labyrinth copyright B.DeLouise120 Million viewers worldwide. It’s an enviable demographic, let alone for a PBS show. Downton Abbey has proven to be the most-watched Masterpiece series in history, with fans from China to Norway to Brazil.  What makes it work? According to creator Julian Fellowes, who won the screenplay Oscar for Gosford Park, it’s the universality of its themes. While factually British, “most of the stories are about emotional situations that everyone can understand” he told the New York Times in a recent story.  

When I’m asked what videos work best for social web (and also for live events)—I say the same thing: bring the audience into emotional situations they can relate to, even aspire to. Whether you are promoting a charity or a membership association, a corporate enterprise or a commercial product, your video needs to connect to your viewers/donors/buyers on a personal level. Videos that get the most shares, embeds, likes and forwards are usually those with a first-person storyline, authentic voices, in relatable situations. They don’t include “an introduction from the CEO,” nor are they heavily branded with logos and taglines.

So here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for your 2013 video projects, based on the wildly successful Downton formula:

  1. DO use the number of characters people can follow for the length of viewing. Downton has about 15 characters, but it is a weekly, 90-minute drama; so if your video is only 90-seconds long, don’t include 5 interview subjects! Try no more than 3 people per 120 seconds, for a max of 6 in a 10-minute show (which is too long anyway).
  2. DON’T use your CEO, Board Chair or other head honchos on camera unless they are funny, or willing to be seen in an unconventional or even unflattering light (a la CBS’s “Undercover Boss” or the IBM spoof of The Office “Mainframe: The Art of the Sale”).
  3. DO find compelling “plot lines” that show your organization’s effectiveness in real situations or highlight the reason your product or charity exists.
  4. DO be willing to let your viewers contribute their own ideas and provide opportunities for them to follow your “characters” in other online and offline venues.
  5. DO put as much production value (i.e. budget) into your video as you can possibly afford—people notice, especially in HD.
  6. DON’T be afraid to be traditional—just do it well!

A shoe featuring orange shackles reminiscent of those word by slaves? It’s hard to imagine the design team at Adidas missed the implications of its newest sneaker just announced on Facebook (and just as quickly removed).   But then again maybe not. Being a German-based company with an all-white (male and middle-aged) executive team with an all white (middle-aged) supervisory board, perhaps they overlooked the way many Americans–and not just African Americans–would view the shoe design.  And hey, I’m white and middle aged too. But I know that age diversity, international diversity, as well as ethnic diversity is often an Achilles heel (I know, I know, I couldn’t help myself) of organizations in all shapes and sizes. We live in a multi-national, multi-cultural world. It’s essential to have people in every department–especially public-facing ones like marketing brands–who bring different life experiences to the table.

Brands must always be creative, bringing new products and services to market. Maybe this is just a small mistep (woops, did it again!) for a company in a highly competitive market segment. But perhaps this experience can remind Adidas–and all of us–that our institutions ultimately reflect our people and our values.

Filed from the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, Las Vegas.

Convergence. Multi-platform distribution. Mobile TV. Integration of social media into the viewing experience. These were the buzzwords on the floor and during workshops I’ve both given and attended at NAB this year. The future of broadcast, and all mediums really–whether web or mobile web– is creating dynamic content and interactivity with the user/viewer at the center. For content-creators, the challenge is creating programming that works whether someone is viewing it on an iPhone or a ginormous flatscreen Hi-Def TV, and that has social content that the user can interact with while viewing. For content distributors, the challenge is rethinking broadcast, and creating standards that work for an entirely customized and mobile user experience. For viewers, the opportunity is taking their content with them, on any device, to any location they wish.

What’s the takeaway for the non-broadcast community?

The Consumer is at the Center. For-profit and nonprofit organizations large and small need to ensure that their communications strategies encompass a multi-screen, interactive world. The time for the billboard approach to PR and marketing messages is long since gone. The personal user experience is the focus–whether that means your donors, your association members, or your customers.  If your content is not focused on what the audience wants to take with them, they’ll leave it–and you–behind.

Powerful Stories Matter More than Ever. In a multi-channel, overly-busy world, compelling stories–real people, real issues–are still what is engaging viewers. Authentic stories are what is sticky in social media and in video, in all its formats and delivery devices. It’s true on television. And it’s true for nonprofits and companies who have good stories to tell. And now you have so many tools to tell them, and to distribute them to your audience. So for every new product roll-out, for every fundraising campaign, ask “what is our story?”

My family and I have come to love Pizza CS (Come Sempre),  a new Neapolitan-style pizza joint in our neighborhood started by a couple of guys who love great ingredients and honor the art of creating a truly Italian crust.  But what I take away from Pizza CS, besides a great food experience, is that a great brand is always about two things: delivering what you promise, and how your people communicate.  This place has both, and that’s why we keep coming back.

When a “brand promise” is broken, it is often because an employee doesn’t realize that everything they do communicates your brand.  Or doesn’t. When my husband was on a job search last year, I can’t count the number of institutions that created a bad name for themselves because of how the point person on the search conducted him or herself. Everything they said was a poor reflection on the brand. By contrast, several institutions shined through that process, and presented a unified “face” to their brand for prospective employees and customers alike.

So, what’s the best way to pre-empt the potential brand threat that is your own work force?

  1. Listening. The first tool is teaching good listening skills. Any employee who speaks to clients, staff or prospects in either category—from your receptionist to your HR department—should have training in good listening skills. Learning how to repeat back what the concern is (“I hear you saying you did not receive the package your ordered on time”) is the first step to solving the problem and defending your brand. This is more important than ever in a world where any disgruntled person can start a blog about how they have been wronged (the famous Jeff Jarvis “Dell sucks” blog post as case in point).
  2. Crisis Planning. Another key component to workforce training in a 24/7 media world is crisis response.  That doesn’t mean that every employee is part of your crisis response team. However, every employee should know How to Recognize a problem that has reached crisis level, and What to Do Next when that happens. I often see organizations in melt-down when a crisis occurs because the problem was still being dealt with at a low level, with the back and forth spilling onto Facebook and websites, when it should have been pushed way up the management chain immediately for a more unified and brand-focused response.

You need to be engaged with critics (and lovers) of your brand, at all levels of your organization.  Because, in this world of 24 hour news cycles, social networks and the blogosphere, one unhappy person can be a very powerful voice. And so can one very happy customer who dealt with a well-trained employee.

Amy DeLouise offers staff development workshops in branding and social media.

Fiat is not having a stellar year. Last month the Italian carmaker had its worst results since 1996.  (Of course Fiat now holds a majority stake in Chrysler, whose sales rocketed up 27% in its best September performance in 4 years. ) Clearly the European debt crisis is affecting sales. But Fiat‘s new 500 is not selling well even in the US.  And I read in my new issue of Advertising Age  that the problem is simply lack of visibility. Fiat’s Chief Marketing Officer is quoted as saying “I don’t think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem.”  Even a spot with Jennifer Lopez couldn’t jump-start sales. (bad car joke) Here’s a little behind-the-scenes clip, if you want to know how driving scenes get made

“Amy, I know you love cars,” you are thinking, “but what on earth is your point?!”

What I’m getting at is there are plenty of organizations that have wonderful products or programs that no one knows about. An Awareness Problem, just like Fiat. And they don’t have the bucks to hire J-Lo. So what can they do?

Get your fans to promote you. And help the process along. Give them a great video they can send out links to. Create a “how to” downloadable tool they can pass along (after giving you an email address for the free download). Or simply create a Twitter hashtag for a new program, service or event. That way you and your fans can promote these but also track how well they’re faring.

Design communications that suit your customers habits on many different channels. Social networks, mobile applications, and SMS are just a few of the newer ways consumers are engaging with your content. Add that to email, direct mail and e-newsletters. The trick is what kinds of content they want from each channel. Market segmentation has been around a long time. Now the mantra is content segmentation and editing so it is the right length and style for the medium.

Timing is everything – As this great infographic by KissMetrics shows, when you send info is just as important as how.

Ask questions—A short survey can help you find out how someone reached you to make that recent purchase/donation/request for more information. And it’s amazing how many organizations don’t ask their members/donors for input. That will help you make better decisions about reaching that same customer or donor again. And how to reach others.

Measure results. In my next post I will discuss some simple metrics you can use to track your success with different outreach strategies. Stay tuned…

Our family loves old movies, so we’ve been long time Netflix fans. Then came the announcement that the company was splitting its streaming and DVD services, requiring customers to conduct two separate searches for movies, have two accounts and two bills. Worse, the market anticipated Netflix would dump the DVD line soon in order to optimize streaming profits. As you have likely already heard, customers—ourselves included–weren’t pleased. Then Netflix went on to look even less user-friendly when fans discovered the Twitter handle Qwikster was already being used by a pot-smoking, foul-mouthed dude who suddenly got 500 new followers he didn’t know. Meanwhile, the tech crowd noticed that the new business had only a placeholder “coming soon” on its website.

Suddenly it wasn’t just bad customer relations, it was a social media calamity. CEO Reed Hastings wrote a mea culpa blog post this past weekend, saying the company may have misjudged in its rush to capitalize on the streaming technology. “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly,” he wrote.  As of today, his post had more than 23,000 comments. What‘s the saying—“there’s no such thing as bad publicity”?

Oh wait, the ending of that saying is “…except your own obituary.” Let’s hope this isn’t the end of Netflix. Where am I going to get all those classic movies that don’t play on TMC?  Takeaway lesson for other companies: don’t forget to think about how your customers will interface with you, both online and in social networks. And be sure you own all possible social media renditions of your name, including a new Google+ identity, before you launch.

By Amy DeLouise and Pam Vinal

This year’s edition of the famed Zagat restaurant guide includes a brand new section titled “Food Truck Reviews.”  Gourmet food trucks that use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to reach their customers are not new.  But recognition in the world-renowned guide proves these meals on wheels have not only created a new dining experience, but their marketing strategies are garnering even more customers.  Here are a few marketing tips we can all learn from the Food Truck craze.

Create a Customer Experience

“Happy Friday! Today we R serving lobster & shrimp rolls, whoopie pies & cool drinks near Conn & M St NW and Ballston Metro! Both start~11:30.”

This is just an example of a recent Twitter post from Red Hook Lobster DC, a gourmet food truck serving Maine lobster rolls daily to the hungry masses in Washington, DC.  Throughout the day the lobster truck will post similar updates of its whereabouts, even offering a digital map on their website. These digital tools make grabbing lunch an interactive treasure hunt instead of a mundane meal.  Customers are seeking out the food trucks, traveling to new locations, and meeting new and interesting people.  The main draw of social networking component of food truck marketing is the interactivity.  Food Trucks have found a way to use social media to create an entire experience for their customers instead of simply using the medium to push advertising on them.

Encourage Customer Participation

Too many organizations waste the community-building value of Twitter and Facebook by simply posting the same advertisements they use in all other outlets.  Social media is interactive, so make your social media campaigns interactive.  Let your customers participate in something instead of just consuming information.  Throw contests, request feedback, give them a reason to contact you.  Food Trucks have proven that if you give them the map, customers will find you.  And don’t forget to give feedback to those customers:

“Thanks to all the intrepid customers who came out today @GPBFarmMarket.”-LobsterTruckDC

Go Where Your Customers Are

Food Trucks are always on the move, and not just when they drive to different locations.  In the past several years, these traveling restaurants have continued to adopt new technologies and used social media to listen to and act on customer feedback.  One example: Food Truck Festivals.  This new trend is popping up in cities across the country.  Festivals invite all the local food trucks to one place, sell tickets in bulk, and hold contests.  The result of this collective marketing and shared venue is an expanded customer base for all participants.

Team with Other Brands

Even if your current campaign is a successful one, consider opportunities to team with other brands—yes even brands in your own space—to reach more customers collectively. If you are in a service space, offer a workshop or webinar series in which multiple companies offer expertise and share the expense and resources of a Facebook marketing campaign for the event. If you are a nonprofit, combine with related nonprofits to do and integrated fundraiser for a specific community. The goal is to maximize outreach and minimize duplicated efforts.

Excel in Your Niche

You can have a million dollar marketing campaign, but if your product isn’t good then the advertisements are not worth a dime.  The most popular Food Trucks are not your average hot dog and sandwich carts. Each  has a specialty — from crepes to Korean fare and everything in between. Although some have expanded offering a wider range of foods, each started with a niche set of high quality products.

Like the Food Trucks, social marketing is viral and has landed in some part in the customer’s hands.  Sites and Apps like Yelp and Foodspotting are based on customer-to-customer reviews.  If your customer leaves loving your product, and the experience it took to get it, then be sure that they will post that opinion.  In this social media world a happy and satisfied customer is now equal to a quality advertisement.

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us and news stations blaring 24/7 about the states of emergency being declared all around us, my husband and I dutifully prepared. Battery backup for the sump pump-check. Backup pump-check. Sandbags around the pump hole-check. Bottled water-check. Canned food-check. Flashlights-check. Candles-check. Then we headed to the liquor store to stock up for a hurricane dinner party (hey, we live inland, we had to have some fun).

As it turned out, Irene was a flop–at least in our area. But the preparations and evacuations were reminders of the Katrina legacy.  Understandably, no one wanted to repeat those horrific scenes of people who could not be rescued for days. But how would people now respond to what now appeared to be an overblown response?

In some ways, the situation was like a real life drill, so we could see how things worked.  Did our governance structures allow for quick response? Did our communications pathways let us reach affected stakeholders quickly? I was interested to watch each mayor, governor and federal agency leader acting out their own crisis response plan.   Which made me think of the top four things organization can do to be prepared for communicating in a crisis:

1. Build multiple pathways to your customers. Be able to reach them via text, phone, cellphone or email. But boots on the ground may be necessary as well. Newark New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker actually knocked on doors to get people to evacuate. (I noticed he also responded directly to a constituent on Twitter who was worried about his mother’s loss of power and offered to go check on her.) Reinforce the pathways to vital communications by not overwhelming them with junk, or they won’t respond when you need them to. In my area, PEPCO left voicemail for customers warning them about possible power outages. This was useful. But part of the message suggested checking the PEPCO website for updates. Oops.

2. Develop a quick-response team. This may not just be top organizational leadership. It may include others who can connect to different parts of your staff or customer base.  Prepare the team on how to respond to media inquiries.  Ultimately you may bring on a crisis PR group to help, but in the initial hours your own team will need to handle the job.  One person should be the “face” of the organization if you must go on television. This was one of the big missteps during the BP oil spill crisis. For days and days, there were multiple people at the microphone, resulting in coverage that said  “who’s in charge here, anyway?”

3. People come first. Not your company/entity.  That means being as honest as possible in responses, as timely as possible, and as transparent as possible about your process for fixing the problem.  The gold standard of crisis response remains the Tylenol tampering scare of 1982. The fact that they responded quickly, put safety first, and changed their packaging were both smart moves for the brand and for the customers.

4. Maintain post-crisis communications. Tell the story of what happened, what you did about it, what you could have done better, and what worked. Giving your narrative and keeping the communications lines open after a crisis builds trust for future response. This may be some of the hardest work ahead for the folks responding to Irene. Mayor Bloomberg will have a delicate messaging job to do in the coming hours and days to ensure New Yorkers don’t roll their eyes the next time he or a future Mayor orders an evacuation. It may not matter today, but it could save future lives if he does it right.

It’s a little disconcerting to find Steve Jobs behind the curve. But that’s what Apple’s announcement of its cloud computing services yesterday seemed to be. In case you missed it: cloud computing is the ability to store your data on someone else’s larger digital storage units, instead of inside your own PC or other mobile device, thus allowing you to access it as you need it, to/from multiple devices.

What’s so useful about cloud computing?

Whether we know it or not, we’ve all been in the cloud for some time.  The books on the Kindle are housed in the cloud.  Your Gmail account is on the cloud.  Facebook and Twitter? Yep, the cloud.  I wouldn’t consider myself in the avante-guarde of technology, but I’ve been using the cloud for a long time. Since I work in multimedia, email is not a good way to send around cumbersome photo and video files.  So my clients, vendors and I use YouSendIt, DropBox, and Basecamp to share files and messages housed on the cloud.  I’ve also stored music on my Amazon cloud account, which preceded Apple’s newly announced music-sharing option.

What concerns should we have about relying on the cloud?

Recently I was cleaning up my DropBox folder in between projects and noticed that in my upgraded account I can now delete files and later restore them.  So even when they appear to be gone from the cloud, they’re not.  Comforting. Or disturbing. And this is the essence of the dilemma posed by the cloud for both individual or corporate users.  On the cloud, our file-accessing habits, keystrokes, time spent reading a particular page, membership in groups, and uploaded photos are all living outside of our own devices, making them easy targets for those culling marketing data or having more nefarious intentions (as Congressman Weiner recently learned). Earlier this year, the federal government released a cloud computing strategy and The Washington Post today published that the Office of Management and Budget reports 25 federal agencies have listed 78 applications to move to the cloud this year.  With that quantity of data moving to cloud storage, it’s pretty easy to fathom the national security impact.  And the personal impact. Whether we have moved there ourselves or not, every American–in one way or another–will be in the cloud.

Social media has been around for awhile now.  Everyone’s had a chance to wade in.  And the question of return on investment continues to rankle. But there have been a few positive developments.

Counting the number of hits is out. Understanding who the hits come from is in. And putting some kind of value on social media interactions is useful. Both David Berkowitz at agency 360i and the folks at Razorfish have tried to quantify this data and look at what it takes to create influence and affect decision-making.  A lot of this is just a new technology take on the psychology of human cognitive behavior published by Albert Bandura in the 1960’s and 70’s and still a guidepost for those of us who work in fields where we need to understand how people react to internal and external influences.

So what can we measure?

That’s the wrong question. We need to first think of how we measure. The key is understanding no one buys your services or donates to your cause after just one interaction–whether that’s through social media or traditional media.   It’s cumulative.  So an ROI equation might put a value on these different elements: one personal interest PLUS multiple personal connections/referrals PLUS multiple social media interactions PLUS traditional media/email/direct mail influences PLUS internal influences (I want a car that looks like that; I think the world needs clean water) PLUS a triggering event (click here to get info on this car; click here to donate to clean water) = one Transaction That Can Be Measured.  You need to be pro-active on every front.  More and more, the fronts intersect through customer-driven social media.

Who can we look to for best practices?

One group that is ahead of the pack on social media ROI is nonprofits. They’ve been early adopters, partly because of the low cost of entry and partly I think because a large percentage of their staff are young and grew up with this technology.  Also, nonprofits have always had to get creative about raising dollars and being effective on mission.  NTEN, Blackbaud and Common Knowledge just put out their 3rd Annual Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report and it’s loaded with some interesting data in this sector.  The survey of 11, 196 nonprofit professionals asked about both professional social networks (i.e. Facebook, Linked In, YouTube, etc.) and “in-house” social networks being built through their own websites.

If a key ROI metric is engagement, then nonprofits can check off the community-building box. 89% of nonprofits have a presence on Facebook, with the average community size up 161% since the prior year’s report (6,376 members), and YouTube up 504% to 2,702.  And those in the super-charged fundraising category (see below) have communities of almost 100,000 members.

Peer-to-peer sites like CrowdRise, FirstGiving, Razoo and Causes are also getting traction as places to build engagement.

If a key ROI of nonprofits is money raised, then social networks are evolving in this regard.  The survey identified 27 “master fundraiser” organization who raised at least $100,000 on Facebook over the last year.  While more than half of these were large organizations with $51M to more than $250M budgets, almost a third were small organizations with $1-5M budgets.

Environmental, animal welfare and international groups lead the pack in terms of largest communities, most tweets, etc. as measures of engagement. This is not surprising. I frequently use advocacy organizations as examples of best practices in my social media workshops because they have been in the vanguard for years (including when direct mail was just getting its start as the “new” way to advocate for causes.)

What’s new in social media with real impact?

According to the Benchmark Report I noted above, one of the interesting developments in the nonprofit sphere is the use of “in-house” social networks — i.e. those who register users through the organization’s website. The ROI equation is flipped on its head as the benefit is to the user: by registering, he or she gets the benefit of curricula, best practices information, advocacy or health content.  The benefit to the organization is clearly a more engaged user community connected directly to the mission of the organization.

For-profit organizations could take a page from the nonprofit sector by looking at what makes social engagement effective: a fulfilling user experience, a community with purpose, and tools that build customer loyalty–whether that’s to a brand of car or a way of changing the world for the better.