Τετάρτη 10 Φεβρουαρίου 2010

Innovation in Communication: The Net Effect

Η Karen Strauss, Partner και Chief Innovation Officer της Ketchum, μας προτείνει τρόπους να συμφιλιωθούμε με τη νέα εποχή των consumer - gererated media όπου ο έλεγχος και η χειραγώγηση είναι οριστικά παρελθόν, να ξαναθυμηθούμε τον Marshall McLuhan στον φαναταστικό καινούριο κόσμο των social media και να κάνουμε ό,τι κάνουν οι πρωτοπόροι κάθε καιρού: να πειραματιστούμε! Διαβάστε παρακάτω...

"In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that . . . the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium -- that is, of any extension of ourselves -- result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology."

Thus begins the seminal work of Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, in which he proclaimed more than four decades ago, "The medium is the message." A literal interpretation of McLuhan’s statement is that he was simply observing that the medium or channel colors the information it delivers. But McLuhan, a prophet in seeing how technology affects relationships, also had a larger "message" that is particularly relevant today: Every new medium exerts profound effects on society and how we interact. While he didn’t say it explicitly, McLuhan may as well have coined the term "social media" back in the ‘60s.

Now, thanks to accessible and scalable publishing techniques, media finally fulfills its potential as a conduit for robust social discourse. If the medium really is the message, then consumer-generated media tell us consumers as content producers love to connect and be heard. They are readily exploiting social networks, digital videos, blogs, podcasts, wikis, mobile phone photography, and open source software to share and collaborate – while creating new media outlets as they go. And they are using new media to publicly support or skewer brands and institutions at an escalating pace.

What then, in this climate, are the innovative communications techniques available to companies and brands that have stories to tell and messages to sell?

"Consumer-fortified media" – compelling content reinforced by consumer comments and posts – is key. Among social news Web sites, Digg exemplifies this. For a story to appear on Digg’s front page, it must be among the most "dugg" from those submitted and voted upon by contributors. Content must earn notice or risk getting "buried." Brand stories have terrific potential to gain traction, provided consumers like how they’re told. For professional communicators, the creative challenge is predicting what will catch on.

But crystal ball gazing isn’t entirely necessary. Brand marketers can discover ways to connect with their audiences simply by trolling the Internet for memes and news occurrences that are already generating traction, then linking their brand stories to what people find interesting. For example, Kodak recently seized on a paparazzi photo of a failed attempt by a young boy to hand a rose to actress Megan Fox at a movie premiere. Kodak, a Ketchum client, offered a reward to anyone who could identify the boy so the company could broker a second try. That media announcement generated more buzz and chatter than most carefully calculated campaigns, yet cost very little to showcase the power of a photograph to change lives.

Similarly, spotting the demise of traditional arcade games, Stride, also a Ketchum client, recently tapped into gamer sentiment by offering to save one arcade from shuttering. The company handed the decision of which arcade to save over to male gamers, who could play an online game to earn points for their favorite arcade. Consumer response was clear: In two days, some 92,100,575 points were donated by gamers, earning positive attention from top gaming outlets and praise from cynical gaming forums, with comments like "Upon reading this tidbit . . . Stride became my gum of choice." Gamers – a key gum-chewing target – liked being part of the story, so it worked.

Giving consumers a voice is hardly limited to creative brand campaigns. When online shoe retailer Zappos announced its sale to Amazon recently, CEO Tony Hsieh shared the news on his blog (http://blogs.zappos.com/ceoletter), forsaking a traditional press release. In blog-speak that featured quips like "I personally prefer the headline Zappos and Amazon sitting in a tree," Hsieh demystified the transaction and invited a freewheeling conversation about it among customers and employees of both companies, ushering in an innovative, new age of M&A communications.

In no small way, social media forces companies to relinquish control and take "innovative" risks. This is just the kind of change McLuhan predicted. But as with all risk taking, the experiment doesn’t always work perfectly. For instance, Skittles, a candy brand, recently changed its home page to a Twitter feed of anyone who tweeted anything with "skittles" in it, abdicating control of the Web page. Once word got out that anyone could get on the home page by typing "skittles" in a tweet, more than a few inappropriate links and some offensive language appeared. Despite some embarrassment, marketing experts praised Skittles for experimenting with social media to engage consumers in the brand.

Communication innovators are experimenters, and the Internet is their lab. Because outcomes on the Internet are impossible to predict, innovators must do things to learn what they should do. So, in the words of McLuhan, the medium is the message, and the message is to experiment – a lot.

From Perspectives, Ketchum's Online Magazine

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