#Winning with Social Media

What Charlie Sheen's Public Meltdown Taught Us

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Ah, the Charlie Sheen meltdown of 2011. What a great time for social media. So many video clips, new hashtags, and auto-tuned remixes about tiger blood. This social media sensation/tragedy was fun to follow, but it was also illuminating for brands as most companies are working to understand their own social media presence and better engage their audience through those channels.

We know that the most frequent online activity for Americans -- between 20%-30% of their time spent online -- is on social networks (Nielsen). We also know that as a result companies are scrambling to build an appropriate presence in social media -- 66% of Fortune 500 companies use Facebook and 73% use Twitter (Mediabistro), -- while many are experimenting with Pinterest, Foursquare, Tumblr, Instagram and others to find the right fit for their brand. Companies are putting their money where there mouth is: social media spending is expected to more than double from $4.6 billion to $9.2 billion in the next four years (BIA Kelsey).

However, social marketing remains a debated tactic. GM weighed in by cancelling its $10 million Facebook advertising budget in May 2012. Mark Cuban took a strong position on why he believes the Facebook model is broken (Huffington Post). Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has greatly expanded its social media presence by increasing its social media spend from 3% to 20% of its overall media budget over the past five years (Harvard Business Review). As the biggest marketing players wrestle with the purpose and priority of social media, here you are, one of the many upcoming or recent grads entering the workforce that have spent the last decade driving the growth of social media from its infancy to the point of saturation in the U.S.

Those are the ingredients stirring in our figurative pot today: explosive social media growth, marketers' uncertainty about where social fits in their communications plan, and a generation of social media super-users entering the workforce. So what does it mean for you?

We call that first step "social listening." This is where you would analyze where your consumer and social media intersect. Which channels is she using to get information? What is she using the social media channels for? What role could your brand play in that space?

American Express does an excellent job in this space. The company knew its cardholders rely on it for relevance, value, and customer service. So AMEX launched the Like, Link, Love program in July 2011, which creates personal recommendations for deals based on what a specific cardholder has liked on Facebook. And the deals are credited directly to the AMEX cards, creating a seamless integration. It has expanded this program since its introduction using Twitter and Foursquare.

This leads us to the next step: broaden your definition of social media. It's not about creating a viral video, it's about creating something that people want to share or showcase. That can come in many forms, but here are a few examples:

• Entertainment – such as video content or a game
• Functionality – such as the "Where in the World Have I Been" app
• Expressing Higher Order Values – content that brings the brand's values to life such as Honest T posting inspirational quotes on Facebook or Sir Richard Branson's blog for Virgin
• Informative/Professional Content – such as white papers, articles or infographics

The final step is to create a plan for continued engagement. Social media is a two-way conversation, so a good strategy must anticipate and plan for the community's response – including how to capitalize on an overwhelmingly positive response and how to approach negative feedback. This can happen very quickly, so having contingency plans ready is essential.

So how did our friend Charlie Sheen make out? While being fired from a job that made him the highest paid actor on TV and the bad will he generated within the entertainment industry may lead us to believe that he is worse off now than he was before, he leveraged an impressive amount of attention to his advantage by keeping his audience engaged and informed. He landed a Fiat ad that almost made it into the Super Bowl, and is back in the lead role of a new TV show, "Anger Management," which garnered almost 6 million viewers on the series debut night, making it the most-watched sitcom premier in cable TV history. He also went from zero to 9 million followers on Twitter, setting a Guinness World Records for Twitter for "Fastest Time to Reach 1 Million Followers" at a whopping 25 hours and 17 minutes.

More importantly, his meltdown has given us some good lessons in social media and set an even higher bar for celebrity freak-outs that we are anxiously waiting to be topped.

About the Author
Ori Zohar is the Director of Digital Innovation at Integrated Media Solutions, a New York City-based media agency part of the MDC Partners network. Prior to this role, Ori worked in Communications Strategy at Universal McCann on the MasterCard and ExxonMobil accounts. Ori was also part of the New Business team at UM, who ushered in a group of U.S. and global clients including BMW, Chrysler and Burberry, helping UM win 2009 U.S. Media Agency of the Year. Ori is the Board Member and President of the Young Professionals at the ADVERTISING Club, an organization for all communication professionals in New York.
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