Friday 22 August 2014

According to Google, what can companies learn from YouTube stars?

Let’s start with some Fun Facts:
  • YouTube has 1 billion users watching 4 billion hours daily.
  • There are 4.5 million active YouTube users in South Africa.
  • Those who subscribe to YouTube channels watch double the amount of content compared to those who don’t.
 A Fun Concept:
  • Millennials have two states: Connected and Asleep.
And a Wonderful New Word:
  • Skeuomorph.
At the Google #ThinkVideo conference in Newtown, August 2014

But let’s cut to the chase. Google’s Think Video conference last week in Newtown, Johannesburg was all about thinking about the use of video for brands. Thankfully, time-keeping was superb; presentations were short and pithy and left you wanting more; there was a huge focus on case studies; we were shown loads of highly effective and engaging YouTube videos to boot.

Which, all in all, made for not a bad day at the office.

However, there was learning to be done, so learn we have done. The focus here is solely upon what engaged our attention, what grabbed us emotionally, what resonated with what we already knew, or was new and interesting, what we liked, and therefore what is remembered (aided hugely by that superb extension of global memory: the Twitter feed and photographs which included the presenters’ slides were particularly useful in this regard).

Please note, I have grouped these thematically, and not by presenter. Please also note that, as any active learner does, there are some asides and notes, some findings of discrepancies and some associated commentary, particularly in relation to the South African marketing and media landscape. I haven't covered all the presentations, since some, like Jared's had to do with how TrueView works and though interesting, was about measuring rather than creating and the focus here is on thinking how best to use video. 

All views expressed are my own :-D (until, of course, my evil twin takes over, suitably bracketed and also in italics; ordinary asides are merely bracketed. However, your adversarial twin is a necessary evil to any researcher. No point saying “this works” if you haven’t worked out, really, really worked out that it does work, which means you also have to be aware of when it doesn’t work or can’t work or in what conditions it shouldn’t work, and why. Hence, testing of propositions and asking lots of questions comes naturally to any analyst and researcher, particularly one who also has lectured in marketing research).    

Making a Case for YouTube

Fortunately for the presenters, there is not much you can marshal in relation to an argument against YouTube. The data is overwhelming in terms of how much YouTube has become a part of our daily lives, and you only need look in-house, in my own case to children who discovered MineCraft wholly through YouTube, for corroboration of its far-reaching effects (yes, an anecdote does not data make, but in this case, the data case has already been made).

So while the data remains fascinating in terms of continued reach everywhere (where there is internet connectivity at a low enough cost), the two key issues I took from Luke Mckend’s presentation then become (and it is interesting how different they are, which relates to the South African marketing challenge of two worlds in one country):
  • Multi-screen
  • Single screen
First, for those already connected, the technical challenges of rendering a similar experience across screens when many are living in a multi-screen world, with people  going from one device to another, is something to consider. Also, people are more likely to be on hand-held devices at night and desk-tops during the day (a seemingly common-sense result but it’s always great to see actual data on the phenomenon).

So there, the key challenges are: creating, curating and orchestrating content in a world that is more and more multi-screen.

Secondly, for those just connected or about to be connected, his speech served as a reminder to agencies and brands out there that, in fact, your consumer may very well soon be (or already is) consuming digital data through a single screen, particularly in Africa, known as a mobile-only continent for good reasons. In fact, one key drive for online ad content's rise is the shift in using mobile devices as a primary screen.

Single Screen: Mobile-Only Access to the Internet
However, as any marketer in South Africa knows, in terms of South African internet penetration, while 41% of the population have internet, only 26% have mobile broadband, and hence, in South Africa, as Justin McCarthy puts it, the “Obstacle majeure = connectivity". 

What I did find fascinating was the comment by I think Hamish Nicklin that when Google acquired YouTube, data was still very expensive, and they bought the company for the long-term (yes, 8 years in internet years is long) knowing that as data costs dropped so the platform would become viable. That was an interesting perspective.

Of course, in South Africa, not only do we inhabit two distinct worlds of poverty and wealth, and have to contend with a huge population who live in poverty and are unemployed, compared to a relatively small percentage of the population who are earning well and paying tax, for instance (and the necessary growth in social grants coupled with a lack of real growth in our tax-paying base is great cause for concern from a sustainability point of view), but we also are battling with the other seemingly politically intractable problem of a government that has not committed to a clear-cut ICT policy and which continues to cause great headaches and tension and we pay a lot more for our data than we should; as a direct result of which, our connectivity lags sorely, particularly in relation to other African countries such as Kenya.

In this context, it is interesting to reflect on Google’s Loon project, which is not merely about connecting the world, (and connecting the world to those who would advertise to the world) but it is interesting to ponder where in the air do government’s rights run out? Since, clearly, satellites traverse space with impunity, while airlines are restricted in terms of flight space (and I do remember touching down at the otherwise little Ille Amílcar Cabral International Airport on the island, Ilha do Sal in Cape Verde during the apartheid era, en route to America, since many of the northern African states refused to allow South African Airways to traverse their skies – would that Ukraine had been adamant that it too was a no-fly for all civilians zone or all airlines had taken heed).

So, issues of connectivity aside, what is the biggest issue facing those people or brands from becoming a YouTube success (in which case, if you are a person, you are then known as a person who is a brand, or, as I see Caspar Lee puts it on LinkedIn: Online Personality)?

Signal vs Noise
  • Given how data keeps on becoming cheaper
coupled with the fact that 
  • people and brands are creating more and more and more and more videos every day, we are confronted with the very real issue of noise, of a lot of chatter out there and not much in the form of signal.
There are literally hundreds of hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, so the problem is not a lack of content.

As usual (advertising 101) the problem is:

How do you break through the clutter?

Here was one brilliant advertisement shown, which I had seen before and was happy to see again for Schwarzkopf Nectra Color.

(The interesting thing, of course, is that when I went looking for this advert on YouTube to share, I kept looking for “Dove” shampoo, since they so own the bare-faced beauty look - which is of course, transparently problematic since not all of us are plastered-face beauties never mind bare-faced ones – but it is illustrative of the fact that unless a great creative piece does the job of linking the product as part of its execution it has not completed its job and the other brand which effectively 'owns' the category walks away with the branding anyway.)  

Anyhow, the reality is, what it takes to break the clutter on YouTube is much the same as it takes for any brand to break out of any clutter anywhere: creativity, compelling, interesting, relevant, emotional, likeable, useful ... and so on.

So the focus still is on exceptional content (Nothing new to see, move along now Ma’am).

The question really is: does the ‘how’ (the methodology) change? (What is meant by this is, certain kinds of social media facilitate the production of vastly differing texts and images – wordsmiths who turn out a pithy line shine on Twitter, magpies Pinterest everything, and so on. Hence – ‘What does YouTube facilitate?’ is an interesting question to ask in this context - which I won't answer here but in a separate blog post - watch this space).

But one compelling answer to the question about YouTube stars is that of Authenticity, which is why I found Hamish Nicklin’s presentation on Authenticity the most compelling one. (Seriously, you can’t explain Jenna Marbles, “Freak Flag, Fly that High!” and PewDiePie (*$%#^@@ in Swedish, nogal) or even Caspar Lee, boyishly good looking with tousled hair (is his mum a hairdresser?) but interviewing his little cousins – here’s my mum, here’s my family ... otherwise. Yes, they are natural born comedians with different comedic approaches (insouciant, dead-pan, in-your-face, wry, ironic, mawkish, dissolute ... an entire array of human emotions on display, or even Anne Hirsch who trades on extremely awkward, cringe-worthy moments  - but very, very authentically human they are):

Jenna Marbles is certainly authentic
Anyhow, an interesting comment worth investigating further was that:

“For every brand that does something on YouTube, there's a YouTuber doing it bigger and better.”

If we analyse this statement further, it necessarily implies that brands are not merely competing against other brands, but against other people, and an interesting series of questions relating to people as brands (can an ordinary person be a brand? how do you compete or collaborate with such a brand? can you be a brand if you never make money from it?) and so on arise. Some of the issues relating to collaboration were in fact raised a bit later, in relation to some South Africa Vloggers otherwise known as YouTube Video stars and a few case studies on collaboration with brands (fortunately Die Antwoord were not invited, or, if invited, declined, neither collaboration with big brands nor being funky is their strong suit, just ask Lady Gaga. That said, they have undertaken amazing artistic collaborations with visual artists such as Roger Ballen on I Fink U Freeky - ).

One little nugget of information Jared Molko shared was that, as part of their work with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, they wanted people to commit to their 67 minutes of time and that the traffic coming from Caspar Lee far outstripped traffic from other luminaries and political personalities such as Tutu, Clinton, inter alia. So the rise of the online personality is indeed fascinating to study. (The question though that must be asked is that while all marketers want to be influencers, do all influencers, stars, micro-celebrities and the like want to market to you at all, even indirectly? As danah boyd points out in her recent, poignant post, Am I a Blogger?). 

From a content point of view, however, clearly the stakes are ratcheting up quickly (which is great for consumers, but puts a lot of pressure on brands and people who aspire to an engaged following to get it right); even for YouTubers, whereas in the early days you could just pop out pretty much anything and you got views, now it is not so easy. This point was emphasised by South Africa’s earliest adopter to the platform, Cobus Potgieter, who not only uploaded videos regularly, albeit through the laborious process of burning it onto DVD and mailing this to his friend in the UK who then uploaded it, but also has continued to create great content on a regular basis and now lives and works in Los Angeles. He continues to drum on anything and everything, including Anne Hirsch, and we were treated to a fantastic performance by him at the end of the event. Kudos to the team for getting his drums adjusted perfectly. But he did mention how the quality of his videos keep on having to become more and more professional.

At the same time, the fascinating thing is that YouTubers with a webcam and a story to tell, such as Jenna Marbles, are still able to cut through the noise through being not merely compelling, but authentic on a ridiculously low budget. But hold this thought for later. (Actually, sorry, I can't - honestly, I really don’t think there’s much that is different from a Shakespearean soliloquy - forget the issue of language but focus on the intimacy and how interesting it is that we are coming back to a sense of theatre again with the clown who speaks truth to us all. The intimacy of the one-on-one relationship, person to person, through your own personal screen is fascinating to behold. Far from a grand spectacle, we are often treated to slices of life and the view of PewDiePie’s desk and series of computers. Like an actor on a bare stage, with just a chair as prop, some of our most successful YouTube stars are all about just them talking directly to the audience out there – that’s fascinating ... not the only way to use YouTube but an interesting way for the private individual that has paid real dividends to a notable few). 

However, the key take-out of the session was: 

Even if you aren’t thinking digital now, you should for the future.

Cue in a couple of brands who are thinking video and doing it successfully: one international, and one South African.

Of course, if we don’t find Coca Cola in this space, we would be surprised. It is interesting, however, to note that in the wake of such noted scientists as Robert Lustig, who also has a surprising YouTube viral hit video Sugar: The Bitter Truth, released in 2009, which has just under 5 million views asof August 2014, remarkable for an 89 minute long very scientifically oriented lecture, and science writers as Gary Taubes whose closely related 2011 article Is Sugar Toxic? in the New York Times sparked so much debate, both of which long predate any talk of Banting diets with Professor Tim Noakes, that the emphasis of Coke’s new ads is not merely about happiness and connectedness through your shared humanity, but also on activity.

To whit, the World’s Cup coca cola campaign, and, in South Africa, the video about the Granny's World Cup:

Heart-warming, strongly visual, connected, all about human belonging – everything you’d expect from a Coca Cola ad, with the addition of activity.

The team talked about liquid content, and had quite a lot to say about Millennials, in particular the quote about them having two states: Connected or Asleep (provided, of course, they are not rural South Africans living in poverty, without a smartphone or cheap internet connectivity).

The Coke team talked about how Speed trumps Perfection in the world of the internet. In other words, for this activation, there was a lot of activity (there’s that word again) from all over the world on one interconnected, bold theme: the World’s Cup, with other heart-warming videos such as this about a team of Blind soccer players who got to touch the World Cup and which has received a creditable close to 1.5 million views.

This relates back to an earlier comment by Luke Mckend I think that:

bite-size nuggets of content work, especially if tied together to create a story 

and which then related later to Hamish Nicklin’s concept of a hub – of a series of stories or content that link together.

Of course, the burning question of the day always is:

What does it take to be viral? (apart from pretending to ride a horse or have Charlie bite your finger)?

Both Coca Cola and the team from Unilever who followed them stated that you can't make videos go viral; you have to put money behind your advertising efforts; but that great content leads to share-ability.  Someone commented that the Old Spice YouTube campaign had been online for 8 months until it was supported with a strong campaign.

Marketing is always about managing expectations after all.

Unilever in South Africa are a relatively new entrant to working with digital; in part, a large portion of their consumers have not been on the internet until now, and very many are still not on the internet at all. Yes, smart-phones are increasing, but if you are marketing to everyone, then currently not everyone has a smart-phone and access to the internet – yet. (The question though is, how long is that particular piece of string? In South Africa, it seems it gets longer and more tangled by the day).

Their panel discussion included a representative from Mxit, South Africa’s mobile social network site. Lunga and Kerry from Unilever spoke about the Sunlight and Mxit Happy video. 

Mxit has a very large user base that is very cost-conscious, given that data is still relatively expensive in South Africa. As Luke Mckend reminded us, data costs have gone down significantly from years ago, when it cost over R 43 000.00 for a gigabyte of data a month. Nonetheless, data costs remain a keen issue, particularly if you and young and, dare I say –millennial?

The fascinating fact is that Mxit users spend 105 minutes a day on the platform, but are highly discriminating about what they watch that will consume data. However, the finding is that, provided it is relevant, they will watch and share videos.

The Sunshine Happiness video was promoted and did achieve what the team had required of it; though, as big brands are wont to do, they don’t share everything they learnt nor should they – intelligence is supposed to provide competitive advantage after all. What was interesting though, was that they had pretty much jumped onto the Happiness bandwagon with this video, making yet another video with a phenomenon that was happening, and did it well, with a great video team, so, like Coke were working with the issue of speed in order to ensure cultural relevance.

So, how do you make your content relevant?

Cue to the next speaker, Robbie Douek on Storytelling.

Now, if there is one thing I love it’s stories, and analysing stories and thinking about stories and in relation to this, I do think how we were introduced to Alice of Wonderland is critical:

“what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversations?'”

Accordingly, Lewis Carroll provided Alice with a book full of pictures and conversations. Interestingly enough, so did Beatrix Potter, who self-published her first book, figuring that her small audience of real little people wanted cheap books they could hold in their tiny hands with a picture on every page and dialogue and absolutely insisted on per particular vision being implemented. And while the rest may be  publishing history, the reality is, so very many literary gems would never have made it through the doors of traditional publishers had the artists not believed so in their works. Take William Blake who hand-printed his works, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, who self-published, take even Edward Tufte, who mortgaged his house to publish his own series of books on Statistics (of all things: a gorgeous graphic extravaganza of a series of beautiful books on statistical display) since he wanted them done a specific way and no other. Although this appears diversionary, it’s not; the reality is, artists of all kinds have always found ways of connecting to an audience, however niche, and I am not sure if video is any different really.

Of course video is not book publishing and hence gives you different, more theatrical ways not so much of telling a story, but of recording it and having it distributed more widely, and the increasing democratisation of video cameras through the proliferation of numerous cheaper videos does mean a greater quantity of such videos – but we saw the same kind of thing happening when the rotary press was introduced and we saw the rapid production of masses of books written by and for women - and for more, read here.

So, is video changing storytelling?

I really don’t think so. Yes we have all kinds of new tools we are using in different ways, but are the stories really that different? But that's a real meta question to ask. So, let's skip to what is more practical: 

Is  it enabling other storytellers to tell their stories?

Well, certainly; that said, storytellers do tend to find ways to tell their stories one way or another - the main differentiation is that the whole world (apart from China and anywhere else that has blocked YouTube) can potentially view your videos.

Back to YouTube, video storytelling needs to be:
  • Entertaining
  • Informative
  • Useful  
Again, the key take-outs are: don't create unwanted noise, create something that enhances life, something memorable, inspiring and surprising. (Ticking all those boxes, though, is hard, hard work). 

Audiences are seen to be more than simply viewers; many are seen to be fans, even super-fans. In this regard, it is worth noting another fact presented earlier, that those who subscribe to YouTube channels watch twice as much content as those who don't. 

However, consumers are more demanding (and rightly so, in this lean-forward medium of course we want great stories and wonderful videos); here the terms used were greedy; thirsty; expectational (sic).

There is also an increased focus on being always on (other research I read somewhere about customers expecting a response to a complaint via Twitter within a very short time-frame refers) which also speaks to a Millennial generation.   

Great videos are about creating something that enhances life, is memorable, delights, inspires and surprises, something that makes a person want to own it, riff on it and share it with others. (Nothing to disagree with there).

We were shown a number of videos, this one certainly has been riffed on (/ripped off – well the clothes anyway), is this one:

The First Kiss which received massive (dare we say, viral?) exposure for being different, daring, unique – it definitely cut through the clutter with a remarkably low budget ... but also came across as authentic and daring too.

Another video shared was The Scarecrow and it is interesting to note this video too, which talks to our feeling of alienation from the land and dehumanisation very strongly, touching a chord (maybe more so for someone who undertakes organic gardening in a monkey-proof vegetable cage) but still ...

Anyhow, Robbie Douek sums it up by saying that

What you need for views is to be:

F***ing exceptional.
Awesome music.
Bit of luck or big budget.

One assumes, in the case of a brand with a great creative agency, one can substitute “superb creative execution" for "luck”.

Our final presentation was from Hamish Nicklin, on Authenticity:

Hamish Nicklin on Authenticity on YouTube
Hamish Nicklin gave us a new word:

Skeuomorph: which he defined as “when we look at the new with the lens of the really old”.

While skeuomorph has its roots in a conscious design ethos, given that it refers specifically to human design, I rather also enjoy the term vestigial, which refers to the same kind of process, but in biological ‘design’.

As Seth Godin puts it in relation to this issue of skeuomorphs:

"But when skeuomorphs get in the way of how we actually use something or build something, they demonstrate a lack of imagination or even cowardice on the part of the designer. (Sooner or later, just about everything, even the alphabet I am writing with, could be considered skeuomorphic... my point is that embracing the convenient at the expense of the effective is where the failure happens)."

Though my favourite quote in this regard still emanates from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, when Nick, the narrator, suddenly finds the parties not as much fun when accompanied by Daisy, with a more jaded eye:

“It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.”

So, effectively, Hamish Nicklin was saying:

If we treat YouTube like TV, just on a different screen, then we’ve all failed.

He then presented us with a very long video, 6:28 to be exact, Johnnie Walker and Blue Label present The Gentlemen's Wager.

He not only broke the ‘rule’ that, when giving a presentation, videos in conferences should be short, but also indicated by so doing that, in fact, such long story-telling actually works.

In other words, brands that are doing well on YouTube are telling good stories and good stories take a long time to tell.

(In this, in case anyone was taking note, he appeared in fact to contradict a previous speaker, Robert Douaerk who talked about the fact that videos that are really short work well. This is an interesting contradiction, which I will come back to in a minute – but really, I’m not sure if very short or very long work preferentially; things work when the stories are great. Period. That said, YouTube does allow a brand to have a really long story video advert and that is interesting for certain premium brands or those that wish to position themselves as premium brands to explore - but for other brands, like toothpaste?)

The main take-out from Hamish Nicklen’s presentation was the three interlinked concepts which make for a successful YouTube presence.

These are:
  • Hygiene
  • Hub
  • Hero
The choice of names was not explained; the presentations were mercifully brief and punchy as opposed to long and extended, but what the words represented was spelled out.

Hygiene: related to being compelling. In other words, if people are searching for information that you know something about, then deliver.

Hub: is about creating relevant, inspiring content; most importantly, delivering this content regularly, on an episodic basis.

Hero: is about inspiring with impactful stories.

I would have liked more in-depth information about hygiene, hub and hero, but I did find this information most compelling, as it fits with just a whole lot of other information and research I’ve been looking at, particularly into the micro-celebrities, or what I have termed the Accidental Social Media Stars of Google Plus - and more blog posts are in press at the moment in relation to that. 

The last part of the day was our offline entertainment provided by online entertainers and ably hosted by Anne Hirsch whose trademark humour is being remarkably awkward. She first of all interviewed Derick Watts and the Sunday Blues with regard to the collaboration they undertook with Project Trapped efferfluC on Twitter using #projecttrapped, where they were trapped in a hotel room for five days and kept creating new videos from this. 

Finally, Cobus Potgieter drummed wonderfully for us, and talked about his Quadrum series, and the collaboration with Squarespace making the series possible.

I had a long chat to him afterwards about all kinds of things, including negotiating that tricky terrain between endorsing a brand to help pay the rent and selling out. Like all true artists, he is someone of immense integrity, and he was very clear about the series and that he can only ever endorse something he loves and uses himself. Even the drums he sells on the site are not the top-of-the-range drums, but he knows that his key audience are young, aspiring drummers (though the demographic has aged slightly as he has aged, which means he has not alienated his core) and he therefore sells a drum kit that is affordable, but produces what it says on the tin: great sound. So a huge amount of thought has gone into what he sells and endorses and his authenticity shines through.

One point I haven't touched upon is the concept of the importance of social signals in discovering content and driving traffic, and in this regard: 
  • Creative excellence is rewarded and social amplification the biggest driver of value.
and, of course:
  • Evoking emotions is critical in creating meaningful brands (which is something Impact Information in this country certainly pioneered and Erik du Plessis continues to undertake fascinating research into the realm of neuroscience). 
So, to sum up, what is most welcoming is the fact that we are looking at a maturing market, that some of what Michal Wronksi laments in The problem with internet advertising is being redressed, at least on YouTube thank to greedy, thirsty, discriminating consumers who expect more.

So, as Wronski notes, there really is a “need to bring the quality back into cyberspace” (2014):

Before the days of the internet, the media owner had the responsibility to create high-quality content for their consumer base. They had the task of not only creating engaging and interesting editorial pieces, but of placing high-quality memorable advertising in the optimum positions. Brands paid a premium for access to this audience, and had to comply by creating high quality advertising material. The concept was the same across media - be it print, TV or radio. Print, radio and TV ads are still the epitome of advertising creativity - so what went wrong when we went digital? (Wronski, 2014).

For after all, whether in YouTube, social media, your web presence or anything you do as a brand offline, it all boils down to value, being interesting and having something worth saying, 

Or as F.Scott Fitzgerald put it (and you can happily substitute the term {create a video} for the term {writing}

“You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
Jared Molko at #ThinkVideo conference

Thursday 21 August 2014

Belonging & the YouTube Star

Kathryn Kure of Data Myna

Human Survival requires that we belong; we are hardwired to be socially connected. Anyone who disputes this is immune to a baby’s cries in the confined space of an aircraft. The distress of crying babies registers so acutely that a large proportion of people say they’d pay extra to be in a child-free zone.

When we describe social pain, all cultures use physical pain as their reference. While it may simply be that physical pain provokes strong metaphors for social pain, new imaging of the brain in real time indicates the same region is used to register both ostracism and pain.

These functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies show the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which has a clear role in reward-based decision-making, registers social rejection and physical pain.

Even more fascinating, over-the-counter painkillers can dull physical pain and feelings of social pain – which, in part, explains the use of self-medication in those who are anxious and depressed.

Of course, many areas of the brain are involved in processing any stimulus, but the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex has a central role to play in the anticipation and detection of targets including the processing of novel stimuli. It can influence motor responses, encode reward values and respond to both internal and external errors.

It’s compared with an alarm system in that it appears to function to detect issues and sound the siren.

Social rejection and pain are akin in that they alert us to risks that are potentially life-threatening.

Horse whisperer extraordinaire, Monty Roberts’s techniques were derived from close observations of wild mustang herds. He discovered that the rambunctious young stallions creating havoc would be excluded by the matriarchs via a discernible, effective and predictable body language, he dubbed Equus.

As darkness fell, the stallions had to submit to authority before they were allowed back into the safety of the herd, and this was preferable to being left to the mercy of coyotes and mountain lions.

Roberts discovered he could simulate this with his body language and effectively, his join-up technique simply excludes a lone horse in an environment, which ensures they feel no physical pain until it becomes too much and they indicate through their body language they wish to be included.

Social exclusion hurts, it lowers self-esteem, and can increase aggression and paradoxically, conformity to group norms – given the strong need for inclusion. What Roberts does then is ensure inclusion after initial exclusion, thereby winning the horses over as opposed to creating an aggressive animal.

But what does this mean for marketers?

We did not need the rise of social media to tell us humans are innately social. However, the depth of the need to be connected has led some commentators to talk about addiction rather than connection. But is it really addiction?

“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion,” says psychologist Matthew Lieberman.

Humans, who have become apex predators not through muscular size or strength, but through social connectedness, crave to belong.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in social media, where the rise of the micro-celebrity has taken some commentators by surprise.

Micro-celebrities, mommy bloggers, influencers, YouTube stars, vloggers, whatever name you give them, collectively describe someone who is seemingly ordinary, vlogging or blogging or tweeting from their room but who attains large followings with great engagement.

Recent South African research exploring what attributes these accidental social media stars have in common indicates that though necessary, it is not sufficient to generate original, authentic, compelling content on a regular enough basis.

What the micro-celebrities and the YouTube stars such as PewDiePie, Jenna Marbles and Caspar Lee have in common, is that they are self-deprecating, likeable characters who ensure you feel like you belong.
Jenna Marbles: YouTube Vlogger who makes you feel like you belong

On a platform such as Google Plus, those who love to teach rise to the top by actively creating a safe environment conducive to learning, while top vloggers send themselves up to hilarious effect.

As Marbles, said of her success: “It’s wild, I still don’t consider this a career – kicking it in your room alone with your dogs and then uploading videos to the internet?”

But when pressed to describe her channel, she responded, “It’s ridiculous – the videos make you laugh and then – maybe – make you feel awesome on the inside.”

Marbles is a comedian who wears her masters in sports psychology and counselling lightly. One of the best parts of her work is hearing from the girls who say to her: “You make me feel like it’s okay to be weird” and I'm like, “Yeah dude, do that, it’s so much better than being normal – freak flag, fly that high”.

So how do you get your brand to worm its way into a community?

That’s the challenge for marketers and it’s evident that who you employ in this task and the strategies they use to ensure a feeling of inclusivity is as fundamental as superb, compelling, original, authentic, image-rich content.

*Kure is a marketing research consultant at Data Myna:

This article was originally published in the Saturday Star on the 12 July 2014 and is republished here with their kind permission.

Belonging is a fundamental human need

Self-Publishing Before the Digital Age

Jane Austen self-published her first book, anonymously too.
Without self-publishing, many of our literary gems would never have seen the light of day. 

In eras of rapid sociological change, driven by new economic imperatives, with rapid technological change accompanying these processes, disintermediation often appears to occur, but is rapidly replaced by re-intermediation, just along new, non-traditional lines. If we look, for instance, at the romance publishing industry, we find that during the early 1800s, your late Regency era of early industrialisation, you ended up with a unique combination of factors which led to an explosion in publishing and the creation of the modern day novel. Ravaged by what, in effect, amounted to 23 years of war against Napoleon, including blockades of goods, England was forced, rapidly, to industrialise as an adaptation technique.

One of the great innovations of the era was the rotary press (and various iterations thereof), which sped up printing astonishingly since no longer need you rely on the old wooden presses and this totally transformed the publishing industry technologically. At the same time, you had a newly leisured set of middle class women and – publishing exploded. A seriously long tail of Gothics[i] was printed – in large part, self-published. Jane Austen self-published, the Brontë sisters: self-published (and were excoriated for tackling unseemly subjects). 

However, these authors self-published in the hope of being picked up by a publishing house. How? Their works were fed into the circulating libraries, where people paid subscriptions so they could read a book and then return it; those books which were taken out frequently then caught the attention of the publishing houses and were re-published. It’s remarkably similar to how digital publishing acts today, and it is noted that people such as Martjin Vreugde from South Africa began publishing articles on platforms such as memeburn after he became well-known on G+ and not before, partly because he was anyway producing content in social media (29 April 2014, personal correspondence).   

An oft-quoted effect of this new digital era is the concept of ‘flattening’; as Thomas that the barriers to entry were effectively lowered by the ubiquity and connectedness of the internet. In other words, the blogger in Bengal could gain as much traction, views and followers as the well-heeled daughter of a New York Investment Banker with a Trust Fund to back her up. Not so fast.

Copyright and Her Limits Go to the Creative Commons

Copyright and Her Limits Go to the Creative Commons A Play in Two Parts   by Kathryn Kure     This work is licensed under Attribution 4.0 I...