Building a Gaming social brand

It’s gaming mega-franchise launch season with Halo 4 released this week, and Call of Duty Black Ops II set to explode onto the scene on November 13th. As these top gaming titles continue to cement their status as the biggest entertainment franchises out there, the stakes for marketers in the sector get higher and higher.

To provide our perspective on how gaming sector marketers can take full advantage of social media, and potentially reduce the huge launch budgets that now characterise the industry, we’ve produced the lovely whitepaper below. Enjoy, and do tell us what you think :)

Helping retail marketers build a social brand

Here at Headstream we believe that getting social media included as early as possible in the business and marketing strategy process is key to its success. With this in mind, and to help out those retail sector marketers who are embarking on strategy planning for 2013, we’ve created the ‘Building a retail social brand’ white paper.

It is an essential guide for any retail marketer, and through a combination of case studies, analysis and trend spotting sets out to answer the following questions:

- How can retail brands get more out of social media, and increase return on investment?

- What does social media best practice amongst retail brands look like currently?

- What is the next social innovation that will impact the retail sector?

- What immediate steps should you take to ensure your social media planning and execution is successful?

Retail has been transformed by the move to e-commerce since the advent of the web, and continues to be one of those sectors most rapidly affected by social media innovation. The increasing penetration of smart-phones and tablets that allow shoppers to access their networks while in-store ensures that this pace of change will continue, and that there are exciting times ahead.

We hope you find our white paper useful, and as ever we’d love to know your thoughts.

The Social Brands 100 shortlist is here

Social Brands 100 has announced the shortlist of brands for its 2012 ranking. These brands now go forward into a final judging phase to be ranked from one to one hundred for the final Social Brands 100, which will be published on May 29th. It’s a great achievement to be shortlisted, so congratulations to all.

The shortlist has been compiled from a long-list of nearly 300 brands that were nominated via Twitter in January and February. Since nominations closed many hundreds of hours have  been dedicated to analysing the social interactions and behaviours of our long-listed brands. The methodology focuses on the detail of the interactions between brands and people in social spaces, and rewards those brands creating genuine win-win relationships on a consistent basis.

The analysis has been undertaken by social data analytics specialist, Brandwatch, and Headstream’s own analytics team, evaluating data from Facebook, Twitter, Google +, YouTube, brand owned forums, Foursquare and more.

Here are the shortlisted brands -

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What to do with the data for ‘Brand Me’?

I really care about databases.  It may not make for great dinner party conversation, but a well-maintained database has always been essential to marketers who want to understand and connect with customers.  Social media has taken this information gathering to a whole other level and I hold all kinds of data on myself now. Millions of us are going about our daily lives collecting data on all kinds of platforms that would make marketers giddy with excitement.

Read the rest of this post on The Wall.

Was your brand born social?

To misquote the Bard: ‘Some Brands are born social, some achieve socialness, and some have social thrust upon ‘em’.

Following the launch of our Social Brands 100 report last week, we’ve been thinking that this famous quote has some resonance with our ranked brands.

Born social.

One of the surprise Top Five entries for some commentators is the crowd-sourced mobile operator, giffgaff. This innovative business has been making waves in the mobile space since its launch in November 2009. Conceived from the outset as a social business, where its customers can gain rewards by providing customer service and marketing support, this is one business that was ‘born’ with social principles at its core. Indeed the business model was refined through crowd sourcing the question ‘what would you want from a mobile network run by you?’.

Another interesting example is Innocent Drinks. Interestingly, the fast growing FMCG brand, launched in 1999, pre-dates the explosion of mass social behaviour on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

But, according to Ted Hunt, in charge of digital engagement at Innocent from 2006 to 2010, the company already had social principles at its heart. His job was simply to tell this story through social channels, not to transform the business for social. Evidence that true social engagement is more about behaviour and content, than technology and platforms?

Achieving socialness.

This transformative state is the most common that our ranked brands find themselves in. A good example is the retail bank, First Direct.

Launched as the first ‘telephone bank’ 25 years ago, it’s always been an innovator.  In the last few years the Leeds based company has proved its agility once again as it develops social behaviours, and strategies. It features as the only financial services company in the Social Brands 100 thanks to its social media newsroom, i-Phone app, Little Black Book and Talking Point initiatives.

Other notable ‘achievers’ are the BBC, Ford, Burberry, Sky and BT Care. All these brands are introducing effective social principles into the way their organizations work, and rightly being recognized for it.

Social thrust upon them.

This is the most interesting group. A collection of well-known brands that have been pushed into adopting social behaviours, and business models, after being hit by a social reputation crisis.

Dell (ranked #1), Domino’s Pizza (ranked #26), Eurostar (ranked #36), Virgin Atlantic (ranked #37) have all suffered from high profile crises that were either caused, or exacerbated, by social media.

To their credit they have all responded positively. Dell has famously put active listening of conversations around its brand at the very heart of its business model. Domino’s Pizza took the opportunity of its staff induced crisis, to proactively engage with its customers to reinvent the chain’s whole food offering. Eurostar has gone on the record to say that the stranded trains crisis of late 2009 prompted the transformation of its customer service and Twitter profile. Virgin Atlantic has taken positive steps in social engagement after getting stung by staff comments on social platforms in 2008.

These high profile corporate car crashes act as a lesson to all brands that have yet to consider how they will evolve their brands, and transform their businesses, for social.

So, if you’re one of those ‘pre-social’ brands thinking about how they will adapt for the new rules of a connected world, please don’t wait for a crisis to ‘thrust’ you in to it!

The New Brand Rules: Making friends at someone else’s party

Headstream’s Chris Buckley chaired a Brand Republic event yesterday that aimed to answer a big question; how to establish the new brand rules?

The problem, quickly acknowledged, is that there is no one set of rules when it comes to social.  Some brands can slip easily into social spaces and connect with customers who want to hear from them and others face big challenges.  There are however, some basic principles that all brands can apply to best navigate their way in a social world.

Chris shared Headstream’s take on the issue by outlining how brands can define their Social Fitness, ensuring companies move away from the old marketing approach of ‘test and learn‘ to a more agile ‘test, learn, fail and adapt’, but in a way that fits with their business objectives and the particular market in which they operate.  This approach will put brands in the best position to respond to a world in which the rules continue to be written and re-written.

A real world analogy Dell’s Kathleen Schneider introduced early on seemed to sum it all up; you wouldn’t turn up to someone else’s party and expect everyone to love you and listen to all you have to say.  In the same way, brands can’t intrude into communities online and start selling their wares.  This will see you firmly ejected and probably not invited back.

So what can the brand that wants to engage do?  Many Brand, Marketing and PR Managers are under pressure to ‘do something social’ right now, but it’s essential to first step back and define objectives for online engagement.  These objectives should spring from a clear business plan.

As Ash Choudhury from Nokia pointed out, organisations are going through a major cultural change right now, because ‘social begins from the inside’.  Later discussion with participants indicated how few brands have either in-house training or formal policies on social media use.

Another important consideration is defining KPIs early.  If your brand operates in the entertainment industry, your expectations will be dramatically different to those of a tightly regulated one such as pharmaceuticals.  As New Look’s James Davey pointed out, the fashion brand’s Facebook Group may have almost 740,000 ‘likes’, but that figure must measure against competitors and how the brand can engage with that group and ensure they stay loyal to New Look products.

Finally, once you’ve ventured out there as a brand, what do you do when crisis hits?  For many brands, this is the point when they discover how well they’ve done their groundwork. Headstream’s Julius Duncan led a couple of mini-workshops on the issue and representatives from Eurostar, Action for Children and TUI Travel all shared what they learned from their own brand crises.  Underpinning all of these stories were a few principles echoed throughout the day; brands need to be honest, they need to be agile enough to respond quickly, and they need to be consistent.

This is just a summary of the themes that came up, it would be interesting to hear what thoughts others took away.  Thanks to all of our speakers, participants, and the organizers, we had a great day.

Chris’ slides from yesterday are available here.

Is the spreadsheet stopping social media?

How many times has a spreadsheet stopped you doing what you know is right? 

It’s a regrettable truth that our best thoughts and most innovative ideas rarely fare well in columns and sheet 1. It’s not auto sum’s fault. It’s the simple reality that to gain acceptance in commercial terms, things have to be planned and most organisation’s go-to tool for planning is Excel.

For a few years now, I’ve spoken about the virtues of transmedia planning and the belief that a brand’s story should be told in different spaces. That the story should encourage engagement by being in different places. In reality, it’s not just that the story needs to be told across different media and channels simultaneously, coherently and independently, but that the story needs to be told in different columns in the spreadsheet.

What’s fascinating about social media is that it lends itself very nicely to the spreadsheet, but only if you turn your screen on its side and treat the columns like layers.

Social media is all about layers and creating, co-creating, sharing and commenting on what we find within each layer. It’s collectivism at its best. It’s participatory nature means that the layers are deep, often unexpected and rewarding once discovered.

If I had to create a plan for social media, I wouldn’t start in Excel (I love the circles too much), but I would recognise that for my plan to be activated, it’s going to end up here. 

Don’t fight the spreadsheet. Make it work for you.

Insight is king, even in social media.

Here’s a question: is there any other channel where a sound working knowledge of the tools involved can compensate for a poor understanding of the audience?

I’m not entirely sure what it takes to be labeled a social media ‘guru’, ‘expert’, or ‘ninja’ these days; but I’m willing to bet that the ability to develop an informed understanding of a brand’s audience doesn’t feature on the checklist (There isn’t a checklist, is there? I’m not ruling it out, but it would definitely be written by a guru!).

This imbalance is a problem, on a number of fronts.

Ninjas aside, it is increasingly concerning to hear that in some commercial environments it seems that as long as someone can display that they ‘get’ social media, then that is considered a good enough foundation to be developing social media strategies for brands – and worse, to take a view on what kind of content is going to be compelling to its audience.
As such I can sense a touch of arrogance creeping into our industry, and a self propelled crystal ball-ish feel surrounding what social media people do. The result: Strategies and campaigns are less consumer centric than in other channels. The answer: Insight, insight, insight. Every strategy and campaign should be grounded in as much relevant consumer research as one can get their hands on.

An example of a campaign that seemingly underestimated the importance of insight is Motrin’s ‘Mom Babywearing’ campaign. In case you missed it, a Web video ad for the painkiller (Motrin), a Johnson & Johnson owned brand, was pushed out via YouTube targeted at mothers and talking about the physical pain involved with carrying an infant in a sling.

Watch it by clicking here.

The clear intention was to speak empathetically to moms, strengthening the bond between the target audience and the brand by demonstrating that the folks at Motrin understand the challenges of being a mother. Unfortunately, however, they only managed alienate much of their audience and had to deal with some very offended moms, who felt like they had been blatantly insulted for “wearing their babies”. A flood of angry blog posts and tweets followed. While I’m sure no offense was intended, they definitely hit the wrong nerve of their target audience with this one. Undoubtedly, this is a mistake that could have been avoided by paying a bit more attention to the consumer during the planning stage.

Attempting to communicate and engage with any audience without an informed understanding of their habits, preferences, desires, and above all – what is important to them, and what isn’t – is a waste of time, money, and good ideas.

A simple message, but a vitally important one. Insight is king, even in social media.

For more insight, follow me: @richwebley
Richard Webley, Engagement planner

Maximising value from your social brand strategy

Headstream had the enviable job of chairing Brand Republic’s ‘Achieving Maximum Value from Your Social Media Strategy’ conference (#brsms) in London last week (01 July). It was a day full of insight and practical advice thanks to an excellent selection of speakers, and a format that included plenty of interactive panel and workshop sessions. Here are some of the highlights:

The day kicked off with British Telecom’s Vincent Sider . This is the second time I’ve heard Vincent present, which confirmed my first impression that he’s one of the smartest thinkers in the social arena. Responsible for developing and implementing a social media customer service strategy for BT Vincent gave a sneak peek of ‘Debatescape’, the bespoke listening tool BT has developed to service its social customer service efforts.

He made the interesting point that however sophisticated the technology, nothing can replace human analysis when it comes to sentiment tracking, and that “sentiment analysis remains the biggest issue” when it comes to online listening.

Vincent’s ‘big idea’ is that game mechanics (by which he means the behaviours of recognition, reward, and building status over time seen in multi-player computer gaming environments) will become the model for the whole of the social web. Individuals will build their profile and status over time, and brands that enable these individuals to realise their goals will be  the ones that succeed. He gave an example of Knorr Canada’s ‘Salty’ (link) campaign that created a community, enabled dialogue and rewarded participation.

Vincent’s steps to successful social activity are: Plan you story. Listen. Publish. Listen and reward. While I’d argue that that listening should be the first activity, the reminder to listen again and then reward is very apt. A lot of brands miss this step.

According to Vincent underlying all activity should be one fundamental principle: “Listen and engage with kindness”. Forget that and problems occur because, “you aren’t kind”, or “you don’t deliver”.

Next up was Trevor Johnson, Head of Strategy and Planning Facbook, EMEA. Trevor is always worth a listen and made a strong case for the benefits Facebook brings to brands as an advertising and engagement platform. Pointing out that “earned media only happens in social media”, he said only Facebook provides the opportunity for brands to “integrate people into adverts” with ‘social context’ formats e.g. ad copy which shows if you friends have ‘liked this’, or video tailored with an individual’s profile picture.

Trevor pointed out that engaging a community through a Facebook brand page has allowed Starbucks to create dialogue with nine million people. He also sounded a note of caution around leaving  the responsibility conversing with this community to a junior in the organisation.

“Your comments on Facebook should be as important to your CMO and senior marketers as your latest television ad is, it’s the same profile of communication, as Nestle discovered”. (Nestle reference is to the brand’s recent disaster handling its Facebook community.

Citing the examples of Spotify, and Levi’s Friends Store using Facebook Connect to allow individuals to import their ‘social graph’ into the website experience, Trevor concluded that Facebook is all about “serving information based on people’s friends, to make experience richer”.

Overall, a fascinating insight into Facebook’s direction of travel. The company remains way ahead of anyone else, and even the likes of Google are still in ‘catch-up’ mode.

Headstream’s own Chris Buckley then presented his thinking on the principles that brands should have in mind when embarking on social media strategic thinking. He touched on the importance of appropriate behaviour in social spaces, win-win relationships and introduced the concept of ‘social currency’.

After a series of roundtables to give practical advice to delegates on social strategy, thanks to everyone who joined mine, the afternoon session was dominated by some excellent panels.

It was a particular highlight to have Will King, founder of King of Shaves, involved in the panel on building communities around content. Hearing a business owner and entrepreneur’s perspective gave some clear focus on the business imperative for being involved in social.

One of his killer insights, covering both his approach to business overall, and social, was: “Your biggest competitor isn’t actually your competition, but not knowing what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.”

His point was supported by the ever effusive Maz Nadjm ,Sky’s Community Project Manager, who impressed on the audience the need to identify “What is important to you and what you stand for, before embarking into social media activity”. Having established ‘why’ you are getting  involved the next step is to secure internal buy-in, a task that shouldn’t be underestimated. Maz spends 70-80 pct of his time ‘educating’ internal, and external, audiences on the benefits of social.

Next up was that perennial favourite ‘How to measure the ROI of social media’! Fortunately the excellent panel; Nadine Sharara, Head of e-Commerce at Space NK, and Ricky Chopra, Speedo’s Digital Marketing Manager, focused on their practical experience running campaigns. A common theme was the importance of focusing on who the genuine influencers are, and “focusing down on the active and proactive people”, according to Chopra. Similarly, for Space NK  blogger outreach activity has seen them “Understand who the real influencers are…who are the top five who influence everyone else?”.

Chopra was insistent that ROI is measurable if you are prepared to make the investment in measurement and analytics. Speedo have adopted a ‘score card’ approach to assess on a month by month basis how they are tracking in social, through a variety of criteria e.g. how many unprompted actions have there been, how many positive mentions, how many negative? According to Chopra it’s down to a willingness to work at it “Don’t be lazy, you can measure it (ROI on social) using a blended approach as you would have done with a traditional integrated campaign.”

In the next session on ‘Embedding social into an organisation’ Paul Hood from the Daily Mirror gave some interesting insights into the Mirror Group’s approach as a “legacy business’ coming to terms with the disruption of social.

“At the Mirror our focus is on our content being appropriate for social spaces. We are taking small steps, identifying content verticals and ‘passion centres’ amongst our audience, and focusing on them first.”

Sandra Leonhard, Director of Web Strategy and Business Development for TUI Travel, and MD of Cheqqer, described social as the “second major disruption for the travel industry”, matching the advent of budget airlines for impact. Her advice was for organisations to approach social media at the “brand level” and ensure there is no “silo mentality” where one part of the organisation works in isolation.

The ‘graveyard shift’ went to the panel exploring,  ‘What’s next. Going beyond Facebook and Twitter & Looking to the future. The panel of Martin Verdon Roe, Trip Advisor, David Courtier-Dutton, from Slice the Pie, and Ilicco Elia, Reuters, made the usual gag about “if we knew that we’d not be sitting here, we’d be making billions”, and then indulged in some crystal ball-gazing.

Martin saw the future as mobile and that “globally, mobile will be the big driver for growth”, alongside increased social graph elements such as ‘Trip Friends’.

But the last words have to go to Illico Elia, who envisioned a future that rings very true with me.

“What you (brands) have to realise is that your sales effort is going to have to become more and more personal. Every person in an organisation will need to become a brand advocate, it’s not about building new resource, rather it’s making sure everyone (in the organisation) takes responsibility for being a ‘face’ for the organisation.”

Absolutely.

Creating social currency #brsms

Brand Republic: Connecting advertising, marketing, media & PR

Really enjoyed the day. Here's my contribution: social currency creation. A few thoughts about what makes good social media currency, how to create it and how to come up with ideas that can be shared.

Case studies from Obama – getting the basic right by keeping it simple, Will it Blend? – problems we didn't know needing solving, TMobile – people not abstractions, Dell IdeaStorm –  credibility through letting people get involved, Seal the Deal (one we did) – connecting with people in a meaningful way, Ford Fiesta and Sony MAG (another one of ours) – story-telling that involves the community.