GE’s social media initiatives, and in particular of their marketing efforts on Vine, which I follow with great interest and amusement. For a company whom I never felt connected to in any way, and whose purpose and business were obscure to me to the say the least, through its own but also fans’ Vine videos,  this once faceless corporation has managed to make itself likeable and its purpose tangible – in other words relevant to me.

The performance metrics speak for themselves.

Here are some recent stats on the effectiveness of the various social video formats in market:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 2.30.47 PM

At a glance, during that one-month period, we can see that Vine outperformed Instagram on both engagement rate and number of retweets. Further, according to Unruly’s research in May, 5 Vines get shared every second on Twitter.

Together, these metrics clearly demonstrate how complementary Twitter and Vine are as engagement channels.

If that’s not enough, what else does Vine have in its favour?

Unless Facebook whose usage and appeal amongst millennials is declining, Twitter and by association Vine are still happily used by teens and 20-somethings (source: eMarketer May 2013).

So if you have a substantial Twitter following and Gen Y’s are a key target audience, then it is worth trying Vine in a complimentary way to Twitter.

Oh, and unlike Instagram, Vine will remain ad-free for the foreseeable future – which makes the user experience all the more immersive and attractive to social media users who are seeking to escape advertising-heavy networks (such as Facebook).

So all considered, Vine makes for a brilliant opportunity to build a 1:1 relationship with your audience, in a space free of competitive noise.

So come on, be brave, start SMALL but start experimenting NOW. Down Under or wherever you are.

A lot of ink has been spilled lately on the “immediacy of the internet”, the “real-time web”, the benefits of “newsjacking” and the fact that social media “war rooms”, “mission controls” and “creative newsrooms” are becoming a regular fixture at brands’ HQ.

These are just some of the causes and manifestations of what has become known as real-time marketing. Or 24/7 marketing as some of us like to call it.

I like to think of real-time marketing as a form of opportunism with a marketing or PR twist. In my opinion, it is best defined as:

The art and practice of taking advantage, in real time, of trending topical content to create maximum impact for your brand or product.

Where the impact is measured in terms of offline and online WOM, earned media coverage, sales etc.

A recent successful example of this is the “Dunk in the dark” Twitter ad from Oreo at this year’s Super Bowl, which was created and broadcast within minutes of the power outage causing some of the lights to go out. This tiny (and inexpensive) ad generated over ten thousand retweets and Facebook likes before going viral on Tumblr. Although the sales impact is yet unknown, the brand awareness and equity have most certainly gone up as a result.

Another lesser known but no less successful example is the appropriation of the Super Bowl by an American advertising agency for the last 3-4 years. Not only does its Brand Bowl do a great job of “highjacking’’ the game extensive publicity, it also leverages a well-known behaviour (the fact that everyone LOVES to talk about the Super Bowl ads) whilst showcasing the agency’s smarts in social media to existing and potential customers:

Why is real-time marketing grabbing so many headlines these days?

Although it’s been around for some time, it is becoming increasingly popular amongst advertisers as a result of a fundamental change in the way we consume content. This new behaviour has created more opportunities to engage with their audience apropos.

The fact is that more and more of us are connected to the web for a larger portion of our day as we hop from one device to the next. One way to look at our ever-growing need to stay connected through a device is nicely summed up here (courtesy of Rob Gordon):

sleep internet

According to Google, on average 4.4hours of our leisure time is spent in front of screens every day (be it a TV, mobile, tablet or desktop screen), with a good chunk of that time spent online. (And some of us are more addicted than others: with up to 9 hours spent on screens and more time online than any other nation, the British are officially the most obsessed with the www.)

To put this into context, the above Super Bowl case studies both tapped into the 36% of Super Bowl viewers who confided they would be using a second screen, with 52% admitting to using social media during the game.

What are the key ingredients to successfully targeting this new breed of highly connected consumers?

Simply put, speed, impact and relevance. Or the timely delivery of relevant content with high virality potential.

Easily said, not so easily done as the challenge for marketers then becomes to have the right skills on hand and solid logistics behind it.

Brands have to be prepared to commit dedicated in-house resource to it or alternatively outsource the service entirely – a substantial and continuous investment either way. Additionally, it is advisable that they continue leveraging their creative and media partner agencies’ smarts to ensure the content ideas, the timing and delivery channel(s) resonate best with the target audience, especially around key campaign dates.

Coca Cola and Oreo’s real-time management of their Super Bowl social media campaigns exemplify this cross-functional brand/agency operational model perfectly, and how involved it can get:

Coca Cola set up “war rooms” across the country as it monitored and responded live to user engagements throughout its Mirage TV and social game campaign at this year’s Super Bowl. The size of the multidisciplinary team pulled together on that one day was impressive:
“Nearly 40 execs from Coca-Cola, Wieden, Starcom MediaVest Group and PR shop Allidura gathered at the 360i offices in downtown Manhattan to manage the brand’s second screen experience. Another 20 people worked remotely in collaboration with the team, while Katie Bayne, president-North America brands, and Allison Lewis, senior VP-marketing Coca-Cola North America, were in New Orleans at the game.” (Source: Ad Age)

Likewise, Oreo’s Black Out Twitter ad would not have been possible without a solid operation in place: brand and agency teams (including copywriters, artists and senior brand stakeholders) were on call that day, strategising together in the same room, and ready to react within minutes to any opportune situation unravelling on and off the pitch throughout the game.

As a brand, you may prefer to keep your involvement to a minimum by outsourcing the operations and bulk of the work to an agency specialising in real-time content creation and newsjacking. That’s Pepsi’s choice with its partnership with Deep Focus’ social media service Moment Studio.

Whichever operational model you choose, it can’t be a half-hearted effort and requires a serious investment in time and $$ to deliver positive results for your brand.

Finally, another question comes to mind: can brands afford not to be committed to real-time marketing 24/7?

With so many of us connected around the clock, it appears not. The Burger King Twitter PR disaster, the latest high-profile hack in the series, shows how imperative it is for a brand to have a strategy in place for the efficient and timely monitoring of their social channels 24/7.

Whichever way you go about it, for real-time marketing to work in the connected world we live in, it requires a fundamental shift in mindset on the advertiser’s part i.e. their agreement to a lean, nimble approval process to allow for the speedy delivery of near-instant communications. And in my view that is probably the trickiest part and biggest obstacle to effective real-time marketing.

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