We the young are seemingly in the grips of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, yeah you’ll have to read that again slowly.
Analyze this, how often have we been a part of something that we think is the thing to do. It rarely matters what it is, such as the thing these days is to be socially charged, find a cause for the week. It could be anything, from the pink chaddi campaign, to the slut walk (misplaced regional version – besharmi morcha). From the Jan lokpal movement to the Justice to Jessica Lall campaign, to the baba ramdev campaign (whatever happened to that?).
Away from home we’ve witnessed the theatrical ‘Yes we can’ Obama campaign, revolutions in the Middle East and the hilariously consumerist London Loot. These movements were initiated by the youth and enough has been said about how they were catalyzed though social media. The debate however has been more about if there was no social media would these campaigns have succeeded? Perhaps. However, one would have to be a dinosaur to ignore the speed at which such memes travel thanks to social media and phones that are notoriously smart.

More such social/political propaganda turn viral more every brand worth its salt gets impatient wanting desperately a piece of this herd mentality facilitated by far reaching and inexpensive social media. We’re curious as ever so we look at how different institutions (Obama included) used social media as a tool to leverage this herd mentality.

Political and Social campaigns:
Obama’s Use of Social Media in Campaigning Changed Politics
According to a news report (Axcess News), Obama was the first politician to prove that when used with a positive, individual interest, social media was tremendously powerful especially when appealing to voters younger than 30.
Obama’s team carefully identified the communities they wished to target, namely African-American, Asian, Latino and even faith-based communities.
In terms of Platform presence Obama was literally everywhere. Let’s compare the usage of social media by both Hillary Clinton (Republican candidate) and Barack Obama (Democratic candidate) during the 2008 US Presidential election campaign.

Hilary Clinton's Social media presence

Obama everywhere

Notice his team discovered and tapped the oxymoronic BlackPlanet.
Not only did he have a larger planned reach by going beyond MySpace and Facebook but his campaign team also held actual conversations with members. They wrote new blog posts in their profile areas, not just dump their blog posts from their official campaign site into the community. On YouTube, you not only “controlled” edited videos for Barack Obama, but also candid ones, where his team just went out with a video camera and captured “real” moments from the campaign.

One of the biggestmistakes brands make is when they attempt to create platform agnostic content. True a YouTube video could go viral on facebook but the core purpose of each platform is different.

Twitter and Facebook revolution
Twitter has played a critical role in getting out the word on how to organise. Iran’s election protests back in the year 2009 were called “Twitter revolution”. In recent times, a key group against the Mubarak government in Egypt was responsible for getting thousands out on the street. In a matter of days, the number of fans on the group’s (The pic below is the facebook page that started it all in Egypt) facebook page went from nothing to 80,000. Such is the power of social media.

(The pic above is the chronological order of tweets, all filed minutes from each other as posted by video journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah using Twitter for Blackberry app – from the scene of the protests)

The magnitude of these movements makes one feel that starting a revolution from the bed aren’t just the lyrics of a dreamy Oasis song. It seems really simple to get people agitated and engaged. The youth suffering from ADHD herds up. When a friend says, ‘follow this we follow. The urge to be part of something new seemingly novel, gives our fleeting existence some meaning. We follow with our blinders in place. Be the change you want to see he said, you could be Gandhi for 15 Andy Warhol minutes or maybe longer if you play it right. Or Robin hood like many on the London rioters must’ve felt.

Check some of the BBM messages that were circulated during the London loot:
“If you want to make money, then we will slide into the east London tonight. Yes, tonight. I do not care where you are, we invite you to come. The police have done bad things too long and I do not know why we have to wait long to realize this. We need a minimum of 200 people are hungry”
‘Whatever ends [area] your from put your ballys [balaclavas] on link up and cause havoc, just rob everything. Police can’t stop it.’
Another message referred to Oxford Circus where a mob of about 50 youths attacked several businesses.
It called on ‘everyone from all sides of London’ to meet up, smash up shops and get some ‘free stuff’, adding: ‘if you see a fed [police] … SHOOT!’

At home again, the extremely successful India Against Corruption campaign pivoted strongly on Facebook.

It is inexplicable the frivolity of reasons but the alternatives are too inconvenient. Too much hard work finding out what this cause was really about? On the other hand wearing a virtual “I am Anna” topi or the ballys is convenient and instantly liberating? And the frequency of such phenomenon tells us, that it’s not a fad. Or rather fads are the new trends.
What next? How long can the ‘I am Anna cap’ stay on? Scale is interesting because the other important thing on social media is being unique. Just like everyone in JNU must wear a kurta and jeans but then some of them don’t because they want to be different, rationalize they can anything. Different youth relate to different scale and degree of uniqueness. And somewhere this equation determines the point where most youth lose interest. We don’t follow through. A new campaign comes along and entices us to be a part of it. Why? Cos, they can (YES). Campaigns come and go and the youth bleats to the tune of truly viral marketing.

Marketing lessons
It is surprising then that there haven’t been many brand led campaigns of such seriousness or scale. Seth Godin rubs salt into the wounds of marketers
“How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?”
It’s a valid question. Sheep is the new cash cow? How do you tame it is the question marketers wake up to every morning?

Here are some thoughts

Social media is not C++
One needs to realize that more than technology; social media is about sociology and psychology. Just like in real life there are people (hiding behind profiles) online. There are stereotypes to be identified, notice the girl who has her boyfriend in every profile picture? She’s the low hanging fruit but do you want to go for her if you’re Adidas Original, hell no.

Use available technology. A lot of smart people have created some interesting tools and a lot of them are near free. Radian6, StartPR are two interesting ones.
Doing the basics right is the other part of using technology well.
When you searched for words “Barack” and “Obama” in any of the four major search engines you would be stunned to have the presidential campaign website of Barack Obama to be the first in the list. This was made possible by the team of Barack Obama which carried out the Search Engine Optimization activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. The Splash page that greeted the visitor to the website had details to be filled in. The contents of the website surface after one filled the data. The data was then used to send emails about Obama’s campaign. For each page there was a different title tag. There were descriptive Alt tag descriptions with most of the images. The header tags were also used effectively. Thus the SEO tactics paid good returns.

Be aware of the soft issues in marketing. Youth market is not a large lump of 18-30 age groups. Remember the old adage of no market is homogeneous. Know exactly who you’re going after and don’t be ashamed of it. Not all of us are managing Burberry so while you segment and target, separate yourself and the brand. The Jago Re campaign for a tea brand is a case in point. Thank god they did not tie up with VH1 even if their brand manager was in his hay days a member of an indie rock band.

Don’t be explicit about your brand. Unlike traditional media, Social media does not have any ad space, only mind space. And for this mind space the least of your worries is your traditional competition, for the girl who has her boyfriend in the pic your competition is the boyfriend himself, then her friends from college and so on. So the Facebook ads etc that you might be lured to as a shortcut are only ways Zuckerberg makes money and should at best be incremental to your actual social media plan.

Don’t Be, Do. Entertain, solve a problem, create another opportunity to be voyeuristic, or a platform to be a hero (not XYZ (brand) Hero), just Hero. And once you’ve decided what you will do for them use all your copywriting cunning to slip in your brand. First they need to believe that they are getting rid of corruption and then they need to know that an unassuming man from a humble background is leading them.
“Advertisers need to break through not by pushing yet another ad, but by giving people something they actually would want to watch, interact with and share. That often involves approaching advertising differently, taking risks and not doing things that are proven to work. Best practices are, by definition, the antithesis of innovation.” – Christian Haas of Goodby, Silverstein and partners
A successful viral campaign can catapult a brand’s awareness to a whole new level and really get people talking about it. Case in point would be Burger King’s Subservient Chicken campaign.

This chicken was exactly that: subservient. The interactive website allowed you to tell the guy in the chicken suit what to do and he would act it out, on command. The site was so catchy to visitors, that it has earned a spot as one of the most successful viral campaigns ever.

• There is a substitute for entering the market first. Being creative. Think Apple. Think Facebook. Break the mould, solve a real problem. When you’re going after a generation suffering from ADHD dare you to call design a derogatory “look and feel”, it’s a business driver.
James Gurd an e-commerce and marketing consultant says “Attention spans only decreases as technology breeds laziness and the expectation of rapid solution delivery.”
Design in such a scenario offers instant gratification.

• In the end, you need ’Market mavens’ a fancy phrase for another fancy phrase “opinion leaders”. People who are proud conversationalists if not of your product at least your category. They Like saying “know I got a Nikon p5..xyz and the shutter speed is what creates the magic in this pic that I’m posting now”. Me in the mirror clicking with one hand.

Bringing down the curtains, let’s say it again “social media is a powerful tool”, now breathe go on to say “I will not treat social media like traditional media” and lastly shout it out “I will respect my audience, but if cash cow is fine so is “ka-ching sheep”…