You Shared With Me, Now if We Can Just Get Brands to Do More of That

My Survey Exercise Makes Me Think That Brands Need to Be Better About Online Sharing

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Mat Zucker
Mat Zucker
My recent survey of what readers want to hear resulted in 80 completed responses and kicked off an important topic: Why aren't brands more comfortable with them? And why do we cling to the traditional notion of a campaign when an evolution is in the air?

First though, who is reading DigitalNext?

Of the survey responders, 55% say they're from agencies, 15% are clients and 23% said other, which included bloggers, educators and research folks. Comments fields had great suggestions, a few insults, plus notes from peeps I haven't seen in awhile (hey back, Rachel!).

Top responses of what you want to hear:
  1. Undervalued and Underhyped: What's Sitting Right There and Waiting (53%)
  2. Five Biggest Myths in Digital: Some Truths (51%)
  3. Leadership in Digital: What It Takes and if It's There (35%). It was a distant third but I think a timely topic.

Bottom responses of what you don't:
  1. Creative Catfight: Who Should Lead Online Video Concepting (15%). I'll cover this eventually, and include interactive video.
  2. Sand in Our Eyes: Who's Hiding Behind What (20%). I didn't have a plan, anyway.

Also: more "Examples of Work in Action" got a whopping 73%, while "Dishing and Friendly Bashing" just got 14%. Sounds morally right-on.

Asking what people want, even when we guide the answers like this survey, is a style we're all using every time we submit a LinkedIn Q&A or post a quick question for help on Twitter to our networks of people.

It's one of the undervalued and underhyped topics to talk about: Sharing. How we're all doing it, but brands aren't.

Digital tools, many dubbed as Web 2.0 ones, help us share more easily and more creatively. Things are moving fast, too, as we adopt new ones or improve on what we have. Intranets, for example, are being retooled with social media (see IBM), extranets are being upstaged by Twitter feeds. Directories are also adding social media, as search tools are getting speedier and smarter with peer reviews like Yelp.

For what's urgent, there's still e-mail (clunky, but reliable); for photos, we see Flickr replacing closed albums; and for presentations we have many choices, including SlideShare, Zoho and others. For files, I use Google docs (now accepting PDFs); to share relevant info spontaneously with strangers, Stumbleupon; and for provocative opinions and semi-real news, we're all used to podcasts and blogs (ahem, like this).

Then there are sharing tools that help other sharing tools. condenses long and wordy URL strings, making it easier to pass links along in a chat or Twitter feed. helps send large files to get around firewall issues (and bad etiquette -- like sending large attachments. I'm close to banning this in my own office.).

Where are brands in this sharing?

Brands are on the sidelines of sharing, with few evolved to how customers work and live. There are exceptions, of course, more so in publishing, tech and financial services than in packaged goods or mainstream auto. Most brands don't share frequently enough, quickly enough or simply in enough quantity -- even though the market is doing it all around them.

Corporate public relations and direct-marketing folks get this need for real-time and ongoing communication, but advertising and promotion people are still stuck on the traditional campaign approach. Most marketers, in fact, still organize the vast majority of their "sharing" by campaigns based on marketing cycles, their calendars or when inventory is too high.

Regular (or spontaneous) sharing conflicts with carefully orchestrated campaigns, driven by one-way traditional media. Campaigns, of course, are driven by fiscal-year planning the year before, so while I sympathize with the reality of how marketers budget -- and I participate in the planning cycles, so I'll take some heat -- I am critical of an inability to be nimble with those who matter most when you need to.

I doubt the newer generations with the purchase power think in terms of the campaigns that the rest of us were raised on; the current and new customers require a greater volume of content and engagement than once-a-year campaign with three TV spots, print, e-mail and a campaign microsite. They might require more mini-campaigns, or larger brand platforms with more varied pieces happening in real time to keep things interesting and responsive to their participation.

I suspect fundamentals like this will keep a lot of ambitious brands back and a lot of ambitious folks frustrated. What we need from clients is the ability and will for our brands to share, using modern tools in a modern way. Money needs to be kept ready to spend, operational barriers must be removed and agencies have to be more demanding and able to illustrate how the new marketing works.

I'm curious what you'll share.
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