Super Bowl Spots Get Social

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|Originally posted on PRevolution on Feb. 8, 2011


What were your favorite Super Bowl ads? Mine were Coke’s Border Friends and Chrysler’s Imported from Detroit, but that’s just my personal taste. The more important question is what spots will we still remember in six months or a year? And how much can social media help a commercial hit that elusive sweet spot?
In other words, who’s this year’s Old Spice Man? Yes, most people forget that last year’s social media sensation actually started as a Super Bowl spot. And although it wouldn’t have grown without social media, it would have been much harder to get the ball rolling without an enormous jump start on Super Sunday. As a friend of mine (and one of the hosts of this blog) once said, “integrated campaigns rarely suck.”

Big Game, Huge Stakes
There really is no other way to match the Super Bowl’s audience, (111 million people), or its price tag ($3 million for 30 seconds). All eyes really are on its commercials. At least for a day. After that, they can simply fade away. And with more than 60 spots in play, it’s best to think of these ads as very expensive seeds that need plenty of nurturing to keep their buzz alive.

Often, the plan is to simply keep running them. Buy more time, keep them in front of viewers, and rely on the power of repetition to bring the message home. After all, unless you’re dealing with Apple’s legendary 1984 ad, you won’t get enough bang for your bucks by only running your spot once. And frankly, that ad ran plenty of times. Apple just didn’t have to pay for it. You see, that ad was really one of the first viral videos, re-run in TV stories, in people’s minds, and online more times than we can accurately count. In fact, just one of the many YouTube versions has more than 6 million hits.

Building Buzz
There are now many other ways to go viral, or at least get social. One of the oldest is sending your spot to TV stations and hoping to get some early momentum from their coverage. But now, spots are released directly to the public on dedicated websites, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels. That’s how Volkswagen got 13 million views for Little Darth Vader before the Super Bowl ever began. There’s even a cottage industry for building campaigns around ads that have supposedly been banned. Like all strategies, some are better conceived and executed than others, but they certainly showcase the importance of nurturing – before and after the game – these very expensive communication seeds.

And that brings us back to the Old Spice Guy. Wieden+Kennedy spent plenty of time and money creating the original ad, then brought it to life with an integrated campaign that still has a strong presence on Facebook and YouTube. Then they kicked off this year’s version of the campaign with an interactive contest that let a “super fan” reveal the new ad online ahead of time – an interesting twist, because they didn’t end up buying time in the game.

I realize there are concerns about conversion rate and ROI, but I think Old Spice is a winner from one simple perspective. Before last year’s game, few people knew Old Spice even sold a men’s body wash. Now it seems everybody does. On the other hand, how many people remember that last year’s other Super Bowl star, Betty White, was eating a Snickers bar? Old Spice succeeded by directing the conversation to their product, rather than letting the conversation go wherever it wanted (that Betty White is such a good sport). Old Spice built their own, virtually unknown, brand, while Snickers sat on the sidelines and let us build up Betty’s.

This Year’s Buzz
So, what about this year? I’m certainly intrigued by Old Spice’s approach, but wonder if it’s just the end game from last year’s campaign. I’m also very interested in the way the NFL and Foursquare partnered during the game, but think it’s just a nice way to build basic awareness for Foursquare. The Groupon vs. LivingSocial battle should be fascinating to watch, since it looks like both will have to defend their ads in the social space after people called each of them offensive. I was frankly underwhelmed by Audi’s attempt to incorporate a Twitter hashtag into its very funny Kenny G ad . It felt like they just grabbed onto the next cool tool, without really applying a strong strategy. On the other hand, I’m very excited by the way Best Buy is asking its Facebook fans to pick a different version of What’s a Bieber? to use at the next big event, the Academy Awards.

Better yet, that’s just the start. Since social networks stretch the Super Bowl ad season out so much, I’m sure we’ll see many other strategies play out over the next few days, or even weeks. After all, Old Spice didn’t make its personalized videos until July. So, there’s still plenty of time for brands to build their buzz, or drop like duds. That’s the fun – and the pressure – of playing in this Super Bowl.

Look Before You Tweet. Lessons From a Hockey Player

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Do you know Dan Ellis?  You should.  He’s a hockey player who’s trouble on Twitter can teach the rest of us some important lessons about social media and the importance of understanding your audience.

More than a sports story

Ellis is a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose tweets have been much discussed in the sports world, but they should be just as interesting to folks who care about communication strategy.

It all started when he tweeted about the way the NHL’s labor agreement holds a large part of players’ salaries in escrow.  It’s a complicated issue that was guaranteed to come across poorly in 140 characters.  And it did.

I didn’t take long before he was called a whiny millionaire.  And as word spread online, he quickly became the new poster child for ungrateful athletes who shouldn’t complain when they’re getting paid to play a kids’ game.  DanEllisProblems even became one of Twitter’s trending topics.

The ensuing tweetathon set off passionate debates about the NHL’s labor situation, the fairness of the escrow deal, athletes as ingrates, transparency in online communication, and cyberbullying.  All are worth discussing, but I’d like to focus on something that’s simple and universal, the importance of understanding your audience.

Should have know better

I realize celebrities get ridiculous amounts of positive feedback from their starry-eyed fans, but those fans have no interest in hearing about players’ money woes.  Never have, never will.  I’ve been covering sports for more than 25 years, and fans almost always side with owners against players, and mock any player who thinks he should be getting paid more – no matter how reasonable the concern, no matter how well it’s explained.

I often talk about The Golden Rule of Communication – that the most important part of any message is the receiver - and in this case, the reaction of these receivers was remarkably predictable.  In fact, Ellis’ audience was not only guaranteed to disagree with his statements, it was highly likely to mock him, argue with him, and trash his reputation.

So, why didn’t he see it coming?  How could he tweet “Kind of bored today … what can I stir the pot about today?” without realizing the consequences?  Either he was totally disarmed by the positive echo chamber of athlete-fan communications, or he wasn’t properly trained.  Probably both.

Tools are not strategy

Ellis was actually  considered a pioneer among jocks on Twitter.  He had 12,000 followers, and was known for open interaction with his fans.  But knowing how to tweet is far different than knowing what to tweet – or why.  Just ask any company that’s trusted its social media to a cool kid who seems to know what he’s doing.  Or ask Kevin Love, who had his own brush with Twitter immortality when he tweeted about Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale getting fired – before the team announced the move.  It became a cautionary tale for athletes in all sports, and drove Love off Twitter altogether.  The same scenario – the cautionary tale and the exit from Twitter – is playing out with Ellis.

Like many businesses, most teams are run by people who don’t quite understand social media.  They realize there are opportunities available on these new channels, but they’re concerned about the impact of open communication.  As a result, they provide little , if any, social media training for their athletes.  Agents also see the potential of social media, so they’re also encouraging their players to “get social,” but since they’re also new to the game, most of the training still comes from college friends and personal experience.

Send everybody to training camp

Players get plenty of media training, because teams realize their public comments are key components of their brand.  Why not include social media? Those comments are just as public, and just as important.  I got great reaction at the Social Media Breakfast when I said that “in TV we treat all microphones like they’re open, and I do the same thing with Twitter.”  At the very least, teams should use that rule.

Social networks provide plenty of wonderful opportunities for players and teams to interact with their fans, but like all businesses, they must remember that information going out over these informal channels is just as official as anything else going out under their brand name.  At least that’s how the audience is likely to see it.  So, while transparency is a wonderful goal, it should always be balanced with common sense.  We shouldn’t expect companies to air their dirty laundry, reveal key business strategies, or badmouth competitors online – unless it fits into some kind of well-thought strategy.  We shouldn’t expect it from teams or athletes, either.

What else can we learn from athletes’ experiences in social media, and what business experiences are similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Apple, Android, and Your Living Room

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Scott Litman, Magnet 360 Managing Partner

If you’ve read my posts, or heard me speak, you know I’m fascinated by the future of all media.  And so is my brother.  Scott Litman is a leader in the marketing community, Managing Partner of Magnet 360, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup, and the best businessman I know.  So, we’ve decided to share some thoughts about the battle between Apple and Google, and its impact on the future. Interestingly, Scott has used iOS since day one of the iPhone, and I have used Android since the day Google launched the G1, so we have some useful experience with these platforms.  And much like our collaboration on Major League Baseball’s poor video distribution model, we hope you find our ideas insightful.

Battle brewing

It’s hard to miss the battle that’s playing out on our TV screens, the high-profile showdown between iPhone and Droid.  But while it’s easy to get caught up in commercials about coverage maps, and who has the most apps, this is quickly becoming the tech war of our times.  And even though it’s currently limited to phones, it will soon enough be full-on, with tablets and in the living room.

And while the living room today gets the least attention, it may be the most important and decisive area – because once a winner is established there, it will flow backwards to phones, tablets, and every other way we consume data and media, because there is tremendous value when all of your devices are completely in synch.  And once that connection is established, users reinforce it by continuing to purchase products  (and content) that synch easily.

The living room of the future will certainly have a video display, but where will its signal come from?  While there may be multiple sources of content (TiVo, SATV/CATV boxes, XBox, Playstation, etc.), Apple and Google are about to join the fray with the goal of dominating not just your living room, but becoming the OS for how you consume all of the content that matters to you – no matter where you consume it.  And while on the surface there are many similarities in features and functions, there are fundamental differences in how these camps are approaching their solutions.

Learning from the past

Like battles of an earlier era -  Mac vs. PC (80′s), Explorer vs. Netscape (90′s), iPod vs. a legion of MP3 players,  and iPhone vs. Palm/ Windows Blackberry (00′s) – the stakes are massive, with big winners and losers in the making.

Apple has mastered the UXP (user experience) on the desktop, mobile phone and maybe best of all on the iPad, but Apple TV (ATV) thus far has not measured up.  ATV has also been hindered by Apple’s belief (or goal) that everyone wants iTunes at the center of their universe.  To that end, iTunes has been a tremendous asset in the establishment of the iPod, and it has worked well with the iPhone App Store, but an iTunes-centered strategy has thus far been a liability in the living room.   While iTunes does a good job of bringing the music, video and photo libraries you already own to the living room via ATV, it excludes almost all of the (quality) online video that isn’t already on your computer.  Hulu, Fancast, NetFlix, ABC.com, ESPN3 and more are shut out, unless you want to pay $1.99 for what is often readily available for free via a web browser. In Apple’s defense, though, it has been hampered by a highly reluctant media industry that isn’t sure how to defend (much less grow) revenues from the content they produce in a digital era.

Googling the future?

Android has yet to show up on a TV via Google TV, but it soon will.  And it puts, at its core, that consumers want to get what’s available on the net on that big screen in the living room.

Google is hardly the master of UXP, but it has a compelling vision for Google TV,  which is centered around doing what Google does best – making it easy for users to find what they want, right when they want it.  Also, like Microsoft has done with Windows, and as Google has done in mobile, Google is licensing Android to a wide array of partners that will create TVs and other devices which will give consumers a wide range of choices.  How this plays out  - and pays out – for content producers, though, is an open (and scary) question, because too much free content without a decent monetization model is bad for Hollywood, broadcasters, etc.  Overcoming these concerns – with licenses or more partnerships – will be crucial for both Google and Apple as they move forward.

Competition is good

So far, it appears Google TV will give users half of what they want most, which is easy access to all of the great stuff that’s on the web, whenever they want it.  Today, Apple provides the other half,  bringing all of the assets that you already have on your computer to the big screen.  Whoever brings all of this together in the most elegant package is going to get a huge leg up in the iOS vs. Android battle.

Which piece is more important at this point?  Iconoculture’s Sean Captain says buying habits have changed significantly in the past year, to the point that  “access is the new ownership.”  In other words, if Google can bridge its UXP gap, and put all of those streams in our hands seamlessly, it may be able to take a lead in this battle.  In this respect, Google has a decided advantage with its experience managing and organizing massive cloud-based web systems that millions of users rely on daily.  While Apple is no neophyte in this regard, services like MobileMe have fewer users and yet lower performance and reliability.  But never count out Apple, not with billions of dollars at stake – not when both sides know that  the winner/loser won’t just be in the living room, but that it will flow back to the handset market, tablets, and the rest.

In fact, we’re now seeing numerous reports that say Apple is expected to overhaul its strategy for the living room and base it on iOS.  Inspired by (or worried about) the new, improved competition in an arena he once called “a hobby,” Steve Jobs is ready to re-launch ATV for the third time.  Will the next generation of ATV finally deliver a UXP that is up to what we expect from Apple?  Will it finally provide access to the depth of video content available in our web browsers?  And for both Google and Apple, how will they manage the push-pull with the media giants that own all those licenses?

But while many questions remain, one thing is clear, with so much investment being made into the products and services of iOS and Android, consumers will be the biggest winners of this intense competition.

Stand Up For Innovation

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Have you seen The Six?  It’s our new 6:00 newscast, with anchors who stand, and a style that’s a lot less formal.  It has some people talking, more people watching, and a few feeling a bit uncomfortable.

It’s an attempt to respond to our audience, break away from the standard style of traditional newscasts, and break down the stereotype that all newscasts are basically the same.  It’s a way to make the newscast more interesting, informative and entertaining, and fortunately, it’s already paid off with better ratings.

Standing For Something

So why are the anchors standing? Some people think we’re just doing it to be different, but we’re really trying to create a more informal look and feel for the show, and encourage more informal communication between anchors and reporters.  It’s not just window dressing.  And I think it’s been effective.

Others disagree, though.  One viewer complained that they look homeless.  Another said they must be angry about losing the desk.  And MinnPost’s David Brauer wondered if we actually sold the furniture.  Funny stuff, but I hope one cosmetic touch isn’t overshadowing an innovative attempt to change the style and substance of our newscasts, and turn them into separate, unique, stand-alone broadcasts.

Look-alikes?

We’ve heard the criticism for years, “all newscasts look alike.”  And in some ways that’s right.  In general, we’re all covering the same stories, using similar techniques, and relying on similar research.  So, we often end up with similar stuff, the same way Time and Newsweek often end up with similar covers.  And it makes even more sense that our 5:00 and 6:00 newscasts, products of the same newsroom and editorial leadership, would seem similar.

So, when people said they weren’t watching at 6:00 because it felt like a rehash from 5:00, we listened.  We’re done being Time and Newsweek at 5:00 and 6:00.  Instead, how about Time and Esquire?  Or, maybe Newsweek and Newsday?  We’re trying to tell the 6:00 stories in a different way, avoiding overlapping stories whenever possible, and when a story is big enough to be in both shows, we’re trying to take different angles.

Storytelling Techniques

The whole approach is different on The Six, with anchors and reporters talking to each other, rather than at the viewer.  The goal is to be more conversational, ad libbing whenever possible, to let the information and personalities shine through.

That’s why we have a feature called, quite simply, “Need to Know.”  When was the last time you heard an anchor say “here is what you need to know?”  Why sugarcoat things?  Why get caught up in flowery writing and fancy terminology?  Instead, we give you the information you want, and the important facts you need – what you “Need to Know.”

We’re also trying to bring extra context to The Six, with a project I’m leading, called “The Flip Side.”  Again, it’s a simple concept: take a story that might appear in any newscast, present those basic facts, and then look at “The Flip Side.”  On the day that gas prices peaked, we looked why high prices are actually  worse for gas stations than for drivers, and when a new LRT line was in the news, we looked at more efficient ways to spend transportation money.

We’re still working on ways to pick and present these stories, but none of them would make it on an old-fashioned newscast, all of them are (hopefully) interesting, and they definitely give The Six some extra depth.

We’re also finding ways to use The Wire, our interactive website, to get the audience more involved in the on-air product.  And we’ve got some other projects that are ready to launch.  But we don’t want to go with too much too soon, because we don’t want to jar our audience.  It’s a fine line, delivering new stuff to attract new viewers, while moving slowly enough to hang onto the old ones, and so far it seems like we’re pulling it off.

Immediate Success

The May ratings are out, and The Six not only won in total viewers, but the prime demographics that are the lifeblood of  TV advertising.  That means we kept most of the old viewers, folks who expected to see a traditional newscast, and we recruited some of the new viewers that we targeted.  That’s amazing success for one month of work, and it certainly bodes well for the future, because word will spread, the new projects and storytelling techniques will become part of the audiences expectations, and we’ll have more of a chance to promote the product.

But we still need your help.  Watch the show, and let us know what you think.  If you like it, let your friends know.  And if you don’t like something, let me know.  This is a unique project, trying to mold a newscast based on audience feedback, so we want as much input as possible.

Is MLB.tv Striking Out? There’s An App For That

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Scott Litman, Magnet 360 Managing Partner

It’s well established that I’m interested in audiences, new media and sports.  And so is my brother.  Scott Litman is a leader in the marketing community, Managing Partner of Magnet 360, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup, and the best businessman I know.  He’s also a huge sports fan, which is why we are writing this post together.  Simply put, Major League Baseball needs our help.  MLB may be hitting home runs in technology, but in marketing and distribution, it’s definitely striking out.  So we’re stepping up to the plate to offer some solutions.

Major League Investment

Major League Baseball has made an impressive investment in new technology, but that investment will be wasted if MLB doesn’t learn to embrace its audience.

MLB.TV streams every game to fans around the world, offers DVR-like services for those that miss games, and is among the first to embrace new platforms like iPhone, iPad, and Android to put the baseball experience in the hands of its fans.  These investments have not been trivial, and MLB has been a trailblazer among the major sports.  And yet, dragged down by archaic contracts and an old world media mindset, MLB limits the potential of these investments to the detriment of the game, the teams, the fans, the advertisers, and their TV partners.

Blackout Blues

Key words: "where available"

Many local fans who routinely watch games on TV are not able to watch all games, because MLB blacks out local broadcasts on all of these new platforms.   Why not allow them to purchase the subscription to MLB.TV so they can watch online, on an iPhone or an iPad?  We realize MLB has contractual issues with local TV providers and they can’t just flip a switch.  But, the tools and technology are readily available that would allow MLB to give full advertising credit for every digital viewer of a home game within the broadcast area, actually enhancing the revenue of the local TV broadcasters.

Will their viewership cannibalize the number watching on traditional TV?  Doubtful.  People rarely choose smaller screens over big ones.  But they do choose small screens when they don’t have any other options, meaning local broadcasters will have access to many more total viewers if MLB just opens the doors.

Yes, a few fans will choose to watch online or on devices instead of subscribing to cable TV, but that’s only a problem for the cable company,  not the team or cable broadcaster – because as long as MLB runs the same ads on these other platforms, cable advertisers will still get the same (or even more) total viewers.  And since those viewers are using their screens just like TV’s – not computers – those viewers are just as valuable to advertisers.  CBS proved that during its very successful online broadcasts of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, getting the same per-viewer rates for commercials, whether they aired online or on TV.

Money Matters

What about charging separately for these online ads, rather than letting the local broadcasters reap the benefits?  That would be shortsighted, and could create the same concerns among broadcasters that led to the current setup.

Under our plan, though, MLB would still end up with just as many advertising opportunities as it currently has, because it could still run its own ads over the out-of-market feed (the only feed that’s available now, anyway, since the local feed is blacked out).  Meanwhile, the once lost viewer now becomes one that can watch more games, consume more ads, increase revenue through subscription to MLB, increase ad revenue to TV partners and be a happier and more loyal fan.

iPricing

For iPhone users MLB is a very popular App, albeit an expensive one at $14.99.  In fact, that’s a clear sign that fans will pay, even for an App that becomes obsolete at the end of the season.  Unlike most Apps, fans are required to buy a new one at the start of each season.  It’s aggressive from a pricing standpoint, but fans have accepted it.

Still, many fans were put over the top when they saw that just days after shelling out $14.99 for their iPhone Apps that they had to pay another $14.99 to get the same App on iPad.  Based on feedback on iTunes, many fans are irritated by this pricing policy.

These are loyal and passionate fans, and a modest $5 upgrade would have rewarded their loyalty, and would likely have been greeted warmly by most.  Instead, MLB proved that it’s tone deaf towards its audience.

In fact, attempting to share feedback with MLB is an exercise in futility.  A web form with a 500 character limit, and a one sentence response – both standardized and inappropriate – makes it clear that MLB has no interest in listening to fans.  That should change, for the good of the game, and baseball’s bottom lines.

Major League Opportunities

MLB is so close.  They have the assets, and they have the opportunity, but their policies fail to capitalize on this at their own expense.  A few modest changes in policy could go a long ways towards increasing MLB revenue, accessibility of the game to fans, advertiser revenue, and team loyalty.  It seems like such an easy proposition as there are no losers and only winners. It’s a matter of whether MLB wants to go a little bit into digital or change the game.  At the moment, like much of the media industry, it’s got one foot into the future and one foot stuck in the past.

What do you think?  Let us know.  Unlike MLB, we really are interested in your feedback.

The Golden Rule Of Communication

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Every once in a while, a tweet really gets my attention, proving that 140 characters really can convey a complex message.  That’s what happened when a friend retweeted this gem from Fred Cuellar:  “There is Always An Audience, Even If You Don’t See Them.”  So true, because without an audience, there is no communication.  And those 11 words work nicely with my own Golden Rule of Communication, that the most important part of any message is the receiver.

I work in a world where audience is everything.  TV ratings determine how my work is judged, and how much CBS gets paid.  But I believe focusing on audience is the key to success in all kinds of communication – and beyond that, I believe the communication model reaches far beyond the standard definition.

Many channels of communication

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time analyzing other writers’ messages, and over time, I’ve come to realize that just about everything falls under the broad umbrella of the communication model.  Sales, marketing, customer relations, coaching, teaching, managing people, running a website – even raising children – all require effective communication.

I’ve also noticed that the common bond between most successful people – whether they are coaches, politicians, salesmen or marketers – is that they are excellent communicators.  Their styles may differ, but they all understand how to connect with their audience – whether it’s one person or a million.  And I believe their secret is audience awareness.

Trump’s trouble

Still, some of the best make mistakes.  I’m sure Donald Trump is furious about this week’s episode of Celebrity Apprentice.  In fact, I bet he’s mad enough to fire somebody.

The show featured country star Trace Adkins and two emerging singers in a clear attempt to attract country music fans.  But the strategy failed, because the show ran against the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS.  How could this happen?  An opportunity was lost, and a smart strategy was ruined, because somebody forgot about the audience in the middle of their planning process.

Audience awareness

Don’t worry, though, I’m not suggesting style over substance.  Far from it.  I’m simply suggesting that the best style, strategy and substance will all be wasted if you lose sight of your audience.  Create your strategy, choose your channel, and craft your message, but always remember the receiver.

For example, if you’re designing a website, prioritize the user experience, even if that means dialing back some of the bells and whistles.  On the other hand, if being on the leading edge of technology is your ultimate message, those bells and whistles may be the best way to convey it.  In other words, always look at your message through the eyes of the audience – throughout the process – because what the user understands on their end is what defines how much of your intended message actually gets through.

Learning from Zappos

This is very similar to the ICEE theory of Twitter, a popular concept created by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He says all Tweets should either Inspire, Connect, Educate or Entertain, which resonates for me, because it’s so similar to my own ideas about writing for TV.  For years, I’ve taught writers that they should use all of their writing and video production techniques to inform, interest and entertain our viewers.  Each theory is simple, focuses on the audience, and can be easily applied to other communication platforms.

In fact, Hsieh’s success showcases this communications cross-over. He’s successful in e-commerce because of an easy-to-use website, and customer-friendly policies.  In other words, his success is audience-based.  So, it’s no surprise that he’s also good at social media, and just about everything else.  He’s simply a great communicator, who realizes that focusing on the audience works across the spectrum.

Born communicators

In reality, most of us do this instinctively.  Even as kids, we knew which parent to ask for something special, when to ask for it, and how to word it.  As adults, we realize some people respond better to a phone call, others to an e-mail.

Yes, it’s just common sense, but that’s really what communication is, isn’t it? You’re simply creating a message to get past any interference and connect with the audience.  So, if you anticipate the interference, and adjust to avoid it, your results will be even more successful.

What do you think?  Do these theories apply to your business?  Or are there times when audience should be secondary to your point?  I’m always interested in my audience, so please let me know what you think.

Why Journalists Should Use Twitter

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I get asked a lot of questions about social media.  Fellow journalists wonder why I spend so much time on Twitter, while online friends wonder why so few of my colleagues do.  This blog seems like a good place to answer those questions, and explain why they matter.

The journalists’ questions make sense if you put yourself in our shoes.  Why write messages for hundreds of people, when you’re used to writing for hundreds of thousands?  And if your entire professional life revolves around daily deadlines, how do you justify taking days or weeks to learn about these new tools?

Facebook First

Journalists want information now, and we want to distribute it immediately. That’s the way we’re wired, and that’s why our first (and often only) step into social media is the easiest:  Facebook.  I did a story about Amelia Santaniello learning Facebook, almost exactly a year ago,  that had some excellent analysis from David Erickson of Tunheim Partners.  He said Facebook is so popular because it’s “easy to use, and simple to understand.”

That’s also why it’s popular with so many journalists.  But while it’s a great first step for using social media to interact with friends, family and maybe even colleagues, it misses the real benefits – particularly network expansion – of Twitter.

Advantages of Twitter

Twitter is a much better tool for journalists, because it’s built to connect people who don’t already know each other – something journalists have traditionally done over the phone.  In fact, when Twitter is done right, it’s basically phone-work on steroids.  Thanks to Twitter, I now have hundreds of extra contacts, places to find stories, and people to poll for information (crowdsourcing).  Better yet, those hundreds turn into thousands whenever my connections retweet my questions.  That tool has paid off so often, I actually quit counting all the tips and stories I’ve gotten through Twitter.

Social media sites also allow for extra access to news sources.  Sometimes, it’s planned,  like Norm Coleman announcing plans for the future on Facebook, and sometimes it’s not, like Kevin Love  Tweeting about Kevin McHale before the Wolves had a chance to announce he’d been fired.  These days, a good follow list can be just as valuable as a good contact list.

Still, one of the most effective uses of social media is rarely discussed:  market research.

A Virtual Water Cooler

We are constantly searching for “water cooler” stories, things that get people talking, which is what Facebook and Twitter are all about.  Particularly Twitter, with a chance to watch EVERYTHING in your tweet stream.  The random, coded conversations that intimidate newcomers can be incredibly valuable for journalists.  They can help us identify trends, measure buzz, and react to it immediately.  In other words, there’s a virtual water cooler right there on your computer.

In fact, while I was working on this post, the New York Times discussed ways to use Twitter as a tracking tool, calling it a personalized news feed.  Whether watching  the Trending Topics list, searching Twitter directories, or simply observing the comments in your own tweet stream, there are so many ways Twitter can help you analyze the audience.  And the information is not only free, it’s available immediately.

I realize that TV already has valuable measurement tools.  But overnight ratings have limitations, because they aren’t posted until the next day, and they only measure the audience in 15 minute increments.  Since most of our news stories are only one or two minutes long, those ratings provide relatively imprecise feedback.

We’re pretty good at analyzing those numbers, extrapolating them, and figuring out what works for our audience – but when you’re looking for an edge, extra information is always helpful.  Yes, the analysis needs to be strategic and targeted, but if you agree that the audience is the key to communication,  you shouldn’t turn down anything that helps you better understand it.

Other Businesses?

My question is, how does this translate to other businesses?  We’re all trying to connect with our customers/audiences, so how do you use social media to improve your business and understand your customers better?  Please let me know.  That’s how I’ll get to know this audience better.

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