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Three blog posts continually catch my eye for the level of ongoing traffic they pull into this blog via search engines.

What Spongebob Squarepants can teach us about modern ideas and capturing the imagination.

Page views since post first published.

This post was published on April 28, 2011. The graph above shows daily page views since publication.

At the time of writing 7% of all-time page views happened within a week of publication, 25% of all-time page views within the first month.

Already the majority of page views received by this post are “long tail” page views. And the search engine source of these views shows no sign of drying up.

The search terms generating these long tail views are variations on a very specific theme. They all come from search terms containing both “Spongebob” and “imagination”.

The episode referenced in my post is clearly of interest to plenty of others.

(If only they were interested in modern ideas too. I doubt it somehow. The vast majority will have been lured under false pretences in terms of the verbal content. But hopefully they found what they were looking for given that I found and embedded a copy of the the full “Imagination” episode.)

RSS. Social inside the circle of trust.

Page views per day since publication.

This post was published on January 7, 2011.

It garnered 6% of all page views to date on its first day. 7.5% of page views to date within a week of publication. And, at the time of writing, 12% of all-time page views within the first month.

Again the search traffic shows no sign of abating.

But this time there are no variations on a theme when it comes to the search term generating the traffic. Every single long tail page view has been driven by exactly the same search term. Namely “circle of trust”.

I assume that most, if not all, of these searchers had in mind the same film reference as me. Alas I also assume that, unlike me, they were not also wanting to use the term as an analogy for the intimacy of social interaction afforded by RSS and blog commenting.

Hopefully they were at least partially satisfied with a (borrowed) picture of Robert de Niro.

The method behind the madness that is @Betfairpoker.

Page views per day since publication.

A somewhat different pattern for this post, although the long tail principle remains the same.

This post was published on January 24, 2011. And it generated 25% of its page views to date on its first day. 38% of all-time page views at the time of writing were generated within a week of publication.

The post features an interview with Richard Bloch, the client behind the off-the-wall Betfair Poker Twitter account. The nature of the content (about Twitter) seeded on Twitter meant that it generated a lot of interest in the period immediately following publication.

44% of all page views at the time of writing happened within a month of publication. Which means that, even with a relatively turbo-charged launch, this post has had the majority of its views after its first month in existence.

The search terms driving this traffic all contain the words “Betfair” and “Twitter”. Most of them also contain the word “poker”.

And this time I’d say that the vast majority of visitors to the blog got exactly what they were looking for – some background detail on the thinking and the strategy behind the singular persona projected through the Betfair Poker Twitter profile.

I hardly need to spell out the obvious lessons here.

Very specific content and reference material is a good recipe for long tail search traffic generation.

Nirvana is matching this specific content/reference material to the likely needs of a relevant audience. I only managed this in one out of the three examples cited here.

That’s the obvious stuff.

But it’s obvious stuff that is missed or ignored by brands that put an increasing number, if not all, of their eggs in the Facebook basket.

No matter how engaging your Facebook content is at the time, it just does not give you the added benefit of this long tail effect.

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Comedy depends on you sharing a set of reference points with your audience and if those are very divergent then they just won’t simply get your jokes.

Helena Lewis Hasteley, Assistant Editor, New Statesman on the Radio 4 Today programme, Thursday 21st July 2011.

Paul Stokes from The Daily Mash sent me a link to the above Today programme conversation about whether satire can cross the Atlantic, mainly because the Mash gets a favourable mention.

But the above comment struck a chord with me in light of several conversations with clients recently.

Everyone has had a good, long quaff of the word-of-mouth, earned-media, social buzz Kool-Aid.

And everyone is still acting like their brand and their content has a divine right to “go viral”. It doesn’t.

However, your brand and your content has a much greater chance of being talked about, of earning that earned media, if the person doing the talking or the sharing is confident that the people doing the listening or the receiving will get what they’re on about.

The effort required to lovingly craft this geeky in-joke for instance is only worth it if the creator is confident that it will indeed be an “in” joke.

As it turns out there were indeed enough shared reference points for this image to do the rounds amongst the early adopter Google+ crowd.

And it’s why television and social channels work so well together. The broadcast exposure afforded to an idea by TV advertising pretty much guarantees that it will tick the “will people know what I’m talking about?” box in the eyes of anyone deciding whether to share your content or a picture of a cat.

A true viral effect is akin to the nuclear chain reaction that creates the awesome power of an atom bomb.

And your average atom bomb is triggered by a fair amount of TNT forcing the fissile materials together to generate critical mass.

TV advertising is your TNT.

Whether your idea has viral, fissile power of Plutonium is another matter entirely. (Most don’t have that power).

This one by Nike did.

And, as luck would have it, the Nike client nicks my TNT analogy.

The TV will get you that moment. That’s that dynamite. But what Facebook enables is you to translate that into connection.

Jesse Stollack, Global Digital Director Brand & Innovation, Nike

QED.

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"Imagination."

Patrick : All you need is a box.

Spongebob : And imagination.

It is the oldest parenting cliché in the book that kids play more with boxes than with the toys that came in them.

Boxes are more fun because they provide an outlet for imagination.

And it’s not just empty boxes. I recently watched (un-noticed by her) as my youngest daughter role-played between several imaginary characters for over an hour using clothes pegs.

Just as importantly they (boxes, pegs etc) act not only as an outlet but also as a catalyst for imagination. An empty box acts as a prompt or trigger for imaginative play, often in a situation where said imaginative play wouldn’t otherwise have taken place.

So a box is more than just a blank canvas.

A box is in effect a partially formed idea that allows (and encourages) kids, to build, develop, embellish, personalise, participate and, dare I say, co-create (ugh!) something more relevant.

It is well worth watching the Spongebob episode below, called Idiot Box, in its entirety. The idiot box in question is a television. And the film brilliantly illustrates the stark contrast between the passive way that we interact with TV versus the active imaginative engagement that is possible with the box in which the television was delivered.

The best modern ideas have much more in common with the cardboard box than they do with the idiot box.

The best modern ideas are partially formed rather than fully formed.

The best modern ideas invite play, participation and personalisation.

And, having been played with, participated with and personalised, the best modern ideas are more likely to be talked about and shared than a fully formed, dare I say boxed off, piece of advertising that leaves no room for adaptation, interpretation or imagination.

We’ve always been in the imagination business.

Great ads and the great creative minds that come up with them have always been, and continue to be, testimony to the power applied imagination.

But its increasingly important that our ideas capture, and make room for, the imagination of the people for whom they’re intended

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One could be excused one’s WTF? reaction to a Betfair Poker tweet taken in isolation.

And Richard Bloch, International PR Manager at Betfair, has had to handle a few awkward, WTF? conversations with senior colleagues since the brand embarked on its zany Twitter adventure.

That at least one of these awkward conversations was with his CEO, and that the zany adventure continued thereafter, speaks volumes about a corporate culture that allows someone like Richard to experiment with an “off the wall project that I’ve been allowed to run with.”

It was the unusually off the wall tone for a branded/corporate Twitter account that piqued my interest in @Betfairpoker. (My interest, and that of several hundred other media/digital/advertising/social media junkie/groupies). And I was lucky enough to know someone who knows Richard and thus give that piqued interest an outlet.

Richard very kindly gave of his time for a telephone interview in which he gave me chapter and verse, the straight dope, on the method behind the apparent madness.

This, by the way, is the method (and the madness) that made @Betfairpoker the UK’s second most Follow Friday recommended Twitter profile the week before Richard and I spoke. Rio Ferdinand was number one, and there wasn’t another corporate or branded profile in the top fifty.

The Madness In Front Of The Method

It was only when Betfair decided to get serious about Twitter that they decided to get daft with @Betfairpoker.

They observed that the the most followed and the most highly engaged Twitter profiles were personality led. So their role models were people like MC Hammer and brands like Compare The Market (Aleksandr Orlov).

They also observed that writing for personality in 140 character bursts (and doing it well) is a skill, a skill that they didn’t feel they had in house. So, in much the same way that they bring in outsourced expertise to provide betting opinion, insight and analysis on their betting.betfair.com website, they took the decision to use outsourced expertise to create their Twitter persona.

So they have retained four “expert” Twitter writers – a combination of authors and comedians, all of whom have significant Twitter followings in their own right.

One of the interesting aspects of this project is that none of these people was previously monetising their Twitter activities. Betfair has given them a opportunity to do so. Richard gave me a ballpark figure for what each of these writers is being paid but I don’t think it’s fair to reveal that here. Suffice to say that, given the buzz being generated at the moment, this is a cost-effective profile building exercise.

Betfair has refused to reveal the identities of its writing team, but occasionally teases its followers with statements like not being able to confirm or deny that Audley Harrison is behind the tweets.

The result of all this is beautifully bonkers.

The @Betfairpoker Twitter stream is a barmy cocktail of cod-motivational philosophy, and what appear to be the random tweetings of a rogue Betfair employee. Richard chuckles at the idea of a zany character who has taken over the Twitter account, dishing the office dirt. Indeed in the early days of the new approach there were some at Betfair who genuinely believed the account had been hacked.

Such early disbelief/disdain has mostly (the odd CEO excepted) given way to a warm embrace. These days Richard is the regular recipient of email suggestions for tweet content. The Twitter profile is proving to be not just a pretty social media face. It is also a catalyst for internal communication, an effect which is amplified by the fact that all the alleged (twalleged) shenanigans of daily life at Betfair – as fabricated by @Betfairpoker – do actually feature real Betfair characters. There is a queue of people waiting to be lampooned.

The Method Behind The Madness

@Betfairpoker is but one of a wide portfolio of Betfair Twitter profiles.

As well as @Betfairpoker this includes @BetfairNews and @BetfairFootball, plus over 40 country-specific Twitter  profiles.

Richard talks about some things that were done well in the early days, such as the brand protection exercise that registered all these profiles before Betfair had given any thought to what it was actually going to do with them.

(Unfortunately, despite these early moves, they still missed out on the @Betfair profile which is currently being squatted by some geezer called Martin.)

He also talks about the mistakes and the lessons learned when various Betfair toes were being dipped in the Twitter water – doing too little with not enough resource and with little internal encouragement attaching to a channel that wasn’t generating any revenue.

“You have to have an opinion and talk like a real person. Ask questions. There’s no point just posting. You have to comment and engage with people, particularly influential people in your sphere.”

@Betfairpoker had between 2,000 and 3,000 followers when the decision was taken to step things up and adopt the current personality led approach. This decision was based on a confident, positive assessment of Twitter as a channel frequented by poker enthusiasts and professionals.

“Poker players travel the world. They have mascots. They spend lots of time with headphones plugged into iPhones and Blackberries. They’re tech-ed up. We knew it [Twitter] was a good market. The pros are on it all the time.”

In addition Betfair ran various quizzes through @Betfairpoker last summer, when it had around 4,000 followers, and the insight gleaned from this exercise confirmed that there was a real poker following – not necessarily high-stakes players but a significant number of beginners and enthusiasts. And a softly softly, high personality approach to engaging with these people on Twitter was felt to be the best approach to building relationships, at the same time as affording the best way to boost the brand’s profile.

Now I have to say that it was my impression that the personality-powered @Betfairpoker was an overnight success.

Within the space of a few days its tweets were peppering my Tweetdeck columns as several friends retweeted its random and rousing posts.

But the truth, as is often the case with Twitter, is that this apparently sudden arrival on the scene was actually the result of a serendipitous event, or rather several related serendipitous events in quick succession.

And, in fact, these serendipitous events happened several months after the team of writers behind @Betfairpoker began doing their thing.

The profile became a talking point in the diary pages of The Independent.

And it was compared to @shitmydadsays on Techcrunch.

And the rest, according to the Twittercounter chart below, is history.

And there’s a similar pattern relating to Follow Friday mentions.

This palpable buzz around the account has raised interest levels even further within “Betfair Towers“, and has hopefully reduced the number of awkward conversations.

Meanwhile, Richard and his team are planning the next phases of their Twitter strategy.

They are slowly but surely introducing more poker and betting content into the Twitter stream…

… but in their own inimitable style.

One of the writers is posting introductory poker tips aimed at the beginner audience that makes up the lion’s share of the Twitter audience, linking to the betting.betfair website. Again in the style of.

And, in the not too distant future, there are plans to buy one of the writers into a major poker tournament. Cue random live tweeting and poker face twitpics.

The moral of this story

It’s one thing to talk about the potential of social media for marketing communication and brand engagement.

It’s another thing entirely to be prepared, both personally and corporately, to take the calculated risks necessary to realise that potential.

And @Betfairpoker is a calculated risk that appears to be paying off.

How apt is that for a poker brand?

And long may it continue.

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“Foster’s for breakfast”, in my student days, was shorthand for a certain type of holiday. A type of holiday whose opening ceremony would be a few early morning pints of the Amber Nectar in the airport lounge. The breakfast of champions.

Well Foster’s has replaced the early morning pints with Mid Morning Moments, a series of webisodes starring Steve Coogan as waning (waned?) radio presenter, Alan Partridge.

The first webisode has enjoyed over half a million views on YouTube at the time of writing, but the viewing figures have gradually fallen away for the subsequent clips – down to 220,000 for episode 6.

That’s still pretty respectable and the content, written by Armando Iannucci and brilliantly performed as ever, is good. Partridge’s star has fallen even further from when we last saw him. He’s now presenting for North Norfolk Digital Radio.

Today we’re talking condiments…

And there’s one priceless moment in the first episode when he mistakenly reads from a confidential internal memo, thinking it’s a promotional message for the station.

Sustaining and maintaining our core listenership in an increasingly fragmented marketplace.

So the content is good, great in places, and this online-only video campaign integrates with the Foster’s sponsorship of original comedy on Channel 4. But I can’t help that there’s more in this for Steve Coogan than there is for Foster’s. The films were produced by his Baby Cow production company, which holds the rights for later television broadcast. And, whilst Heineken UK (owner of the Foster’s brand in the UK) apparently has a share of the “back end” of any such TV deal, there’s something in my water telling me that this isn’t going to “work” for Fosters.

Brands generally want one of (or both of) two things from a sponsorship/ad-funded relationship like this: awareness and kudos.

Now Foster’s doesn’t have an awareness problem. It could perhaps do with being more front of mind but I suspect that this activity is more about “emotional connection with the brand”, moving people up the consideration ladder or some such thing. Kudos basically.

But kudos is getting harder to come by for brands which pay to be associated with stuff that somebody else has done or made.

Witness the top ranking comment under Episode 1 on YouTube…

Which shows again that great content is the second most important thing a brand can have if it’s looking to make a splash online; the second most important thing behind a great product.

By contrast with Foster’s, Steve Coogan’s mate Rob Brydon is involved in a campaign that almost certainly will work.

Brydon plays the producer, the tea lady and the star (Bruce Bowls) of a spoof breakfast TV show in a newish ad campaign for Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

Bruce Bowls is a “crunchy nut”, in that he’s nuts about Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

Many agencies and clients would walk past and away from such simple and well branded idea in search of something more intellectually satisfying. Kudos to this lot (Kellogg’s and Leo Burnett) for not looking this particular gift-horse in the mouth.

And Brydon’s nut, complete with Dale-Winton-esque orange skin tone, is very nicely done. It’s a performance that has the hyperbole needed in a 30 second commercial, but also some nuance and subtlety. His camp programme producer is very funny too.

There’s an adaptation of the ad running on radio which also works very well.

Crunchy Nut Cornflakes is one of those “oh yeah” brands.

“Oh yeah, haven’t had that for a while. Must remember to pick one up next time I’m down the shops.”

“Oh yeah” brands respond well to advertising. They don’t need several hundred thousand fans on Facebook, and they don’t need a bunch of clever digital bells and whistles (heresy I know).

This Crunchy Nut campaign will work, however “working” is defined.

Whilst Foster’s might once have been the breakfast of champions, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes is definitely the champion of breakfast show based brand campaigns.

How’s that for kudos?

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1) PASSION for or about something is inherently attractive.

Genuine passion is highly attractive. You’ll know this if you’ve ever interviewed someone for a job. The stand-out candidates are often those who, either by luck or by design, end up talking about something about which they have a real passion.

Real being the operative word.

Because, in my experience, passion is the marketing equivalent of orgasm.

In that I’ve seen it faked many many times.

I’ve lost count of the number of sponsorship activation briefs I’ve seen that were built around the idea of passion for the sponsored field of endeavour.

“Brand X shares the fans’ passion for sporting event Y.”

Yeah right.

“Brand X has paid to have its name associated with sporting event Y and wants you the fan to like it a bit more than you did before.” would be more accurate.

This is why I think playing the role of patron is a much stronger concept than playing the role of sponsor for brands that want to engage in social spaces. Patronage speaks to me of a whites-of-the-eyes, long term, authentic passion.

Sponsors need an audience to love what they do.

Patrons really do love what they do.

2) BELIEVING IN or STANDING FOR something might not make you to everyone’s taste…

…but it is more likely to make people at least feel something for you.

The alternative is to not stand for anything.

(And have people not feel very much about you either way.)

(Which is not a good place for a brand to be.)

I am reminded of Marty Neumeier’s definition of a Charismatic Brand from his book The Brand Gap.

Among the hallmarks of a charismatic brand are a clear competitive stance, a sense of rectitude, and a dedication to aesthetics.

I love the idea of brands having a purpose so strong that it could be described as a sense of rectitude. What moral crusade is your brand on?

3) SINCERITY has an almost pornographic effect.

This is an excuse to share one of my favourite quotes of all time.

Beyond a certain age, sincerity ceases to feel pornographic.

Life After God : Douglas Coupland

There are so many lessons for brands in that short quote.

Sincerity has the power to arouse.

But organisations shy away from sincerity because it feels raw, risky and taboo.

When you mix these ingredients – passion, belief, sincerity – and stir over a low heat for a while, this (below) is the kind of effect you can have. These video examples do not come from brands per se but they demonstrate what a powerful recipe this can be.

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Well done the Red Bull Formula 1 team for taking first and second places in yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

And well done to the Red Bull social media team for reaching 9,000,000 fans on their Facebook page.

A good week all round for everyone associated with the brand.

Red Bull seems to be doing lots of the right things and doing them well.

It does (lots of) stuff.

(As opposed to saying stuff about itself.)

It has ideas that are worth advertising.

(As opposed to advertising ideas.)

It generates content of high quality in high quantities.

(“Holy Shit” indeed!)

They switch effortlessly between the real and virtual worlds.

It must be one of the most engaging brands on the internet.

9,000,000 fans on Facebook (up to 9,293,146 at the time of writing in the 5 days since the 9 million fans post).

84,745 subscribers to its YouTube Channel, and video content that has been viewed 75,158,750 times.

71,414 followers on Twitter.

But I wonder how it measures and values engagement.

The Facebook posts above highlight the burning issue for packaged goods brands in social spaces.

13,529 people “liked” the 9 million fan post.

In absolute terms 13,529 is a high number of people.

But it’s only 0.15% of the 9 million fan universe.

(That’s 1 in 665.)

(And “liking” is a low effort, low involvement form of engagement).

Commenting on a post like this requires more effort and involvement.

That’s why only 775 people did so, compared to the 13,529 likes.

(That’s only 0.0086% of the universe – 1 in 11,613.)

How really “engaged” are those 9,000,000 fans?

What proportion of them ever “engages” by liking, commenting or otherwise participating after the initial act of liking the page?

What proportion engages more than once?

What proportion of the fan base are “super fans” that regularly engage, however “regularly” is defined?

How do you put a value on this segmented engagement?

And how does that return stack up against the investment in content and active community management?

I don’t have the answers here, but these are the kind of questions that need to be (continually) asked if you’re going into these social spaces with your eyes properly open.

These are particularly tough questions for packaged goods brands.

As an enlightened fmcg client said to me recently, “Why would anyone want to visit my website?”

This question was not reflective of a defeatist attitude on his part, nor of a lack of confidence in his brand. Far from it.

He was quite rightly asking the most important question in digital marketing – “Why?”

As in “Why would they?”

I couldn’t admire Red Bull more. They seem to be asking themselves this question more than most judging by the consistent quality of their content.

But even they are having to work really hard, on Facebook at least, to turn that effort into engagement that is both broad and deep.

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