Mad Men, Zappos, O'Reilly: Brilliant use of Twitter for Marketing Doesn't Look like Using Twitter for Marketing

On Twitter I follow several people who have profiles associated with their brand. Not because I want to know how they use Twitter or even because I was particularly concerned with their company (to start, anyway), but because they have interesting things to say. That’s the key to successful marketing in this medium.

Even though I have a professional interest in how they market with Twitter (I’ve given talks at conferences on the subject), I’ll get bored with them quickly and stop Following if they aren’t interesting.

Through their personalities and authenticy, I’ve become more interested in their companies and bought things I might not even have known about otherwise.

One of the best examples is CEO Tony Hsieh. He posts as Zappos, but tweets less often about the company (with annual sales of $1 Billion) than the nachos he’s eating before a meeting, or to show pictures from his trip to the Olympics. He’s simply sharing himself as a real person (and several of his employees also do the same under their own Twitter accounts), or offering to buy me a drink on the roof of Medjool (thanks, Tony!). This degree of transparency is consistent with his amazing focus on customer experience. From Inc. magazine:

“We’re a service company that just happens to sell shoes….” I’d rather spend money on things that improve the customer experience than on marketing. If someone is looking for a specific shoe and we happen to be out of stock, we have employees direct those people to competitors’ sites…. We interview people for culture fit. We want people who are passionate about what Zappos is about–service. I don’t care if they’re passionate about shoes.

(For more about building that culture, Harvard Business explains how Zappos even Pays New Employees to Quit. They mention the marketing success: “It’s not good PR, it’s humans acting humanly.”)

Transparency allows Tony to market by sharing what he’s doing (and letting his customers do it for him), and allows him to directly get feedback crucial to understanding how he can continue to improve experience. He replies personally to those who reach out to him. The human face he wears makes him feel like a friend, and makes the business things he passes on just more sharing himself and his passion.

Tim O’Reilly is CEO of O’Reilly Media, but also contributes to many businesses I didn’t know about before I started following him on Twitter. He’s another brilliant example of Twitter used perfectly to a marketing effect. You never get the sense that he’s thinking about marketing, just being himself. I know about his daughter’s wedding, his political views and many other small details of his fascinating life.

Very small details since tweets all fit in 140 characters. Which is also part of why this works so well. I have a small degree of intimacy and connection with folks who I know what they’re doing when they’re doing it, in such tiny slices that Tim has taken maybe 5 or 10 minutes of my time total in Twitter over many months (though I’ve also heard him talk at conferences or read articles he’s linked to). I can afford that time across more people than I could otherwise follow in blog posts or other long forms.

Each person tends to use Twitter uniquely in some ways. A great thing that Tim does particularly often is to Re-Tweet, passing on interesting things that he sees from people he follows on Twitter. I learn things about who and what he finds interesting and see that he clearly uses this tool for himself personally. He is listening, not just broadcasting.

If someone posts too often with stuff I don’t care about deeply, I tend to Unfollow. Tony and Tim both post more frequently than most of the people I Follow in Twitter, but I don’t mind at all. They’re so spot on about the variety of things they post on and how open they are about sharing their true selves. I’m glad they post often.

But some posters put them to shame with volume. The latest, biggest example of how a brand is promoted effectively using Twitter unfolded over the last couple days and involves the hit TV show Mad Men.

Twitter accounts for each of the folks on the show shared aspects of their fictional lives and responded publicly to comments from other Twitter users, always perfectly in character. I’d been following Don_Draper (after my friend Betsy at FocusCatalyst told me about him over tea) and then was followed by many of the other characters. Already a fan of the show, I thought it was brilliant, despite the volume being heavy, and not choosing to follow most of the characters myself, and told several other people about it.

I was ready to congratulate the show on a stroke of genius. They’d extended the fictional world they’d created on TV (through meticulous research leading to nailing every details of an early sixties ad agency and office life). They’d allowed interaction with the characters, commentary from the characters. They’d done it in a short form that made it practical even for the volume that a major TV show can generate. The Word-of-Mouth was about to go through the roof.

Then I found out that the accounts were being deleted. It seems that they weren’t actually from the show, but were a kind of fan fiction, and the AMC network served Twitter with DMCA takedown notices. Those who’d taken on the characters were fessing up.

Fortunately, this turned around in less than 24 hours:

Deep Focus, the Web marketing group that works for AMC, tells us that they gently nudged their client into rescinding the DMCA takedown notice they’d sent to Twitter.

See, in Web marketing parlance, the Twitterers assuming the names of Mad Men characters are actually “brand ambassadors” meant to be cultivated, not thwarted. “Better to embrace the community than negate their efforts,” says a Deep Focus spokesman.

I’m back to calling it brilliant. Once you’ve created something worth talking about, people will talk. Share in the own conversation or get out of the way, but this isn’t about control. It’s about letting go. Letting go of controlling the message. Letting go of the sense that you have to be perfect — embracing the humanness of making mistakes, of listening, and of responding appropriately and without ego.

Update:Thanks for extra info and credit in your post over at CNET, Dan.

Update 2 11/2008: @Don_Draper revealed: Confessions of a (Fake) Mad Man

Focus on the User: Social Design and MySpace Redesign

Adaptive Path’s June 17 newsletter has great background on their MySpace redesign (first stage launched yesterday), as well as pointers to other interesting thoughts on design.

The full newsletter should be up on their website soon, but until then, here are a few highlights from the email version:

MySpace had traditionally felt that this link between Tom and the users provided a deep internal understanding of users and their needs. But MySpace recognized that the need [for]… some in depth research… [and] insight into its users, their preferences, and the how and why behind their migrating between MySpace and its competitors.

With a charge to gain a fresh perspective on the user base, my colleagues Todd Wilkens and Jason Li engaged in an 8 week cross-country anthropological study of MySpace users. Escaping the tech- and networking-centric communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, they traveled from Sacramento to Philadelphia, conducting one on one interviews with dozens of existing MySpace users about their lives online and off, how they used the network, what it meant to them. The results were anonymized and transformed into a set of personas. It was not entirely surprising that these personas communicated a more deeply nuanced set of behaviors and priorities than the self-selecting users who voiced their opinions to Tom. The personas would serve the redesign efforts to come by introducing the MySpace team to a different perspective on their users, and shedding new light on how best to meet their needs.

With the research completed and socialized within the MySpace product team, Adaptive Path found its roll expanding. My team and I were asked to assist in the redesign of the product, from navigation to page structure, as part of an effort to improve the overall user experience.

A series of prioritization exercises with MySpace stakeholders, concerning feature set and user behavior, allowed us to trim down the global navigation from an undifferentiated mass to a succinct tool for way-finding and discovery. When discussions about the non-logged in home page revealed a need for better opportunities to share space between advertising and feature promotion, the “wide-screen” element was created; a multi-use advertising and editorial programming space that can change based on user preference. Neither of these elements would be what they are without the active participation of the MySpace team in the redesign process.

Sometimes, you have to design from the gut… the best UX designers I know operate from a perspective of determining what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s ugly. Providing people with a straightforward means to connect and share with one another? Good. Presenting frustrating tools for user search when I’m looking for someone I know in real life? Bad. Repeatedly telling users they’ve got to “log in before you do that!”? Ugly.

Adaptive Path looks to have done fantastic work in understanding the problems of the old MySpace design. As I’ve mentioned before, their process is a model to follow.

They get it that this has to be all about the users. Kudos.

Based on the story in WebMonkey, they also seem to have done a great job working internally with MySpace:

Most importantly, Freitas says, these changes were more about the design process than the usability enhancements.

“You can see the way a team operates internally based on the way their product works when it comes out,” he says. “MySpace is pretty democratic, but they hadn’t ever streamlined their collaboration between tech, content and presentation.”

He says the Adaptive Path team pushed MySpace to become more inclusive as an organization. They brought all of the various stakeholders, from ad sales and technology to visual design, into the process of designing the user experience.

“It’s not just a UI change, it’s an organizational change,” he says. “It was a true ‘teach a man to fish’ situation.”

Yet the blasting of the homepage takeover and the obtrusiveness of other advertising still dominates the experience of visiting MySpace, however much easier the navigation just got. It remains to be seen how this might be addressed as the redesign continues.

Has MySpace already gone too far down an evil path to monitize their site? Is it too late to back up and create meaningful change?

The BBC’s take, MySpace clears up as users jump ship , is interesting since in their market:

MySpace is still the largest social network in the important US market with a 73% share compared with just 15% for Facebook and 1% for Bebo.

The internet research company Nielsen Online reckons that 4.7m Brits used the site in April, down 31% on last year.

Facebook, which only overtook MySpace as the UK’s largest social network in September 2007, now has 10m active British members.

Detractors such as the Washington Post say MySpace’s New Look Seems the Same Old Mess (complaining primarily about the weight of advertising still left after the redesign), while it gets a tentative Thumbs Up from PC World and others.

The LA Times stayed focused on the story of the ad money:

“It does seem a bit like rearranging the deck chairs to me, not necessarily on the Titanic,” said Rob Norman, chief executive of advertising buyer GroupM Interaction Worldwide. “I don’t see how this is game-changing.”

Norman said MySpace’s challenge was not figuring out how to “gussy up” the site so it’s attractive to traditional advertisers, but rather, to extract value from the networks that connect people who use MySpace.

Google would not be in the position it is in today if it didn’t start by knowing to focus on the user and all else will follow. It looks like MySpace is still trying to learn that lesson and live that philosophy. I wish Adoptive Path the best of luck in teaching it to them!

Social Design
Oh yeah, I mentioned other links. Thanks, too, Adaptive Path, for the pointer to Bokardo. I enjoyed several posts and felt compelled to add a couple of comments there on social design (a fantastic picture catalyzed a thought I’d long had bouncing in the back of my head), and the growing importance of design (where the iPhone is a perpetual example).

Web 2.0 Your Cell Voice Records

I often think that the most interesting mobile applications aren’t on the mobile web (or available as downloadable apps).

Voice, text and photo usage on cell phones far exceeds mobile web usage. I suggest that it always will.

That alone would be reason enough to keep coming back to them. But integrated thinking across modes also leads to more interesting applications. Technical limitations and carrier issues also lead to solutions with attractive novelty.

If I’m going to do anything with social networking and my phone, I’d really like it to account for the fact that my phone gets used for voice.

Tim O’Reilly brought to my attention a TechCrunch article:

Skydeck… marries your address book to your cell phone bill so you can see your real social network based on who you call the most. [They’re also] opening up APIs so that other Web developers can tap into this new source of social data.

This sounds like a smart way to unlock the information my cell phone carrier has until the carriers get decide to free it themselves. Opens nifty possibilities to enhance the way we do lots of little things.

UPDATE 4-JUN-08: TechCrucnch reports on Yahoo opening it’s address book today. Google and MSN released APIs to theirs earlier this year.

How to do Mobile Marketing Fast and Cheap

Text messaging programs with a shortcode often involve complexities requiring good sized budgets and months of lead time to set up. I’ve certainly wished this weren’t the case as I’ve managed many of these initiatives.

Sometimes there are effective shortcuts.

Coors Light recently added an interactive element to ads with a simple text messaging program. Fans txt’d “coorslight” to 44636, opting in for SMS updates on the NFL draft. Subscribers received a series of 31 messages which came as each NFL team made its top pick.

Agency DraftFCB handled the text messaging part of the program, implemented with a free text service. 4Info lets you publish via SMS for free. They are ad supported, selling text ad space at the end of published text messages.

This approach can only handle a small subset of text programs, but is effective marketers who only need simple publishing.

Tradeoffs include:

  • avoid the considerable time and expense of a new branded shortcode
  • loose flexibility in sharing the 4Info (44636) shortcode
  • avoid most of the other costs of a text messaging program
  • your messages may include ads from other brands
  • few options for programing, interactivity, integration, and control

Here’s what the program looks like to subscribe:

me: coorslight
Coors Light, the official beer of the NFL is proud to provide NFL Draft Results. To confim you’re 21 & receive alerts, reply PICK + TEAM NAME ex. PICK JETS
pick niners
NFL SF@OAK 8/8 10p Reply 1 for NFL San Francisco 49ers score alerts *Courtyard by Marriot. Reply CTYD

I didn’t get a chance to see the TV commercial for this — if anyone has a link, please share in the comments.

Thanks to Mobile Marketer for the article bringing this campaign to my attention. The New York Times has an interesting article on the broader Coors Light campaign including the social media elements.

Facebook Mobile: Causes, SMS and Blackberry

A few quick notes from CTIA (the wireless industry conference this week):

CTIA CEO Steve Largent announced that they’re re-activating Text2Give for the SoCal fires: text GIVE to 2HELP to donate $5 to the RedCross, shows up on your phone bill.

Facebook CTO and Co-Founder Markovitz, this morning’s keynote (yesterday was Steve Ballmer):

  • New mobile features let app’s automatically work with mobile and to add new mobile keywords for SMS
  • They love the ‘Causes’ app and used it as an example for both the above.
  • ages 35+ is the fastest growing demographic for Facebook (which is similar to SMS — these are not just ways to reach youth)
  • RIM CEO joined to announce and demo the new Blackberry native Facebook app. Uses push so you have content when offline (set custom tones for Facebook notifications), fully integrates with photos and address book to allow things like tagging and uploading to Facebook automatically when you take a pic. Again, Facebook and mobile are not just for younger demographics, RIM investing here (and 2000 RIM employees are on Facebook)