Turning Influencer Marketing All the Way Up

Later this month I’ll give a presentation at Spredfast Summit in Austin, TX in a session called “The Risks and Rewards of Celebrity and Influencer Social Voices.” If you’re going to be in the area, please join us!

In an attempt to share with those who cannot attend (as well as gather my thoughts), below is a general summary of the brief talk I plan to deliver.

Context. Context is key when working with social influencers. Athletes, artists, gamers, etc…each have their own unique culture, each of which in turn has its own unique sub-cultures. Understanding this cultural context is critical not only in picking the right influencers for your campaign but in the development of content as well. If an influencer typically posts from football stadiums, the content that the influencer creates with your brand will be vastly different vs. that which might be created backstage at concerts. Marketers need to do more than simply identify the kinds of influencers they need – they must understand the nuances of their cultural niche and their audiences in order to build effective campaigns. I plan to show a bit of how we organize around this context at Roc Nation and put it to use for our clients and the brands with which they partner.

Empowerment. No one knows how to connect with their audience better than the influencer themselves. Therefore, successful influencer programs require brands to surrender a great deal of control. Setting an influencer loose behind a brand he or she believes in is the best way to make an impact – even if it results in a messier / less predictable campaign than marketers might otherwise be used to. This means empowering influencers by giving them tools and opportunities to participate in the campaign, regardless of how much control the brand has in specific circumstances. I plan to speak a but about what this means practically for things like approval workflows, timelines, talent relations and even media buying.

Data. If you aren’t using data to help select the right influencers, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Social listening platforms are now fairly commonplace, and they can tell you A LOT about an influencer’s audience and what their likely engagement will be. I plan to show some specific examples from my favorite social listening tool.

Irreverence in Unexpected Places

I love finding irreverence in unexpected places. Today I was in a yellow cab and decided to take the survey. Not sure many other people have had that instinct, but I was delighted by the answers to the following question (especially option C):

IMG_20141030_202040

The other example that routinely blows me away is NASA’s social media presence. Whoever’s in charge over there (NPR actually covered the team a few years ago – turns out 3 women at JPL got this started) is brilliant because a while back they started tweeting from their various space probes in the first person, using common twitter phrasing and conventions. Anthropomorphic robots are awesome on their own, but tweets like these especially genius:

From 2012:

screenshot-twitter.com 2014-10-30 22-08-13

From 2014:

screenshot-twitter.com 2014-10-30 22-17-37

I suppose there’s a marketing lesson here…if you’re passionate about what you do and don’t take yourself too seriously anyone can be a marketing superstar and capture the public’s attention. We expect this kind of humor from the internet (remember @BronxZoosCobra?), but it’s so lovely when entities like the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory join in the fun. My next mission: find out who at the Taxi and Limousine Commission created this awesome survey.

3 Marketing Lessons From Facebook’s Instagram Acquisition

Re-posted from MashableThis week, pages upon pages of commentary have been written about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, the astronomical valuation applied to the deal, and the competitive impetus for the transaction. But what’s most interesting is what it implies about Facebook’s perspective on content creation versus content distribution.

Before Instagram, Facebook was exclusively a way to distribute. It didn’t provide tools to actually create (with the exception of typed status updates). Instead, it largely left creation to others — notably Zynga for games, native camera applications for photos, and record labels and Spotify for music.

Facebook’s purchase of Instagram represents the acquisition of a technology platform that enables people to create and share. Think about it. When you take out your phone and snap a photo, not only do you use Instagram to create content, but you almost always immediately use the app to share it, too.

The larger shift toward content creation has been on the horizon for some time. Just look at Pinterest. While many users aren’t creating the images themselves, they are the creators of their own pinboards, and the time spent crafting those vehicles for self-expression is undoubtedly astronomical.

That makes this space ripe with deeper user interaction, and that’s worth something. Facebook certainly thinks so. They just spent $1 billion on a company with no business model — just the proven capability to engage consumers while they create. Marketers should take a cue from Facebook’s move and apply the following tips.


1. Seek Out Content Partners


If content creation isn’t your brand’s core competency, don’t reinvent the wheel – look to others who can help. Just as Facebook acquired Instagram, marketers too can work with companies that deliver content creation capabilities. Running a campaign with a content partner can, in the end, result in far more engagement than expected.


2. Embrace Platforms with Traction


One of the first things Mark Zuckerberg said after the deal was that Instagram would largely be left alone, and the existing experience will remain intact. Marketers often go in the other direction. They try to build micro sites, special flash platforms, or their own apps, which can limit the possibilities for sharing and consumer participation. Companies like Facebook and Instagram are already great at powering content creation and distribution. So are sites like Pinterest. Marketers should leverage each platform’s expertise, instead of trying to create something similar from scratch.


3. Make Room for Amateurs


Content creation can sound scary, because not everyone has the skill to create good music, photos, or video. Smart platforms and campaigns like Instagram and Pinterest make room for the pros, but they largely believe in the creative possibilities of the consumer audience. Anyone can snap a photo, just as anyone can create a pinboard. Marketers shouldn’t relegate themselves to all pros. Pros create aspirational content that people will want to share, but amateurs bring reach.

This May, Mashable will be be exploring the future of digital marketing at our signature conference, Mashable Connect. See below for all of the details.”

For Brands, Time To Get Ready For Facebook Timeline

Re-posted from Forbes.com – Matthew Siegel

On March 30, all Facebook Pages will be automatically switched over to the new timeline format. If you’re a brand and you value your Facebook presence, you need to understand what this means.

Timeline is an elegant and exciting new way to display content and information – for a full description you can go straight to the horse’s mouth. For brand marketers, the bottom line is that the days of the “profile” are gone. From now on, your presence on Facebook will be visualized as a timeline of what you’re doing and what you’ve done, starting with the present and scrolling all the way down to your earliest days.

The implications for brands using Facebook to promote themselves are simple. When your Facebook Page was a profile, you could control what people saw when they reached it. Now, people are first going to see what you and your followers are actually doing – not necessarily the functionality or campaign you are trying to promote. Red Bull provides us with a great example. Before the change, the whole page was “Like-gated” – that is, Red Bull drove visitors to their default app which forced visitors to Like Red Bull before doing anything else. This is no longer an option with Timeline. On the right, you can see that now, if Red Bull wants to direct you to an app, they need to post about it or add it to one of the small shortcut images at the top right of their Page.

Before Timeline

With Timeline

In Red Bull’s case, this means that the Like-gating app is now of limited value. Why? Because it can’t show up as a default app, and there’s no real reason for anyone to share it or talk about it, since it provides no interesting content or value. If Red Bull wants to drive traffic to specific Facebook apps on its Page, those apps need to be compelling enough to make people Like and share them so links to those apps start showing up in people’s feeds.

Content is still king in the context of Facebook. It’s been said that content is no longer king, a point I am fond of refuting. For the purposes of this analysis, let’s take content to mean anything within a Facebook app that a brand wants consumers to see and share. Timeline is a wonderful change to the context of Facebook – that is, the way Facebook displays information to the end-user. Instead of the familiar Profile context and its categorical display of data, we are now being presented with Timeline, a linear, time-driven display for events. Although this change is contextual, it highlights why content is so much more critical than it was in a pre-Timeline world, because without good content, links to your brand’s apps won’t be shared and no one will know about them. You can no longer force visitors to your page into a specific funnel or app as proactively as you could before.

This means that apps like Indaba Music’s Opportunity App are going to flourish with Timeline. The Opportunity App is all about content – the hottest music being created from current music-based contests, so there’s reason for consumers to share the app and share the content within the app – all driving people back to a branded experience. Here’s one we currently have running for Rufus Wainwright (who ironically hasn’t yet switched to Timeline). The trick is to create a steady flow of content over time that keeps followers engaged for the long haul. The app on Rufus’s page will dynamically pull the most interesting tracks and display them for his fans for as long as the contest is running; without any additional effort or curation.

To sum up, successful Page marketing within Facebook Timeline can be boiled down to 3 concepts:

1. Provide Quality Content: The content within your brand’s Page or  app needs to be interesting enough for consumers to share it, because you can no longer force feed to to them simply by driving traffic to your Page. Apps need to show up in user’s news feeds to get attention.

2. Provide Dynamic Content: Simply announcing a new piece of content and hoping for a story to form will no longer be effective in the Timeline format. Finding unique ways to secure a flow of original content is the key to consistent relevance with followers and potential followers.

3. Understand the Unique Context of Timeline. Just like our common everyday conception of time, Timeline is linear – it puts events on a line and it flows one way. When things happen is now just as important as where they happen. You may have a dedicated space on your Page for posting new content (the where). But with Timeline, the only way to sustain interest is to offer content that lends itself to continuous updating and sharing (the when). Running a contest? Think about having multiple rounds that evolve over time. Curating a selection of music? Tell the story of that playlist by detailing the track selection process. The river of Timeline will rapidly carry whatever content you create downstream unless you create reasons for it to constantly re-emerge.

Sony, Apple, and Thoughts on the Importance of Design and User Experience

I found myself in a Sony store at the Cherry Creek mall in Denver yesterday, and came to some (interesting?) conclusions about product design and user experience. Obviously the fact that Apple ate Sony’s lunch in multiple departments is not news, but I think my visit to the store encapsulated that story well.

First , I couldn’t help but notice that Sony has an incredible breadth of electronics with a major wow-factor. Walking through the store one can’t help but marvel at the 3D tvs, PS3 games, SLRs, etc. Apple stores are cool, but from a product perspective the only things you can really touch and experiment with are computers. At Sony, I picked up this virtual reality / 3D headset thingy, and started to play Gran Turismo. I literally had an ear-to-ear smile. It’s always fun when a piece of consumer electronics can elicit such an enthusiastic response.

Then the reality hit me. There was sticky glue from the nose piece of this thing stuck to my face. Evidently Sony used some cheap adhesive to attached a rubber piece to the device, and as it slid off my head it left behind a lovely residue. My first thought: Steve Jobs would have NEVER allowed this to happen. It was such a shame too – I was so captivated by this marvel of entertainment technology, only to have that feeling stamped out by some really careless product design.

I left the store to meet up with my fiancee, but returned once again when she decided to go shoe-shopping. I decided to return to the headset at Sony that had so wowed (and disappointed) me earlier, only to find little blank screens inside the headset. Upon asking an employee what the problem was, he informed me that the PS3 to which the headset was attached had overheated. Evidently the designers of this store, which is meant to showcase products like the PS3, failed to design cabinets with proper ventilation for high-power electronics, leading to their frequent failure. Again, Steve would NEVER have allowed this to happen.

If the products at the Sony store weren’t amazing, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to write this post. But I was so upset precisely because I was having such a great time, only to have the experience ruined twice – first by poor product design, and then by poor store/experience design. I can’t help but think that Sony already did the hard work – they developed technologies that are truly innovative and entertaining. If they could only design a nose piece that remains attached to its device, or take simple product needs into account when designing their stores, they could be KILLING it. If Steve Jobs taught us anything, it’s that seemingly small details can make or break a product’s success in the market. In fact, they are sometimes the most critical factors for the consumer.

Checklist for Marketing a New Product

I’ve been asked a lot lately about the process of marketing a new product. In particular, how does one go about generating initial buzz and adoption of a new consumer web or mobile application? Since this has been coming up a lot lately, I figured I’d organize my thoughts here.

The plan I outline in this post comes very much from a scrappy entrepreneurial perspective – what are the easiest, highest-value things a company can do for the least (if not zero) amount of money to start acquiring users? As an entrepreneur, I am always looking for the low hanging fruit. This question is asked and answered very differently at big companies and business schools however, and I don’t claim that it addresses those contexts fully. This post is not a checklist for academia, instead it is a rough guide for the cash-strapped tech startup.

Prep Work

Before marketing any product it is important to sit down and hash out thoughtful answers to some seemingly simple questions. Make time to discuss these questions with your team, with target users, with anyone you can think of. Get as many opinions as possible.

What is the product’s value proposition? Think about the real benefit people are going to get. What problem does it actually solve? Sometimes entrepreneurs think they are building a product for one thing when in fact it is really for something entirely different. Discuss use cases, brainstorm, and be creative. Challenge your assumptions.

Who is your target user/customer? This question is similar to the previous one, but here you will want to test your assumptions about the customer to whom the value proposition is really important. A good process, but by no means the only one, is to develop profiles of example users, sometimes called “personas.” Include everything from their demographics down to the websites they frequent and the music they like. This information will be critical to your marketing program. Without it you won’t know who to target.

After you answer these two questions, you can develop the marketing messages you will use to tell people about your product. Get these organized – there’s a lot to do in the following plan and you need consistent, effective messaging that tells the right story to the right people.

1. Generate Buzz with Early-Adopters (PR)

Secure high-visibility digital PR. Early adopters reach blogs like TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider. The right story, good relationships, smiles, and handshakes can get your product coverage, sometimes even prior to launch.

Line up key influencers with significant social media reach. There are now tons of influential technologists, celebrities, and others who are brands in their own rights. These people have tremendous marketing power; a celebrity with millions of Facebook fans can successfully hype a product with a single post. Getting them excited and committed to trying and talking about your product can be a big win.

2. Launch with Built-In Reach (Business Development)

Source a small number of key pre-launch product partners. This one is a big deal. If your product can in any way be embedded in, bundled with, or linked to by partner products with existing reach to target customers you can potentially launch with a lot of eyeballs on day one. This isn’t easy – especially if you don’t have a fully -baked product, and you’re trying to convince partners with screen shots and partial demos, but it is always worth pushing hard on.

Line up high-probability post-launch product partners. You are going to have leftovers from the first push; partners who said “that’s great, but come back after you launch it.” Immediately after launch, these are the partners to go after aggressively. There will also be partners you didn’t approach in the first round because you knew that without a working product they’d be unlikely to sign on. Post-launch is the time to approach these potential partners as well.

3. Leverage Available Channels to Go Straight to Target Customers (Direct Marketing)

Typically direct marketing tactics like email and advertising cost money.  That said, there will be partners you develop relationships with that may not give you the product integration you want, but will give you access to their customer lists / audiences in exchange for some non-monetary value. Partners can be persuaded to promote your product through their e-mail lists, ad inventory, and social media channels if you can offer them some special access to your product or an exclusive benefit that they can get value from. Be creative with these sorts of deals. If there is media reaching your target users, you should do what you can to access it.

Even if you have a great product, doing all of the above doesn’t guarantee that it will be a runaway success with viral adoption on day one. What it will do is guarantee that you will get a sense of what users/customers initially think of your product. It will give you a timely sense of whether you have something with potential, or something that needs to be tweaked or even re-thought completely before gaining the legs to spread more widely.

Major Change for Facebook?

In a previous post I talked about Edgerank, the algorithm Facebook uses to determine what shows up in people’s Facebook feeds, and its importance to advertisers. I wondered why more attention wasn’t being paid to it.

Someone was paying attention, because the WSJ is reporting that advertiser complaints are forcing Facebook to make changes to the newsfeed. Supposedly these will make it easier for more content to show up – a boon for advertisers and brands trying to get noticed.

I think this is a serious development, and potentially a really bad sign for Facebook. Remember what happened to MySpace when they plastered ads everywhere? For a long time it seems as if there has been a healthy tension at Facebook between the product folks (led by Zuckerberg) and the sales/monetization folks (the “adults”). Media companies all need this tension, otherwise they risk becoming amazing services that make no money, or cheap, tacky billboards that sacrifice long-term value for short-term revenue. We might be seeing a shift in this power dynamic at Facebook…