Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Transmedia and Social Media are Brand Tools

For those unfamiliar with the territory, it can be surprisingly difficult to get a grasp of social media and web marketing from the perspective of brand narrative. SMM, SEM, PPC, PCP... (OK, hopefully not PCP.) Certainly there's a lot of buzz around the necessity of entering "the social space," if you are a company, organization, or even an artist or producer. But a lot of that buzz comes off as hype, and rather than being informative, much of it just amounts to the digital equivalent of a shady guy on the corner trying to sell you snowcrash snake oil. 

So, without pretending that this is in any way comprehensive, I'd like to share a few resources and thoughts on this matter that may actually help you make informed decisions, whether you are looking to hire a consultancy or manage a small campaign yourself. 

First, this talk from Ric Dragon of DragonSearch is a great start: 

(Full disclosure: I worked with Ric in 2005 when he was CEO of Oxclove, and off and on before then.) 

He brings up the topic of transmedia. If I were to use an umbrella term for all of the work I have and done and intend to do, it would be transmedia storytelling. Transmedia applies as much to the creative production of media within a franchise as it does to the building of a brand narrative. Supposing your customers interact with your product and service, there is already going to be a narrative there. Don't you want to be able to manage it - at least in an open-ended sense - and even bring the two together, so your product, company, service can actually engage the human beings we blithely call "customers"? To do so companies need to drop any false postures of austerity, and "get real," in one way or another.

As Ric Dragon pointed out, Old Spice used 4Chan of all things to kickstart one of their campaigns. Of course, that isn't appropriate for everything, but it would do us all well to recall that one of the demands of creativity is taking risks, and leaving our fear outside. People don't want to be "marketed to." They want to be engaged with, and they want it to meet them where they are at. Maybe it needs to challenge them, maybe it needs to make them feel comfortable, but contrary to much literature on branding, not many people actually think about what drinking Coke says about them as a person.

Check out these articles on the topic from Modern Mythology: 
On this topic of engagement and brand narrative, also check out this video from Rushkoff:

Douglas Rushkoff: Branding Doesn't Work! So Now What? from Portland Oregon on Vimeo.


At bottom, and despite the need for metrics and benchmarks, social media is as much customer service and PR as it is an advertising channel. You don’t look for direct ROI with customer service and PR, and ROI may not be the best metric for social as well.

In general, if you're looking to establish your brand through the web using social and search tools, let alone transmedia, you need to stop thinking like you're writing inter-departmental memos and instead focus on what will be interesting, engaging, or fun for your potential customers. You need to build stories, establish interactivity, and consider unique investments of human and technical resources: for instance, gamesourcing:

I had earlier suggested using games that are fun and popular to do useful work. The idea of such “game-sourcing” would be to make the most of human brainpower to attack forms of computation that computers are poor at, using games that are already hits to take advantage of the power of the crowd and accomplish something important.
It turns out that bestselling science-fiction author Neal Stephenson independently hits on much the same idea in his latest book “Reamde.” One of the elements of the novel is a massively multiplayer online game (MMORG) called T’Rain. Although the game is very much like World of Warcraft, it differs in at least two notable ways — it is designed to be as friendly to gold farming as possible so as to have a stable in-world economy, and it is designed to have the potential for real-world applications.
The game-sourcing idea in question is detailed on pages 131 to 138. The invention is named the Medieval Armed Combat as Universal Metaphor and All-Purpose Protocol Interface Schema (MACUMAPPIS). This is essentially an application programming interface or API — “the software control panels that tech geeks slapped onto their technologies in order to make it possible for other tech geeks to write programs that made use of them,” as Stephenson explains.
The first project carried out with MACUMAPPIS paid huge amounts of gold to players who caught goblins trying to sneak in through the exit of the mighty Citadel of Garzantum. All the video of goblins and other fantasy humanoids the players saw were based on real feeds of airport occupants to spot intruders going where they shouldn’t.
This also calls for a reframing of the concept of marketing vs. content. If you're in the position of making operational decisions, consider the value of hiring individuals or companies that do this for a living to help manage these campaigns, rather than simply tasking already busy employees with managing a content strategy in their "spare time." Of course, the best brand ambassadors can be employees. But they need a solid content strategy, or else, you're best off not giving them the podium in the first place.

(And not only so you can avoid so-called PR disasters like these--I say "so called," because they're nearly all forgotten by the next news cycle anyhow, let's be honest.)

1 comment:

  1. Nice post James. Interesting thoughts and an unusual take on the usual debate.

    ReplyDelete