Think BR: Planning for participation
For better or worse, most campaigns today want consumers to participate, writes Patricia McDonald, executive planning director, Glue Isobar.
Patricia McDonald, executive planning director, Glue Isobar
Social media has disrupted the traditional 1:9:90 rule (a model where 1% of users create, 9% comment and 90% "lurk") towards a model where more and more of us are commenting, liking and sharing.
Recent research from the BBC bears this out, identifying 77% of consumers as participating online in some way.
Moreover, more and more of the content we consume is filtered by our friends’ participation.
According to Trendstream’s Global Web Index, 28.8% of users have viewed an online video and 17% have read a news article based on a friend’s recommendation.
If we want our content to cut through what Eli Pariser calls the "filter bubble" we need users to participate with it.
We may debate the commercial merits of the participative approach as a solution to every problem.
Martin Weigel makes an excellent point in his post "The Participation Paradox" about our preoccupation with fandom versus the realities of a market where most consumers purchase infrequently and most brands grow by increasing penetration.
It’s an excellent point but for me it means we need to think about our consumers less as fans and more as actors: collaborators, salesforces, promoters and co-creators.
When we think about consumers as actors, we start to see how profoundly participation disrupts business models.
The ability of millions of customers to share, promote, make and sell has disrupted industries at the most profound level.
Our task is to ensure participation disrupts our clients’ businesses in the right way. Yet many participative campaigns fall foul of consumer indifference or over-optimistic expectations.
So how do we get better at planning for participation? I believe there are three key principles:
- A business problem is a behavioural change in disguise.
- Think about network insights, not (only) consumer insights.
- Move from "the single thing we want to say" to "the single thing we’re going to make or do".
1. A business problem is a behavioural change in disguise
In the old world, a number of outside forces impacted on consumer behaviour - among them product, promotion, price and distribution. Increasing demand could only impact a brand’s fortunes so far.
Today, the effect of the social web is that this dynamic can be reversed. By changing consumer behaviour, we can increase demand and supply, increase the number of distribution points a brand has, increase its salesforce or its capacity to deal with customer service queries.
The answer to a much wider range of business problems lies in changing consumer behaviour.
So the first question we need to ask when planning for participation is: What do we need people to do? We might also then ask ourselves how many people we need to act and what implications that has for the kind of participation we can expect.
2. Think about network insights, not (only) consumer insights
In a world where so much of the content we consume is via our networks, we need to think about network insights as much as consumer insights.
We need to know who we are targeting and how they feel about our brand, but we also need to know what kinds of networks they are in, what the dynamics of those networks are and what their motivations are to share.
We need to go beyond "they like Farmville and texting" to genuine network insights. If, for example, we know that teenage girls upload 21 photos a month and account for 6% of Facebook’s UK audience but 44% of all page "likes", it tells us something about their need for validation and willingness to use brands in the online space to construct their identity.
Balancing the effort required of a user versus their motivation to participate is critical. So the second question we need to ask ourselves is: Why would they do it? What are their network motivations?
We know what we want people to do and we know something about why they might do it. The question then becomes: what stimulus will the brand provide to prompt them into action?
3. Move from "the single thing we want to say" to "the single thing we’re going to make or do"
The proposition or "the single thing we want to say" is the traditional heart of the brief. However, we’ve established that the solution to a much more diverse range of business problems than ever before lies in changes to consumer behaviour.
If we want to change behaviour, talking at consumers probably won’t have the desired effect. As Clay Shirky says: "Behaviour is motivation filtered by opportunity". We know the behaviour we need to change and we know what our consumers’ motivations are. The question is: what opportunity are we going to provide them with?
What new distribution channels are we going to open up? What new services are we going to create? What new pricing models are we going to develop?
That’s when our briefs become incredibly exciting and our work doesn’t have to plead for users to participate with it, or generate lots of participation but limited sales effect. That’s when participation lies at the heart of business performance.
Patricia McDonald, executive planning director, Glue Isobar
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