The Pitfalls of Going Viral

When a company gets the use of social media right they are seen as a brand that understands how to speak to their consumers in the modern advertising landscape. But we all know social media is a tricky subject – the more exposure a campaign gets the bigger chance it can backfire – if careful consideration has not been given to the potential pitfalls.

Both industry aficionados and the general public alike should be familiar with the ‘First Kiss’ video that went viral on YouTube last week.

Now viewed over 58 million times – it later emerged the seemingly innocent video was indeed a brand ploy. Had this been appropriately stated in the opening credits of the video or at least even clarified as the video finished, I doubt the public would have been so intent on sharing it.

Yet the creators of the video pleaded ignorance – claiming they never expected the video to become such a success. The video’s director said the following:

“A friend called me up and said ‘You’re on the front page of Reddit,’ ” Ms. Pilieva said. “And I didn’t understand what that meant.” She had never heard of Reddit, a website known for minting viral hits.

But is that really an excuse? By creating an asset for a brand and then uploading it to YouTube you  clearly hope that it gains traction. It is rather hypocritical to then claim you never expected success and hence the spotlight once it emerges you did not stick to basic social media and advertising guidelines.

It’s a tough one – as we all want to believe brands can get social media right and if so, relish the success they deserve when a video is shared, parodied and so on. But having worked in social for over 6 years and being well aware of the required admissions bloggers and brands have to make when giving ‘influenced’ opinions I have to say that I don’t think sorry is good enough here.

On a happy note – it could also be that really people just don’t care where your brand or its collateral comes from, as long as it is buzz worthy. Proven in a sad, yet insightful trick played on obnoxious festival goers by Jimmy Kimmel at SXSW.

The moral of this post. It’s best to always tell the truth. You will get found out in the end and even faster when social media is involved!


About Time: A system that could automatically identify whether a rumour on Twitter originates comes from a reliable source

Just 6 months ago, The Guardian claimed Twitter is surpassing other social media for breaking news traffic. It also went on to describe how they use Twitter to give a story momentum before other news channels pick it up. I would therefore argue that Twitter is now one of the primary news sources of our time. However, if we assume this is in fact the case, it is slightly alarming how no one is really responsible for verifying such sharing of information, in the Online name of ‘freedom of speech’. Sure we’ve seen some trolls get their comeuppance, for menacing messages,  but if for example, we saw The Guardian post any old thing they like on Twitter without checking their sources first, and say that terrible rumour was to gain momentum – would we really turn a blind eye?

A great example of how malicious news spreads quickly via social mediums is the recent viral story, that the poor guy responsible for the Sochi Olympic ring mishap was found dead the morning after the disaster.

A rather embarrassing mistake, but surely even Putin wouldn't have ordered the man killed?

A rather embarrassing mistake, but surely even Putin wouldn’t have ordered the man killed?

It was at least 12 hours before this fact declared a mistruth – but the damage was already done.

However, there may be an answer in sight. University researchers in Europe are working on a system that could quash false rumours spreading on social media by identifying whether the information is accurate . But I ask you – is this enough? Should those spreading unverified information on Twitter – whether in a professional or personal sense be expected to verify their sources before simple passing on the Chinese whisper? The current News of the World phone hacking trial has demonstrated the general public are not prepared to be exploited by mainstream media. But if we sit by and let everyone else do the same thing without any regulation – are we not just idle hypocrites?

How will Facebook get their 16 billion back from WhatsApp?

FB and WhatsAppHot off the press and the cause of endless Tweets and press coverage in the digital world this week is Facebook’s $16/19 billion acquisition of Facebook. But where the conversation fell short was in understanding exactly how Facebook intend to reclaim their investment. While WhatsApp had grown to become the instant messaging medium of choice for most people around the world – WhatsApp has over 450 million MAUs, with 70 percent of those active each day –  the rather raw, bug free and no questions asked sign up procedure is more or less what fans love about the product.

WhatsApp user growth compared to Skype and Facebook

WhatsApp user growth compared to Skype, Twitter and Facebook

No doubt Facebook bought WhatsApp not only to ensure its own platform will live longer  – it seems very few people have even installed the new Facebook Messenger app – if I use the fact I continually get asked if I should invite my friends to do so when using it myself – but to also exploit their user base for yet to be mined, advertising revenue. However, in recent months we have seen what Facebook’s own monetisation strategy has done to the platform. Not only have teens become sick of Sponsored News posts from brands they have no interest in – let’s face it, does anyone want to see a promotion post for washing powder or yet another run of the mill car brand?! – based on recent first hand media experience, Facebook itself is realising clients are starting to see that true engagement is not necessarily paid for.

If you ask me, Facebook has no interest in WhatsApp, or its fans. They have bought the platform to exploit it, indulge agencies and clients in media rich strategies without caring if they ultimately alienate WhatsApp users as a result. Will it work? Yes. It will be at least a few years before WhatsApp users jump ship to something better. Would I recommend advertising on WhatsApp to a client? Sure – strike while the iron is hot! But, as with all social media, it will run it’s course, but I have no doubt the end won’t come before Facebook has made double its investment in advertising revenue.

Enhancing Media Channels: Campaign activity should no longer happen in isolation

Second Screen

I think, all too often, we’ve seen advertising ideas that are brilliant, but never taken to the next level. I have noticed countless examples of a great OOH execution, or clever Mobile advertising, a wonderful HPTO Online, that gets people talking but for some reason the actual audience reach remains limited to its media channel, because no-one is thinking about how they could connect the dots and create a true, cross platform campaign.

I know why it happens. It’s because different departments are often responsible for each activation, and work in a silo, until their part is perfect and ready to go live. But along the way, they never stop to think about how, with a few small tweaks, the idea itself could be adapted for a different channel, thereby increasing the overall reach for a small, additional cost.

This post and the next aim to explore how this can be done for various media channels – whether it is an example of how to extend Online direct response campaigns to mobile even if your client doesn’t have a mobile optimised site, how to make a full page print ad jump off the page by extending the experience on tablet, how to harness a TV audience’s enthusiasm for a show and turn that in to live, Online conversation or how to immerse a passer-by in to an OOH placement that would otherwise blend in to a cluttered background . Many of these techniques are already being used, but not consistently, and it seems traditional Communications are still largely planned in isolation with only a small amount of thought given to how the experience could be enhanced using the digital technology, that is already being used by the target audience.

The Truman Show Is No Longer Science Fiction

I’m constantly trying to stay on top of the latest media trends: what is now possible, how to share it and the best way to tell a story Online. Central to this discussion are our views on privacy – at present we all seem to acknowledge if we choose to be Online, create a profile, post about ourselves and what we are currently doing, then we can’t complain if we are harassed, stalked or if that information is used by brands to analyse trends and consumer behaviour. But what if it wasn’t your choice to be Online? What will Charlie say when he’s old enough to understand over 374 million people watched him bite his brother’s finger?

I’m going to paint a fantastical picture. Imagine a child grows up and reaches the age of 18, unaware that they are in fact ‘famous’ to the rest of the world. These days, parents start Facebook accounts for their unborn children and share their ultrasound photo with their friends, months before the foetus is technically classified as a person. The moment the child is born, naked baby photos populate their Mothers’ Facebook wall and friends begin to comment and share their ‘likes’. As the year goes by, proud parents can’t help but share every update; he smiled, she took her first step, he winked…and soon enough there’s a video uploaded to YouTube, capturing all of this on camera. But is that fair? Surely a 1 month old child cannot give their consent, and is it prudent to say that their parent’s hold that right to decide what remains private and what is publicised?

So I’d like to take it one step further, to really get you thinking… Imagine if you created a Facebook profile for your child and didn’t tell them, until they were 18. You upload content and pictures daily, in essence broadcasting and cataloguing their life to the world. You start a YouTube and Twitter page under the child’s name and populate it with the witty things they say and film their life in weekly or monthly segments. Somewhere along the line people Online start to take notice. You efforts gain traction. Even more perverse; you could hide cameras in the bathroom, catch them ‘unaware’, film tantrums, first kisses and those moments you do something ridiculous when no-one is looking, to give a viral, conversational element to the story.

Eventually word gets out. Your child gains a following, people can recognise them on the street. One day they even feature on TV as part of ‘Rude Tube’. Yet they would never know, they don’t understand. Besides, being famous Online does not change your world – but the potential is there for it to go bigger and culminate in the devastating moment, as it happened in The Truman Show, when it dawns upon the child and they realise nothing they ever did belonged just to them.

In some ways it has happened to Charlie, David at the Dentist and a number of other kids who don’t appreciate the reach of the internet and how many people are laughing at them. On the other hand, we love looking at old photos, remembering the yesteryear and wish we’d spent more time recording and savouring the moments. So perhaps you could give it to your child as a gift. A Hall of Fame, This is Your Life type collection. The question is, unless it was you in that position, how do you know what it would feel like? And more to the point – shouldn’t we consider the ethics behind this question?

If you haven’t seen Charlie (and I find that hard to believe) check out the YouTube clip here:

Is this a Social Led Campaign, a Digital Led Campaign, or ATL?

The answer is – it’s everything. Social is no longer about Online amplification; a truly effective ATL message, effectively integrated with print and TVC will easily spread the word far and wide for you. Especially if you have a great creative agency and a brand name with a strong heritage behind it.

Back4theFuture is a perfect example of when a ‘social’ campaign works. A slick digital design, a user experience that even my Mum could navigate and plenty of ways to ‘share’ with your friends Online. Sure, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links sit in the corner.
But in case you missed the hidden message, Social Media is not about ‘how’ will we get people to use and share the content we created, social MUST be worked in to every element of the execution, whether it’s traditional, Online or bought media. Clearly that was understood from the outset, when planning this campaign.

And this time there’s a good feeling attached, because every time you share it’s for charity. I’m sure Wieden and Kennedy are already counting the award nominations that will roll in next year. Check out the video below to understand the full vision of the Back4theFuture campaign.

The QR Code Divide. To Stay or Not to Stay?

In the past week I have seen conflicting discussions about QR codes. On the 1st of September, DigitalBuzzBlog referenced an infographic which visualised the ‘rise’ of QR codes. According to the article, QR code uptake has increased 4589% from early 2010 to early 2011. In other Marketing led innovations, an increase in demand such as this would signify a positive future for the stakeholders and investors involved. But the question posed by tech enthusiasts and the digital media industry looms overhead: will Near Field Communication (NFC) kill the QR code rather quickly? High profile gadget lover and Mobile Tech Blogger, Clinton Jeff seems to think so in a post he uploaded to ZOMGITSCJ today – although he does also argue the cost of embedding a NFC chip to respond to a NFC enabled device may prevent the uptake of NFC spreading too fast.

So I’ve thought about it. I’ve specifically been asked what I think about QR codes by other media industry professionals and my answer was – they’re outdated. Yet I continued to work them in to several creative campaign strategies with the aim to redirect Offline conversation back Online, where activity could be tracked and measured. So why, if I didn’t like them, did I continue to use them? I now see that is in fact a false dilemma – for at least 2 more years I expect QR codes and NFC to exist in tandem, until eventually the product life cycle ends and NFC takes over.

Why 2 years? This comes down to the target audience. If you want to correctly identify a market segment you have to start with the world’s entire population and discount those of whom you feel the campaign, product or service does not apply. For QR codes, we could easily say that tech savvy, media led individuals will naturally have lost interest.

But that still leaves the rest of the world. What about the late adopters? I’m talking about the people who have just purchased their first smartphone, adults whom only now have had their first experience with an iPad. The world of Apps and digital interaction rests at their anxious fingertips and QR codes are that perfect medium to bridge their technical gap– and show them – there’s a reason to use your smartphone beyond phonecalls, texting and email. I imagine those that download a QR reader App and scan a QR code for the first time, will marvel at the wonder of how a barcode can give you an exclusive offer, or open a hidden world of yet to be discovered content and do so time and again, before the novelty wears off. Not to mention they are easily created, cost effective and can be integrated with traditional media such as print, packaging and outdoor advertising, so I don’t think Brand and Marketing departments will veto them any time soon.

Even those already with smartphones often need to be walked through what is the difference between Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and HDMI – having failed to realise most products they currently own can be synced, connected or activated to other household appliances. Yet, a QR code is something that makes relative sense – it’s like a supermarket barcode, but instead of scanning and outputting a price to a check-out computer, it produces a link to a URL (or for our target market, what they commonly refer to, as a website). I’m sure this target market will understand the idea of NFC. But will they care that a QR code is now a little dated? Will they rush out to get an NFC enabled mobile device, or for now, will they think – what’s the value in having a NFC reader- and be content with spotting a QR code, scanning it with their smartphone and seeing where it takes them?

‘11 out of 50 Fortune companies are incorporating QR codes into their marketing strategy’. Clearly, the market is far from penetrated. And once it is common knowledge that QR codes unlock special offers or take you to exclusive Online places, I believe we’ll see a lot more products using them before the fad truly expires. Sure NFC is amazing technology with a new realm of digital possibilities for the media industry and tech lovers alike, but in terms of an existing, viable target market – let’s talk about NFC in one or two years, because right now I believe the average consumer doesn’t really care.