Month: June 2013

Digital Social Branding: What I’ve Learned

The word “advertising” means so much more today than it did 50 years ago in the ages of scotch at 10 a.m., Madison Ave., Mad Men style print advertising. The internet has opened up a world of possibilities for brands and consumers alike. Transparency isn’t an option anymore –  it’s a necessity.


We have talked about the ever-changing digital world and it’s effects on the world a lot this term in Digital Social Branding. As a double public relations and advertising major, I am interested in how brands can use the internet to help – or harm their brand reputation. Although I know now that the rules of digital media cannot be taught in a 10-week college course, there are right and wrong ways that it can be used. These become apparent when comparing how different successful and unsuccessful brands have either swam or sank from their online efforts and looking at the rules of digital life from Velocity and Dave Allen.

Research and Plan. Plan and Research.

Let’s start by thinking about what is required for a strong online presence. This means a brand is not just sitting there waiting for someone to engage with them – they are doing something new, jumping right into the digital world, pushing the envelope of what’s been seen or done before. It has to be more than just hopping on the bandwagon.

Digital content, even if it has a humorous and informal tone, requires extensive planning, questioning and even self-doubt at first. Before implementing a plan, the team behind the campaign must weigh all pros and cons of what the possible outcomes of implementing an idea are. Doing this will allow you to find holes in your plan that may limit engagement from the full audience you want to reach.


An example of a good idea with poor planning occurred back in 2009 with Burger King’s “Sacrifice 10 Friends” Facebook campaign. The campaign went viral when it challenged users to delete 10 friends from their Facebook in order to win a free Whopper. More than 200,000 friends were “sacrificed”…before Facebook shut it down due to concerns about it’s users privacy (I really think they were just scared about losing so many users to a slab of meat…but that is besides the point).


What could have become an even bigger social campaign was cut short of it’s full potential. Burger King should have done all the research and questioning they could, internally and externally, to assure that the campaign wouldn’t catch any snags like this one that cut the engagement short. It is important to think of every possible scenario before an idea or execution is out in the world for everyone to see. Failing privately is okay – it helps you learn what will and won’t work for your brand and why. Failing publicly…not so okay. It can potentially damage credibility and relationships with consumers who will feel a lack of trust and reliability with your brand.

“It doesn’t make you a dick to question everything.”


The faster you fail, the faster you move, learn on and fix it. Otherwise, someone else could swoop in with an idea even better and cooler than yours, and all your hard work is kaput. What Wieden+Kennedy tells us, Dave protests – and with good reason. Don’t wait to fail. Do it fast. Get it over with. The digital world gives consumers the ability to see into companies more so than ever before. So don’t fail hard. Fail fast. Then get your shit together. And do something awesome.

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Felicia Sullivan, head of innovation at Attention USA says that these are the five main points when analyzing digital strategy:

1. Presence: Measure of the brand’s social footprint
2. Influence: Branded message adoption
3. Perception: Emotional reaction to the brand
4. Virality: People organically participating in conversations
5. Resonance: Reaction to the overall conversation about the brand

This makes it easier to comprehend each category of what you have to consider when implementing digital strategy. In order to be a truly successful effort, truly every scenario and effect must be considered. Plan and research. Never stop questioning. When you think you’ve done enough – do more.

Think Long Term

Creating and implementing digital strategy is difficult for many reasons – mainly because it is not just about the foreseeable future – truly successful digital strategy develops long-term engagement for a brand.

3709e3ed2f35578d6cae431308d7b6bbAs Velocity‘s authors recall,

“had we limited our initial thinking merely to what was possible at the time, it wouldn’t have happened”

about the creation and release of Nike Digital Sport products. What seems convenient now may bite you in the rear later. While it is easy to want to please yourself, your client or your brand now, if it doesn’t resonate down the road all your hard work was pretty much for nothing.

You must discover, plan, invent, define, build, deploy, manage and grow. Notice how there is never an end point. There is no happily ever after. You must continue cultivating and managing your brand and it’s digital presence even when a certain campaign has ended. Everything online is permanent, it doesn’t just disappear once you have completed the project. And if you get on the wrong path…get off of it. Not everything is going to go smoothly. But it is up to you to make sure the end result is near perfection.


Long-term success versus short-term gratification is one of the largest battles of the digital world. Trends are such a big part of the digital world that people move on from them quickly if it is not interesting enough. Clearly, no campaign will last forever but it needs to have a lasting effect that will continue to further the brand down the road.

Red Bull does an excellent job of innovating and staying relevant in the digital world. They developed Red Bull Media House, a company within itself that focuses on sports, culture and lifestyle that are all consistent with the daredevil, balls-to-the-walls feel that Red Bull has with all of it’s media efforts. In addition to social media, there is Red Bull Mobile, Red Bull Music Academy Radio, and more. Here is a description of what they do:

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Everyone remembers last year when Felix Baumgartner jumped from space to earth – and due to Red Bull’s media coverage and branding, Red Bull is now synonymous with the infamous leap of faith. Red Bull encourages long-term brand engagement because everything is consistent with the brand messaging and they are using digital media to their advantage. For years to come, whenever someone Googles “jump from space”, media of Bamgartner standing above the earth with the Red Bull logo splashed across his white jumpsuit will fill their screens. An energy drink that also produces movies, music, etc? Red Bull is now just more than a beverage, it is a lifestyle that consumers relate to the “badass” mentality. And that is not going away any time soon.

Keep It Simple

The digital world may seem confusing and overwhelming at first. However, the brands that have found the most success have followed the same rule – stay simple. One of the main points in Velocity is,

“Make the complicated simple. And the simple interesting”.

People have become so addicted to smart phones and mobile web because it makes searching things and obtaining information so much simpler. As a digital strategist, it is your job to make consumer’s lives easier. This is definitely easier said than done. You must ask yourself, “who will use this? How will they find it? What problem does it solve? How can we make it better? Why are we doing this? Why are they using it? Who are these people?”.


This relates back to the first point. Ask yourself every question possible. Gut the problem and the solution until you know everything there is to know about your brand and it’s mission. Once you completely understand your audience and your goal, then you may proceed. “But, if I want to create something simple, why do I have to over think it so much?”, you may be wondering.


Here’s the catch: making something easier for the consumer is going to make your work harder. If you’re going mobile, remember that mobile isn’t the device, mobile is the user. A smart phone is where an individual keeps all of their information – it is a very personal piece of technology. So you need to personalize whatever you are doing for mobile for the user.

As Velocity tells us,

“Make yourself proud by making people’s lives easier, richer and more fun. Don’t just give people choice, help them choose”.

In other words, the people are the master and you (digital folk) are the slave. Now, this isn’t saying create an insane app that takes climbing through hoops to understand and use. Back to the simple part. Give people a simple, yet creative and innovative mobile experience that matters. It could be the easiest, most simple idea ever but it is up to you to give it life. Give it personality. Make it count. If you have the best idea for an app or site ever and it is executed wrong, you’ve done all your hard work for nothing.

The number one priority = user friendly.

User friendly = simple.

Simple = happy consumers.

Happy consumers = cool brand.

But, in the end: nothing digital is new. After all, the web just turned 20 years old. This is why our work is cut out for us. In a world where creating something brand spankin’ new is nearly impossible, we have to innovate and create – all while keeping it simple and catering to the consumer.


Final Musings

If I could, I would include every quote from Velocity in this essay. Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander just get it. Coming from a PR background prior to taking Digital Social Branding, what resonated the most with me is – the best advertising isn’t advertising. Brand loyalty is no more than a relationship – a connection someone has to their favorite brand.

No money can buy a good reputation. This comes from deep within the brand and is conveyed to the public by teams of competent and creative digital strategists. Relationships aren’t going to come out of thin air. They take work – from both sides. Relationships are truly what make the world tick – from client agency relationships to brand consumer relationships, every move made is pivotal in making connections and furthering your brand image. Clearly, we have a lot to think about. Selfishness doesn’t work in the digital world. Your message has to matter. More importantly, how you deliver your message has to matter.


It is difficult to summarize everything we’ve learned in a class so jam packed full of interesting information. I believe that I have touched on the main points that resonated the most for me that I will take on with me through Advertising Campaigns and into the real world. It’s easy to get swept up into the theatrics of it all. But, when it comes down to it, you’ve got to plan and research (never stop questioning), think long-term engagement (don’t be boring) and keep it simple (consumer is king). Amongst all the junk advertising in the world, there is good stuff going on. I’m curious to see how it will continue to evolve throughout the next few years as we make the transition from student to professional.

I hope to garner everything I’ve learned in school – from my PR, advertising and business courses and be able to grasp what is necessary to make the industry a better place. But there’s no better way to learn than getting out there and doing it. So, here’s to new experiences and to doing epic shit.


Thank you for a great term, Dave!