Social Media

Transmedia and popular culture

Last week, I chanced upon Coldplay’s latest comic-video. It’s apparently a prequel to a six-part comic which can be pre-ordered at the Coldplay Store. There’s also a live concert happening soon. I thought there was real potential here for some transmedia work – they already have a music video, comics and live concerts – with Facebook, Twitter and other digital properties it could have been a great mix.

But what I was really wondering about is how pop culture can be used by brands for building transmedia narratives. Comic books, music bands, television programming etc, and user generated content on social media can be a potent mix. When I have thought about transmedia (and written about it) it has always been with the brand as a driver. But what if the lead is taken by a pop culture phenomenon and the brand, understanding a commonality, tag on. In-movie promotions are probably a crude example I can think of.

The typical way brands handle it is by trying to push their messaging, and in the process destroy the pop culture phenomenon’s attraction. But if they find partners who have a connection, spend some thought on it, and help in advancing the narrative without forcing it in a selfish direction, they might actually get a completely different audience to become interested. A step further is in taking the help of the audience themselves to forward the narrative.

In many posts, I have mentioned that organisations need to find their purpose and then  nurture employees who can identify with it. Perhaps the above is an inorganic way of doing the same on the consumer side.

until next time,  to be continued 😉

The Things that FB Connect Us

Facebook’s ad film, released last week, reminds me of its redesigns – I hear it getting dissed across the web, starting with the place I saw it first. (check the comments) In case you really haven’t seen it yet, here it is

The film is titled “The Things That Connect Us”, it uses real world objects – chairs, bridges, doorbells, dance floors, nations and so on – as analogies of how Facebook connects us, and suggests in the end that perhaps we make these things to remind us that we are not alone.

I have read perspectives on how some of the ‘metaphors’ are not universal enough, and that this ‘connect’ idea has been used by several brands already. At 1 billion monthly active users, I wonder if Facebook really needs a positioning statement and if this film was supposed to be that. It is different things to different people but at its base, it connects us. The film is not meant to acquire users, or retain them. There are other things that Facebook does that will achieve these ends more efficiently and effectively. It’s when marketers see it through the prism of a campaign or advertising that it seems a #fail.

So why did I like the ad? A couple of lines from the AdAge article (linked to earlier) are pointers – “Great brands don’t talk about themselves, they talk about what they really love.“, attributed to David Kennedy, and “The best marketing that we have is people coming to Facebook every day connecting with their friends, families, local business, but every once in a while we’re going to want to define for ourselves who we are and share our values…” from Facebook’s own consumer marketing head.

The first statement is about a purpose that the organisation has found for itself – the things it loves to do as an organisation. (A few quotes here would give a sense of what Zuck’s aspirations are) Call me naive, but it’s a compelling purpose that has the potential to go beyond business and profits and one that many people would love to work on because they can identify with it. That defines brand Facebook, and purpose is what the best of brands strive for. The second sheds light on the audience it is intended for – themselves primarily, and then users who can share their values.

So then, why not show it in their internal network, you might ask. Probably because they’re Facebook, sharing is in their DNA, like it or not. :)

until next time, share a like (or a dislike)

PS: In case you didn’t like it, you might like this parody :)


I still remember a time when most social media presentations considered the “One Size doesn’t fit all” slide mandatory. The platforms were new, and brands/practitioners were told that aping was not really the best policy. Yes, there were best practices to learn from, courtesy early adopters, but there were many factors to be considered before they could even be adapted, let alone, cloned.

I still subscribe to that. Every organisation’s business objectives are different, even if they appear to compete in the same category and fight for the attention of the same audience. This difference could most likely stem from their different visions – from how they would scale over time, geography and even their business domain to the nuances in consumer tastes they want to target. This difference would then translate into how they conduct their business – internally and externally – how much hiring gets done in what function, what and how much of marketing is done, how customer care and operations works, what products and features are shipped first and how, to name a few.

These would then dictate what the organisation’s metrics are, and how and when they are measured. Considering that social media is the most ‘direct contact’ and ‘mass’ set of platforms, these differences are arguably exaggerated, because audiences can be sliced thinner (compared to traditional media) and some organisations might deliberately do things to keep out certain audiences eg. what they communicate and how and where too.

Why a repeat of these known perspectives? With more and more data being created by the activities of brands on social platforms, we are seeing tools that are trying to convert all this into usable information. Sometimes these tools are in human form too, and they bring their own perspectives (or lack of it) which essentially means comparison of apples and oranges just because they are fruits. I saw an example last week, which also included the brand I work on – Myntra. To quote Pico Iyer “Where once information had seemed the first step to knowledge, and then to wisdom, now it sometimes seemed their deepest enemy.” Goes for the step before too – data.

Take a couple of examples – Facebook Page and Post Likes. Thanks to the subtle way in which Sponsored Stories/Page Post Ads work, it’s extremely difficult for any tool to bifurcate organic and inorganic Likes. (I am excluding the Page Admins of course) And yet, comparative analyses are made on Like growths. Or take Engagement – semantic analysis is at such an early stage that many tools would consider 100 comments on a post dissing the brand as high engagement. And yet, ‘insights’ are delivered on Engagement. Uff, engagement! My thoughts on that mother word have been documented earlier. These are operations mind you, I am not even getting started on strategy.

Does that mean you should not consider this data/information- competitive or not – at all? Of course not! But how you use that is where knowledge and wisdom step in. Like the famous saying goes, “Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” Sadly, the way information is being used, oranges would soon be passe, apples would be compared to tomatoes because they are both fruits and are red in colour.

until next time, data diarrhea

Too big to fail

I had a bit of an epiphany a few days back. A sign of the needle shifting from social to media. In the era when the two words were grudgingly stuck together, one of the catchphrases I’d heard was ‘fail fast, learn fast, fix fast’. It was a time when the rules hadn’t been made, and experimentation was the only way to learn. Though this practice had its share of critics, there was hardly any choice.

But now there is. Facebook has an entire suite of offerings now – it’s no longer vanilla display ads, there are Sponsored stories, Page Post Targeting, Offers, to name a few  – all meant for specific purposes. They even have case studies put together over a period of time. (we – Myntra – were featured a while back too)

So, the epiphany? In a conversation, I realised that things were more serious now. Brands are now loath to experiment since the general feeling was that a lot of people would see it and it would affect the brand image. It’s not just ads, posts, but even social actions! Smelled like traditional media. Is that good or bad? I don’t know, but I do know it’s evolution.

until next time, traditional social 😉

Differentiate or die?

I’m close to finishing “A Clash of Kings” – Book 2 of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Pages 879-913 has lists of houses and characters. The lists will continue to expand in the next book, I’m reasonably sure, and I will probably have to spend Rs.200+ and buy this app. Many fantasy superstars have existed before GoT – Potter, LOTR, but this is the first time I have been immersed in one. Generally speaking, works of fiction are unique, and yet, such is the abundance and the related scarcity of time that there are choices to be made. So why GoT? Mostly courtesy the huge buzz the TV series generated on my various timelines. Let me now shift the story to brands, where abundance and time scarcity takes an even worse toll.

The title of this post comes from an article in FT. Without getting into the author’s bias/(vested) interest, I think he has a point when he says that the increasing focus on efficiency is stifling innovation and on the other side making consumers ‘number and dumber’.  On the business side, why bother with niche audiences when access to large sets of consumers through databases and mass media (now social media too) is much easier. On the consumer side, larger tribes are easier to find in the search for belonging. Of course these are generalisations, and I’ll be the first to admit that there are exceptions.

In the case of mass brands solving mass needs/wants, functional benefits are increasingly becoming a commodity. In an earlier age of information scarcity and relatively unfragmented media, differentiation could be as simple as just being visible. The story is different now, though the recent turn of social towards media would indicate that only the channels have changed. But IMO, there is a high chance that this trend will prove to be shorter than the reign of mass media, and true differentiation will evolve from a user perspective after everything from product to design to communication to experience has become a commodity. Arguable. :)

Increasingly, brands are using social media to target better, and that’s how platforms are selling their users too. I wonder if/how many brands at this stage are attempting to make their stories personal to the user. Different social platforms offer different contexts – in the way they are designed, in how users consume them, in terms of the need they satisfy, in terms of devices they are best suited for etc. Think of how Facebook, LinkedIn, 4sq, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Path and the other services you use fit into your lives. Yet how many brands are trying to fit themselves into these contexts? Yes, we’re still in the early days of Big Data, but how much of investments are brands making in this as opposed to say, better FB targeting? What do you think – is it a scalable form of differentiation? Is it because of the pull towards familiar forms and templates of communication (read targeted mass advertising) that brands are loathe to walk this long path?

until next time, differentiation by integration?

Bonus Read: The Future of Storytelling

Social grows up to be media

On the first page of BG Verghese’ “First Draft”, he talks of The Times front page on the day he was born -21 June 1927. The paper was priced at one anna and “only carried advertisements on its cover page as was the general practice.” This was how traditional media companies had always worked. They had probably begun as journals, and later had sponsored information. (ads) In an era of information scarcity, this was probably required and appreciated. Even if they were not, the complaints would spread only as WOM. More importantly, while they took money from readers, their real survival (generalising) depended on advertisers. In the case of radio and television, it is even more evident. Then came the internet, and a story that has oft been repeated. We’re not going there.

Though from email to BBS to Geocities to Friendster and beyond, everything can be considered social media, it began for me in the form of blogs (in 2003) became social networking via Orkut and really took flight with Twitter (May) and Facebook (July) in 2007. By this time, ads had begun to be ‘noise’ as media platforms proliferated. Twitter as well as FB served different purposes. As the cliche goes, “On Facebook, you connected with people you went to school with, and on Twitter, with people who you wished you went to school with.” In fact, such was my affection for Twitter that I even walked the talk. :)

Why this long winded narration now? Because what I’d considered social is now very clearly becoming media that happens to have a social past. Facebook’s Promoted Posts will now reach people who have not Liked the brands as well, and it is working on measurement systems that resemble GRPs. From its options – a real time cloud API company and a media company, Twitter has clearly chosen. It has now started throttling the third party apps that made it the rockstar it now is. In their chosen line, this is an inevitable step to protect the ‘value’ it sells. Promoted tweets can now be targeted on the basis of interest.

The disappointment, even if I reconcile myself to the fact that social is media, is the extent of evolution, or rather, the lack of it. Of the two, I have better hopes for Facebook now. Mark Zuck, despite the IPO, still controls it and from whatever he has spoken thus far, it seems this is not just a business for him, and though the ‘Promoted’ stuff on Facebook has now taken centre stage, the potential of the Open Graph remains and if it does evolve (as mentioned in an earlier post – last paragraph) it will continue to be interesting. Twitter? Oh well, Google’s AdWords is a megabucks one-trick, and it has Android. In the Google-like path it has chosen for itself, I can only hope that Twitter has a vision beyond being “sponsored”. If there is anything that media history has taught us, it is that irrelevance is just one service away.

until next time, growing pains

Until the customer is king..

Instagram just released v3.0. One of the biggest changes in this version is the introduction of Photo Maps, which quite obviously, plots your photos on a map. The default is opt-in, not opt-out, though they’ve done their bit to give the user control over data.  I updated despite reading this Wired article on the privacy implications and the bug that briefly exposed private photos!

I’d written my first post that referred to Big Data recently, and the day after that, I read this very interesting post that talked about various applications including an algorithm that can identify cities based on their unique architectural elements and other distinguising characteristics. But a few weeks earlier, WSJ had an interesting post that talked of how large corporations see big data as a means to get personal with customers using information gathered by placing tracking files in people’s browsers and smartphone apps without their knowledge—so they can be stalked wherever they go, with their “experiences” on commercial websites “personalized” for them. The post describes not just its real world analogies but practices as well, and predicts a future where the user will declare your own policies, preferences and terms of engagement—and do it in ways that can be automated both for you and the companies you engage. An entire ecosystem across apps and corporations built in a consumer centric fashion.

But as the post itself admits, the move toward individual empowerment is a long, gradual revolution. Until then, we need to define our own limits of sharing, fully understanding that it is a give and take. Not just what and where, but whom too – since all it takes a RT or a ‘Share – Public’ for something shared in a close circle to go public. How much of privacy would I give up to open myself to opportunities, or get an experience that is tailored to my needs and convenience. On the other side, a modern corporation needs to understand the choice the consumer is making and use the information to not just provide genuine value, but also make it easier for both entities to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

until next time, kingmakers

The path to mediocrity

Seth Godin wrote a post on the masses vs great design, and how the brands we love refuse to become democracies. Yet, on an everyday basis, and across product offerings – from web design to entertainment, I see brands clearly pandering to the ‘masses’. And they’re not going to disappear in at least the medium term, because they spend resources in wooing and keeping consumers, though these consumers are hardly ‘loyal’. The undemocratic approach that Godin mentions is for the rare breed of confident, gritty, focused brands which have answered their why, what, how and when very well.

On HBR Blogs, I found an article by Bill Taylor – “Bad Service can be good business” a very interesting read. It showed two different scenarios where the headline is applicable -companies who try to keep the costs down to the barest minimum and charge a premium for anything but the basic (the author quotes Ryanair as an example) and companies whose offerings are so compelling, and whose reach is so vast, that making the investments required to deliver high-touch service would be making a big strategic mistake. He cites new media companies like Facebook, Twitter etc as examples.

Most of the companies I was referring to in the first paragraph are trying to be one of the above. But they play an in-between game, starting at some point and thinking that they’ll figure out a way to get to their destination. But IMO, it can’t happen that way, because once you set expectations, you fall into the ‘trap’ of fulfilling them, without really figuring what your brand stands for. You’re forced to play the reactive game, watching your competitive landscape and fencing with them. As you progress, you’re drawn further away from the active game of pursuing a goal with focus. The trap, hence, is mediocrity, and it is surprising to see it these days because the web and social platforms specifically are a great way to find that slice of audience which will give the brand a chance to deliver that focused product/service. I’m not talking of superficiality here, but the DNA of the brand, and the organisation, the strand around which everything is built. I’m also not saying that all mass brands are mediocre. In the purpose that they have defined for their brand, Ryanair is anything but mediocre. Despite the seeming difference in the two scenarios from earlier, they are bound by a commonality – clarity of thought, which inspires clarity in everything that the brand does.

until next time, clear blue ocean

Data: Growing up

The Facebook story might be facing rough weather, but that hasn’t stopped the social network from pushing out new and interesting things. It launched “Page Post Targeting Enhanced” – features that make it a media platform offering sharper slices to marketers (easily) by allowing filters based on gender, interests, relationship status etc. It has also rolled out Facebook Stories that highlights “people using Facebook in extraordinary ways”. Venture Beat has a very smart take on how this can be the future of news by intersecting two of the most interesting contexts – location and interest. As a media platform, one can imagine the advertising potential.

Twitter already has local (city specific) trends, though, from experience, many people seem to think that they’re viewing national trends when Twitter is actually showing them local trends. Twitter already has Promoted Tweets and is enhancing features that allow better targeting.

Media buying in the age of traditional media consisted of a plan being prepared (and negotiated) after evaluating the reach, cost and other parameters of various options across platforms – print, OOH, TV, Radio etc. The (reach) data has always been contested, and the (post) measurement is more of a myth than reality. New media platforms, on the other hand, are significantly better in terms of transparency and in addition, have better native and 3rd party tools for self publishing, distributing and measuring. The data is one click away from the marketer. After a certain tipping point of reach that these media achieve, traditional media would be forced to provide this level of accessibility, and then, IMO, the value provided by media agencies would be reduced significantly, as tools would make it easier for the marketer to plan real time and measure too, across platforms.

In essence, data that the marketer needs, to make informed choices on the why/what/how/when of platforms, is easily becoming available.  The data that really needs to be converted into information is now flowing in the reverse direction – from the consumer and his actions across platforms to ______. And this data is not just for marketing, its use is across the board and affects product, customer care, operations, technology and so on. It is Big Data, the players are evolving, and the next stage in this ever changing game has begun.

until next time, don’t worry, it’s already a buzzword. 😉

Raw Talent

Last year, when I wrote about transmedia, one of the examples I had used was WWE. Perhaps it is because pro wrestling is usually given a pass by mainstream media, except when there are celebrity appearances, that WWE has made significant investments in building a social media presence – Facebook (almost a crore fans) , Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and more recently YouTube.

Last week, it celebrated 1000 episodes on television, Charlie Sheen was their social media ambassador for the event. During the show, they also interviewed the fan who was their 100 millionth social media follower across networks. They begin and continue storylines on Twitter, and gets stars to make hashtag trends – The Rock being the best example. Stars have also used social media to further the TV time they got – Zack Ryder’s exposure shot up several notches after his YouTube show became a hit.

And now, as per announcements, they plan to go further. It has added Tout to the list of platforms used, thus allowing video interactions with fans. The app’s sudden popularity owes much to the WWE marketing push. They also plan to increase the duration of the show from 2 to 3 hours, with hashtags and polls allowing viewers to influence the content of the show – practically live. A huge gamble. And there’s no surety of a #win. But that’s probably not the point. The lesson here (and what I admire them for) is how an old school wrestling promotion has consistently adapted to changing media scenarios and platforms – from selling live events, to running TV shows and pay-per-views and now on to social media, without forsaking the earlier endeavours. It continues to live dangerously, and thus thrives. It requires tremendous conviction in their product, their employees and their audience, called the WWE Universe.

They might not make it to case studies, but that kind of cold shouldering is what they are used to by now. They probably don’t need it anyway. 100 million fans/followers – in essence, they are their own media. That’s not something a lot of brands can boast of.

until next time, Raw is War #youremember (Barring occasional forced breaks, I’ve been watching since 1994) :)