Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting From “Here” To “There”: Converting Offline Events To Online Impressions

The connection between the online and offline worlds is an important consideration for marketers. Brands fully recognize that face-to-face interactions with consumers are an important way to tap the extraordinary Word-Of-Mouth power of the digital world. As the average Facebook member has around 130 friends, a favorable post mentioning a brand carries -- one could confidently say -- a healthy ROI.

Yet few brands know how to do this well. And many who find clever ways to kick down the walls between online and offline still have difficulty getting their heads around why they do what they’re doing. Central to this struggle is an inability of marketers to project how the investments they make in offline promotions and other experiential events translate into digital impressions.

While this is a complicated problem, the moving pieces inside the equation are easily identified. And that is where marketers should start: understanding the players and steps involved in getting from “here” (offline event) to “there” (digital impressed earned through word-of-moth). In the end all marketers really need to concentrate on boils down to four consumer roles and three important metrics.

To begin, let’s define the consumers involved and the roles they play:

(A) Digital Followers: These are the people who already give the brand permission to digitally converse with them. They are the brand’s Facebook fans, those following the brand on Twitter, those who subscribe to the brand's YouTube channel. These are, in nearly every sense, the people who are most likely to pass a favorable word or two about the brand on to others.

(B) Event Participants: These are the people who show up at the brand’s event and – importantly – participate. And we should define “participate” in this way: they make a gesture of digital acknowledgement toward the brand. For example, they become a Facebook Fan, follow the brand on Twitter, or add the brand to a Google+ circle (therefore becoming a Digital Follower), or they engage at the event enough for the marketer to learn they are already a Digital Follower of the brand. In other words, these aren’t people who show up, grab a sample, and take off.

(C) Digital Promoters: As the tag implies, people who endorse the event online. They broadcast a “Like” or a “Check-In” for the event, they post to their Facebook wall about it, they add a mention to their Google+ stream, they Tweet. And each mention they make reaches the list of friends or followers they have, thereby putting in motion digital Word-Of-Mouth.

(D) Digital Impressions: Simply, these are the eyes that see mentions of the brand's event. They are the people who interact with the brand by viewing an endorsement – a Tweet, a Facebook post, an uploaded video – from someone they trust.

The objective, then, is to usher as many people possible through each role in the most efficient way available. Maximizing the number of digital impressions an offline event yields is truly a multi-step process that requires marketers to act before the event, during the event, and following the event. But so long as the marketer is  cognizant of those steps, actions, and – perhaps most importantly – the metrics they are trying to optimize, they can ensure the offline event garners online attention and digital impressions.

It all begins with your Digital Followers. Certainly, this is not always the first place marketers look when planning an offline event, but it should be. That is because these are the consumers who are most likely to pass along favorable mentions of your brand. The more of them marketers can make aware of an event, the more likely will the event generate online buzz and digital impressions. But even more importantly, marketers know a bit about the Digital Followers of their brand. Marketers must begin by searching existing Digital Followers for those who live or work in areas near the offline event. By dropping them a note to say where and when the event will be and asking them to tell their friends, marketers maximize the attention the event will get. A marketer’s success at effectively recruiting for the event should be measured through a metric called “attraction”: the ratio of Digital Followers the brand has to the number of Digital Followers who participate in your offline event.

Ensuring high “engagement”, the percent of event participants who promote the event through some digital means, is what drives the marketer’s next moves. While the quality of the offline event certainly impacts how many Event Participants choose to pass along recommendations for it, there is little excuse for marketers to fall short of an engagement score of 100%. Because the marketer’s focus should be squarely on making it as simple as possible for Event Participants to send endorsements of the event to their friends and followers. This means setting up a wireless hotspot at the event, a location-based check-in, ready-to-use hashtags, a sharing platform (e.g., AddThis). Basically, the marketer must make it so easy for event participants to broadcast the event that they can’t help but promote it.

The final metric marketers should use to guide the process of translating offline events to online impressions is “amplification”. Quite simply, amplification in this sense is the ratio of Event Promoters to Digital Impressions. It is the number of people who see the endorsements posted, Tweeted, or shared by Engaged Participants. This is where finding and recruiting key Digital Followers is important. As we’ve already seen, the average Facebook member has around 130 friends, so any message broadcast through Facebook already reaches a large audience. But a large (and growing) percentage of Facebook members have literally multiples of that number of friends. Over one-quarter of members have more than 1,000 friends. And when someone with that large of a following is a friend of a brand, it is the marketer’s responsibility to know who they are.

Converting offline event to online impressions can indeed be a complicated, confusing challenge. But by breaking that challenge down it is fundamental parts, focusing on the four key roles of consumers and the three critical measures of success, marketers can maximize ROI for their events.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quitting The Data Race For Favor Of Something Better

Got data?

If GSP was asked to create a tagline for the challenges facing CMOs over the past five years, it could do worse than this simple device. That’s because for some time now the marketing executive’s agenda has been dominated by the need for and interpretation of information. Theirs, their industry’s, their consumers’. Yet the greatest challenge facing the CMO today is much different from what perplexed them just a few short years ago.

Five years ago, the CMO was buried in data. Data purchased from vendors, industry and subscription data they’d accumulated over the years, data from their own analytics teams. What they needed was help sorting through those heaps of information, determining what was important, and figuring out what it meant. But more often than not, attempts to construct effective systems of data analytics were reduced to exercises of frustration.


For one thing they were told they must have data they frankly didn’t need. This is because, whether willfully or not, nearly every marketing organization entered a “Data Race” in the last five years, amassing stockpiles of information as a testament to their marketing prowess. And there were the data companies, happy to indulge their fears of “falling behind”. The result was a fattening of already confusingly plump data assets, a race with no absolute goal.

Compounding problems introduced by the Data Race was the fact that many CMOs were sold snake oil. Much of the data proffered by vendors was not sound. Not in structure or sample size or other glaring element, but rather in purpose. The data sold simply had no breakthrough purpose. Its “insight value” was blank or redundant to another data source or far too narrow to make an impact. In the most extreme cases, data they snapped up measured how consumers engaged with a product or service in the past, not their intent for the future, effectively leaving organizations to market to consumers in similarly out-fashioned manners.

Worse yet, the CMOs own organizations – and often their consultants – could not save them. Primarily because the analytic teams in these organizations (which many spent millions of dollars to construct and fortify) were built on the notions of academia. The collection of people assembled into a top organization’s analytics team was the smartest group of people one could hope to meet, with impeccable academic credentials. But for all their qualifications, their devotion to making the algorithm a centerpiece of the marketing plan doomed their ability to connect the consumer experience to anyone outside the Ivory Tower. And the CMO’s high-minded marketing and business advisors (not the least of which their Advertising Agencies) were either too indifferent to care or unwilling to challenge the analytics team’s righteousness.

What this experience should teach us is that there is no substitute for marketing instincts. And, in part, this leads us to the greatest challenge facing the CMO today. And it’s not “having the sharpest marketing reflexes”. That’s like saying the lion’s greatest challenge is eating its food, ignoring that its real challenge is catching the food in the first place (or, for the smart ones, motivating someone else to catch it for them).

No, the greatest challenge facing CMOs today is knowing what questions their marketing programs need answered and understanding how data can provide those answers. Doing so requires marketing executives to be at once thorough and audacious. Thorough because they need to explore the information gaps that could help them improve their program performance, leaving no stones unturned. Audacious because anything can be measured, and they should never relent to anyone telling them differently. Being told “no” means they are talking to someone who can’t say “yes”.

The CMO can then set off to what any good marketing executive does best: designing hypotheses and collecting the answers that either prove or disprove them. With these in hand, the CMO can develop marketing programs that correctly address important consumer needs and root solutions in accurate benefits. The ability of the marketing executive to do this is the most important measure of their worth. Truly, data does not transform a bad marketer into a good one. But it does turn a good marketer into a great one.

Got instincts?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What The London Riots Taught Us About Social Media

The march began peacefully enough. Just a few days before, what started as a routine encounter with Metropolitan Police quickly and tragically unraveled resulting in the death of a London citizen. Now on this day in Tottenham, mourning friends and family are joined by hundreds of supporters, many who harbor suspicions that London police systematically discriminate against minorities as surely as their use of aggression and intimidation had grown out of control. And just as that fateful encounter with police had turned, this somber, peaceful demonstration quickly and tragically descends into a dark and violent expression of frustrations that have been mounting for years. The event sparks a calamitous string of riots, fueled by high levels of youth unemployment and a smoldering discontent with the current English government. The year is 1985.

Twenty-six years ago the death of Cynthia Jarrett and the subsequent Broadwater Farm Riots in London’s north very much mirrored the events surrounding this summer¹s devastating London Riots. But what began on 4 August 2011 with the shooting death of Mark Duggan at the hands of Metropolitan Police and -- ­ in a chilling re-telling of history ­ -- exploded into violence during an initially peaceful march in Tottenham was in one way very different from the events of 1985:  this summer's unrest was meticulously documented in literally millions of Tweets, BBM messages, Internet news mentions, and Facebook posts. And the electronic record of the 2011 London Riots tells a fascinating tale of the power and effectiveness of social media.

What follows are five observations on the role social media played in the London Riots born from an analysis of data earned from Twitter, Facebook, various online news feeds, a host of chat services / blogs, and Blackberry's BBM messaging service.  

Social media channels quickly became the obvious and most effective means for rioters and riot observers to communicate during the chaotic days following the Mark Duggan Justice Walk. The channels offered instantaneous connections to great numbers of engaged and passive populations in and around London. Significantly, they also offered the easiest path to international communities. 

BBM, Blackberry’s free Internet-based instant messaging service, played a primary role in the planning and execution of much of the city’s unrest. As the smartphone of choice of London youth, Blackberry enjoys a considerable chunk of the UK’s communication market. BBM connects these Blackberry owners to one another instantly and allows for a single message to be broadcast to large audiences. 

But what made BBM critical during the London Riot was the fact that the channel is untraceable. Indeed, Rioters learned from past international events, such as the Spring Arab Uprising, that authorities could track Twitter and other social media channels. As Scotland Yard monitored Twitter for signs of unrest, London rioters secreted messages to one another through BBMs. BBMs became the perfect communication “utility” for riot planners and participants.

While rioters were BBMing covert plans to one another, the rest of the engaged world was receiving a blow-by-blow account of the London Riots through Twitter. Reports of new sites of unrest, first-hand accounts of the riot’s destruction, and unfiltered reactions to the events were broadcast throughout the tumultuous days in a thick stream of terse messages.

Frequently, Twitter was used to push BBMs to the audience outside Blackberry’s instant messaging system – as Twitter users literally copied and pasted BBM messages they received into Tweets – extending the life and reach of the communications.

Tweets of the riots quickly blasted outside the UK, flashing across the world to Twitter users in the US, Asia, mainland Europe, and elsewhere thereby enabling an international audience to partake in the London Riot conversation.

Among international communities, the United States had one of the largest responses to Tweets rolling out of the UK. Tweets (and Re-Tweets) from US citizens closely and quickly mirrored the riot-related messages originating in the UK. Although the US Twitter traffic peaked slightly later than traffic in the UK, it did so in a more pronounced manner.

But perhaps more interesting was the response of US news media outlets. While stories of the London Riots were most certainly broke by UK news media, the US news machine quickly and fervently picked up those stories and distributed them to their followers through instant messages, Internet-based newsfeeds, and Tweets of their own. For the US news media, the London Riots became a more intense story than the more sustained and balanced coverage the riots received in the UK. Perhaps such attention from the US was the result of a slow domestic news desk or, more likely, American news outlets’ preoccupation with schadenfreude.

One thing that is certain is that as news of the riots intensified, expanded to international markets, and earned greater levels of social media attention so too did the draw for looters and riot participants. In this way, the scale and scope of the London Riot was extended.

While instant messaging proved to be the preferred source of information-sharing around the London Riots, Facebook played an important role in the expression of reactions to the unrest, as well as the circumstances surrounding the event. London Riot Facebook pages quickly shot up, including pages devoted to reporting riot activity, pleas for Londoners to band together to stop and clean up the riot’s devastation, and tribute pages to the riot’s principal martyr, Mark Duggan. 

But in terms of Facebook Fans, the most influential and valued pages where those dedicated to mocking the riot’s events. And by a wide margin, as riot mockery pages garnered Fans at a rate four-times faster than the next most popular category of riot-devoted pages. The examples offer insight into Londoner’s thoughts on the riot and rioters alike:  nearly 150,000 people became Facebook Fans of “The Idiot London Riot Looter”, a page which cleverly exposed the idiocy of many London teens who perpetrated crimes and acts of violence during the unrest; “Planking in the London Riot” earned over 50,000 Fans, many contributing pictures of themselves familiarly lying prone among police in riot gear and burning shops. 

The creation of these pages and their collection of Fans interestingly “democratized” reactions to the London Riots. It’s easy to consider Facebook pages outside the top five list presented above that resulted from the riots:  pages devoted to fundraising, looter identification, victim’s stories. But while there were undoubtedly pages created in such categories, they failed to collect a high number of Facebook Fans. In this way Facebook became an open structure of “opinion quantification”, lending a numerical-based indication of people’s interests and response to the London Riots.

An analysis of the emotions expressed through social media channels during the London Riots reveals important insights into the tone and tenor of the unrest. Among the top ten emotions voiced in instant messages, Tweets, Facebook posts, and other digital communications, emotions related to “connection” led the way while “freedom” logged in at number ten. To be sure, the riot in the UK were not fueled by the need to escape an oppressive government but rather a sense of unity for a common purpose. The emotional profile of the social media conversation makes sense in this context.

Yet several things about the emotional thumbprint of riot-related discussion remain unclear. Given the scale of the riots’ destruction, perhaps it was to be expected that concerns for safety and security would permeate the UK social media conversation. However, as the riots’ flashpoint was Mark Duggan’s death and the obvious distaste for London’s looters it is puzzling that expressions of “justice” were not more prominent.

Much more clear is how those emotions played out over the course of this summer’s events. August 10th marked the emotional highpoint for riot-related conversation – the same day, not coincidentally, that the riot reached its most violent and tumultuous point. Also interesting to note is that expressions of “pain”, “power / control / responsibility”, and “safety / security” hit an early peak just days into the riotous activity when the world was graphically introduced to the unrest. Conversely, “connection” peaked sharply on the riot’s darkest day, while “acceptance” slowly gained weight as the unrest wore on and the reality of London’s situation took hold. Taken together, these emotions provide a lasting, indelible cast of the London Riots’ emotion tone.


Social media channels – BBM, Twitter, Internet-based newsfeeds, Facebook, and others – played several prominent roles in the London Riots of 2011. Chief among them were social media’s part in…

·      Providing communication “utilities”
·      Enabling an international audience
·      Extending riot’s scope and scale
·      “Democratizing” reactions to the event
·      Setting the event’s emotional tone

The cumulative effect of social media led to a summer of unrest in London that far eclipsed the Broadwater Farm Riot events some twenty-six years ago, despite the fact that each began in almost the same way and under a nearly identical set of circumstances.

A more devastating and awesome illustration of social media's power may not soon be seen again.