I was wandering around the Net the other day when I stumbled across a video discussion between Chris Beck, Founder of the cutting edge advertising firm 26DotTwo and Brian Solis, a thought leader in the area of new media, which includes social media. They were discussing the difference between throwing a message at an audience vs sizing up the audience in advance and tailoring the message to suit various subsets of the audience, or “nicheworks” as Solis calls them.
A couple of terms in the video reached out and grabbed me by the throat. The first was “Hybrid Theory” and the second was “digital sociologist”. Now anyone who knows me knows that my mind is divided into two parts. The first part is the one that attended Harvard University in the early 1980’s and was inundated with the intellectual. The second part is the one that was influenced by 24 years in a Fortune 500 corporation where practicality ruled the day, very meat and potatoes. My initial reaction to this video was the corporate one of “you’ve gotta be kidding. Digital sociologist? Give me a break. It’s writing messages in less than 140 characters folks, it ain’t rocket science.” Fortunately, the academic side kicked in quite quickly and I needed to satisfy my curiosity.
I can’t do Hybrid Theory justice after reading one article. Brian Solis has put a lot of thought into his ideas and he integrates a good amount of academic rigor into them. I hope Mr. Solis will forgive me if I oversimplify his article. I did get this much out of it. Hybrid Theory recognizes the fact that just tossing your message out on Twitter or a Facebook fan page isn’t much different from the marketing paradigms of old. That is unless you study your audience. This study not only means understanding their interests but also understanding their behavior. What kind of messages do certain Twitter communities retweet? How will you build a message that will resonate with a particular subset (nichework) of the Twitter universe? This resonance must not stop at their simply clicking a link within your tweet. It means that they retweet your message and their community members in turn retweet. It goes beyond just “going viral”. It involves creating a personal connection with each target audience member.
Again, let us remember that effective social media marketing involves a conversation. One way blast broadcasts are not what it is about. To illustrate this, Solis and Beck discuss the Old Spice internet campaign. Old Spice’s advertising firm reached out to the Twitter population and invited them to submit questions to “the Old Spice Guy”, a spokesman played by actor Isaiah Mustafa. Various Twitterati, famous and not so famous submitted questions to @OldSpice and the spokesman answered about 87 of these questions in filmed Internet ads. The kicker here was that in each ad, Mustafa addressed the Twitter questioner by his Twitter handle, thereby making the commercial directed at that individual. Solis calls this going “the last mile” in social media marketing. That last mile is the connection with the individual that is personal and meaningful and prompts action.
Solis suggests that Old Spice’s only remaining problem is making sure that today’s generation of consumer doesn’t view Old Spice as their father or grandfather’s aftershave. Personally I think the Internet ads have sufficient youth appeal to avoid this problem.
When all is said and done, I still don’t think you need a PhD to succeed in social media marketing. However, success does go beyond simply tossing out one-liners on Twitter and thinking that will establish loyalty with your brand. Having valuable conversations with your communities is key. Finding innovative ways to spark those conversations separates the leaders in this new media age from the followers.
I urge you to read some more on the Old Spice campaign.