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Social Media Comes Of Age Blackshaw Reflects On Marketing And The Web In 2008

5 minute read | January 2009

By Pete Blackshaw, Nielsen

2008 was a newsworthy — albeit, topsy-turvy — year for marketers and researchers. Importantly, social media evolved from experimental sideline to a mainstream attraction. Twitter saw huge growth rates, Barack Obama rewrote the rules of digital marketing, and user-engagement, and “service is marketing” re-wrote new rules for building brands and rewiring e-commerce. Facebook trended upward, MySpace held steady, and reputation-broker Wikipedia continued marching to the top of Google search results.

Brands like Tide used social media to squeeze extra value out of Super Bowl ads, and Comcast (full disclosure: a Nielsen client) parlayed service scorn into a fundamentally different service/engagement model (still a work in progress).

Fortified by corporate blogs and Twittter handles, dozens of other companies launched “social media” teams, while CEOs like Howard Schultz used CGM (e.g. as the centerpiece of its turnaround strategy.

Retailers like Wal-Mart turbocharged their web platforms with user-reviews — many of which ironically challenged “green claims” of  featured products, while Facebook introduced “add water and stir” fan-sites that were often as inviting to activists as to brand loyalists.

Industry groups like the IAB created social media committees, the ARF put unstructured “listening” at the top of the 2008-09 agenda, and for the first time WOMMA managed to nab the likes of IBM, Kraft, Unilever, Intuit, Hershey’s, and other big fish at its annual conference — a “coming of age” for word-of-mouth marketing.

On a personal level, I somehow managed to crank out a book that I’m quite proud of, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000” (Doubleday), and I certainly hope it continues to inspire constructive conversation on issues and developments similar to the ones I outline below.

Marketing Campaigns that Inspired

– Obama Web Strategy – Empower everybody, nurture advocacy; even small acts can grow into big acts

Apple Genius Bar – Service is the new marketing

– – Maybe fans get product development better than the brand. – creating a cross-platform “ecosystem”

– New York Times “Comments” – Reader engagement creates new source of value

– Zappos Ads in Airport Security Boxes – Hey, if the shoe fits!

P&G Mommy Blogger Event – Power Moms matter…as much, perhaps, as traditional media

Best Thinking on CGM/Social Media

– Scott Cook “User Contribution Systems” (Harvard Business Review, Fall 2008)

– New York Times – “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” (9/5/2008)

– Peter Kim‘s Social Media Marketing List

– Business Week cover story, by Jena MacGregor – “Consumer Vigilantes” (Spring 2008)

Digital Communities that Raised the Bar

Intuit Community

– Dell Computer

– Nike + Social Network

– BlackBerry Owners Lounge

– MTV Community


Bank of America’s Small Banking Site

Bloggers and Influencers Who Made a Mark in 2008

Arriana Huffington & Huffington Post Team

– Forrester’s Jeremy Owyang (Top Mom Blog)

– Gaurav Mishra (Mumbai commentary)

– Xeni Jardin (Boing Boing)

– Pete Cashmore (Mashable)

– B.L. Ochman (Blog + Twitter)

– Twitter Social Media Commentator Chris Brogan

– Comcast’s Frank Eliason (via Twitter)

– Michael Arlington (Tech Crunch)

– Ford’s Scott Monty (via Twitter)

– Power Mom Jessica Gottleib

– Steve Rubel (consistently on the mark…for a very long time)

Viral Videos that Stimulated Our Thinking

– Tina Fey on SNL – The power of both WOM and cross-platform promotion

Yes We Can! (Obama) – Original music + celebrities = viral video

Vote Different (Clinton) – What’s old is new again

– Wassup 2008 – Update of a classic

– Tide Stain Super Bowl – What happens before and after the game is crucial

– “You.S.A 2008” – customized viral videos

Blogs that Inspired

Patagonia Blog –  200% authentic, reflects the cause-driven soul of the company

Southwest Airlines – Better than free peanuts

Garmin Blog – GPS navigation in action

– GM – Unbeatable Google juice

Marriott’s CEO Blog – The power of executive personality

– Delta – Friendlier face to an industry with ‘issues’

Key Lessons in Defensive Branding

– Facebook “Fan” Sites: Activists also like to “express” themselves

– MotrinMoms – Power moms matter, and “social media” twitterers are a force to be reckoned with

– All Brands – When times are tight, be careful with “luxury” or “premium” messaging…even to the rich

– Whole Foods – The digital trail is difficult to erase when mistakes are made (or changed)

– Kobe Bryant/Nike – If forced to fake it, does it really pay out?

Products that Stole the 2008 Conversation

– YouTube in your pocket: Flip Camera, Kodak Zi6

– So long keyboard, hello touch!: T-Mobile/Google G1, Blackberry Storm, HP’s TouchsmartPC

– Still shaking things up: iPhone, Wii

2008’s Blazing Innovation Trail

Ning – Create your own social network…really!

Twitter Grader – Twitter Grader measures the power of a Twitter profile

Twinfluence – Another Twitter influence tool

Twitter Search – Search Twitter for content

Twemes – Find hashtags for topics

Tweetbeep – Monitor Twitter by keyword

Friendfeed – Discover and discuss interesting stuff that your friends find on the Web

– TagCrowd – Create your own tag cloud from any text to visualize word frequency

– Zuula – A convenient way to get search results from all the top search engines

– One Riot – A social search engine that finds the pulse of the Web

Search Engine Site Validation Service – Validate the code on your site for search engines

Google Keyword Tool – Use Google to find relevant keywords: Keywords = Branding

Yammer – Twitter for enterprise

– Hulu – NBC and News Corp’s video site

GasBuddy – Cheap gas anyone?

Pandora – Free music for everyone

Must Read Business Books

The Ownership Quotient (HBS Jim Heskett, Earl Sasser)

– Groundswell (Li, Bernoff)

Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online

– Open Brand (K. Mooney)

Marketing to the Social Web


Speed of Trust (Stephen Covey)

Personality Not Included (Rohit Bhargava)

Tipping Point (Yes, still relevant)

Meatball Sundae (Seth Godin)

Activists & Activist Sites Who Retained (or Grew) Their Bite

The Consumerist


Save the Internet Coalition


– Natural Resources Defense Council

The Bobosphere

Read Pete Blackshaw’s predictions for new media and marketing developments in 2009 in the December installment of his regular Ad Age column.

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