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.

Toward the Perfect Social Listening Tool

For the uninitiated, social listening refers to the practice of parsing the content being generated on social platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram being the most common) for certain keywords, phrases, or other variable dimensions (e.g. followers of specific accounts, posts in specific geographic areas).

So, for example, if you’re working on the hit Broadway show Hamilton and you’re interested in the social conversation taking place around the show’s opening in Chicago, you might set your social listening tool to look for social posts within the city of Chicago that contain words like “Hamilton” or “Lin-Manuel.”

The power of this kind of query cannot be understated. With the best solutions (i.e. Spredfast), one can assemble, in real-time, a stream of all social posts matching specific criteria, in a specific area, AND the people who are publishing them. Because social media is increasingly integrated into our lives (for younger millennials, there’s almost no daily activity that doesn’t leave a social footprint), social listening can provide a detailed look at consumer behavior and conversation at any particular moment and in any particular place.

The implications for marketers are astounding. In the above example, the producers of the show might compare the level of discussion to that seen in New York in order to predict how ticket sales will fluctuate over time. Or, they might observe the social chatter about the show in other cities in order to decide where to take the show next. The possibilities are limitless and can quickly become far more sophisticated. Imagine screening this example social stream for the works “missed” or “sold-out.” Anyone using these phrases would be prime targets for future marketing campaigns.

All that said, I’ve run into 3 big problems with current social listening solutions. The difficulty in addressing each varies over the near-term.

1. Lack of Geo-Data. Most social content unfortunately lacks precise geographic data. By most accounts, less than 10% of Tweets are geo-tagged at all, and Instagram no longer provides lat-long info specific to the user – it only offers the coordinates of the specific location being tagged (if tagged at all). In other words, geo-fenced queries are seriously limited, and anyone who tells you they can “listen to all the conversation in a specific area” isn’t telling the whole truth. UNLESS, and this is the biggie, they have access to some other database that can be merged with the social stream. For now, that generally only pertains to law enforcement. However, in the near future, I anticipate the increased fusion of ad-targeting data-sets (e.g. from tracking cookies) with social data, which could provide increasing geographic resolution.

2. F@!K this track is so FIRE! Natural language is a problem. Even the best enterprise-grade social listening tools support only advanced Boolean queries. They generally have integrated sentiment analysis tools, but these can be hard to interpret. If a query returns 60% neutral, 20% positive and 20% negative, is this good? It certainly isn’t very actionable. And there’s no good Boolean query that would capture the overwhelmingly positive sentiment of the above phrase. Profanity could be mistaken as negative, and the use of the word “FIRE” requires knowledge of contemporary culture.

The good news here is that unlike the lack of geographic data, natural language processing (NLP) IS happening and both the private sector and academia are pushing it forward every day. There are now decent NLP APIs available for the enterprise, and we are going to see more marketers merging their expansive social management platforms with best-in-class NLP tools.

3. Words are SO over. Not everything on social media gets typed out in words. The web is increasingly visual. Some research has even shown that over 80% of images posted to social media that include a brand don’t mention the brand in the post’s text. The rise of visual communication is no secret – Instagram, Snapchat and even private one-to-one messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp) are all playgrounds for people communicating without words. Images, GIFs and video are all the future. Why type it when you can show it? The elephant in the room of social listening is the lack of image recognition in many of the most successful social management platforms. There are standalone tools (Ditto, Talkwalker, others), but they are limited and don’t yet cover video.  Sprinkr includes logo search and facial sentiment analysis, but like everyone else lacks a custom search tool (e.g. show me photos that contain images of TVs) and is extremely limited in what it can pick up.

So let’s return to my earlier example. With today’s solutions, the Hamilton producers

  1. would probably miss a great deal of the social conversation about the show in Chicago (since it lacks geographic data),
  2. they wouldn’t be able to accurately gauge how people felt (due to the absence of a good NLP solution, although in this case Hamilton isn’t a good example since the sentiment will have to be 100% positive!), and
  3. their query wouldn’t even return posts of images or videos of smiling fans outside the theater if those posts didn’t include textual information (unless you are lucky enough to be using one of the few tools that performs this kind of visual search AND the logo of the show is clearly included in the photos).

The perfect social listening tools would add better geographic data from other sources to the social networks’ APIs, it would integrate top-shelf natural language processing, AND it would include built-in image recognition. The industry is getting there but still has a long way to go. Luckily there are a lot of smart people working on all these problems.

Connection Lost

The minute they got rid of rotary phones everything went to hell. – Jay

There it is. Jay’s wisdom from the latest installment of Modern Family perfectly sums up the obvious social commentary and also inherent contradiction that comes out of Connection Lost (Season 6, Ep. 16). Everything has gone to hell. Except it hasn’t.

Whether you come from traditional TV or digital media, Connection Lost was a monumental work of storytelling. As someone who straddles both worlds every day, this latest episode, appropriately and not-so-subtly-titled Connection Lost, stands out in a time when storytellers of all sorts are innovating the ways that stories can be told on and about digital media.modern-family-connection-lost-1919x1080

SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t watched the episode yet, read no further.

The Format. The immediately obvious thing about Connection Lost is that the entire episode takes place on Claire’s laptop screen, where we watch her FaceTime, iChat, Facebook (from the fake account she uses to spy on Haley) and surf the web. Although this may sound difficult to watch, the Modern Family team pulled it off elegantly. The production alone was impressive, and there was something warmly familiar about watching Claire bounce between conversations and apps with the same ease we all exhibit in our private digital lives each and every day. I didn’t think the translation of 2-dimensional digital windows to TV could work, but it did.

Kudos to Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan’s team; this could not have been easy to explain ahead of time. Surely a case where only “showing,” not “telling” would do. Hats off for trying something new and mind-blowing on TV. It’s still possible!

The Story. As I’ve come to expect from Modern Family, it was ultimately the story that really made the episode sing. We’re flung into Claire’s frenetic discovery (ultimately an erroneous discovery) of Haley’s marriage and pregnancy (via a Facebook status update and the arrival of a book on pregnancy), and we watch her frantically FaceTime every member of the cast trying to figure out where Haley is and what’s happening to her. She even hacks Haley’s iCloud account locate Haley…in Vegas. The episode brought all the characters together for their trademark intimate moments, albeit in virtual space, and it was these moments that really made the story connect emotionally. Phil looking into his phone lamenting the fact that he wasn’t there to give Haley away. Jay comparing Haley’s unexpected surprise marriage to Claire’s. The fact that the story was taking place in virtual space didn’t really matter; these were powerful emotional moments that the audience could relate to. Even in virtual 2D space, story counts.

The Point? It was an amazing production of digital experiences assembled for TV, and the story hit all the emotional touchpoints of great Modern Family episodes. But that wasn’t the episode’s only brilliance.

In the end, it turned out that Haley married a cronut on Facebook as a joke, she wasn’t actually in Vegas – her phone was there because she left it in a friend’s car, and she didn’t order that book on pregnancy for herself, it was for her boss.

So everything went to hell. Except it didn’t really. Nothing happened.

The show makes a powerful statement about the current state of our communications and relationships in just 21 short minutes. All our toys bring us closer together and create virtual space for intimate, real moments. But at the same time they create false stories, controversy, and conflict that isn’t real at all. Had Claire not lost her phone she wouldn’t have gone on her digital quest to stalk, discuss, and ultimately locate her daughter. But she also wouldn’t have been able to connect, talk and cry with her family from her gate sitting at O’Hare.

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.

How Media Creation is Overtaking Consumption

For most of media history, we have been creatures of consumption. Large corporations and centralized distribution operations pushed a small amount of expensive, high-quality content at us. Think film studios, record labels, the big book publishers, etc. Because the tools needed to create content were scare, and the financing needed was great, this system perpetuated itself.

As any industry observer now knows, the tools of creation have been democratized, so that increasingly anyone, anywhere can create and distribute high quality film, music, or literature. These new decentralized content creators are bound only by their passion and talent. The degree to which they are empowered to create and distribute content varies by media type, as well as by more mundane variables like internet penetration and income, but the trend is the same across all media. We are now creatures of creation, as well as consumption. Increasingly, we do not consume media without also altering it.

In music, the major labels touch only a few thousand artists, but over 12 million indie acts have uploaded music to MySpace. The market of creators who haven’t yet recorded their art is even larger – in the US alone, over 90 million people play an instrument (Gallup). The same is true in film and video. On the high-end, over 2 million indie filmmakers have uploaded content to the prosumer-targeted service Vimeo, but 1 in 7 U.S. adults has uploaded video to the internet, over 34 million people (Vimeo, Pew).

A few years ago the phrase “user-generated content” was all the rage – my business partner Dan and I were even invited to speak at the “User-Generated Content Expo” in San Jose. Nowadays I hear that phrase less and less. I think perhaps because it is becoming redundant. All content is somehow “user”-generated, or at a minimum, leaves itself open to some form of user modification or interaction. Increasingly the laws of quantum mechanics apply to the media we consume – we cannot observe the content without also altering it. Schrödinger’s cat is simultaneously both dead and alive, until of course we observe it in either state. The same might be said of an unfinished stem package posted online for remixing, or a movie trailer released without music for the masses to score (both real examples from Indaba Music). None of us know what this media will become until we engage with it and observe the outcome.

Nowhere is the power of consumer creation more observable than in the recorded music business. Over the last few years we’ve seen a $13 billion industry cut in half. But at the same time, we’ve seen consumers spend upwards of $7 billion / year on the stuff used to create music – instruments, software, cables, etc. This means that 2011 will likely be the first year in which U.S. consumers spend more money creating music than they do consuming it. This shift obviously has huge implications for media businesses, because an increasing share of consumer income is flowing to content creation rather than consumption. But it also has fascinating implications for culture and society as well.

What does it mean to be a culture of content creators? Ironically it might mean that even as more of us are empowered to be creators – musicians, filmmakers, artists – fewer of us will be empowered to actually make a living creating media. It’s simple arithmetic: When consumers had fewer choices, their media spend flowed to a smaller number of content creators. Each creator received a greater share of every dollar. Now, consumers can quickly and easily consumer media created by innumerable creators, so less money flows to each creator.

I for one think that this irony will be short-lived. More people creating and interacting with more media will mean more opportunities for revenue generation. Content creators just need time to figure out what those revenue streams are. More on this to follow.

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…