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“Lots and lots of files” – Privacy, data and a new currency

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One of the seminal television shows of the 1990s, The X-Files played on myths, legends and government paranoia to worldwide critical and popular acclaim. One of the key episodes of the series found the lead characters, FBI agents Mulder and Scully, happening upon an abandoned mining facility. Contained inside were row upon row of filing cabinets. Inside, thousands of names spilled forth. The sheer number of file drawers is a visual feast for the viewer. But there is more; one of the agent’s names is in those files. Personal data on her (in the form of a tissue sample) has been taken without consent. Down the rabbit hole we go…

We have always operated under the assumption that governments must surveil in order to protect its citizens. The difference today, as Edward Snowden has so plainly shown, is firstly that you are the one being watched, and secondly that the sheer extent of the surveillance and the pervasive nature of its collection is staggering. The pervasiveness of all this is a key point. Not much in the way of policy has changed really in the past fifty years, it’s just that spying on swathes of the world’s population has become increasingly easier and cheaper. Back in 2006, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office warned that the country was moving “towards pervasive surveillance”. Such a prophecy seems to have turned into reality. It creates an uncomfortable feeling that those in charge do not have our best interests at heart, or at least that the ends do not justify the means.

Some of the finest publications in the world have been struggling to make sense of what all this means; Zeitgeist is using this post to highlight some of those key thoughts and issues covered. Back in September, The New York Times reported, paradoxically,

“Even agency programs ostensibly intended to guard American communications are sometimes used to weaken protections. The N.S.A.’s Commercial Solutions Center, for instance, invites the makers of encryption technologies to present their products to the agency with the goal of improving American cybersecurity. But a top-secret N.S.A. document suggests that the agency’s hacking division uses that same program to develop and ‘leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners’ to insert vulnerabilities into Internet security products.”

Zeitgeist remembers dining alone in New York in September poring over the news. The NSA tried to ask for permission to legally insert a ‘backdoor’ into all digital encryption, but were denied. So they went ahead and did it anyway. They influenced government policy that led to fundamental weaknesses in encryption software. Last week, a federal judge considered the constitutionality of the US’s surveillance programmes. He called the technology used by the NSA “almost Orwellian” and ordered it to stop collecting the telephone records of two plaintiffs. It is one of several cases currently underway.

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Click to see The New Yorker’s infographic on what personal data is made available to social networks and their advertisers

Of course, such spying would have not have been possible without the consent – tacit or otherwise – of companies in the private sector. There is clamor in the US, UK, Brazil and other countries for more restrictive regulation that makes it harder to collect consumer data. Such policy could make data analysis and collection onerous and might have a significant impact for those businesses that make a living out of using such data. As The Economist puts it,

“Should all this make it harder and costlier for companies to gather information, that would hurt the likes of Facebook and Google, which depend on knowing enough about their customers to ping them with ads that match their tastes.”

The New Yorker recently featured a fascinating article complete with unnerving infographic (excerpted image above) showing just how much information we display on our various social networks is then shared with the platform and its advertisers. This month, a new film, Her, arrives in cinemas, from the director of Being John Malkovich. The heroine is a disembodied voice – acted by Scarlett Johansson – who serves as operating system. The line between her servitude and rapid consumption of all her user’s data quickly becomes blurred. As the reviewer Anthony Lane puts it, also for The New Yorker,

“Who would have guessed, after a year of headlines about the N.S.A. and about the porousness of life online, that our worries on that score—not so much the political unease as a basic ontological fear that our inmost self is possibly up for grabs—would be best enshrined in a weird little [film]?”

Unsurprisingly, the results of a recent YouGov poll in the UK showed consumers were now far less willing to part with their own data. Almost half would be less willing to share their personal data with companies in the next five years. A mere 2% said they would be more willing to do so. Part of the problem lies in a lack of transparency: who is using my data, which piece of information exactly, and how does it benefit them? More importantly, what am I getting in return for surrendering my data? Steve Wilkinson of Ernst & Young offered little in the way of cheering news, “Many customers have recognised that businesses are using their personal information to help increase revenues, and are starting to withdraw access to their private data… In spite of this, there is a reluctance to adopt incentives that encourage consumers to part with personal data”.

Writing in the FT yesterday, Evgeny Morozov penned an excellent article claiming the media was spending far too much time on the intricacies of government involvement rather than how the whole cocktail mixes together. The overreach, according to the author, is being treated as an aberration, that will disappear in the face of tighter controls and the harsh light of day. It should instead, Morozov argues, be treated as part of a worrying trend in which “personal information – rather than money – becomes the chief way in which we pay for services – and soon, perhaps, everyday objects”. The article continues,

“Now that every piece of data, no matter how trivial, is also an asset in disguise, they just need to find the right buyer. Or the buyer might find them, offering to create a convenient service paid for by their data – which seems to be Google’s model with Gmail, its email service… [W]e might be living through a transformation in how capitalism works, with personal data emerging as an alternative payment regime. The benefits to consumers are already obvious; the potential costs to citizens are not. As markets in personal information proliferate, so do the externalities – with democracy the main victim. This ongoing transition from money to data is unlikely to weaken the clout of the NSA; on the contrary, it might create more and stronger intermediaries that can indulge its data obsession.”
Morozov also questions the meaning behind such data, as Zeitgeist has done in a previous article. Such information risks becoming seen as an objective answer without providing a solution or insight.
“Should we not be more critical of the rationale, advanced by the NSA and other agencies, that they need this data to engage in pre-emptive problem-solving? We should not allow the falling costs of pre-emption to crowd out more systemic attempts to pinpoint the origins of the problems that we are trying to solve. Just because US intelligence agencies hope to one day rank all Yemeni kids based on their propensity to blow up aircraft does not obviate the need to address the sources of their discontent – one of which might be the excessive use of drones to target their fathers. Unfortunately, these issues are not on today’s agenda, in part because many of us have bought into the simplistic narrative – convenient to both Washington and Silicon Valley – that we just need more laws, more tools, more transparency.”
Touching on similar points and themes, the most enjoyable recent article on the subject was written by famed author Margaret Atwood for The New York Times earlier this month. It had recently emerged that intelligence agencies had been using MMO games like World of Warcraft in an attempt to discover terrorists and other less enjoyable parts of the internet. Atwood has predicted just such a thing in her books, written some twelve years ago. Atwood struggles to make sense of her thoughts coming to life, wondering whether to treat it as comedy or tragedy. She elaborates, crystallising all our fears about the empty truth behind data,

“I hope for the comedy… I suspect the horror. Possibly in the future you’ll no longer be permitted to be who you think you are, or even who you’re pretending to be: You will be who they say you are, based on your data-mined, snooped-upon online presence. You’ll be stuck with that definition of yourself. You won’t be able to take off the mask.”

Such disconcerting thoughts on having your own personality dictated to you might once have been the stuff of science-fiction, apt for an episode of The X-Files. Besides adages of truth being stranger than fiction, the clarion call of these publications appears to be that people should be sitting up and taking notice of what has been going on over the last ten years with extensive policy / data / consumerism creep. It is not just the NSA, but the way society intertwines information for monetisation that must be scrutinised if we are to avoid having to worry about trivial things like playing videogames in peace.

Taking flight – Opportunities and obstacles in democratising luxury

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I don’t think democratic luxury exists. I don’t believe in something for everyone… How can we possibly put these products on the Web site without the tactile experience of luxury?”

- Brunello Cucinelli

The democratisation of fashion took a beating this past week as news reached Zeitgeist that Fashion’s Night Out was to be no more. Spearheaded by Anna Wintour at the height of the global recession, the idea was for a curated evening; a chance for stores to open their doors late, inviting a party atmosphere and focussing spend on a calendar event. The Wall Street Journal wrote that last year, “Michael Kors judged a karaoke competition at his store on Madison Avenue, rapper Azealia Banks performed at the MAC store in Soho and a game night was held at a Kate Spade store.” The evening festivities were replicated across New York, London and other cities.
Zeitgeist happened to be on Manahattan’s Spring Street last September when the most recent FNO was held, waiting patiently for a perenially-late friend who works next door to Mulberry. While waiting, it was absolutely fascinating to see the sheer of variety of people out on the street. While the crowds were mostly composed of women, the groups ranged from college-aged JAPs and the avant-garde to hipsters and stay-at-home mothers. Most gawped excitedly as they beheld the Mulberry boutique, enticed by the glimpses of free food and drink, as well the sultry bass tones of some cool track. One elegantly dressed fashionista strode hurriedly past Zeitgeist, lamenting to her cellphone “Oh God, it’s Fashion’s Night Out tonight”.
Ultimately perhaps it was such feelings among the fashion set that caused FNO to come to an abrupt end. But Zeitgeist got the sense that, while undeniably a celebration of fashion and an opportunity for brands to showcase their attractively experiential side – particularly to those who might usually be deterred by luxury brands and their perceived sense of formality – there weren’t a great deal of people actually buying things. It’s quite possible that the whole strategy of attracting a crowd who would not otherwise frequent such stores backfired; they turned up, sampled the free booze, felt what it must be like to shop at such-and-such a label, then moved on to the next faux-glitzy event with thumping music. This then was a failed attempt to bring luxury to the masses.

On a macro scale, the cause for democratisation is hardly helped by the global financial crisis. Although over four years old, the ramifications and scarring done to the economy are still sorely felt. This is illustrated in the unemployment figures around the world, tumultuous elections and anecdotal tales of hardship. More starkly, they are being backed up by solid quantitative research that proves we as a world are less connected now than we were in 2007. In December last year, The Economist reported on the DHL Global Connectedness Index, which concluded that connections between countries in 2012 were shallower (meaning less of the nation’s economy is internationalised) and narrower (meaning it connects with fewer countries) than before the recession. Meanwhile, just this past week, the McKinsey Global Institute published a report showing financial capital flows between countries were still 60% below their pre-recession high. This kind of business environment hardly fosters egalitarian conduct, and indeed such isolationist thinking was on show at Paris Fashion Week recently, where designers clung to their French heritage as a badge of honour. Exactly at the time when art needs to be leading the way in cultural integration, as emerging markets not only continue to make up a larger part of the customer base, but also develop their own powerful brands, it seemed that designers, like the financial markets, retreated to what they knew and found safe.

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The world is less connected today than in 2007

Where the ideology of democratising fashion has seen more success is of course online. We’ve written before about how luxury is struggling with the extent to which they invest in e-commerce. One of the principle hurdles is that the nature of luxury – elite, arcane, exclusive – is more or less diametrically opposed to the nature of the Internet – open, borderless, democratic.
Yet the story of Yoox – the popular and, in online terms, long-lasting fashion ecommerce platform – and its founder is one of just such democratisation. (It is particularly stunning to read of the difficulties the founder, a Columbia MBA graduate, Lehman Brothers and Bain & Co. alum, had in attracting VC funding). It also, crucially, points to the importance of recognizing multiple audiences, and how they like to shop differently depending on context. John Seabrook, writing in The New Yorker, reports that when Federico Marchetti set up Yoox in 2000, the world of ecommerce for fashion was regarded as a not particularly salubrious environment. Rather, the magazine compares it to outlet stores like Woodbury Common, fifty miles north of New York. Luxury brands like Prada and Marni could be found there, offering deep discounts on their wares, and it was for that reason – and the lack of control over their own brand – that they didn’t like much to talk about such places. This, despite the fact that they attracted 12 million people in 2011, “almost twice the number of visitors to the Metropolitan Museum”. Yoox was likewise greeted with much trepidation by fashion retailers. The article quotes an analyst from Forrester Research:

“It was a matter of principle with luxury brands that only people who shop on eBay use the internet – and their only interest was in getting a low price.”

Marchetti’s only available source of designer clothing was from last season and beyond, as no brand would sell their current collection. He curried favour with some of them though by advertising the prices without noting the discount customers were getting. Other than that, luxury brands took little or no notice.

Online shopping though would prove to be “one of the largest disruptions of the luxury-goods industry since the birth of the department store”. There are three kinds of online store today; those that sell deep-discounted goods on end-of-season wear, those that sell in-season clothing, and those that have flash sales of small numbers of clothing or accessories. It turned out there was an audience for all of these types of website. Bridget Foley, executive editor of WWD is quoted in the article saying “[T]here has been a sea change in attitude… I think [it] surprised the fashion industry… Just because you love clothes doesn’t mean you love shopping“. This struck Zeitgeist as one of the more important insights in the lengthy article. Though retailers often harp on about the importance of the retail environment, the need to touch the product, to be in an atmosphere where everything has been curated down to the finest detail, online neutralises all of that. This idea threatens those in the luxury sector, as the thinking goes that any such premium on products may seem less justifiable away from a Peter Marino-designed armchair and a nice glass of champagne. Such ideas are being challenged though. Not only is the nature of the store changing – from robotic sales staff to customers as models on the catwalk – but so is the view of the luxury customer as a homogenous, static group, devoid of context. Zeitgeist was at a Future of Media summit at the Broadcast Video Expo last week, where, as behavioural economics suggest, MD of Commercial, Online and Interactive for ITV Fru Hazlitt insisted that consumers had to be targeted in ways that were pertinent to them, not only as demographic groups, but in ways that recognised the context of how approachable they were likely to be at the time, given the programming they were watching. Fru admitted that in years past, broadcasters like ITV had seen advertising as “space to rent out”. Now they were thinking deeply about how and when is the right moment to reach their target consumer. It is the same in fashion. There is not one single way to reach the consumer; buyers of luxury goods do not want to be solely restricted to being able to buy your wares in a physical store.

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Chanel are one of the few remaining luxury brands to resist fully integrating online

Behavioural economics played a role in Marchetti’s initial framing of the audience for the website as well. He hired pedigreed fashion writers, as well as artists, architects and designers to make special projects that lent the website an air of curation, of something more special and rarefied that what one might find – or more importantly the way one might feel – at an outlet mall. Marchetti wanted the customers “to see themselves as connoisseurs, even if they were really just hunting for bargains”. The New Yorker article goes into some anecdotal detail about the way people shop on Yoox, which crucially differs not only from the way they would shop in-store, but also from other e-tailers. For online shopping in general, the experience is one where you can purchase ten items, and return nine of them with very little hassle, with credit for multiple rather than a single brand, and certainly no raised eyebrow from a pretentious shop assistant. Regarding specific sites, Yoox, unlike Net a Porter, for example, does not try to force a set of looks onto the user. Behavioural economics tell us that people irrationally value something more when they’ve been made to work a bit to get it. Such is the case now shopping for luxury items, which makes clothing not in-season (i.e. not currently in every shop window), both cooler and cheaper. It’s an act not to be discouraged. A Saks representative says customers who shop online as well as in store buy four times as much merchandise as customers who shop only in the store. What will worry retailers though is that the convenience of the online store outweighs the experience of the physical boutique. The New Yorker quotes a shopper: “I’ll never buy a dress at the Prada boutique again after getting these really amazing ones on Yoox.”

As well as setting up the Yoox website, Marchetti’s company now also powers the online stores of more than thirty fashion houses, including Armani and Jil Sander. Last summer, PPR joined in too, after conceding that their in-house expertise was not up to snuff. The latest development is making designs available to any customer as soon as it hits the runway. Burberry, as well as separate sites like Moda Operandi, have spearheaded this innovative change, which is effecting editorial as well as buying methods previously seen as unshakeable. The demand for this type of instant purchasing seems to be fueled by a niche – albeit a sizable one – that is not representative of the majority of luxury shoppers. The accessibility of a brand and its products is a tricky one to tread, one which Zeitgeist has written about several times before. Tom Ford performed a volte-face this year, after debuting his womenswear collection with no press and VIPs only, relented this year at London Fashion Week by letting bloggers write about the show. Chanel still steadfastly refuses to fully engage with online shopping. The tension is keenly felt in the New Yorker article, where Amazon’s new entry into the world of fashion is referenced. The CEO of Valentino is unconvinced: “Valentino is high luxury… People going to Amazon are not going to Valentino“. This smacks a little of pride and ignorance, for they most assuredly are, though perhaps not with luxury purchases in mind… yet.

It comes back to the idea that there are myriad types of luxury consumer. The industry has not fully acknowledged as of yet that the buying behaviour of a descendant of the ancien regime in Paris is unlikely to buy in the same way as a newly-minted businessman in Shenzhen. They may know that these types of buyers exist, and they may even create different products for each. Importantly though, they are not recognising that these people may go about purchasing in a different way. It’s not just a purchase journey that has changed massively in recent years, as McKinsey’s consumer decision journey illustrates above. It’s also, as ITV’s Fru Hazlitt insists, about recognising that different people shop in different ways, wholly dependent on context. Though Fashion’s Night Out may be on permanent hiatus, and though the global economy may be sputtering along in second gear, the opportunities to leverage deep insights into consumer purchase preferences are there for the taking. Yoox, along with a deeply complicated algorithm, are trying to tap into just this. But the process must start with realising that yes, actually, someone might want to pick up that Valentino dress while surfing on Amazon.

Super Safe Super Bowl

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The Super Bowl, an annual orgy of excess for those seeking to tubthump their products on television, where a 30-second spot can cost up to $4m, is taking an increasingly holistic approach to promotion, using social media to make for a more integrated offering. In the end it was Twitter that came to the fore during this year’s event, when a power cut during the game created a captive audience for savvy brands (such as Oreo) to take advantage of.

It was interesting yesterday to hear the talking heads of CNBC reviewing the success of the advertisements that played during the game (click the headline image for a link to the discussion). Zeitgeist’s thoughts were provoked particularly on the question of whether the risk of outrage from social media backlashes was now so great that advertisers were becoming far more risk-averse than in the past, preferring instead to tug at heartstrings with ads like Budweiser’s, below, which was admittedly Zeitgeist’s favourite.

Femfresh’s not so fragrant Facebook fail

June 22, 2012 4 comments

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

But maybe someone might have anticipated that mixing female hygiene products and social media might be asking for trouble.

Indeed, having recently won a bunch of IPM awards for their experiential events, Femfresh‘s bubble has been well and truly burst by recent activity on their Facebook page.

One crucial difference between their marketing activities is that you can choose where you host your experiential events and make sure that your product has relevance to the people you are interacting with.

Facebook however is much more open and anyone can come and tell you what they think, so while one media might be appropriate for your brand, the other might not.

Clearly, marketing such intimate products is a delicate task, but the Femfresh tone of voice, referring to genitals as ‘kitty’, ‘nooni’, ‘lala’ and ‘froo froo’ has upset a number of women who find it both patronising and childish.

And they haven’t been shy in making their opinions known.

As the dissent grew, people began questioning why such a product is needed anyway, accusing owners Church & Dwight of giving women yet another thing to feel insecure about on top having to be skinny, have perfect skin, teeth and hair and so on and so on.

One user points out that the NHS advises women to only use water to clean themselves. Many others claim that using such chemical products will only lead to health problems and should you have any unusual odours or discharges you should be seeing a doctor not using Femfresh.

Inevitably, the fuss has also attracted a fair number of men who have kindly offered their own colloquialisms for future campaigns and suggested brand extensions.

So far, Femfresh‘s reponse has been to delete some of the comments and ask for respect.

No doubt they are busy plotting their way out of the mess.

Well, they needn’t worry about the men who will get bored and find something else to laugh at tomorrow.

However, they would do well to listen to the ladies who have raised some important issues for the brand to mull over.

Firstly, it’s clear that the campaign, with its childish names, alienates a number of women.

Whether or not Femfresh decide to rethink their comms strategy will depend on how confident they are that it is right. Are the recent angry visitors to their page representative of their target audience or just a load of noisy nuisances? Gap faced a similar problem when they launched their ill-fated new logo.

Secondly, they need to address criticism of the product.

One, that it is irrelevant and irresponsible.

And two, that it is actually unhealthy and damaging.

Failure to address these issues and take control of the debate would be a huge risk as they are genuine concerns from their target audience. If Femfresh ignore them, any conversation on the subject could still happen without them and using a forum that doesn’t allow them to delete the posts they don’t like.

Indeed bloggers have already started to voice their irritation.

Finally, they might want to rethink whether Facebook is the right platform for them to engage consumers.

It is a social network in the true sense, and while people might not mind their friends knowing that they like brands like Coca-Cola or Adidas, they might be reluctant to like or interact with Femfresh so publicly.

Engage! – What is the point of advertising?

Facebook’s recent IPO launch has had what Zeitgeist would describe kindly as a bumpy ride. There are multiple reasons for this, not least of which is the question of monetising mobile users of the platform – all 450m of them.

More broadly, another debate has been ongoing as to just what brands are getting out of having a presence on Zuckerberg’s walled garden. A great article on WARC points out, after much quantitative analysis of how people ‘engage’ with fan pages, and what the ‘People talking about this’ metric actually means,

“At the very core of the social media mantra is the premise that brands need to engage their customers in order to grow but there is only a tenuous link between the effects of engagement and subsequent sales. Even if these top 200 brands achieved ten times their current level of engagement, what that ultimately means for the brand is uncertain. The push for engagement fails to explain what return, in real terms, a brand achieves by having highly engaging ads, on highly engaging vehicles or media.”

Rather more worryingly for the advertising industry as a whole, the article also notes,

“[I]f advertising simply works by reminding people of the brand, leading to it “coming to mind, being familiar, safe, and satisficing (that is, being ‘good enough’)” (Ehrenberg et al, 2002), there may be little gain in doing anything more than reminding them of the brand. When focusing on achieving high levels of engagement we should question whether we are still trying to persuade consumers, even if our view of how advertising works is no longer aligned with this aim.”

With this uncomfortable diagnosis in mind, does this mean the likes of Nike and Louis Vuitton should be throwing in the towel with their wonderfully engaging, award-winning campaigns? If advertising’s only point to consumers is to act as a reminder, rather than to overtly influence, what are we wasting our time on?

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”

While the Jubilee weekend drags itself ever onwards into yet another day, and we witness a smaller version of the chaos the impending Olympics will bring, those of you in need of some intellectual stimulation and insight could do worse than to check out this old TEDx video, touching on, in essence, how companies must orient their strategy, and how they should communicate to their customers if they want to be successful at what they do. The talk is given by one Simon Sinek, and is well worth the listen. Enjoy. With thanks to SM for sending this our way.

(UPDATE 4/10/12: Harvard Business Review published an article yesterday online using this talk as a way of getting buy-in from executives for social media, i.e. thinking about the why, not the what.)

Some very social Muppets

The Muppets and LCD Soundsystem

Happy Friday! While Zeitgeist is caught in the toil and tribulation of work, insightful articles have been coming off the production line a little slower. Rest assured there are many in the pipeline. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of The Muppets, found via Mashable. Though discovered days ago now, it just about still falls in the realm of the zeitgeist. This is not part of any advertising campaign, so it doesn’t matter a great deal, but it’s really staggering to see just how de rigeur it has become to immediately whip one’s phone out and start recording an event now. Did that media end up on Facebook, Twitter et al.? It’s arguable that things like this hurt the muppets’ brand equity, particularly with their younger demographic (or, more precisely, the over-protective parents of such a demo). Such things though are perhaps not important in the context of watching muppets dance.

Unofficially rocking out here to one of Zeitgeist’s favourite bands, the imminently-retiring LCD Soundsystem, the Jim Henson progeny have of late been recasting themselves as social media gurus, in everything from Ode to Joy with the irrepressible Beaker, to the rather more (again) unofficial take on Kanye’s new “Monster” video. And if you were wondering what “the Church” can learn from the Muppets’ social media savvy-ness

Sports journalist scores own goal with Twitter let down

January 28, 2011 2 comments

Too much hype can be a bad thing if you fail to deliver.

You will no doubt already be familiar with the fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

In it, the title protagonist is a third century BC Greek shepherd boy with a 21st century attention span.

Sadly, born in a time long before iPods, Playstations and Kindles the only way he was able to amuse himself on cold nights was to shout that an imaginary wolf was attacking his flock and so summon all the villagers from their warm beds to chase it off.

So amused was the shepherd boy by this early attempt at trolling that he repeated it, each time winding up the locals more with his false alarms.


How Aesop may have communicated his fable in 2011

Inevitably, as we all know a hungry wolf did turn up shortly afterwards and the villagers ignored the boys pleas for help, refusing to fall for what they assumed was another trick.

The tale has been told many times to warn children of the dangers of telling fibs and seeking undue attention.

It would appear from a modern interpretation of the story that the Guardian Sports Desk could urgently do with a copy of Aesop’s Fables (available for as little as £3.99 on Amazon).

At around 15:30 yesterday afternoon, respected Sports Editor of the Guardian Newsdesk Ian Prior tweeted that there would be a

Two hours was more than enough time for football messageboards to go into overdrive as fans hypothesised as to what the scoop could be.

Perhaps an announcement on the Olympic Stadium? Was Ferguson going to retire and Mourinho replace him? Could another Arab billionaire buying out a major club? Would Barcelona finally get round to offering a record breaking fee for Lloyd Doyley?

Or maybe as the other half of Zeitgeist prayed, Roger Federer’s defeat in the Australian Open had been misreported and he’d actually beaten Novak Djokovic – into a pulp.

As the deadline drew closer, F5 buttons were being smashed around the world and the Guardian homepage finally refreshed with the scoop.

It turns out that Inter Milan might make a bid for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. For £40m. In the summer. No sources at either club quoted.

There didn’t need to be. Within minutes both clubs had denied the story.

A scoop. But not anywhere near as major as people were hoping.

The let down and collective fury at such a mundane story getting such a build up lead to a mass venting against Prior and many rivals taking the opportunity to put the boot in.

The Daily Mirror back page references Prior’s imfamous tweet

Theories began circulating that Prior may have sacrificed himself in order to then compose an article on the power of social media or that the whole exercise was a critique of the hyperbole that surrounds football, particularly during the transfer windows,  but it seems unlikely that a Sports Editor would embarass himself for such reasons.

To his credit, Prior has taken the stick with good grace admitting that he was

retweeting a campaign to get people to stop following him

before accepting defeat

and announcing the end to a long day with

Indeed his positive attitude and willingness to take it on the chin has helped deflate much of the ire and avoided prolonging the situation. Prior isn’t the first person to mess up on Twitter, he can add his name to an ever-growing list that contains the likes of Habitat, Stephanie Rice and Courtney Love.

Though his faux pas was not as bad as the others mentioned, the lesson however is clear. Social media is a powerful medium to reach people with an interest in what you have to say.

But let them down and they’ll leave you to the wolves just like a bunch of tired Greek villagers.

Social Media Success & Failure

January 14, 2011 1 comment

Learning from brand victories and losses on Facebook, Twitter et al.

Last week, Zeitgeist tried to book a holiday at one of the lovely resorts looked after by the luxury group “One & Only”. This company – which advertises mainly in Vanity Fair and Harrod’s magazine – ostensibly caters to discerning travellers who expect a certain level of service from the place they go to and the people that serve them. On trying to call one of the hotels, no one would pick up the phone, and the call rang off. The same thing happened when Zeitgeist tried again. Zeitgeist fired off a tweet, “mentioning” the company’s twitter feed, alerting them to the fact that a room was in need of booking but that no one was picking up the phone. This was mid-afternoon. At 10pm the next day, Zeitgeist received a private message from the One & Only account:

The only trouble was that the “OOResorts” account was not following Zeitgeist, so he found himself unable to reply. Thus the communication from the account was useless; they either were not social media-savvy enough to know I would not be able to reply to the message without them first following me, or they did not care enough to bother. Either possibility casts the brand in a poor light. It’s far from mandatory to have a Twitter account, but if you are going to set one up, you need firstly to respond to pleas for assistance in a timely manner (within 24 hours), and secondly to know how the platform works. The more equity your brand has (in the case of One & Only, it’s a fair amount), the more it has to lose by making simple errors such as this. In the meantime, Zeitgeist ended up booking a holiday at a different destination with a different company.

Starbucks, by comparison, although seen as a pin-up boy for the creep of homogeny in a globalised world, for the most part has done an excellent job when it comes to courting fans and maintaining a good PR stance on multiple subjects. This was the case again on Monday when it offered free coffee all day to UK customers. Zeitgeist found out about the offer through Twitter, but there was also an event on Facebook. A voucher could be downloaded and easily printed out or merely shown on your phone to your local barista. Now, the key here was, unlike the unpleasant (but free) glass of wine that Zeitgeist was entitled to upon checking into a restaurant on Foursquare at the end of last year, this coffee blend was delicious, it was not the sludge one would expect from an item that is free. That is because Starbucks realise the point is to use the free coffee to encourage future use; for newbies to think “Oh, their coffee is actually pretty good” – it’s not a throwaway gimmick. (It’s also so that people, when in the store collecting said coffee, will indulge in a muffin or some other accompaniment.) Good thinking, guys.

Social media shines a light on Giants

Rioting has been sparked after last night’s World Series win for the San Francisco Giants (which of course everyone will know the result of already because it’s called the World Series). Despite the unfortunate nature of these events, the situation provides another example of how social media can help inform people during a developing incident, much as it did during the Mumbai attacks last year. They also proved successful in getting the word out regarding the protests in China’s Xinjiang province last year. There is opportunity for emergency response services to exploit these channels – in the case of San Francisco it was not having enough police stationed in the right areas – as long as they can separate the wheat from the chaff. Mashable has more on the San Francisco over-celebrating.

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