Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Social Media has to be about something

What fascinates me about all the companies that are rushing to have a social media presence is that many of them are simply overlook the fact that social media is a means to an end. The users of Facebook, or Bebo, or any other social network are not interested in Facebook per se, but rather their friends, or topics of interest, through Facebook, etc. Corporate marketing departments are obviously obsessed with the product they are selling, as they should be, but can forget that many of their customers probably aren't that interested. So even if they grasp the key concept of interaction, allowing the customer tangible input, which is vital to a successful social media campaign, they still often overlook the equally important question 'Why would the customer want to?' I recall reading some years ago that Coke set up a social network for customers to share their experiences and ideas about Coke, but why would they want to? I like drinking coke, but in day to day life I'm not that interested in talking about. This is not to malign Coke, this was before many other companies were even aware of social media, and obviously first movers are going to make some mistakes - I'm not sure whatever happened to that. Coke have done some great social media stuff since then, particularly some great viral videos.

If you have a company selling a product, presumably you have identified the market you're selling it too - ie the group of people whose wants or needs are being met by your product. Unless the product looms large as a cultural icon already, like an Apple iPod or Nike shoe, then people probably aren't going to want to spend much time talking about it. To successfully utilise a social media campaign to draw attention to a product then, you need to essentially identify a new 'social' product, something that meets a social need and which you can tie to your actual product, like the Ford Fiesta Movement campaign, giving 'social agents', people with a personal mission, cars and getting them to share the results of their endeavours via social networks. With this type of thinking you move beyond your core fans to get average people talking about your product - because you provide them with something in return. It's a tricky balance, finding the social media need to match your product, but it's the only way to be truly successful, and hopefully more agencies will take up this approach.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cultural Navigators

My thoughts on this topic in written form are well overdue, so here goes...

The quantity of media in our culture is expanding at an ever increasing rate. As communication technologies allow us not only to access content from further and more disparate sources (imagine how much more news you'll be able to read when automated translation services become really usable) but also allow an increasing number of people access to the tools to create and distribute content. So we're basically drowning in content, much not very good or personally relevant, and it's only going to get worse. For a culture junkie it's great, but also overwhelming. How is anyone going to find the content of value, both meaningful and entertaining, in this deluge? They need good cultural navigators to guide them.

Whatever topic I might be interested in, it is quite possible for me to spend all of my time trying to keep up with it - let alone should I be interested in more then one topic. So I find those people who know the topics I'm interested in, who keep up with them, and who have the similar tastes and values to me, and I allow them to point me towards the content I'll probably like. I'll let them do the leg work, that is what bloggers do. What critics do. What celebrities, or more often 'personalities' do. So it means that I don't have to try to watch every movie that's released, rather I can cut down the potential number of films I'll watch based on Margaret Pomeranz's opinions. Or David Stratton, or Roger Ebert. I don't have to read through all the gossip magazines and websites for my celebrity fix, I can just pick a few blogs with similar tastes and interests, perhaps with a style that I like, and let them point me to the good stuff. I don't have to try to figure out what it means to smell good, or what scents are 'in', I can just take Britney's word for it.

The cultural navigation function of bloggers is why that have risen in prominence so rapidly in the last decade. What they are doing isn't new, it's just that the medium in which they do it is particularly suited to cultural naviagtion. Critics in all fields have been doing it for years, but as the volume of content increases, so does their need to specialise. So we are moving away from 'book reviewer' to 'children's book reviewer' or 'sci-fi reviewer'. Previously, when cultural dissemination was more limited, when people had fewer choices for the content they consumed, the demand for cultural navigators was much smaller. Hence, with this proportionally smaller number of people offering their cultural guidance, they needed to offer guidance that appealed to a broader base (ie all music listeners, not just punk listeners) to be successful. This meant that cultural criticism/guidance aimed to be objective, impartial and therefore broad in it's appeal. As we move into a denser cultural, with a higher proportional need for cultural navigators, we are seeing that those that wear their values, tastes and bias on their sleeves become more successful - it differentiates them from the others. The other form cultural navigation has taken in the past is celebrity endorsement, and it works on the same principle. Whoopi Goldberg may be far from an expert on incontinence, yet her fan base trust her values and tastes because they like her (or maybe they like her because they trust her values and tastes?), and hence accept her guidance on a product they probably don't wish to spend a lot of time finding out about themselves.

There is so much more for me to say about the concept of Cultural Navigators; It's an important concept to consider and use in analysing our culture. There are overlaps with the worlds of cultural criticism, journalism, education, celebrity, with marketing concepts like 'Influencers' and of course new media and social media trends. I'm going to get to all that hopefully, and ultimately thinking about cultural navigators might just give us a powerful way to understand the dynamics of our culture. To survive and thrive in the ever increasing deluge of content that we face, we are going to have to rely on our Cultural Navigators.

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