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The participation obsession

Ever since marketers spotted people talking about brands for free on the web there has been an unrelenting surge in brands trying to get their consumers to create online content on their behalf. On one hand the obsession is hardly surprising, it appears there’s a chance to get free content with no media spend that could potentially be more powerful than existing activity.  On the other hand you would have thought that by now people would have worked out that there’s more to it than simply telling consumers to do what you want them to do. However, 8 years since the first MySpace profile and 6 years since the first YouTube video it appears some people still think they can get consumers to do anything.

Step up Pantene and Cat Deeley. Fast becoming the definitive example of how not to create a participation campaign. Getting women to upload themselves ‘swishing’ their hair was the plan. Ignoring the fact the audience might not want to swish their hair, or video them nevertheless doing so, or doing both then going to the trouble of uploading a video to YouTube for the world to see their love of the ‘swish’.

The verdict is still out on the success of the current Cadbury’s Spots vs Stripes campaign. Some reports suggest participation levels are poor, while others are suggesting it has been great for business. Whatever the outcome it’s hard to deny that some of the participation requests have been a serious ask of consumers. See below for Reggie Yates trying to get people to film themselves unravelling toilet roll all in the name of a earning points for a team that means nothing to them. That said, based on Olympic ticket sales I’m sure people will soon step up to do almost anything when 2012 tickets become part of the incentive.

So how can you avoid another poor participation attempt?

1. Check participation is relevant

Some brands are right, some are not. People want to get involved with brands such as Nike Football, they do not necessarily want to get involved in with a toilet paper brand.

2. Focus on something people already care about

Some brands assume they need to get people to do something entirely new and entirely on brand. The truth is you simply won’t be able to get people to do exactly what you want them to do, you need to give them tools to do something they already want to do. A good is example is the Walkers give us a flavour campaign. Walkers wanted people to make suggestions for a new flavour, and they knew they would because for many years prior to the campaign consumers had been sending in their ideas for flavours. Walkers simply provided the tools to fulfil a pre-existing desire.

3. Provide people with a genuine power to influence

People like having power, they like to think there actions have a genuine effect on others. It’s not easy to get people involved when they can’t see the outcome of their actions (think voting turnouts), but when they can see and feel the consequences of their actions the desire to get involved can be unstoppable. Often this doesn’t really help brands or causes, just think back to who people voted for the Next top model or when people tried to send Justin Beiber to North Korea. However, channel this passion correctly and participation levels will benefit. Smirnoff wanted to bring a Miami music event to the place in the UK that wanted it most. In the real world the big cities hold the power, but Smirnoff threw these elements of location and money out the window pledging to give the free event to the place that simply got the most votes on Facebook. People in the smaller towns were given power they didn’t have to get something they genuinely wanted and they seized this new found power. Thousands of votes later the party wasn’t won by one of the UKs largest cities but by the smaller but more empowered Swansea and Southampton.

4. Make basic participation as clear and simple as possible

If you want large number of people getting involved you need to have a simple mechanic. People might want power but they don’t want to work for it. Anything more than a few simple clicks is going to the limit of participation for the vast majority of your audience. This needn’t mean you can’t allow for participation from the more willing members of your audience, you just need to bear in mind if you’re lucky enough to find these people chances are they will be the minority. As a very general (and unscientific) rule of thumb is the 1-9-90 rule, stating that 1% of your audience will create, 9% will participate, and 90% will participate at the most basic level e.g. a ‘like’. If the majority are only going to provide a very basic level of engagement you better make the process as simple as possible for them.

These points are by no means a fail safe or exhaustive guide, there are many things to consider and every case is different. However, in every case it is key to determine if there is a genuine business benefit to be gained from driving participation, then if so at every step and every request you must be sure to ask yourself why. If you can’t think of a decent reason people should spend their limited free time interacting with your brand then you can be almost certain that they won’t.

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Kraft let you tag with a smile

Here’s a new Facebook app from Kraft that lets you tag web content with your smile.

When you see something you like, you press the smile button on your toolbar, which bookmarks the link and takes your photo.

I guess it’s a nice way of adding a rating level to the standard ‘like’ or bookmark, but I can’t see many people making any real use of it. There’s also a pretty tenuous link to the shape of macaroni cheese.

However, whether this specific idea works or not or might make up part of a larger potentially important trend. With the likes of this, Google+ hangouts, Facebook Skype, and cheap laptops coming with cameras, we might start to see more widespread use of webcams and consequently see a lot more campaigns or services that depend on using a webcam.

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Pool to skatepark – Skatepark to pinball

Nike took an old Swimming Pool in East London and turned into a skatepark.

Now Mountain Dew have turned a normal skatepark in New Zealand park into a pinball machine.

Skateparks are all the rage right now, with the new Lucozade ad leading the way. Might we see an influx of brands trying to get in on the action?

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Is this the Next model?

So another competition with an online voting mechanic, where a decision usually made by the select few is opened up to the public. This time it’s the chance to become a Next model. I’m pretty certain most people could have predicted what follows.

Yes, unsurprisingly the people of the Internet have decided to sabotage the competition. The chance to feel like you can genuinely influence an event and the fun of making a joke out of something that people will probably take a little bit too seriously is just too hard to resist. We’ve already tried to send Bieber to North Korea and now we’re trying to send Roland B to the catwalk.

However, it looks like Next were well aware of what might happen and have built their T&Cs accordingly. Unlike previous campaigns they’ve not just added a simple ‘our say is final’ clause but a slightly more complex ruling which should prevent Next looking too foolish. “At the end of the voting period, the 250 Entrants receiving the most valid Votes will be declared potential Finalists, subject to verification of identity and eligibility”. Sadly it seems we won’t be seeing good old Roland in any Next ads in the near future.

Or on the other hand maybe Next would be missing a trick. They don’t have to make him the face of the brand, why not put Roland on just one of the many hundreds of posters. Think of the PR coverage and it might even make one of more plain and uninspiring brands in the UK a little bit more exciting.

This clearly isn’t a phenomena that’s is going anywhere soon. Brands should be looking at how they can make the most of it. Whether that’s setting up contests with the aim of letting them be high jacked or perhaps even high jacking another brand competition for their own means.

That said, for all I know that’s exactly what’s going on right now. I kind of hope it is, and I’ve been happy to spread the word.

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Google helping people keep separate online identities

Most people in the UK have probably never heard of Orkut, the Google owned social network has never seen much traffic from the UK. However, in other parts of the world where social networking is not dominated by Facebook it’s a very important service. Orkut has over 100 million users across the globe and is by far the most used social network in Brazil. Popular as it is it’s actually losing users to Facebook every day, recently losing its number one spot in India to the global power of Facebook, but recent upgrades to the service suggest Google isn’t ready to give up on the service just yet.

The latest signifcant update to Orkut looks to address the issue that as we connect with different groups of friends through social networks we lose our ability to communicate different personas to different groups within our network. People represent themselves in very different ways to different groups of people in conventional settings. For example peoples’ persona displayed to their children is very different to the persona they display to their work collegues, however, as all these people become grouped together as a single group of ‘Facebook friends’ a single persona portrayed through their profile is displayed to all.

It’s possible to under take some serious privacy setting changes on Facebook to ensure certain communication only reaches a certain group, but this can take a lot of time, and the process usually ends up allowing you to communicate one persona to a select group whilst blocking outgoing communication with all others.  Orkut looks to make things easier and helps you to maintain separate active identities by letting you maually create or automatically (based on your social graph) generate your different social groups, then with every peice of content you post from status updates to photos Orkut asks you which groups you want to share with.

It seems unlikley that the feature will draw the masses from Facebook and over to Orkut anytime soon, but as more people share more and more information while at the same time become more aware of their online identity we might see the concept appear in other services, maybe even Facebook.

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Trendplanner Twitter Top 10: June

1. Five social networks you’ve probably never heard of – http://ow.ly/21cOv

2. Get multi-tasking on that iPhone today! iOS 4 out today – http://ow.ly/214i3

3. Facebook Like button for the real world – http://ow.ly/1Xa50

4. I like Twitter, I like high tops, but this might be a step too far… http://ow.ly/1Sa6I

5. Coke cuts websites to focus on contact via social networks – http://ow.ly/1W5Vb

6. Score a goal in a banner! AT&T World Cup Augmented Reality Banner – http://ow.ly/214fu

7. The World Cup Bavaria Beer Girls get evicted from the stadium to protect bud – http://ow.ly/1ZaGh

8. Steve Jobs on the iPhone leak – He still isn’t happy! – http://ow.ly/1SWfo

9. Re-watch the matches of the world cup through the eyes of twitter – http://ow.ly/1XSnV #worldcup

10. Uniqlo SPORTWEET: See your tweets in action – http://ow.ly/1ZQlp

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