Commentary

Just An Online Minute... The Key To Viral Success? Sneeze On The Salad Bar!

Digital Cocktails: Keys To Social Media Success, For Your Imagination Studios, New York
February 2, 2010

I left Hammerstein punching my fist into the air and chanting "GTL! GTL!" (Gym, Tan, Laundry), wrestling with choices: Do I turn around as quickly as Ronnie moves his hips on the Karma dance floor and do a shot with a monkey puppet? Or do I stay the course: honoring my commitment to attend "Digital Cocktails: Keys To Social Media Success" as part of my Social Media Week New York coverage? The whole -wheat side of me pulled stronger than the frosted side as I hiked into the black, cold NYC night, blinking through the snow toward For Your Imagination Studios.

FYI Studios is funky.   Soft, coffee-house-like, velvety furniture bordered the usual white chairs used for panel viewing; I grabbed a cushy one on the end for ease of popping up and down.  A table off to the side was laden with bottles of tongu- disintegrating Bordeaux (note to all: NEVER get Meynard) and not too shabby St. George Chardonnay.  Everyone was serving themselves.

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I grabbed Jessica Amason right away, since she was a new face to me.  Despite having spent the past eight days sick in bed and taking Halls intravenously, she was sharp and focused.  You may know her as part of the duo behind This Is Why You're Fat (or as Carrot Creative's Katy Kelley accidentally called it "This Is Why I think You're Fat," which sent everyone into belly laughs), but she's also viral editor at Buzzfeed and a Huffington Post columnist.   Matt Heindl of Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, and Adam Penenberg, Author of Viral Loop and NYU School of Journalism professor, joined Amason and Kelley on the panel.  The moderator was Paul Kontonis, former CEO of For Your Imagination and the VP of Branded Entertainment at MATTER, an Edelman Company. 

Note: Kontonis is a moderator to benchmark.  At 7 p.m.,  he managed to put the audience at ease and inspire participation with his geographical loyalty question, which revealed one guest -- yes, one -- from Iowa.  AND, rather than asking a question, listening to each panelist, responding with "great,"  and then moving on, he talked with them, sometimes even challenging them to answer questions better, as if saying "if I were in the audience I wouldn't accept that -- go further."

Kontonis kicked off the panel by showing us an ad that appeared on the Spirit Airlines Web site. The copy read "Many Unbelievable Fantastic Fares to DIVING destinations" and credited Ian Schafer of Deep Focus as one of the first to pass this around. "If you don't know why that's funny, ask the person next to you," laughed Kontonis. "Please, no one ask me" I repeated in my head.

On the role of Social Media and who "owns" it:

Katy Kelley believes what once began as an extension of PR, "but tech drove it away from there.  Social Media belongs to the agency," sharing horror stories from brands who hired Chauncey's* kid in-house to lead the Facebook effort because Chauncey's kid was an expert at Facebook.

"Is it anyone's bag?" probed Kontonis.

Heindl offered with a shrug, "You could luck out... but you increase your odds by working with people who know the space, who are paid, who are immersed... people who know the odds, who have seen the analytics."

There's a strategy model out there now called "Why rent an audience when you can buy an audience." Our bubbly moderator asked the panel for their thoughts on this strategic phrase, emphasizing brands "owning" an audience.

Adam Penenberg more than once declared that Facebook should be paying its users.  "Facebook makes you feel like they're doing you a favor...what they need to do is say 'We need you' - like you helped us be this valuable," and he feels the same about Twitter.

Regarding retweet/tweet strategies and brand usage of social media megaphones in general:

Amason described the "good citizen": understanding the type of content that readers of that medium like.  She used This Is Why You're Fat as an example of how Tumblr readers respond to quick blurbs, image only, easily sharable, touchable posts. If TISYF had been delivered through Wordpress, with paragraphs of description, it wouldn't have been as popular.  "No one wants to know how greasy that is!" yelped Kontonis, gesturing at a projected image of slop behind the panelists.

Sidenote: the audience drooled and ahhh'd over each new photo scrolled through on the TIWYF tumblr site, which further supports its success and our desires to gnaw on the worst foods for us.

Suddenly, Katy Kelley pounded on the table, saying, "This year and next year are going to be GEO location tracking and augmented reality... foursquare and gowalla are going to be HUGE!" Katy went on passionately about the power of not only knowing who your community is, but where they are -- and being able to congregate them in a place where they can talk to each other.

The emotional impact of Facebook as, whether real or perceived, a place where people have friends.

Katy Kelley used the elderly posse as an example of a demographic long afflicted with feelings of abandonment now flocking to Facebook either to connect or reconnect with family or simply to connect with life. 

Penenberg jumped in with stats (from origins not verbally footnoted) to support this claim - offering that studies have shown you're healthier and happier when you have friends. "It didn't matter if those people were in the same room," he continued, "...they could be by [the] TV, email.  By interacting with people, you live longer and you don't get more benefit if they're in the same town or tge same room."

"Social Media is not free!! WHY?"

"You get what you pay for," quipped Katy Kelley, describing her minor vs major league quoting strategy with clients. "I can create beautiful stuff, but pretty doesn't sell, I need your content." 

Heindl agreed adding, "when you care, you spend the money on it."  Amason steered the boat further saying, "You pick your battles.  Having a presence everywhere isn't necessarily a social media strategy.  Start with three [types] and see how well you can maintain that."

I'll leave you with this Jerry's Final Thought (Springer, anyone?): "You have to sneeze on the salad bar"

This barf-worthy tidbit was offered by moderator Paul Kontonis, referring to an adage from the pharma industry where, when antibiotics aren't selling, you gotta give the people the NEED.  This translates to actually seeding, cultivating, and intriguing people to come to your THING.  You can't just throw something up there and expect people to come; you have to go out and engage people and give them what they need.

Photos are up on flickr, more coming!

*edited to reflect correctness of Paul's job at 6:08PM 2/03/10
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