The ABCs and LOLcats of Social Media

  |  November 9, 2009   |  Comments

Not all companies or campaigns need cute, furry animals to tell stories or engage customers online.

Our agency recently hosted an event titled "21 Slides" as part of our ongoing social media series. For this and similar events, we invite industry experts and local pundits to weigh in (in front of a pretty rowdy audience) on online social trends -- everything from the way people connect and communicate online to how companies can enter and even start those conversations. It's a bit like open mic night at the local pub, with a bunch of analytics people standing around.

For "21 Slides" there were eight presenters, each armed with a slide deck to back up their points. There were many amazing insights including that the LOLcat craze has implications for corporate America (as in, most people go online to have fun; lighten up and don't be so boring!). And that your local department of transportation is, or soon will be, sending traffic updates via Twitter. And most poignant, that savvy brands understand that connecting with customers in the digital sphere is about listening (and strategizing on what they hear). Not just talking.

It was clear from all the presentations that everyone is taking the conversation online. Some slide highlights:

  • "We (the DOT) are now the first source of news about our organization -- good or bad. We are the media." Just think about that and the change it represents. It's a powerful statement.

  • "Social media is an ecosystem: complex, interdependent, people, content, relationships." In other words, an organic entity that thrives in equilibrium when each part plays its role. It can also be damaged like any other ecosystem.

  • "Your mom is on Facebook." Bottom line, everyone (parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents) is engaging in social media. Gone are traditional barriers like age and technophobia.

The big lesson for companies was that if you're not listening in, you're probably not getting all the data -- or maybe not the most blunt and honest data -- you need to make the smartest business decisions for your customers.

Social media is multifaceted, but also driven in large part by two impulses: the human need to share and the analytic drive to capitalize on that need. Facebook and Twitter thrive by selling an intangible product: a meeting place. But they cement the intangibles by rigorously analyzing online behaviors and social metrics. They give people what they want because they have the numbers and metrics to drive user experience and site optimization.

During the "21 Slides" LOLcat presentation, the speaker accurately noted that the phenomenon was completely user-generated; it started with a few funny pictures of cats with funny captions, and soon everyone was posting their own cat pictures and captions to the Web. She argued that the success of the LOLcat craze is due to three guiding principles: people want to laugh, they want to belong, and they want to participate.

Under the old broadcast paradigm, only the first of those was possible. Yet, in today's ever-expanding digital model, users get to belong (realized fully in actions like registering) and they get to participate (by posting user-generated content that directly affects the conversation). In broadcast, all we had were ratings -- sketchy metrics at best. With digital, we know virtually everything about every click, and can draw insights from truly telling data.

Not all companies or campaigns need cute, furry animals to tell stories or engage customers online, but they do need the magical coupling of belonging and participation. It's what people today expect. The LOLcat's out of the bag.

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Shane Atchison

In 1998, Shane co-founded ZAAZ to advocate a different approach to Web services — one that respects and delivers on the power of the individual and the promise of Web technologies. As CEO, Shane leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, non-profits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its meaningful impact on their business.

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