2009 August

Get A Life – Be A Facebook Fan

Recently a Facebook friend of mine noted in his status message that JCPenney’s fan page had over 43,000 fans.  He received several comments on the post, one of which suggested that this number was proof that people on Facebook ‘have no life’.  That comment got me thinking about why, in fact, it was important for JCPenney to establish this fan page (which, by the way, currently boasts more than 487,000 fans) and why those people that identify as fans actually do have lives — relatively thoughtful lives, in fact.  It should be acknowledged that I am *not* a documented Facebook fan of JCPenney’s.  I have no real attachment to the retail chain or the brand and I don’t do any work for them.  But it is worth examining what value JCPenney could see from a Facebook fan page, and why Facebook members would want to make their brand interest and loyalty official. 

Its funny how people that are *on* Facebook could actually call out other members of Facebook for having ‘no life.’  We all have our own reasons for being there, and when we joined the network, I doubt we expected that one of those reasons would be to declare our loyalty or interest in one, or many, brands.  But the fact of the matter is – brands are recognizing the importance of ‘going where the people are’.   And if current stats are correct – the population of Facebook makes it the 4th largest country on the globe.  You can’t deny the sheer penetration of Facebook as a brand and a service.  The opportunity to get in front of millions of users in short order surpasses that of any other medium.  

Let’s face it, the past couple of years have been rough on people all over the world.  The global economy has taken a dramatic nosedive and people don’t know which end is up or when they can expect things to turn around.  Consumers need more than their base desires to influence purchases.  They need a *reason* to buy.  And they need a reason to choose one retailer over another.  Only 14% of people actually believe advertising (according to Marketing To The Social Web by Larry Weber).  The rest of the population needs something else.  They need to trust products and brands.  They need endorsements from real people, trusted friends and colleagues.  They need relationships with brands.  We don’t spend money as easily as we did a few years ago.  We need reasons to part with our hard earned cash.  Connecting with a brand on Facebook gives us the opportunity to have these kinds of relationships. 

Connecting with brands in the social space is a two-way street.  As a consumer, I enjoy that sense of exclusivity.  I am part of this test audience to run ads by, or to extend special, Facebook-only offers to.  Perhaps I am informed of sales and limited product roll-outs early.  Or maybe I just see next season’s back-to-school line before the general public.  I have an opportunity to plan ahead for shopping, perhaps set aside cash instead of tapping into credit.  Whatever the case, because I have this relationship with a brand, in this case, JCPenney, I am a more active consumer, versus passive — someone waiting until I need something and then heading to the closest retailer to get it, or the retailer that dominates the market in which I reside.  Because my experience with that brand is likely to be integrated into my experience with Facebook, I can participate in brand conversations, even passively, several times a day.  JCPenney has nearly a half million fans currently.  That leaves the potential for engagement with hundreds of thousands of consumers at least once every single day.And when you consider that a fan page is free — the investment is really around resources.  The conversations themselves are already happening.  Facebook is just another channel for consumer conversations.  The primary difference being these conversations have the potential to be two way.  And, and this really critical, consumers can contribute to the public conversation.  The brand is on the hook to be exactly who they say they are.  Because if they aren’t truly authentic, consumers will call them out in this very public space.

The brand benefits too.  They have a captive audience.  They can monitor conversations they start.  There’s viral potential around the content they put out.  They are actively invited into the social experience of their constituency.  They have opportunities to change audience perceptions around the brand.  For instance – in the case of JCPenney, the conversation that ensued as a result of this Facebook commentary on the fan page was around private label blue jeans brands.  Like Sears had Toughskins.  It was news to me, but apparently JC Penney had a private label brand of their own.  The comment centered around this group of friends and their history of experiences with the brand.  But the brand has evolved.  Those private label brands are no longer synonymous with low quality and JCPenney having a presence on Facebook gives them an opportunity to revise audience impressions of the brand and correlating products.  This isn’t your mother’s JCPenney.  This retail chain is all grown up.  They are in tune with consumer expectations around trends, quality and price.  And through their presence on Facebook they have opportunity to tell that story day after day.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of addressing the value to the consumer and the value to the brand.  Once the conversation starts it is perpetuated by all of the players.  But we aren’t so far away from brands any more that they aren’t listening to us, and we aren’t influencing how they evolve.  One could actually argue that those people that signed on as Facebook fans of JCPenney early in this game really did have lives.  In fact, they probably lead relatively thoughtful lives and hopefully are using these social connections to extend that thoughtfulness to their buying behavior.

Fox Gets Social with Glee

Last year, I wrote about how television networks don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to figuring out how to deal with Internet technology (in that example, it was The CW’s lame decision to not put Season 2 episodes of Gossip Girl on their web site — a decision they later reversed).

This year, it seems that the networks have started getting savvier about using the tools they fear so greatly. Or, at least, Fox has. With their upcoming show Glee, Fox seems to be doing everything right in how they are leveraging technology to build an audience for a very quirky show.

It’s a hard show to explain, but it’s basically about a high school show choir. It’s got Jane Lynch in it. It’s funny and brilliant. But, weird. And a little hard to explain. Which means, if things were to go as they usually do, it would be off the air within a year.

There’s a reason why quirky shows die: they can’t build an audience fast enough. Arrested Development is more popular now than it was when it was on television. And don’t get me started on the tragic death of Pushing Daisies. These shows can’t generate the same audience right out of the gate as extensions of popular franchises (and seriously, how long until they start airing CSI: Des Moines and Law & Order: Animal Control?).

Shows that don’t fit neatly into the cop, hospital or lawyer genres attract a different kind of audience. GEEKS. Theater geeks, band geeks, computer geeks, book geeks. Most geeks — no matter their geek genre — use computers and social media. And they use those things a lot more than everyone else. We tend to be the early adopters and the heavy users.

It seems like Fox did the math.

So, Fox’s first smart move was to air the pilot after the American Idol finale. First, the potential to reach a staggering number of eyes and second, the likelihood that that audience would be open to a show that includes musical numbers (Yeah, you heard me. MUSICAL NUMBERS.)

After the pilot aired, it was made available on Hulu and the Fox web site (and perhaps other places as well), allowing it to build an audience in the months between the Idol finale and early September, when it premieres. By doing this, Fox is allowing Glee to build a passionate audience (mainly through word of mouth) before the show even starts.

To help things along, Fox has also released sneak peeks from the upcoming season (like Bust Your Windows), character outlines, and audition videos. The show’s Facebook page includes regular bits of news and photos, and each of the characters has a Facebook page of their own. (Okay, that one is less cool to me. I dislike it when characters act like people in the real world, but I’ll let it slide.) They’re on MySpace, Twitter, and there’s even a Glee Wiki. Jeebus!

Here’s why I think all of this is noteworthy, though: usually, fans of oddball shows don’t get a chance to rally around their show until it’s time to write letters to the network begging them to bring it back. Fox is using the social web to harness that energy on the front end to build an audience, and they don’t seem scared to put that content wherever we want to consume it: Hulu, Fox, Facebook, you name it.

I only watched the show because Nancy saw it on Hulu, and then texted me that it ruled. I watched it, agreed, and then made my husband watch it. I tweeted and posted to Facebook about it. I told co-workers about it. I’ve told countless people to go check out the show on Hulu. I’m even planning a Glee premiere party at a local bar. Now, perhaps you’re thinking that I have too much time on my hands. But, I prefer to think that it’s because I’ve loved and lost enough shows (I miss you, Ned the pie man!) that if I find something I like, I’m willing to spread the word in the interests of keeping it on the air. I have no interest in seeing another reality show; I’d rather encourage the networks to produce stuff that’s creative. Maybe even a little risky.

So, good job, Fox. I like your moxie.

As for the rest of you, I’ll expect you’ll be watching the first episode of Glee with me on September 9. Send me a note if you’re in Minneapolis and want in on the party.

Nontent: The Scourge of the Internet

Last week, I was ranting at chatting with some Clockworkers about something I dubbed “nontent.” Days later, I saw a tweet by @Carlos_Abler complaining of the same thing, “Sick of Blog article titles dripping w/gravitas, but w/articles a paragraph long. INTERNET: THE LARGEST LANDFILL IN THE COSMOS”

Then, @kylemeyer and I had the following exchange over IM:

Kyle Meyer: seen this? http://wprobot.net/
Meghan Wilker: wtf. that seems redonk! “do a blog without actually doing anything”
Kyle Meyer: most blogs right now are just gathering posts in to lists anyway
Meghan Wilker: my “nontent” complaint
Kyle Meyer: was that a GGG post?
Meghan Wilker: i’m working on one about it
Kyle Meyer: ah. well. perfect timing then


What is nontent? Nontent is the useless crap that seems to be proliferating on the Internet now more than ever. The most maddening example of nontent in the wild are blogs that claim to create content which instead, post lists of links to other blogs (which may themselves be full of lists to other blogs and on and on) or nothing more than one to three sentences of barely-useful commentary. Light on facts. Light on anything useful. But with a damn good title designed to pull in a lot of clicks when it gets tweeted.

The fact that this nontent is now multiplying like rabbits on Viagra is, in my opinion, a combination of many factors.

Boost #1: Easy Publishing Tools
The idea of generating content has been gaining steady momentum as online publishing tools have become more accessible and, as a result, more individuals and companies have become comfortable with the idea of being content publishers.

Heck, we all know that publishing, sharing and linking information is the whole point of the Internet. And now that it’s easy for people of all technical levels to create and share information with tools like WordPress, weebly, Blogger, etc., it’s doing its job better than ever.

Boost #2: Search Engines
Search engine optimization techniques aren’t just about using the right keywords in your content, page titles, and image names anymore. They often encourage clients to generate as much content as possible, as often as possible, in an attempt to keep the search engine coming back to your site.

(Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t always a bad thing. If a company or organization has something of value to say, great. What I’m complaining about specifically are content facades; you think there’s something there, but it’s really a lot of nothing.)

In other words, we created search engines to help us find things. We designed them to give more importance to the newest and most popular things. As a result, the production and proliferation of nontent is rewarded by the holy grail of the intarwebs: TRAFFIC.

Boost #3: Social Media
And how do you get more and more traffic? Why, you get on Twitter, you read an article called “How to get a ba-jillion followers”, and you start tweeting about all the articles you are writing on your blog. Your tweet is indexed by the search engine. Your followers re-tweets of your tweets are indexed. Your blog post (nevermind that it contains only three sentences) are indexed.

Don’t even get me started on services like stufftotweet.com (which is, itself, a shameless rip-off of popurls.com) which help provide us all with links to stuff that PEOPLE ARE ALREADY LOOKING AT. Gar!

Rethinking Relevance

None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But, the ease of creating and publishing content and the importance we all lend to what is new and trafficked has also made it desirable for people to create and publish meaningless crap. Nontent. The digital kudzu of the Internet, choking out the valuable content with it’s newness and tweetability. At some point, I hope that we (and by “we” I mean Google) adjust our idea of relevance to mean something more than what is new and popular. I want my top results to be what is valuable, thoughtful and factual.

Content Curators

How to do this is a tougher question. As the ability for us all to create and share content with the touch of a button increases, and as search engines automatically index that content and help us find it, we’ve shifted the power from media outlets to we, the people. But, as part of this power shift, we’ve started to weed out those we used to rely on to curate content. The people whose job it was to separate the wheat from the chaff (like editors) and help us find what we want based on what we mean vs. what we say (like librarians). We must now figure out on our own if our information sources are reliable or not. We now rely on Google to take what we say in keywords and give us what they think we are looking for. We now generate the wheat, and the chaff, and it all seems to have just about an equal chance at gaining attention. Fact and fiction now travel at the same warp speed.

I’m not saying I want to return to the old models, or that I think that in the “good old days” of mass media domination all editorial sources were trustworthy and reliable, but I’m also feeling like the new model is starting to be too Wild West to be trusted. That it’s too easy to game the system.

But, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe we, the people, will police all of this just fine. (Hell, when Wikipedia was compared to the Encyclopedia Brittanica it held up pretty damn well.) Or maybe nontent will just be another Internet pest to be tolerated and managed, like SPAM.

There are certainly plenty of good people and good sites creating good content. Perhaps they will win out over the nontent echo chamber. I sure hope so. The death of nontent can’t come soon enough for me.

Think I’m full of nontent? Let me know. I can take it.