Nouveau Niche: The Rise of Invitation-Only Social Networks

Larger social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have done a lot to democratise the web; to give us the opportunity to rub shoulders with all sorts of people. But this comes at a price: the ‘tyranny of attention’ requires that we be prudent in how we spend our time and mental energy. In real life, we take care to pick and choose the social circles that we move in. So how do you ensure that you’re in good company in the online space?

Invitation-only social networks are built around this premise. Why jump into the endless and unpredictable ocean of large-scale social networks, when a vessel populated by like-minded individuals would offer much smoother sailing?

By vetting those who come aboard, invitation-only social networks can offer a number of advantages that ‘free-for-all’ social networks cannot. Dribbble is one such example. In many ways, it bears a strong similarity to DeviantART, allowing users to upload demonstrations of their prowess in graphic design and illustration. However, unlike DeviantART, Dribbble’s user base is divided into three tiers: Spectators, Prospects and Players. Anyone is free to sign up as a Spectator; this grants the ability to passively explore the design portfolios hosted on the site. Prospects are those who have indicated that they wish to join. Players are the lucky few who have passed the drafting process, and have the right to upload designs and comment on other people’s hard work.

Dribbble combines high quality content with a seductively pretty UI

The crucial point is this: any member who invites a non-member to the community has to vouch for the quality of the non-member’s work. Done properly, this preserves the quality of the content on the site, as well as guaranteeing that only engaged and passionate people become part of the Dribbble community. A similar model can be found among a slew of other social sites, such as Pelime (a creative arts community), WIWT (a fashion community) and Teazel (a virtual hangout for surfing enthusiasts).

There exists a further species of invitation-only social networking site that has arisen. While the aforementioned networks thrive on shared interests and skills, networks such as Squ.are and Angel’s Circle have the unique selling proposition of simply being very hard to get into. Asking how to seek an invitation is an exercise in futility; if you have to ask, you’ll never know. If you’ve ever asked the price of something at an expensive restaurant, you’ll understand the thinking that underpins this philosophy. Nevertheless, they represent an interesting counterpoint to the staunchly egalitarian attitude of the larger networks.

Finally, I couldn’t wrap this article without giving an honourable mention to the most exclusive social network of all; where simply being human renders you ineligible for membership. I am, of course, referring to Dogbook, the social network for man’s best friend. Take a look – I hear it’s a right wag.

Priming the brain: making consumers enjoy the brand more

Branded painkillers have been shown to be more effective than non-branded painkillers.


The extent to which we will enjoy/benefit from a product or service is dictated not just by the inherent utility of the product or service, but by the extent to which we expect to enjoy/benefit from a product or service.  Depending upon what we expect, and how we have been primed, the frontal lobes either inhibit or amplify the activity of the emotional brain.

This plays an important role for brands, and is most famously captured by the fact that Coca Cola tastes better than unnamed cola only in non-blind taste tests (when consumers can’t see the brand they can’t tell the difference). What neuroscientific research has shown us is that not only do consumers think they enjoy branded Coke more, they actually enjoy it more.

This effect has been captured in products (by psychology professors such as Dan Ariely) the utility of which is not enjoyment but other benefits, such as branded pain killers reducing pain to a greater degree and branded energy drinks improving mental performance more. The effect of branding makes the experience of the product objectively better, and therefore improves brand metrics post consumption, word of mouth and re-purchasing rates. These are long term benefits that current short term ROI analysis fails to capture, and immediate brand metrics often fail to pick up. This is important as there are numerous sectors of the economy where this could account for the vast majority of the effect that an ad campaign has (and thus needs an effective form of measurement), or the vast majority of effect that an ad campaign should aim for (rather than a misleading and inaccurate set of brand metrics – ad awareness – that pushes the planning and creative teams away from key goals).

In terms of measurement it suggests that, where possible, groups who have and haven’t seen the ad should be tested for their actual experience of the product. This can be utilised on a small level for pre-testing and on a larger level for effectiveness measurement.

It can also affect the placing of ads, as the focus shifts to increasing the enjoyment of consumption as well as increasing the initial trial or purchasing of a product. For instance FMCG ads often target ‘housewives with kids’ before they go shopping for a product, but could also target the family before they consume the product, so that their enjoyment is increased and they tell ‘mother’ to buy more. In this way branded ads could, for instance, support price promotions, and help accrue a long-term benefit out of a short term price reduction cost.

Another example, beyond FMCG, is car ads, where the campaign could not only incrementally increase the number of people who test drive a branded car, but also improve the purchase rate of everyone who tests drives the branded car, by priming them, and thus improving the subjective experience.

Finally it is interesting to note that in an environmentally conscious world, advertising could be an efficient means by which we improve an individual’s experiences without expending greater resources. If we can objectively and subjectively improve an individual’s experience of a product or service without having to incur any extra production cost for that product or service (by priming a consumer’s experience), then we have a cheap and effective means by which consumers’ utility can be increased, without the need for them to actually consume more.

Don’t Take Our Word For It, Call And Ask Our Customers

852 customers of the Finnish insurance company If have volunteered to be phoned up by potential customers.

A Scandinavian insurance company has taken customer testimonials to the next level: in an attempt to get would-be insurance buyers to trust that the company deals with claims  quickly and fairly, the Finnish insurance company If has recruited 852 existing customers to be its ambassadors. They have volunteered to be contacted by potential customers to have a chat about how the process of making a claim was, and how happy they’ve been with the service.

The company used full-page ads in leading newspapers to direct potential customers to a dedicated microsite where they can find the phone numbers of the volunteers. The customers can be contacted between 9am and 8pm – at other times, their contact details can’t be accessed.  The website also features home-made web cam videos of customers recounting stories of the accidents and injuries that happened to them, and what If did to help fix the problems as soon as possible.

A great example of a brand ‘getting real’ and putting customers at the heart of their campaign.

Coffee: the irrational behaviour that defies austerity

To quote the Evening Standard on 3rd January before the news of the verdict in the Stephen Lawrence case broke,

‘New research shows that Londoners are more addicted than ever to their daily latte, cappuccino or flat white and are searching out quality coffees.

Sales are up overall by about 10 per cent (now twice the level of 2005) and a new wave of artisan espresso chains has sprung up in London despite fears of a “double dip” recession.

 About 35 independent coffee bars opened in London last year compared with 56 cafes belonging to big chains.’

However, they are increasingly second or third branches of bars set up by passionate “caffeine-heads”.

This suggests a couple of interesting things that we should take note of when planning for 2012 and beyond.

1) London (and the South East) is a market of its own and consumer behaviour is potentially diverging even more from the rest of the U.K. This poses some significant marketing challenges to national plans and national messages that underweight the area.

2) Routines trump rational behaviour: coffee breaks help people navigate their day. The product is over priced and potentially means that someone is having to economise on their lunch. However the sacrifice is deemed worth it by thousands of squeezed punters.

So when planning for tough times in 2012 don’t assume that people will react the way that you might logically expect in all categories.

Under the Influence: Klout scores and their role in marketing

Many advertisers in the US have partnered with Klout to offer free perks to influencers

How influential are you on the web? Tools such as Klout and PeerIndex, which assign scores based on analysing your social media activity, cropped up a few years ago, but it is only recently that advertisers are beginning to notice. In the US, Chevrolet, amongst others, partnered up with Klout to offer free test drives to those with high scores.

At face value, this feels like an efficient way of targeting and influencing those consumers who are not only the most likely to be talking about brands, but the most likely to be listened to. One tweet from them about a brand will not only be seen by their thousands of followers, but there is a higher likelihood that the tweet will be retweeted or replied to.  This endorsement will have the added weight of not be coming from a faceless brand but a trusted voice. Further to that, the desire to get free perks will in theory encourage other people to strive to be influencers. They will make the effort to increase their score, by increasing their followers and improving their technique for getting retweets. They will themselves tweet about brands and their new followers will see (and hopefully engage) with them. A few free perks will in theory result in a huge number of impressions for a brand, all coming from trusted sources.

Unfortunately, at the moment the reality is (as Monty Munford, among others, has already pointed out), these tools are not always accurate. The algorithms differ between the tools: someone with a high score on Klout may do incredibly poorly on PeerIndex. True, they are constantly amending their algorithms, but there nevertheless seems to be large room for error, and worse, manipulation. People who want a high score know how to play the system: fake accounts spamming their followers can achieve higher scores than a real person giving less frequent, but genuine (and genuinely interesting) opinions. Even the topics of influence on Klout don’t always make much sense. Sample size of one: My personal Twitter has a tiny Klout (I keep my tweets private so my pride will survive), yet apparently I am highly influential when it comes to shopping. I have no idea how this has happened. Most of my tweets are about me making a fool of myself in airports or talking about Whoopi Goldberg yet somehow the algorithm decides that I am influential about shopping.

Even once the algorithms get sorted (or people learn how to read scores with the required pinch of salt), it all comes back to that much-quoted statistic that 90% of word of mouth is offline. It may come as a surprise to some, but not all influential people have a Twitter account (Whoopi only has hers as a way to avoid Twitfraud). Certainly, digital influence must play a large role in many brand campaigns, but Klout and PeerIndex are not tools that are relevant for all brands. Those whose core audience use social networks as an intrinsic part of their life should of course learn about these tools and how best to use them. Others, whose most influential exponents may be voicing their opinions outside of the online sphere, should not fall into the trap of assuming that unleashing a Klout campaign ticks off their desire to engage with influencers.  It is tempting to get over-excited by the prospect that there is a quantifiable way to measure influence on social media. When that measurement is still flawed, and not even relevant for many brands, we should not fall back on these measurements. We should instead continue to  use creativity and common sense to make sure these campaigns are working at their most effective.

Introducing Two Brains; Thinking, Fast and Slow (by Daniel Kahneman)

Statements such as G.K. Chesterton’s “One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star” and Sigmund Freud’s “We obtain our concept of the unconscious, therefore, from the theory of repression” capture the turn-of-the-century belief that what we don’t understand about ourselves is either too complicated to perceive, or so dark, sexual and disturbing that it needs repressing.

However, over time we have started to move onto the less dramatic view (nicely captured in Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’) that we operate with two distinct thinking systems; system 1 is the fast, unconscious, ’automatic’ decision maker – the “secret author” of most of our choices and decisions – and system 2 is the rational, slow-thinking, and conscious decision maker. Currently many people’s everyday perception of themselves is that of system 1, they are rational decision makers who are in control, whereas in reality we often make quick, intuitive decisions and rationalise them afterwards. In fact numerous studies have shown that we instinctively hate to put in the effort that using our rational brains requires, and consequently do so only when absolutely necessary.

The use of this our unconscious and automatic brain is interesting for advertisers. While being quick, intuitive and sensitive to environmental clues, it is often flawed and open to irrational biases and interference effects. It causes a person to change their decisions without their conscious knowledge or understanding, based upon a multitude of non-apparent factors, such as the halo, framing, or anchoring effects – all of which can be created or influenced by advertising, and most of which occur on any particular customer journey. By understanding how our automatic intuitive system works, and marrying up the right fast thinking systematic flaw with the moment in a customer journey, we can begin to understand what type of message, delivered at the right time, will affect the decisions people make. This can only help our brands, and improve our ROI.

Future posts will look at these two thinking systems in more detail, and uncover how advertising can effectively influence each one.

2012 – The Year of Brands as Publishers, Second Screen Advertising, and Flawsomeness

At the end of the year, a lot of advertising and media professionals start to think about the year ahead and make their educated guesses about what the next big things will be. I’ve searched far and wide for all the predictions I could find, and picked out some that are interesting and important to anyone working in advertising.

Mashable predicts that 2012 will be the year of interactive ‘second screen’ campaigns. A huge number of consumers are already using their mobiles and tablets while watching TV, and startups like Into Now and Shazam are busy creating platforms for engaging with the second screen audience. Pepsi, Gap and Starbucks have been some of the quickest advertisers to jump on board. They also predict that we will see a proliferation in cars being connected to the Internet, resulting in a rise in streaming music in the car instead of listening to the radio and “an Internet-powered overhaul” to radio advertising.

One of Trendwatching’s 12 trends for 2012, ‘Flawsome’ (self-admittedly their “worst-named trend ever”), captures the idea that “to consumers, brands that behave more humanly, including exposing their flaws, will be awesome”. Signs of this trend include Domino’s use of a billboard advertising space in Times Square: they used the high-profile billboard to publish customer feedback given via Twitter – both the good and the bad. They also predict that in 2012, trading in will be the new buying as consumers hope to make an extra buck by reselling or trading their past purchases.

SocialMediaExplorer writes about the importance of content as the role of brands becomes closer to that of publishers; no longer can brands get away with uninteresting or purely self-promotional website content or social media updates. For instance, a Facebook page for a brand targeted at stay-at-home mothers shouldn’t be managed by a middle-aged male marketing manager with no idea about the types of topics that that their audience wants to read about. Late 2011 already saw many brands investing in editorial talent that can capture their target audiences, for instance Topman hiring editorial staff from Dazed & Confused to launch its new multimedia magazine for fashion-conscious men.  They also predict that 2012 will see marketers increasingly using influence ranking tools such as PeerIndex and Klout to seek out the individuals that are the most influential about their category and brand in social media.

Many of the trends identified by JWT Intelligence have to do with how consumers and companies are dealing with the prolonged recession. They think brands will start creating more affordable alternatives for consumers, such as Heinz’s smaller 99cent ketchup in the US. On the other hand, consumers are starting to live a little and splurge once in a while despite financial worries and a low confidence in the economy. They also believe that as the content and experiences we are exposed to have become more personalized and narrow, a desire for experiences that are random and unexpected will emerge.