Renegade Or Dumbass?

I'm feeling a little fiery today, so don't say I didn't warn you. In a nutshell, let's just say I've been talking to a lot of folks these days. The list ranges from peers and colleagues on a few email list groups, some friends in the business on the buy side as well as the sell side, a few brand marketers (two big and one small) many bizdev prospects representing different disciplines but mainly B2C for the sake of this column, and some media types.

No matter what they read, how they read it or where they read it, for that matter, I keep hearing it. Everyone's talking about YouTube, MySpace, social networking and user-generated content. Well I certainly can't delve into all these topics in this short column. Not to mention, I have covered many of these topics to date. However, let's bring it to the surface: what's up with the digital space?

Are we doing more than talking about this stuff? Or has it become bulletized nomenclature among meetings, brainstorm sessions, presentations and fodder for columnists like me? I'm a little sick of wanton banter.

Someone asked me a spot-on question in a recent meeting. Let's just say he heads up all things digital for a VERY large international company in the B2C market. He asked how his team could become leaders in the space without being, well, how shall I say -- too renegade? OK, how can they take a leadership stance that's a renegade move versus a dumbass move?

That's a loaded question. Let's step back for a sec. As advertisers and marketers, it is critical... I repeat, critical, to have much more than surface knowledge about user- generated content, social networking and the like. Not only do we need to understand how these technologies work, we need to pay attention. Go log on to one of these sites. See how users are becoming more and more personalized, opt-on and implementing video and audio (that's most likely not their own).

Life has changed. The way any of use consume media has changed. By the time this is written, it will keep changing. Change is good, but change is scary. We've all seen one of the presentations that have outlined how today's consumers are barraged with thousands of media messages via multiple outlets before they've even gotten into work. I won't go on about that.

However, the lines of fact or fiction couldn't be blurrier online. Quite often, because of this now-new media, Web users at large consume lots and lots of opinions. So-and-so said this book or movie was the best they've ever seen. Someone posted that the service sucked at a restaurant you were considering booking a reservation for. Oh yeah, and we have the old standbys insofar as editorial reviews and the like. The fact is, we are living in a time where Jon Online Smith is taking JetSetter 22's opinion and posting more to heart than, say, the writings of a reputable travel columnist.

Then you throw in the whole craziness of clipping videos, audio and imagery online. Everyone is doing it. Most don't know a thing about potential copyright infringement. Those who understand it don't seem too concerned. After all, many think, well, everyone else is doing it. Or they may even just want to do it for the sheer cool factor. The key to what I am saying here is that I am talking about people here. People, not brands.

Should a brand be an early adopter of posting something on You Tube or MySpace? Sure, some already have. I won't name names, but take a look around to find brands (not people) that are out there doing this. While such clips are not exactly a needle in a haystack, they are a bit hard to find. And yes, the lines are blurry.

When you look at those brands out there, what do you think? Is it worthwhile to be one of the first? No, not when there isn't much strategy behind it. My entire online career has been not only building and stewarding brands online, but protecting them. We need to protect our brands more than ever now. When you put your brand out there on a MySpace page for instance, think about it. Have rationale and a strategy behind it -- duh! These environments are 24/7. Anything goes. You are setting yourself up for good communication as well as really bad comments... so bad you could get your brand or your client's brand flamed.

Deciding to jump into such unchartered waters is not just an online media discussion. This could potentially affect every facet of the brand. Did you ever think of speaking to the offline folks? How about PR? Anyone else? Think about it.

There's definitely a way to lead well without being a dumbass. Maybe start off easy by offering your logo, imagery, music, etc. to users to foster customization of their sites? I know it's only dipping a toe in the water, but it is safe. I'm not saying just be safe, but please be careful.

So look around and tell me what you think? Post to the Spin blog, and let's pool our minds together and get a REAL conversation started.

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