Monthly: February 2013

Bill Nichols

4 February 2013

The Likes:  What IS the Brand Value of All Those Faces in Facebook?

003 - January 2013

So do the social media ‘likes’ – all those faces in Facebook – have any real brand or campaign value?  True, with SM in the mainstream, plentiful ‘likes’ are simply-reported.  They’re also superficially reassuring for page-owners.

But, troublingly according to many, actual impact on consumer preference is often negligible. And their monetary value minimal or non-existent.

Is this some limitation in the platform?  Perhaps a subset of the ‘monetisation’ debate?  Or is it a lack of practitioner expertise in manipulating a frontier medium?  Major new research (*) fingers expertise as the problem. Professional management of ‘similarity’ and ‘ambiguity’, it suggests, may transform outcomes for both brand and PR campaign management alike.

How might that work?

Well, traditional social influence theory (SIT) suggests that physical exposure is required to exert, or interpret, a meaningful social impact.  This is a well-trodden, well-researched path.  It aligns multi-sense neuroscience findings with social psychology.  The emphasis on physicality underpins contemporary retail and service experience design. We all apply it intuitively.  For example, when we pop our head cautiously around an unknown pub’s door to check out the clientele.  Or when we retreat from a retail space where the average age or appearance of the ‘actors’ (staff and customers) creates immediate discomfort for us.

But what about all those Facebook or web page images?  Can the physical rendered as ‘mere virtual presence’ (MVP) – the correct academic handle – help or hinder the process?

Yes MVP helps, say the findings.  If we have a clear target segment in mind, showing brand supporter similarity will signal affinity to visitors, facilitate liking and heightens visitor purchase intentions.  (Akin to the nice warm feeling from the friendly pub!).  Intriguingly a mixed (or heterogeneous) page can also function acceptably as the visitor typically anchors on some relevant images.   Even studied ambiguity (via e.g. silhouettes) may help although it is weaker where the visitor is exploring competitive brands.

But dissimilarity repels.  Just as we retreat from the perceived to be unwelcoming pub!

So, to summarise, owners may bask in all those ‘likes’.  But it’s not just insufficient.  The wrong ‘likes’ – casually presented – may sometimes explain the absence of positive outcomes.

To illustrate active planning, a brand entering a new segment will only release target images.  A second, uncertain of available opportunities, may choose studied ambiguity in the early phases.   A third running a major issues campaign will consciously display as heterogeneous a mix as possible to optimise potential support.

Of course this poses hard ethical questions.  Brands must notify selection via e.g. ‘fans of the day’ type features.  Otherwise they may fatally undermine the medium’s presumed transparency.

But, in short, the ‘face’ in Facebook may really count.  And that innocent charm of social media interactivity and inclusiveness – e.g. allowing any non-offensive user-posted image to stay up – may rapidly pall.

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Bill Nichols

4 February 2013

Smokewashed: All the Fun and Troubling Consequences of Leveson for the PR World

002-December 2012

So what was Leveson all about? Reflection suggests we witnessed an adroit and troubling playbook update, a ‘smokewash’.   While a bonfire of wicked hacks creates a massive smokescreen, politicians, owners and, most egregiously, the police are successfully whitewashed.  Ergo: smokewash.

Next, lest we notice and that smokewash subsides, cue a far from inconsequential debate over ‘statutory underpinning’.  Cameron and friends seek to protect the ‘status quo’ while Milliband jumps on a very public pro-legislation bandwagon – joined (shockingly, sadly) by Clegg.   Will the last so called ‘liberal’ with a shred of 1688-vintage whig intellectual integrity please turn out the red, blue and white SDP lights as he leaves please!

Smokewash Phase Two, of course, threatens liberty.  Casually, almost carelessly.  It also neatly steers us, to the advantage of all interested parties, into heavy legal smog.  And, in accustomed ‘Bleak House’ mode, boredom will probably overcome us all long in advance of any conclusion.

Yet before we succumb and yawn, this scenario presents major, and truly troubling, ‘rule of law’ issues.

First, if applied exclusively and disproportionately to one media group, the rule is not upheld.  Guilty: yes clearly.  Under huge pressure to deliver appropriately sensational copy to keep their jobs: mostly.  But fall guys: definitely.   This is, to use the legal term, inequitable.

Second, the rule is not applied if the legal redress of future victims is not advanced practically in any way.  Allow the Daily RedTop, totally without substance or justification, to shred your life in a morning and you need a fast-track route to exoneration.  One measured in days/weeks not months/years and hundreds not hundreds of thousands of pounds of fees.  Some new post-PCC forum of the ‘great and the not so good’ will not suffice.  Likewise totally inequitable.

Third, and not least, the very concept of the ‘rule’ appears broken.  If smokewashing or the social media ‘feeding frenzy’ which consumed BBC Director-General George Entwhistle and engulfed Lord McAlpine are examples of the new normal, then crude power alone rules.  All is relative.

And PR folks, beware.  In numbers (5:1) and range of publishing, you have all but superseded traditional media.  As ‘sources close to’ or ‘persons familiar with’ you are regularly on the scene.  Next time the establishment or the social media mob is looking for a fall guy, it could be – likely will be – you.   Time to get the house in order.

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