How social media changed corporate branding and marketing

Different colors of chalk ends with the logos of the main social media sites (facebook, twitter, etc.) on the ends
“The Art of Social Media” by mkhmarketing, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“If you create good branded content, they will come,” sums up the philosophy that was championed during my masters degree courses on social media marketing. At the time, that was the prominent thought, and still continues to be in most organizations.

The reality, however, is much different. Brands have spent billions to create content and haven’t garnered the massive loyal following they thought it would.

But Douglas Holt will tell you that crowdcultures are better at producing content, and for a lot less money and time, that resonates on social media. He demonstrates by highlighting brands who have spent billions to create amazing content on sites such as YouTube, Instagram, etc. are getting trounced in the rankings, by individuals with limited production ability.

Instead, he’ll tell you not to focus on the crowdculture. In the March 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review (Branding in the age of social media), Crowdcultures, according to Holt, are digital crows that serve “as very effective and prolific innovators of culture.”

As examples, he highlights:

  • Pre-industrial food culture: Those individuals who are concerned about, and challenging, our industrial methods of producing food.
  • Lad culture: A tongue-in-cheek form of sexism stemmed from frustrations of over-sensitivity by feminists
  • Body-positive culture: Those frustrated with the unrealistic ideals in media, especially of women

Conventional marketing would tell you to find your target market along demographic and benefit lines and promote to them, or to highlight your organization’s core values that best along with the largest segment of the market. Following the crowdculture philosophy, instead you’d identify a specific crowdculture that is a good fit for your organization and focus on them.

So back to the crowdculture examples to see how this alignment works:

  • Pre-industrial food revival: Chipotle’s branding around local and non-industrial food sourcing
  • Lad culture: Axe body spray’s over-the-top ads of bikini-clad “ideal” women chasing after men
  • Body-positive culture: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign focused on emphasizing that women are beautiful in their natural form (and, for fun, Dove has the same parent company as Axe)

There’s a lot more to identifying, aligning and maintaining this type of marketing strategy and Holt goes into some details in the article along with having a book on the subject, How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding.

Is this the correct strategy moving forward? That’s yet to be seen. What is clear is, the “If you create good branded content, they will come,” strategy isn’t working.

Age vs. Generation: Choose the correct metric for marketing and advertising

A young girl staring at an Apple Computer
“…next generation” by, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AdWeek recently published an article and infographic comparing what Millennials and Generation Z want from brands. In reality, reports like this are a comparison of age groups, not generations, and should be used only to impact decisions right now, not long-term.

As consumers age, their brand preferences, media preferences, privacy concerns, priorities, etc. change. So, to say a 13 year old’s preference for YouTube and a 30 year old’s preference for Amazon is because of what generation they belong to isn’t accurate. More likely, these preferences are based on their age.

Are generational studies useful? Yes! If you are communicating with the generation right now, the AdWeek Infographic and Deep Focus study can be incredibly helpful in developing marketing and advertising campaigns (although I’d like to see a larger sample size).

Generational reports also provide some interesting indicators as to how their preferences will change over time for predictive purposes. But to do this accurately, you’d have to look and see how previous generations have changed over time as they aged for comparisons.

As with all market intel, think about your end goal, and then work backwards from there to find the right intel to use.

Photo: “…next generation” by, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Crisis Communications: A Tale of Marijuana and Two U.S. Presidents


Two United States of America Presidents have admitted to using marijuana in the past, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. And yet, one is the brunt of continuous jokes and one is not. In fact, many people today have forgotten that President Obama admitted to drug use, even as marijuana legalization is occurring across the U.S.

How is that possible? The answer lies in HOW they admitted to it. I’ve written before about how important it is, in crisis communications, to be upfront and to be the one that tells the story. President Clinton admitted to using marijuana, but then minimized his admission by saying “[I] didn’t inhale.” Twelve years later, people still use the line “I didn’t inhale” as a joke.

President Obama, on the other hand, made no such caveats to his admission. And, when asked if he has used marijuana he gave an honest and clever answer, “I inhaled frequently, as a kid. That was the point.” Since then, very little has been said about President Obama’s marijuana use. The reason? He owned it, he told the story, and he answered honestly without any caveats.

When working on a crisis communications plan or responding to a crisis, be ready to be clear, be upfront, and don’t caveat your answers.  This one technique will greatly reduce the length of your crisis.


Think about how viral content is shared to ensure your message stays intact

Kellogg Community College math professor, Marcus Anderson, created the YouTube video “Bad Email Reply – What not to say to your professor…” above and it recently went viral. I personally saw it on my Facebook newsfeed and on my Feedly.

The problem is, only PART of his message went viral. The video was shared, but not his comments below it explaining that the email was a fake example and that he hadn’t violated student privacy by sharing it. This lead to a lot of people becoming very upset at him.  On his YouTube page for the video, he explains:

“Most importantly, that email was not a word-for-word copy of a student’s email. This is a mash up of many poor emails, some common email mistakes and some of my own embellishment compiled into one email. Let me repeat: I would never post an email of a student to the Internet nor would I suggest anyone else ever doing that. Therefore, cartmanrulez99 is not real person.”

Again, because this information was in the comments section and not in the actual video, when the video is embedded (like it is above) and shared, the complete message is lost. For example, here is the description from Laughing Squid for the video:

Marcus Anderson, a math professor at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan, recently created a video where he critiques an email sent to him from one of his students. The student, whose email address starts off with “cartmanrulez99″, writes to the professor as if he is a best friend for life, drops a winky face, uses shortcuts when spelling out words (u, lol, and thx), requests handouts for each of the four classes missed, and then goes ahead and asks for the actual class book.”

What can we learn from this

The big takeaway for all of us is to really think about how our messages could be shared and take any steps necessary to make sure that the message we want to communicate stays intact. In this case, the message that it wasn’t a real student should have been included in the video.

This also serves as a great reminder to check the source of the information you receive. Until I clicked-through to the YouTube and read his comments, I also was under the impression that it was a real student email.

Storify, a review

This week I tried the new online platform, Storify, to write an article about a severe storm in Battle Creek, Michigan. Storify, for those of you who have not played around with it, is a new platform that allows you to incorporate various web and social media elements, such as Twitter posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Facebook posts, etc. into a story and publish it online.

Positives and benefits

Storify is a unique and easy way to include various elements found online into a story. By clicking on the appropriate icon on the left, you can easily search YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc. for various elements to include in your story. Say, for example, you wanted to write a story about the protests that happened in Egypt. Using this tool, you could easily search all of various outlets and find what you need much quicker that you would be able to by going to the individual sites. This is a journalists dream because it significantly lessens the amount of time they need to gather information.

Storify also makes it easy to incorporate these elements into your story. In the past, you had to screenshot items you wanted and then insert them into your post/story, etc. Now, with the simple drag and drop feature, you can include posts, videos, and other elements with minimal effort.

The new web platform also lets you continually update your story as things change and new information becomes available. Again, this is very important to journalists who are continually updating their stories as new information comes in. Storify makes this process easy and quick.

Probably one of my favorite features of Storify is the feedback mechanism. You can send a message to the owner of the content you incorporated letting them know that you used their elements in a story. This adds a positive element to the stories posted because the owners of the original content can take pride in their content being used for a story. That then could encourage those people to share it with their friends and family, which could significantly increase the story’s readership. Also, the notification encourages a feedback loop by letting people know that you used something of theirs. This is a common courtesy, even if items are in the public domain.

Areas for Improvement

Despite all of its positives, there are a few things that could be improved about Storify.

First, Storify did not work correctly with the latest version of Internet Explorer 9. The icon to be able to begin writing a story did not appear. It did, however, appear when I used Mozilla Firefox. I sent Storify a message alerting them to this issue.

A screenshot of Storify from Internet Explorer 9 with the button missing
A screenshot of Storify from Internet Explorer 9. There was no way to begin a new story.
A screenshot of Storify using the most recent version of Mozilla Firefox.
A screenshot of Storify using the most recent version of Mozilla Firefox. The link is there in the center so that the user can begin writing a story.

The platform is also only as good as the individual search engines for each site and the information on those sites. For example, I was searching for information on a storm that hit Battle Creek, Michigan. For Twitter, I was able to search for references to a “storm” or “trees down” within a certain mile radius of the area. This made it pretty easy to find information. However, because Twitter isn’t very popular in Battle Creek yet, information was minimal and most did not include the hashtag #battlecreekstorm. For larger stories in areas where Twitter is popular, I think this would be eliminated by more people using the site and using hashtags. For Facebook, it was much more difficult to find what I was looking for because Facebook does not allow you to search by radius or other elements that may narrow the results to what you are looking for.

The linear model of Storify was somewhat frustrating for me. I’m the type of person who likes to gather all of the information I want, and then spread it out in a way that I can look at it all and then make decisions of how to put it together (you can imagine what my living room floor looks like when I scrapbook!). With Storify, I snatched everything I might want for my story and put it in so I didn’t lose any of it if the content wasn’t there when I went looking again. But by doing this, it became a really tedious process to continually scroll down and up to see what I had and put it in the order I wanted it in. I would recommend some sort of “holding pen” for elements that is separate from the story.

Bottom line

Overall, I really like the concept of Storify and like the way the platform works. I think it will be a great tool for journalists and people looking for various elements to include in an online story.


This story was originally published on my MSU Journalism class blog, Fit To Type.