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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in social media (4)


    what does Twitter actually mean to you?

    Like so many of the cognoscenti, I've spent the last year or so grappling with Twitter. Yes, simply to understand what it does (and I'm still learning what you can accomplish with it) but more importantly to understand how I could usefully engage with it.

    In other words, what the hell did Twitter mean to me?

    In the interests of full disclosure, I set up an RSS feed a couple of years ago, and shut it down that same morning. I watched content I'd identified as being interesting to me pile up in the reader, link after link after link, and the sense of obligation I felt was so overwhelming that it caused me serious anxiety. I already have an inbox; I don't need another one. Yes, I know there is no actual obligation, but lists aren't something I like to have hanging over me. And that's what RSS felt like.

    So I know that I have a certain way of apprehending information, a way that I need to engage with it. That's not going to change, no matter what the application is called.

    Anyway, getting involved with Twitter I dutifully followed people who were interesting, especially lots of marketing people whose wisdom I needed to, um, learn from. Except I didn't expect the explosion in my feed – I couldn't keep up. After a few weeks I purged the people whose only tweets were retweets or links to their blog content (if I was interested, I'd bookmark the damn blog) or who tweeted so insanely often that I began to doubt that they were actually professionally employed (sorry, Jeff Blair) not so much because of their content but because they were drowning out the tweeting of other voices I wanted to hear.

    Twitter started feeling like a big-ass RSS feed.

    Another thing I noticed was that a lot of marketing people seem to go to the same conferences and naturally be excited about the same interesting things at the same time.

    This is understandable and hey, it is after all about something interesting. But when you see five or six people tweet or retweet something within minutes of each other, for me the impression of a herd mentality is so strong that I balk. If everyone's excited, my natural tendency is to be skeptical.

    So, for those reasons I felt compelled to edit many of people I was following, and many marketing folks. I've discovered that I need a breadth of voices of Twitter, even within this marketing thing of ours, so that I'm consistently being exposed to as much as possible.

    Ebert is a machine, as is Bruce Arthur, but they don't drown out Douma, Nick Kristof, Lousie Clements, Ann Handley, Steveoftheweb or Jinnean Barnard.

    Following fewer voices with more interesting perspectives, as opposed to following everyone I've ever clicked on, has been very useful for me.


    we were a little arrogant about social media... once

    Let's jump in the tardis and punch the destination buttons for, say, 2006, shall we?

    Let's navigate through the mists of that year to one of the first few meetings in which we ever talked with clients about social media.

    Now let's get in close... no, closer... okay, now take a good hard look at our faces during that discussion. What would you call that look on our faces, in one word?


    Yes, it was yet another moment where the agency weasels were oh so way ahead of the curve, bringing our backward clients into the new millennium.

    Now, let's zoom in further and look at the Powerpoint deck we're showing off. What's that logo on the first page? It's a funny looking word... MySpace?

    Yeah, considering we had no idea how social media were going to evolve, we were pretty arrogant. (How much time did you spend pushing kooky Facebook apps in 2007? Yeah, me too.) We were asking clients to spend money with no sense of what they were actually going to get out of it. And clients for a long time have put up with the idea that our vague references to "awareness" and "engagement" were good enough to open up their wallets.

    Now, let's rev up that tardis again and return to 2010. Let's zoom in to a meeting room and take a good look at the faces of the agency weasels doing a social media presentation. How would you sum up the look on their face?


    Clients are demanding to know how their investment in social media is actually going to pay off. And getting flustered and continuing to say "um, engagement" while we turn red and start sweating is no longer enough to keep them at bay.

    Agencies actually have to be able to predict what the ROI on a social media spend is going to be, in much the way that they have to make a business case for their direct response or promotions campaigns. It's a huge challenge, and not many people seem to be sharing details about what works and what doesn't.

    Four years after our initial arrogance, clients are now the ones herding us into the new millennium, sometimes peaceably, sometimes not. But they're undeniably in charge. And if your agency doesn't come up with real business reasons for your clients to be doing social media marketing, the Daleks are sure to be just around the corner.


    a demi-thought about social media and marketing

    A rambling post tonight, in lieu of real thoughts...

    Belatedly it's occurring to me that social media hasn't replaced any other form of marketing – it's created a whole new category of marketing, a hybrid of engagement and awareness. Awgagement? Engageness?

    The Old Spice videos took off because people liked them and thought they were funny. They watched, they talked about them, they passed them along and my understanding is that they also bought product. So that's great. Old Spice built over several weeks based on consumers themselves.

    That amazing potential that Awgagement has is also its severe limitation. It relies on the fact that you're far more likely to engage with things (messages, recommendations, links, video, articles) that you get through friends than those things you receive through more traditional means. It relies on viral marketing. Which, as we're all aware, isn't a strategy or medium at all; it's an outcome. There is very little that marketers can do to rely on predictable marketing through Facebook or Twitter. They can't control how people will react to their messages or content. They can't force people to pass their stuff along or like it.

    The Old Spice folks invested a lot of dough and took a chance. It paid off.

    Taken to its logical conclusion, will advertisers now just create content and deliver straight to consumers via YouTube, desperately trying to incorporate brand messages in a way that actually entertains?

    I doubt it. It's a very high risk strategy, too much so for most clients too much of the time. I can't see them or their agencies shoving all their chips onto the "social media" square on the roulette wheel and letting it ride. As much as everyone talks about trusting and listening to consumers, there's too much money involved for businesses to become passive dependents on consumers. I know that every guru on the planet is talking about empowering consumers, but no one gives up power that easily.

    Besides, people aren't actively searching out content all the time. Sometimes they really need passive interaction, for instance, sitting back and watching whatever's on TV after a long day at work, or listening to the radio in the car. Sometimes, people don't want to have to engage, or like, or pass along. Sometimes they just want to enjoy.


    when irrationality is reasonable

    Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist who has written a couple of really interesting books: Predictably Irrational, and The Upside of Irrationality. In the latter, he includes a chapter about the powerful role that emotion plays in our choice to help others. It won't come as a surprise to anyone who works in the fundraising sector, but it's really enlightening nonetheless.

    I've just finished his first book, Predictably Irrational, and one of the many things that interest me about it is his extended investigation of trust and honesty, both individually and socially, through an imaginative series of quick and simple experiments.

    One of the things he finds is that there is a clear distinction between the things we do for personal, non-monetary reasons, and what we do for money. In example after example, he and his collaborators show how seemingly irrational we are when thinking about value; for instance, lawyers who refuse to reduce their rate for poor clients, but who instead accept a request to work for free. Bringing one kind of value into a "transaction" made up of the other value, such as offering to give your neighbour three bucks to helping you move a couch, or offering your mother-in-law fifty bucks for a great Thanksgiving dinner, breaks all kinds of social norms, and is likely to get you permanently uninvited or punched in the mouth.

    (Now, this could kick off an entertaining discussion of why money seems to inherently hold a sense of obligation, and why it easier for people to give their services away instead of devaluing them. But that's for another post.)

    Ariely highlights the discrepancy between these two sets of values when it comes to marketing, and the implication for social media is enormous:

    If you're a company, you can't have it both ways. You can't treat your customers like family one moment and then treat them impersonally -- or, even worse, as a nuisance or a competitor -- a moment later when it becomes more convenient or profitable.

    Being "friends" with your customers on Facebook is really difficult when you're bombarding them with cross-selling messages all the time, and jumping on them when they're two days late in making a payment. You have to make the decision to have one kind of relationship with consumers, and stick to it. Looking at it like this, it just wouldn't make sense for a bank to try to build consumer relationships like this. (But I'd love to see someone try it.)

    Friends offer each other things of real value without ever bringing money into the relationship. Friends listen to each other, and react to what the other says. And those are simply not things that your average MBA or CEO learns how to do.