America has plenty of elections, from the crucially important annuals like the Oscars or the meaningless Presidential elections that we only bother with every four years. In many of them, online networks and social media can predict results – winning candidates tend to be mentioned more on Twitter or liked more on Facebook.
While some will jump to the conclusion that online chatter will drive the support that pushes a candidate over the edge, that’s an over-simplistic reading of the situation. Social media posts are tea leaves of human behavior, but not usually the initial driver. It’s worth watching data trends and extrapolating results, but trying to create those data trends to ensure a specific outcome is a waste of time. Daniel Day Lewis didn’t win an Oscar with social buzz, he won by making the legislative posturing surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment interesting and engaging. He didn’t even have to slay any vampires, so that was good too. Similarly, online activity follows good political candidates, it doesn’t create them.
(Sidebar: What kind of a sick joke is it that Lincoln Motor Company is a subsidiary of Ford?)
If the correlation between online data and reality was more direct, according to Google we’d all have the flu by now.
Two seemingly unrelated pieces of patriotism struck me as oddly similar this week. The first was, obviously, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The second was the not-quite-safe-for-work homage to George Washington from cartoonist Brad Neely.
Neely’s work is kind of out there, but for those who share his sense of humor it’s spot on. (A sample line: “And we danced, like those people in the hyper-tight light of fried chicken commercials!” Seriously, what does that even mean?) Even with limited exposure in venues like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Neely’s two or three minute videos are especially suited to a YouTube audience.
Obviously, the Navy SEALS who took down bin Laden crafted a much more significant piece of work on Sunday. Their achievement, though, was a reflection of a changing military environment just as Neely’s videos reflect a changing media environment.
The major military conflicts to stop terrorism after September 11 targeted nations – specifically, Afghanistan and Iraq. The plan was to smoke out terrorists by pressuring state sponsors of terrorism. We found that the strength of our armored columns had limited effectiveness confronting the independent contractors who made up Al Qaeda’s network. We could contain the snake, but we couldn’t do the one thing we set out to do.
It’s significant, then, that the bin Laden kill mission was set up by intelligence and espionage, and executed by a couple dozen elite servicemen. There was no invasion of Pakistan, simply a precise action focused on a single piece of property within the country. One can’t help but suspect that had our leaders not announced the mission’s success, the rest of the world might never have known bin Laden was dead.
A small, elite unit was all it took to snuff out the world’s leading terrorist. George Washington (who crossed the Delaware for a surprise attack) would be proud.
In a post on Pundit League yesterday, I followed up on last week’s best political videos of 2010 with another list. You could call them the worst political videos of 2010, but that doesn’t really do justice to how bad they were. These videos missed their marks so badly that you couldn’t help but send them to friends or post them to Facebook – entries included Dale Peterson’s angry, minute-long rant about why he should be Alabama’s next Ag Commissioner, a Florida state representative’s Kenny Loggins ripoff, and (of course) Demon Sheep.
After I finished the post, I noticed a running theme in the five worst political videos of 2010 that wasn’t present in the five best: each of the “bottom five” were official campaign videos (and, significantly, only one of those candidates won). In contrast, only two of the “top five” were released by campaigns. That isn’t surprising; judgement is often clouded in the stress of an election campaign, and some candidates simply stumble. Those on the outside looking in sometimes have a clearer head and are able to drive points home more directly.
Another common thread was length. The “bottom five” averaged 2:18 each, while the top five made their points in an average of 1:03 – less than half the time. That figure is not insignificant: 40% of online viewers abandon videos within a minute.
The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial. The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy. It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.
It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees. In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:
The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.
Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.
Think of this in terms of a classroom debate. A teacher poses a question. A few students argue for one side, other students argue another. The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right? In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.
It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers. But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate? Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?
The social news site announced changes which sounded like a good idea (at least I thought so) a few weeks ago, changes which promised to expand Digg’s following by making it more accessible to outsiders. The one problem was Digg’s existing audience, which liked the way the site worked just fine.
Over the past 12 hours, Digg’s main news page has been riddled with submissions from competitor site Reddit – and it looks like Diggers offended by the site renovation are more than happy to help the enemy game the system, given the amount of complaints that have been flying about the redesign.
Digg’s mistake lies in not understanding what their community was passionate about. Diggers liked a community that worked on certain rules and had certain values, and changing those rules and values to let others in diluted what they held dear. Put another way, you can get more people at the Star Wars club meeting if you let the Star Trek people in; but the people who started coming to the meetings in the first place may not want more people if it means half the room will be wearing Spock ears.
Any membership organization runs a similar risk. People join groups – whether it’s a social news site, a political party, a club, or a gang – because of some common ground. When you peck away at that boundary, you risk alienating your members.
Here’s some NFL history in the making: the Cincinnati Bengals will have two wideouts lining up this year with their own iPhone applications, which may be a first. Terrell Owens put the finishing touches on his on the eve of training camp. Chad Ochocinco already had his own app, plus has been a fixture in social media spaces like UStream and Twitter.
This could be interesting. The concept of NFL teams dealing with larger than life personalities trying to exist in the same locker room is nothing new, but having those personalities connected to all the channels of communication available could make for some fireworks. Getcha popcorn ready.
So much has been written about the success of Old Spice’s social media campaign this week, that to say too much about it would be redundant. But there are a few facets of this campaign which translate well to other attempts to create viral interest online, whether it be for a brand like Old Spice, a cause, or a candidate.
1. Engagement. The central theme of the campaign was keeping random folks involved, and making an effort to actually answer questions from random internet surfers. The behind-the-scenes strategy was a little bit more sophisticated than that; the team behind the campaign made sure certain bloggers and social media savvy celebrities – key influencers of the online conversation – were targeted to ensure their exposure spread.
2. Speed. Creating the videos required rapid-fire recordings and uploads, which was no doubt made for a few intense days for “Old Spice Man” actor Isaiah Mustafa. This short burst of productivity allowed Old Spice to strike while the iron was hot. That level of immediate responsiveness is the difference between a campaign getting some attention for launching a website before quickly getting stale and enjoying an extended media cycle where they drive the conversation by constantly giving people something to talk about. Much like in baseball, speed can slow the game down.
3. Context. None of this would have been possible without a resonant base concept. Old Spice had spent months cultivating the image of the unthreateningly arrogant and unfailingly confident Old Spice Man, and even more time building its brand as a tongue-in-cheek advertiser. This week’s campaign did not happen in a vacuum; the online success was supported by months of support from traditional television advertising.
4. Content. The fact that Mustafa’s Old Spice Man and the commercials were ridiculous and off beat – in other words, entertaining – helped immensely. The traditional model of advertising for big brands is sponsoring entertainment such as television shows. Old Spice essentially created entertainment. It’s nothing new – Budweiser has been making ads that told stories for decades. It’s just more important in a media environment where it’s tough to catch eyeballs.
One thing to note is that Old Spice is not a nicle and dime start up. Before the last year or so of quirky ads, it had a long-standing reputation as a stalwart in the field of optimal men’s odors. In such a position, many brands would have forged a “Coca Cola campaign” – highlighting their history and strength. It would have been safe but probably not as successful as their current strategy, which allows them to compete with the more sophomoric positioning of competitors like Axe without sacrificing the their old school street cred.
The first full-length trailer for The Social Network is up, appropriately enough, on YouTube:
There’s no doubt that the inception of Facebook has been a significant development in internet consumption; and it’s one of the most interesting business stories out there. But after a decade of startups promising to redefine how we use the internet, the “this is going to change everything” rhetoric is a little tired.
So from this trailer, this movie could be any – or all – of the following:
- Deeply fascinating
- A trite waste of time
- Mildly entertaining
- Creepy (as underscored by the cover of Radiohead’s Creep that the trailer is set to)
- A way to spend two hours ostensibly with people while paradoxically not interacting with anyone or anything except a glowing screen
Sounds like the perfect movie about Facebook.
Like Mindy Finn of Engage and others, I’ve been trying to figure out Foursquare – not necessarily because I like it, but because it’s my job to know how it works, and how it can be applied.
Vincent Harris of TechRepublican has some good ideas about it, and businesses like Whole Foods have gotten on the bandwagon by asking users to check in. Some offer discounts for check ins or mayorships.
Yesterday, I was chatting with a small business owner and soon-to-be restaurateur about ways he could use it for his business. He wasn’t sold on its utility. When I checked in at Nationals Park to watch the Washington One-Man Show, a Facebook friend made fun of me for playing “that stalker game.”
It seems like many just aren’t quite sure what to make of Foursquare yet, which is reminiscent of another social media/network craze from a few years ago: Twitter. When Twitter first hit, it instructed users to tell everyone what they were doing – making it sound like a glorified Facebook status update. When people started understanding the ability to communicate in public conversations with 140 characters – and the concept of microblogging – Twitter became more than its founders probably imagined it would.
As Foursquare becomes more prevalent, more businesses, organizations, and campaigns will start to take advantage of the ability for people to check in electronically from their phone, and the utility will become more obvious. Until then, here’s a very telling metric that indicates this isn’t a passing fad: Foursquare’s current value is $95 million, and they’re planning to expand.