A few questions: When consumers find out this was a hoax, does this create distrust? Does tapping into market memes demonstrate being in tune with your market? Would it have only worked in a country where a large portion are not religious?
Whether sacrilegious or brilliant marketing, perhaps it can only work in the Netherlands –it would have never worked in the US, You be the judge, I look forward to hearing your comments. (link via Donald Lim, who shared this at the IMMAP workshop)
Recently, I attended a corporate event that showcased products related to an industry. Press, media, bloggers, and influencers were invited to attend, and meet a variety of vendors and see products. Featured were members of the company’s advocacy program, (a group of preferred clients), and were given products to demo. Some members of the this advocacy program are bloggers, in particular one with a journalistic background, who’s credibility came into question. While the event continued on, a not-impressed attendee (who claimed to be a journalist) started to make comments that some of the members of the advocacy program were not authentic and went so far as to say quite loudly during the presentation they were “shills” from the back of the room.
[Brands, which are often untrusted, must develop advocacy programs to influence their market. Despite good intentions, several risks could result in mistrust and even backlash from those they seek to impress]
Let’s break it down, as these same events are likely going to happen to your advocacy program at events and echo online.
Opportunities: Advocacy Programs Foster A Low-Cost Trusted Voice
Companies aren’t trusted, brands aren’t trusted, and nor are your executives. People trust each other, and now they have the tools to communicate with each other using social technologies and mobile with or without brands involved. As a result, trust has shifted to the participants. Many brands, knowing their credibility has diminished, rely on advocacy programs where trusted members of the community are given a platform and encouraged to speak.
Take for example the B2B Microsoft MVP program (I was formerly briefed) selects the most helpful professionals in their space, and anoint their most knowledgeable customers in public, and use the program as a way to get product and program feedback. They MVPs aren’t directly paid, but may have travel and expenses covered to speak at a variety of industry events. Another example is consumer facing WalMart’s Mom and Dad blogger program (also briefed) where influencers that fit their ideal market are given a place to blog on the corporate website. They have very few limitations and often talk about the competition.
These programs provide brands with a: trusted set of market influencers, a lower-cost program compared to traditional marketing efforts, and a platform to engage in dialog with their most knowledgeable market.
Risks: Incorrectly Implemented, Advocacy Programs Will Cause Brand Backlash
Innovation always requires risk, and many corporate cultures aren’t yet ready to yield control to the market. As a result, they apply command and control tactics to a group that could ultimately shoot them in the foot. Example? The “Target Rounders” program (I’ve not been briefed) encouraged customers to advocate the brand on public social networks, but unfortunately encouraged them to do so without transparency. The email sent from corporate to the members suggesting they advocate without disclosing their ties was quickly put on blogs –detracting from the whole movement. Also, companies not ready to take the bad with the good may not know what to do with the negative feedback, and may push back resulting in the program to crumble. Lastly, the members of the advocacy program themselves may be subjected to scrutiny from the community, they need to ensure they are inline with their own editorial guidelines.
Checklist: Develop a Successful Advocacy Program Don’t build your relationships on a whim, have a plan, and build off the learnings of others. This checklist is the start of your program plan, share it with your internal teams before getting started.
Get Internal Teams Prepared First. You can’t love your customers ’till you first love yourself. Companies that aren’t ready for the new world should tread lightly. Marketing, executives, legal, and the rest of the company need to be prepared for a new site of spokespersons to step forward in an unconventional way. Getting ready for the raw discussions that are already happening in your marketplace closer to your doors requires virtue, patience, and an open mind.
Find Credible Advocates. This is not a shill program. Getting individuals that are already experts in your market to learn more about your company and talk about it in an open way requires a filter. Likely they have respected blogs, or thousands of followers on Twitter, or frequently attend and speak at industry events.
Ensure The Advocacy Program Is Above Board. Make sure disclosure is loud and clear. Find advocates that are already vocal, maybe have sung your praises in public, and may already be a raving fan. Recognize them in public (online and off) give them a badge (maybe for blog, or even at events) that signify their distinction. Develop a policy, and enforce that any public mentions should require disclosure, involve your legal team.
Ensure It Matches Up With Their Agenda. Advocates need to feel comfortable this is a topic or association they like. If they are not comfortable with this program they risk ruining their own credibility which will damage your own associations. Make sure they can say whatever they want to –but always give them the right to discuss it with the brand first as a right of first refusal. Never limit their access or privileges based upon what they do or don’t say.
Incentivize Them With Special Access –But Don’t Pay Them. I’m a firm believer that your most passionate customers want to be recognized as experts, so thanking them, saluting them, and giving them access to information or events is key. Letting them demo products before others and providing an honest review is commonly done.
Hand Over The Microphone –Give Them The Platform. This isn’t about you, it’s about them. The market doesn’t trust your brand, so let them have the platform to speak. Recognize them on your public website, develop a way to indicate that they’re the most trusted members in your online communities, and allow them to tell others.
Intake Negative Feedback –But Be Actionable. You’ve now asked for open dialog for them to discuss with their community, but be prepared to intake their experience and thoughts with your marketing and more importantly: product and development teams. This can’t be just lip-service by corporate communications, but their input must be acknowledged, and then reported back to them it was taken into account. Use this as a way to reduce innovation costs –but ensure product teams correctly know how to develop these relationships.
Provide Them With Communication Tools. Give them the opportunity to talk with each other. Develop an online community or email distribution list, just for them to participate in and talk with each other. Additionally, give them a platform on your corporate website or within your communities to vocalize. For those with advanced communities, give them higher level abilities than other members such as ability to moderate, add unique media, or personalize their experience.
Define Success Based On Influence And Reduced Cost. This is an influence program, much like media, press, or analyst relations. Measure based on influence by looking at KPIs around number of touch points, impact (anecdotal and through surveys). Also, measure how much and how useful the feedback to product and development teams was taken used –divide by traditional ways of getting similar feedback. Measure cost savings: offset the measurement with the denominator of lower costs of a WOM program to develop a measurement based on value.
Got An Idea? Leave a Comment. Whew, that’s my list, however the real knowledge is with the community. Love to hear your thoughts. What are key steps companies must take to have a successful advocacy program? Here’s a chance for agencies, brand managers, and anyone who’s got first hand knowledge to share what they’ve learned.
Advocacy programs are a mainstay of today and future marketing programs –yet to be successful companies must have the mindset of being enablers –not controllers.
Left: Several Press, Analysts, and Bloggers met with executives from Cisco and Warner using Telepresence from NY, SF, to San Jose. Cisco’s Eos (their community platform for media brands) landed an enterprise wide deal with Warner Music.
Attendees included John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, Dan Scheinman who heads Eos, and Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner music and Michale Nash of Warner.
Rather than focus on the details of the deal (you can read WSJ, Reuters, and GigaOm), I’m going to discuss what it means to the industry at large.
[Media companies will adopt social technologies to respond to the Groundswell in social networks --yet to be successful, the change isn’t about technology –but instead, their business model]
Media companies know that they’re not the only voices in the auditorium –the audience now talks back. They create media, content, and share it directly with each other on social sites —now brands, like Warner seek to embrace them closer. Rather than allow this inevitable social interaction on social networks like MySpace, they want to take it back by launching their own social features.
Although EOS was announced earlier this year (read my take), this is their first major client, hence the fanfare. What’s taken EOS so long to clinch a large deal? Their hefty enterprise system is designed for media brands to cascade across multiple properties –not one-off installations. Community platform players that also compete in the media space like Kickapps and Pluck (and to some degree Ning) have self-serve features, are modular, and even have credit card payment systems so individual brand managers can get started –bypassing IT.
Impacts to Community Platforms, and CMS Vendors
Incumbent community platform players (learn more about this crowded space) like Kickapps (who power artists U2, Madonna and Food2), Pluck (who powers USAToday/Gannet, The Guardian, and the NFL), and incumbent CMS systems like Vignette, Documentum, Interwoven need to demonstrate they’ve enterprise viability by proving their systems to brands that can scale across multiple entertainment properties at media conglomerates. Warner is an ‘end to end Cisco customer’ so the aforementioned vendors should immediately reach out to their customers with a large Cisco footprint in the datacenter.
Impacts to Social Networks: MySpace, Bebo, Facebook
As media companies develop their own communities this takes some power away from social networks like MySpace, Bebo, and Facebook. Fortunately, not all fans will interact with artist created communities –so they will need to quickly distinguish how their community base is different (perhaps in a different part of the marketing funnel) –but still valuable.
What It Means: Opportunities –and Challenges for Media Brands
Consider this the first day in which Chief Media Officers recognize that social is a key component to fostering a brand amongst an audience that wants –and will talk back. Expect other media conglomerates to start this evaluation process.
Rather than punt the community to MySpace and Bebo to monetize, media companies can now aggregate the data from the community to quickly identify trends, memes, and hits and wins from the community. Artists can foster a tighter relationship with fans as the communication goes both ways.
They could monetize by providing premium products (exclusive content, backstage passes, or special venues). Additionally there are WOM opportunities, and harvesting data to identify new trends, top influencers, and market trends. Creating premium products for fans and evangelists will spur their business forward.
Media companies need to develop a strategy beyond technologies that encompasses dealing with process, roles, and allowing for the voices of the customer –not just the media brands. Remember my 80/20 rule about communities, only 20% is about technology, the majority is strategy.
Lastly, media companies will need to reformat their business model, as the people formerly known as the audience now join artists on stage. Given how media companies have responded to this movement with a clamping and silencing motion –this is a big change for their culture.
Media Companies Under Extreme Change as Fans Join the Stage –Changing Biz Model
Summing things up, media brands that recognize the party is happening without them on MySpace, Bebo and Facebook will build branded communities for fans and artists closer to the corporate domain. This means the structure of the business will need to change, not just to allow fans to participate on the ‘online stage’ but to also develop new ways of monetizing through premium products, cross sales, and lean on efficient word of mouth marketing.
I’m on a Twitter hiatus and am not tweeting for a while, instead, I’m focusing on what Forrester calls energizing, what others may refer to as “word of mouth’. So instead, I’m going to conduct experiments to help my clients understand how to best use social tools to allow content to spread for person to person.
While social media ‘chicklets’ already exist that make it easy to make blog posts diggable, tagged on delicious, or emailed to others, we’ve often forgotten to recognize one of the most powerful behaviors: the retweet.
As a result, every single one of my future blog posts will have easy-to-use, copy and paste content that is designed to be rapidly tweeted to your followers –or until a technology emerges that makes it easier.
I’m not going to tweet this post, but want you to spread it to your twitter followers by copying and pasting this code into twitter and share with others
If You Read This, Tweet This to your Followers:
How Bloggers Should Inspire Retweets http://snipurl.com/9ii28
What are you waiting for? copy the above sentence, put it into the twitter form bar and share it! Let’s spread the word how bloggers can easily benefit from viral sharing by making it easy for blog posts to be retweeted. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that take off, so I’ll write a wrap up post measuring the impacts of this experiment. (Update: The findings are now live, see the data after 24 hours)
So How Bloggers Should Inspire Retweets? Make it easy for their readers to tweet it, by creating simple copy and a shortened URL and include it at the bottom of each blog post. Thanks for tweeting, and retweeting this.
The economy is sinking, consumers, bloggers, well everyone, can use extra cash in the hand.
Pay Per Post did not require disclosure, Izea requires up front disclosure –this is ethical.
It’s doubly attractive as each of the bloggers can hold a contest, offering additional prizes to their readers, this spread like wildfire in Twitter –reaching a large audience.
I learned from Ted that the bloggers that would participate would receive traffic, as the advertising network within Izea would point to the blogs that are sponsored.
Click through rates will be far higher than banner ads, Ted shared me some numbers, and if he’s right, they are significantly higher. This makes sense as the source is higher trusted than an ad.
It’s inexpensive for the brand, while I hear of many soical media campaigns for Fortune companies being 50-100k, the payout to bloggers and community is a mere 5k, although I’m sure there’s many service fees going to the marketing team at Izea.
But what are the risks?
With every benefit comes a risk to each party, and this one is no different.
Risks to bloggers and their communities
Bloggers will simply have to ensure that they are delivering trusted content to their audience (transparent), and it’s relevant to their current topics (authentic). If readers are going to a tech blog, and expecting tech content, they may be surprised if the content shifts to a different medium –like consumer goods. Ted explained that the bloggers will choose the content they will write about, so in theory, this will work. The good thing about the blogosphere is that it self corrects, the community members will let the blogger know what they do and don’t like –it happens every day. Update: Julio Fernandez notices that the tweets are generating spam, and takes a screenshot.
Risks to Izea
The other risk is the inventory may not be sustainable (long term). What’s the inventory? The bloggers. Izea will need to ensure that the blog posts are spread out so the sponsored posts. If bloggers continue to do sponsored only posts, they do run the risk of losing editorial trust from their community, and then losing audience. As Izea gains popularity, expect the demand to increase for these campaigns.
Risks to Brands
For brands, they should realize that this is not the only way to reach customers, many brands are reaching customers in social networks, building online communities, and using corporate blogs. Brands shouldn’t put all their resources into sponsored blog posts.
Bottom Line: Sponsored blog posts to proliferate
Getting bloggers paid is good, word of mouth for brands is also good, as the prizes and content spread to the readers of the blog they win too. The only risk is if the editorial becomes trusted, but we should expect bloggers to self-police themselves. Two years ago, I never imagined that I would write a positive post for anything coming out of Pay Per Post, but I think this model is getting refined.
Twitter is in an interesting beast, information flies so quickly, that some may misunderstand or distort what really happened in the first place. For some reason, people think that I was against sponsored blog posts or specific bloggers, that’s not true, you can read from my tweets, that I was asking questions to learn and did due diligence to get on the phone with the parties involved, any of the risks I mentioned in the tweets, I’ve also outlined in this post.
The tweets are listed in chronological order, so the first is at the top, I removed any tweets not about this topic.
Kmart paid Shoemoney $500 resulting in buzz from paid blog post 300+ comments http://snipurl.com/7yi5w “Buying” social media is effective 4:37 AM Dec 13th from web
This may not be a scalable model however, as buying placements could reduce credibility of bloggers, reducing marketing inventory. 4:38 AM Dec 13th from web
Bottom Line: Expect more brands to ‘buy’ bloggers and tweeters as the economy dips, this truly is cost effective marketing 4:39 AM Dec 13th from web
@moon Yes, I’m fully aware of Ted, and Izea. Paid product placements are nothing new, what are impacts to individual bloggers and tweeters? 4:49 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to moon
@tedmurphy (Founder of Izea/PayPerPost) have you considered the brand damage this could do to your inventory (bloggers)? 5:06 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to tedmurphy
@moon @tedmurphy is this true? @Chrisbrogan used a seperate blog for the paid Kmart post? What’s the URL? 5:21 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to moon
Here’s @chrisbrogan ‘s paid post for Kmart http://snipurl.com/7ynb1 Transparent, Yes. Authentic? Debatable. Sustainable? No. 5:26 AM Dec 13th
Got off the phone with @centernetworks discussing and debating IZEA paid blog posts. More news on that soon. 5:59 AM Dec 13th from web
@RevzNexus I need to learn more, I requested meeting with Ted Murphy and also with Chris Brogan, I may try to talk to Kmart too 6:02 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to RevzNexus
Just talked to @tedmurphy, asked him many questions, I’ll blog my analysis if brands and bloggers should to this on Monday. 6:30 AM Dec 13th from web
Had a good call with @chrisbrogan He’s on board of advisors for Izea. They model is getting refined. More brands will certainly use Izea. 7:19 AM Dec 13th from web
Expect more bloggers to sign up for sponsored posts as the economy takes a downturn, this is just the start. 7:22 AM Dec 13th from web
@chrisbrogan Thanks Chris and @tedmurphy, I’m trying to understand all sides of the issue (short and long term) before advising my clients. 7:28 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to chrisbrogan
I highly respect @chrisbrogan as usual, he gives a thoughtful and transparent post explaining Advertising and Trust http://snipurl.com/831w6 about 15 hours ago from web
I hope this shows why Izea is going to grow, and explains my stance.
Related Posts: (I’ll be updating this)
I’ll be adding links to posts that add to this discussion, on both sides of the fence.
Let’s examine the graphic that was provided:
First, review this graphic in a separate window, let’s start at the bottom and move our way up. Right above corporate blogs, consumers nearly equally don’t trust social networking site profiles from a company or brand, no surprise, it’s often the equivalent of a corporate blog. Strange that consumers don’t trust personal blogs? We actually saw other findings from data that supports that blogs are not trusted. Then, moving up the graphic, we start to see an increase in trust from mainstream mediums like email from a company or brand, Wikis, radio, mainstream news websites, and print magazines. Finally, you start to see an uptake from social networking profiles of people you know, print newspapers, and then the yellow pages.
So, Who Do Consumers Trust?
Perhaps what’s most interesting is that the top three are: Email from people you know, consumer product ratings and review,and search engines.
77% trust email form someone they know. Makes sense, people we know in our truly intimate of circles are those who we keep closest. Websites that have a “Share this via” email may be a good start, using the vendor ShareThis is a good start. Also, this suggests that marketers should start to think about letting other types of content be easily shared from email address to email. We’ve always known that email was the first digital social network that mattered.
60% trust consumer product ratings and reviews: I find both logical but we’ve some ways to go. Right now, we’re leaning on reviews from individuals that may not be in our trust circle. So as the social graph and eCommerce engines start to tie, we’ll soon have access to reviews of products from our direct network of folks we really know. Razorfish has eloquently helped to visualize this concept with this presentation.
50%: Say they trust portals/search engines: In Google We Trust, is that Charlene Li frequently used to tell me, and it still holds true. When you look closely, the search engine results in Google are really social recommendations. How so? The Google algorithm (while I’m over simplifying) puts a great deal of weight on how humans organize, link, and create content.
So in summary, when you look closely, people trust each other. If you’re not up to date on Forrester’s POST methodology, now is the time to learn, I ensure each of my clients knows it on my daily inquiry calls. For the most part, this methodology is available in public and has been published on blogs and in slideshare, what’s key is that we understand the common framework of terms, particularly the five objectives: listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing
As Josh alluded to in his comments, it’s time to focus on energizing (word of mouth), and maybe supporting (customers helping each other) –rather than talking (brands telling consumers)