Commentary

Social Media and Just-In-Time Monetization

Being out at Advertising Week events this week proved to me that I'm not the only one obsessed with the fact that a business model needs to be developed for media companies and advertisers to make real, bottom line-lifting hay out of random, lightning-in-a-bottle media phenomenon. Things like Susan Boyle, Kanye West's MTV diss and other events that are increasingly huge reach vehicles, but exponentially less predictable than big, annual media events like the Super Bowl. In fact, their power and their problem is that they aren't predictable at all.

I first noticed that others were similarly obsessed during a panel on social media creative yesterday at OMMA Global (sponsored, as are this columnist's crackpot theories, by MediaPost). Mat (it is only one ‘t) Zucker, executive creative director of OgilvyOne, said he had opined with a client, just the night before, that maybe the client should employ a social media SWAT team. Zucker said, "It wouldn't be the traditional copy/art pair. It would be a writer and it would be the analytics guy ... a new kind of creative team to be on the docks, ready to go." (He then qualified this by saying it had to be a "very cool" analytics guy.)

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So, what would this SWAT team do? If I interpreted Mat correctly, when something happened in the mediasphere, or social media-sphere, or within a brand's own community, it would swing into an action. Maybe it would piggyback off of a news event that is somehow connected to the brand, or a sudden and unexpected injection of the brand into pop culture (though not a big enough brand to support the idea, think Limoncello after Danny DeVito downed some). In short, the job would be to leverage social media phenomena where it made good, natural sense for the brand. (Yes, this is sort of like crisis PR, but I'm not really talking about when things go horribly wrong.)

But, when you look around, it's obvious that while these sudden bursts around certain topics are increasingly common, there is little capacity on the part of the advertising and media communities to deal with them. Maybe the problem is will - Zucker admitted that when he mentions this idea, people usually hate it.

Well, Mat, I've got the guy for you, and it's Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired. He might like your idea. This morning, I was sitting through another panel, "The Future of Media Forum" also sponsored by MediaPost, an event that featured nine media luminaries, including Mark Cuban, Martha Stewart, Rob Norman and Judy McGrath, chief executive of MTV Networks. Anderson was the moderator. When Kanye West's infamous diss of Taylor Swift on MTV's Video Music Awards came about in conversation, Anderson kept hammering in on a key point with McGrath - was MTV able to monetize this event?

McGrath preferred to talk about the tremendous buzz the event received - which means, of course, that the actual answer to Anderson's question is "No."

"I just don't see how this turned into more money for you," Anderson said.

"Everyone was talking about MTV and that was really valuable," McGrath countered. With apologies to McGrath, I hope in the future such an answer will be viewed as startlingly incomplete.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that buzz has no value, but I am going to tell you that it's going to be increasingly stupid not to have people in place, be they creative SWAT teams, media SWAT teams or whatever, who are ready to turn on a dime and move almost as quickly as social media itself when the situation calls for it.

Now you could say that media companies and advertisers have bigger fish to fry, but I wonder how long that's going to be true. We all know that network shares are eroding, and, thus, that huge reach is becoming less and less possible. That means these random events will become increasingly important as monetization and branding events; they virally achieve the reach that traditional media used to. But while the media and advertising community is equipped to deal with the ones they planned, the ones created and/or distributed by consumers leave everyone flat on their feet.

If you want a sign that the media and advertising communities haven't even remotely dealt with this, let's go back to Susan Boyle, who, in another venue, I dubbed "The Unmonetizable YouTube Phenomenon." The most popular version of the clip (one that had embedding disabled no less), currently stands at 75.6 million views; overall, the total number of times that clip has been viewed is probably closer to 250 million.

When The New York Times reported on the problems the different entities were having in coming to a deal over monetization of the clip, it was a full month after the phenomenon began - that time lag isn't exactly in keeping with the SWAT team model. And in stopping by YouTube this afternoon, I discovered that those who had a stake in monetizing the clip probably never did come to an agreement. Even the version of the clip on the official Britain's Got Talent 09 channel doesn't carry an ad.

So, maybe people don't like Zucker's idea. But it feels more like people are unequipped to deal with it. Sorry, guys. But that's a copout.
5 comments about "Social Media and Just-In-Time Monetization".
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  1. Tim Fielding from Riverphonic, September 23, 2009 at 4:12 p.m.

    I like your perspective.
    I was at the same panel this morning and enjoyed watching McGrath being grilled by Anderson on this point. Isn't it kinda weird though that what Pepsi and Taco Bell (sponsors of VMA awards) were supposedly so thrilled about was a rude, reprehensible outburst from Kanye? Exactly how desperate are they getting for attention? Is this 'The Future of Media". What next, flashing a breast in the interval of the Superbowl??
    www.riverphonic.com

  2. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, September 23, 2009 at 5:52 p.m.

    Ha! What bothers me about media companies saying how happy their sponsors were (and she did say that) is that essentially one reason they are happy is that they paid a certain price for a media avail, and it turned out to be even more popular that what they planned on. Which is one way of saying, the client went laughing all the way to the bank, because they got more for their money than they planned. The media ocmpany, in return, gets "buzz."

  3. Michelle Cubas from Positive Potentials LLC, September 23, 2009 at 5:58 p.m.

    Catherine, you raise a pertinent point. I agree with you.

    Here are a few of my perspectives.
    1) It used to be any publicity was considered "good" because people were talking about it. That worm has turned. Look at the bailing of advertisers from the Glen Beck Show. The same buzz power can work against us with the nanosecond delivery systems of technology.
    2) No one can capture the energy completely of these new outlets; it is impossible to try. The need for priority and knowing the audience needs to be revisited. Less time on SN and more attention to core principles please.
    3) "Me, too" was a big deal in the 1990's. Who wants to be seen as a follower. It's the trend leaders (Outliers) like Malcolm Gladwell talks about that take the cream off the top.
    4) Why does everything have to be monetized? The greed of this idea oozes from every gigabyte! Somethings just ARE! It's one thing to appear to be timely. It's another to always be in someone's face.
    5) So much of marketing is about justifying the job, proving value. Important to measure, for sure. However, I see clients stray off the path chasing invisible rainbows rather than seeing what's in front of them.

    Let's all take a deep breath and pay attention to our customers until they can't stop swooning over our service.

  4. Eric Tsai from Designdamage, September 25, 2009 at 2:53 a.m.

    Cathy,
    I think you hit on a great point and I do like Mat Zucker's idea of a media SWAT team. Essentially it's taking advantage of the spike from the buzz and abstracting value within the optimal reaction time. However, marketers need to help lead their clients out of the traditional thinking because audience behavior have shifted and staying with the rate of change will be the key in striking the right balance in this overcommuniated, TMI world that we're living in. People simply have shorter and shorter attention span so the problem is not just getting the "buzz" but leverage the "buzz" in a creative and timely matter.

  5. Mark McLaughlin, September 25, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.

    It feels like it is always executives who work in ad agencies of one type or another who are calling out the inability of social media networks to monetize themselves through advertising revenue. I never hear the founders and early investors who are behind the most successful social networks describing this problem.
    Most ad agency holding companies would love to have the "problems" that Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have.
    As a media property, would you rather have a very strong audience that is highly engaged and growing exponentially but a nascent ad revenue model - or, would you rather have a mature ad revenue model and weak audience metrics reflecting declining engagement and shrinking size?
    The ad community would rather talk about how nobody could monetize Susan Boyle than to talk about the real problems that are in their own backyard.

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