AKQA's 6 rules for social media

Once you engage a brand in conversation, you gain the power to kick-start conversations about new topics, rather than just sitting idly on the sidelines. AKQA’s CEO Tom Bedeccaré explains. As if on cue, AKQA CEO Tom Bedeccaré kicked off his Breakthrough Summit keynote by asking everyone in attendance to swap business cards with someone they don’t know. As he shared the stage with Lars Bastholm, co-chief creative officer, Bedeccaré walked into the audience, card in hand, and the ballroom quickly broke into a rapid networking session. “This is a relationship business,” Brad Berens, iMedia’s chief content officer and editor at large, said as he introduced the morning keynote. Bedeccaré followed that lead and ran with it. He and Bastholm then kicked off a wide-ranging discussion on breakthrough digital marketing that covered online advertising, innovation, social media, mobile, and the relationship among clients, agencies, and publishers. Bedeccaré began by highlighting a campaign AKQA recently did for Visa. “What we tried to do is bring online video, video feeds, and a lot of streaming video in … so that we could then stream in all kinds of interesting information,” he said. Inside banner ads, AKQA programmed content that showed where people were, including feeds from Flickr and other social media sites. Bedeccaré said the campaign was decidedly created to be disruptive in nature, something that would get people talking. “As advertisers, you need agencies to thrive,” Bastholm added. Innovation “I think (innovation is) even harder in an environment where it’s more risk adverse and there are worries about what’s going on in the economy,” Bedeccaré said. “It’s a very daunting task to keep up with online video, and mobile, and search.” As such, he thinks education plays a particularly important role in guiding innovation, and case studies are a prime example of that. He then walked the audience through a campaign AKQA did for McDonalds. Spawning the new term “dark marketing,” the campaign lasted six months. It carried mystery, clue solving, and the global participation of at least two million contributors leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. The goal was to have McDonalds take a back seat by hiding its golden arches and trying to reach young adults who tend to be turned off by big brands and their large global presence. When asked how AKQA can sell such a new idea, Bastholm pointed out that this was a “tiny blip on their radar” when you look at their marketing spend overall. “No one can do it alone, and unless you use every single channel available … it all falls apart and it doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s daunting because you do commit to a grand story arc that develops over time… you actually have to take it through to the end.” When it comes to social media, most agencies sit around scratching their head, Bastholm said. Tasting the new rainbow When Skittles recently opened up its main website to carry social media from sites like Flickr, Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter, it caught many marketers off guard. But Bastholm argued that Skittles’ experimentation with social media is setting the bar for what companies are starting to do now. “Is this even a brand site or is it a way of saying that consumers now say what your brand is, and if it is, does that mean the death of marketing?” he asked. Conversations are taking place about every brand imaginable, he added, and this is a way to take part in that. “I think we’re behind the curve on social media because it’s where everything is going,” Bedeccaré said. “It’s unknown, it’s new, and it’s risky, and I think the idea of slapping a banner up on Twitter or Facebook is just not that appealing.” How brands create value on social media is an ongoing exercise, he added, and that’s why many brands are lagging behind consumers. Bastholm then broke into what he calls the six rules for social media use:

  • Look at any marketing effort as the beginning of a conversation.
  • Closely monitor the conversation and be ready to respond to consumers.
  • Provide consumers with tools that help them carry on the conversation for you.
  • Leave room for consumers to interact; make sure your creative universe is big enough that there are unexplored areas.
  • The conversation is over when the consumers say it is, not when the media plan for the budget says it is.
  • Listen and learn from the feedback loop.
Turning to the audience for questions, Steve Rubel asked how an industry traditionally built around campaigns can be turned into relationship building. Bedeccaré said it requires a shift in mindset – marketers have to recognize that they’re not in the business of simply buying media, they’re in the business of connecting with consumers. “This is a platform, this is a tool, this is a way to connect with your brand,” he said. Once you engage the brand in conversation, you gain the power to kick-start conversations about new topics, rather than just sitting idly on the sidelines, Bastholm added.

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