Bronx Zoo Cobra a Content Opportunity for Brands

I’ve been hearing random snorts of laughter around the office all week. It’s generally because someone’s just spotted the latest from #snakeonthetown on Twitter.

For those who haven’t heard about New York’s most intrepid snake, an adolescent Egyptian Cobra escaped from Bronx Zoo’s reptile enclosure last Friday and has yet to be found.  The Zoo released a statement on 26 March, all as one might expect. However, by Monday the dastardly cobra popped up! only on Twitter.

For the last few days, @bronxzooscobra has been slithering around the big apple and tweeting about her experiences along the way. Within about 24 hours, she had almost 40,000 followers and #snakeonthetown was busy. As of this morning, she’s got over 185,000 followers, @BronxZookeeper, @bronx_mongoose, and @bronxzoocobrany (can Twitter please verify the correct fake account soon?) are tweeting away creating a huge amount of buzz and entertaining thousands of people.

Strangely, the Bronx Zoo is not capitalising on this PR bonanza at all. This must be the biggest story they have had in years, but they’ve only tweeted twice since Monday, only one of those acknowledging the story.  Other brands, however are making the most of things; @HiltonNewYork has offered the cobra use of its Penthouse Sssssuite, @sesamestreet has asked someone to give the snake directions to Sesame Street, and on our side of the Atlantic, @BristolOldVic has recommended a play she might see.

At Headstream, we call this meme riding, when brands capitalise on social currency that has already gained momentum by adopting the concept for a campaign. When done well it can work to great advantage for brands and it’s a shame the Bronx Zoo hasn’t grabbed this opportunity with both, um, fangs.

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.”


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.

The 5 types of social currency


The social web has created a hyper-word-of-mouth platform that has tipped the balance of power away from brands. As a result, brands are now beginning to realise that engagement is the new communications. In order for a brand to achieve engagement with its stakeholders, it needs to consider the value that their content will deliver, or to frame it from the recipients perspective – what’s in it for me. 

If the content has high value then not only will the recipient be more likely to engage with it, but they will be more likely to engage in conversation with the brand, compelling them to pass-along the content to their friends because it has social currency. 

I have identified 5 core types of social currency value; Useful, Entertainment, Monetary, Information and Personal. 

Before giving some explanation and examples for each area, it is worth pointing out that they are all channel agnostic, so for example ‘events’ are particularly suited for entertainment. In fact, an event like Barcardi’s B-Live can in itself provide a rich stream of social currency for the digital channel e.g. twitter announcements, flickr photostreams and YouTube channels.

1) Useful value is more commonly referred to as brand utilities, so although Nike+ is held up as the ‘daddy’ of brand utilities, there are also a huge numbers of mobile apps that would qualify for this category. 

2) Entertainment value is more commonly referred to as branded entertainment and it’s interesting to note that typically this is the approach that an ad campaign concept would take. The ultimate proof of social currency is when your content is being remix ed and parodied, as happened with the Cadbury’s gorilla campaign. 

3) Monetary value is the social equivalent of the conventional sales promotion or PR activity. So it could be a simple voucher like the infamous Threshers’ discount voucher or a competition run in conjunction with an influential blogger.

4) Information value, in the form of knowledge and thought leadership, can be produced in various formats e.g. video interviews, slideshare presentations and blog posts (like this one ;). More superficial forms of information, like gossip and conspiracy, can also be adopted.

5) Personal value is a particularly interesting currency, as it often provides social currency that is extremely compelling. The global success of reality TV shows, such as Big Brother, and the talent shows such as Pop Idol and X-Factor demonstrate the importance of fame.

As the above Venn diagram suggests, there are opportunities to blend various currencies together and if done correctly, produce in a more potent piece of currency. An example of this would be a game (entertainment) which has a leaderboard (fame).

It is possible to capitalise on social currency that has already gained momentum by adopting the concept in your campaign – maybe we should call this meme-riding? T-mobile did this very successfully when they rode the flash-mobbing meme with their ‘Dance’ campaign.

Key to successfully producing high-value social currency is setting out with the right mind-set at the planning stage and get the right multi-disciplined team together to work on the social currency idea.