Is it just me, or does it seem like every commercial ends with some half-assed attempt to drive social media traffic? What's the rationale behind adding a Facebook and Twitter logo to the bottom of a commercial with no page name and no call to action? Does the team putting the spot together think viewers will be pleasantly shocked to discover the brand has social channels? And that viewers love their brand so much that they'll drop everything to search for the right page out of their own curiosity? Or how about the ever-present hashtag? Am I supposed to be so excited about watching a commercial that I log on to Twitter to tell all my friends about it, using the guidelines the brand just introduced to me?
These guys still don't get it – social media is dictated entirely by consumers, not brands. Trends, discussions, and points of interest are going to be generated by news, current events and pop culture, not brand business goals. I realize every marketer is trying to maximize earned media, but with the exception of a few brilliantly conceived lines by a handful of companies, the majority of the hashtag encouragement is a waste of time (and for anyone promoting trends, a waste of money). Brands will always have a hard time starting a conversation, especially about their products, because people would rather talk about who Kim Kardashian is marrying or which athletes are taking steroids. The brands that really achieve earned media at scale are the ones who relevantly insert themselves into ongoing conversations in a fun or witty way. And if the last year has taught us anything about social, it's that the window of opportunity to enter these discussions will get smaller and smaller.
Consumers' attention spans are shortening by the second; most news is only relevant for a day or two, if not less. Just recently, an Olympic hero shot his girlfriend, and then a meteor hit Russia the next day. Anyone talking about either of those headlines after the weekend is an eternity too late. However, brands that can enter those conversations as they're happening are giving consumers what they want and leveraging ongoing momentum. We've seen time and time again that culturally relevant content achieves engagement at much greater scale than that which is forced. So, all the brands suggesting hashtags and slapping platform logos on the end of their commercials are better off tuning into CNN or ESPN for inspiration to create something people will actually care about.
This is especially important for major media events, where brands have an opportunity to drive conversation even if they're not a paying sponsor. With viewers dedicating more and more of their attention to the second screen, the return from a funny tweet or post is growing while that of a 30 second spot is diminishing. These efforts will require closer collaboration between brand and agency teams, since the window for timely, witty commentary is too short to allow for any extended approval process. Also, art directors and designers are the new cool kids in social amplification. Visuals are critical in bringing a branded joke or comment to life, so a staff member who can turn a thought into a professional image in 10 minutes or less becomes more valuable each day.
So as we patiently wait for the next inevitable company, celebrity or politician to do something embarrassing or stupid, a hand full of forward-thinking brands are preparing themselves to take advantage. Maybe another athlete will be arrested, or maybe Kim Kardashian will get married and divorced, or perhaps a talentless teenage singer will develop an annoying but catchy song that gets 500 million YouTube hits…or most likely all three. When it happens, some company will humanize themselves with a lighthearted point of view on the matter, and in doing so start converting consumers into loyalists.