We live in a world where ghosts are everywhere. They are our friends, colleagues and customers. They have the ability to change they way we behave, sway public opinion and facilitate our lives. These aren’t ghosts in white sheets, but rather a ghost of a digital kind. The kind that swipes a purse over a turnstile at the metro station and the turnstile magically opens. The kind of ghost that has over a million hits on you tube for funny videos they make from their bedroom. Or the ghost that gets other ghosts together to make a bulk purchase and get a discount with a retailer. I am calling them ghosts because they are no more than an ip address and an email account yet they have the ability to scare brands into doing what they want.
Brands that want to survive the social media network must base their communication strategy around what people are saying about them online. There are a number of tools available to track what people are saying about your brand online but the best is arguably Radian6. It provides comprehensive analysis of over 11 million digital impressions, filtered by language, country, brand, and keywords. Furthermore, it provides you an analysis of how influential the person making the remark was as well as giving you the ability to respond to their comment right from the Radian6 terminal. Recently Forbes magazine interviewed Charlene Li, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, she states, “The more you know and understand the individuals who make up the groundswell around your brand and your company, the more you can use the new social networking phenomenon to your advantage.” The same article used MINI USA as an example. MINI USA uses information gathered through blogs, forums, and social network pages to guide their communication strategy.
Using social media monitoring tools is a bit like surfing. You can capture the social undercurrent swelling in the community and position your brand to catch that wave. If you don’t react to the swell, you get left back. If you start paddling at the right time, you can catch a wave which lifts your brand and sells your product. It all has to do with listening and reacting honestly to your customers by providing them a service. Bob Thacker, senior vice president of marketing and advertising for Office Max, was quoted by ZDNET as saying, “Marketing is all about change. There’s a saying that ‘if you don’t create change, change will create you.’ We’ve embraced social media and incorporated it into our marketing strategy to reach today’s digital consumer through humor, entertainment and personalization.” Pay particular attention to the last three words: humor, entertainment and personalization. These are very important words because if you get the three right, your communication becomes viral. It has the ability to spread across the world wide web at lighting speed through posts, reposts, sent links, emails, chats and the local news.
Take for example a video on youtube from BeenerKeeKee19952 which, at the time this article was written, has 3,788,184 views. BeenerKeeKee19952 is just your typical guy making funny videos of himself lip singing to popular songs. He’s done over 50 video uploads and has built himself a following of over 164,000 subscribers. This last video he did looks like all the other ones in that he’s singing in his bedroom. The music track is a new song from 50cent and as BeenerKeeKee19952 is lip singing, the bedroom door opens behind him and 50cent walks in just in time to lip sing his verse of the song. It sounds simple but if you have look closely the video has humor, entertainment and personalization. Humor because BeenerKeeKee19952 is a funny guy and that is why everyone loves him. Entertainment in the form of 50cent, and personalization in that people leave comments on youtube and discuss online. The result is an online hit which has been viewed by millions of “ghosts”, reposted hundreds of times and will eventually make 50cent a lot of money.
Now that we are on the topic of money, a recent trend happening online is that people are getting together to get group discounts at restaurants and for services. The way it works is that the website has previously agreed with the vendor a price that is only available if a certain number of people purchase. Therefore the website acts as a middle man who takes the money from the customer and only releases it to the vendor if the target is met. If it is not met, then everyone gets their money back. Due to the nature of the discount, people tend to forward it to friends and rarely does the purchase not go through. This is a revenue stream which works very well for any company who is struggling with the economic crisis. It provides cash flow which would otherwise not be there. Furthermore, it gives the vendor an opportunity to build a relationship with the client and up-sell them once they actually walk into the store or restaurant. A good example of such a site in Prague is www.limeandtonic.com. The current model works very well on the local level because the sites are geographically targeted and usually speak directly with the decision maker of the business. Big brands have yet to take advantage of this but you can be certain it is not far away.
In conclusion, the ghosts which I mentioned in the beginning of this article are just a metaphor for actual people living in the digital community. People who interact online by commenting, re-posting, and purchasing goods without ever actually leaving their computers. They are a people with a vast amount of purchasing power and share of voice. By offering them humor, entertainment, and personalization brands can harness the power of the social network to communicate with their customers and sell products. I’ll leave you with one last thing to think about which comes from Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga who recently stated that “In five years, everybody will always be connected to each other, instead of the web.” He continued by saying that he sees today’s social companies as “dial tones, merely entry points for these social connections.” The question that remains to be answered is what brands will be picking up the dial tone or which ones will have a ghost line with an eerie booooo on the other end.