Forget Innovative; Be Inspiring
It’s not often I’d take the bait and disagree with the director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute (part of OxfordUniversity), but I am feeling bold today. I think the universal “we” all need to take a step back. By “we” I mean the advertisers, the agencies, the researchers, the technologists and the strategists -- all of the proponents of new media, or the Web 2.0 communications revolution. By “we” I mean me, and if you’re reading this, I probably mean you, too.
In our never-ending quest to leverage new media to distribute messages, we forget that it’s really the substance of the message and emotional response elicited that matters. If you have never made this error, please skip ahead to the comments and say something derogatory.
From a recent Reuters article by Peter Griffiths: "‘Governments have been very slow to do this [expand into interactivity and user-generated content],’ said Professor Helen Margetts, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford. ‘If you look at governments across the world, there is very little use of Web 2.0 applications (shorthand for the second, more interactive Internet age), very little opportunity for citizens to generate content.’”
I don’t have an exact figure for the projected money to be spent online by political campaigns prior to the 2008 elections, but I know it’s enough to attract some of the best talent in online advertising to the effort. Add to that the passion of many Web 2.0-savvy professionals and so-called “users” to dedicate time and efforts to amplify the messages of their political affiliations, and you certainly have no lack of ideas to innovate uses of Web 2.0. The use of YouTube and other online media to announce candidacy became overdone before it even had a chance to be innovative. Every candidate has a profile on the “major” social networks. Some campaigns are even building their own social network applications.
And the truth is, it shouldn’t matter even if every campaign were ignoring the social media entirely, because the key phrase here is “user-generated.” Citizens have the same access to social media during an election that they had when they mixed Coke and Mentos. Viacom is actually suing YouTube over alleged millions of unauthorized and unwanted distributions of its content.
What am I getting at? Say something worth sharing and the citizens will go to work for you. Inspire people. Don’t tell people you will be the best candidate; make people believe you are the best candidate. Don’t talk about a vision; paint a picture of the vision. Don’t just empower people to add to the conversation; make people feel empowered by adding to the conversation. Make people feel something. Make people feel proud, hopeful, grateful, like they belong; appeal to our emotions and inspire us, and we’ll use Web 2.0 to spread your message like wildfire.
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, given in 1963, has over 1 million views for just the first two results on YouTube, without the assistance of a digital strategy or a prime advertising real estate takeover on YouTube like YouChoose ’08 is giving all the candidates. (But I would challenge YouTube to give YouChoose ’08 a homepage takeover, perhaps in a series featuring culturally defining speeches that can be found on YouTube; let’s set the bar a little higher for today’s leaders and our use of social media.) The main clip on John Edwards’ page, featured today on YouTube, is only 1:08 long; I wanted to stop it after the first 10 seconds. He starts with “Hello, YouTube…”
Before you can leverage Web 2.0, you have to have something to say and really know how you want to say it. Of course you want to remember to make it easy for people to share -- but even if it isn’t easy, an inspired person will go the extra mile. We have all seen a less-than-tech-savvy friend or family member go out of his way to share a joke or story that drew an emotional response. This is why politicians, like brands, must first aim to appeal to people’s emotions, rather than simply our logic, if they want people to activate the potential of Web 2.0. In a recent study commissioned by MySpace, this is referred to as activating the “Momentum Effect” by Marketing Evolutions’ Rex Briggs (Jib-Jab ’08, anyone).
The Reuters article goes on: "‘They haven't been very innovative,’ Margetts said, adding that old style politics of knocking on doors to recruit members and spread the word is no longer valid. ‘They tend to hark back to the idea that they're going to have lots of members again and people are going to tramp the streets and persuade people. I think those days are dead.’"
I would conclude the opposite: Politicians, and brands, are being plenty innovative, but innovation and logic does not alone activate social media, inspiration and emotional connections with people. Message matters, style matters and creative matters, now more than ever. Politicians and brands should knock on doors, if only to get a better understanding of the message they are delivering, not to simply deliver focus-grouped and tested lines and creative. Those who deliver ideas with substance and in a way to appeal at an emotional level will get people “tramping” the digital streets of Web 2.0 to spread the message.